In yesterday's photo-post about the Nimesh / Bhawana engagement celebration, I mentioned being pleasantly surprised when, as Nimesh's family was walking down the road to Bhawana's house, Nimesh's grandfather took my hand and kept holding... as you can see from this photo.
Displays of affection between men are common in Nepal, and have nothing to do with homosexuality. It's the same in other cultures, including many Arab countries.
The custom of men-holding-hands can cause discomfort in Western countries. I remember how many Americans were shocked when President George W. Bush kissed and held hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah in 2004. This clip is classic!
But in Nepal, you see policemen holding hands as they go out on patrol:
So, why is this practice completely normal in Nepal, but unacceptable in the West? I'd suggest two reasons:
Probably the West's chief deterrent to public displays of male bonding is the terror of being perceived as homosexual. Even if being gay is more accepted than ever, straight men often feel compelled to proclaim their heterosexuality, shining a spotlight on that continuing dread of being thought "queer."
Perhaps the more a society accepts homosexuality, the less comfortable straight men will feel displaying affection for male friends, unless their team has just scored a touchdown! Until very recently, most Nepalis knew little about homosexuality, and it would never occur to them that two men holding hands might be gay.
While Nimesh's grandfather was completely comfortable reaching for my hand, I'd bet that Nimesh's son -- many years from now -- won't be so inclined. My fear is that future generations of young people will only reach out for their computer mouse or their iPhone... but not for someone else's hand.