The Content of Our Character

We are a nation that has made the gold-star standard of beauty one that is based on racist ideals.

Robin:

revrobin2-023Nowhere is the power of white supremacy more evident than in the industry that thrives by producing, marketing, and selling products to bleach dark human skin. An article in The New York Times about the practice in West Africa, and the action of the government of Ghana in creating a ban on these products alerted me to the practice there (see “What Is the Color of Beauty?”), but the author was quick to point out that this is not limited to West Africa.

Indeed, a look online yielded many products that claim to remove blemishes and dark spots, although I found almost none offered by major retailers and companies in this country that encouraged their use to reduce the darkness of overall skin tone. At the same time, some of them did use the term “freshening” which, in the African context, is sometimes used in preference to “bleaching.” There are products which claim to whiten black skin without saying so in so many words.

This is in line with historic validation, through advertising for example, of white skin as preferable to darker, most especially African or black, skin. In other ways, too, the bodies of people who are seen as more African are devalued, for example big lips among men and women and big hips among women are often viewed negatively.

white-model-candice-swanepoel
http://fashion.zarzarmodels.com/

The underlying ideology—that dark skin is less beautiful than light, or white, skin—is very troubling. It surely is a product of European colonialism, not only in Africa and Asia and Latin America, but also in North America, especially the United States—and here made even more powerful through our history of enslavement of Africans and Native peoples.

This shows up not only in these “skincare” products but also within communities of color, where “colorism”—favoring lighter shades of skin over darker—can create hierarchies of value and even privilege (see, for example, “Skin Tone Prejudice Troubles African-American Heritage”). I am reminded of earlier years—during the 1960’s with the rise of “Black is Beautiful” and later—when there was great energy expended by many individuals to stop straightening their hair in order to let it grow in its natural, gloriously Afro styles, a welcome development away from white cultural domination.

What causes us—and not just Africans and African Americans or other darker-skinned people—to treat our bodies, or the bodies of others, as sites to be manipulated in order to conform to socially constructed standards of beauty? Why do we let others determine our relations with our own bodies?

Is this not abuse?

hydroquinone-campaign-for-safe-cosmetics-safecosmetics-org
safecosmetics.org

I ask the question, aware that it is a term that can be overused.  However, I don’t think it too strong to say about various social mechanisms the help create in us negative feelings about God’s great, some would say God’s greatest, gift to us, our human bodies—especially when these feelings lead us to do things to our bodies, or condone things being done to others (female genital mutilation, for example), that not only demean us but also do us harm. For example, a chemical used in many of the skin bleaching products, Hydroquinone, can decrease the production, and increase the degradation, of melanin pigments in the skin, thus increasing the skin’s exposure to UVA and UVB rays and raising the risk of skin cancer.

I write as an older person, an elder, who is beginning to notice how there are some places on my body I don’t like so well. Regular readers here will know that I struggle with genital size issues, but in this instance I am referring to wrinkles and loose skin on my thighs. For the first time in my life, I bought capsules online that promised to change my body, in this case, to tighten my skin. After using for a few weeks, I observed no change. And I realized that this was my version of having a skin “tuck.” Ouch. I threw out the remaining pills.

I admit to sometimes feeling judgmental about women who have breast implants or tucks to remove wrinkles, yet here I was taking pills that promised that I would look better, that is, I would not look like me any longer. Elder abuse takes many forms, including horrific violence, and I am not claiming that my feelings of embodied negativity constitute such abuse. But I am claiming that the social validation of youthful, slender, tight- and light-skinned, well-muscled (but not too much muscle) bodies often leads to serious emotional and even physical harm for those whose bodies do not measure up. For example, in my case, cannot wrinkles be beautiful, at least as signs of experience and even wisdom?

ghana-women-abantu-for-developmen-ghana-wedo-org
wedo.org Ghana women, Abantu, for development

But back to the people, women and men, in West Africa. They are paying a huge price for centuries of white colonial domination. “We” white people not only took their bodies for slavery in the “New World,” looted their minerals, and continue to hunt their diminishing mammals and other native creatures for sport, we also stole their embodied dignity—and that theft continues today in the form of social values that violate their natural, God-given beauty, and support and encourage them to engage in self-violation.

This is of course a justice issue—the health authority in Ghana is clearly trying to right an injustice and save lives—but also it is a moral and theological issue. We remember Dr. King saying, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  How well we do this tells us about our character. And it is not limited to Africa.

For many years, whenever  I say or sing the Lord’s Prayer, and I come to the part of asking forgiveness for my debts/sins/trespasses, I bring to consciousness images of slaves raped and beaten and killed, Native peoples slaughtered and forced to live in closed-in enclaves, women beaten and denied good jobs, children dying of malnutrition and starvation, etc. Now, I will also call to mind the faces of African women and men whose complexions are altered in obedience to ugly social rules and values.

I know I am not causing this, actively. I know my parents did not do this, or even my grandparents. But what I do know is that I continue to benefit from social values that raise white over black, especially when it comes to skin colors and body typologies, and every moment that I am not engaged in opposing, undoing, white supremacy and white privilege, is a moment when I am not involved in the resistance to them. When I am not in resistance, I am complicit.

tony-perkins-of-the-family-research-council
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council encourages anti-homosexual laws in Africa

And here’s a real and very painful irony. In parts of Africa there are campaigns to rid the populace of what some claim is the scourge of homosexuality. Those campaigns are often encouraged, supported, funded, by white Christians from the United States. The claim is often made that this form of sexual being and living is not native to Africa but was imported in colonial times.

African friends and colleagues of mine, both homosexual and heterosexual, tell me that African life has always included a variety of sexualities. It is one of the sexual gifts God has made, and still makes, available in every corner of the earth.

So, instead of promoting the murder of gay men and lesbians, those U.S. Christians could be doing a real service by helping to overcome a genuine foreign import: the devaluing of black skin.

We must all can learn to celebrate our bodies, all bodies, ourselves. Until we do, God and God’s creation are mocked.

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nMalachi: 

This week, after recovering from a wonderful Thanksgiving, Rev. Robin shared an article, “What Color is Beauty?”  with me, related to the practice of skin-bleaching in West Africa, particularly in Ghana. The practice, although now technically illegal, lightens the skin tone of people- particularly women- by attacking the molecules that produce melanin in the skin.

This practice was recently banned, but the article discusses the inherent tension between the formal laws and the informal social custom which, in this case, amounts to an inherent belief that lighter skin tones are more beautiful. At several points in the article, the preferences of men are stated- and in almost all cases, men state that they are more attracted to women with lighter skin tones.

It’s a disturbing article and a powerful exposé of racial identity and bias in West Africa- a geographic area that is categorically perceived as a “black” area. As a white American, it’s difficult for me to wrestle with the ideas of racial beauty preferences toward whiteness (or lightness) in West Africa- and I have to ground myself in the reminder that this is not an “over there” problem. We face much the same racial dichotomy in the United States.

In this article, the author discusses many ways in which America’s beauty

https://s3.amazonaws.com/user-media.venngage.com/331455-34f0e389fb2968a09af0ea2c798d564b.jpg
https://s3.amazonaws.com/user-media.venngage.com/331455-34f0e389fb2968a09af0ea2c798d564b.jpg

standards are inherently racist. Among them, the author notes that a Google search of “beautiful skin” gives fairly monochromatic results. I decided to do my own search and found that, yes, those results are all eerily… whitewashed. (Check out beautiful skin and flawless skin google searches. And yes, while it is possible to put a “dark” “tan” or “African American” filter on the google searches, it doesn’t change the fact that the default results are predominantly of white women.)

We see, over and over again, how black women are expected to adhere to the beauty standards of white women. Moreover, white appropriation of historically non-white traditions, actions, and aesthetics are often the route through which those things become mainstream (see: locs (dreadlocks), twerking, yoga, cosmetic surgery for butt implants and enhanced lips, etc.) Something isn’t considered fashionable, trendy, or beautiful until it is done on a white body, even if it’s something that originated in POC communities.

http://www.unbelievable-facts.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/2.jpg
Khoudia Diop (Instagram @melaniin.goddess)

Juxtaposed with these pervasive white supremacist ideals of beauty, I also see models like Khoudia Diop, who is one of the darkest-skinned models. The Senegalese model is part of The Colored Girl campaign, aimed at encouraging women to embrace their skin color and affirming the idea that darkness is beautiful. But although she has grown to love and embrace her skin tone, she also discusses being made fun of extensively in New York City for the darkness of her skin, and faced some familial and social pressure to use lightening creams, even in the United States.

We are a nation that has made the gold-star standard of beauty one that is based on racist ideals. From body shape to facial construction to hair texture, we are all encouraged to aspire to whiteness. Unearthing these stereotypes to then battle these ideas is difficult. They are so pervasive, such an inherent part of our culture that it can be difficult to be a white person and see how they manifest.

Yet I think of something like pronounced lips, and recall that it is seen in a negative way on black women, but in a positive way on white women

Colored Girl Campaign (photo credit @malaniin.goddess on Instagram)
Colored Girl Campaign (photo credit @malaniin.goddess on Instagram)

(Angelina Jolie, for example). I also can’t help but notice that these features are often sexualized (e.g. “She’s got blowjob lips”). The same is true with the tendency of black women to have a more pronounced butt, something that is incredibly sexualized.

So there is an interesting tension in our own culture between our ideals of beauty and our ideas of sex appeal. On one hand, “whiteness” is clearly the standard to which all people are expected to aspire (this used to be called “civilizing” people, because non-whiteness = savage from a colonialist perspective. This has not gone away; it has simply been called something else.) Yet on the other hand, we dehumanize, objectify, and sexualize the aspect of women’s bodies that don’t necessarily adhere to white standards.

It reminds me, in many ways, of the experiences that trans women have talked about in trying to date straight men. One friend put it very directly: “They will fuck me all night and tell me I’m the most beautiful person they’ve ever seen,” she said, “and then they leave the room and refuse to hold my hand in the daylight.”

We are told what we should be attracted to: thin, white, cisgendered. Any deviation from that attraction and it becomes a taboo, and we dehumanize and fetishize people to meet our own desires. The craigslist ads alone show this: “white man for black woman; casual sex only” “masculine white man for black woman; cannot host” “married man wants friends with benefits- black girls only” and “White 4 Black” (these are all lines from a local craigslist today). The gist of these ads are, “I’m a white guy looking for casual sex with a black woman, but I can’t have you around my home).

So not only do we set whiteness as the beauty standard, but when we are attracted to people who don’t fit that, we try to hide, minimize, or deny that attraction. Not only is this dehumanizing, but we are then perpetuating the same racist myths and stereotypes that hold up white beauty as superior in the first place.

The racism in the United States is pervasive and deeply rooted in systematic ways. The only way we can begin to combat these ideas is to first recognize that they are there. It’s easy to feel outrage, shock, and horror at women across the world bleaching their skin and risking skin cancer through damaging melanin in the blistering heat of West Africa, but we must also remember and feel that outrage that young women in the United States are often also pressured to lighten their skin so they can be beautiful. We must see it to fight it. We must fight it to end it. And we absolutely must end this dangerous, damaging belief that the value of a person is intrinsically tied to the color of their skin.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think influences your sense of your own body, your relationship with your body? And what influences how you see and evaluate the bodies of others? What bodies are most sexy for you? Is your own body sexy for you? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, December 15th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part 2: Beyond the Norm

We invite you to join us on Thursday, Dec 15th for the second part of the series, “Sacred, Not Secret” where Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline continue to discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. On December 15, they will begin to explore non-normative relationship structures, focusing on non-monogamous relationships. This one-hour workshop will examine different aspects of non-monogamy, as well as discuss ways that we can be more open and inclusive to non-monogamous families in our churches and communities–because do not doubt that you know and interact with such families, in church and elsewhere.

 

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for MCC clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although a primary focus is on clergy education, everyone is welcome to attend and participate.

 

A First For First Ladies

. . . slut-shaming implies that women who express their sexuality are less-than. And that is exactly what is happening with Melania Trump.

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nMalachi:

This election season has been a rollercoaster. Perhaps that’s an understatement; this election season has been a tumultuous, seemingly never-ending cycles of news reports and un-Presidential soundbites. Many of us- myself included- were simply praying for the day when it would come to an end.

I think we had false expectations of what that would mean. I think many of us assumed that Clinton would win, and we could stop hearing news reports of Trump making derogatory comments about women, sexual assault, gold star families, disabled reporters, war heroes and…well, just about everyone, really. I think we thought that the end of the election meant the end of Donald Trump. The election results, tragically, have shown us a very different, harsh reality.

So Donald Trump is the President-Elect of the United States. Donald Trump, the man who brags about sexual assault (“grab them by the pussy”), using references to women’s periods to insinuate that they are overly emotional (“she was bleeding out of her eyes, she was bleeding out of her…wherever”), calling women “fat, pigs, not a 10,” and referenced his daughter’s sex appeal (“…what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father…”).

Ok, so Donald Trump is a sleazy man with the focus of a pubescent boy. That’s…not fine, but it seems to be the reality (for the record, there is no issue with young people of any gender exploring their sexuality and understanding their bodies in puberty. There is, however, an issue with a 70 year old man that doesn’t appear to have matured beyond that.)

But unfortunately, with the election results in, we are still hearing a lot of sexist, anti-women rhetoric- and it’s not coming from Donald Trump (or even Republicans), but from liberal-minded individuals, particularly Democrats.

Images comparing different first ladies, looking much how we expect put-together, professional women to appear, are then juxtaposed with Melaniafullsizerender-1
Trump’s nude modeling images, with captions like, “Stay classy, America!” and “How did we get from this…to THIS”.

 

The insinuation in these images is, of course, that Melania is not “classy” enough to be first lady, and that her history as a model (particularly as a nude model) makes her unfit to be first lady. Much of this is reactionary, particularly after much of the gender and race-based insults aimed at Michelle Obama over the past 8 years. But that doesn’t not make it ok.

First of all, we weren’t electing a first lady; we were electing a president. And, quite frankly, while I appreciate that couples talk and influence one another’s perspectives, ultimately, our criticisms need to be aimed at Donald Trump, not Melania. But second, there is absolutely nothing wrong with nude modeling. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. And those who speak on equality, justice, fairness, etc., but then shame Melania for the ways in which she has used her body sound, at best, hypocritical.

Slut-shaming is a real thing. It’s enforcing and supporting different sexual ideals for men and women. It’s rewarding male promiscuity while assuming any woman who has had sex with more than one person is a slut. It is finding ways to denigrate women for having the same times of sexual relationships that men are permitted to have.

http://www.kichaka.net/SlutImages/slutshaming2.png
http://www.kichaka.net/SlutImages/slutshaming2.png

In short, slut-shaming implies that women who express their sexuality are less-than. And that is exactly what is happening with Melania Trump.

Please understand: I do not like the Trumps at all. And the hateful, vitriolic that comes from Donald Trump is not ok. But it is not more ok when liberally-minded people utilize a woman’s sexuality to insult her (or her husband). There are plenty of things to complain about in the Trump family. Melania’s sexuality or nude photo shoots are, quite frankly, the absolute least of my concerns.

Furthermore, Melania is very archetypically, stereotypically beautiful. She was a supermodel, and was able to utilize her physical appearance for financial gain. It’s perfectly reasonable to talk about unrealistic standards of beauty in the United States. It’s absolutely appropriate and necessary to address the ways in which people who don’t look like Melania struggle with body issues. But we do not build ourselves up by tearing others down. I can appreciate that she is beautiful without resenting the fact that I

https://i.redd.it/r11cp6w4kibx.jpg
https://i.redd.it/r11cp6w4kibx.jpg

don’t look like her. I don’t want to look like her, but I don’t build up my own self-image by tearing her (and those who look like her) down.

In addition, the implications that someone who is beautiful cannot also be intelligent are incredibly insulting to women across the world, including previous first ladies. Insinuating that she will be a less-than first lady because she shot nude photographs is about more than just “class” (an extremely white, patriarchal term). It’s buying into the idea that the more beautiful someone is, the less intelligent they are. Utilizing someone’s physical appearance to make a comment on their intelligence is what Donald Trump does.

Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” They’ve gone low, and many have gone low with them. Criticize Donald Trump, absolutely. But his wife’s physical appearance isn’t the point of the conversation, nor should it be the focus of his presidency. It’s time to remember what we are fighting for. Don’t buy into these stereotypes. Resist the urge to take these cheap shots and focus instead on the important issues. Her ability and freedom to celebrate her body should be applauded, not mocked. Otherwise, in some ways, we are all no better than Donald Trump.

revrobin2-023Robin:

We have been through the most sexually consequential presidential campaign and election in American history—and that’s saying something when we remember Bill Clinton’s affairs in his first campaign (and later), the rumors about Jefferson’s slave concubine in 1800 and later, and scandal when Grover Cleveland married a much younger woman.

I wish I could say that the cause of sexual openness was greatly advanced by this election, but I cannot. I can say that more women have learned the importance of speaking up when they are victimized by abuse that uses sex for its power, physical and mental abuse that damages the sexuality of its victims, and in some ways diminishes all of us. I am hoping that more men learned the importance of standing with these victims, and also to speak up for themselves when they are victims, and for other men who are victimized.

This election did not further the cause of our society being able to conduct open, thoughtful, honest conversations about sex. As a society, we remain shut down and ashamed by sexuality, by sex, including our own.

Of course, we are inundated with sex every day, much of it used to sell products as well as, in some cases, to promote, sell, people (pictures of movie stars, porn, etc.).

scott-brown-cosmopolitan-trendhunter-com
pre-Senate Scott Brown trendhunter.com

Rarely, if ever, however, has our political system used sex directly to promote leaders. Oh yes, there have been a few times when male political leaders have appeared shirtless—Paul Ryan, Barack Obama, John F. Kennedy—but only ones whose bodies are relatively lean, well-built, young-ish. There also was former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown who posed for Cosmopolitan long before running for office.

However, no woman in a prominent political position, or even local office, has been viewed as a sex symbol, and certainly has not appeared naked, or even partially so. Until now.

Our new First Lady, Melania Trump, a former fashion model, has been photographed without any clothes on, her hand mostly covering her genital area. The photo is not one casually snapped at a clothing optional or nude beach; she is modeling and the shot, including very lovely breasts, conveys a message of desire.

fullsizerender-1Of course, there have been comments, even a graphic comparing that picture of Melania to one showcasing the glamor of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Nancy Reagan and Michelle Obama. It was not meant as a compliment to our new First Lady.

In other words, she is supposed to feel shame, or at least we are.

I don’t. And I hope she doesn’t either.

Baring her body was, and is, not only not a crime, but it is not immoral or wrong. We need to get over the fixation on nudity as dirty.

I did not vote for him, and can’t imagine doing so if he seeks re-election. And of course I did not vote for her. She comes as part of the electoral deal; I just hope he does not dump her for a newer model now that he has won the big prize.

I do feel shame that my country has elected a man to be President who seems to view women, or least the younger, nubile ones, as meat for his sexual dining pleasure. His attitudes, and apparent behaviors, are not sexy in my book. They are boorish and ugly, using sex as a “thing” and as a way to trump-et his sense of patriarchal superiority and entitlement.

marco-rubio-and-donald-trump-debating-chicagotribune-com
ChicagoTribune.com

And frankly, I feel shame that two of the Republican men seeking their party’s nomination discussed the President-elect’s penis size. What that has to do with anything about being president is beyond me (after all, the President doesn’t really need a penis, does she?). I would not have minded so much if they had gotten naked—although I somehow doubt that, despite his self-avowed excellent temperament, the President-elect is much to look at (Senator Rubio might be better).

But shame because a model, or a First Lady, is naked? No way.

She is a beautiful woman, although this particular photograph does little for me—and not just because I am more interested in men’s bodies than women’s. In reality, I would rather see her smiling and naked.

Of course, other bodies, or at least penises, were involved in this election. Hillary Clinton cannot do much without someone managing to mention Bill’s hyper-active one, not to mention Anthony Weiner’s self-exposure to young girls and others. This latter organ may well have cost her the election, due to the FBI review of his computer containing many of Clinton’s emails.

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First-Lady-to-be, Melania Trump HarpersBazaar.com

So, we have the spectacle of men who should be ashamed because of their behavior, and a woman some want to shame because she openly shares her beauty, the very beauty that God gave her.

Let me be clear. I do not think it matters if she is conventionally beautiful or not. Or even young. Old bodies are good, worth sharing and admiring, too, even those of the President-elect and Secretary (and former President) Clinton.

Indeed, perhaps we should ask all candidates (and potential First Spouses) for President (maybe other offices, but it might be best to start with a small group) to share not only their tax returns but also nude pictures. Or they could debate in the nude. That might help them be more real in the rest of the campaign, knowing that we know what they look like without any physical masks. It might even discourage some from running (not necessarily a bad thing, although I would be sad if this were due to body shame).

democratic-presidential-candidatesAnd perhaps the United Nations could insist that world leaders shed the armor of their clothes when they address the General Assembly and Security Council. It might reduce saber rattling when leaders appear more vulnerable.

I am actually grateful to Melania Trump for breaking a barrier and perhaps helping us as a nation get more real about sex and bodies. I also think God is pleased; after all, she is made in the image of God. As is her husband, and all the rest of us, too.

However, it is up to us to carry this forward. Malachi and I continue to be clear about the need for more conversation in U.S. culture, and especially in churches, about sex . But much of the time it feels like we are talking only to each other.

You can help, by posting a comment, and even sharing this blog with others.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think influences your sexuality and sexual expression? Have you ever noticed a deviation from your expectations of your sexuality? Do you find that there are certain traits that turn you on? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com

discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, November 17th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part I: Beyond the Binary

What turns you on? Is your attraction based on anatomy, gender identity, or something else entirely?

Sacred, Not Secret is a three-part series beginningThursday, November 17 at 3 PM EST/19:00 UTC in which Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline, authors of the blog Sex, Bodies, Spirit, discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. This month, they go “beyond the binary” of gay and straight to explore the fluidity of sexual desire, and explore ways that we can be an open, affirming space for people- not in spite of our sexual relationships, but because of them!

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for MCC clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although a primary focus is on clergy education, everyone is welcome to attend and participate.

Fetishes, Fluidity, and Frankness

Malachi: I am heterosexual. Actually, I guess it’s heteroflexible. Now it’s bisexual, then full-blown lesbian. Well, pansexual maybe fits better. Except, no. I think, queer. Yes, queer.

I’m a girl. Or, no. I’m 13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nandrogynous. Zie and hir pronouns, please. Only, I think I am a boy. Testosterone and male pronouns now. Except I hate passing, but love my facial hair. Plus, I’d like to have kids someday. So, maybe no more testosterone, but I’ll keep the beard. Masculine pronouns are fine, but gender-neutral also work: they/them please. Dangit, I think my gender is just queer, too.

For many people, identity is a spectrum rather than a fixed point. As a mathematician, I think in terms of continuous and discrete: my identities are fluid and continuous, but at discrete moments in time, I can pinpoint how I identify.

I feel very strongly that I am the compilation of every person I have ever been, even if I no longer identify in some of those ways. I am not, for example, heterosexual- but at one point in my life, I strongly held that identity and it was crucial to how I understood how I fit into the world. Although I do not (and have not) identified as straight for quite some time, I recognize and appreciate the place that identity had in my life: as the child of lesbian parents, I wanted desperately to be normal and fit it. My heterosexuality was my rebellion, my assertion of my independence, my declaration that I was different from my parents.

gender-identity
https://glennstanton.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/gender-identity.png
Of course, that didn’t particularly stick, and I fell head-over-heels for a woman my freshman year of high school. From there, my identity seemed to ping-pong back and forth for a while, and I finally settled on bisexual. But then I learned about gender theory and came to a better understanding of my own gender. I realized quickly that “bisexual” didn’t make a whole lot of sense because my gender wasn’t a fixed entity, so “attraction to same and attraction to different” held no meaning for me. Everyone was different from me, so I must be straight, except that didn’t work, because I was attracted to people with the same genital configuration.

Around this time, I discovered the term “pansexual.” It felt better than bisexual, but still a little clunky and awkward in my mouth. From there, I grew to have a better understanding and self-definition of queer, and finally settled on “queer” as both a sexual and a gender identity.

This is not every person’s experience, but I think that we spend a lot of time trying to understand where we fit in the boxes we are offered. As a trans person, I have had several experiences in which a person and I had a sexual connection, and then they immediately began to struggle: in order to validate their own identity (particularly a binary identity), they had to invalidate mine (e.g. men who claimed heterosexuality or women who were lesbians needed to see me as female in order to not have an identity crisis).

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I have found that identity and attraction can get complicated, particularly when trans people are involved. There are so many levels and facets to what makes us attracted to a particular person- are we attracted to a masculine or feminine presentation? Are we attracted to a particular genital configuration? Are we attracted to the particular way someone carries themselves?

The reality is, identity is complicated and tough to navigate sometimes. And when our identities are based on our relationship to other people, it becomes a lot harder to avoid invalidating one person’s identity in order to affirm the other person’s.

Understanding where our attraction comes from and why we are attracted to what/whom we are attracted to is important. It also helps differentiate between an attraction preference and a fetish.

I really love people’s backs. It’s almost always one of the things that I love on a person’s body. But I have to like the person attached to the back. It becomes a fetish when the person is no longer a factor in the attraction.

As a trans person, I have experienced first hand (many, many times) what it feels like to be fetishized. I have felt the distinction of someone who wanted to sleep with me because of the anomaly of my presentation rather than for who I am.

This is not, of course, to say that there is anything wrong with having a particular fetish. We have to make sure, however, that when our fetishes are based on a person (rather than an object, such as shoes or rope or lingerie) that we do not dehumanize or objectify the person.

Our identities shift and change, as do our sexual preferences. The identities I have carried are the result of exposure to new ideas, conversations about those ideas, and self-analysis around what those ideas mean to me. And it’s taught me that there are straight men who will sleep with trans guys, and still feel totally comfortable in their heterosexuality because they are attracted to a certain genital configuration, but can be totally respectful of someone’s identity. And there are gay men who will sleep with trans men and feel totally comfortable in their homosexuality, because they are attracted to the physical presence of someone, and don’t care what the genital configuration looks like. And there are people who want to sleep with trans people for the novelty of the juxtaposition between physical appearance and genital configuration. The first two, I have found to be

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wonderful and not particularly limiting to a person’s sexual identity or expression. The third, however, becomes a much more problematic perspective because it treats a trans person like an interchangeable object- any trans person will due.

Understanding where attraction comes from and what we are attracted to about a person goes a long way to understanding when our attractions fall outside of our expectations, and help keep us from fetishizing another person. Self-awareness is what makes the predominantly heterosexual man sleep with a trans man and feel completely comfortable about his identity and the identity of his male lover, rather than invalidating his lover’s identity to reassure his own masculinity.

Of course, this can all be applied to women, and trans people as well. It’s an important aspect of our sexual selves that we need to be aware of because sometimes, our own sense of sexual attraction takes us by surprise. These labels are great, but in a comment on last week’s post, Frank states, “I wonder what would happen if we gave ourselves blanket permission simply to express who and what we were at any given moment, regardless of what some category called for.”

I wonder too, what would happen, if we could simply find joys in the places where joy calls to us, and not get so hung up on how a certain label defines our actions.

Robin:  There is a certain joy in contemplating how far, over the course of about 30 years since I came out as a gay man, LGBTQIA people have come revrobin2-023in terms of public acceptance. I say this, even though of course there are many obstacles, especially for those groups whose initials follow L and G (but not including A, and recognizing that Gs generally fare better than Ls, due in large measure to misogyny and patriarchy).

I came out to myself and to my then wife 34 years ago (at age 35), after completing my first year of seminary, and then began coming out to others in the seminary community and the wider world. In that same period, I also came out to the priest of the Episcopal Church in Michigan where I had grown up and served as a lay leader. He responded by telling me that he and the Vestry (the church board) no longer supported my seminary education and did not wish for me to darken the doors of the church again (ten years later, they made an exception, when at my sister’s request I preached at our mother’s funeral who had stopped going to the church when they rejected her son–and again eight years after that when I was permitted to speak at the memorial service for my former wife).

I have been actively involved in various religious endeavors to promote LGBTQI equality over all the years since 1982, and in some ways my life feels like a personal version of the larger liberation struggle. Again, the struggle is far from over, but now I find myself engaged, through this blog with Malachi and our monthly teaching through MCC, in a different way,

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http://monkshomeimprovements.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/DSC_0007.jpg
one that assumes equality and seeks to widen the conversation so that the entire Christian church (and I pray other religious bodies) becomes more open to and celebratory of all forms of life-affirming, God-given sexuality.

That means that we, Malachi and I, tackle subjects that most people, and certainly the church, tend to ignore and even devalue.

For example, my coming out process allowed me for the first time to experience, and admit, how my desire was impacted by particular characteristics of men. Until I was honest with myself about my powerful attraction to the bodies of men I was unable to acknowledge, let alone celebrate, how certain types of men–their bodies and their minds and personalities–fueled my desire.

When I first came out, certain body characteristics assumed a great importance. I was in my mid-30s and one might have thought I would be more balanced in responses. However, in some ways I was like a teenager finally freed to let my hormones assume full control. Not able to experience honest powerful sexual desire in my teens, I was now like a kid in a candy shop. Frankly, given my sex life in the early days of my newfound sense of self, it is a wonder I am not HIV+. I give God thanks for my health every day.

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I knew right away I liked men with long hair. At the same time, I liked hairless chests and minimal or even hairless (shaved) crotches while I craved hairy legs. One other thing: I discovered that men taller than my 6’2″ frame really drew my attention. I had a desire, even need, to lean into them and be hugged. Who knows where this comes from. It just was, and I still admire that today.

However, it did not take me too long to rebel against a gay male culture I observed, and participated in at times, that made such criteria the only guides for relating to other men.  I learned that finding a man who met at least some of those criteria might make for a fun, even hot, one-night stand of sexual action . . . but then what? Did we have anything to talk about once the deed was done? Did I even want to contemplate breakfast with him?

I also learned that a man I desired might discover, when we were naked, that I did not meet his standards. I had a few such painful times, especially when they discovered the size of my cock.

I have had three male lovers, including my husband of 19 years, who lasted more than a couple of nights. None of them is tall–all three significantly shorter than me. They each had, and still do as far as I am aware (not easily ascertained now with two of them), beautifully hairy legs. One had a pretty hairless chest, but not the other two. No long hair in the bunch, although Jonathan says he had that years before we met; nor did any of them even consider shaving or even shaping their pubic hair. Of course, as above, I am unable (and unwilling) to check on this with numbers one and two; I will say one man–not one of the three–in my earliest times talked about not only trimming his pubic hair but also blow drying and shaping it ever day.  I regret that I  never was able to watch that process.

What I have come to understand over these 34 years is that each of these men whom I desired (and with Jonathan still desire in an incredibly powerful, even overwhelming, way), while physically attractive each in their own way, drew me to them for more than their physical attributes. In this sense, my particular body turn-ons, festishes might be the more

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https://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/41/flashcards/1008041/jpg/images1331007859911.jpg
accurate term, were and are only part of the package.

Each of these men has a brilliant mind, and a very sophisticated sense of humor as well as a willingness to engage difficult questions of morality and values openly and honestly. Don’t get me wrong: I love sex, want to have sex, but sex for me is more than kissing, licking, sucking, fucking, and ejaculation followed by a feeling of peace and joy.

In some ways, sex is how I live; every human encounter, even those with women where my physical desire is not so obvious, has an erotic component. That, for me, is God’s gift to each of us to create connection. I have different kinds of sex with different people, and with a very few–and for 19 years only one–I have engaged in acts of the utmost physical intimacy.

That does not mean that I my head is not turned, or my interest piqued, at times by a tall man at a party or even on the street, or a man whose chest (or more) I see in the gym shower or locker room–a guy, or woman, can be head over heels-in-love (and sex) with one (or more) and still admire others. Frankly, I am glad to know that at 70 years of age I still notice. As I quoted two weeks ago, in “Queer Is a Verb,” Shug said to Celie (in Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”), “that’s some of the best stuff God did.”

And that is why I hope and pray that some day we can have open conversations, real sharing, about our personal feelings and desires within communities of faith–because indeed these particularities are part of the gift of God to each of us. Like all gifts of God they deserve to be shared, not shunned or made into nasty secrets that cause us shame.

To do other than celebrate God’s gifts, all of them, is to deny God and the reality that all that draws us to others is God within us.

 

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What do you think influences your sexuality and sexual expression? Have you ever noticed a deviation from your expectations of your sexuality? Do you find that there are certain traits that turn you on? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, November 17th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part I: Beyond the Binary

What turns you on? Is your attraction based on anatomy, gender identity, or something else entirely?

Sacred, Not Secret is a three-part series beginningThursday, November 17 at 3 PM EST/19:00 UTC in which Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline, authors of the blog Sex, Bodies, Spirit, discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. This month, they go “beyond the binary” of gay and straight to explore the fluidity of sexual desire, and explore ways that we can be an open, affirming space for people- not in spite of our sexual relationships, but because of them!

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for MCC clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although a primary focus is on clergy education, everyone is welcome to attend and participate.

Unmasking Sex: Performance and Authenticity

Malachi: 

As the Halloween season comes to a close, we’ve seen another13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_n year of dressing up: scary costumes, fun costumes, goofy costumes, themed family costumes, sexy costumes (hopefully limited to adults), and so forth. We’ve seen people become someone else for a day or two: someone that inspired them (I saw quite a few female ghostbusters with steampunk goggles); something they wanted to believe in (a number of classic renditions of devils, angels, witches, etc.); or perhaps someone that they want to be all the time, but can’t (some rockstars, a David Bowie or two, and no shortage of superheroes).

I’ve definitely seen some offensive and problematic costumes as well: people dressed up in “Native” outfits (which are iconic of a whitewashed, Americanized understanding of many cultures, and are particularly offensive right now as protestors are being arrested at Standing Rock); men dressed in beards and a full dress playing “Dude Looks Like A Lady” and mocking non-passing transwomen; kids in blackface. There is a good and a bad side of dressing up, and Halloween inevitably brings out both.

For many, Halloween is a time to put on a mask and become someone (or something) that we aren’t. For others of us, however, it’s a time to unmask, to be who we truly are. For me, I walked around in the clothes I wear every day, plus a little extra makeup. Instead of strange sideways glances and uncomfortable whispers, I got compliments: “Hey, nice costume!”

It’s gotten me thinking about the ways in which we live our lives through performance: performance of gender, performance of faith, the performance of sex. It’s also gotten me thinking about the ways in which performance can be used to mock and even erase the experiences of others, such as some of these offensive Halloween costumes.

Kings & Queens Drag Show, Asheville NC Photo Credit Amy O
Kings & Queens Drag Show, Asheville NC
Photo Credit Amy O

I’ve been a drag performer. I’m not currently doing shows right now, but I did for six years in North Carolina. Drag, to me, is the performance of gender. Regardless of your body type or assigned sex at birth, any body can perform any kind of gender. I did both king and queen performances; sometimes I did both in the same show.

Drag was a means of exploring gender. It was a way to understand the complexities of gender expectations- everything from how to contour a face for feminine makeup (which meant exploring accepted bone structures and facial highlights associated with typical expectations of feminine beauty) to how men move and dance, every piece of drag requires us to understand the boundaries we are working within. Drag is the performance of gender, and as such, the performance heightens and feeds off of the expectations that are deeply rooted in many of us.

But outside of drag, we still perform gender. It is these exact rituals, in fact, that make drag part of what it is. For women, it’s body hair removal, makeup application, cinching the waist for that perfect hourglass figure. For men, it’s working out, looking buff, growing enough facial hair to prove that you can, having the appearance of a large cock. These are the rituals that are utilized in drag for show, but they are not necessarily less performative when done in daily life.

It is difficult to define what masculinity and femininity mean outside of the gender binary, but we can define what characteristics and traits are important to us because they make us feel good in our bodies, versus those rituals that are done because we are told that that is what “makes a real man” or “makes a real woman.” For example, I have no opinion, issue, or preference with a partner’s body hair grooming practices. I care more that those practices come from their own comfort and love of their bodies, and not from an unspoken rule that certain body parts must be shaved.

Which brings me to the concept of performance of sex. Sometimes, we are sexual when we don’t want to be. I’m not talking about rape; I mean, sometimes, we’re not really feeling it, and our partner is, and we love our partner, so we are intimate when we’d maybe rather go to bed, or finish our book, or any number of things (The Ferret writes a really wonderful post about this here) (and often we get more into it as we get started, but the instigation isn’t necessarily coming from us).

But there is a whole aspect of “performance” that comes into sex… particularly with assigned male at birth individuals who use their penises

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https://fusiondotnet.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/fusion_sex_quotes_arousal.jpg?quality=80&strip=all

for sex. In fact, “perform” is often used as a euphemism for “get hard and stay hard for a suitable length of time during which intercourse occurred.” It’s a question sometimes asked of gay men who have (or are) married to women: “Are you able to perform with her?” as though any man who is capable of getting hard and having sex with a woman is automatically “less gay.” As for assigned female at birth people, well… “faking orgasms” is something many women do on a consistent basis. If that’s not the performance of sex, I’m not sure what is.

Attraction, intimacy, connection: these things are so much more than the operational functions of anatomy, and certainly much more than feigning a particular type of enjoyment for your partner’s benefit.

The performance of faith is trickier, because “faith” means something different to each person.  Regardless of how a person relates to their faith, however, we fairly consistently see faith in God as a transformative experience. I personally believe that that type of transformation doesn’t just happen once or twice in a person’s life, but continues to happen as they grow and deepen their understanding of God and their faith.

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In that regard, I consider the performance of faith one in which our lives in relation to God have become stagnant. It is a point where we are more focused on the action, rather than the intention and meaning of the action. Are we kind to one another because we truly care for those whose lives have been harder than our own? Or are we kind to people because we have been told that we should be kind?

Like many things, performance isn’t inherently a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary… Alcoholics Anonymous discusses the idea of “fake it ‘till you make it.” Sometimes we need to act in certain ways to help our own understanding and belief get there. But sometimes our performances limit, mock, or erase the ability of others to be as authentic as they want to be. We need to be aware and conscious of the intention of our daily rituals, actions, and beliefs… that awareness can be the difference between performative and transformative.

As we close this Halloween season, I challenge all of us to hold onto and be aware of the performances around us every day, including our own. I challenge each of us to close this time of letting go- the essence of Samhain (the pagan tradition from which we draw much of our Halloween inspiration)- by letting go of some of our own masks and performances. I challenge each of us to consider our intentions and goals in the actions we take- particularly the actions we take for granted. Let’s each put our masks down and work to be who we truly are, rather than carry on the performances of who we think we should be.

Robin:

revrobin2-023What does it mean to perform sexually? Is it only when one engages in genitally-focused activity or other erotic behavior? Or is it possible to perform sexually through speech or other communication?  Is it possible that constructing an identity, or at least an image, is an act of sexual performance?

My answer to these somewhat  theoretical questions is “yes.” And it is an answer from my own experience as a male-bodied-from-birth person. That does not mean that my answer is simple, and it involves a fair amount of personal history. And it seems to me that I am not done answering these questions.

In 1974, I was married to a beautiful, wonderful woman, Judy. We were blessed to have three wonderful daughters who have grown up to be bright, beautiful, powerful women with families and many achievements.

As a result of claiming my homosexuality and coming out as a gay man, Judy and I separated after nine years and then divorced. We remained loving and caring friends, and although she had primary custody of our girls, we worked together to raise them. Sadly, tragically, she died in 2001.

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Judy did everything with gusto

I can never talk or write for long about sexuality without thinking about Judy. She was a very sexy woman. She deserved a better lover than me. Oh, we had sex, but on my side it was mostly about relieving sexual pressure. I loved her, yes, very much, and she had a beautiful body, a beautiful woman’s body. But I did not crave her body, I did not fantasize about her body when we were apart.

Even so, I constructed a sexual identity as “straight” through a wedding, having sex with Judy, and eventually in helping to produce children.

At the same time, I fantasized about various male bodies. I bought a subscription to Playgirl, claiming it was for her (she showed little interest, and did not renew it) but really because I wanted to ogle the naked men.

I should have known long before that I was gay. I did not date girls in high school and had a major crush on a male friend and lesser ones on others, went through extensive psychoanalysis in college, and put off having sex with a woman for quite a few years. Still, I performed as a straight male.

Much of my failure to claim my  gay identity had to do with society—I was a good boy and did not want to make others angry or bothered, and until I got to college I did not know any openly homosexual person—but it is not so simple.

I am more sexually fluid than a label reflects.

julie-andrews-mannishI am not bisexual. I have a clear attraction to men. But I also find some women attractive, and have sexual thoughts about some of them. At the same time, there are limits (including that I am happily monogamous with my husband!).

I have never had sex with a woman that involved more than the “missionary position.” I tried oral sex, but I gagged (definitely not true with men).  So my performance has its limits, but only the couple of women I have slept with would know that for sure.

But my sexual antennae are not always fixed firmly on the gay wavelength. Admittedly, the women I find most alluring often appear somewhat boyish, and transgender men can sometimes move the needle on my attraction dial.

Sexual attraction is, at least for me and I think many if not most others, is not solely about genitals. My husband of 19 years said he was first most attracted to my brain (now he seems to like my body, too!).  Some people are drawn to legs (I really like hairy legs), others to height or the lack thereof, or breasts big and breasts small, chest hair or no chest hair, particular ass shape and sizes, etc.

I loved Judy for her vibrant personality, her laugh, her instinctive kindness and generosity, and I liked her well-curved body, too. Or maybe I liked that other men admired it, and that made me feel good……..these things are often complicated.

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accidentalbear.com

In reality, many of us fall at less than absolute points on Kinsey’s famous (and I think less useful than it used to be) scale and our location can even change. Earlier, others would have classified me as a Zero (exclusively heterosexual, unless you count the one time I engaged in mutual masturbation with a male friend in high school), and now, since 1983, I would be a Kinsey Six (exclusively homosexual).  Does that make me a 5 (incidental heterosexual behavior ) overall?

No. Judy was not incidental in my life. She was, and is, even now, central to who I am and have become. As surely Jonathan is, and has been, for 19 years.

I have two friends, Arlene and Tom (names changed), who have been married for about 10 years. Arlene used to be married to a wonderful “butch” lesbian, Melody. Sadly, Melody died. A couple of years later, Arlene and Tom found each other. Some friends objected, saying Arlene had abandoned Melody. I said I thought love was what counts. Arlene told me that Tom was Melody with “different plumbing.”  I understood her to be telling me that she found a beautiful spirit in him that reminded her of her old love. She clearly loves Tom for who he is and vice versa; they are a lovely couple.

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vibrantheartyoga.com

I understand this. If something awful should happen and I would be without Jonathan, who knows who, if anyone, would become central in my life? Would I seek a partner again? If so, it likely would be a male, but that is not certain. And maybe I would decide to stay single. Whatever the outcome, I assure you, though I am 70 years of age, I will perform sexually in some ways or others—certainly by talking and writing about it, self-pleasuring, and continuing to figure out, and live out, perform, my sexual identity/identities.

As our transgender siblings are showing us, lots of things we thought were fixed are more complicated—and it is not just about bathrooms. Creation, especially humanity, is not easily locked into categories; scientists know that there are always exceptions to hard rules.  Creation is bigger than all of our boxes, and so are our bodies and psyches and souls. As the psalmist writes, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . “ (139:14)

That’s surely me, and you, too, and everybody who wonderfully and fearlessly (at least bravely) crosses boundaries and concepts that inadequately describe our full, beautiful, complex humanity. The great thing about life is that it always demands performance, and we get to choose, if we wish, which roles to play . . . and how to play them.

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

How do you feel about performance, particularly in regards to sexuality? How can we challenge ourselves to be more authentic while recognizing performance is an important aspect of our lives? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Please join us THURSDAY, November 17th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part I: Beyond the Binary

What turns you on? Is your attraction based on anatomy, gender identity, or something else entirely?

Sacred, Not Secret is a three-part series beginning Thursday, November 17 at 3 PM EST/19:00 UTC in which Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline, authors of the blog Sex, Bodies, Spirit, discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. This month, they go “beyond the binary” of gay and straight to explore the fluidity of sexual desire, and explore ways that we can be an open, affirming space for people- not in spite of our sexual relationships, but because of them!

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for MCC clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although a primary focus is on clergy education, everyone is welcome to attend and participate.

Queer Is a Verb

My entire world is queer. Queer is not just an adjective; queer is a verb.

We are focused on creating an atmosphere of sex positivity and wholeness, of self-love and pleasure within and through our bodies, and doing these things through the lens of Christian faith. Sex, Bodies, Spirit is not just a title, but a way of navigating and understanding the world, who we are within it as whole, embodied people, and how we relate to that which is Holy.

Most weeks, we touch on two (if not all three) of these main focal points of this blog. This week, though, we’re going to dive into something that really ties all three together: the concept of queerness. Queering our spirituality, queering our sexuality, queering our relationship with our bodies. And to do this, we have to tackle the idea of “queer.”

Malachi Grennell:

Queer is a slippery word. I’ve written some about queerness elsewhere (Are You Queer Enough?  and Femme Erasure in the Queer Community), but it is, at its core, a concept defined by negation: to be not something. So part of understanding queer is understanding what is the antithesis of queer, or what concept queer negates.

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nThe other piece to really understanding queer is the powerful, often violent, history of the word. My late godmother, Rev. Jeri Ann Harvey, spoke with disdain when people of my generation sought to “reclaim” queer. “How can you reclaim something you don’t understand?” she would ask. “People were killed over that word. I was shot at for that word. The bullet grazed a piece of my hair off. All for that word. How can you reclaim it without understanding the power of it? If you understood that word, you wouldn’t use it.”

The last time I saw her before she died, we had another conversation about queer. She told me that language was important. If people of a new generation wanted to find power in that word, she understood. It would just never be a word for her, and for many of her generation. There was too much pain associated with it.

As a person who self-identifies as queer, I cannot forget that conversation. But I struggled for years because I wanted to respect all that she (and so, so many others) gave to the LGBT population. I wanted her to know that I understood, as much as I could.

The journey from that conversation to my own sense of identity is so strongly rooted in my understanding of queerness. Ignoring the power of that word didn’t feel like embracing an authentic understanding of it. Grappling with the complicated ideas that queerness presents has been a much more honest way of embracing the struggle of those who came before me.

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SlideShare

I feel like it is often used as a synonym for LGBT, but I don’t really feel like that’s appropriate. LGBT, to me, specifically deals with sexual and gender identity. Queerness feels like it encompasses something different than simply sexual orientation. It’s a framework for life, a context, a way of viewing and responding to oppression. When I think queer, I think of non-normativity. When I think queer, I think radical.

For example, I am not LGB: I am not a woman (and therefore not a lesbian); I am not only attracted to men (and therefore not gay), and I fundamentally believe in more than two genders (and am often attracted to ambiguity of gender), so bisexual doesn’t really fit either. A term was coined some years backed called “pansexual”- a term to describe people who are attracted to a multitude of genders (beyond the binary of male and female). It’s the non-binary gender spectrum version of bisexual.

I identified as pansexual for a good deal of time. (I remember, somewhat to my chagrin, my high school side backpack with “PANSEXUAL” written unapologetically in whiteout across the black front canvas). So what, then, is the defining difference between “pansexuality” and “queerness”?

For me, the distinction comes in the scope of the identity. Pansexual is a definition of sexual orientation and attraction. Queerness identifies that a person does not conform to standard expectations of relationship attraction. Pansexual is an “inclusion” identity: it is defined by what it is (e.g. “I am attracted to a variety of people.”). Queer is an “exclusion” identity: it is defined by what it is not (e.g. “I do not conform to social standards in my attraction.”).

There is no moralistic definition associated with inclusion or exclusion identities; one is not “better” than the other. It is simply a way to think about how the terms are defined, and the scope of those terms. There are many kinds of exclusion identities- most of them begin with the prefix “a-“ (atheist, anarchist, agender, etc.) To be defined by what you are is a much narrower focus. But to be defined as what you are not leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

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Queerness also speaks to a political slant. The Stonewall Riots, for example, feel very quintessentially queer: non-normative, non-gender conforming, fighting back against a violent, oppressive system.

Queerness feels radical, revolutionary, pushing back against the status quo, unapologetic in authenticity. Sounds a lot like Jesus… but then, I have often related to queerness through the model of Jesus.

Which brings us directly to this idea of queering spirituality. In the context of queer as “non-normative,” what does queer spirituality look like today? For me personally, my queer faith is not well-expressed inside of a church building, sitting quietly and singing hymns (although there is a part of me that loves that). My queer faith is gritty and dirty and messy and not always (or usually) pretty.

But when I ask, “What would Jesus do?” I never picture Jesus in a $1,000 three-piece suit, or living in extravagance, or locking his door in the “bad” part of town, or taking more than he needed to sustain himself. I picture the man under the bridge, bringing bottles of water to the homeless in the summer because he understands that deep thirst from that time he was homeless and sleeping under the bridge. I see the man who buys coats and blankets from Goodwill and hands them out in the winter as it starts to get cold. I see the person who picks up their friend doing sex work who was assaulted when a trick got violent. I see a man passing out clean needles on the street so that users don’t have to share. I see someone flipping tables and making a scene because of greed and corruption. I see someone talking about sex in a real, practical, meaningful way in our churches and with one another.

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I don’t see a squeaky-clean image of Jesus, and it’s certainly not an image of Jesus that I can image being worshipped in most mainstream churches. I won’t tell them their image of Jesus is wrong, although I disagree with it. But it’s not my faith.

My queer faith is radical. It’s messy. It’s certainly not blonde-haired, blue-eyed, baby-faced white Jesus. It’s a revolutionary faith. It’s trying to find ways to relate to and embody that model in a world so vastly different from Jesus’. My queerness as a whole- my queerness within my own relationship with my body and gender, my queerness as a sexual person, my queerness in spirituality- it comes together as an integrated, whole person. It’s not just that I am queer in who I sleep with; it’s that the entire outlook of my life is based on a fundamental concept of being other, and navigating social dynamics as someone who cannot- and will not- fit inside the prescribed boxes. My entire world is queer. Queer is not just an adjective; queer is a verb.

Robin Gorsline:

Queerness is a state of mind, a way of being, an orientation to life, and for me a way to think and write, both theologically and otherwise, and even to pray.

revrobin2-023I wrote some years ago in an essay, “Faithful to a Very Queer-Acting God, Who Is Always Up to Something New,” (Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians, Praeger 2013) that “God is continually engaged in disrupting the status quo.”  In some ways, that is my basic understanding of who God is and what God does, as The Lover. And that is the foundation of my queerness.

It is not that God, or I, want change for change’s sake, but I believe God always has more for us than we can possibly understand and accept. That more, whatever it might be in a particular context, is the source of queerness, the source of disruption, the source of unsettling us, or at least me, in our all-too-human comfort with what we already know or claim to know.

For example, I have a friend who has lived a solely gay life for many decades; he had never had sex with anyone but men who were born male. Then, recently, he realized an attraction to several transgender men, and in particular to a transgender man whose anatomy is a mix of parts. Their first sexual sharing was a revelation to my friend, an awareness  that if he had not allowed himself to be open to feelings he did not expect he would have remained in the only category he thought was allowed him.  Now, he is enjoying sex in ways he had never even remotely considered. I think, as he does, that that is God up to some really good stuff.

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Queerness is about undermining categories that seem immutable and fixed. This blog is Queer in that Malachi and I intentionally bring together sex and spirituality, we keep our eyes on human bodies without shame or judgment, we talk openly about our fantasies and our actual sex lives and we are clear that we experience God in all that and believe others can, and some do, as well. In fact, I believe that I experience the divine most through my body. That clearly contradicts the usual Christian line of demarcation between spirit and body, and the attitude that spirit is good and body bad.

Queer theologians and writers (Patrick Cheng, Robert Goss, Mona West, Lisa Isherwood, Tom Bohache, Marcella Althaus-Reid, and myself, among others), as well as other non-Queer theologians, recognize that this division is not an accurate reflection of either Jesus or Paul (or their Jewish ancestors), but that does not stop the tradition from maintaining it. What queers do though is not to continue to argue the case so much as to move on and act from our own embodied wisdom.

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So that is another aspect of Queerness. It is action as well as reflection, it is living in a world that we recognize as decidedly queer at its core—because God is queer—even when others cannot see or experience it . . . yet.

In terms of sex, that can be, like my friend, crossing boundaries we think are impenetrable. And in terms of bodies, it can be choosing to live in ways that challenge social norm, not so much because they challenge norms as that they reflect the reality around and in us.

For example, as many readers know, I wear earrings that most observers assume are meant for persons with female bodies. Earrings may not seem like much, but for me it is what some might call “soul expression.”  They are a reminder to me every day of my inner queerness, and I hope a statement to the world that all is not as it seems (or as dominant culture would have us believe).

Queerness wonderfully affects my daily spiritual practice. I meditate almost every morning, and during part of that most days I masturbate. I sometimes call it “medibating.” I discovered this through another friend, a priest whom I admire greatly. In this form of meditation, embodied pleasure is not only not separate from God, but in truth an integral part of God and my relationship with God.

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Celie (left) and Shug The Advocate.com

It reminds me of a favorite queer theological text, from the conversation Shug and Celie have in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. When Shug speaks of her joy at losing the dominating white man/Father God in her soul and realizing she is part of everything, of the whole creation, she says,

It sort of like you know what, she say, grinning and rubbing high up on my thigh.
Shug! I say.
Oh, she say. God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves ’em you enjoys ’em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going, and praise God by liking what you like.

I often speak of God on the move, not locked up in a book that people insist is the last word of God. I suspect that folks who want to keep God locked up in the Book or in their ecclesiastical rules feel insecure about God, even afraid of God. Life feels safer for them if they know where God is, or at least where they think God is.

I have a different idea. The Bible is very queer, which is why I can agree with those who claim it is a holy text.  The Bible, and the people in it, move like God—they live in a queer universe—because it and they are inspired by God.

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One of my favorite biblical texts is from 2nd Samuel 7 in which God tells Nathan to tell King David not to build a house for God. The text has God saying that life in the tent and tabernacle has been and is fine by God.  Of course, the text also has God saying that David’s successor will build the home for God and the tabernacle (but in my view Solomon’s enterprise is when Israel begins to go off course).

The queer God I know is this God who is not needing a fancy address or dress (although I think God enjoys people dressing up for special occasions) and does not want to be tied down.  In fact, David’s celebratory, leaping dance before the ark as it was brought into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6) feels very queer to me. Saul’s daughter Michal comes out to greet David, chastising him for uncovering himself in front of everyone. David’s response is to claim he will do more things like that, and that feels queer to me, too.

And he is, according to tradition, Jesus’ ancestor. We have no record of Jesus leaping into Jerusalem, but we do have him riding on a donkey and being cheered like a reigning monarch. Of course, it feels sad when we know what is coming and I think Jesus had a pretty good idea about that, too. But the event also feels queer, in that it turned things upside down—the last shall be first, the first last, a queer concept if I ever heard one.

Living is queer, queer is living. Praise God!

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What is your experience or connection with or feelings about Queerness? Do you think of yourself as queer in any way? Do you find the concept of Queer helpful? Or not? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, November 17th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description: Robin and Malachi are still working on the content of the November 17 meeting, but they are seeking to design a session that will examine what they are calling the authenticity of our sexual selves. They anticipate that this will be the first in several sessions in which several non-traditional sexual practices will be explored. They seek to provide factual content as well as to present their views. As always, there will be time for questions and discussion as well.

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for MCC clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although a primary focus is on clergy education, everyone is welcome to attend and participate.

Bullies and Brokeness

. . . people who are assigned female at birth, or AFAB) are often taught to associate their own self-esteem with their attractiveness . . . .


img_1869-02-08Malachi
I recently wrote about two different experiences I had while picking my goddaughter up from school. In one instance, a group of men in a car slowed down and began oogling, jeering, and catcalling, and I responded with an indication that they needed to keep moving. In the other, I was followed for several blocks on my way to her school by someone on a motorcycle who was repeatedly trying to get my phone number. When I had picked her up and was walking back home with her, he reappeared, and I did the best I could to shield her from any additional inappropriate comments.

These stories are not isolated incidents. This is just the reality of Parenting While Trans. Or simply just the reality of Being Trans.

When Robin and I were talking about what we wanted to write about today, these experiences were on the forefront of my mind, and he was talking about his experiences with bullying. I was reminded that I was spared a lot of bullying in my childhood years. I can never stop being grateful for that, given many of the horror stories I have seen, heard, and read about.

But as we continued to talk, my mind started going. “Bullying” is one form of harassment, one that many people (across gender identities and expressions) face. It’s a form of harassment meant to denigrate someone, made to make someone feel “less than,” or “not worthy” of kindness. It’s a brutal and atrocious tragedy that leads to instances like Columbine and increased risk for suicide (especially among LGBTQ people).

I didn’t get bullied through much of high school. But I do remember when I started getting harassed- right around the time I started having sex. And it occurred to me that harassment tends to take two distinct forms, particularly when it comes from men.

Bullying is something I see men doing to other people (they perceive as)

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male. Again, this is not to say that women are not bullied… but when I think of bullying, I think of a young man being called “fag” and “sissy,” being mocked for not exhibiting traditional masculine traits. Often the bullies are bigger, stronger, more masculine  (the incredibly stereotypical, iconic jock image). In short, the “purpose” of the bullying, if you will, is to tear other men down.

Women (or those perceived as women), tend to receive harassment based on their sexuality. It’s supposed to be a “compliment” that she would catch someone’s interest. Where men are expected to fight back against the bullying, women are expected to graciously accept and take it as a compliment.

I was pretty queer in high school. Blatantly, outspokenly, rainbow-wearing, gender-neutral pronoun-using queer. I was also a particularly awkward teenager and not viewed by my peers as a sexual being. My body wasn’t commented on because it wasn’t the type of body that it would occur to many people to make comments about. I wasn’t so unattractive that I was picked on, but I wasn’t attractive in the way that people noticed.

When I started to portray more elements of “mainstream” attractiveness, I found myself the target of catcalls, people stopping me on the sidewalk to ask for my number, people asking me if I was an escort (I confess, at that point, I had no idea what that was or what they were talking about). In short: when I began to be viewed by others as a sexual object, I began to receive more attention… and some of that attention was most definitely harassment.

The next logical step here is that women (and people who are assigned female at birth, or AFAB) are often taught to associate their own self-esteem with their attractiveness, and their attractiveness with the

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external affirmation they receive. But that attention is not always (or often) desired or requested. It becomes a mixed bag of emotions that boils down, “That person is creepy, but I still got it!” It’s an affirmation that we are still attractive and, because our value is predominantly tied to our attractiveness, it implicitly states something about our value and worth as human beings.

It starts young: “He pulled your hair? He must have a crush on you.” equates physical abuse with signs of affection, and it escalates from there. People who are AFAB have learned to equate harassment and abuse as signs of affection for most of their lives, and it is a deep sociocultural lesson that is incredibly difficult to unlearn.

There is, for me, another element of the story that further complicates matters. The people who harassed me on the street were (both times) men of color (of different ethnic backgrounds).

The night I got home after the motorcycle incident, my partner decided to order some food, and asked me if I wanted anything. I wasn’t hungry, so I said no. About half an hour later, I was sitting on my stoop, doing some work on my computer, and a car pulled up on my block, idling right outside my house and the driver (a young man of color) nodded at me.

I felt my stomach drop and my face got defensive. I glared at him until-oh! I remembered my partner had ordered food!- and stuck my head inside to let him know his food was here.

That moment stays with me, though, because it was a moment where my recent experience was coloring my reality, and I realized that I have some work I need to do to deal with my own racism.

As someone who was AFAB in a country with such deeply-held racism, I recognize that, even now, so much of my socialization has taught me to hate and fear black men. I don’t want to believe that that is true, but I know

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that it is. I grew up in the South, and racism is very much not dead. And there is a part of me that must recognize my socialization taught me that black men will rape white women.

It’s a brutal, difficult, ugly thing to face about myself. Particularly when I want, so badly, to be angry. I have these warring factions between my own oppression and harassment as a trans person, and my own privilege and prejudice as a white person living in a predominantly non-white city.

I have no idea how to reconcile these things, but I cannot pretend that they are not there.

And so we are left with this incredibly mixed, jumbled up discussion of harassment, gender, race, social expectations. If ever there was an argument for intersectionality, I think this would qualify. Because these things are not simple, and I have not unlearned so much of my own social conditioning.

I think it comes down to this: we are all broken. We lash out from brokenness, we buy into stereotypes from brokenness, we allow our fear to control us from brokenness. Healing is a long, slow process. It’s a hard process, but I do not want to view the world from a broken place any longer.

 

 

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Bullies I Have Known, and Know

A bully is as a bully does, from kids
to politicians and other famous people
to the guy on my high school bus
who talked tough, bent others’ fingers
and arms behind our backs,
until we cried out, begging him to stop.
I want to ask a couple of bullies these days
to stop—not being sure they are older
emotionally than the guy was on the bus
fifty-plus years ago (whose name I remember
but will not say)—even though their names
are on the front page every day,
one of whom could become
Bully in Chief, succeeding a long line
of less aggressive Commanders
in Chief from Washington to Obama.

Bus bully was actually a nice guy when he grew up,
apologized in his twenties—imagine that,
a bully apologizing, admitting his error without
being forced or shamed, simply because he knew
he had been wrong, he had done wrong.
I do not remember his explaining
why he had been so mean—perhaps, as so often,
his father or mother, or both, had been
bullies or overly aggressive, or he was reacting
to too much passivity at home, or maybe
he was hiding a secret, though I doubt
he was hiding homoerotic feelings or desires
toward me and others. Or was he just scared
of changes in his life and his budding body, like National
Bullies seem to fear change in our society.

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Queers, immigrants, Blacks, Muslims—all pretty scary
to those accustomed to feeling (not necessarily being,
depending on economics) in charge,
though he who seeks to be Bully in Chief
is used to having his way, telling others where the line,
or wall, is drawn, who will design it, who will pay for it.
And then there are women, and trans people, and gender queers,
those whose bodies are pawns to be moved or touched
or groped or fucked or cut or dumped or shot at will
(or all of the above),
depending on what the aggressor feels he needs
to prove. He may want to show off before an audience
or he may feel insecure and act when no one
is looking, or his need for control may be satisfied
by talk alone, boasting what he can do, or wants to do—
and will do when he feels threatened enough to act.

But let’s not be fooled. Talk costs.
A woman or girl, women and girls, walking,
as well as those who defy gender norms,
on the street, cat-called names that presume a relationship,
pay dearly in the insecurity that stalks and ridicules
claims of a so-called free society.
Or maybe it is the leers in classrooms by professors
or cops on beats, subtle but clear, poking innuendo
by salesmen, or dissing of bodies by the powerful.
Is it any wonder that women have to try harder
to speak up in boardrooms and science labs,
other male domains, risking drawing ire and attention,
violation of their spirits, minds, and bodies?

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Nor is it only women who pay, though they pay the most.
Boys and young men have to be brave to push against
the Master Bullies and bullies-in-training in their school
and neighborhood and town,
to resist the National Bullies and he who would be
Bully in Chief; and we who are men, especially white men, grown in this
angry, fearful, putrid soil, must stand too,
in solemn, fierce resistance, not only for our sisters,
mothers, daughters, female and trans friends and neighbors
here and across the globe, but also to be sure
sons, brothers, nephews, male friends and neighbors
here and across the globe learn to live in soulful,
beautiful human wholeness that does not depend
on domination, violating others to feel safe.

I do not like bullies.
But I no longer cower in fear. I will stand
and I will resist. If you stand with me,
and I with you,
we can stop them.
We and others can, and will, be free.

 

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What was (or is) your experience will bullying and harassment? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, October 20th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 3, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 3” from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description: In this session, Robin and Malachi continue to lay out some historical context of sex within Western Christianity, exploring how a faith whose origin rests on incarnation has become known for a deep anti-body and anti-sex bias. In this session, we will move beyond early church fathers and what might be called the social construction of early Christianity to later medieval and Reformation eras, and perhaps into more modern times. There will be time for questions and discussion as well.

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although the primary focus is on clergy participation, everyone is welcome to attend.

The Power of Language

Introduction: As we prepare for the upcoming Third Thursday discussion, we wanted to focus this week on the power and impact of language, and how language impacts not only our ability to communicate, but also frames our cultural, social, and spiritual perspectives. Rev. Robin offers this insightful discussion on the impact of language as we prepare for next week’s discussion.

Robin: In my book, and for many others as well, there is a difference, a significant difference, between being a leader and being a bully. Theyrevrobin2-023 don’t belong in the same sentence, except to create contrast to enhance understanding. But some, like a certain presidential candidate and some of his leading male supporters, act and speak as if these two terms are interchangeable.

That’s the trouble with language. We want it to be precise, we want the dictionary to rule, but in reality context counts as does the identity and preferences of the speaker/writer.

Take, for example, “homosexual,” a word coined in 1869 and brought into more widespread usage in a book, Psychopathia Sexualis, by Richard von Krafft-Ebing in 1886. For a long time, it was the clinical word used by people who spoke of same-sex attraction and sexual activity. But given negative attitudes among many, it nearly always contained at least some judgment on the attitudes and behaviors engaged in by persons who exemplified the term. Now, with the rise of Gay Liberation, it has become for many, certainly for those it seeks to describe (and proscribe), not a clinical term but one that signals deep disapproval of the attitudes and behaviors.

At the same time, it is National Coming Out Day as I write, and for some, “homosexual” is as far as they can get. It is still not easy claiming your sexual orientation openly—given ongoing homophobia by parts of society national-coming-out-dayand especially religion. Still, LGBT folks know that when we hear someone outside the community speak of “homosexuals” it usually means they see us as perverts, at the very least as undesirables, people who should hide our affections if not our entire selves.

And then there’s “pussy,” a word that until recently, in polite usage, really only meant a cat or perhaps a fussy old lady. Now, thanks to Donald Trump and his endless need to dominate women, the slang usage meaning a woman’s vagina has been mainstreamed  (the top definition in the online Urban Dictionary for “pussy” is “The box a dick comes in,” clearly from the perspective of a dominant male). In one sense, this may be good, in terms of my belief (see earlier posts on language) that “street” language should be available for publishing in all venues, especially if it conveys shades of meaning not otherwise available.

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Trevor Noah http://i.huffpost.com/gen/2779212/images/o-TREVOR-NOAH-facebook.jpg

The problem is not his use of the term which offends but his celebration, indeed glorification, of sexual assault.  “Dirty” language may be a problem for some people, but assault ought to be anathema to all. What he said was not “locker room talk,” but immoral and illegal, jailhouse talk. (check out this video clip from Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, especially at 6:44).

Interestingly, our culture seems to use the term “dirty words” only to refer to sexual, body, terms—certainly “pussy” fits into that category as do other words for body parts. I have never heard the term “dirty” applied to the use of the derogatory term, “nigger” or “Nigrah.” And yet that is what those who used, and use, it mean to convey, a person or class of persons who are so begrimed and dirty in their essence that they are beyond the pale of civilization. How much dirtier can you get? It is a dirty word par excellence.

And more, it is a violation, a violent word when used by white people, because it exalted, or at least excused, assault, lynching, denial of basic humanity, job loss, slavery, tearing apart families, etc. It is a term that justified sexual assault, especially of women of color by white men (all of whom had more social power than the women). Men of color also were

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victimized—for example, lynched due to false charges of raping white women.

The word is no longer used in polite or even less polite society, but alas it is still in use among those who believe in and practice white supremacy.  And our children still can hear it on playgrounds (and have to be taught it is wrong, degrading, to use it in reference to anyone).

However, there is a word which was used to degrade people, whole categories of people and certainly individuals who were being attacked simply for being themselves, which is now used, at least by some, as a term of liberation. That word is “queer.”

Many “queers” of my age cohort object to positive usage of the word, because they still feel its sting. Others, like me, and many from younger cohorts, are eager to claim the term and use it to understand the world we inhabit and share with other queers and non-queers. This is where the complexity of language is revealed, indeed where we see proof that language, and language usage, is always, at least to some extent, context-specific.

It has long seemed to me that we can tell which groups are struggling

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with their place in society by how much they argue over the terms they want to use, and to be used by others, to describe themselves. “Black” was not always a positive term, even among Black people. There is still tension between using
Black or African American (in part, of course, because people who are “Black” are not necessarily either African or American).

What matters most, to me and many others, is that the groups get to choose, to be in charge of the vocabulary the rest of use to talk about them. White people can’t use that ugly N-term because our siblings have made it clear they are hurt by it, they are angry when any of us do. That does not mean they cannot use it among themselves. They are in charge.

The same thing is true about queer. The LGBT community is far from clear about this, but members can surely object when people, inside or outside the community, use it in ways that feel, and are, demeaning. The debate continues, even though many benefit from Queer disciplines: Theory, Theology, Criticism, etc.

So, women could decide to claim the term “pussy” as a positive one, theypussy-riot could decide that instead of allowing male supremacist usage to name the beautiful parts of themselves only as instruments to be used by others, that they will claim their own power to name and be named . “Pussies of the World Unite!” could become a rallying cry for those who seek to overturn male supremacy, and more immediately perhaps in the present moment, to rise above Mr. Trump, to show their disdain of his attitude and behavior by using his words against him to claim their own power.

I cannot say, of course, what they should do. What I can say is that I would be honored to join the Pussy Auxiliary, to show up to support them and to speak up for them, and even to be just a helper in whatever way the movement needs support.

My default position is to stand with those who are oppressed, who are demeaned by language and by actions. The adage is, “Actions speak louder than words. “ But, in reality, words are often all the action needed to do real damage to people.

So whether Mr. Trump physically assaulted the woman he mentioned in the video or not, he assaulted her and all women by his words, and by his dismissal of them as “locker room talk.”

Language is often about choosing sides, and I know whose side I am on.

 

We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!

What is your experience with reclaiming oppressive language? How does language choice impact and frame conversations for you? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, October 20th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online:

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Session 3, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 3” from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description: In this session, Robin and Malachi continue to lay out some historical context of sex within Western Christianity, exploring how a faith whose origin rests on incarnation has become known for a deep anti-body and anti-sex bias. In this session, we will move beyond early church fathers and what might be called the social construction of early Christianity to later medieval and Reformation eras, and perhaps into more modern times. There will be time for questions and discussion as well.

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although the primary focus is on clergy participation, everyone is welcome to attend.