Old Story, New Threats: Creating Responses to Religious Oppression

Thank you for stopping by. Due to the press of several projects, we are not posting today. But we do hope you will join us for a timely discussion of religious liberty and oppression tomorrow, May 18–the next in our monthly series of Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online, sponsored by the Office of Formation and Leadership Development of Metropolitan Community Churches.

Please join us  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 or after the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

As noted above, our topic will be . . . .

“Old Story, New Threats: Creating Responses to Religious Oppression”

Not welcome matThe growing movement to claim “religious liberty” as a way to discriminate is not new. The history of Metropolitan Community Churches reflects decades of LGBT people being kept out and kicked out of churches which claimed that our sexuality and gender identity and expression offended their theologies. In a new era of discrimination masked as religious liberty, LGBT people are not the only groups experiencing religiously-based oppression. As we seek to come together and unite, our responses in this historical moment are critical to the future not only of our faith but also our country and wider world. Malachi and Robin intend to draw on the experience of MCC and others to suggest ways we can work together to promote true liberty and justice for all. Join the conversation!

And stop by here again next Wednesday, May 24, for a new blog post!

Honest Talk about Sexual Violence

We need to start recognizing and naming sexual violence when we see it.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

Robin and I recently had a discussion around two distinct issues that had come to our respective attention: Robin heard about incidents where, after being expelled from college for committing a sexually violent act, those accused decided to fight the expulsion in court. I have been closely following a new trend called “stealthing,” in which men are removing condoms during sex without the knowledge of their partners. (For more information, see here and here).

I will let Robin speak more to the first issue, as he is more knowledgeable about that situation, but the rise of “stealthing” is an escalating trend of sexual violence rooted in patriarchal and sexist ideals. The action itself is bad enough- it is, at bare minimum, a violation of consent- but often it’s the intention behind the action that brings it back to power structures, hierarchy, and oppression.

There are websites devoted to helping men learn how to “stealth” effectively- tricks for getting the condom off without their partner knowing as well as discussions about intent which range from “condoms are uncomfortable and limit the ability to receive pleasure, and sex is about pleasure, so you should be able to experience it fully” to “it’s your right to spread your seed and reproduce and no one has the right to prevent you from doing this.” It elevates the comfort, safety, and security of men over that of women (I have only heard of stealthing occurring in heterosexual dynamics; I have not yet heard of this trend reaching gay men)- not to mention “dominance” of men over women.

There are plenty of people that I currently sleep with that I would refuse to sleep with if they didn’t wear a condom. Wearing a condom during genitally penetrative sex is a

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requirement, partially because of pregnancy, but mostly because of the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Now, if I had a conversation with a partner, knew what they had been tested for, and made a conscious choice to possibly expose myself to whatever risks that carried, that’s one thing. But for someone to remove a condom without my knowledge- and without knowing that he may have done this before, with other people- I lose not only the ability to consent, but also the agency to determine whether I am willing to risk my health.

I have had a terrifying situation in which a sweetheart and I were about to engage in penetrative sex, and they had put a condom on. Right before they entered me, they realized that the condom had come off, and we immediately stopped and assessed the situation, and they put another condom on and we were able to continue. But in that moment, I realized that I would not have known unless he said something- it would have been very easy for someone in his position to continue, and I wouldn’t have known any different until later. (Thankfully, he was just as panicked as I was).

In that situation, it was incredibly important that I be able to trust my sexual partner. However. I think it’s also important to state that victims of stealthing are not to blame for these situations. The person who does the action (removes the condom without knowledge or consent) is responsible for the harm they cause.

It’s a difficult and nuanced thing to parse out. I have nothing against casual sex- goodness knows, I’ve engaged in plenty of casual sex with people I didn’t know very well. And I don’t want to imply in any capacity that if someone is the recipient of sexual violence based on having casual sex, that that is in any way their fault. But I do want to underscore the vulnerability many sexual partners experience and the importance of building, establishing, and maintaining trust in sexual relationships- particularly if you are not monogamous, or aren’t in a steady relationship and are just casually dating. The

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vulnerability that someone could very easily do this without your knowledge. The vulnerability that you are trusting someone with your body, your safety, and possibly your future (if you were to get pregnant)… these are things that are becoming increasingly more important to think about as trends such as “stealthing” are on the rise.

It’s also entirely possible that people in established relationships- ones where trust has been developed- do this to their partners. Again, the blame for this lies solely on the person who removes the condom. This is in no way meant to shame people for engaging in sexual activities, or insinuating that they “should have known better.” That type of thinking is indicative of rape culture, and I recognize that my consistent- nearly repetitive- assertion that it is never the victim’s fault is my own attempts to actively combat that type of thinking. Putting ourselves in vulnerable positions does not mean that we are at fault when someone takes advantage of that vulnerability.

Regardless of circumstance, thought, I think that it’s extremely important that we call this what it is- sexual violence. Not an accident, not a misunderstanding, not a “gee, that sucks,” but intentional sexual violence. Putting ourselves in a vulnerable position does not mean that we are to blame when someone takes advantage of that vulnerability. Sex has risks associated with it, and we do the best we can to mitigate those risks. But when we are in a vulnerable state, and someone introduces new risk without our knowledge or consent, this is sexual violence.

In this culture, we are conditioned to view sexual violence in a very specific way. We

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expect it to look like how it is portrayed in media- a person walking alone in an alleyway gets jumped by a group of strangers- but the reality is, sexual violence doesn’t always (or even often) look like that. Sexual violence is usually more insidious and manipulative- and often comes from a friend or trusted individual.

We need to start recognizing and naming sexual violence when we see it. We need to distance ourselves from the Hollywood version and make an effort to see- and combat- actual forms of sexual violence. And it starts by recognizing that trends like stealthing are dangerous, damaging, and contribute to rape culture in a variety of ways. The intimacy and vulnerability of sex can be an incredibly powerful aspect of our physical, emotional, and spiritual connection with someone. But when that vulnerability is exploited, then it perverts that which is sacred.

Robin:

revrobin2-023A recent article in the Washington Post caught my attention and my concern. Entitled “College Men Use Anti-Bias Law to Fight Sex-Assault Findings,” the author recounted a trend among male collegians who have been punished and/or expelled from college for rape and other sexual violence to sue to collect damages, have their expulsion removed from the college record, and even obtain re-admission (link here).

Frankly, I felt angry as I read about men who seem determined to erase what they did and move on with no penalty. Male privilege, male supremacy, strike again!

I tried to balance that with a few instances in which there might be false reports of assault (most experts in this area is that the percentage of false reports is well less than 10%; many cite the figure of two percent), and that sometimes there might even be violations of due process in college administrative procedures. But that just reminded me how inadequate the so-called criminal justice system, and its collegiate parallel for student discipline, is in actually solving social problems.

Another reason for my anger is that rape is severely under-reported (most authorities say 90+% go unreported). Most authorities say sexual violence is the most under-reported violent crime in the United States. Given this, while I feel for someone falsely accused, I find myself not all that interested.  Given how many rapists get away with ruining the lives of others, why should I, we, care?  This may sound harsh, and perhaps I would feel differently if a friend of mine was among those falsely accused.

Report ItThe high proportion of under-reporting is due to many factors. Authorities often cite these: fear of retaliation, uncertainty about whether a crime was committed or if the offender intended harm, not wanting others to know about the rape, not wanting the offender to get in trouble, fear of prosecution (e.g. due to laws against premarital sex), and doubt in local law enforcement.

Based on conversations with both women and men over the years, my observation is that there are two main reasons: fear of not being believed, and shame that it happened. Both are, in my view, the clear result of living in a predominantly patriarchal world. The first and largest number of victims are women and children. But men are raped and violated, too. Patriarchy is male power granted dominance, a system in which men (first and foremost white men with economic privilege) hold the power and women, and men who are seen by some men as ‘not real men” or “less-than men” are largely excluded from it. The most ugly and severe outcome of patriarchal systems is misogyny, the hatred of women for being women.

Rape unreportedThis reality is reflected in results from a 2015 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll of college students. “Asked about things students could do to prevent sexual assault, 93 percent said it would be effective if men respected women more.” (See “College students remain deeply divided over what consent actually means”)

If men respected women more. Now that’s a concept!

Feminism has helped women make gains, and the rise of the LGBT equality movement has helped create significant social change. However, it was 1995—only 22 years ago—that Hillary Clinton shook the global, and U.S., political world with her declaration, in Beijing, that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” And she echoed that point of view in 2011—only six years ago—by declaring in Geneva that “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”

Most interesting to me is that no one of her stature and influence had said either thing up to that time. The outcome of the 2016 presidential election provides a certain irony; the same Hillary Clinton was defeated by a man who famously claimed to grab women “by the pussy” at will.

Hillary Clinton 2That candidate, now the President of the United States, recently spoke up as a character witness for a media personality who has been repeatedly charged with sexual assault and abuse—to the point that his employer, Fox News, removed him from the air (so far, he has not used his millions in severance payments to sue). The President experienced no discernible decline in popularity due to his unsought observation. It seems to have been more of the “locker room talk” that he claimed was the source of his “pussy” comment—in other words, boys will be boys.

Other facts bear out how in the United States progress for equality is slow. Only 29 chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies (5.9%) are women. In the current Congress, there are only 104 women (19.4% of 535 members).

Here a few other relevant facts more directly about sexualized violence:

  • Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted
  • Young people are at the highest risk of sexual violence; Ages 12-34 are the highest risk years for rape and sexual assault.
  • 1 out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime
  • Young women are especially at risk. 82% of all juvenile victims are female. 90% of adult rape victims are female.
  • Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
  • Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are 4 times more likely.
  • Men and boys are at risk of sexual violence. About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
  • 1 out of every 10 rape victims are male.
  • Males age 18-24 who are college students are five times more likely than non-students in the same age group to be victim of rape or sexual assault
  • 21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18% of non-TGQN females, and 4% of non-TGQN males.

every 98 secondsKnowing all this, what do we do about it? And specifically, what do people of faith do about it?

I will write more about this in future posts, but I will say here that the first thing is to talk about it. Not hide it. And that means breaking the silence in church not only about sexual violence but also sex in general, as well as focusing on gender equality and overcoming misogyny.

Those are central to our mission on Sex, Bodies, Spirit, because we believe they are central to living as God creates and calls us to live—honoring all, caring for all, sustaining life.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

Have you, and/or someone(s) you care about and love, been the victim of sexual violence? Was it reported? If so, what happened? If not, how are you, or they, dealing with it now? What do you think can be done to reduce, if not eliminate, sexual violence? 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 next week, THURSDAY, May 18th 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.

On May 18, our topic will be . . . .

“Old Story, New Threats: Creating Responses to Religious Oppression”

The growing movement to claim “religious liberty” as a way to discriminate is not new. The history of Metropolitan Community Churches reflects decades of LGBT people being kept out and kicked out of churches which claimed that our sexuality and gender identity and expression offended their theologies. In a new era of discrimination masked as religious liberty, LGBT people are not the only groups experiencing religiously-based oppression. As we seek to come together and unite, our responses in this historical moment are critical to the future not only of our faith but also our country and wider world. Malachi and Robin intend to draw on the experience of MCC and others to suggest ways we can work together to promote true liberty and justice for all. Join the conversation!

Passive Bodies, Active Bodies

. . . the majority of our communication is non-verbal . . . .

Malachi:

I was spending time with a friend this past weekend, and I realized that they tend to speak in passive voice during conversation. Passive voice is a means of communicating that centers the object of the sentence, rather than the subject (for example, “I walked the dog” is active, whereas “The dog was walked by me” is passive). It’s an unusual style because it tends to feel ambiguous and somewhat awkward.

This got me thinking about communication in general, particularly because the majority of our communication is non-verbal. We have language to differentiate active and passive language when it comes to the words we use; however, I am beginning to think that extending that to our non-verbal communication could have a powerful effect on how present we are able to be in our bodies.

I feel like, for example, that I tend to speak actively but move in my body very passively. I allow things to happen to me, rather than acting upon the world around me. I have written elsewhere about my complicated relationship with acknowledging and expressing desire, but my partner used to say that I needed permission before I felt comfortable wanting something. That is, I needed to know that the desire was reciprocated before I was willing to acknowledge my own desires independently. I have a tendency to wait for things around me to settle before deciding where I want to position myself in my relationships and environments.

I don’t feel like this is the healthiest way to live, because it is reactionary

and responsive, rather than proactive. It also feels a bit dishonest, because

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it creates an image of wanting the same things as someone else, when it’s really more of an acceptance of what is being offered. If I existed less passively in my body- that is, if I were more willing to claim my own desires upfront- then I might find that myself and someone else want completely divergent things, and it could spare both of us a lot of heartache to realize that earlier on in a relationship.

Don’t get me wrong; I think there are times when existing passively is important and necessary. Moments, for example, where we recognize that the privileges afforded to us by our gender (or gender presentation), race (or presentation of race), ability, sexual orientation, authority, etc. put us in greater positions of power than those around us, we may actively choose to exist passively in our bodies in order to center or elevate those voices that are less commonly heard. But I think the key here is “actively choosing.” Passive movement isn’t inherently a bad thing, but I think doing so with intention is vital. Not only does it allow us to consider the complexities and intersections of oppression (and how we fit into them), but it also helps keep us grounded and centered in our bodies, even in those moments that we are existing more passively.

As someone who was assigned and socialized female through my childhood and teenage years, I think that women in particular are conditioned toward passive movement. Women are taught to endure microaggressions (such as unwarranted catcalling or comments that someone should smile) as compliments thrust upon them by strangers. Women are taught to be somewhat sexually submissive, allowing men to “make the first move.” When discussing sexual assault, women’s behavior (how much she had to drink, what she was wearing, what part of town she was in, etc.) is often centered, rather than the assaulter’s behavior. I don’t know if there can be a clearer case of the expectations of passive movement- where the object (the behavior of the woman who was assaulted) is the focus, rather than the subject (the behavior of the assaulter) or the action itself (the assault).

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In this way, I feel like passive movement and existence in our bodies contributes to rape culture. I say this, not at all meaning that “people passively allow themselves to get raped,” but that, when you have one group of people who are expected to allow things to happen and one group who is expected to do things, we end up in a toxic cycle. Rape culture (which, by definition, centers the actions of the receiving party, rather than the actions of the perpetrating party) very much enforces the passive existence of women and feminine-of-center individuals.

And while I am making generalizations here, I absolutely appreciate that there are men and masculine-of-center individuals who also tend toward passive movement for any number of reasons. I don’t mean to erase or discount those experiences, but I can only speak from my own personal experience and, having transgressed across gender lines a few times, I feel very strongly that the emphasis on men is active body language, whereas the emphasis on women is passive.

So how do we negotiate our relationship with our body language? How do we begin to center ourselves- when it’s appropriate- with our movements, our bodies, our actions? Like so many things, it is a sense of self-awareness, an active engagement in how our bodies move and interact with the world.

Do we allow the world to wash over us, to act upon us? Do we find ourselves reacting rather than acting more often than not? And if so, why is that? Where does that come from within each of us? It’s a form of being disconnected from ourselves, from our bodies, from our actions, from our desires. When and how might we shift from passive to active language with our bodies?

I don’ t know that there are universal answers to these questions. Every

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person moves through the world differently, and has to decide for themselves how they want to act and interact. For myself, though, I want to make a more intentional effort to be active in my body language- and more than just active, but proactive. To hear and honor the messages my body is telling me instead of the messages I have received from society that the needs of other should always surpass my own. I see the value and importance of taking up space and centering myself as the subject of my own life, rather than a passive object upon which life happens to.

Better yet, though, I am learning to see the value and importance in the wants, needs, and desires of my body. I am not willing to allow so much of my communication in the world to be so passive, and in order to get what we want, we must be willing to acknowledge what we want- and don’t want. As we grow into ourselves and new ways of understanding how we move through the world, may we do so with intention and deliberate action, rather than putting ourselves last in the focus of our own lives.

Robin:

Recently, during a conversation about sex and sexuality, I was asked if I revrobin2-023identify as a “top” or a “bottom.”

I found myself stammering a bit, not because I objected to the question
(although it feels old-fashioned) but because I felt unsure how to answer. In my early days as an out gay man, the term for some of us who enjoy being fucked and fucking another was “versatile.”  I don’t know if that terminology appears on today’s online sex sites or not. But after a little hemming and hawing that is the way I answered my friend.  After all, my husband and I have some routines we often (although not always) follow, and they involve us in various positions.

But when Malachi suggested we focus on active and passive bodies this week, I thought of that conversation—knowing that this is larger than just positions and practices during sex.

Speaking personally, I began to ask myself some questions. How do I stand, how do I walk, how do I, as the saying goes, carry my body (what an odd linguistic construction)? How do I sit in a chair, how do I place my body in a group of people?

posture chart-final-CopyWhen I was a full-time solo pastor, I recognized the importance of body language—both my own and learning to read others. I was the leader and wanted to convey authority and competence yet I also wanted to convey openness and enough vulnerability for people to want to trust me and talk to me. I don’t know how successful I was; I suspect I confused some people!

At the open communion in an MCC worship service, it is customary to offer the communicant prayer with the bread and cup. Clergy and lay servers alike have to learn to pay attention to body signals. Some people want you to practically hug them (as the hug you) during prayer while others slgnal keeping up to an arm’s length distance. There are subtle variations between those two poles. Respecting these signals is critical to the person being able to receive the blessing of the holy meal.

Gender often plays a significant role. Women are usually raised to listen, men to talk. But that is not about just speech patterns. In fact, speech is not the most important and powerful way we communicate. Our posture, the way we take up space, the tilt of our head, the direction of our eyes, all these and many other factors convey far more than the words from our mouths.

evolution of posture axisrmt com
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The man who conveys his desire to listen—body seeming relaxed, looking directly at the speaker, perhaps head tilted just a little, nodding in comprehension or even agreement (perhaps a slight smile or murmur), conveys a different message from the man whose body seems tense, who is looking at his watch or beyond the speaker, not nodding but indicating an impatience and a desire to speak. There are women who exhibit these behaviors, too. Gender is important, but it is not necessarily determinative of every person or interaction. Many of us have learned, often due to work requirements or other needs, to overcome at least some of our early conditioning.

That conditioning may be the result of gendered socialization, but it also may be the result of other factors, including things that happened to us. I remember as a child, and even as a teenager, being uncomfortable in gatherings of my father’s family. They all were loud, talking over each other, and they also took up space—I mean by that they sat, stood, and walked in ways that made sure others knew they were not only in the room but also intended to take charge, even to be the center of the action. There was a lot of dominance behavior going on, even among the women.  I suspect the women learned it in self-defense.

Overacted VII generally shut down in those gatherings, unless someone specifically invited me to speak. Then I often stammered, despite intelligence and an ability to speak. I still engage in variations of that today. In a class or other group, I tend to be quiet. A professor in seminary told me that she loved to read what I wrote for her, but was disappointed by how little I shared aloud in class.

There is an exception to this general pattern. I am a comfortable public speaker.  Give me a role that requires me to not only speak but also stand up and assume center stage, and I will do it. That was true long before pastoring, but it served me well in that role, too.

So, active or passive?

I am tall, but do not stand and walk tall. Like many tall people, though far from all, I slouch. Recent, ongoing back pain is causing me to pay more attention to posture, so I think I am learning a bit about living in my tall body. Plus, as I wrote recently, I am seeking to claim what I think is my natural lankiness (see “Who Is Your Type?” ). That pain is also causing me to pay more attention to how I sit as I write. I also am using an adjustable height desk, so I write for 30-45 minutes while seated, and then shift and do the same while standing.

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I really like writing, and even reading, while standing at the desk. I usually spend my days at home naked, and there is something very empowering for me to stand, naked, and write. I feel like I am claiming my body in a new, active, way.

I also attend some meetings regularly, sometimes sitting in a circle of chairs and other times at a table. I have been noticing lately that when sitting in a circle I tend to fold myself up, and when at a table I lean in with my head resting on my hand (my arm cocked at the elbow). As at my desk, I am paying more attention to my posture, and shifting to sit up tall.

Active or passive? It seems I lean toward passive, with a new commitment to become more active. This comports well with how I am coming to understand my life pattern for the past 50+ adult years. I am seeing now that I have lived a reactive life, doing what arrived in front of me whether it was actually mine to do or not.

Today, as I claim my vocation as a writer, learning to work on my own without an institutional structure to govern and guide me, I am becoming more active.

Neither passive or active is wrong or bad, of course. I am just hoping for more balance between the two. Surely, we are engineered for both—that reflects the largeness, the depth and width and breadth of God and God’s desire for us to be ourselves—and I am grateful to be broadening my horizon.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

How do identify your body and the ways you interact with others? Passive or active? Some of both? What difference does the context make? Do you see patterns in your body behavior and attitude that reflect, and do not reflect, social conditioning, gender roles, etc.? 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 in about three weeks, THURSDAY, May 18th 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.

A Summer without Body Shaming?

let’s come from a place of loving our bodies . . . .

Malachi:

My day job is in a coffee shop. The past week or so that I’ve been working, I’ve noticed a14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_n significant uptick in the number of sugar free, nonfat, no whipped cream drinks that have been ordered. As I’m chatting with customers while making their drinks, I’m hearing a lot of comments like, “Time to get that beach body back!” or “Gotta lose these pounds now that it’s getting warmer!” or some variation thereof.

There is also an increase in gym membership deals right now (I know this because I have been shopping around for a gym, and all of a sudden, there are a whole bunch of really attractive offers). There are also more and more ads on social media for “lose 10 pounds in a week!” or some new fad diet or reminders that we may have fallen off the New Year’s Resolution, but now is a great time to recommit. All of this is to say, it seems to be the season where people are focusing more and more on their figures.

And I think it’s great to be healthy. Please let me say this first: being healthy, caring for and supporting our bodies is a great thing to strive for. But far too often we equate “thin” with “healthy,” and around this time of year, we are more focused on how we will look in a bathing suit (or naked) than we are on making substantive changes that will have a long-term effect on our overall health.

From this perspective, I think we need to be really careful about how we approach these warmer months, and be aware of our capacity for body-shaming… not just other people, but ourselves. I would hope that people wouldn’t make negative or derogatory comments

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about another person’s body, but we know that those comments happen, and they are immensely hurtful. But as much as we need to ensure that we do not do that to others, we also have to be careful that we are not body-shaming ourselves.

Again, this comes down to the focus on health vs thinness. If we are saying to ourselves, “I don’t feel very good in my body and I want to get healthier,” that’s one thing. But if we are focusing on appearance and thinness, then we run the risk of shaming ourselves for our bodies which, in and of itself is hard enough, but it also has a cascading effect.

In this society, we tend to associate certain physical traits with certain character traits (which is the heart of systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.). We associate thinness with success, beauty, responsibility, self-control. We tend to associate heaviness with laziness, out-of-control (particularly eating habits), irresponsible (especially with food choices), and not attractive. So when we view ourselves as not-thin and reinforce those messages, we are also reinforcing the connotations of those messages: that we are not attractive, or make poor choices, or aren’t responsible, or are lazy.

For example, it’s easy to slip from, “I really need to lose a few pounds,” to, “If I were motivated enough, I would start walking around the block,” or “I feel so guilty for eating that brownie; why did I do that?” or “No one will be interested in me if I look like this.”

The truth is, health and weight are related, but they aren’t the same thing. Some bodies

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are simply larger than other bodies. I have friends who are larger than I am, but significantly more healthy in their consistency of working out and how they eat. Conversely, I have other friends with significantly more unhealthy habits, but a high metabolism, so they are consistently thin and slender.

I have a history of diet pill abuse and addiction. I remember the positive reinforcement I got when I was underweight and how much harder it was to quit, knowing I would have to endure comments about gaining weight. It has taken a long time to learn to love the body that I have, and I still have to be careful. I’ve joined a gym recently, but only after having long conversations with my partner about where I was coming from (wanting to be in better shape) to make sure I wasn’t in a toxic place of self-shaming and wanting to be thin.

We don’t always know what’s going on with someone else’s body. But we can be aware of what’s going on with our own. So as we approach these warmer months of bathing suits and shorts, nudity and tank tops, let’s come from a place of loving our bodies. A place of perfectbody.jpgnot comparing ourselves to an unachievable (and very white) beauty standard. We can want to improve, strengthen, and support our bodies. We can seek to be healthier. But if our bodies are temples, then approaching them with self-deprecating messages isn’t the way that we make space for them to be holy places.

Let’s be kind to ourselves, and be aware of the messages we are sending to ourselves, and strive to love the bodies that we have- rather than listen to the messages of the bodies we are told we should aspire to have.

Robin:

I have heard several people in the past couple of days speak about getting back to the gym—“summer’s coming,” one said, “and I want to look my best!”  Frankly, I have seen that friend naked and I think they already look fabulous. But I understand that most, if not all, of us have insecurities about our bodies, specifically about how they look—not only to others but also to ourselves.

I have been talking about looking for a new bike because I want to start regular riding. Around our home are some good streets for riding, including bike lanes, and I want to enjoy them and outdoor exercise. I also need to build lower- and mid-body strength and flexibility.

But the biggest impetus for me to ride now is to be prepared to participate in the World Naked Bike Ride in Philadelphia on September 9, 2017 (click here for more information, and let me know if you are interested in sharing it with me). But this is not a competitive or long-distance event, so I don’t need lots of preparation.

What I do want (as opposed to need) is to look my best. When I take my clothes off in public I don’t want excess body fat, I want to be, and feel, lanky (see “Who Is Your Type?” for more about my lankiness), sleek, while riding and while standing around with lots of other unclothed, and even clothed, people. I want to look my best in photos, too (and I hope there will be photos).

I remember my New Year’s resolution to lose 10-15 pounds—the commitment I failed to keep for more than a couple of weeks, if that.  Why did I drop the ball, not the pounds? I think a major reason is that I need more incentive to eat less and exercise more.

It doesn’t even have to be the beach or a naked event. We are getting ready to change wardrobes, too, wearing fewer and less bulky clothes, making our bodies more visible. We want to look our best, and for many In our culture, that seems to mean “thin,” or at least not “fat.”

Who tells us that? And how are “thin” and “fat” defined? How do we feel about whatever category in which we, or others, place us?

According to a standard BMI (Body Mass Index) chart from the National Institute of Health, I am overweight, not obese. Do both mean fat? Probably, at least not thin.

According to a different standard, offered by the Smart Body Mass Index, my weight is appropriate for my age, height, and sex. So I am not overweight? Not fat? But am I thin?

I want to be thin!!!

BMIAccording to the standard chart, I’d have to lose 22 pounds to be “normal” (as opposed to “overweight,” “obese,” and “extreme obesity.”) What is that? I have never thought of myself as normal, and don’t intend to do so now.

The use of that word on the government chart speaks volumes about the feeling so many have about our bodies.  We want to be “normal” and seek some sort of “Good Bodies Seal of Approval” for ourselves—and most of all we want to feel we can apply the approval to ourselves. But we are sure we fall short. We are not normal; the (mostly white) models in magazines are normal, our neighbor without any visible body fat is normal, the hunky guy or curvy woman at the gym is normal. We are not.

So we carry shame, or at least embarrassment.

beauty pageant swimsuit competitionFemale-bodied persons generally carry the heavier burden, because they, more than male-bodied persons, are subject to constant aesthetic scrutiny—standards about everything from hip and breast size to hair and makeup (they are the ones expected to wear make-up), and certainly weight. Some of this is not under their control—hip and breast shape, if not size, come with the body. Genes count—even though they are rarely considered by those who judge.

But that is not to say that men don’t have issues, too. I have known some really gorgeous men—by worldly standards as well as mine—who carry negative feelings about at least some aspect of their bodies. For some, it can be penis shape and size, or it can be “spindly” legs or flat butts, and just like women, they come with the body (working out doesn’t always change legs or butts on men). There are men, as there are many more women, who feel they can never be thin enough.

I don’t want that sort of thinness and I do not suffer from anorexia, but I want to lose my belly. The rest of me is pretty good for a 70-year-old man—not muscular but not seeking big biceps, etc. I wouldn’t mind being more toned and defined, but it is the belly that really gets to me.

Of course, my husband loves my belly. And I love his belly. But I want mine gone. This has at least something to do with the fact that my father had a belly, too. He had spindly legs and while strong—he spent his days in physical labor—was not muscular. But his belly was big. I never liked how it looked.

food plus feelingsBut there are social factors at work, too. Pictures of beautiful (mostly white) people who are thin do much to create the social standard that beauty is thin. Moreover, incessant advertising about the joys and coolness of fast food and good feelings when enjoying desserts, lead many to adopt unhealthy eating habits.

I know from personal experience that it is easy for parents to use food as a way to incentivize good behavior, and even to use food to convey love. As a parent, I hope I did not do either of those too much. I know as a child that my parents used food to anesthetize feelings, their own and mine, and to convey their love for me and each other.

In fact, I was a skinny kid until about age 10 when my father began making a large batch of peanut butter milkshakes to share with me every night. In one school year, I went from skinny (early lankiness) to overweight, teetering toward really fat. I have been fighting it ever since.  The only time I have ever been thin since then was when I was diagnosed with adult mononucleosis at age 36—considered a very serious illness at that age—and lost more than 70 pounds. Then I was truly skin and bones. Too thin.

large group of naked people
naturalian.blogspot.com

I have woven personal history with some social commentary because body image is both a major social issue and a deeply personal one. We carry our own feelings, our shame and disappointment in ourselves, but that personal reality affects those around us, too.

We are at our most spiritually and emotionally healthy, as individuals and a society, when we realize that no body—including our own—whatever its shape or condition, reflects anything other than our innate beauty as beloveds of God.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

How do you feel about your body? Why What standards do you apply in evaluating it, and where do they come from? When and how do you judge the bodies of others, or don’t you do that at all? If you do this, what is the source of the criteria by which you judge others’ bodies? 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 in about three weeks, THURSDAY, May 18th 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.

How Resurrected (and Res-erected) Are Our Bodies?

we have perpetuated the violation of Jesus’ body by our insistence that his was not a real body

Robin:

revrobin2-023The Sunday of the Resurrection, AKA Easter Sunday, has come and gone, and in the liturgical calendar we are now in the season of Easter during which the Gospels record various appearances by the embodied Jesus.

The interactions can be confusing—ranging, in John, from Jesus telling Mary not to touch him because he has not yet risen to his slightly later appearance to a gathering of the disciples, showing his wounds, and still later inviting Thomas to put his fingers and hands in the holes in his side. Even then, he seems to go through walls to join them, thus causing many to question how fleshy and intact his body was. And in Luke, he appears to several of them on the road to Emmaus and then stands among the disciples in Luke and Mark, and in Luke he asks for and eats food in their presence.

Then there is Lazarus, who was not crucified and does not ascend, but whose body is resurrected from the tomb. He was all wrapped up in the tomb, and comes out at Jesus’ command, and then others peel the cloth from him.

resurrectionAll this raises some questions for me about post-resurrection bodies. I have wondered at times if Lazarus was naked under the burial clothes. What about Jesus? The gospels all say the soldiers took his clothes at the cross. Or did they each have a chaste covering of their loins? Jesus must have at least been uncovered in his upper body in order for the disciples to see and touch the holes.

At least one writer has speculated how rude and disorienting it must have been for Lazarus to be brought back after being at rest in the tomb. At least Jesus may have been prepared for something to happen after being crucified and entombed–even if he did not know what it would be exactly.

So how do we understand what constitutes post-resurrection bodies? What to make of this, in terms of our bodies? Are we ever resurrected?

St Thomas byCaravaggio
St. Thomas by Caravaggio

As I ponder these questions, I experience the gospel accounts taking pains to tell us Jesus was resurrected in his body, just as Lazarus had been. I hear yet again the theme of incarnation, that doctrine of theology that has long been difficult for the church to comprehend—God appeared in the body of one born of a woman, so the teaching goes, and the writers seem to say that “he” reappeared the same way.

It will not surprise regular readers here that this reinforces my belief in the centrality of bodies, my perception and deep conviction that spirituality is an embodied connection with divinity and each other, that it is not limited to our minds, our words, our thoughts but is as much centered in our bodies and in our embodied relationships (for example, check out my post in “WTF Do We Do with Lent?”).

A certainty has grown in me over the years that the church—really all, or almost all, of it—has gotten very far away from incarnation—not only do we fail to talk openly and honestly, and positively, about sex as part of our faith lives (God forbid we should talk about it in church!), we don’t even want to acknowledge that we all have bodies. That’s why, when I began this blog, I knew I had to include sex and bodies in the title—no circumlocutions, no beating-about-the-bush, just clearly sex and bodies, connected with spirit. They go together without qualification, without apology.

The Sexuality of Jesus by Wm PhippsBut that is not what happened after Jesus showed his post-resurrection body, and after the gospel writers included accounts of his appearances. Over the centuries theologians and popes and many others have expended considerable energy making Jesus less fully human than divine—while claiming he is both in all respects. Some writers have resisted this—William Phipps, e.g., has offered several texts, Was Jesus Married? and The Sexuality of Jesus that openly explored possibilities—but in reality few have raised these matters as part of our shared faith journey.

Of course, we have no images of Jesus’ body drawn in his own time, and he has been portrayed in all sorts of ways—too often as blonde and blue-eyed in Western traditions—but in all mainstream portrayals of him on the cross he has at least a cloth over his genitals. This seems to contradict the gospel testimony, as well as what we can assume would have been the intent of authorities to shame him through nakedness. In some ways, we have perpetuated the violation of Jesus’ body initially done by the authorities by our centuries of insistence that his was not a real body. It feels like sexual violence to me. I suggest one post-Resurrection way to begin getting real about bodies is to let Jesus have a whole one.

However, as interesting as it would be to see drawings of his actual appearance, the post-Resurrection bodies that most interest me are ours. I don’t mean just ours personally but actual bodies all around the world. All bodies.

Naked Jesus and thieves on the cross
http://www.wilgafney.com (and check out Rev. Gafney’s blog for March 28, 2013 for powerful analysis of sexual violence and the body of Jesus)

All bodies are sacred—that is a clear teaching of Jesus, which he enunciated many times especially in caring for the bodies of those at the margins of respectable society, and again on the cross by telling his neighbor (the thief, according to the story, also naked) that he too would be blessed.  So what are we doing to bring his teaching into actual practice?

Are we who have too much food giving some of it up that others may live? Are we who are protected by the world’s strongest military, telling our leaders to use fewer bombs and do more diplomacy and give more aid and provide more examples of peace to help victims of violence to be saved and healed? Are we who possess gender privilege—people with penises and all those whose gender identity already matches our genital configuration—standing up for and with people with vaginas and transgender neighbors, friends, and family members?

Perhaps we need to understand that the bodies that need resurrection are our own, that we need to do as Lazarus did in response to Jesus, we need to come out of the anti-incarnational tomb in which we have buried not only Jesus but ourselves.

soccer in cassocks
Couldn’t find any images of clergy in shorts!

I like to be naked, and hope someday to participate in clothing optional worship. But I know most people are not ready for that. A less daring thing would be for clergy who robe each week to cease doing so for a period of time, and talk about that how that feels. And perhaps, in warm months or climates, they could wear shorts or tank tops or both, and encourage church members to do the same.

Let us see and show that we have bodies that join in worship of the God who creates our bodies. Indeed, denial of our bodies dishonors the One who creates and blesses them. And for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, it is a denial of his embodiment, his teaching,  living, dying, and being raised in his beautiful body in the wholeness of God.

Malachi

This week, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the living movement of life triumphant over death, of truth persevering over falsehood, light victorious over darkness. We celebrate what is at the heart of our faith as Christians: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ is here, and Christ will come again.

Easter is a holy time, a celebratory day for Christians. And yet, every time we approach and move through this season, I cannot help but laugh in memory of a story an old pastor told me about her first Easter service as a newly-ordained clergy, fulfilling her calling as an associate pastor. She was dressed in full regalia, walking down the church aisle and making her way to the front of the congregation. As she opened her mouth to welcome all and begin the service, in her nervousness, she proclaimed loudly that she was excited to gather in fellowship to celebrate the glory of Christ’s erection!

Whoops. It still makes me laugh to this day, partially because I know that every pastor and preacher has their own story of a time they humorously misspoke, but mostly because I can’t hear the word “resurrection” without boldly also hearing the word “erection.”

I wondered if the two words shared a common root; it turns out, etymologically, they don’t. “Resurrection” actually shares its origin and

http://www.ltocz.com/easter-good-friday-2014-770×449.jpg

history with the word “resurgence,” which I think is a pretty powerful way to think about this time of celebration. A resurgence, movement, rising up in collective celebration.

But I can’t stop thinking about the phonetic connection between “resurrection” and “erection.” “Erection” is an interesting word, because when we think of it, we tend to think of the arousal of penises. But clitorises can also become erect with arousal. The concept of erection is not one that is solely the purview of assigned male at birth bodies; erection is a concept that can be applied to all genitals. Similarly, “resurrection” is not just for people who look, think, act, feel, or identify as certain way; it is for anyone who wants to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, and ourselves in Christ.

During Lent, we focused on intentional contemplation. We made space for those things that are often neglected by removing or minimizing things in our lives that detract from our relationship with God. We sat still, cultivating patience, breathing through the discomfort. But coming through Lent into Easter, we celebrate resurrection, resurgence, momentum, exuberance. Or, perhaps, we celebrate re-erection, a renewal of arousal, awareness, pleasure.

In this week following Easter, I am led to think about our post-resurrection (and post-erection) bodies. I think about the orgasmic bliss that often comes post-erection: the connection we have with ourselves, with our partner(s), with something deep and holy. I wonder how we

https://bthomaswriter.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/0451de6a985bed1173e770666fda1c68.jpg

might embody that sense of connection in our post-resurrection bodies. How might we come to see the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection as a sense of (re)forming a connection, celebrating the orgasmic delight in life triumphant? How might we come to erect ourselves, our bodies, our postures, our spiritualties, in light of the risen Christ?

Coming through Lent, a time of deep meditation and contemplation and stillness, Easter is a time of celebration and movement. I can’t help but think of it like sex: slowly learning another person’s body, what works to build connection and what doesn’t, how you communicate with one another, verbalizing intention and desire to build connection. And while not all sex ends in orgasm, Easter feels like the release of orgasmic excitement: Christ is risen!

And now, we look at the work we have done over Lent and in the days leading up to Easter. What kinds of connections have we made? Have been honest with ourselves about our desires, our intentions? These are changed bodies, changed spirits; what have we learned in this process? Who are we and how do we move through the world?

Hopefully, we have learned ways that we feel connected and closer to one another, and to God. Hopefully, we have also learned some things that don’t work. There is space in growth for fumbling; in fact, learning what doesn’t work is almost as vital as learning what does, both in our spiritual

http://www.dfumc.com/reg/easter/lent.jpg

and our sexual selves.

The period of Lent is over, and Easter has brought the culmination of this period of contemplation and reflection to a close. And yet, I hope that we find this to be truly a resurgence. I hope we find ourselves revitalized, connected, excited to move forward, rising up in celebration, rising up against hatred and injustice and social inequality. I hope we find ourselves eager to do the work that we have each been called to do.

But mostly, I hope that this period of post-resurrection finds us in a state of orgasmic bliss. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

Amen.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

As we celebrate the risen-ness of Jesus’ body, what do we experience in our own bodies? Can we allow the radical implications of divine incarnation to affect us, help us to experience God in all that we do and are? What resurrection experiences have you had? Can you feel the resurgence of God in your body? Do you experience physical/sexual erection/arousal and orgasm as divine? 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

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, THURSDAY, April 20 for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC.To access the call, please click here.

Our focus will be on these issues: How do we as people of faith learn to navigate the social stigmas and assumptions of sexuality, particularly in light of divergent gender expectations? How can we come to dismantle toxic masculinity and puritanical femininity to embrace and be empowered as healthy, sexual beings? How do we construct the ethics of our sexual practices in a world that shames us for acknowledging sexual desire? Join us Thursday, April 20 for a discussion aimed at opening dialogue and dismantling many of these assumptions and social stigmas that impact our abilities to live fulfilling, sexual lives.

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.

Constructing Gender, Constructing Sex

The messages we receive– across gender, cultural context, sexual orientation, and so forth– are complicated and tricky . . . .

Malachi:

As Robin and I prepare for next week’s discussion on gendered expectations and social stigmas with respect to sexual development (see invitation at the end of this post), we are taking time this week to think about how we have each been impacted by social expectations- particularly as our senses of selves (gender, sexual, embodied) have developed in very different social and political climates.

As frequent readers here know, I was assigned female at birth and was raised as a woman in a lesbian household. Although I no longer identify as female, this upbringing shaped my understanding of sexuality in ways that still impact me today- both positively and negatively. So many of my experiences are flashes of memory pieced together, like scenes from a play acted out against this particular backdrop.

On the positive side, I was absolutely raised with the concept of “queer sex”- this idea that sex doesn’t have to be a linear path that begins with kissing, transitions into foreplay, and culminates with penetrative sex and simultaneous orgasm (or someone’s orgasm, anyway). This “script” of sexuality is one that I learned much later, and not through personal experience, but through conversations about how most people approach sex.

The downside of my upbringing was a deep fear of men, both from the circumstances of my life (living in a home of all women) and from explicit

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/ed/0b/fa/ed0bfa3d833a45eb783b77a9d925d56d.jpg

messages from one of my mothers. I remember being a child, somewhere between the ages of 5 and 9, and my mother telling me (as I was going outside to play) that if any of the female neighbors asked me to come over and help them with something, that was fine, but if any of the male neighbors did, to come inside and tell her immediately. This was the first time in my life I was aware that there were differences in the actions of men and women, and while it’s something that I didn’t fully understand at the time, it registered for me that women were ok to be alone with, but men were not.

The bridge between my positive understandings of sex as an inherently queer act and some of the negative lessons I inherited is emblematic in a semi-sexual relationship throughout high school, where my boyfriend and I struggled to explore our own sexual desires in the midst of our hang-ups. Perhaps because I was well-conditioned to fear male sexuality, I was terrified of engaging with ejaculate fluids. As a result, he spent much of our sexual explorations unsatisfied- but even in that, he never pressured me or made me feel bad that I was not comfortable bringing him to orgasm.  I understand, looking back, that this was a deviation from the typical responses of a teenage male to that situation, and I feel remarkably blessed that he was so patient and understanding and queer, in his own ways.

The times we tried to have penis-in-vagina intercourse (which was only once or twice), he experienced some performance anxiety and was not able to get hard enough to penetrate me, something that felt simultaneously disappointing and relieving: I was sexually attracted to him, but I was terrified of getting pregnant, and a part of me was convinced that if we had sex even once, I would end up pregnant (like “those girls,” because a lot of my thoughts were framed in an uncomfortably classist and anti-sex way, I now realize).

I remember (and am still friends with) the woman to whom I lost my virginity, around the same time I was having these explorations. I was 16 years old, and she was a good friend, and we ended up having sex during a sleepover at her house. I remember feeling a little caught up in “doing it right,” and feeling unsure about how to communicate my own desires. I felt like it was important that I make her feel good about what she was doing, whether it was pleasurable or not, which is a hang-up I still work through with new sexual partners.

http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2016-03-28-1459194954-9437675-squarewithtextforhpblog.jpg

My instinct is to please people, to make them feel good about what they’re doing… even if what they’re doing isn’t pleasurable to me. That piece is very much part of female social conditioning: to be diplomatic, to minimize personal needs in favor of the needs of others, to encourage people and help them feel that they are doing something well. This translates, to me, as not speaking up for my own wants and needs during sex.

These experiences occurred within the backdrop of reading (and rereading, many times) Stone Butch Blues, and understanding the empowerment of female sexuality within the butch/femme dynamic- another vital contribution to my understanding of queer sex and sexuality. So many of these things— growing up in a lesbian household, fear of men and masculine sexuality (although I was clearly attracted to men), losing my virginity to a woman, feeling (to some degree) a resonance with the butch/femme dynamics in Stone Butch Blues, fear of getting pregnant (and subliminal judgement towards those women who did), discomfort with claiming my own sexual desires-these things have all been a part of my social messages around sex and sexuality.

In many ways, I was spared much of the heteronormativity models of sexual dynamics, but I still received a lot of toxic messages about both men and women. There was a part of me that believed that all men would rape, if given the chance, and it was up to me to never put myself in a

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position where that could happen. I believed, in many ways, that women could do anything that men could do (which is and was absolutely true), but I still inherited a lot of sexual shame from my closeted mothers. I was never inundated with “no sex until marriage” messages.  At that time, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal, and my parents weren’t willing to instill that in their children, but sex wasn’t something we talked about much.

Having such mixed concepts about sex made gender transition really interesting, because I was suddenly being perceived as male and expected to navigate the world with the social conditioning and cues of men, but I had no idea what those were, except toxic messages about sexual aggression. The conditioning I had was female, but it wasn’t a typical woman’s experience, I don’t think, and my exposure to men was limited. I felt completely lost in how to navigate sexual situations as a transmasculine person.

I remember going on a date with a heterosexual woman and realizing, at some point, I needed to have the “I’m trans” conversation with her. I had no idea how to have that conversation, and I was immensely relieved when she said, “I know.” It was one of the first times I ever felt a pressure to conform to a gendered expectation, and I had no idea what the expectations were, or how to meet them. We attempted to have sex once, but I was so nervous that we ended up simply cuddling and sleeping next to one another. I was coming from a place of not wanting to be sexually aggressive, and she was coming from a place of expecting me to make the first move.

art-and-anarchism

I’m not sure if I have it figured out much better, except that I feel less constrained by the expectations of social norms because my gender doesn’t fit neatly into any particular category, and I have spent so much time immersed in consent-based cultures that I have rewritten many of my own negotiations about sex. I still recognize some level of fear when faced with masculine sexuality, but I can talk about that with partners in a way I never used to be able to, and tackle some of where that comes from.

The messages we receive– across gender, cultural context, sexual orientation, and so forth– are complicated and tricky and come from a variety of places. Sometimes it’s difficult to parse out why we feel a certain way toward something, but I think, more than anything, I have come to realize how deeply embedded gendered sexual conditioning is, and how it contributes both to toxic masculinity and the puritanical ideal of femininity.

These ideas further distance us from our partners and lovers, but they also distance us from our own desires. Learning, relearning, and unlearning some of these messages has been one of the most important steps I have taken to be more embodied in myself: my spiritual self, my sexual self, and my body. Maybe when we talk about queering sex, it’s not just in the acts and narratives, but also in the ways that we combat these social messages to interact queerly with our gender, our bodies, and our lovers. And I, for one, am in favor of more ways of queering sex.

 Robin:

revrobin2-023I was born in 1946, an early Boomer, in a small, socially and politically conservative town 40 miles northwest of Detroit, and grew up on a tree farm three miles from town. Church was a center of our family life.

I should have known, and probably others suspected, that my gender identity was complicated—I asked for toy kitchen utensils and pots and pans, not for trucks, not even much interest in Tinker Toys (my generation’s version of Legos). I asked for dolls, too, but as I remember those were refused.

Over time, I learned to contain my cross-gender impulses, and I am sure my parents felt relief.

Puberty made containment more complicated, of course. Boys were the focus of all my fantasies, and really the only classmates I ever looked at with desire. I can still see some of them in my mind’s eye, in the gym class showers and just hanging out in school.

toy cooking setI did not know any open homosexuals, although I should have guessed that one somewhat effeminate friend, Bob H.—like me, born to older parents who were religious—liked boys, too. On a multi-day sixth-grade school trip to a nature preserve, where we stayed in big rooms of single-sex bunks, he came back from the showers with a visible erection and the words, “You should see Bob S.’s ‘thing’—it’s huge!” I went to the showers but missed that show even as I remembered the erection I did see (first one I ever saw, other than my own).

I suspect others must have sensed my proclivities, but nothing was ever said to my face. And I was the high school BMOC (big man on campus)—president of my class and the Student Council, editor of the school paper, president of the band, valedictorian, etc—which seemed to inoculate me from people pushing me to date. If girls sought me out, I missed it entirely.

shhh_webI do remember one time being part of a group of girls before class while one of them talked about how a boy tried to penetrate her, but she had to stop him because he was “too big.” I was so unfamiliar with the concept of male-female sex, or at least so uninterested, I asked what she meant! They all laughed and she, somewhat red-faced, told me. It took me a long time to get over wanting to see his “big one.” Actually, perhaps I never have.

I tell all this as a prelude to reflecting on how gender, and other, expectations for me as a PWP—person with a penis—have affected my sexual life and practices.

I well remember my first sex with a woman—the young sister-in-law of a college friend at whose wedding I served as best man. It is clear that she set her cap for me and I succumbed. But it is also clear to me that the couple of times we had intercourse were, for me, about getting off. I had little interest in her or her needs.

That experience led me to engage with several female college friends, to the same result. I got off. Hope they did. In that sense, I lived up to a traditional model of masculinist behavior—the woman exists to meet man’s need.  I am not proud of the fact that my wife of nearly nine years (and three children) did not fare much better in bed (even though I deeply loved her).

its_all_about_me_black_tshirtHowever, I also know that when I finally owned up to my queerness, I still approached sex with men in a similar fashion. It really was all about me. And I did not even then focus on it a lot—not the way I think many men, whatever their orientation, do.

Frankly, I was almost as intimidated by penis-bodies as by ones with vaginas (except that I did not gag when I sucked and licked cock and assholes like I did when I tried to lick cunt). But over time I learned to be more open, more free, even going to J.O. (jack-off) clubs in New York where my small cock was not in great demand. But then I never really tested that by going after men. I mostly watched—and of course, got off, and went home.

With my husband of almost 20 years, unlike my first male partner of 6.5 years, I have learned to cherish his body, to seek his pleasure as well as mine, to create a shared eroticism blossoming in us together.

And as I have shared here before, as my body has aged and my ability to produce an erection is seriously challenged, I have become more invested in sex. Strange as it may seem, I think in one way I have become more masculinist in that for the first time in my life I think about sex a lot. It is one of the reasons I began this blog. I want more sex, and one of the ways I get it is by writing about it (I can get pretty turned on writing some of these posts!).

Dangers-of-Thinking
David Hayward nakedpastor.com

I now celebrate sex like I never did before. Yet I sense some need to offer an excuse or an apology for that—as an older man, and/or as an ordained clergyperson.  Given those identities, is it appropriate for me to be so interested in sex?

There is a widespread social belief that interest in sex, and engagement in it, declines with age, so that by the time people are in the 70s and 80s  there is no sex happening. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary (see The Secret Lives of Sexuality in the Elderly), but I am aware I, at 70, feel pressure to keep quiet about sex.

Certainly, as a clergyperson, I feel constrained—even though I no longer am employed by a church, and am officially retired, I still wear the clerical collar, preach, teach, write, provide spiritual counsel—against being open sexually. The social pressure in church about sex, especially in maintaining a prohibition on talking openly about it without negative judgment, is powerful. This pressure also impacts negatively on reclaiming my joy in naturism (living naked as much as possible).

The irony for me in this is that I feel more and more certain that it is God who is calling me to be more open sexually, more open about and with my body—not to abandon monogamy and not to shock others, but to study, write, and teach about the gifts shared in sex, bodies, and spirit. This is the first time I have had to cope with feelings of guilt (other than fear of not doing it well enough), maybe even shame, about my ministry.

It can feel a bit like Jesus healing on the Sabbath—breaking the religious/social/cultural rules to do as God wants and getting in trouble for it. Still, I guess that is pretty good company! Like Jesus, I am grateful for God’s call (and aware I have it a lot easier!).

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What is your history with gender and other ways you experienced being shaped as a sexual being? Are there ways in which your sexual life, sexual practices, do not fit neatly into the usual gender and sexual orientation categories? If so, what are they and what has influenced you? Would you like to change any of that? Why?  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

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, THURSDAY, April 20 for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC.To access the call, please click here.

Our focus will be on these issues: How do we as people of faith learn to navigate the social stigmas and assumptions of sexuality, particularly in light of divergent gender expectations? How can we come to dismantle toxic masculinity and puritanical femininity to embrace and be empowered as healthy, sexual beings? How do we construct the ethics of our sexual practices in a world that shames us for acknowledging sexual desire? Join us Thursday, April 20 for a discussion aimed at opening dialogue and dismantling many of these assumptions and social stigmas that impact our abilities to live fulfilling, sexual lives.

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.

Who Is Your Type?

. . . let God reveal to you something that shows you how beautiful you are . . . .

Malachi is off this week.

Robin:

revrobin2-023A friend and I sat talking recently, and one topic we discussed prompts me to write here about these questions: What body types do you like, and why? And what might your response say about you?

He, a gay man in his mid-20s, and I agreed that many people evaluate, or judge, others based on body types, and that in our experience, gay men may be particularly prone to this.

But he and I both know straight or bisexual male friends who can readily tell you what type of female body draws their attention, as well as female friends, lesbian or bi- and straight, who can do the same about their preferences. When I was younger, and single, hanging out with other younger, single friends, men and women, LGBT and not LGBT, we often knew each other’s preferences and would at times point out someone we thought they’d like.

female body shapes goqii com
goqii.com

 

There were men who liked big-breasted women, and sometimes big-hipped, too, and others whose ideal was more petite all over. There were women who wanted lanky men and others who wanted hairy men, even one who was drawn to bald men (supposedly with higher sex drives). Women loving women seemed interested in less external appearance, but the presence or absence of body hair was important and clothes mattered and hairstyles, too (butch or femme was a big deal). Much of this involves the performance of gender.

Certainly, as I came out 35 years ago there were clear guidelines for a certain “clone” appearance—borne of some desperation, at least in part, to find each other. I never fit very well in the expectation to be lean with some muscle (but not too much), butch, well-hung, trim haircut, wearing the correct jeans and a flannel shirt and an earring in the left ear and the correct color bandana handkerchief in the correct rear pocket.

Castro clones late 70s flickr com
Castro clones, late 70s  flickr,com

 

One thing is missing from this list: racial identity. As I look back on those years in the 80’s, and into the 90s, the presentation of the iconic gay man always involved white men. No Black or Latino or Asian or Native American men need apply. That racism, white supremacy really, is still true, even though I, as a white person, want to say it is gone, or at least reduced. The online hook-up sites say otherwise (as does continuing animus against the Obamas and the resurgence of white nationalists).

These days, as I spend many of my days at the keyboard in my home office, I wear jeans and a flannel shirt (when I am not naked). But I am not as lean as I wish or could be, no one would ever call me butch (the dangly, often “feminine-appearing” earring in each ear does not help), and my genitalia have shrunk not grown with age and my skin has begun to sag and wrinkle in places.

Okay, that’s me, or at least my body (and how I cover it). But what are my standards for others?

male and female models gumtree com
In a routine Google search for “male and female models” it was nearly impossible to find any skin tones other than white

I admit to really liking lanky men with not a lot of body hair (except I really get excited by hairy calves, and men with long hair are often a turn-on for me). Men of all colors and ages— whatever they wear or don’t (naked always best) and whatever their genitals look like—who meet those criteria draw my attention.

However, what is of great interest to me is how much my beloved husband of 20 years does not match those criteria. He is considerably shorter than me, and has wonderful body hair (including but not limited to his calves, but has not grown his hair long since well before we met 26 years ago).

I love his body. I fell in love with him after we had been friends for six years (and he had been in relationship with another man that entire time). I knew his body because we met while naked at a Radical Faerie gathering and spent time together with his partner and others on the beach at Fire Island. I was not surprised by his body when we first shared sex; I was happy. I still am.

But I also know that he told me early in our relationship two things: he was surprised that my small cock did grow. And that the most important element of his attraction for me was, and is, my mind—even as he loves my body, too.

body types among Olympic athletes mymodernmet com
Body types among Olympic athletes mymodernmet.com

 

So what do body types tell us? Are they important, or just a game? Are they a way to deal with our vulnerability, creating a test by which we can reject those who may not meet our standards, or to help us feel in control at times when our inner selves may feel out of control?

Or might they reveal something about us beyond what they say about others? Is there any spiritual component or is our interest in certain types of bodies without connection to God?

Twenty or more years ago, Margaret R. Miles, the esteemed historian of antiquity (especially in her work on Christianity, the body, and Platonism), quoted the philosopher Plotinus (204-270 C.E.): “We are what we look upon and what we desire.” The statement has stayed with me, its wisdom touching me even as I was not entirely sure what it meant.

When my friend and I engaged in this conversation about body types and I began to think about my own preferences, I understood Plotinus’ point more fully. For me, at least, my fascination with lanky men is because, despite my extra weight, I am, at heart, a lanky man. I don’t need to marry a lanky man, indeed I have yet to meet one I want to marry. What I do need is to claim my own lankiness. I feel both challenged and encouraged when I see such a body. I don’t want the body of that man, but I do want what he has, for myself. I want to perform my maleness, at least partly, in this way in my body.

Plotinus-Quotes-3This then becomes a more spiritual quest, a going deeper into myself, into the human God makes with the name Robin Hawley Gorsline. It is about weight loss, yes, but it also, and I think more importantly, about claiming my own soul.

I do not know if this is true of others, I do not know if you can find some clue about your true, inner being by focusing on your preferred body type(s). But I encourage you to think about it, to see if you can find yourself in the ideal you seek in others.

It also is useful to think about the process of how our types develop, how we connect with them and give them power and voice. I will write more about this another time, but I have found it useful to dig into my early years to remember the bodies of others, adults as well as younger peers, that were important to me, both positively and negatively.

Beauty is of course more than skin deep, at least the kind that lasts beyond momentary fascination. Miles writes, “Seeing beauty depends on the beholder. It is a spiritual discipline that is trained and exercised by contemplation.”

I hope you sit with yourself, at least a little, and let God reveal to you something that shows you how beautiful you are—even as your eyes may wander. As Plotinus also wrote, “We ourselves possess Beauty when we are true to our own being . . . .”

I believe that the purpose, the goal of living, is to become the person God creates in our souls and bodies—to become the reflection of God’s beauty that we always and already are. That is my type, and yours.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

Do you feel like you have a specific “type” of person you are attracted to? How has that impacted the relationships you have formed? Have you noticed anything different in the relationships that deviated from your typical physical preference of “type”? 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

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, THURSDAY, March 16th 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.