There’s Beauty in Every Body

Can we not see each body as yet another exposure of God’s endless and delightful diversity . . .

Malachi:

Malachi GrennellThis week, I have been challenged (in several different ways) to examine very public expressions of gender expectations (and, when those expectations are not met, the ridicule used to dehumanize another person). One such instance is the experience of Olympian Caster Semenya. The other, surprisingly, are the naked statues that appeared of Donald Trump.

First, Caster Semenya. For those who are unfamiliar with her, she is the

Photo credit: The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/aug/21/caster-semenya-wins-gold-but-faces-scrutiny#img-1
Photo credit: The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/aug/21/caster-semenya-wins-gold-but-faces-scrutiny#img-1

South African Olympic gold medalist for the women’s 800 meter. She has also faced fierce scrutiny for being “too masculine.” In 2009, she was subjected to “sex tests” to affirm that she was “truly a woman.” In 2011, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) passed a ruling restricting the amount of testosterone permissible in female athletes. Women with hyperandrogenism- the production of higher than average levels of testosterone- were either barred from competing or subjected to a series of medical interventions including hormone suppressants, hormone replacements, and genital surgery (more information here and here). In July of 2015, the court of arbitration for sport suspended the IAAF decision and gave them two years to prove how much advantage women with hyperandrogenism have over those who produce “average” levels of testosterone. No longer forced to be on hormone suppressants, Semenya ran the women’s 800 meter in 1 min, 55.28 sec- a personal best, a national best, and the fifth fastest  time in Olympic history.

Photo Credit: The Verge http://www.theverge.com/2016/8/18/12538672/nude-donald-trump-statues-union-square-los-angeles-indecline
Photo Credit: The Verge
http://www.theverge.com/2016/8/18/12538672/nude-donald-trump-statues-union-square-los-angeles-indecline

Also this week, the anarchist collective, INDECLINE placed five naked statues of Donald Trump in major cities across the United States. The statues, titled “The Emperor Has No Balls” depict an unflattering (but quite realistic) image of a nude Trump: large stomach, cellulose-filled buttocks, lines and wrinkles, and a tiny penis with no testicles. An aptly-named piece, I suppose. The comments to the piece range from comedic to cruel. The New York City Parks Department, for example, commented that the “NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small.” (Sam Biederman, a parks spokeman). But outside of cheeky comments like that (which are problematic in their own right), there were also the comments that referred to the depiction of Trump as “grotesque,” “disgusting,” “nauseating.”

Here we have two cases of people who have been singled out in specific ways that relate to transgressions of gender standards and expectations. Now, certainly, it’s not as simple as that. If there was any doubt, I detest Donald Trump and his hateful rhetoric, his misogynistic comments, his racist ideology, his fear-mongering tactics, and his abhorrent ways of addressing those with whom he disagrees.  Donald Trump is a fairly disturbing political figure on many levels- but I do not hate his body. I do not hate the lines and wrinkles that come from aging. I do not hate the cellulose bumps and varicose veins that can come from not being model-thin. And I certainly do not hate the sight of a small penis- one that looks somewhat like mine- small, yet present, and lacking in testicles. No, I certainly do not hate that- but I do have strong feelings about the size of someone’s penis (or the presence/lack thereof of testicles) in some way referencing his masculinity.

And in the case of Caster Semenya, it’s certainly more complicated than

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Simone Biles http://www.nbcolympics.com/sites/default/files/field_gallery_photos/29March2016/Simone-Biles_NUP_171788_3775.jpg

hormones. Simone Biles, the first woman of color to win an all-around title at the world championships, came under fire in 2013 from the 11th place finalist from Italy, who stated that “next time we should also paint our skin black, so then we could win too.” When trying to spin her comments, spokesperson David Ciaralli commented that “the Code of Points is opening chances for colored people (known to be more powerful) and penalizing the typical Eastern European elegance…” So the conversation about muscular women is not limited to Semenya; it’s pretty careful to include all athletic women of color in stating that “colored people” are “known to be more powerful.” So we see here that this is not simply a case of discomfort with women who have hyperandrogenism; simply an issue based on the assumption that black women are more muscular and therefore have an unfair advantage.

These two cases bring to light how strongly our culture is dominated by the expectations of gender and, furthermore, just how narrow those expectations are. Deviation from that (or, in the case of Trump, a depiction of deviation) is a source of mockery. Semenya isn’t “woman” enough to compete in women’s athletics. The insinuation is that Trump is not a “real man” through an artistic depiction- and his lack of manliness comes directly from his lack of testicles and the size of his penis.

To put it in another context: we do not say that large men should not play

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http://www.clipartkid.com/images/74/football-player-clip-art-WsFyAN-clipart.gif

football because it gives them an unfair advantage. We do not say that smaller-framed women should not be jockeys. Instead, we recognize that certain bodies are well-suited to certain activities (on a competitive level)- and furthermore, those “well-suited bodies” fall within our expectations of gender. Men who play football are large and muscular (as we expect men to be); female jockeys are small and petite (as we expect women to be). We only hear an uproar when someone transgresses gender expectations (e.g. women are too masculine; men are emasculated)- and use that transgression both as a source of mockery as well as an argument for why they are “unfit” for a particular activity.

Another piece of my week included a community discussion in the local kink community on consent, a conversation catalyzed by a prominent member of the community allegedly breeching someone’s consent. A comment was made in that discussion that I keep turning over in my mind. In discussing how we shift the culture of our community and make further strides in being consent-minded, one person mentioned that, in America, we tend to view friendships in terms of support and loyalty. And that’s fine, the person said, but we don’t simultaneously view our friendships in terms of criticism. Their point was that, as friends, our goal should not be to simply blindly support one another’s actions, but to hold one another accountable. The mark of a true friend is one who will tell you when you are right- but will also tell you when you are wrong. And that piece of it, the person said, is the part that we so often forget.

We must learn to tell one another when they are wrong. We must be willing to call one another out, in love and friendship, when their actions

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http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-MSt3OAwlDKk/UpBCbz1dfYI/AAAAAAAAAJU/g5CQpoO5Vx0/s1600/tdor.png

are reinforcing concepts that are not congruent with justice, fairness, and equality. We must be willing to tell our friends, “Hey. This is an incredible athlete whose hormone production is, quite frankly, none of our business.” We must be willing to say, even in our distaste of Trump, “Hey. Body shaming someone is never ok. Let’s debate the issues and not sink to his level of demonizing someone for their appearance.”

We absolutely must learn to address these small issues- these microaggressions- that we see in the world around us. And those conversations are hard. We have a tendency to hear criticism as a character attack- perhaps because we are used to criticisms like those leveled at Semenya and Trump. But criticism is how we grow, how we come to understand and, through understanding, question the norms of the culture around us. I truly believe that friendship- and through friendship, community- and through community, culture- is stronger when we are not willing to allow this kind of “gender policing.” When we are not willing to allow “small” racist comments. When we are not willing to let others define masculinity and femininity for us.

Robin:

revrobin2-023I have little use for Donald Trump—he of blowing only his own horn, hurting others, telling lie after lie—but I object to one of the attacks on him.

You may have seen the image—I really don’t want to replicate it here, and Malachi has posted it above, once is enough—and I hope that when you did you were as unhappy as me. To put it simply—I am not a fan of shaming anyone for their body, even The Donald.

As a man of approximately his age, I am perhaps more sensitive than many readers here, not to mention his being pictured with a small penis that doesn’t look much different from mine. As readers of this blog may remember, I have been shamed about my own and, of course, Mr. Trump claims his is big.

Donald Trump pointing at Marco Rubio soshable com
soshable.com

He has every right to correct statements made about him, of course, but I do wish he had said, “Well, Senator Rubio, I don’t care about yours because I have no idea what the size of anyone’s penis, or lack thereof, has to do with being President. “  That would have shut down the demeaning debate and been a generous, and significant, contribution to undermining our society’s ways of body shaming—not to mention a corrective to his reputation for sexism and his history of insulting women (especially on their appearance).

As transgender people challenge the rigid gender binary, and as lesbian and gay people continue to challenge the formerly widely held views of what is real love and marriage and sexual  attraction, we are often confronted with opportunities to speak up for equality. To do that is vital.

But, equally vital is to speak up in situations that can be more subtle and more challenging, situations that often involve deeper attitudes towards bodies, indeed bodies which we may have been taught to view with some negativity.

older men at beach fabgreyfox com
fabgreyfox.com

Some gay men can be dismissive, often mean, about older men. I recently saw on a queer news site complaints that a proposed nude gym would be overrun by “men who are old and whose bodies hang everywhere except where we want them to hang” (that is very close, if not precisely, an exact quote).  And on the other end, other gay men make fun of young ones (“twinks”) and others make fun of older men who like twinks (men in their late teens and early 20’s who look very boyish) and vice versa.

Lesbians can have their own biases, depending on preferred body types and presentations, against “femmes” or “butches,” among other variables.

And cis gender women, of any sexual orientation, in the public eye are held to a nearly impossible standard.  They must appear very feminine while simultaneously conveying a toughness that is well . . . really tough . . . but not so tough that their femininity is in question. The situation of Hillary Clinton comes to mind.

Hillary Clinton angry puzzled nypost com
NYPost.com

The Olympics and other athletic competitions also raise issues about women’s bodies, and perhaps even men’s bodies, too. Some women, Caster Semenya of South Africa comes to mind, are viewed as too “masculine” to be women.

Commentators are sure a woman who runs as fast as she does cannot possibly be a woman. She must be a man, and they claim proof for that conclusion because she has the hormonal condition known as hyperandrogenism (a high level of testosterone which appears to create significant androgyny) which occurs in some women.  Pictures of this amazing athlete, running in the 800-meter race, seem pretty gender neutral by traditional standards. But then so do her excellent competitors. And pictures of her and her wife at their wedding ceremony don’t look different to me than pictures of some of the lesbian couples I have married.

Caster Semenya and Violet Raseboya wedding citizen co za
Caster Semenya (right) and Violet Raseboya on their wedding day citizen.co.za

Many men, like me, have hypogonadism (literally meaning small gonads, like those shown on the Donald Trump statue, especially if you receive testosterone replacement therapy). Are we now women? And what of male gymnasts and dancers—does their grace imply a certain femininity that means they are in the wrong bodies (despite being well-built and strong)? Do we have to check their genitalia or run hormone tests to be sure they are men?

White racism is about bodies, too, about judging which body shades and hair and eyes are good and which are in some way deficient or bad or ugly or dirty. Judgments among people of color about other people of color can operate like this, although given their relative, and shared, lack of social power it is not racism.

All this focus on bodies which, according to some at least, deviate from standards whose source we do not really know, so often boils down to body shaming. We must push back against it.

There is no body . . .  let me repeat that . . .no body (not just nobody but no . . . body) deserves to be shamed. Every body . . . again . . . every body is beautiful. [Note: the edit function in Word alerts me to the fact that I have a space between “every” and “body,” and should join the two words to make one word, everybody. I refuse in this case because I want to be sure the reader knows I mean every single. glorious, god-created and blessed body in the world.] No exceptions.

And that means that we, and I include myself in this, must learn to stop our mental judgments when an “obese” man or woman comes into view, or when we encounter a person with a skin condition that appears unpleasant or ugly to well-trained eyes (meaning conditioned to think that wrinkles or pockmarks in the skin or folds or blotches are signs of ugliness).

Aydian Dowling trans advocate lets-sexplian tumblr com
lets-sexplain.tumblr.com

Here also is one of the ways transphobia plays out. We simply do not know what to do with people who claim to be men but we wonder if they have penises or women who we think may have them—not to mention petite men and tall, big-boned women with deep voices. Before they can make the changes they wish (what used to be called “in transition”), and even after, trans people may indeed be, and feel like, victims. But we need to move, and let (and help) them move, from that location to a full-throated, heartfelt celebration of the selves they know they are.

We make victims out of people whether they are victims or not. Some people may have been victimized by maltreatment or exposure to diseases or injuries in war or on the job, but not one of them is ugly. Each remains beautiful. The same is true of people whose bodies simply do not meet the standards set by fashion and media or our ideas of what constitutes a particular gender.

Can we not see each body as yet another exposure of God’s endless and delightful diversity, whether in the body from their birth or a body they have chosen to change or one that has been changed by circumstances beyond their control?

I hope you agree with me that this is a significant piece of our work to change the world.

The way to help bring a world with such values into being is to speak up every time any one—not just Donald Trump speaking about Carly Fiorina or Megyn Kelly—says or writes anything that denigrates the body of another person, or suggests that based on their criteria and what they see, a particular person is in the wrong gender category and/or belongs in a category deserving of shunning or shaming or segregation, based on their body type, age, color, or other criteria irrelevant to their humanity.

This, of course, also means being comfortable in, and indeed celebrating, our own bodies. I am getting there, and I hope you are, too.

We can change the world, body by beautiful body.

 

 

 

 

 

When ‘Stuff’ Gets in the Way

The truth is, I’ve been having trouble being sexual at all lately. . . .

revrobin2-023Robin: Writing, or talking, about sex often pushes limits, sometimes self-imposed, sometimes imposed by others, and sometimes by what we think others will say, think, or do in response.

Those limits can be connected to a primary personal relationship—e.g., what a partner or partners in primary personal relationship like or do not like sexually as that relates to your shared sexual lives, or what they are comfortable with your sharing about them. Or they can be about an institutional relationship—e.g., what your sharing might cost you in terms of employment. Or, they can be limits based on family connections—e.g., how your children or siblings or others will react to what you reveal.

Today, I am testing limits I feel by being an ordained clergy person, a professional in ministry who treasures a relationship with a church, both a local congregation and a larger denomination (or as I prefer to say about Metropolitan Community Churches, a movement).

You can't say that in church jasonkoon net
jasonkoon.net

To some extent, I have already done this by writing pretty openly about nudity, masturbation, and other topics not often talked about at church. But I am going to go further today, depending on the choice you as a reader make.

Many people at the church where I serve as volunteer clergy on staff—as Writer-Theologian in Residence, no less (a wonderful title, I admit! and great joy as ministry)—are aware of my interest in the connection between sexuality and spirituality. A dozen or so attended a recent workshop I led on the topic. Some probably even read this blog. So far, they have not kicked me out.

But I can tell you that the fear that someone in the congregation or denomination, leader or not, will become angry and begin a campaign to evict me is very much part of my life. I know in my heart that I would never write to hurt someone or to create trouble for the church I truly love since I walked in the door of MCC New York in 2001, the church that saved my spiritual life (and thus really my life) and that ordained me in 2002.

Einstein ThinkingAlike kcbob com
kcbob.com

And I know that some of this fear has little to do with MCC, and more to do with a lifetime spent struggling within the Christian church at large. Notice, I do not call this a struggle with Christianity—because although I have tussled and continue to tussle with what I believe as that relates to what “the church” says, I have never seen this as a struggle. That is simply the work every believer needs to do. As we grow and change we must negotiate with our faith, with our Lord and the Holy Spirit, with God. But they are partners with whom I feel safe sharing everything.

The church does not feel like such a partner, especially when it comes to sex. Some of that I recounted last week (see Sexual  Repression, with link). Here I want to talk more about how my emerging sexuality and sexual practices create in me anxiety and even fear (if you have been following this blog, you know that at 69 I am on a wonderful journey of embodied sexual self-discovery).

gay love Roman figures haaretz com
haaretz.com

Recently, I wrote my first-ever erotic poem. It recounted love-making that Jonathan and I shared, as well as my sexual energy and feelings before and after. It is pretty explicit, as they say, using a slang term for a body part, and describing what we each did, and how we reacted ecstatically. I also, perhaps even more shockingly, related this directly to Jesus (and my certainty that he did these things, too) and how God is pleased when we engage in sexual pleasure. Indeed, I think God is more than pleased, God is relieved that we are using the gifts God gives us for connecting and feeling joy in our bodies and spirits. I believe God receives it as worship, as our giving thanks.

I shared the poem with Jonathan who said he really liked it.  He also liked the piece on nudism I wrote for the blog at Jonathan’s Circle (a movement of men led by a dear priest friend of mine focused on exploring the links between men’s spirituality and sexuality). He even agreed with me that I should use a frontally nude picture of myself with it. As it turns out, that violates the website rules and so they used a more chaste photo. At any rate, Jonathan may not be the best judge of how the church will react—he encouraged me to publish the poem, too.

Then I shared the poem with two friends—a gay man and a lesbian woman, both very spiritual, one engaged in church and one who feels turned away—whose taste and judgment I deeply respect. They both raved about it. They too want me to share it more widely.

Queering Christianity amazon com
amazon.com

So what holds me back from sharing it here? I feel certain that church folk will raise a holy stink and the clergy will have to let me go, and if they don’t, the church board will vote to do it for them. I love these colleagues—among the very finest pastors with whom I have ever worked, not to mention just being fabulous human beings—and don’t want to cause them any more trouble than they already have. And if it does not happen at the local level, I feel certain the denominational leadership will do something—like removing me from co-leading a working group focusing on racial reconciliation (which would break my heart).

As I have recounted elsewhere (in my essay in Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians, “Faithful to a Very Queer-Acting God Who Is Always Up to Something New”), when I spoke in a sermon at MCC Richmond about a time I masturbated to an artist’s rendering of Jesus, some people reacted angrily. Some of them did so because they felt I had breached propriety. Others said they felt unsafe, and for some of them it involved being victims of sexual abuse. That is serious. I had no desire to hurt anyone, certainly not people I cared about who had been hurt in that ugly way. I felt very unclean for that.

Others came to me relieved, to share their own secrets and shame, because, as they said, I had made myself vulnerable and now they trusted me enough to do the same. After listening to them, I felt not only relief but also gratitude that I had followed what seemed to me like a strong urging from God to share so openly (knowing that as any preacher should know, just because you think you are hearing God correctly, does not mean you are).

Those two responses continue to haunt me. Which will guide me?

This is my decision.

There is a difference between sitting in a pew listening to a sermon, and sitting somewhere in your space (private or public) reading a blog. The reader has a choice the listener does not.

So, with great trepidation, as well as considerable excitement, I am going to share links to each of the blog posts.  Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware); it’s your choice from here on out.

First, “A Naked Wholeness” is available on the blog for Jonathan’s Circle.

Thou shall have sex and be holyThe poem, “Holy Hardness,” is available on a wonderful blog, GayShiva: Pursuing the Spirituality of the Male Body, curated by a friend of mine from Jonathan’s Circle.

Whatever your choice, I hope you will let me know, and especially if you would let me know what you think of whatever you read, either or both the piece on nudism and the erotic poem. Or, if you choose to read neither, I would like to know why you made that choice.

I continue to hope this blog can be a dialogue, but It can only be that if readers make comments. Otherwise, it is a dialogue between me and Malachi, but a monologue with the rest.

And know that whatever your choice, it is okay by me. And if it serves your spiritual well-being, then for sure it is a good choice, too.

Malachi GrennellMalachi: Last week, Robin and I discussed our personal histories with sexual repression in preparation for our Third Thursday workshop this week on the history of sex negativity within Western Christianity. With this blog’s focus on sex and sexuality, it can be easy to focus on the ways that we are working on strengthening our own sexual expressions and freedoms. What can be harder, however, are discussing the ways in which sexuality may be difficult for either/both of us to express at various times.

I am both polyamorous and kinky, both identities that often have some inherent sexual component for me. So between the discussion of kink events or discussions of dates or sexual liberation, it is difficult to address the reality that, for some time now, sex has been something that has been increasingly difficult for me.

Depo-Testosterone
Depo-Testosterone

When I was younger, before I started testosterone, I had a fairly high sex drive. I noticed that my sex drive tended to be higher than that of many of my partners, and I felt somewhat embarrassed by it at times. Overall, however, my high sex drive didn’t bother me… I became particularly good at masturbation and self-satisfaction.

When I started taking testosterone (often referred to as “T”), my sex drive spiked. Masturbation became a daily requirement, an integrated part of my getting-ready regimen. I would get up, use the bathroom, shower, jack off, brush my teeth, get dressed, and go about my day. I found that, on days where I didn’t have time/energy to masturbate, I was much more irritable, cranky, and short-tempered. So whether or not I was “in the mood,” it was important for me to masturbate each day.

When I met my now-spouse, I had been on T for several years and had an incredibly high sex drive. Coupled with New Relationship Energy (NRE), we had quite an extended period of time where we would have sex every day, multiple times a day. It was wonderful and amazing (and certainly not sustainable in the sense that neither of us got a lot done during that time).

After we had been together for several years, I decided to go off of T for a

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http://images.medicaldaily.com/sites/medicaldaily.com/files/styles/headline/public/2014/08/26/couples-feet-bed.jpg

variety of reasons. Coming off of T, I noticed a shift in my sex drive. I started going a couple days without masturbating and noticed that I was not unreasonably irritable. Truthfully, it felt like a bit of a relief from feeling a constant sexual pull.

But my sex drive continued to decrease. At that time, I was dating someone else, and NRE was helping maintain my sexual interest, but after a while, my lack of sex drive began impacting our relationship as well. It was an incredibly difficult time for my partner (with whom I was not having sex) and myself (because I knew that this relationship dynamic was hurting him).

At that point, we used a kink event to help us reconnect sexually. The first time I attended what has now become a staple event in my life, I felt my

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http://www.polyvore.com/cgi/img-thing?.out=jpg&size=l&tid=144025376

sex drive re-ignite and was so excited to be having sex with my partner again. It solved the problem of that extended “dry spell,” but it didn’t solve the deeper problem.

The truth is, I’ve been having trouble being sexual at all lately. There are times when I have a strong desire for sexual intimacy, but it’s not consistent, and it goes as quickly as it comes. And for me, it turns into an anxiety spiral: I get anxious that my partner and I haven’t been having sex and I know that’s something they’re wanting more of, and I want to do that, but it feels pressurized, and I don’t want sex to feel like an obligation on either of our ends.

Being honest about these things is scary. I’m so in love with my partner. I’m so attracted to them, and think that they are a beautiful, incredible human being. It’s not a lack of attraction, but a feeling in my body- or perhaps, a lack thereof. It’s as though a part of body has turned off, and I’m not entirely sure what to do about it or how to navigate it.

I wish I knew how to explain what this feels like inside my body, but it’s not a feeling; it’s an absence of. I am, in many ways, unaware of my body as a sexual entity until a situation arises in which I realize that it has been awhile, and I begin to feel a deep sense of shame and anxiety that make intimacy all but impossible. It is immensely frustrating and I’m not sure how to reawaken that part of me that so desperately desires sexual intimacy… and not just intimacy with anyone, but intimacy with my partner, the person I love and have made a life with.

In this context, it feels difficult, sometimes, to be a person that spends so

much time talking about sex. Whether in this blog or in kink, so much of my life is spent talking about sex in one form or another and I think it’s important to be transparent. Sex isn’t always easy for me right now. In fact, more often than not, it’s incredibly difficult- and that difficulty has compounding effects. It’s hard for me that it’s hard for my partner. It’s hard for my partner that I can talk about sex so much, but have so much difficulty

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having it. It’s hard to be in a body that, for so long, has had an incredibly high sex drive that has greatly diminished.

Sex is not always easy. It isn’t always simple- sometimes our hangups from the past impact our ability to have healthy sexual dynamics as adults. Sometimes our fears get in the way and it feels like an insurmountable wall. And in this case, I’m not sure what the answer is. I haven’t figured it out yet. This is not a retrospective contemplation on an already-solved problem, but midway through the mess of trying to figure it out. I’ve begun seeing a therapist to try to work through some of my own issues. I’m trying to find ways to be intimate that feel safe and good and authentic with my partner. I’m pushing myself as much as I can, but this is a hard period to go through.

Although I imagine every long-term partnership struggles with dry spells and “keeping the intimacy alive,” there is no one way to navigate these particular issues because each person is different. The best we can do is be honest- with ourselves, with our partners, with our trusted confidants. As a person who is polyamorous and kinky, this becomes particularly important as I navigate sexualized spaces and multiple relationships. It’s not always easy. It’s certainly not always pretty. Relationships (and sex) can be hard, and it’s ok to admit when things are hard. They can’t get better until we do.

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

Have you ever had difficulties maintaining intimacy in your relationships? Has your work or career made it difficult for you to be open about your sexuality? What are some other barriers to your ability to be authentic and open in your sexuality? 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 feel free to join us THURSDAY, August 18th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 1, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity” from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Rev. 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. Although not required, we encourage participants to read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Workshop description: In this first session, Rev. Robin and Malachi 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. 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 (1 credit for each session with full participation) 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.

Sexual Repression: Systemic and Personal

I remember being ashamed of my body and sexuality, even from a very young age.

by Malachi Grennell and Robin Gorsline

Introduction:

Next week, on August 18, in the first monthly installment of the online workshop, “Sex, Bodies, Spirit,” Rev. Robin and Malachi are going to take a look at the roots of sex-negativity and sexual repression within Western Christianity. In preparation for this workshop, we have read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise as well as contemplated our own experiences with sexual repression. You can learn more about the workshop, and how you can participate, at the end of this blog.

Malachi:

Malachi GrennellIn some ways, I feel as though my understandings and experiences with sexual repression retrospectively change as I have a better understanding of the world around me. For much of my life, for example, I felt that, because I was raised in a lesbian home, I didn’t experience sexual repression. I know now, of course, that although I was raised in a somewhat open and affirming home, that doesn’t necessarily translate to a lack of sexual repression.

I spent a considerable amount of my pubescent teenage years terrified of  getting pregnant (and, as a result, terrified of having sex with cis-male people). When I tried to discuss birth control with one of my mothers, I got a 2 hour lecture about the dangers of hormonal birth control in teenage women and an offer to buy me a vibrator to take care of my own sexual urges without risking pregnancy. I declined and never broached the subject again.

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I think back on this conversation with mixed emotions. On one hand, I did learn some valuable information about the biology of hormonal birth control and its effectiveness over the long-term. On the other hand, the conversation felt as though it didn’t actually address the issues I was dealing with. I wanted to find a way to be intimate with my then-boyfriend of nearly 3 years; my mom was trying to help me find a way to satisfy my sexual desires. I had already figured out masturbation- that didn’t answer my deeper question about how to be sexual while protecting myself from unwanted pregnancy.

Although I grew up in a lesbian household, I still had incredibly heteronormative ideas about what constituted “sex.” Penetration was the dividing line between foreplay and sex (regardless of what (fingers, dildos, etc.) was doing the penetrating) and the role of masturbation was a stop-gap when intimacy with another person wasn’t possible and urges needed to be managed. The concept of masturbation as a sacred act- or even one that could be done with a partner- was a foreign concept that didn’t enter my sexual consciousness until my early twenties, when I met my spouse.

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This is perhaps one key element that has been vital to the concept of sexual repression (and subsequent liberation): defining what sex “is.” The way that sex is currently defined (usually penis-in-vagina, or PIV) leaves a lot to be desired. Beyond the increased risk for the transmission of STI’s, it allows us to lie to ourselves about what we are doing. If we are struggling with sexual repression and therefore have shame, etc. around engaging in “real” sex, then this provides a loophole for us to be intimate with another person without ever admitting what we are actually doing.

In addition to all of this, I grew up with one mother who desperately wanted me to be a heterosexual woman because she didn’t want me to suffer and struggle with my sexuality (as she had). While I’m sure she feels differently now, at the time, her desire for me to be a heterosexual woman was very much interpreted by my teenage self as an internalized homophobia. If she loved and was happy with her life and identities, why wouldn’t she want that for me? Or better yet, why wouldn’t she simply encourage me to be authentic and love myself rather than fixate on a “gold star standard” of relationship practices? In all of this, I understood “heterosexual woman” to be better than “homosexual woman”- and “transmasculine queer man” is definitely not on the list of things she wanted for me. But even growing up in a lesbian home, I felt a certain sense of shame and fear to “come out” to my mother… when I first started dating a girl, but even more so as a trans person.

I hope she sees herself and her life with more joy than she seemed to then. I say this, but recognize that she still mispronouns me (refers to me as “she” and “girl” and “daughter”) despite the fact that I have been out as trans for over 10 years now. I believe she sees some things as better than others, and I think she wanted “better” for me than what I have, which is sad, because I think what I have is pretty dang awesome.

(Since I have lesbian mothers, I recognize that referencing “my mother” can be confusing. One of my mothers, an MCC pastor, is incredibly affirming- I have referenced her in previous posts. The mother to which I am referring now is my biological mother.)

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I don’t want to digress too far, but sexual repression was very much a part of my upbringing- even being raised in a queer home. I have come to recognize that there is a different level of scrutiny that queer families had in the late 80’s/early 90’s that, perhaps, prohibited discussions of sex even more drastically than heterosexual families of the same time. I remember being ashamed of my body and sexuality, even from a very young age. It wasn’t always something my parents said, but it was an attitude… an internalization of self-shame that was incredibly transparent to my childhood and teenage self.

I started having sex when I was 16. When I went to college (just after my 18th birthday), years of sexual repression came pouring out of me, and I started sleeping with anyone I could. I wasn’t safe and responsible. I didn’t get tested and didn’t often use barriers (because I was sleeping with people who were assigned female at birth, I was woefully ignorant that STI transmission could still occur). As often happens when something is considered taboo (e.g. alcohol, sex, etc.), when we are able to access it, we don’t often proceed with caution or moderation. Years of sexual repression coupled with a fear of being “bad in bed” led me to sleep with many, many people in a very short period of time.

I’m sure I didn’t always practice the best consent methods (not in the sense of forcing/coercing someone, but in the sense of “no means no” rather than “yes means yes” consent model). I didn’t have the tools to navigate the world as a responsible, sexual adult; instead, years of pent-up sexual longing exploded out of me in the span of a few months. I felt like everyone else had already been having sex for years and knew what they were doing and I was going to get left behind. The perhaps most frightening of all, because I was so out of touch with myself, my body, and my sexuality, when others turned their attentions to me, I didn’t always know how to say no…or believe that I was allowed to say no.

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There were a couple of women I knew through church that I felt comfortable talking to, but I still worried they would judge me for my actions because, well…they were church folk. Much to my surprise (and relief), one of them taught me about dental dams, safety, and STI testing. But there wasn’t a place I knew I could go to talk about my fears and concerns. MCC was a safe haven for LGBT folks, and the LGB part, at least, related to who we were sexually attracted to… and yet. If there was ever a place or opportunity to talk about sex, it was not geared toward the young adults (and I learned, after showing up to a workshop on HIV, that my parents got very uncomfortable talking about sex when I was in the room). There was no place to ease the pressure and talk, and I didn’t see the people around me talking about it, which meant that everyone else had it figured out, and I was lost.

Sexual repression has very much been a part of my upbringing, intentionally or not. As I have begun to do more work to parse through some of my own hangups, I realize how much of them come from a place of fear, shame, and secrecy. As we pivot toward a discussion about the roots of sex-negativity in Western Christianity, I encourage each person to consider ways in which they have had to battle/navigate sexual repression (both in and out of the context of faith). Understanding the history of our faith within the context of our own lives can be a powerful step toward healing and bridging these tender places inside each of us.

Robin:

I don’t know when I first heard words that told me that sex was a bad thing, but I imagine that was when I realized that it was not to be talked about.  As children, we often learn not only from what adults say but also what they do not say, and certainly their body language in both instances.

revrobin2-023I certainly knew in 4th Grade, as I entered puberty, that my fantasies about Bob S. (and a few other boys, but especially Bob) in my class were something to keep to myself.  And in 6th grade, I knew that the delight of another friend, Bob H., at seeing Bob S. naked and describing his “amazing, really big” penis, was somehow embarrassing, if not wrong (as well as feeling jealous that I did not see it, too). Now, much of this is what I imagine most, if not all, adolescents (at least in the United States) go through, struggling to figure out what to do with these burgeoning hormones sweeping through parts of our bodies and overwhelming our brains.

On the one hand, we want to know more, and on the other, we fear raising the subject. For most of us, the silence is deafening, broken only by various comments among contemporaries, many of which simply add to the confusion.

This is where, for me at least, the church comes in.

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I grew up in a small Midwestern Episcopal Church, not a hellfire and brimstone kind of place, but a calm, ordered environment where we read three biblical passages every Sunday and the priest expounded on at least one of them. I was blessed to have a priest, beginning in my middle adolescence and many years beyond, who was especially enamored of the Hebrew texts, but he certainly spoke about the Gospel and Paul and other writings.

I have no memory of ever hearing that good man speak openly against sex, but then I never heard him speak for it, either. Mostly, what I heard rarely was, if ever, about bodies at all, except when he taught about the war between flesh and spirit; flesh=bad (or at least dangerous), Spirit=good.

[There were two times he was very clear with me personally: one was to tell me, “I will find help for you,” when I told him I had sexual feelings for other men; the other was when he told me not to come back to church again, when I wrote him from seminary to come out as a gay man. ]

This is most interesting to me now, because of what I have learned about Jewish attitudes toward sex, going back to the earliest days of that faith, including the encouragement to married couples to have sex on the Sabbath in order to “hallow the day,” as Daniel Helminiak writes in “Sex as a Spiritual Exercise,” which you can find here. )

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Of course, that specific teaching did not apply to me until much later, but that good priest eventually presided at my wedding, and he did not speak of that with me and my wife-to-be in our pre-marital sessions. My memory is further that I was relieved that he did not speak of sex at all with us, given the fact that he knew of my strong homoerotic desires when I had gone to him while in college seeking help (he referred me to a psychiatrist with whom I worked for the better part of a year, but ultimately, years later, after marriage, children, and divorce, her help was insufficient to erase my desires).

I recount this not to criticize this spiritual guide (who gave me much wisdom) so much as to suggest that the powerful anti-sex proscriptions of Christian practice wreak havoc with many lives. Where does all this come from?

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Daniel Helminiak visionsofdaniel.net

Malachi and I will be talking more about this on August 18 at 3 p.m. EDT during this month’s MCC online workshop, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity” on Sex, Bodies, Spirit, but I can say now that I share Helminiak’s view that most of this is not due to actual Christian texts, and certainly not Jesus, and not even so much to Paul, but rather to the influence of non-Christian philosophies and movements which the Church took in and laid over the top of those texts and our Lord.  In saying that, I am still holding church fathers of old and of now (and I count myself among this latter number) responsible for what happened, and what still happens.

Indeed, what some MCC veterans say about the time, early in our movement, when the church talked more openly about sex, may parallel what happened to the early church. The desire for members, indeed even for survival, and certainly as part of what seems to be a natural human desire to “fit in,” has caused MCC to stop such talk, to even stop making the connection between our founding and sex (for more on this point, see my earlier post in another online venue, “What’s Sex Got to Do with It?”).

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Given that Christianity is grounded in the claim that God incarnated God’s self in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and that in doing so validated yet again the centrality of embodied spiritual life (the Hebrew biblical texts are, again and again, a demonstration of God’s activity in, among and through human bodies), it seems odd to say the least that we now hide our bodies so much. And I am not meaning only in the opposition to, and embarrassment of, nudity (although as a nudist myself, I do mean that), but also in how we so rarely speak about our bodies positively in spiritual terms.

As a lifelong participant in Christian worship, I am hard-pressed to think of more than a handful of times, other than in prayers for the sick, when bodies have even occasioned a brief mention. As for sex, or sexuality, I can think of no times, not even really in prayers for justice for LGBTQI people. Never sex.

This silence reminds me of the time, when I was in high school, I told my parents, “I think I might be homosexual,” and they simply looked at each other and returned to watching the television program I had interrupted, not saying a word. And it reminds me of the time my mother caught me masturbating. “Stop that disgusting thing right now!” she said and then left the room, never to speak of it again.

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In my view, the church has abdicated our responsibility to teach about, indeed to encourage practice of, the amazing and powerful link between our bodies and our spiritual selves. The sex-negativity of Western Christianity has allowed other forces—often in our day, corporations and advertisers, and media seeking followers—to make bodies and sex commodities to be pedaled, often through intentional titillation right up to the edge of “decency” (whatever that means) and teasingly to bump the boundary a little further at times. The result is that sex is not exactly an “open secret”—it seems we cannot get away from it ever, especially today on social media and the internet—but at the same time it is such a secret, a subject we all know about but know at the same time it is one that we should never really engage.

We will never change this if we do not figure out how we got here, and commit to a long struggle to undo the deep damage done to the world, and especially to billions of wonderfully embodied beloveds of God right here, right now.

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

What types of sexual repression have you experienced? Did they come from family, peers, the church, or other places? How have those experienced shaped, helped, or hindered your sexual expression as an adult? 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 feel free to join us THURSDAY, August 18th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 1, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity” from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Rev. 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. Although not required, we encourage participants to read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

third Thursday
discoverpittsfield.com
 Workshop description: In this first session, Rev. Robin and Malachi 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. 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 (1 credit for each session with full participation) 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.

What Will the Children Say?

It’s taken me years to get even remotely comfortable talking about sex… there is still a long way to go.

by Malachi Grennell and Robin Gorsline

Malachi: 

This past week, I have had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time with two dear friends of mine and their one-year-old son. One evening, after the baby had gone down for the night, the three of us sat talking and the conversation turned to parenting- and sex.

Malachi GrennellWe were sharing stories of some of our struggles as parents (a role that we have each come into this past year: the two of them with the birth of their son; me through developing a co-parenting relationship to our (Kase and I’s) goddaughter). Our goddaughter (who we affectionately refer to as Kiddo) is 7, and I have had a series of interesting conversations with her that have led me to ponder how we talk about sex in healthy, age-appropriate ways with children.

A few anecdotes to contextualize this situation: when she was four, Kiddo asked for a whip for Christmas. When asked why she wanted a whip, she responded, “I think people would like it if I hit them with it.” In the South, spanking kids is something that is considered normal and encouraged, and her primary parent decided to try to spank her as a consequence for something. Her response to being was to ask for more- which quickly put an end to that as a consequence method. She has also commented that, if the tooth fairy came, she would pee in his or her mouth (her words).

These are the innocent statements made by a seven year old with an active imagination, that’s true… there is nothing inherently or intentionally sexual about them. And yet, all of her parents are kinky and laugh, recognizing that there is a good chance she will grow up to be as well. But it led me to wonder how (and when) to provide information to her about alternative types of sexuality. The obvious answer, of course, is to bring it up when talking to her about masturbation, or perhaps sex in general. Except that conversations about sex only really come up when talking about babies.

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She and I have had many conversations about where babies come from. We talk about biology, about bodies with eggs and bodies with sperm and bodies with uteruses (for a really amazing book that deals with conception and pregnancy without ever mentioning gender, check out What Makes a Baby ). She has some understanding that babies are a product of the mingling of an egg and a sperm inside of a uterus. She might even have some understanding that one of the ways sperm enters a body is through sex, but I don’t think she has a firm idea of what sex is.

Which leads me to this point: how to we introduce and talk about sex as a recreational activity (and not just simply a means to an end, e.g. conception)? Forget kink; how do we address the idea that sex is something that we do because it feels good and is a way to be intimate with someone we care about? As parents, we are one of the primary sources of information for our kids- and what they don’t learn from us, they learn from school (such as sex ed) or other peers.

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I remember the sex education I received from my peers in the guise of dirty jokes and juicy gossip, and it makes me shudder. I would like to inform and equip Kiddo to be better prepared to than that.

In truth, though, I want to raise her in a better informed world. I want to raise her in a world where her body is not criminalized and debated in public arenas. I want to raise her in a world where she doesn’t see her sexuality as a hindrance or a thing to feel shame about, but is excited and equipped to explore her sexuality in safe, responsible ways.

I want to raise her in a world that celebrates all of who she is. And yet, I wonder if I struggle so much to find the entry points for these conversations because we as adults are not accustomed to having these conversations. We have no framework to allow sex to be a part of normal, adult conversation. When we do choose to explicitly reference it, we do so in euphemism (“We’re going to have some alone time” wink wink) or in self-serving ways (“I’m gonna get laid/lucky tonight!”)

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We talk about having age-appropriate conversations with children, and that is incredibly important. As a queer person, I know I worry that I will say too much, or push a conversation, and I worry about what’s age-appropriate. Queer parents often feel that sense of scrutiny…we work hard to have families and, once we do, want to make sure that we do it exactly right because we want to prove that we are just as capable as heterosexual parents. Besides, the queer community (particularly gay men and bisexual people) have been accused of being “obsessed with sex,” so there is a certain trepidation about bringing up sex at all.

We talk about having age-appropriate conversations with children. But what, I wonder, is the appropriate age to talk about sex as a pleasurable activity (and not just a means to an end)? By the state of United States culture, it seems that many of us haven’t reached it yet! We don’t talk about sex as a part of our lives. We have very little framework to help us create safe space to talk openly about sex and allow it to be a part of our conversations.

If we aren’t doing it, then how can we hope to model that type of behavior? As a child of queer parents, I know that my understanding of sex was severely limited… what I took away from the conversations was not mechanics or concepts of intimacy, but an overwhelming sense of shame. Although my parents never said it, I knew that sex was something to be ashamed of. Once I updated my understanding of the mechanics of sex (I confess, the physics of heterosexual sex made no sense to me until I started watching porn- not the best method of sex education, but a helpful lesson in the technicalities), I started working on my emotional hangups. It’s taken me years to get to a point where I feel even remotely comfortable talking about sex… there is still a long way to go.

Carlos McKnight

Last week, Robin and I talked about the terrifying political climate after the Republican National Convention. Since then, we have seen the Democratic National Convention seek to provide an alternative to the alarming display the previous week. While I think there were many important concepts discussed at the DNC, I am reminded that the next president will nominate judges to the Supreme Court, and I have a seven year old girl looking to (among others) me for guidance.

This election is not just about us, but about the world we shape for the generations that follow. I want to live in a world that is well-informed, and I want to shape the next generation to be thoughtful contributors. I want people in Kiddo’s generation to be able to push beyond what we are fighting for now. I want us, as adults, to know how to have these conversations with one another so that we are able to impart these lessons to the next generation. I want us to be comfortable enough with ourselves that we are able to answer questions without imparting a sense of shame. But most of all, I want us to actively be a part of creating a better world for those who follow after us.

Robin:

“Kids say the darndest things!” Those of a certain generation (mine) will remember how Art Linkletter mined that truth to make money with a book of the same name, as well as part of his “House Party” radio program. In 1998, Bill Cosby found the same rewarding path for several years on television.

revrobin2-023What these venues featured were kids saying “cute” things, definitely not using “bad” language or, e.g., sexual or excretory terms.  However, my experience with children features some differences. My daughter Emily, while enrolled in Cambridge, MA public schools in 1984, came home to ask me, “Daddy, what does ‘fuck’ mean?” (a word neither her mother nor I ever used). She was in First Grade, age 6. Of course, she did this at the playground in front of her younger sisters, and waited, as they did, for an answer.

Bear in mind I had already had to try to explain to her, and to them, what “being gay” meant—I had responded by talking about  “liking men and the company of men,” and then stumbled about when she asked in response if I would still want to spend time with her and her sisters!

Frankly, I do not remember what I said in response to the playground query, except I am sure I strongly suggested she did not use the word again (which probably only heightened interest).

Art Linkletter Kids say the darndest things barnesandnoble com
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Fast forward to this year, last week in fact. Our five-year-old granddaughter (who shall remain nameless), realizing her mother was getting frustrated with her two-year-old sister’s slow response to a request to find her diaper, said, “Susie (name changed to protect the innocent), where’s your fuckin’ diaper?”

What a difference 32 years can make. And yet, have things really changed in any important way?

Things have changed in terms of conversations about sex. In some respects, there is more openness. But note that our granddaughter’s sentence, correct in terms of everyday usage, continues the pattern of negative value being connected to sexual “street language.” (See our blog, “What’s Your Body Language?”) And just because she can use the word in a grammatically correct way doesn’t mean she has any more idea what the term means than did her aunt before.

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Sexual scandals are reported more easily and fully these days—there always seems to be some celebrity and/or politician embroiled in compromising photo-sharing or sightings on a nude beach or having a sex video flying around cyberspace. Sex certainly still sells—that has not changed—still brings readers and customers.

But what about actual conversations among adults?  Surely, many use “fucking” and other exclamatory and negative terms. But do we talk about sex, really talk about it, even in private spaces?

The other day, when Malachi and were trying to find a time for our weekly editorial conference, he proposed an evening time. I texted back that I would not be available because Jonathan and I had carved out time for us, and we would, I hoped, be having sex at the time mentioned. After I wrote the text, I thought “You can’t say that,” and then I thought, “Oh yes you can, this is Malachi, and he not only knows you and Jonathan have sex, you know he and his husband (and others) have sex, and you sometimes talk about it in preparation for writing this blog. You both even write about it!”

Then I thought one more thing: “Wouldn’t it be great if I felt comfortable saying things like that to other loved ones, not just the co-editor of a blog about sexuality and spirituality and my very dear friend?”

Of course, six months ago, when Malachi were friends but were not yet colleagues on this blog, I would not have texted, or certainly said, anything about Jonathan and me having sex.

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Relationships matter. In truth, I have only two other relationship (besides with Jonathan) in which I might make that statement (two gay male friends of mine with whom I have discussed some of my sexual function issues).  I want to change that. I want my sex talk with others to reflect not only troubles but also the sheer joy and celebration of sex with my husband. And I want it to be more commonplace. I have written an honest and open (what others might label “explicit” or NSFW) poem about recent sex with Jonathan, and I am trying to decide where to publish it (Jonathan likes it).

I don’t want to use language I have heard some use, things like (as someone, usually a man, heads out on a date), “I hope I get lucky tonight” (wink, wink). I not only want to use the word “sex,” but also I want it, at least in my case, to be about mutuality and shared pleasure (and if about masturbation, my own).

Last week, we wrote against the backdrop of the Republican National Convention. This week, the Democrats have completed their gathering.

And what a difference! They gave openly lesbian and gay speakers, and a Transgender speaker, prime times to speak (I don’t know if they provided that to an openly bisexual person).  Many of the non-LGBT speakers spoke positively about LGBT people. And there are no platform planks about bogus methods to “cure” same-sex attraction nor linking sex only to reproduction or repealing a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

Also, a search on the internet revealed no reports about a boom in business for male sex workers, as at the GOP event in Cleveland. Maybe that’s because there were many more out, self-affirming gay men already at the convention?

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But one thing remains the same at both conventions. Nobody talked openly about sex. Former President Clinton had an opportunity to lament the effect on his presidency and his family from his affairs (especially the one with an intern) but nary a word from him, or Chelsea or Hillary either. We all know that when people talk about Hillary’s toughness, it refers not only to negotiating with dictators but also to hanging “tough” with her husband. But it is not discussed except in hushed and judgmental side conversations.

Think how much more healthy it would be for them , and us, if we could get it out in the open—we don’t need to judge him, or her, but we can understand the situation as human. It could be a time of education for many.

We could be more real about the power and divine roots of sex, and its centrality in our lives.

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Maybe then we could talk more openly with our children about it, too, not only to tell them about reproduction, how the parts work, but even to talk about pleasure and joy it can bring (as well as the potential for pain possible with such a great power). We could talk openly with them about masturbation, no longer giving messages about its dangers as they discover its pleasure (leaving people confused).

When Emily posed that question in 1984, I was only 18 months or so out of the closet, recently divorced, and still dealing with a lot of internalized homophobia. There is no way I had the conceptual understanding or language I have today to speak affirmatively about sex.

its not the storkWould I have had a different conversation with my daughter then? Perhaps (I really don’t remember what I said). I do know I would have had different conversations with her and her sisters as they grew up.

It is not my place to speak with my granddaughters about sex (unless they ask), but I can share my thoughts with their parents. And that I will do, knowing how much they love their daughters and how I trust them to do the very best they can to insure bright futures full of love and joy for each girl—futures that include the kinds of sex that bring them joy and fulfillment God intends for them.

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

What do you think? How do you feel about talking with children and youth about sex? Have you done it? How did it go? Can you share from your experience things the rest of us might need to know? Or are you troubled and uncertain?  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.

New Educational Adventure!

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discoverpittsfield.com

Please plan to join us on the third Thursday of each month at 3:00 pm ET for a one-hour online educational and discussion session with Malachi and Robin! First session: August 18, 2016! Stay tuned for further details (Note: available for CEU credits for MCC Clergy).

People’s Lives Are At Stake

revrobin2-023Robin: This past Saturday, I facilitated a workshop with 14 people at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. I had a great time, and they did, too, I think, focusing on the topic, “Sexuality and Spirituality: An Introduction.”

We learned, we shared, we laughed, some of us even cried—all in an atmosphere of openness where people talked about sex and spirit in a variety of ways. We agreed to convene again for more.

As the instigator of all this, and the designated teacher of the day (although most everyone in the room taught the rest of us something as the day unfolded), I came away floating with joy.

Then I came home and read newspapers from the previous few days, and realized how much of an anomaly this time had been.  And during Sunday morning worship, Rev. Cathy Alexander mentioned the workshop in glowing terms, and encouraged others to join the next one because, as she said, “It’s okay to talk about sex in church.” Her comment was met with silence (and this congregation is rarely silent).

The political climate in our country right now is not very open to talking candidly about sex, and certainly not to connect sex and spirit in positive ways. If you read the Republican platform adopted last week in Cleveland you realize that for that group, sex—other than heterosexual monogamous sex, presumably in the missionary positon—is wrong. Even evil.

And this attitude—including demanding a roll-back of legal same-sex

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http://queerty-prodweb.s3.amazonaws.com/content/docs//2016/07/cleveland-craigslist-m4m.jpg

marriages—comes across clearly even as male escorts/sex workers in Cleveland report a marked upsurge in demand, and female ones a decline (see here for news report). The males reporting this trend among delegates indicated that most of the men were married, and appeared to be first-timers.

At the convention, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump drew cheers for speaking about a “dark time” in the United States, a time of economic, military, and social decline. At the same time, he appears unwilling to speak about sexual trends in this negative way—in some ways seeming to tell us what a great lover he is, not only with three wives but other women as well—even as many of his allies among more conservative Christian clergy and others are speaking about the horrors of addiction to pornography and masturbation. We don’t know how many of them were active with the men of Cleveland, but if history is any guide, at least some of these campaigners are leading double lives.

Neither that nor Trump’s reticence provide me any comfort, because I feel sure that if he needs to come down hard (pun initially unintended but as I thought about it more, it seemed apt) against sexual “sins” to keep his supporters happy, he will do so. And they will cheer.

We are in a difficult time. I fear that an agenda of openness to things like sex and sexuality, that society has for long tried to keep locked up, will result in harsh outcomes for many advocates for change, and, more importantly and alarmingly, a tightening of the social grip for control on everyone.

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/k1paQiWFhfo/maxresdefault.jpg
https://i.ytimg.com/vi/k1paQiWFhfo/maxresdefault.jpg

I want to believe that much of the pushback by Republicans and others is in response to gains made—not only the sea shift in marriage law, but also growing public acceptance of the change, not to mention the rapid rise of positive discussion of transgender people (not that real change in law and practice has kept up with this seeming shift), and a willingness in some circles to begin conversations about polyamory and other sexual practices far from what has been the mainstream. And I believe that is a big part of the cause.  Social gains by any group nearly always result in push back by others.

But this trend is linked to many other factors as well. Perceptions, and reality, of economic decline for industrial workers, and the belief (mostly incorrect) that their situation is driven by a flood of immigrants is a key piece: Thus, the cheers for building a wall and “sending them home.” We have many people who do not see gains by others in society as something to cheer about. Instead, they see conspiracies to deny them dignity and the living conditions they used to enjoy.

This includes those who are sure that African Americans are to blame,BLM_Letterhead getting “special privilege” through affirmative action policies and practices, while others of them simultaneously are breaking the law and getting shot or imprisoned as they deserve. These are the people for whom the Black Lives Matter movement feels like a threat, because they want to assert that their lives matter, indeed they say, “All Lives Matter,” as if those in BLM movement, and their supporters (like me), do not believe that, too.

And then there is the rise of a woman to be President—coming on top of two terms by a Black man. Many of these people, including it seems Donald Trump, do not believe he was ever or now is legitimately the President (illegitimacy, they might say, being rampant among African Americans), and now we have “that woman,” who needs to be locked up or hung. Whatever you may think of Hillary Clinton as a candidate or President, I trust you can admit that the language of the chants aimed at her at the Republican National Convention crossed the line of civil political discourse in our nation.

Mangus Hirschfeld
Mangus Hirschfeld

This is the environment in which many of us are attempting to broaden and deepen the discourse around sexuality. I begin to have glimmers about how Magnus Hirschfeld and others felt in the latter years of Weimar Germany as the Nazis and others rose to power (don’t know about Hirschfeld? Click here).

Before anyone thinks I am calling Trump a Nazi, or even a fascist, let me be clear. This is a lot bigger than one man, no matter what the size of his wannabe presidential penis. At the same time, I am interested in any evidence of insecurity by either Hitler or Mussolini about their respective male organs–it is clear to me that all share some basic insecurity.

Nor am I claiming that our modest project of seeking to change the church from sex-negative to sex-positive ranks, so far, anywhere close to all that Hirschfeld did.

But I am saying that the effort to open up our social system to the beauty and joy and sacredness of sexuality faces a daunting challenge, not only because for so long the church has kept it locked up in judgments of sin and ugliness but also in the face of rightwing efforts, often led and validated by religious leaders, to clamp down on any social change in the areas of sex, race, ethnicity, and gender/gender identity and expression.

That makes our work all the more necessary, no matter what they say. People’s lives are at stake.

Malachi GrennellMalachi: The political climate is terrifying.

On the heels of the Republican National Convention (RNC), many are confused as to how we got to where we are. I think many of us could not fathom the possibility that Donald Trump would become the presidential nominee for the Republican Party. Certainly not; someone will step in and knock it off, and we would all breathe a little easier, laughing at the absurdity of “President Trump.” And yet here we are.

Recently, NPR published an interesting article about the concept of “echo chambers” on our social media pages. The idea is that the internet has a learning algorithm that keeps track of what we engage with, what we click on, what we’re interested in, and then shows us media and advertisements based on our interests. The unfortunate byproduct of this algorithm is that our perspective and worldview is constantly reinforced to the point that many people believe that their perspective is the general population’s perspective.

What does any of this have to do with sexuality or bodies or spirituality?

Image of protesters at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland
Image of protesters at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland

Just this: we saw an explosion of advertisements during the RNC in Cleveland seeking male escorts for men. We saw an explosion of Craigslist ads during the RNC seeking discrete, one-night male hookups for men attending the RNC. (see here and here)

I wonder what the echo chambers for members and delegates of the RNC look like. I don’t have to wonder too hard; I can imagine fairly easily based on the (frankly, alarming) language used on primetime television at the convention. And from there, it is not a difficult leap to understand where this overwhelming desire for male sex came from.

The unfortunate truth is, we are surrounded by opinions that agree with us. We select friends that hold similar perspectives, and the internet selects media that is most likely to appeal to our values. How, then, do we facilitate a conversation about sex and sexuality in this climate? How do we facilitate open dialogue about sex and bodies and gender and things that are difficult and push us in such a polarized climate?

I am afraid of the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency. I am afraid for my family and my safety. But I am also afraid that the many, many steps we’ve taken to move forward as faith communities and people will be pushed back until we are further away from our goals than when we started. Although I certainly moan and groan about how far we yet have to

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http://wp.production.patheos.com/blogs/faithwithwisdom/files/2011/06/love-makes-a-family-t-shirts_design.png

come as a culture and society, the reality is

  • Sodomy is no longer illegal
  • Interracial marriage is no longer illegal
  • Same-sex marriage is no longer illegal
  • Women (although still facing extreme prejudices and difficulties) are more empowered than ever
  • Families are much more fluid and able to be defined in a myriad of ways
  • There is significantly more visibility for trans people to speak about unique issues facing us every day

The world we live in is far from perfect. But we are slowly coming to enjoy more and more freedoms and we grow stronger in our love and support of one another.

Under a Donald Trump presidency, I worry that our bodies will become criminalized. Not even necessarily for gender, but for not meeting the white standards of beauty that surround us. Women fired for being “too fat.” Women belittled for refusing sexual advances. I can’t imagine the fate of trans people under a Donald Trump presidency, but I guarantee it isn’t pretty (just look at his running mate!).

This is not a man who holds sex as sacred, but one who has been accused of rape on multiple occasions. How do we begin to have a conversation about the holiness, the sacredness, the equality of sex when we are discussing a man who treats sex as a weapon?

This isn’t just about Trump, but about the movement that has come out of

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http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/blogs/behold/2014/05/3.jpg.CROP.cq5dam_web_1280_1280_jpeg.jpg

the woodwork. A movement that seeks to homogenize the United States to look, think, and act in the ways they do. This is not a movement welcoming diverse thoughts and experiences and ideas, but one that has a prescription for how to do things “the right way.” And in the midst of that, we see people unable to live their sexual selves authentically, seeking instead to quietly solicit gay men in an effort to get their sexual needs met without compromising their public values.

Please don’t get me wrong: I see absolutely nothing wrong with utilizing the services of sex workers and the sex industry. I do, however, recognize the hypocrisy in presenting the most anti-LGBT platform in the history it the party while behaving differently behind closed doors. I see hypocrisy when states passing the most oppressive anti-LGBT laws are also among the highest consumers of gay porn (see here and here). But more than hypocrisy, I see a movement that does not allow freedom of thought or diversity of expression.

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http://www.catholicismusa.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SEXUAL-REV2.jpg

Those of us who believe in the power of sexual revolution must continue to speak. We must continue to share our truths and become radically committed to living our full, true, authentic selves. Because if there is not space for members of the Republican caucus to deviate from the platform, there will not be space for the rest of us- the non-monogamous people, the non-binary trans people, the kinky people, the progressive people, the people actively working to fight oppression in our communities.

We must speak, for our voices are the strongest tools we have. We must speak out loud, pray out loud, fuck out loud, live out loud our beliefs, get outside of our own echo chambers, and create help create the space for vastness of the image of God to be seen- not because we all project the same image, but because we express the immense diversity of God.

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

What do you think? How are you feeling about the political/social climate in the U.S. right now? What are some ways you respond to it to keep you from despair, and to help resist it? 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.

We Need Your Input!

As we move forward in preparing the monthly online discussion, we want to ensure that this discussion is as accessible as possible. Please take a moment to provide us with some feedback on the best day and time for you to participate.

Is Your Body a Wholly Presence?

The image of God holds space for sacred sexuality . . . we give thanks for the ways that can manifest in our bodies, minds, and spirits.

At the recent MCC General Conference in Victoria, BC, Canada, Rev. Dr. Tom Bohache and Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos co-hosted a workshop, “Hooking Up: Frank Talk About Sex and Spirit.”

Rev. Dr. Thomas Bohache
Rev. Dr. Tom Bohache

Five panelists shared for about eight minutes each on particular topics. They were Rev. Miller Hoffman on sex talk and ministry to survivors of sexual abuse, Rev. Victoria Burson on issues that sex talk might raise in the black church setting, Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline on aging and how we might talk sex cross-generationally, Rev. Kate Rowley Harford on how body imagery and shame impact sex talk, and Rev Dr. Edgard Francisco Danielsen-Morales on talking polyamory.

Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos
Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos

The workshop was well attended, discussion was lively, and there was considerable energy in the room. The session ended with Tom and Kharma leading the assemblage in the liturgy we reprint below (with permission of the author, Tom Bohache).

 

TOM
Source of Love
Savior of Wholeness
Sustainer of Passion

KHARMA
We thank you for this time of sharing, of questioning, of seeking.
Help us to live into all of who you have created us to be.

TOM
Teach us to expand our comfort zones and to deal gently with one another as we do so.
Hear us now as we offer our very selves to you.
The response is “Bless them, O God.”

KHARMA
We offer to you our sexualities.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our spirits.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our minds and our intellect.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our bodies in all their beauty and in all of what we see as flaws, in our abilities and our limitations.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our heads–our eyes with which we behold your creation, our noses through which we smell what arouses us, our ears with which we hear endearments and sighs and moans, our mouths with which we kiss and lick and bite and suck.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our hands and our feet, with which we seek out and caress objects of our delight.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our breasts and our buttocks, our nipples and our armpits.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our vaginas and clitorises and labia, our clits and cunts, or however we name them.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our penises and testicles, our cocks and balls, or however we name them.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you our sex toys and our erotic costumes, our slings and our harnesses, our gels and our lubricants.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
We offer to you our lovemaking and our self-pleasuring.
All: Bless them, O God.

TOM
We offer to you all of who we are, even as we are still discovering the fullness of who we are and are becoming in you.
All: Bless them, O God.

KHARMA
Now dismiss us with your blessing, God of Pleasure and Power. Carry us forth from this place to be all of who you have created us to be, and more.

To which your people say…AMEN!

Robin: This is not an ordinary liturgy. I can hear people commend Tom’s candor while saying there is no way they can share it during worship at their church.

revrobin2-023Of course, it contains terms we do not ordinarily use in church—not only clinical language for body parts but also “street language” as well. But is that all that is troubling? How often do we so clearly pray, and give thanks, for our bodies? And when was the last time we raised up our sexualities, our spirits, and our minds and intellect in prayer?

And maybe we are even surprised to pray to expand our comfort zones?

Admittedly, this liturgy was not offered on a Sunday morning, but instead was shared during a workshop where all participants knew the topic would be sex and sexuality as well as spirit and spirituality. It was a self-selected group.

I suspect most people present felt safe participating in the liturgy as a blessing on our time together and an encouragement to go forth and be as open as possible. Some of us, certainly me and several of my fellow panelists, even felt celebratory. How wonderful to speak this language in a religious setting!

However, I may be imaging this, but it seemed to be that I heard a few intakes of breath as we heard parts of the prayer (we did not have copies to read along), and it seemed to be that in a few instances the responding voices were softer. Although my eyes were closed, I had the sense several people left (of course, I could be wrong, and it could have been for other reasons).

disciplesonthejourney.org
disciplesonthejourney.org

I encourage you to read it aloud, not just read it silently. It would be even better if you could share the reading of it with another person, or persons, perhaps even so you could simply hear all the requests and then respond as suggested, “All: Bless them, O God.” Liturgy, like poetry, is meant to be spoken and heard to achieve its full impact and meaning. We need to hear this one especially, to be able to really feel it in our bodies.

love is free weheartit com
weheartit.com

If this liturgy feels beyond what you can use, can you adapt it, modify or eliminate some of the terms so you and your community can pray for our sexualities?  How far do you feel you could go? Could you name some sexualities and sexual practices? Could you go beyond different-sex sex (heterosexuality) and same-sex sex (homosexuality)? Could you mention polyamory (multiple-partner sex) or BDSM (known by many specific names, such as bondage/domination or sado-masochistic sex)? If you feel you can’t mention these non-mainstream sexualities, could you at least use a phrase, such as “all other ways of loving” that would acknowledge that they are options beyond hetero- and homo-sexuality? Would that be a way to begin engaging people? Would someone ask what you meant by that, and would you be comfortable giving examples?

Also, I did notice that there was no mention of gender here, except indirectly in the mention of body parts. And those body parts do not necessarily correspond to gender—there are transgender men (male-centered persons) with vaginas/cunts and transgender women (female-centered persons) with penises/cocks. I think it might be helpful to acknowledge some of this as well.

human-body-combinations_f wired com
wired.com

The liturgy is not about gender, of course, or race, but it might be useful to incorporate some language that recognizes that sexual practices are affected by communities of which we are a part, and even those from which we may be absent. The power of genderism and racism is real everywhere, including in the bedroom (or wherever we have sex).

Malachi and I are trying to open dialogue with religious people about sex, bodies and spirit, especially Christians because that is our context and the context in which we see such great resistance to sex talk–and certainly not only exploring but even admitting there is connection between our sexualities and spiritualities.

This liturgy makes that claim of connection by assuming it, and praying from that location without question or condition. That is why we asked Tom if we could publish it here. We believe it is a good place from which to start, if not in your whole church, then perhaps in a small group, or even just by yourself.

pinterest.com
pinterest.com

Think what God might do for you and the people in your community, even in your family, if you gave thanks every day for the genitals and/or the sexualities and/or the heads, eyes, ears, noses, etc., of all—naming them—and asked God’s blessing that all be used to promote love and peace, joy and harmony, growth and justice. And then maybe you will feel willing to risk sharing this with another, and another, and they too share, and over a time you have a community engaged in praying for real about our bodies, our sexualities, our embodied spiritualities.

That is a revolution, as it will be a revelation for many. And we will be better for it, better citizens and better worshippers, and perhaps most important, better children/beloveds of our God who never denies us love and gives us limitless ways to receive and share it.

Malachi:   Although I wasn’t able to attend MCC’s General Conference (and thus not able to attend the paneled discussion Robin referenced), I am grateful to have the opportunity to read and reflect on the liturgy presented.

Malachi GrennellThe truth is, it can be hard to fathom something like this being read in a place of public worship. It can be difficult to imagine people sitting in church, murmuring in unison, “Bless them, O God” as each call and offering is presented. Perhaps a child fussing in the background, someone waving a fan through this blistering summer heat, the rustle of clothes and a periodic cough punctuating an otherwise still sanctuary as we hear each affirmation and call to blessing and respond in kind.

Yeah, I can’t really picture it either.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? We can’t picture such conversations, such language, such call-and-responses happening in our churches. It makes our skin itch a little. It’s uncomfortable, and we’re not even the ones saying the “hard” words. We’re just the ones responding, “Bless them, O God.”

It seems a bit…ostentatious, doesn’t it? And in fairness, the group with whom this was recited is a self-selected group, comprised of individuals who chose and consented to participate in a paneled discussion on sex and spirituality. They had a sense, perhaps, of what they were walking into and were (hopefully) mentally prepared for such conversations.

the2seasons.com
the2seasons.com

Liturgies like this remind me of the books we hide on the back of our bookshelves when our parents come to visit. Copies of “The Whole Lesbian Sex Book” get pushed under our beds, frantically trying to make the house presentable. Or perhaps that copy of “The Best Gay Erotica” is always hidden in the drawer of our bedside tables, taken out for a bit of “motivational” reading, and placed back in its hiding place.

We hide these liturgies. We read them, hear them, and feel a blush rise to our cheeks. “Did they really just say that?” we think. We want to put it away and not think too much about it (or, at least, not get caught thinking too much about it). It feels embarrassing and we’re not sure why. And we get so caught up on the language and the words, the audacity of saying such things in public that we often miss what is being said.

Celebrate our bodies. Celebrate the capacity for our bodies to feel pleasure. Some sexual, yes, but think of small, non-sexual bodily pleasures: getting a haircut, getting a massage, having a pedicure, giving a hug. Things that make us feel connected to one another. We give thanks for community, for being in shared worship space together. When we say, “We give thanks for this community of people,” we are not just talking about the people present but about our body’s capacity to experience joy.

buzzfeed.com
buzzfeed.com

That is the piece that I think we so often miss in our worship and liturgies. We are not only grateful for the opportunity to be in relationship with one another, but we are also happy for the experience in our bodies, the feelings of pleasure and excitement and joy when we connect with another person. That is part of the celebration! We feel good when we are connected in community. We feel good when we are connected with another person. We feel good when we have intimate encounters with one another, when we experience pleasure in our bodies. In the case of this liturgy, this call and response, this context, the focus is on the pleasure we experience as sexual beings. But even if this particular liturgy is not one that we would feel comfortable reading word-for-word in a worship setting, the broader meaning is an important step on the journey to full love, acceptance, and celebration of our sexual selves: the idea that we must celebrate ourselves, body, mind, and spirit.

So how do we translate this liturgy in a way that is more appropriate for a worship setting (as opposed to a workshop where sex is specifically the focus)? We are capable of celebrating our bodies as the vessels through which we do God’s work. We can celebrate our hands and feet, our eyes and ears and lips and tongues, our backs and legs, our genitals and buttocks, our shoulders and armpits, our noses and stomachs. When folded into the entirety of celebrating our bodies, those words which blatantly speak to sexuality are incorporated as part of our bodies: not omitted, but not the focus, either.

pinterest
pinterest

We can celebrate our minds: creative and logical, thoughtful and contemplative, erotic and playful, analytical and relaxed.

We can celebrate our spirituality: encompassing and vibrant, the ethos and eros of our being, present in our every word and action.

We celebrate the totality of who we are- not focusing on one aspect, but not ignoring any aspects either. Our sexuality, while vital and crucial to who we are, while important to celebrate in and of itself, is all too often wrapped up in a lack of capacity to celebrate ourselves outright.

It goes beyond simply celebrating these aspects of self in the abstraction, though. It also calls us into conscious awareness of each part of ourselves as we give thanks and celebrate our bodies. Take a moment in reading to focus awareness on each body part. Focus on your feet for a moment, and take the time to be consciously aware of how they feel. Are they tired from working? Are the strong? Numb from poor circulation? How about your legs? Your arms? Your genitals? Your ears? How does each aspect of your body feel as you give thanks and celebrate it? And then, as a unit, the different pieces working together: how does your body feel?

You can do the same with your mind. Are you anxious? Distracted? Calm? Struggling with mental health? Quiet and focused? How is your connection between your mind and your body? (E.g. is your mind racing but your body is still? Or are they reflections of one another; calm mind, calm body?)

newhopeinternationalministries.wordpress.com
newhopeinternationalministries.wordpress.com

And the spirit… how is your spirit? Is it aching or joyful (or both)? Weary or rejuvenated?

We cannot simply give thanks for these aspects of who we are in abstraction. This liturgy (and ones like it) call us to be fully, wholly present in our bodies, minds, and spirits as we celebrate and give thanks- not just for each individual piece, but for ourselves as an integrated whole.

We are all- each of us- made in the image of God. The image of God holds space for sacred sexuality, and we give thanks for the many ways that can manifest in our bodies, minds, and spirits. Thanks be to God!

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

What do you think? How do you feel about liturgies focused on bodies, on sex? What are some ways we can help open the dialogue about sex and spirituality through worship and small groups? 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.

We Need Your Input!

As we move forward in preparing the monthly online discussion, we want to ensure that this discussion is as accessible as possible. Please take a moment to provide us with some feedback on the best day and time for you to participate.

 

Sex and Church: Connected or Disconnected?

Let’s help the church learn to celebrate erotic love and the bodies which make it possible.. . . .

revrobin2-023Robin: It’s not easy to talk about sex, at least to do so in thoughtful, positive ways that don’t involve judging others or making jokes to mask our discomfort.

That dis-ease was my experience at the 26th General Conference of Metropolitan Community Churches just concluded in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. By my count, out of 31 workshops of 90 minutes each, there were two on sex, one on transgender issues, and one on HIV/AIDS issues. Out of 29 “pop topics,” 25 minutes in length, there were two on trans concerns and one on body tattoos. There also was one plenary session (out of four) about two hours in length, on transgender concerns.  This means 13% of the workshops were on sex- and gender-relatedemerge topics (and only six percent directly on sex), and 10% of “pop topics” focused on gender and body issues (none on sex), and 25% of plenary sessions were on gender and body concerns.

I experienced one exception: during the opening plenary, when keynote speaker Ani Zonnefeld from Muslims for Progressive Values challenged MCC to live out a vision of promoting values of love, justice and peace. In a panel discussion following her powerful message, my new friend from Italy, Mario Bonfanti, spoke clearly on two occasions about the BDSM relationship at the center of his life. I wanted to jump for joy—just to hear someone talk about sex, and especially a non-mainstream sex practice, not as a problem but as a gift!! BRAVO!!!!

Of course, I am not dismissing the value of the other workshops and pop topics and plenaries on a wide variety of topics.  But I am saying we don’t talk much about sex, at least out in the open in organized, planned ways.

I am told sex was a main topic at early MCC conferences—because, in part at least, sex is why MCC came into existence. From what elders tell me, people were truly glad to be together with other people of faith to talk about sex, about ethics and practices and safety AND fun, too. I doubt anyone can honestly contend that sex is no longer an issue needing attention. The reduction in emphasis may well be due to the fact that over the years we have become more accepted by mainstream churches. It’s not easy to be different when you want the approval of others.

Prior Lake Robin
Yes, it’s me at Prior Lake, just north of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

I also experienced a lack of interest in a related topic raised by me. About a week prior to the conference, I posted on various Facebook MCC-related pages an invitation to join me on Wednesday afternoon (the time designated by the organizers for “time off,” no formal conference programs were planned) at a clothing optional lake not far outside Victoria. Four people expressed interest, three saying they hoped to attend. I posted two more times, to give updates on the plans and to be encouraging.

One more person expressed interest; however, ultimately I went alone. I had a wonderful time, so I am not complaining about the lack of company, but I am struck by the numbers of people who spoke to me after Wednesday, asking me if I enjoyed the adventure. I cannot read their minds but I do note that only a couple of people posted a “like” on Facebook, while the bulk of people spoke to me privately. I think it is reasonable to interpret this as indicative, at least for some, of a reluctance to be publicly identified with nudity or potential nudity.

youtube.com
youtube.com

I can honestly say that I worry a bit that I will be identified as a outlier, as a “crackpot” even, for being so public about my liking for nudity, insisting on the central place of sex and bodies in spiritual living,not to mention writing this blog with Malachi each week, discussing a wide variety of sex practices and even revealing considerable personal information. But I refuse to go back into the “sex is only private” closet. And I believe church communities need to pay lots more attention to sex and sexuality, and bodies, too. I want my church to be sex- and body-positive because I want us to fully human, engaging God everywhere God meets us—and that surely includes in our bodies and our sex and sexuality.

That is the point of this blog—bringing together openly and in positive ways sex, bodies and spirit—and it is the mission of monthly online hour-long sessions devoted to the topic as well.

These monthly conversations were begun last November by Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos and Rev. Dr. Tom Bohache as a way of continuing the dialogue begun in October through a three-day online webinar “Who Are We Really? Re-Engaging Sex and Spirit” sponsored by the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development.

The webinar was a wonderful collection of paper and panel presentations, online conversations, and sidebar text dialogue while others spoke. There was much honest sharing about personal lives, ideas, and anxieties.

study
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The monthly conversations have been good, but not well attended. There is a new plan to make them more attractive, especially to clergy. Beginning in August, each hour of participation will be counted for CEU credit for clergy license renewal! This means there will still be conversation, but each hour will feature a major presentation on a topic of interest. The topics will be announced in advance so participants can plan their attendance.

And even more exciting to Malachi and me, we have been asked to provide the course offerings each month. This means that we intend to orient at least some of our weekly postings on this blog toward the topic of the month, as a way to help participants be well oriented to the class.

It’s not too late for the MCC movement—begun because men who sleep with men and women who sleep with women (exclusively or as part of bisexual living), and drag queens and transgender people and other sex- or gender-non-conforming and Q/queer people wanted safe spaces in which to worship the God of their understanding—to claim our call, our mission, to not only provide a safe haven for all these fabulous children of God but also to celebrate that wondrous diversity and teach the rest of the larger church about the beauty and joy and divinity of sex in all its manifestations, even including heterosexual monogamy (too many Christians and others can’t even bring themselves to like that!).

It’s a tall order, but somebody has to do it. I’m ready, and I hope you will join me, Malachi, and others as we help the church learn to celebrate erotic love and the bodies which make it possible.

 

Malachi GrennellMalachi: I’ve been a part of Metropolitan Community Church since I was a child (about 8 years old). MCC, in many ways, is my church home… although, like many childhood homes, we find that home much changed from when we left it. Thus is my experience at MCC. I left the church I had grown up in in Richmond, and stopped attending any place of worship for a while. When I moved to North Carolina to live with my mom (who is also MCC clergy), I returned to MCC via the church plant that she had facilitated.

I loved being back in MCC again. It has always been a place that I felt at home and comfortable, and I love hearing my mother preach. But as an adult, the experience of being back in church was a different one. I wasn’t sure if the difference was my age, the location, or being the child of the pastor, but I found that there was something missing from the experience of a predominantly queer church.

Growing up in MCC, I heard my fair share of lewd comments and ill-concealed euphemisms (children truly are smarter than we give them

Carlos McKnight of Washington, waves a flag in support of gay marriage outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. A major opinion on gay marriage is among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Carlos McKnight of Washington, waves a flag in support of gay marriage outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. A major opinion on gay marriage is among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

credit for). These comments were often jokes across the table at a diner down the street where people would congregate after church for lunch, or over the dinner table when my parents would have friends from church over for dinner. There was certainly no shame or hiding sexuality at that point- 20 years ago, we were still fighting for our right to exist (even more so than we do now), and we spent so much time hiding who we were at work and around our families that the thought of maintaining any kind of façade around our friends was too exhausting to fathom.

The sexuality of queer people was threatening to non-queer people. Thus, many people-particularly gay men- spent so much time trying to project a demeanor that was devoid of sexuality (lesbians were just simply not allowed to have a sexuality… after all, “how do two women have sex, anyway?”)

MCC was a sanctuary. It was a place where we could stop pretending- stop pretending to be non-sexual (read: non-threatening) and celebrate and embrace the vast beauty of who we are. It was a sanctuary beyond just the religious meaning, and broader than the bar scene (after all, MCC was a place for those who were recovering addicts to congregate without the fear of relapse).

And once upon a time, we didn’t fear it. We were outcasts in so many waysawareness-ribbon_HIV that we “let our hair down” a bit when we went to church. We were whole people, authentic and real. We did workshops on safer sex practices. We talked about the risks of STI infection in a real way (rather than a theoretical or hypothetical way). People shared stories that included aspects of sexuality. Some were told in a comical way, some in a heartbreaking way, some in matter-of-fact way, but there was space for it.

Granted, my experience with sexuality in MCC is partially skewed because so much of it occurred in the presence of my parents. I recall one story in which the minister at the time, Rev. Gill Storey, asked my mother if she had talked to me about condoms yet. My mother burst into tears at the thought of her child and the word “condoms” in the same sentence. So, certainly, I appreciate that my perspective is often filtered through the lens of navigating space with my parents (who, progressive as they may be, still struggled to speak openly about sex and sexuality with me for much of my life).

But perhaps that makes the contrast that much stronger: even in a space where I was sheltered from certain conversations and explicit references to sex, I was still aware of it. It was still a part of my understanding and experience of navigating my own journey and growing experience as I hit puberty. It was a church member who encouraged me to masturbate and be comfortable with my own body before trying to be sexual with another person. It was a church member who taught me about the importance of gloves and dental dams as forms of protection when engaging in sex with

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bodies that were assigned female at birth. It was a church member who taught me how to put on a condom.

I do not see that MCC in the denominations any longer. While I see many beautiful things about MCC, I do not see the radical inclusion of our whole selves- bodies, minds, and spirits- in our services any more. I remember an outcry in the church when Rev. Robin- when speaking the chant lifted up by the queens at Stonewall- said the phrase “pubic hair” behind the pulpit. I didn’t know what was so bad about pubic hair, but clearly, it wasn’t something that we were supposed to talk about.

We no longer have to hide our identities in the same ways we used to. We are accepted in more churches, allowed to be out in more workplaces, allowed to marry and claim our partnerships on our taxes, get health insurance and survivor benefits. It’s an incredible step forward for the LGBTQ communities, and I am glad that these advancements have happened. But I wonder if we stopped viewing our churches as sanctuaries for the whole of ourselves because the canister of our lives is less pressurized elsewhere. We’re only hiding a little now, instead of everything that we are, and we have worked so hard to get here that we don’t want to risk jeopardizing it by being too “out there.”

And yet, I wonder if we do ourselves a disservice by removing the sex from our sanctuaries. It feels less “out there,” sure. But we also lose people who might otherwise be interested in coming to MCC… we lose young people who are looking for authentic conversations about sex and sexuality. People like me. People who struggle to find relevance in MCC because we don’t fit in those spaces.

I have, over time, stopped going to MCC for many reasons, but the largest

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among them is that I don’t find that there is room for me to be my whole self- my polyamorous, kinky self- in most MCC spaces. I can be trans (mostly… the ambiguity of my gender presentation can still be a tricky thing sometimes) and I can be queer (or, at least, my partner can appear to have a similar gender presentation to me), but the rest of me doesn’t fit. I leave my sexuality at the door when I walk into a church now, and that never used to be what MCC was about. Because that space should be a sanctuary, not a closet.

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

What do you think? How do you feel about discussions of sex in church? What are some ways we can help open the dialogue? 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.

We Need Your Input!

As we move forward in preparing the monthly online discussion, we want to ensure that this discussion is as accessible as possible. Please take a moment to provide us with some feedback on the best day and time for you to participate.