Everybody deserves a rich sex life—not just the young . . .
by Robin Gorsline
I thought this would be a difficult post to write, especially because I am posting alone while Malachi has been away at a 5-day retreat for people into kinky sex. In some ways, that retreat, and the fact that my dear friend and 27-year-old co-editor has been enjoying it, caused me to think this writing would be all the more difficult.
However, as I finished it, I am not so sure. It’s been a great experience writing this. And more good news is that next week, you’ll hear only from him (while I attend a week-long church conference—and that fact makes the contrast even greater!).
My topic today: sex and aging. I thought that would be a downer. But the opposite is true.
My interest stems from my own experience of erectile dysfunction as well as shrinkage of my testicles and a noticeable decline in the frequency of ejaculations. I know many older (and some younger) men share these or other symptoms. I also have been experiencing significant lower back pain for some months and this has interfered at times with sexual activity. Menopause may set similar things in place for women.
Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy sex with Jonathan, in fact I want more. And I have been learning to enjoy self-pleasuring, too.
And you should know that I am writing today not so much to talk about troubles but more importantly to encourage older people to claim our right–and I believe our responsibility as part of the family of God who gives us these wondrous creations and erotic energy—to enjoy our bodies and lots of good sex.
But I do believe that it is important to talk openly about how aging affects our ability to perform sexually—not only in the way we used to, but frankly, the way at least I, and I hope you, still want to perform. Aging does not affect just me, or just men, of course.
Women also can experience significant sexual changes as they age. These include decreased blood flow to genitals, lower levels of estrogen and testosterone, thinning of the vaginal lining, loss of vaginal elasticity and muscle tone, slower arousal, reduced vaginal lubrication and less expansion of the vagina, less blood congestion in the clitoris and lower vagina, and diminished clitoral sensitivity. You can learn much more about all this, as well as suggestions to improve sex life for older women here
For all people, facing the effects of aging on our sex lives is critical. Every site I consulted, for all genders, points out that a decline in sexual activity, or a less satisfying sex life, is not automatically the effect of aging. The idea that old people don’t want or don’t have sex is false. But many have been, and are, convinced this is so.
My own experience is that six or so years ago, when my erections became less frequent, I began to think it would be only a matter of time until I would not want or have sex anymore. This was depressing. I think even Jonathan, who is 13 years younger than me, began to wonder.
But after a couple of years of avoidance, I began to seek medical help. I started testosterone therapy (TRT) to raise my levels (see left), and used trials of Viagra and Cialis (the latter, used on a daily basis really helped but there were complications and I had to stop using it). A pump helped a little, as did injections before sex (but not very romantic!).
All this took place over several years. And although in some ways it does not seem successful, what I began feeling was energy about sex. I stopped being depressed and starting thinking about what could be done so my beloved and I could be intimate like we had been for many years. One thing one specialist said to me, as he held my small cock in his hand, “Ah, suffering from disuse.”
I asked him how he knew that and he pointed to the shape of the shaft, how it was larger at the base and then abruptly tapered off. He said, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
That was all I needed to begin masturbating more. I had stopped because I was frustrated by not ejaculating. Now, I learned I still enjoy it, and that actually seemed to help when Jonathan and I had sex. My erections were better.
Erections are not the only issue for me, and for many men. Aging can shrink your penis. And then, regular use of TRT usually leads to significant shrinkage of testicles, because they no longer have much to do. And a consequence of that is a significant reduction in the production of semen. That makes ejaculation less possible. I am checking out alternative therapies to deal with this, and I having a great time talking with a therapist about my new sexual energy and how best to use it.
Today, I feel more alive sexually than I ever have. Instead of taking it for granted—a quick jerk-off to relieve tension or after seeing someone sexy when I was younger, or just assuming I could become hard whenever I tried—I now cherish my body and my erotic feelings all the time and at a far deeper level.
I experience my body, my cock and more, often during morning meditation. I realize even in church, or other group, prayer, that my whole body is participating, not just my brain or my ears and mouth. I really yearn to hold hands or hug during prayer because I experience the human connection as a divine one, too.
And now that my body sags in places it never did before, and I feel more aches and pains from time to time, I have begun to undo my negative reaction, you might call it the “ick” or “yuck” factor, to the idea of my parents being sexual. I know they were at least once—after all, here I am—but I have this nagging feeling that it wasn’t very often. Part of the reason I think that is that they were so rarely physically affectionate with each other. That makes me sad. They deserved better.
Everybody deserves a rich sex life—not just the young, but the middle-aged and the older and really elderly people. I want Jonathan to be sucking me in the nursing home, and assuming I die first, I want someone else to be doing that for him until the very end.
I used to think Dr. Ruth was a bit nutty. Not anymore. She had the right idea.
Don’t take ideas of diminished sexual capacity due to aging lying down. After all many of us have been through in our lives—from joys to traumas and just plain hard work day in and day out—it is high time we had some really good sex!! And lots of it.
And one more thing: I think us older folks can lead the real sexual revolution, the one in which the world overcomes phobias and old teachings and misguided morality and really claims God’s way as the best way: make love, not war.
We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!
What do you think? Are you an older person seeking a better sex life? Do you think it is possible to be very active sexually as an older person? If you are younger, do you fear aging, thinking it will diminish your sexual pleasure? Or can you imagine your sex life getting better as you age? 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 have to do the work to identify the ways in which racism manifests in our own personal, intimate thoughts, actions, responses, and ideologies
by Robin Gorsline and Malachi Grennell
The tragedy of Orlando continues to reverberate in many ways. Jonathan and I shared in very powerful worship on Sunday at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington (MCCDC) focused on those lost and how we need to respond in ways that promote love. In that service, Rev. Dwayne Johnson mentioned several times that many of the dead were Puerto Rican.
I had already been thinking about how little was being said in the mainstream media about the loss of so many Latino/a (or Latinx to be gender neutral) people. In conversation with Malachi, he said “If Pulse had been a “straight” club, would not more have been made of the attack on Latinx people?” Would not the headlines have referenced an attack on a Hispanic club (or Hispanics at a dance club) rather than a gay club? What if it had been mostly a group of African Americans, or “African night” at the gay club? Are we incapable to dealing with all the layers of this tragedy? I hope not.
This got Malachi and me thinking, as “white” people (or as people who consider ourselves white, as Ta-Nehisi Coates helpfully puts it in Between the World and Me, or people of European descent as others say), about our own relationships with the bodies of people of color. We are intensely aware that as writers we have some serious limitations based on our social locations, and specifically in this blog by the social construction of our bodies—despite being gay, transgender, old, younger, male-centered (me with stereotypically male body parts, and Malachi with a different configuration as well as experience as a girl/woman) and the off-centeredness, non-normal social locations those characteristics set up, neither of us can claim experience as non-white bodies, bodies with the attributes of color as our society defines that.
We are wanting people who can speak from “locations of color” to write here for this blog (note: if you are interested in posting with us, please contact us at the emails listed above our respective pictures on the right).
But we also know that it is imperative for us to do some decentering of our whiteness by talking about our interactions with those who are not colored as we are (let’s get clear right off that although in the pigment spectrum, white is defined as the absence of color, in the social realm in this country and world, white is most definitely a color, the default body color for social and personal power). At the same time, we recognize that in writing about this, we also are re-centering ourselves—it is a complicated business for white people to decenter ourselves, because the very act can at the same time draw attention to us.
Okay. What about me?
I have a relatively long history of anti-racism commitments and activities stemming from an unexpected learning experience. It was 1978 when I paid my first visit to the Oakland County Jail (the county in southeast Michigan directly north of Wayne County and Detroit). I was an elected County Commissioner and had been challenged by an advisor to do a jail inspection (something the Sheriff and others did not encourage).
I was stunned by the fact that at least 75% of the male inmates were Black—this in a county that was 90% or so white. That was the beginning of really personal awareness of how Black people, Black bodies, are viewed, and treated, since my childhood when parents admonished me to treat our weekly cleaning lady, Mrs. Kendrick, with the respect due all adults.
As a teenager in the 1960s, I had been an admirer of Dr. King and civil rights leaders and supported the cause, but that was my liberal political self, not much related to actual people and their bodies. The experience in the jail, and my subsequent work as a volunteer with Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR), a group dedicated to helping ex-offenders rebuild their lives after incarceration, caused me to begin asking questions and learning more about racism, and all this was a key factor leading me to seminary in 1981. My subsequent writing about race and racism and other activities over 30 years really, in important ways, stem from those first learnings in Michigan. I had a similar experience of a disproportionate number of Black bodies at the Deer Island Correctional Center in Boston harbor in the summer of 1984, during a seminary internship.
But what strikes me now is how unaware I, as a gay man, was over the years of the effect of racism and white privilege in selecting sexual partners, and even in building male friendships. It never occurred to me to ask myself, especially when living as a single gay man in the racial mix of Manhattan and Brooklyn in the 1990s, why I rarely seemed to encounter Black men in social situations that might lead to more than a smile and a handshake, and when I did why I did not create more connection.
It is not that I did not associate with Black men—a dear friend who became a mentor in my doctoral program, Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé, was a leading African American Queer academic and activist, and I hung out a lot with him in Washington, D.C. (and he visited me in New York) and some of his friends, also Black and gay, in Washington and New York. Ibrahim, and several of his friends, were very attractive, but they showed no sexual interest in me, and I feared I might lose their friendship if I “came on” to them (today, I wonder if this was really true, or whether it was my way of avoiding dealing with feelings of “otherness”). I went to a few gatherings of the New York Jacks, a “jerk-off” club, where the racial mix was rich, but my memory is of connecting only with white men.
As I write all of this, I realize that although my mind and my heart, my ethics and ideology, have long celebrated African American culture, and I have been an advocate for racial justice, for undoing white privilege in its subtle and still powerful forms, and fighting white supremacy in its virulent forms, I do not have a completely easy relationship with Black male bodies (and with Latinx people and Asians—and it will be important at another time and context to raise these questions in relation to women in my life).
This is not easy to say, because of course I want to be seen as totally liberated. That is impossible for any white person in our culture—white privilege/supremacy/racism is the air we breathe from the moment we cry out in the delivery room until the day we die—but still I find it difficult to admit how little progress in disrupting it I have made in some areas of my life.
I agree with psychologist Marilyn Suchet, and many others, who claims that “whiteness is more about a hierarchal position of power in relation to another than color.” (“Unraveling Whiteness,” Psychoanalytic Dialogues, vol. 17, no. 6, 2007) No matter how much we want to stop being white, it is hard to give up the privileged place, the power, and much of it is so ingrained it is hard to know when I have and use the power because I don’t even see it. This may be especially true in terms of embodied relationships.
I am in a beautiful, monogamous relationship with my white, Jewish husband of more than 18 years, so I am not seeking sex with Black men, or other men of color, or anyone else for that matter. But I want to learn to make myself more vulnerable, to open up to men of color more than I have. My friend/mentor Ibrahim and I drifted apart (I need to look at that, too), and then just this year he died at the age of 56 and I have lost contact with his friends (at least one has died). I don’t know if I can find them, but there are other men in my life now.
The church where I worship and serve as volunteer clergy is probably more than one-half Black every Sunday, and there are many wonderful Black men among them (and other men of color and white men, too). I need to remove my clergy collar, and more to the point my sense of entitlement and authority for being white (I really need to see this, and it probably will need to be pointed out to me in many instances, so I can practice letting go), and be open to engaging different realities, different relationships, on a first-hand, first-person, intimately friendly, basis. This is undoubtedly true of my relationships with men in general.
I surely don’t mean to fetishize a desire for better relationships with men of color, or to fetishize any group of men, but I know that my deep commitment to disrupting white supremacy and privilege must be intimate and embodied and vulnerable, to be true to the call of God on my soul.
This is perhaps one of the harder pieces for me to write because it feels so multifaceted and interpersonal. In the past two weeks, I have had five different black women who live near me comment that I have gained weight- several of them have made the comment that I’m getting “thick,” and one had me turn in a circle to inspect whether my butt had gotten bigger (she pronounced that it has).
I have incredibly complicated and mixed feelings about these interactions. As a person with a history of an eating disorder, who has struggled with addiction to diet pills, and constantly obsesses about their weight, my first response was shame and indignation. Gaining weight is a negative thing, and I want to fix it. And why do so many people feel as though they have the right to comment on the physical attributes of another person?
It was so easy to feel shame and (what felt like) righteous indignation. I’ve been around and supported many different kinds of body positivity movements, and my health and healing involved struggling with my disease and addiction. The more I think about these interactions, however, I’m forced to deal with the ugly manifestation of my own racism.
Gaining weight is negative. It’s a bad thing; it means that we are unhealthy and unattractive. At least, that is the message that we are inundated with from mainstream media. We are also surrounded by the concept of the quintessential archetype of beauty- the attributes of which are primarily white-centered.
Bodies that tend to carry more weight. Bodies with substantial curves, including hips and butts. Smaller breasts. Not only are these body types that are not readily displayed as “beautiful” in our dominant culture, these are also body types that are appreciated in different cultures, particularly within non-white cultures.
The reality is, being called thick was intended in a complimentary way. It was an acceptance of a body type- my body- that is appreciated within black culture, but not necessarily in white culture. It was a comment on my gaining weight, yes- but this was not seen as negative.
Do I think that it’s appropriate for people to make unsolicited comments about someone else’s body? Not particularly, but context is relevant. I had different levels of interactions with these women throughout the past year- they are my neighbors- and one in particular (the one who told me to spin around) is someone I sit and talk with frequently. In the context of the culture of this neighborhood, it is appropriate to make such comments.
There is the part of me that takes it personally because of my history. And I think that piece of it is important and shouldn’t be erased. But I think it’s also important to recognize that my “ideal” is based- almost entirely- on very white concepts.
I began to think about how I felt, and realized that, at its core, my feelings were a sense of panic that I was no longer “attractive enough” (even though I was being complimented on my appearance). But it’s not that I’m not attractive enough… it’s that I don’t have the correct type of body to meet white standards of beauty for men or women. It made me wonder how it feels to live in a body that is constantly told by society that they are “not enough” or maybe too much.
This article briefly discusses eating disorders among women of color, stating that “the dominant standards of beauty are internalized and women from minority groups adhere to standards similar to those of white women.” This is one of many blatant examples of systematic racist ideology in the United States: women of color are at risk of developing eating disorders because whiteness=beauty, and white bodies=standard of beauty.
In these interactions with neighbors, I had to come face-to-face with my own racism. I had to be willing to understand that I did not want to accept these compliments because thickness is not something that is celebrated in white culture. I wanted to distance myself. I wanted to blame it on my own history. In some ways, I still want to. But choosing to act as an ally to people of color, I must make a conscious effort to constantly untangle myself from the racist ideology that is rampant in dominant US cultural discourse.
In the midst of all these things, I am still thinking about Orlando. And I am still thinking about the fact that the bodies were not, by and large, white bodies. I keep thinking that before they went to that nightclub, before they were part of the symbol of an attack on queer culture in the United States, many were Latinx (a gender-neutral term from Latino or Latina). I can’t help thinking about the loud pronouncements that “these were Americans that died! This was an attack on Americans!” were vocalized by many of the same people who, on a different day, would have questioned whether the deceased were in this country illegally.
The bodies of people of color in this country are constantly under attack. Whether it’s beauty standards or manner of speaking or physical appearance or assumed religious practices, we as white Americans are constantly policing people of color. We feel threatened when we see a young black man because we associate that image with gangs. We use terms like “ghetto” in reference to poor, urban areas that are likewise associated with people of color- as well as a lack of education. We see someone who appears to be from the Middle East and assume terrorist. We make assumptions about how women of Asian descent are expected to behave.
The reality is, we live in a white-dominated culture, and expect other cultures to assimilate to us. We are the standard that everyone else is supposed to meet, and the stereotypes we associate with different cultural or ethnic groups are rarely positive. It’s not only with our words or our actions- like when we lock the door because we think we are in a bad part of town, and try not to think about the fact that we are in a bad part of town because every face outside the car is a dark face.
It’s about the internal standards we hold ourselves to without thinking. It’s about realizing that we need to check our own ideas about race and beauty because someone complimented something that, in white culture, is not appreciated. It’s realizing that the words we are using further propagate stereotypes… and from those stereotypes, we are then able to justify using violence.
We do not have to look hard to find evidence of institutional racism in this culture. We do, however, have to do the work to identify the ways in which racism manifests in our own personal, intimate thoughts, actions, responses, and ideologies. It can be incredibly difficult to identify these things when they are not pointed out (I was lucky that I was given the opportunity to examine both my thoughts around beauty and my own history with eating disorders and addiction), yet we must find ways to examine our perspectives and continue to grow.
My body felt inadequate because I as made aware of the ways in which my body does not adhere to white standards. I experienced complicated feelings about it but the truth is, I have a white body and I can walk away from those feelings of discomfort. I can blame them on history and feel indignant about people commenting on other people’s bodies… or I can choose to examine where those feelings are coming from and take this opportunity to examine my relationship with my own whiteness.
We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!
What do you think? Is Orlando causing you to think about racism? How do you understand white privilege, in your life if you are a white person or in our society if you are a person of color? Do you carry unreasonable standards of beauty in your body? Are your relationships with people in other racial/ethnic groups as strong and intimate as you want them to be? 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.
. . . if we truly believed human bodies—all human bodies—are sacred . . .
Introduction: In the wake of the Orlando massacre, Robin and Malachi are drawn to the discussion of bodies, and the act of visiting violence upon someone’s body. In the process of our own struggles, remembrances, and emotions, we hope to offer some helpful thoughts to those grieving and struggling with how to move forward from this unwarranted attack on our family, our friends, and our communities.
Robin: The tragedy in Orlando can easily overwhelm a person of even a little sensitivity. Forty-nine people gunned down—the gunman himself killed, and more injured—like kewpie dolls on a moving track at a carnival game booth. Hit five and you win a prize. Hit ten and you win 2 prizes, hit 49 and you win the jackpot!!!
But these were not dolls, they were people, real flesh and blood people, real human bodies. They were dancing and drinking and flirting and kissing and hugging and peeing and maybe sweating. Maybe some of them even felt pain from dancing, a sore knee or ankle or hip or back, but still they danced and they watched others dance and their tapped their feet, and maybe raised arms in joy and excitement. It has been some time since I went to a gay club, or any dance venue, and danced the night away. But I have done it, especially with my Jonathan, who inspires me with his exuberance and lightness of feet.
There is something beyond special to feel your body moving with the beat, your heart thumping on the fast numbers and your heart filling on the slow ones.
These were people, mostly L, G, B, or T, or Q ones, but S ones, too, friends who like to dance and know that gay clubs are great places to dance, to celebrate.
These were bodies—young and old and in between, mostly Latino/a, probably some Black and white, male and female and in between and unwilling to choose, tall and short, heavy and thin, single and partnered, probably some looking for sex or at least companionship. Among hundreds present, there were probably almost every sort and condition of humankind.
The act of gunning down 49 bodies and injuring 53 more (and will they all live?) and terrorizing the rest who ran screaming or hid from the nightmare that will not ever leave their bodies, their body memories, their psychic space, their spiritual center—how little can the shooter care about the bodies of others? Or his own?
If we really believed that the human body is a temple of God, if we truly believed human bodies—all human bodies—are sacred, would we repeatedly destroy them with guns and knives and malnutrition and starvation and bombs and war and terror and lack of care (of self and others), and ignorance and disease we can actually stop and cure? Would we?
I am sitting at my desktop, naked as is my custom these days, feeling my aches and pains, running my hands over all parts of my aged/still aging white male privileged body, alone except for Cocoa our standard poodle sleeping in the next room, and wondering what I can say that has not already been said or will not be said somewhere else, probably better than I can. My body is carrying anger and anguish, almost inexpressible sadness, and fear for my own LGBT community and for other marginal communities: all Latino/a and Muslim peoples (walls and deportations, and more), Black people (killed and denied voting just because), native peoples, immigrants, children, women, religious minorities, differently-abled people.
I keep coming back to these particular bodies. One news report said, “Workers removed the bodies four at a time on stretchers and loaded them into white vans. The action was repeated over and over” (link). I am reminded of reading accounts of the Nazi Holocaust, dead bodies en masse, workers dealing with them endlessly. Or other massacres closer to home: Wounded Knee (as many as 300 Lakota, plus soldiers) in 1890, and mass lynching of Black sharecroppers in 1919 in Arkansas (estimates range from 100 to 800-see here and here).
In Orlando, how high would the bodies reach if the dead ones were stacked one on top of the other—how deep would the hole have to be or how high would the ladder or lift have to be as they rose in one towering pile—or how wide or deep would the hole in the ground have to be if they were dumped, like Jews or queers or gypsies in the Holocaust, or victims of poison gas in Syria, in a mass grave?
The shooter did not care about any bodies, probably even his own (perhaps because he did not like his embodied sexual feelings?)—he must have known on some level he would die, too, perhaps that is what he really wanted but he couldn’t go without taking others with him—and I know I do not care for my body as well as I could/should/wish.
I also know I do not at this time want to die. I will go when its time, and hope I will know when that is and go willingly and gratefully for all I have received, but now I have things to do, people to love and be loved by, poems and blogs and books to write, meals to cook, laundry to wash, gardens to tend, husband and dog and daughters and grandchildren and sons-in-law and a future son-in-law and a sister and nieces and their families and church folk and JVP and synagogue friends and neighbors and so many more to hug and care for as best I can. The 49 had dreams and intentions, too. And family and loved ones.
They all have bodies, no, they all are bodies, weall arebodies. Everyone, every human, every animal, is a body. We begin this earthly journey as bodies and we embody the spiritual being God creates us to be. We can’t be, human or animal, without a body.
Flesh, blood, skin, organs, orifices, cells, veins, tissue, bone, currents of energy. In some sense, that is all we are. And in that is-ness, we are perfect, no matter what shape or category we inhabit. It is in a moment like this that I am glad I am a vegetarian. I don’t kill bodies for food or for hate.
But I am a citizen of this world, and most of us do kill (or employ others to kill for us) for food, and too many (even though a far, far lesser number) kill for hate.
Can I say I could never kill another human? I have tried to say that, but every time I know I am being false, dishonest. If saving Jonathan or Cocoa or my daughters and and/or their families and those others I mentioned above seemed to be possible only by killing the one or ones intending to kill them, I believe I would kill first. I want it not to be so, and I want first no such harm threatened but if it is, then I want the person or persons arrested, peaceably I hope, and tried and kept apart, and I pray, changed. But I know that as much as I value each and every body, I do have a hierarchy of value. I would kill to save the bodies I love, including my own.
Knowing that, admitting that, all I know to do then is my part to honor every body I can—to help create a world that honors all bodies, wants all bodies to thrive. It is why I started this blog, and included bodies in the title. I want to be explicit—yes, that word that has come to mean seeing body parts on screen some may wish to ignore and others are hungry to see—that it is bodies I care about. I want to do my part to reverse the anti-body forces, to help transform the body haters into body lovers.
I follow Jesus whose body many believe was divine. I love him for his divinity that was expressed through his humanity, through his Jewish, male, young-ish body. And I love all the other divine bodies, too, even those who hate my body and the bodies of people like me and people unlike me.
I don’t know what else to do—except to love every body (two distinct words, say them clearly to emphasize the body) I can, even ones I may not entirely understand, doing so in ways that honor them and me and our relationship, and most of all, seek to strengthen the bond between us so that we can stand together not only in mourning for those who are killed, massacred as in Orlando, but also in active solidarity, body to body, body by body, body with body.
I extend my hand to yours, my body, too: let us embrace, body to body, as best we can, across cyber space and across the aisle, next door and down the road, everywhere we can. And let us never let go.
I’ve run the gambit of emotions these past several days. I’ve gone from sad to angry to numb to grieving to protective and back again. In the wake of the Orlando shooting, I think many in the LGBTQ communities have faced a similar struggle: we are saddened, outraged, numb, angry, hurting. Everyone I have spoken with has been somewhere on that spectrum. Yet while there is shock at the scale of this attack, I have found very few people truly surprised by it.
It seems to be the natural progression to the elevated rhetoric and discussion we have seen in the past several years around LGBTQ people. We have heard people say truly hateful things in the name of religion (many different religions, including- and perhaps, especially- from people claiming Christianity).
With the upcoming election, we have seen a rise in hateful speech toward the GLBTQ communities, toward immigrants, toward people of color. We have heard it from politicians and, when something is broadcast through a microphone, we hear it spoken by supporters in the streets. When authorities say something, it gives other permission to vocalize similarly hateful ideologies.
I have been angry. I think anger is important, and we need to allow ourselves the space and gentleness to have angry responses. But we can’t stay there. Anger is important, but it can also be corrosive. It can wear us down and wear us away until we are too tired to move forward, to act. There must be a “what next?”, and that movement rarely comes from remaining in a place of anger.
The tragedy in Orlando is the product of violent rhetoric, but it is also the product of nation desensitized to violence. It is the product of dehumanizing a person so that violence visited on those bodies is not violence toward a person, but violence toward a group. The people who were targeted were not targeted because of who they were as people; they were targeted because they frequented a gay club that night.
When we categorize people, they become a tokenized representation of a larger group, rather than an individual person with multiple communities. The people who were targeted were singled out because they were assumed to be gay, but many were people of color. Some were parents. Some were college students. They came from different religious backgrounds and family situations. But none of that mattered to the shooter. What mattered is that they were gay.
It seems trite, but it reminds me of the story of a parent and child going to a seafood restaurant. The child immediately names all the lobsters in the tank so that the parent won’t eat any of them. By giving someone a name, they become real, rather than abstract. It’s harder to kill and eat a lobster named Jonas than it is to kill and eat an arbitrary lobster.
I have been angry, but we must go somewhere from there. Christianity tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but what do we do when our neighbor is racist, sexist, classist, homophobic? What does it mean to love the people who perpetrate violence on the bodies of others because of the group they are assumed to represent?
It is the “as ourselves” that always gets to me. How do I love myself? Do I see myself as a member of a group or as an individual? What does my body represent to me?
We know, of course, that “hurt people hurt people.” For example, internalized homophobia often contributes to violence perpetrated against the LGBTQ community. Perhaps, from there, we can understand that how others treat us says a lot about how they see themselves.
I don’t want to give an answer that sounds trite. I love the sentiment that “love wins” because I think love is a verb. It’s kinetic energy, potential motion with a catalyst. It can be overwhelmingly powerful. But saying, “love wins” isn’t always comforting. I don’t want to love the shooter. I don’t want to love someone who takes advantage of an unconscious woman. I don’t want to love the people who perpetrate violence on bodies because they dislike the group to whom they believe that body belongs, or because they believe a group is inferior to their own.
And yet… and yet. Love takes work. It takes effort. It is one of the central tenants of Christian faith, and I’m one who believes that Christianity takes effort and work. God does not call us to do what is easy; God calls us to do what is right.
Do I forgive the shooter for the lives he stole? It’s not up to me to forgive, and I’m not sure that I can go there yet. It’s too fresh, too raw. Do I make excuses, apologize, or in any way try to reframe what happened by making it about mental illness or radical extremism? Absolutely not. This was an extreme act of homophobia that visited violence on the bodies of LGBTQ people. But it happened because he hated the group of people, not the people themselves. The dangerous rhetoric we have heard over the past several weeks, months, and years has dehumanized LGBTQ people as a one-dimensional group. The Gay People. Homosexuals.
In a similar manner, we dehumanize people with whom we disagree all the time. Racists. Homophobes. It becomes easier to sustain our hatred when we are not dealing with people, but with ideas. And it’s ok to disagree, dislike, and fight against ideas- in fact, it’s important that we do fight against ideas that are founded on limiting the freedoms of another person. But it is the ideas, not the people, that we need to work against.
I do not hate this shooter, although a part of me desperately wants to. His ideas and actions were atrocious, but those were not created in a vacuum. Those were created right here, in this country, by the rhetoric and language of hateful ideas spoken by those to whom we have given microphones. This man was a product of the United States.
I do not hate this shooter. I am struggling to see him as a whole person, wounded and self-hating, violent and dangerous, but a person. He was not just an idea, or the representative of an idea. There are other homophobic people, other sexist and racist and classist people in the world. But they are more than that.
Perhaps that is a part of that commandment. We struggle to see ourselves as whole people, integrated and authentic. We struggle to love the person that we see when we look in the mirror. We must struggle to see others as whole people as well, re-humanize people who have been dehumanized as representatives of a group. We cannot work to end such atrocities without first understanding where they come from, and we cannot understand where they come from without first allowing ourselves to understand the people behind them. We may hate the ideas and actions of a person, but they are, at the end of the day, a person struggling to see themselves as whole, integrated, and authentic. They are people struggling with how to love themselves.
In memory of those who have died, the list of victims can be found here.
If you would like to make a contribution to help support the victims of the Orlando shooting, please click here.
We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!
What do you think? How are you handling the aftermath of the Orlando shooting? How might we, as people of faith, seek to embody love, even in the face of such violent adversity? Please share your thoughts, your heart (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.
Can we not grasp the divine origins, the godliness, of our bodies—every part, every orifice, every appendage, every organ, every inch of skin?
by Robin Gorsline and Malachi Grennell
Introduction: How we talk about something can be, at times at least, as important as what we say about it. The language we use often says something about how we feel about the subject; likewise, our language is often impacted by our audience. When it comes to sex, the language, the terms we use at the bar drinking with friends, or with a sexual partner, may not be the same ones we use a classroom, at church (if we ever talk about “it” at church), or in print. In writing this blog, we have struggled with our language around bodies and sexuality, trying to speak to an audience that is ever fluctuating and changing. This week, we decided to explore the tension inherent in our “body language” and how we can bring the sacredness of our bodies and sexualities together with the vernacular language that is so often branded as “dirty”.
Malachi: Cunt. Dick. Pussy. Cock. Ass. The vernacular language describing different arrangements of genitalia may feel comfortable for some, while others find those words distasteful and prefer more clinical language, such as penis or vagina (or, in some cases, vulva). Language can be a tricky, complicated landscape to navigate. Perhaps we are more comfortable using words that describe our own anatomy, while those words that define anatomy different than our own might feel more awkward or foreign, particularly if we gravitate toward same-sex tendencies.
For myself, for example, the word “pussy” used to make me feel really uncomfortable, and not at all something that would describe any genitalia I have. Whenever I heard it used, it reminded me of watching heterosexual porn: some cisgendered man with a particularly prodigious member penetrating a petite cisgendered woman growling, “You like when I fuck that pussy?” while going at it.
Perhaps that’s too graphic of an image, although the reality is, many people watch porn and, in my experience, a considerable amount of porn, includes some aspect of “dirty talk.” It feels almost humorous to imagine that same situation wherein the man instead says, “You like it when I penetrate your vagina?” That feels less… sexy, less rough, less… something.
Having the vernacular language to discuss our genitals contributes something to our language and I think it’s an important component in how we talk about our bodies and our sexualities- as well as how we use our bodies and sexualities to denigrate one another.
There seems to be a time and a place to use certain language, and it’s something that Robin and I have struggled with in writing this blog. We are, after all, writing about bodies and sexuality, yet tend to favor the more clinical language of penis and vagina in our writing. That has been a conscious choice, but sometimes, it has felt awkward and clunky. So, like everything else that we struggle with, we’ve decided to write about the language itself.
I remember my partner, Kase, coming home one evening while he was in his last semester of nursing school. He was working with a group called the Western North Carolina Community AIDS Project (WNCCAP), and the person he was primarily working with gave workshops to different at-risk groups about safer sex practices. Kase was telling me this story because, at the beginning of the workshop, the man stood up and said something to the effect of, “I’m going to be talking about dicks and pussies in this workshop because people aren’t talking about penises and vaginas when they’re fucking.”
Many of the students in Kase’s nursing program were scandalized and offended. “That’s indecent and inappropriate,” many of them said. “I can’t believe he said that!” It made them incredibly uncomfortable…and yet. The workshop wasn’t for them- they were helping out at a location for high-risk individuals, and the workshop was aimed at people who were doing sex work, who were homeless, who were addicted, and part of the way to make that information relevant to that population of people was to use the language that was appropriate for them.
So when it is appropriate to use certain language? I’m not sure there is a good barometer. I don’t like the idea that language like dick and pussy is only applicable to high-risk populations- that is not only classist and creates a correlation between risky actions and risqué language, it’s also simply not true. Personally, I’m more excited and interested to listen to a workshop about cunts and cocks than penises and vaginas.
Perhaps, for many, the language feels intimate and personal, something that shouldn’t be shared publicly. “Suck my cock” is something that might be said to a lover and carries with it the intimacy of that experience, whereas “performing fellatio” is a term in abstraction, something we can distance ourselves from as an arbitrary sexual act. Perhaps the hypothetical feels safer because it reveals less of our sexual selves, and our sexual selves can feel incredibly vulnerable. We err on the side of safety because not only might our language come under fire, but the implication of using certain language makes us feel as though our sexual selves are also being criticized.
Which brings me to another very important point: nearly every single euphemism we have for genitalia is also a derogatory statement. “He’s such a dick;” “She’s being a cunt;” “That guy is an ass;” “Don’t be such a pussy.” In fact, the only term I can’t think of a vernacular, non-sexual phrase for is cock. The point is, though, that we use genital language as way to denigrate others; even “fuck” is used in a negative way (“Fuck you!”). It is telling, I think, as to our social attitudes toward bodies and sex, that the majority of our negative terms are directly related to terms for our bodies and sexual acts.
In all of this, of course, we cannot ignore that there is an inherent genderedness to this language. Cock and dick are in reference to the penis, whereas cunt and pussy are in reference to the vulva (of which the vagina is a part). A friend of mine has a button that said, “The Ass is the Great Equalizer.” It’s humorous, but the truth is, we all have an anal orifice and, for some, that is a component of their sexual experience. It can be so easy to get wrapped up in the gendered language of “frontal genitalia” that we forget to include the ways in which anal intercourse is also an important aspect of many people’s sexual lives- regardless of identity or genital configuration.
The language we use for our genitals gets to be an even more complicated discussion when referencing trans people. I, for example, tend to use both cock and cunt in reference to what’s in my pants, but that’s a highly individual choice. I have known many trans people across the spectrum of identity who refer to their anatomy with a wide variety of terms (“junk,” for example, tends to be a common term- and it bears noting that “junkie” is a term associated with heroin addiction).
Sometimes the claiming of language helps someone feel more comfortable and at home in their bodies, and that’s a powerful experience for a trans person. As a result, when I have sex with someone for the first time, I have the “what can I touch and what do you call it?” conversation- both to have active, enthusiastic consent for any sexual acts that occur, but also so I know how that person wants their body parts referenced.
It’s not always an easy or comfortable conversation. It certainly feels easier to reference bodies in abstraction rather than laden with both the intimacy of our own experiences and the connotation of negative association that often comes with the vernacular language. And yet, sometimes the clinical language is ill-suited for our purpose. While I strive to not cause unnecessary discomfort, I do believe that, sometimes, it is important that we push outside the box a bit. As someone with a history of writing and publishing, I know how important word choice is to convey a particular message- it can be the difference between a house and a home. So perhaps we should put just as much care into the words we use for our sexual selves- not to illicit the “shock factor” of using “dirty” words (a term I have always hated), but rather the willingness to be vulnerable with our language choices when the situation arises.
Robin: Recently, in preparing a blog post, I added a parenthetical note that went something like this: I just wish that sometimes I could say dick or cock; it feels so formal, clinical, to keep saying penis, especially when talking about my own. But, it was not really germane to the main point of the post and I chose to delete it before publication. But that sentiment kept haunting me, so during our most recent editorial conference when Malachi raised the question of language I agreed it is time to say something out loud.
My interest is not limited to wanting to be less formal and clinical. There is another aspect that strikes right at the heart of what Malachi and I are trying to do in this space. We really want people, all people, to feel comfortable talking about sex, and not just in clinical settings (with our doctor when we have a problem or in a sex education class, e.g.). We want sex talk to be everyday talk.
But how can we do that when we can’t use everyday language during the conversation? Indeed, how can we have conversations if we don’t, or won’t, use the language that is the most conversational ? I admit that our ideas of what is conversational will vary, but in truth there really is a line about sexual language that we are expected not to cross (no “dirty” words).
And how can we use that language when it is considered “dirty,” when the only time we hear it is as a negative—“He’s such a dick,” “She’s a cunt,” “What a boob!” “You’re an asshole,” or the angry, in our face (so to speak), “Fuck you!”
The truth is that a dick or cock or penis is a beautiful body part, as is a cunt or vagina or vulva and breasts/nipples, and yes, even the asshole or anus. And they serve important functions, including sexual pleasure. But in our embarrassment, and yes our shame, most of us have concluded the only way we can mention them openly is by making them negative.
Some non-mainstream print media may resort to a wink, saying c—k, or d—k, or c—t. I have not seen v—na, or v—va , but I have seen a-hole. The New York Times and others found themselves making a somewhat blushing reference to a less common term for the phallus, namely weenie, when writing about former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s penchant for sharing pictures of his via social media.
One piece of male anatomy seems to have escaped the negative connection. Occasionally, someone will talk disparagingly about a leader not having “the balls” to make a tough decision, the implication that the testicles, affectionately known as balls or nuts, contain real power. I think somewhere I read an appreciation of Hillary Clinton, or perhaps Margaret Thatcher, that included the idea that she (or they) have balls, they are tough, despite being female—and again in much ordinary conversation, it is the masculine term or aspect that conveys strength. They cannot be strong on the basis of being themselves, being women.
Can we not grasp the divine origins, the godliness, of our bodies—every part, every orifice, every appendage, every organ, every inch of skin? I have searched Genesis pretty thoroughly and do not find any qualifiers on God’s part. . . . and God saw that it was good (* Some Exceptions Apply, especially when speaking of the reproductive and sexual organs).
But if we actually used these terms positively, even joyfully, then we might have to admit that sex itself is not only good and necessary, it is a form of spiritual, indeed holy, conversation (unless, of course, it is used to violate someone’s body and sacred being). That would then bring the slang we have made “dirty” into the realm of the holy and beautiful, and that would really upset the world, we would really be troubling the waters.
It is my experience and study that convince me that this troubling the waters is what God does, over and over, again and again. Stirring things up is one of the main activities of God. It is thus, in my view, one of the main reasons we have been given sex. Sure, it is necessary to reproduce the species, but the fact that it can be so pleasurable means that we return to it, and each time we do, God sees an opportunity to help us grow spiritually. Sadly, we usually miss that part of the message, and think we are just having sex. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; sometimes sex is just sex, just as a cigar can be just a cigar (and not one of those four-letter male appendages we don’t like to name).
As a gay man, I admit to considerable fascination with those particular appendages—whatever the name. I also admit to less interest in cunts or vaginas. But a woman’s body is a wonder to behold, a creation of beauty, quite aside from sex, and that includes her “private parts.”
Where did that expression come from? How can something be private when we all have them, and we know we do? I know, I know, private is different from secret; nobody says that the fact we have genitals is a secret, just that we are to keep them covered in public (and in most homes, too, except in the bathroom or bedroom). But frankly, it feels more like an open secret, and sometimes those can be very destructive. I know of too many families deeply injured by open secrets, and sex is so often part of it. I also know that organizations, like churches, can have open secrets, and since everyone assumes everyone else is on it, no one ever takes responsibility for the ways the secret hurts some, or even possibly all, of the group.
And, as Malachi has written previously in this space, one of the challenges that many cisgender people who are insecure in their own bodies experience from transgender people is that all of sudden we don’t know just which parts an individual actually has. We claim these are private parts, but that is not really true. We do want to know, we want certainty, about who has what. So, the trans person’s genitals become a contested field, no longer private parts.
Partly in order to overcome my own secret shame about my private parts, I have written in this space about my small penis . . . er, dick, or as I prefer cock (a term that so far as I know is not generally used negatively). Probably some readers are tired of it by now (sometimes I am tired of dealing with it, too, but undoing decades of emotional and spiritual damage, in some senses, trauma, is not done overnight).
You may think it odd to quibble about which slang term to use for “my little guy” (I have referred to him this way at times). But as I have looked a explicitly sexual literature and pictures from time to time, I have picked up something which I think is true, namely that a dick is any size but a cock is always big (and that translates to powerful). Of course, this could be my imagination—I certainly have not spent a lot of time on this study, nor have I encountered any learned essays.
At any rate, I want to claim power for mine, and so I often refer to my cock. And then there is of course, the old English nursery rhyme, “Who Killed Cock Robin?” not to mention the rock band of that name, and just the fact that a male Robin bird is sometimes called a Cock Robin. That would be me, a male Robin, Cock Robin, Not Dick (as in Cheney) Robin.
We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!
What do you think? What are your thoughts on body and sex languages? Please share below (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.
Introduction: We have been writing lately about sex, and about sexual freedom (including its limits). But this blog is also about bodies, and we have mentioned them pretty much only in the context of sex and sexual activities. But bodies are far more than instruments of sex and sexuality.
From the moment of birth to the moment of death, we live in and through our bodies. The English language makes it possible to speak of our bodies as if we are separate, can stand apart, from our bodies, and yet the reality is we are our bodies. Wherever we are, there are our bodies. Without them, we are not.
And yet, most all of us have conflicts about our bodies—too fat, too tall, too short, too thin, breasts too big or not, penises too small or not, sagging skin as we age, bald or hairy, big hips or small, big noses or not, thick lips or thin, etc. And most people are not keen on showing off our naked bodies to others, surely not in places more public than locker rooms (and the trend today is against what used to be called “gang showers” where everybody stood under nozzles in one big room, divided by gender, of course). It was not all that long ago that men and boys swam naked at YMCAs, but today such an idea would result in wholesale condemnation.
What is it about the naked human body that scares so many of us? Why is it that the sight of a naked toddler running around at the beach is considered adorable, but the sight of an adult, or even an older child or teen, doing the same thing is considered scandalous, rude, offensive, even ugly? And why is it illegal in almost every public place? Who and what are we protecting? In this post, Robin and Malachi explore both their relationships with nudity as well as discuss the social climate and response toward bodies in various stages of undress.
Robin: For Christians and Jews, biblical texts carry weight. “God saw that it was good,” is the divine response recorded in the Book of Genesis in response to creation. And then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” . . . . and “God blessed them . . . .” and “God saw that everything God had made, and indeed it was very good.” The website Christians Enjoying Nudity and Erotica makes many of these points more fully, albeit with a more conservative biblical worldview and without recognizing sexuality other that the hetero- variety or gender outside the usual binary.
Created in the image of God, and yet we hide, as if somehow we are ashamed of God, ashamed of our lineage, afraid to show our part of the divine image and afraid to see others (even as we are often titillated by images of naked bodies). We have taken the lesson from the second chapter of Genesis, in which Adam and Eve violate the command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge and discover they are naked, cover themselves, confess to God what they have done, and are punished by God for it. We continue their cover-up down to this day.
In 2016, I still see news stories about someone being scandalized at a
mother exposing her nipples in public while breastfeeding an infant. Sadly, this most beautiful and loving of human encounters is turned into something morally unclean.
And, the campaign for “top equality,” letting women go topless the same way men do, shocks many. Their objections often take on the tone of “how dare people upset this ancient standard.” Yet, it is not so long ago—in the 1930s and 1940s—that men were freed to bare our nipples and even go shirtless.
The outrage over Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the halftime show of the SuperBowl in 2004 now seems dated, and yet I still hear of people who belittle her because of it. Network television went through periods of great controversy about showing naked rear ends, but now we can see naked everything on some cable shows. In some European countries, television is not restricted.
And the controversy over sexting reveals a cross-current of emotions and attitudes. In terms of sending nude images or sexually explicit images (these are not necessarily the same thing), consent is the primary issue in
many instances, and those under 18 are generally considered unable to give consent to receive or send any such images. Many observers also note that the usual gender divide operates in sexting: it is more acceptable for men to send these images than women. The ease with which phones and their cameras can make it easy to take nude pictures of oneself and/or of one’s spouse or partner or even friends has resulted in an increase of non-professional nude images easily available on the internet and elsewhere. Some of this is simply part of the sexual lives of lovers/spouses. But because there are people who exploit others, and because sexting often involves nude bodies, there is considerable social conflict.
I have been undergoing changes in my own practices of late. It is not that I have not enjoyed being naked with others, and by myself, in the past.
I remember growing up in the country—fifty acres of mostly fields and forest, with a few of them taken up with my father’s nursery and our home and outbuildings. Sometimes, in the summer, when I was home alone (probably age 12 and up), I would take off my clothes and run around our back yard. And, on occasion, I would head to the “back 40” and find a good spot to be naked (and try not to get eaten up by mosquitoes).
This might have given me some clue that I harbored nudist proclivities, but it has taken a long time for me to recognize it and really own it. That is not to say I have not been naked around others (in addition to gym changing and showers in school) at times in the years between then and now—clothing optional beaches and swimming, Radical Faerie gatherings (where I met the man who eventually became my husband, Jonathan), and one visit to a nudist gathering in Maine.
But today, I enjoy being naked in our home. And I realize I would like to be publicly naked in more places than beaches and social groups where it is permitted. It is not so much the thrill of it, although at times the feeling of freedom can make me giddy (see “Baring My Body, Opening My Soul” about my experience of naked yoga), as it is simply feeling centered and good in my body. And, as regular readers of this blog know, this freedom has helped me come to terms with my small penis, and to actually begin to appreciate it (and not simply endure it as I use it for peeing and pleasure).
One of the reasons I began this blog was to explore questions of nudity, specifically to help create conversation that is thoughtful and non-exploitative, for myself and for others. I recognize that most of us get naked to share sexually with our partner(s), but as the organized nudist/naturist movement never tires of saying, nudity does not equal sex. Just because people are naked does not mean they want to have sex.
Many of us are naked, enjoy being naked, because it feels good. I am
learning to like my body, in all its particularities, and I feel more whole as a result. For the first time, recently, I wrote a sermon while naked; I think it helped me be more honest and clear. Part way through the first period of writing, it occurred to me that this may be how God sees me ordinarily—and that helped me feel the divine presence more than usual while composing the text. I somehow doubt God is all that interested in my clothing, but I am quite sure God is interested in the real me.
So, I am now ready to call myself a nudist, or a naturist—I have yet to make a final choice among these too, but I think I lean toward nudist, because I want to be really clear about my identity (while recognizing no part of identity is probably ever entirely clear and fixed). That is the reason I chose a very clear title for this blog—no obfuscation, masks, or euphemisms.
I am blessed to have a husband who, while not joining me in this identity or behavior (except at the beach and during our love-making), appreciates the sight of my naked body as we navigate life at home. I am really enjoying his positive, and playful, comments.
Now, if I thought my neighbors and townspeople would do the same…..that might begin to feel a bit like Eden. But that is not to be, at least yet!
If there are readers, however, who share, or want to share, in the nudist life with me, let me know. Perhaps we can find time and space for mutual care, support, and society.
I like the way the sun feels on my skin. But more than that, I like the way that I feel in my skin when I am in spaces where nudity is an accepted aspect of the space. In fact, I often find that my lower back begins to hurt after several days of being in clothing-optional environments because I am actually standing up straight, and the muscles in my back are not used to good posture. That’s true of a lot of transmasculine people- posture issues arise from slouching shoulders forward to conceal breast tissue. While I’m not ashamed of my breasts, sometimes, I need to find a bathroom to use, and have to “pass” as something. When I’m in clothing-optional spaces, I find that my posture is better and I hold my head high and push my shoulders back.
I have not spent time in nudist cultures, but I understand that the lack of clothing does not create a sexualized environment. My experiences being naked in public, however, are within sexualized spaces: several times a year, I attend a BDSM/kink-focused event that allows for public nudity (as well as public sex). By attending these events, people understand that they will be encountering all types of bodies in all states of dress (or undress). I recognize, as a result, that my relationship with nudity may be impacted by that difference in sexualization, and I absolutely do not claim to speak for nudist culture- simply my relationship to being naked in a semi-public space. Right now, I am gearing up for one of these events coming up soon, and I can’t help thinking about my relationship with nudity- and more than just nudity, but my relationship with revealing aspects of my skin as the weather makes a sudden turn toward summer.
I have fairly prominent facial hair, as well as a decently large chest. As we approach summer (or, in the case of this year, make a sudden pivot from freezing rain to August heat), I have the think very carefully about my safety when navigating the juxtaposition of these two gendered characteristics. If I wear shirts that reveal “too much” cleavage, then I am at a much higher risk for violence: especially if people can’t tell “what” I am. Yet I don’t tend to like clothes that come up too high on my neck; they make me feel like I’m being choked (not in a good way) and besides, I like the feeling of the sun hitting my shoulders and the top of my chest.
It’s one of the downsides of so much media around trans people and trans bodies. All of a sudden, everyone has an opinion about bodies like mine- not just about bathrooms, but about how we should transition and present ourselves. People with the best of intentions will still say things like, “Well, if you would just wear clothes that didn’t reveal your shape…” or “I’m fine with people who want to transition, but these confused people who are ‘in the middle’ need to pick a side.” Comments like this tell me that if only I was the “right” kind of trans…
…then what? I’m never quite sure how that sentence ends, but the insinuation is that I “ask for” or “invite” the harassment and comments by the way I present myself. If I could just pass a little more, people wouldn’t even notice my breasts. If I could just… look like one gender, then there wouldn’t be any problems. In short: if I could be a little more inauthentic for everyone else’s comfort.
But the reality is, I like wearing some women’s clothes, especially shirts. They make me feel good, and I’m not ashamed of my breasts, and I have a nice, curvy figure that, if only I would shave off this beard and various instances of body hair, would make me a very beautiful woman (by young, white, slender, able-bodied standards of beauty). But since I went on testosterone to be able to grow facial hair (and I’m actually quite attached to my beard), wearing the shirts I want to wear reveals a part of my body that puts me at risk for violence. And society tells me that it’s my fault.
Perhaps this is why I prefer spaces where clothing is optional. Because while I might be as much of an anomaly there as I am in the rest of the world, I don’t feel this strange division to hide certain parts while revealing others when, quite frankly, my entire body is fetishized and sexualized on a daily basis. In fact, I feel more sexualized walking down the street fully clothed on an average day than I do walking around completely naked with 1,000 strangers at a BDSM-focused retreat. And perhaps that’s where my frustration comes in: if I’m going to be sexualized anyway, then why do I have to put on these clothes that feel restrictive and sometimes bulky and are so dang hot? If people are going to wonder what’s in my pants regardless, then why bother wearing pants? I feel like I am being undressed in the minds of others, but don’t get any of the benefits of being naked.
Of course, I understand why that’s not a viable option. Not everyone is comfortable with public nudity, and, as Robin and I discussed last week, we must be sure that our expressions of sexual freedom do not minimize or infringe on someone else’s experiences. But as a non-binary trans person, I just get so frustrated. Come to think of it, as a human being, I get frustrated. How much skin is too much? The answer to that is so full
of double standards and hypocritical nonsense, I’m not sure where to start. Nipples of people who either (a) have a penis attached to their bodies or (b) have had reconstructive surgery to remove the mammary tissue are fine for public consumption, but nipples attached to people without penises who have not had reconstruction surgery are NOT OK- even while breastfeeding (which is what nipples are for…) Women go to swimming pools and beaches in bikinis, but if she answered the door in a bra and underwear, that would be totally inappropriate. Men are expected to have a certain amount of body hair (because body hair=testosterone=masculine), but women are expected to shave it off (and those who don’t often become targets of ridicule and some will choose to cover their armpits and legs to avoid the judgement). Armpits and legs. These are not inherently sexualized parts of the body (although some do find them sexy or sexual). Even women who adhere to the strictest of body expectations and standards are then treated as walking sexual objects- and it’s “her fault” because, of course, why else would someone want to look like that unless she was wanting attention?
Knowing that people who are comfortable, for the most part, with the binary dichotomies and standards often can’t win the “how much skin is too much skin?” fight reminds me that I am not alone in this- but there is also a twinge of despair in there. “If cis-folks can’t just exist in the world without people policing their bodies and using their bodies to blame and shame them,” I think, “how can I ever hope to?” And maybe I can’t. Sometimes, with a body configured the way that mine is, with an identity that manifests the way that mine does, every action I take with my body- from using a public bathroom to getting dressed and going to the supermarket- feels like a revolutionary action, simply because it is being done by this body, and this body (clothed or otherwise) has to fight for a space to exist. And sometimes, I get tired of being a revolutionary just because I woke up
and left my house (instead of actually doing something revolutionary). So I seek respite and reprieve where I can. And if kink camp is the space where I feel completely comfortable in my body and in my skin, where my back hurts because my posture is finally amazing, where I have to use sunblock for once in my life because the breasts and my butt are the only parts of my body at risk of burning, then I go to kink camp.
Certainly, this is not the experience of every trans person. Binary or non-binary, I know plenty of trans people who don’t feel comfortable being naked in public. My relationship with my body as a trans person is unique, and I would be curious to see how I would feel in a nudist space that was not inherently sexual in nature. Nonetheless, though, my experience as a trans person cannot be separated from my relationship with nudity because both require an element of examination of internal comfort and external presentation.
It’s about nudity, but it’s about more than nudity. It’s about an understanding that my body is really not that strange, although living in this world would have many believe otherwise. It’s about claiming that space, not because I am so interesting, but because everybody is interesting- your body, and mine, and the person next door, and Robin’s and whomever- all bodies are interesting and beautiful. Being able to be naked- whether the space is inherently sexual or not- takes away the shock of people being naked which, in turn, means people stop fixating on what’s between people’s legs and start wondering more about what’s inside people’s heads.
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