A First For First Ladies

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

pre-Senate Scott Brown trendhunter.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part I: Beyond the Binary

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

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

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

2 thoughts on “A First For First Ladies”

  1. Often I congratulate the two of you on your columns. But this one leaves me both puzzled and cold. I get the point about Melania Trump and the need to honor or at least respect her rather than deprecate her because of having modeled nude. I understand the inappropriateness of disenchanted liberals using her in a derogatory way to make a political point.

    Without a lot of reflection, I suppose that my core reaction to this is that it seems like such a peripheral issue to what is at stake in the adjustment to Donald Trump’s election. In the first place, this election, beginning with the Republican primary, was a contention surrounding a huge number of issues that became political fodder but which had nothing to do with the core issues facing the body politic. That is, in my opinion, why so many professional pundits, pollsters, and commentators were totally upended by the surprising results of Trump’s election. Missed in the whole shebang was the huge amount of anger, suffering, and disenfranchisement of thousands of people. What we did was to obsess over Donald Trump and that long laundry list of vices he personified: misogyny, racism, narcissism, bigotry, and so on. Let’s include the socially unacceptable penis-size talk too. But all that was less than central to the election and the electorate. It was about Trump who kept making it about himself. I seriously doubt that the hundreds of people in small towns in the Rust Belt who ultimately voted for him actually approve of Trump’s long list of political vices. What I imagine is that they voted for someone who was giving his middle finger to the political establishment. That was appealing. They supported someone who was doing what they themselves wanted to do.

    To be sure, it is complicated. That does not entirely explain the conglomeration of Christian evangelicals, white supremacists, ultra right-wing conspiracy theorists, all of whom have found in Trump a champion.

    What would happen if we were to view this electoral outcome in the terms of erotic energy? It is arguable, of course, that erotic energy as such does not line up with the way people vote or the way they behave. Erotic energy, as exemplified, let’s say, by a sex worker well acquainted with and comfortable with his or her own erotic energy, might not be the motivation or even connected with that sex worker’s political choices for a variety of reasons. He or she might vote for a regime committed to putting sex workers out of business. (Nothing is strange about people’s voting against their own self-interests.) But I propose that on a macro scale, this election (like many if not all others) reveals some truth about erotic energy. And that truth? There is a serious dearth of active erotic energy. Or, if that is too abstruse, let’s just put it more simply: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love; it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” I have been saying for a long time that we would have far fewer wars if men, in particular, were to let themselves express something besides rivalry and enmity with each other openly. “War can wait: masturbate” is more than a silly slogan on a poster. It, like its relative “Make love, not war,” tells some truth. Wilhelm Reich argued in this vein over half a century ago. In Freudian terms, civilization and its discontents is acting out what it has repressed. In Jesus’ terms, “Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you.” That is not a fluffy religious sentiment. It is a serious call to humanity to unlock its treasure-store of erotic energy, exercising love. When people are talking about “listening to those suffering in the Rust Belt or listening to the upset coal workers in West Virginia,” I want to say, “Listen–not in order to placate or manipulate or convert or contest, but in order to understand. Listen with the ears and heart of love.” Do it with eros. Aim it towards those whom you do not (yet) connect with.

    I would say, however, that love–erotic energy–is not the only thing that there’s just too little of. There is too little justice among people. Justice is not opposed to erotic energy, but neither is it identical with it. I happen to believe that true justice is indeed empowered by love, but it certainly is not an exercise in romance. Justice means standing up to oppression. It means redressing wrongs. It entails advocating for the weak and dispossessed. Justice stands alongside the downtrodden. Not all of those folk are obvious minorities. There is a sense in which all of us are in one way or another oppressed, wounded, in need of community and healing. The heart of the matter is to work to create a culture and a clime in which justice forever loosens the shackles of oppression and repression, freeing people to embrace what someone has called “an erotic sense of reality.”

    That, it seems to me is the real “sexual” issue before us.


    1. Frank, as usual, you are a very keen observer. But I think you miss a key point. We are not arguing, were not arguing, that this was THE sexual issue among us. We make no such claims, even for our blog. We write about what interests us, or at least I do and ask Malachi to join me (and he does that with me, too) and that moment, when so much angst and anger was boiling everywhere, we thought it interesting that there was a focus on the naked body of the First-Lady-to-be (we can’t say elect, can we?). So we wrote about it. What I hear in your trenchant comments is much deeper, and I appreciate it. And I agree. But as an old-time Radical Faerie, a devotee at least a little of Harry Hay of sainted memory, I also think too much sturm and drang only plays into the power of the powers-that-be. So sometimes it is useful to point out hypocrisy and silliness and seek to undermine CW (conventional wisdom)–even if one must be logical in order to do so. So, again, thank you, for your energy, even your drama, and certainly your truth-telling. I eagerly await more.

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