Celebrating All the Holy Bodies

This is the season of the outcasts . . .

Note: Malachi and Robin are taking a break next week, in service to caring for our own sex, bodies, and spirit. We return January 4. 

Robin: 

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Holidays! Joyous Yule!! Beautiful Solstice!revrobin2-023

“Tis the season of merriment, love, joy, singing, overeating and drinking, and exclamation points. I mean, it’s Christmas!

And yet, not everyone is feeling the warmth or blessing. There is stress, and worse. For many, going home for the holidays is fraught with anxiety, a time to have to deal with alcoholic or abusive or just unpleasant relatives. And of course, many people have no home to go to—whether homeless people seeking shelter under a bridge or on a heat vent, or Queer youth have been kicked out of their homes.

I don’t mean to be a downer, a Scrooge—Jonathan and I are blessed to be spending about a week in Brooklyn with our three daughters and their families—but at Sex, Bodies, Spirit, we are aware that there are bodies who are not so warmly embraced by the Spirit of Christmas or the lights and latkes of Hanukkah.

starbucks-red_holiday_cups_2016_resizedFirst, there is the War on Christmas, now won, by his own declaration, by President-elect Trump. Some people may feel relieved, or even safer, by this “victory,” but even now I tend to steer clear of Starbucks from October through December. I worry, too, when I go to Target and other big name stores.  There’s nothing like the spirit of Christmas to get people arguing about important things, such as the greetings of store clerks and coffee containers. My body carries a certain level of anxiety about all this whenever I go out into the world of commerce (including my refusal to give money to the Salvation Army, despite their good work, because of their institutional homophobia and transphobia).

But of course, my friend Tyrone the Pennyman, who panhandles at the Greenbelt Metro Station, knows a lot more about embodied anxiety. He sits many days on a ledge outside the station, saying, over and over, “pennies, pennies, pennies” to the streams of riders coming and going. Occasionally, someone stops and gives him something—and he has some regulars, like me, who stop to chat, providing encouragement and a buck or two, or perhaps five.

penniesHe has been doing this for some years he tells me, after his career as a merchant failed, and the evidence—ragged clothes, torn umbrella, many missing teeth, a tattered bag or two—seems clear: he is not making a killing no matter how high the market goes. Ho! Ho! Ho! sticks in my throat, my heart.

And yet—despite what seems to be a ravaged body—his smile, his warmth and grace, as we greet each other reflect what I experience as the beauty of Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Yule (and Ramadan, which sometimes comes in December) all rolled into one.  Every body, every single body, no matter how tattered and worn, carries God’s beauty.

As I reflect on Tyrone’s beauty—and tens of thousands,  probably hundreds of thousands, of others struggling to stay alive on our streets—I think of the paintings of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, and the shepherds and angels, the cattle and sheep, the whole cast. The family was not exactly homeless, but they did not have a hospital bed for the birth, and no one in the neighborhood knew them.  Still, they were all beautiful, including the innkeeper and all those unnamed, unknown folks living nearby.

meetup-logo-fontI went to a holiday party last weekend at the home of someone I had never met. I had a wonderful time, having found the party on Meetup. The group, Birds of a Feather, is a clothing optional/nudist  group that gathers monthly for social time (not sex).  All those bodies, men and women, gay, straight, bi (don’t think there were any trans folks but the host is hopeful someday), were beautiful.

I confess I was sad to put my clothes on when it came time to leave.  I like being naked. I mention this because during our eight-day holiday trip, I will not be naked—other than in bed. Going home, or gathering with loved ones, can sometimes carry a price—this one quite small compared to the joy we will share.

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But as I reflect on that, I think of the young woman who wrote for advice in the Washington Post about how to balance her love for her live-in boyfriend and the condemnation by her parents and her pastor of their “sin.” She comes from a fundamentalist Christian family, and she had not yet told her parents about the change in her life. She was afraid, so she procrastinated. Then, her pastor found out, and, behind her back, told her parents. Now, she is faced with choices: kick the boyfriend out, continue “living in sin” and be tried by the church, or leave the church on her own.

Leaving aside the unprofessional—I think outrageous—conduct by the pastor, I mourn how little Happy Christmas there will be in that family. How many homes are there like that? So many.

For example, this week, a friend of mine, who volunteers regularly at a homeless shelter in northwest D.C., told me that one of the social work interns, a young man from New York, told him about Catholic priests in his hometown who counsel families of LGBT youth to kick their children out of the house. I knew several young people selling their bodies on the streets of Richmond, victims of this by their families in other parts of Virginia.

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This is undoubtedly the main reason LGBT youth, and older folks too, constitute a higher than expected proportion of street people. I just wonder if the priests, and parents, have really read either the Hebrew or Christian scriptures. Or thought about how they act in a way contrary to Joseph and his response to Mary (first by declining to have her stoned, and then, listening to divine inspiration, marrying her and helping to raise their son)?

According to the gospel writer Luke, Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem in order to be registered, or counted, in the first census, ordered by Emperor Augustus.  We in the United States may think of the census today as a rather benign thing, unless, of course, we are undocumented persons. In some ways, in the days of Jesus, most people were undocumented, at least by the lights of the Roman occupiers. Every body needed to be counted, to make it clear that Rome had control. Bodies were under threat all the time.

israeli-checkpoint-2The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem may not seem that far, but for a woman in late pregnancy, riding on a donkey, it cannot have been easy. Nor is it today, pregnant or not. Journeying from Nazareth in the nation of Israel to Bethlehem in the West Bank is not without hurdles, always the potential for trouble, especially if your papers are not right, or even if something over which you have no control goes wrong. Bodies are still under threat today.

So, as I ponder this holy and spiritual time for so many, and feel some joy myself, I am simultaneously aware that the only justice that really works is that which is abundantly and equally for all holy bodies created in the image of God. With my Jewish siblings, I celebrate that the oil lasted for eight days, and pray somehow the light never goes out—that all bodies will be seen and touched and healed and cared for, and loved as Jesus was loved, in all their glory.

Malachi: 

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nTis the season… of Yule and Chanukah, of Christmas and gift-giving, of a time when we are encouraged to think of those around us (with our wallets, certainly, but also in a marked elevation of kindness and goodwill toward others). It is a time intended to be celebratory and full of laughter, but more often than not, leaves us feeling somewhat stressed and (although we rarely say this out loud), wishing for the season to hurry up and come to a close.

And so, as we draw ever-closer to our celebrated holiday(s) of choice, the time seems to move far too fast (we need to pick up those last-minute presents and clean the house and wrap the gifts and…and…and…), for many, this time can also bring a level of dread and stress that is not necessarily associated with the pressures of living in a capitalistic economy.

I remember Christmas with my family growing up. As a child, I was immune to many of the microaggressions my lesbian parents experienced, including one aunt’s tirade against the sinful nature of my mothers’ relationship and who bought presents for whom, depending on whether they were considered “real” family or not. My parents worked extra-hard to make the holidays perfect; they made up for the awkwardness by being super-hosts. The tree was trimmed and underneath was bursting with more presents than any family needed; the family recipes were made to perfection; the house was spotless; and I was cleaned up and in some appropriately-adorable seasonal attire, walking around ensuring everyone’s drinks were full and passing out presents from under the tree. Hello, lesbian Hallmark dream.mommy-mama-and-me

As a parent now, I understand the pressures of trying to do these things with a child, struggling to remain authentic while wanting her to experience the magic of the holidays. Our tree has been up and trimmed since early December, and I have watched (and contributed) to the growing piles of presents under the tree, torn between joy at recreating the beautiful moments of my own queer childhood and struggling with the myths that are perpetrated in this recreation.

We are not a wealthy family, but we are able to make ends meet, for the most part. Buying presents is certainly not the easiest thing to budget in, but we have tried. This year, we (myself, my partner, and our 8 year old goddaughter) will be spending Christmas with my lovely sister and her wife, their two children, and two of my mothers.  And as overjoyed as I am to have this time with them, I also feel the anxiety building. They live an entirely different type of life than we do, and I wonder about the awkwardness to which I am no longer immune: bringing a child (who is not my biological child, but still my child in every other sense of the word) to my family Christmas, a child that will blurt out things that will most likely make me stutter and blush, that doesn’t really have a grasp of table manners or indoor volume or general neatness, who my parents are (understandably) struggling to understand their relationship to her…

Whoever said we recreate our childhoods must have been laughingly looking into the future of my own experiences.

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http://www8.gmanews.tv/webpics/v3/2012/12/640_thumb-gayrights.jpg

And yet, I am blessed beyond belief. I am blessed with assurances of a roof over my head and (awkward or not), my chosen family welcomed with open arms. I think of those who cannot or will not interact with their families of origin because they have been kicked out or refuse to be inauthentic. I think of those who disguise their lovers as “friends” or “roommates” (as my parents did for many years) in order to maintain a family connection. I think of the child whose family cannot afford presents this year, or the child who doesn’t get to see their family much because they are working multiple jobs to keep the lights on and the heat going. I think of those who are on the streets as the weather turns cold, whether by their own choice or because they were kicked out.

This blog is a blog on sexuality and bodies. And while it may not seem relevant to the despairing hope and unexpected blessings of the holiday season, our bodies, our queerness, our sex and sexuality are an integral part of who we are, and we can’t just leave that part behind when we are with family. It’s having a couple split up, one in the spare bedroom and one on the couch, because “we won’t tolerate sinful behavior in this house.” It’s packages addressed to the wrong name containing clothes that are for the wrong gender because “you’ll always be my daughter.” It’s the stutter and questioning face a family member makes when they go to introduce your partner: “This is…uhh, well… this is Joe’s, ummm… this is Joe’s friend.”

Because after the holidays are over, and the thank you cards are written, and we return to the quiet normalcy of our homes (having now stuffed more stuff into dusty corners)… we look across the room at our partners. We look in the mirror at ourselves. We watch our children, and we sit in our homes and we feel the sense of sadness and loss. If our own families cannot give us unconditional love, how do we come to understand God’s

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twt-thumbs.washtimes.com

love for us?

Many have come to understand the story of the birth of Jesus as a miracle of God: a savior born of a virgin. I, personally, do not see the story that way. For me, I see a powerful lesson in this season: that those who have strayed from the expectations of society are unconditionally loved. That a woman who conceived a child out of wedlock bore a Savior in her womb. That regardless of the conditions under which she came to conceive, she was chosen to bring light forth into the world.

This is the season of the outcasts. This is the season where people from different religions, class systems, sexual practices, ages, abilities, and possessions come together to celebrate life. So for those of you struggling with no room at the family inn, this season is for you. For those of you who live outside the expectations of sexual expression, this season is for you. For those of you who are working jobs that most people disdain (be it shepherds or fast food workers or sewage cleaners), this season is for you. For those of you who come together to celebrate community and togetherness, regardless of your religious and spiritual backgrounds, this season is for you. Celebrating the birth and story of Jesus is radically embracing the crossing of social norms- something Jesus himself came to embody in his ministry.

So to all of us, and to all of you struggling this holiday season, this season is for you. Not because of gifts or awkward in-laws or uncomfortable conversations with the Republican cousin, but because, from birth to death, Jesus crossed nearly every social norm he could, and God continues to claim him as God’s own. I am reminded of the Avalon song, “Orphans of God.”   I close with the chorus of this incredible song, reminding us that there are no orphans of God.

“There are no strangers,
There are no outcasts,
There are no orphans of God
So many fallen, but hallelujah,
There are no orphans of God.”

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

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

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part 3: Beyond the Norm

We invite you to join us on Thursday, January 19th for the third part of the series, “Sacred, Not Secret” where Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline continue to discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. On January 19, they will continue to explore non-normative relationship structures and practices, focusing this time on kink and BDSM. This one-hour workshop will examine different aspects of these sexual activities, as well as discuss ways that we can be more open and inclusive to practitioners–because do not doubt that you know and interact with them, in church and elsewhere.

Recordings of the workshop presentations by Malachi and Robin are being made available periodically.

  • October 2016, “The Roots of Sex Negativity in Western Christianity, Part 3, is available here
  • September 2016, “The Roots of Sex Negativity in Western Christianity, Part 2, is available here
  • August 2016, “The Roots of Sex Negativity in Western Christianity, Part 1” is available here.

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.

Queering Language

The dictionary is not the authority on but the recorder of social change . . . .

Malachi:

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nEarlier this year, Merriam-Webster (M-W) dictionary has added the terms “genderqueer,” “genderfluid,” and “transphobia,” as well as the gender-neutral title “Mx.” (replacing Mr. or Ms.) to the lexicon of approved words. As Robin and I finish our preparations for our discussion of polyamory and non-monogamy this Thursday (see the end of the post for more details), this has me thinking about the evolution of language, particularly with respect to a generational gap.

After announcing the new additions to the dictionary (not all of which are sexuality and gender based), M-W  tweeted, “People keep (1) saying they don’t know what ‘genderqueer’ means then (2) asking why we added it to the dictionary.” M-W makes a valid point: their role is a reactive one, one in which they examine terms that have been in mainstream language for some time and have reached a critical mass of use such that they should be defined. They do not endorse a particular perspective, stance, or political thought with respect to the concepts language seeks to define; they simply level the playing ground so that everyone is utilizing with the same definitions of terms.

For example: if M-W added the term “alt-right” to the dictionary, it is neither an endorsement of the alt-right (a term I despise, most notably because I view it as a rebranding of Nazi-thought fascism and white supremacy) nor is it a political alignment with them. However, if enough people begin to use that term, it will need to be coherently defined.

I often joke that “every conversation is a miscommunication” in the sense that we all define language- particularly self-descriptive language- in our own ways. By using certain shorthands, we assume that other people’s definitions, expectations, and connotations with certain words are the same as our own. But the reality is, of course, that we use language to communicate and, as such, it is important that we are all working from a similar baseline definition.

It also brings to mind the evolution of language. The term “queer,” for

art-and-anarchism
art-and-anarchism

example, began as a term to describe something “strange, unusual, not the norm,” and has slowly evolved to be a derogatory term for LGBT people, and has further evolved as a reclaimed term of power for self-identification (I, for example, identify as queer) (read more here). And now, of course, we see that evolution go one step further to “genderqueer,” a term that moves beyond the default synonym to sexual orientation, instead defining a broader sense of the term “queer.” In fact, in many ways, this usage of “queer” harkens back to the original definition, in the sense that it is, basically, “a gender that is unusual and not defined within our binary scope.”

M-W’s addition of gender-neutral language does not make the language “more real.” I first came across the term “genderqueer” in 2003-4 at a conference for LGBTQ youth. Non-binary language has been around for quite a while. In fact, I wonder if LGBTQ individuals around my age were exposed to these terms and, now that we have reached the point in our lives where we are part of the public discourse (not just online, but in academic publications, as editors, and as teachers), we are a part of moving our subculture language into the mainstream. It’s certainly possible, although I will not be so bold as to claim that the youth are responsible for normalizing non-binary language.

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http://ih1.redbubble.net/image.7797862.4997/pp,375×360.jpg

But our understanding and definitions have changed. I see this not only with concepts like “queer,” but also with non-monogamy. Non-monogamy is becoming more normalized and viewed as a possible, substantial alternate method of relationship. This is a result, of course, of many things: greater access to information via the internet; more open, accepting ideas of sex (hallelujah!); an economic situation in which couples can barely scrape by on two incomes; and the idea that non-monogamy is a viable, long-term relationship structure, not simply group sex in the wild club years (before we settle down) or something to try after 20 years of marriage when the sex life might have gotten a little stale.

This isn’t to say that there haven’t been plenty of non-monogamous couples before the millennial generation’s fascination with it. But that is to say that concepts like “swingers” (which tend to be older crowds); “open relationships” (where there were rules such as “you can have sex but don’t fall in love”); and “polygamists” (which meant you were part of a patriarchal religious cult) are the somewhat notorious archetypes of non-monogamy, and we are seeing those archetypes shifting. Slowly, but they are shifting.

Which brings me to a final point: the definitions in the dictionary are not

always the same as the vernacular definitions. Terms like “literally” are often used as their own antonym (e.g. “I could literally eat a bear right now.” is meant to be interpreted as a figurative statement). Queer, while still meaning “strange, weird, unusual,” was used as a derogatory term long before that was ever included in the dictionary, and “non-monogamy” still makes people think swingers or polygamists, even though the definition is simply “to be in a sexual relationship with more than one person” (although I don’t believe the term has made it into M-W yet. Perhaps next year!).

In addition, we have a certain obsession with what we consider to be

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https://tufsreception.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/dialect.gif?w=306&h=398

“proper” English- though very rarely in our conversations do we speak with “proper” English. Academic discourse is an important, vital part of our linguistic dialects- but it is only one part. Cultural and regional language- the twang of Southern Appalachia, the abbreviations of text speak, the language of urban street culture in Baltimore- these are just as important (if not more, since they are what we interact with the most). Language can be used to separate “us” and “them”… and used as an oppressive tool. “He doesn’t sound black,” often means that a person of color is speaking in formal, academic English, and the insinuation is that “sounding black” means “sounding uneducated.” The same is often true of those with a strong Southern accent, particularly in mountain region accents.

Formal, academic English is one of many dialects of English spoken in this country, but it is not the most important one. It is a tool, and it is one that is often used in an oppressive manner, to determine who is educated in a certain manner (and thus, considered to be “intelligent”). It is important that we learn to navigate academic language; however, it is also important that we do not utilize academic discourse as a means of silencing others who speak with their own, unique, beautiful languages.

Language is tricky, and I don’t envy M-W the job of defining complex sociological and cultural terms in clear, coherent, concise ways. But the role of the dictionary is to give us all a starting place, a beginning to understanding the language we use to describe the evolving world we live in. Their role is not to legitimize our lives by recognizing new language, but simply to help us refine and sharpen a useful tool for conversation, discourse, and growth.

Robin:

revrobin2-023One of the best things about sharing this mission with Malachi is how he brings both a younger and a more sexually diverse vantage point to my awareness. For example, recently he mentioned that Merriam-Webster had added “genderqueer” to their dictionary. And then I discovered they also added “cisgender.”

This is really good news!!  Both terms are relatively recent additions to the vocabulary, arising in the LGBT community as part of the ongoing need to find, or create, terms that describe the lived experience of people whose lives had been kept largely under wraps.  Merriam-Webster, and other language authorities, are once again helping to open closet doors too long kept nailed shut.

Genderqueer is a way of “relating to, or being a person whose gender identity cannot be categorized as solely male or female.” Cisgender refers to a person whose gender identity corresponds to their sex at birth.

I am cisgendered (“Congratulations, you have a baby boy,” the doctor said to my mother in the delivery room).

merriam-websterAnd in some ways, I think of myself as genderqueer. Every time someone looks twice at me because of my dangly earrings, which most people would consider feminine, I am reminded that although I have male genitalia and body hair I also am feeling “girly stuff,” too.

Nor is this drag—although I have nothing against doing drag, and have enjoyed some good times in drag on special occasions in earlier years. This is me.

In 1994, I wrote a poem, and it still reflects truth about, in, me.

My Two Ears

I said to the women who asked,
I wear two earrings because I have two ears.
Unable to choose between them,
not knowing which ear properly deserves adornment this year,
the simpler thing to do is an earring in each ear;
but then I know the simple is not always simple for those
whose simple is different from one’s own.
The woman wondered not only why I had an earring in each ear
but why like my ears the earrings were a matching set.
Earrings like that she said are for women.
I told her I bought them at a shop called Czarina.
She decided I was not a woman
but a man wearing earrings in the feminine mode.
What kind of man does she think I am,
is she confused because I break the rules
which determine for her who is a man and who is a woman
or does she merely think me a strange man who disobeys,
or a stupid man who does not know—
oh enough—
I wear two earrings because I have two ears,
two lovely ears between which I will not choose.
I’d like someone to nibble on one and then the other
and then the other again,
not showing partiality to one ear more than the other,
just a desire for my ears,
or most deliciously perhaps two someones taking turns
nibbling one on one ear, one on the other
while I moan and giggle in gratitude.
They could even remove the rings if they’d like;
I will replace them later for another woman (or man or child).
Everyone needs a man wearing rings in each ear
if only to ask,
why are you wearing two earrings in two ears?

This poem reflects my genderqueerness (a term I did not have in 1994) as well as my involvement in the Radical Faeries in the 80s and 90s, which is where I really got in touch with, and learned to live in, my own sense of being queer. Although I am not currently active with the Faeries, my faerie/queer spirit burns strong and true yet today.

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commons.wikimedia.org

In case you don’t know about the Faeries, I often describe them/us as a loosely-knit gaggle of free spirits who are often irreverent, playful, even as spiritually inclined, mostly gay men but some bi-men and occasionally women, too). Lots of Faeries wear drag or simply skirts or caftans and the like, and go naked often, too. For more information, click here or here or here). Wikipedia says Faeries are “a loosely affiliated worldwide network and counter-cultural movement seeking to redefine queer consciousness through spirituality.”

Queer. Queer consciousness. What do those terms mean? Malachi and I wrote about our understanding of Queer on October 26, 2016 in “Queer Is a Verb” (click here), and I don’t want to restate all that was said there. If you did not read it then, I encourage you to do so now.However, it is important to me to say here that I experience, and practice, queerness as a disruption of norms that, while they may be useful in ordering society also serve to stifle new ways of understanding and relating to reality. That is why I am pleased that genderqueer is being mainstreamed. It’s an apt way for me to explain myself, sometimes to myself as well as to others.

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At the same time, it is queer, and certainly Faerie-like, to say that it is not Merriam-Webster that makes the term acceptable; it is the actual lives, experiences, emotions, and passions of genderqueers that do that. The dictionary is not the authority on but the recorder of social change, offering a reflection of what already is before it is recorded.

Genderqueer gives us a way to see queerness in personal terms. I often think of other forms of queerness, such as local Catholic house church gatherings that are led by women—claiming their faith against the patriarchal Rome-centered curia. To me, this is an example of queerness because these groups don’t get caught up in arguing with the power structure so much as undermining it by living their own faithful Catholic reality.

To me, that can be called spiritqueer, something that brought Metropolitan Community Churches into being. When Troy Perry asked when he should start a church for queer people, he heard “Now.” That is, was, in my view, God’s undermining the rules most of God’s people, and certainly their leaders, thought were from God.

That’s queer. Praise God!

And God is waiting on us to claim our heritage, and queer things, queer church, queer our country, some more. I hope you will think about how you can contribute . . . I have some earrings I could share.

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

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

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part 2: Beyond the Norm

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

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

Our Right to Choose

God gives us the right, and the responsibility, to choose how we live in our bodies . . . .

Malachi:

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nRecently, Texas promulgated a regulation that requires burial for aborted fetuses. And as we go to publication, we have learned that the Ohio Legislature has adopted a prohibition on abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected–as soon as six weeks after conception (no word if the bill will be signed by Governor Kasich). This has made Robin and I both consider that, in the midst of talking about sex, bodies, sexuality, reproduction, etc., we have not talked at all about abortion.

For the longest time, I believed that everyone around me- obviously- believed in a woman’s right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. One day, I was sitting in the car with my birth mother, and we were talking about (among other things) the death penalty. I mentioned that I was against the death penalty because I didn’t believe that the state had the right to punish someone through taking their life. My mother then asked where I stood on abortion and, without thinking twice, stated that I was pro-choice. She responded, “So you’re against killing people who deserve it but for killing people who don’t?”

This is the first time that it occurred to me that there were people in my life that might not be pro-choice. I was flabbergasted and felt (and still feel) that the argument she made was a false analogy (involving a divergent definition of “life,” as well as the concept of “deserve to die,” something that I believe no person is able to decide for another person).

Growing up in MCC, abortion wasn’t something that was often discussed in my church. I maintained my pro-choice stance, but felt that abortion wasn’t something that was as relevant to our church as other worship spaces. We were a predominantly queer church, so many of the couples that were pregnant had gone through expensive medical procedures to conceive, and abortion wasn’t on anyone’s mind. We also didn’t have a lot of teenagers and younger folks, so our youth ministry wasn’t as focused on things like sex ed and contraception (although I did receive the best queer safer sex talk of my life from a person I met through the church. They sat me down with gloves, a dental dam, and a pint of ice cream and didn’t mince words on the importance of protection and safer sex practices.)

http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/sites/default/files/files/styles/large/public/field/image/Pro-Choice%20Bumper%20Stickers_0.png
http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/sexinfo/sites/default/files/files/styles/large/public/field/image/Pro-Choice%20Bumper%20Stickers_0.png

In my life, I have always been pro-choice. I think abortion is a tragic reality that should be a whole lot more rare than it is now, but without proper sex education and access to contraceptives, abortion continues to be the most well-known (if controversial) method of not having a child.

Pro-choice, to me, does not mean “pro-abortion.” It means the ability for each person to make the decision that is best for their body, circumstances, and beliefs. It has been my belief, for example, that I could never choose to have an abortion. I have (for the most part) always known that I wanted kids, and my sex life has not been such that I have been in many situations that could have resulted in my pregnancy. I thought, therefore, that if ever I found myself pregnant, I would, of course, keep the child and raise it.

But an interesting thing happened two summers ago. I had gone to a kink event and ended up in a situation in which I had sex with multiple people in a short span of time, the majority of which had anatomy that could result in my getting pregnant. I used protection and, while I had some complicated feelings about the situation, all was well.

Until my period was late. A couple of days and then a week or so. I started to panic. I didn’t want to be pregnant from that situation.  This wasn’t just a one-night stand situation… this was multiple people in a gangbang-style situation. I had used protection; my partner was there the entire time and helped make sure that everyone wore condoms. I recall sitting on my back porch, freaking out, talking to my partner and chain smoking, feeling immensely guilty but not sure what else to do.

“Maybe I should have an abortion,” I said, and I couldn’t believe I was saying the words. Me, who never thought I would consider that an option. Me, who was very strongly pro-choice, and I felt the shift as my choices began to change. I took a pregnancy test a couple days later, and it came back negative. The next day, my period started, and all was well.

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http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-N0moAwFuKUo/T1zc3_PwlsI/AAAAAAAAAPg/MhNDcv8tIwM/s1600/my+body+my+choice.jpg

But something in me changed during this situation. Something in me realized that there were situations that I would consider that as an option, something I never thought would be true. Something in me realized the importance of going through that situation and being faced with the reality of a choice- although I wasn’t pregnant, I had to grapple with many of the same feelings as people do when the do find themselves unexpectedly pregnant.

The reality is, of course, that this is all about choice. It’s all about

recognizing a person’s bodily autonomy. This is the crucial point: for so long, people have tried to legislate and codify what people are allowed to do with their own bodies- sex work, what types of sex people can have, what types of relationships people can have, how certain genders are expected to present themselves, what types of hairstyles are considered professional. So much of this comes down to the idea that there is an inherent “right” and “wrong”- and how interesting that the “right” answer is so often white, hetero-centric, and male-determined.

Pro-choice is not about “pro-abortion.” It’s about the fundamental belief in another person’s bodily autonomy. And laws like the ones we are seeing in Texas usurp the ability of a person to make the best choice for themselves by making one option significantly more painful than it already is (and trust me, the decision to have an abortion is not an easy one for most people). Pro-choice is the belief in a person’s God-given right to be, and celebrate, who they are, free from interference or discrimination from others.

I am still pro-choice. I am pro-people’s abilities to make choices about

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http://thenerve.us/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/pro-choice-christian.jpg

their own bodies. I am pro- people decided what kinds of sex they want to have (and don’t want to have). I’m pro- people deciding whether sex is something they want to trade as labor for income. I am pro- people deciding what kinds of clothes, makeup, and presentation they want to have today, regardless of their genital configuration. I am pro- all kinds of hairstyles in the workplace- including locs, braids, and ‘fros. And I am pro- people deciding whether this is the time, situation, and circumstance to carry a child to term.

Robin:

Abortion.

What an easy way to generate a heated debate or silence—perhaps on occasion a thoughtful discussion.

revrobin2-023I am a committed feminist, a committed male-identified feminist. My default position, in the current lingo, is pro-choice. That is in line with my own commitment to supporting and safeguarding the innate and lifelong integrity of every human body.

At the same time, I am aware all the public statements and political positions in the world do not fully address the complex issues and experiences—physical, emotional, spiritual, and social—connected to making an individual choice about pregnancy and reproductive health.

For example, in 1974 my new wife, Judy, and I went to a clinic for her to have an abortion. This was about a year after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Roe v. Wade. We had engaged in pre-marital sex, she became pregnant despite my using a condom, and she became pregnant. We were scared—she was a school teacher in our small town, and I had been a local official—and decided to seek an abortion. We told people our honeymoon in Bermuda would be for about 10 days, but we arranged to return home several days early so we could keep an appointment at the clinic in a nearby city. Fortunately, she was not so far along at the time of our wedding to be noticeable.

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My beautiful former wife, mother of our three daughters, Judy

Times have changed, yes. The fear, and shame, we felt forty years ago are not so prevalent today. But even now having an abortion is not something women generally announce on Facebook.

Like many things that are complicated, and involve sex and bodies, most of us—the women actually undergoing the procedure plus the men involved and other family members and friends—tend toward privacy. So often, there is deep pain involved, a real sense of loss and perhaps even failure.

There also is awareness that others may not approve, or even be angry. The division within the United States over abortion is acute, and the edges feel very hard.

Driving by a Roman Catholic Church, as I do often, one sees  a sign, “Pray to End Abortion.”  Sometimes a sign promoting an adoption program is nearby as well.

When we lived in Richmond, VA, my daily route to and from church took me by a family planning clinic. Twice each week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, there were protesters, including children, with signs and flyers. I cannot imagine how hard it was for women and their allies to traverse the gauntlet to get to their appointment (whether for an abortion or not).

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vachristian.org

All of this campaigning against abortion is legal and is an exercise of constitutionally protected speech. But, as is so often the case with religion, especially Christianity, bodies—women’s bodies most of all—are missing.

And when women’s bodies are missing, women’s moral agency is missing. The authority of women to determine what goes into and what comes out of their bodies is central to their well-being. This is true of men as well, of course, but the specifics are different. Plus, men, as men, especially white heterosexually-oriented men, have not suffered so directly from patriarchal oppression.

As my former ethics teacher, the late Beverly Wildung Harrison, wrote in 1983, “a woman denied access to an abortion she wants is, de facto, compelled to childbearing against her will (Our Right to Choose: Toward a New Ethic of Abortion, Beacon Press; emphasis in original). This simple fact remains just as true today.

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Beverly Wildung Harrison, often called “the mother of Christian feminist ethics” religiondispatches.org

That others view abortion as always homicide does not negate, in my view, the imposition of bodily violation against the pregnant woman. Indeed, this insistence on valuing the fetus more than the woman is yet another iteration of the patriarchal subjugation of women.  It is no accident that the primary religious advocates for the anti-abortion position are part of Christian communities that do not allow women to exercise all leadership roles and often insist on relegating women to one particular set of social roles—wife and mother, and homemaker.

That the decision to abort a fetus can be fraught with anxiety and deep internal conflict is not an argument to abolish the right. It is, like unpopular free speech, precisely the opposite. If we only protect popular speech, we no longer have free speech. Now, in Texas, state regulations will begin requiring burial or cremation of fetal remains—a practice which clearly seems to be an effort to shame women and medical practitioners who participate in aborting a fetus (click here for more). The legislatures of Indiana and Louisiana have passed similar laws but the regulations to carry out the law are tied up in litigation (Indiana’s law was signed by Governor, and now Vice-President-elect, Mike Pence).

Women must have the right to control their own bodies. In fact, I contend that the right to engage in embodied activity, so long as it does not violate the body of another person, is a form of free speech. This certainly applies to sexual activity, and it logically applies to that which arises from such activity.

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mccchurch.org

There is a theological thread here of immense importance—and it is the integrity of the human bodies created in God’s image.  My own religious movement, Metropolitan Community Churches, is clear about this: “MCC affirms that all people are entitled to the rights and resources that equip them to make their own decisions about their bodies, their sexuality, and their well-being, including the inalienable right of women to control their bodies.” (Click here for the full statement)

Racism, for example, is a denial of this integrity. Some abortion opponents equate support for abortion with slavery or racial discrimination—saying that denial of life to the fetus is at least as egregious.

But it is not the same. Slaves were fully grown humans—including their children—as are those who are victimized by racial prejudice and active discrimination and repression in our own time. Slavery was wrong in that it devalued the personhood, the embodiment of God in the person of its victims.

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pinterest.com

Justice is always embodied justice. You can tell where justice is missing by how particular bodies, and groups of bodies, are treated. And when it comes to sex, it is no accident that women as a group are second-class citizens (even though men are victims of sexual abuse too). Indeed, Simone de Beauvoir captured this in her 1949 classic, The Second Sex.

Did Judy and I come to regret our decision in 1974? Yes. Did we also know we did the best we could? Yes.

Yet, did she carry a burden to her grave in 2001? Did she and I weep together before she died, of cancer at age 60, because of this? Yes.

Does that mean other women, with the counsel and support of their husbands and lovers, families, friends, clergy—should be denied the right to make their own choice? No. In fact, Judy and I admitted to each other, that were we to face the same situation again, we could not be sure we would not repeat our action. Ultimately, I knew then, as I know now, the decision was hers. And I believe it must always be so for women who bear the fetus and whose health is intimately affected by giving birth and nurturing the child.

Malachi and I are engaged in this blog to encourage a new focus on bodies, sex, and spirit—working to increase awareness that these are not separate categories of existence and human activity but instead divinely ordered and connected. We also know that God gives us the precious gift of sexuality in our bodies in order to bring us closer to each other and to God. When we create hierarchies of value based on humanly defined gender categories and other criteria we deny the God in each, and all, of us.

God gives us the right, and the responsibility, to choose how we live in our bodies. No law, no court, no church, should take that away.

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

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

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discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part 2: Beyond the Norm

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

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