The Power of Language

Introduction: As we prepare for the upcoming Third Thursday discussion, we wanted to focus this week on the power and impact of language, and how language impacts not only our ability to communicate, but also frames our cultural, social, and spiritual perspectives. Rev. Robin offers this insightful discussion on the impact of language as we prepare for next week’s discussion.

Robin: In my book, and for many others as well, there is a difference, a significant difference, between being a leader and being a bully. Theyrevrobin2-023 don’t belong in the same sentence, except to create contrast to enhance understanding. But some, like a certain presidential candidate and some of his leading male supporters, act and speak as if these two terms are interchangeable.

That’s the trouble with language. We want it to be precise, we want the dictionary to rule, but in reality context counts as does the identity and preferences of the speaker/writer.

Take, for example, “homosexual,” a word coined in 1869 and brought into more widespread usage in a book, Psychopathia Sexualis, by Richard von Krafft-Ebing in 1886. For a long time, it was the clinical word used by people who spoke of same-sex attraction and sexual activity. But given negative attitudes among many, it nearly always contained at least some judgment on the attitudes and behaviors engaged in by persons who exemplified the term. Now, with the rise of Gay Liberation, it has become for many, certainly for those it seeks to describe (and proscribe), not a clinical term but one that signals deep disapproval of the attitudes and behaviors.

At the same time, it is National Coming Out Day as I write, and for some, “homosexual” is as far as they can get. It is still not easy claiming your sexual orientation openly—given ongoing homophobia by parts of society national-coming-out-dayand especially religion. Still, LGBT folks know that when we hear someone outside the community speak of “homosexuals” it usually means they see us as perverts, at the very least as undesirables, people who should hide our affections if not our entire selves.

And then there’s “pussy,” a word that until recently, in polite usage, really only meant a cat or perhaps a fussy old lady. Now, thanks to Donald Trump and his endless need to dominate women, the slang usage meaning a woman’s vagina has been mainstreamed  (the top definition in the online Urban Dictionary for “pussy” is “The box a dick comes in,” clearly from the perspective of a dominant male). In one sense, this may be good, in terms of my belief (see earlier posts on language) that “street” language should be available for publishing in all venues, especially if it conveys shades of meaning not otherwise available.

Trevor Noah

The problem is not his use of the term which offends but his celebration, indeed glorification, of sexual assault.  “Dirty” language may be a problem for some people, but assault ought to be anathema to all. What he said was not “locker room talk,” but immoral and illegal, jailhouse talk. (check out this video clip from Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, especially at 6:44).

Interestingly, our culture seems to use the term “dirty words” only to refer to sexual, body, terms—certainly “pussy” fits into that category as do other words for body parts. I have never heard the term “dirty” applied to the use of the derogatory term, “nigger” or “Nigrah.” And yet that is what those who used, and use, it mean to convey, a person or class of persons who are so begrimed and dirty in their essence that they are beyond the pale of civilization. How much dirtier can you get? It is a dirty word par excellence.

And more, it is a violation, a violent word when used by white people, because it exalted, or at least excused, assault, lynching, denial of basic humanity, job loss, slavery, tearing apart families, etc. It is a term that justified sexual assault, especially of women of color by white men (all of whom had more social power than the women). Men of color also were

victimized—for example, lynched due to false charges of raping white women.

The word is no longer used in polite or even less polite society, but alas it is still in use among those who believe in and practice white supremacy.  And our children still can hear it on playgrounds (and have to be taught it is wrong, degrading, to use it in reference to anyone).

However, there is a word which was used to degrade people, whole categories of people and certainly individuals who were being attacked simply for being themselves, which is now used, at least by some, as a term of liberation. That word is “queer.”

Many “queers” of my age cohort object to positive usage of the word, because they still feel its sting. Others, like me, and many from younger cohorts, are eager to claim the term and use it to understand the world we inhabit and share with other queers and non-queers. This is where the complexity of language is revealed, indeed where we see proof that language, and language usage, is always, at least to some extent, context-specific.

It has long seemed to me that we can tell which groups are struggling

with their place in society by how much they argue over the terms they want to use, and to be used by others, to describe themselves. “Black” was not always a positive term, even among Black people. There is still tension between using
Black or African American (in part, of course, because people who are “Black” are not necessarily either African or American).

What matters most, to me and many others, is that the groups get to choose, to be in charge of the vocabulary the rest of use to talk about them. White people can’t use that ugly N-term because our siblings have made it clear they are hurt by it, they are angry when any of us do. That does not mean they cannot use it among themselves. They are in charge.

The same thing is true about queer. The LGBT community is far from clear about this, but members can surely object when people, inside or outside the community, use it in ways that feel, and are, demeaning. The debate continues, even though many benefit from Queer disciplines: Theory, Theology, Criticism, etc.

So, women could decide to claim the term “pussy” as a positive one, theypussy-riot could decide that instead of allowing male supremacist usage to name the beautiful parts of themselves only as instruments to be used by others, that they will claim their own power to name and be named . “Pussies of the World Unite!” could become a rallying cry for those who seek to overturn male supremacy, and more immediately perhaps in the present moment, to rise above Mr. Trump, to show their disdain of his attitude and behavior by using his words against him to claim their own power.

I cannot say, of course, what they should do. What I can say is that I would be honored to join the Pussy Auxiliary, to show up to support them and to speak up for them, and even to be just a helper in whatever way the movement needs support.

My default position is to stand with those who are oppressed, who are demeaned by language and by actions. The adage is, “Actions speak louder than words. “ But, in reality, words are often all the action needed to do real damage to people.

So whether Mr. Trump physically assaulted the woman he mentioned in the video or not, he assaulted her and all women by his words, and by his dismissal of them as “locker room talk.”

Language is often about choosing sides, and I know whose side I am on.


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

What is your experience with reclaiming oppressive language? How does language choice impact and frame conversations 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.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, October 20th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online:

Session 3, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 3” 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: In this session, Robin and Malachi continue to lay out some historical context of sex within Western Christianity, exploring how a faith whose origin rests on incarnation has become known for a deep anti-body and anti-sex bias. In this session, we will move beyond early church fathers and what might be called the social construction of early Christianity to later medieval and Reformation eras, and perhaps into more modern times. There will be time for questions and discussion as well.

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

Healing Through Fantasy

I have always been ashamed of my fantasies…

Introduction: Last week, Robin shared a beautiful, erotic poem depicting a fantastical spiritual experience. My piece on fantasy this week is quite different and much heavier. With that in mind, I want to make a content warning note: this piece does discuss rape, sexual assault, and intense shame around fantasies. Please use your best judgement in engaging and reading.


13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nWhen I was a child, I used to relax and calm myself down for sleep by fantasizing.

I didn’t realize this is what I was doing, of course. But each night, when I would settle down for sleep, I would close my eyes and picture a boy that I had a crush on coming into my bedroom. At six or seven years old, the taboo-ness of having a boy in my bedroom at night was risqué enough, and the concept of “having sex” wasn’t something I understood well enough to take it any further.

As I got older and began to understand (to some degree) this elusive concept of sex, my fantasy would change. I dreamed of growing up and going to a school where people learned and experimented with having different types of sex. There was a lounge where people of all genders would walk around in various stages of undress. Some people would be having sex, some cuddling, others walking around serving drinks (the whole thing had a very Greek feel to it). Outside of the main foyer, there were thousands of hallways with different doors, and people were welcome to walk into the rooms beyond the doors.

Some nights, when I was having a particularly difficult time falling asleep, I would venture out and open some of the doors. The one I remember most vividly led to a room that was designed to look like the outdoors: grass growing, and a massive tree on one side and a couple having sex in the middle of the field that didn’t pay me any mind. I was embarrassed, but fascinated to watch, and ultimately fell asleep.

I remember wondering what could possibly be going on in other rooms. I

didn’t have the imagination to dream up thousands of rooms worth of sexual fantasy, but some part of my mind allowed space for the possibility. At the time, having sex outside, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and experiencing/participating in orgies and/or group sex were the extent of my creativity- but granted, I was still prepubescent, and these are fairly extravagant fantasies. Imagine my surprise when I began to get active in the kink and BDSM communities and realized that the places I had imagined as a child truly existed!

I have always been ashamed of my fantasies, and I’m not fully sure where that shame comes from. I think I have had a pervasive sense, since I was a child, that I am not like other people and, in trying to avoid getting ostracized, I learned to keep these things hidden. It took me many years to admit to partners that I had fantasies at all and even longer to be comfortable sharing them. Even still, this is something that I struggle with.

Some of my shame comes from the nature of my fantasies as I got older. The six-year-old fantasy of someone coming into my room at night slowly grew and morphed, and I began to fantasize about someone coming into my room and touching me while I slept. Sometimes it was someone I knew, sometimes it was a stranger. These eventually transformed into fantasies of being raped, which compounded my feelings of shame and secrecy.

As someone who was developing an understanding of sexual harassment and violence, I thought I was a horrendous person. Rape is a violent, disturbing act, not something to fantasize about! It was at this point that I realized I could never talk to my partners about my fantasies. Many of them had survived sexual assault; what would they say to this blatant disregard to the atrocities of rape that I found sexual excitement in imaging?×620.jpg

I stumbled onto some articles online of other people who experienced the same thing and shared their histories of shame and self-hatred in coming to terms with their fantasies. Realizing I was not the only person to experience this was the first step in healing. Openly admitting it to my partner was the second.

I began to talk about it with my partner (with many hours of coaxing). I would not have been able to had he not been as open, gentle, and patient with me as I stumbled through the words, “I have rape fantasies.” He didn’t shame me for it, but embraced me and told me that this didn’t change a thing between us, and we could keep talking about it as much (or as little) as I wanted.

That conversation began a sense of healing that I am still working through, even today. My partner and I talked (and still talk) a lot about fantasies and the role they play in sexual dynamics and relationships. Beyond those conversations, though, I began to see and understand how fantasies can be enacted and come to life when I began to get more involved in the kink community.

The kink community taught me safe and responsible ways to interact with my fantasies and furthermore, helped me understand where they come from (for me) and what I got out of manifesting them. The reality is, as someone whose body has been utilized without my consent in innumerable situations (everything from unwanted touch to assault), rape fantasies became a way for me to process and deal with my own trauma. It became a way for me to relive and configure my own experiences in a way that made me face the trauma, but still allowed me to have control over the situation.

Perhaps this sounds extreme, and maybe it is. But the kink community has safeguards built in place that are universally understood within the community. Among other things, safewords are a key component used in many situations. The terms “yellow” and “red” are used by a person when they need a situation to pause or stop completely.

The purpose of this is simple: for some people, they have a difficult time saying “no” to something (particularly if they have been socialized to be placating or accommodating). Often called stoplight safewords, “yellow” is a method of communicating that a person needs something to pause briefly; “red” is a method of communicating that something needs to

stop completely. These are less socially-loaded words that allow someone to take a break to figure out what they need to communicate. In many situations, “hold on” or “stop for a second” or “I think I’m done” work just as well.

However, there are certain situations where a person wants to be able to protest and say things like “No” and “Please stop” and deliberately have these protests ignored. This is where safewords become really crucial, because it is important for a person to still be able to communicate if something is truly not ok and needs to stop versus the act of protest that is ignored.

This is a difficult concept that can be hard to grasp if a person is not wired toward fantasies that include an aspect of resistance. That’s ok. It’s certainly not something that everyone enjoys, but it is something that is important for some people (such as myself), and it’s important to have good safeguards in place for those who need that.

There is also a saying in the kink community that is crucial to creating safe space to enact fantasies: “Your Kink is Not My Kink and That’s OK.” The truth is, what works for one person might be traumatic or distasteful to someone else. For me, having the freedom and space to interact with these long-standing fantasies without the risk of someone shaming me for having them was invaluable. While I understood in theory that I was not alone in dealing with violent, traumatic fantasies, my interaction with the kink community helped me come to terms with the reality of that truth. I am not a disgusting, terrible person. It helped bridge a deep chasm of shame that I had lived with for most of my life, as well as gave me some tools to navigate these things in responsible, healthy ways.

For me, though, there is a responsibility when engaging in violent fantasies to also maintain a good awareness and analysis of the realities of those fantasies in life outside of kink. Rape is something that happens to people every day, and it is a violent, brutal act that strips people of their humanity (as well as inducing long-term consequences like depression, impact on future sexual relationships, and body dysphoria). Rape is not a joke, and I don’t treat it is such. But interacting with resistance-based fantasies has been a part of my sexual experience since I was a child, and self-shaming for that is not a healthy way to live, either.

Certainly, not all fantasies are as complicated and loaded as that one, and certainly, I have other fantasies. But something I have had to come to terms with is the difference between the idea of a sexual experience and the reality of experiencing something. There are things that, in my head, are immeasurably hot, but in real life, I don’t actually like the experience as much. And vice versa: there are things that, when they happen in real life, I think are incredibly hot, but in a fantasy, don’t do much for me.

For me, fantasies are both a way to stimulate sexual desire and navigate difficult experiences that have impacted our sexual lives. They are a way for our minds to let our bodies know what is sexually stimulating and exciting. It gives us creative ways to share our bodies and sexual experiences with our partners. And, for some, they can give us a way to heal from experiences that have damaged or hurt our sexual interactions (in addition to other tools, such as therapy, medication, etc. as applicable to each person.)

I don’t believe I am alone in self-shaming for fantasies. I think that many people have been embarrassed or ashamed to admit their fantasies: either they don’t want to admit they have them at all, or the nature of the fantasy feels embarrassing or shameful. I have come to a point in my life where I think that fantasies are some of the healthiest ways to explore our sexuality. We don’t need to act on (or act out) every fantasy that we have. But it is important to be honest and celebrate our fantasies- even the ones that make us feel vulnerable.

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

How do you feel about sexual fantasy? Do you let yourself fantasize without judgment? Are you ashamed of any of your fantasies? Do you share any of your fantasies with your partner(s) or friends? Does fantasy have a place in your sex life? Have you engaged in sexual behavior that you fantasized about only to discover you didn’t like it?  Or did it please you as much as your fantasized it would? Or differently? 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, October 20th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 3, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 3” 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. Although not required, we encourage participants to read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description: In this session, Robin and Malachi continue to lay out some historical context of sex within Western Christianity, exploring how a faith whose origin rests on incarnation has become known for a deep anti-body and anti-sex bias. In this session, we will move beyond early church fathers and what might be called the social construction of early Christianity to later medieval and Reformation eras, and perhaps into more modern times. There will be time for questions and discussion as well.

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

Only Yes Means Yes, Part II: On Rape Culture

Content warning: Contains discussions of rape, sexual abuse, and trauma. Some discussions and/or images may be triggering.

Rev Dr.Tom Bohache:  As a rape survivor, I am always troubled when people say, “Rape isn’t about sex; it’s about violence,” for I think it both trivializes it and misses the point. It IS violence, but it is ALSO sex. The horror and outrage is that sex has been used as the vehicle to perpetuate violence, and the survivor’s sexuality has been (forever?) perverted by this act. Some of the lasting effects might be body shame, self doubt, fear of intimacy, and an unwillingness to engage in certain sexual acts. (In my case, it tainted receptive anal sex for me.)

Rev. Miller Hoffman: it feels tricky to me, Tom. Sex has become weaponized in rape, and folks like me are trying to distinguish between something that is mutual and consensual (sex) and something that is not (violence). I think the confusion between rape and sex may be at the heart of Brock Turner’s light sentence, for example: much less likely if he had assaulted her with a bat.

Rev. Dr. Bohache: Yes, there are many layers to the issue. But what bothers me is when people make a statement like the one I quoted without realizing the complexity. It feels dismissive.

Rev. Hoffman: Absolutely. Especially if that’s the response when we are trying to talk about rape’s impact on our sexualities.

revrobin2-023Robin: The dialogue above, on a Facebook page that hopes to continue conversations that began in October 2015 as part of an ongoing symposium, “Who Are We Really? Re-Engaging Sex and Spirit,” sparked conversation between me and Malachi, and we decided to share some of our own experiences and thoughts.

Two weeks ago, Malachi began the conversation with a powerful post, “Only Yes Means Yes”: On Consent and Cultural Influences.”

Before that, as we talked, I began by saying something to the effect that it might be a future topic, and that I might be able to write about it even though I had no personal experience of rape or sexual abuse.

No experience of rape or sexual abuse.

As the words came out of my mouth, they got stuck in the air just beyond my lips.

Then I was able to offer a correction to Malachi. I said I have no specific memory or evidence that I was abused but I have long carried the feeling I was. Based on embodied reactions to an uncle, I have long wondered if I had been abused by him when I was three years of age and left in the care of him and my aunt for a week or two (I was not terribly fond of my aunt, but I felt no revulsion for her, as did towards my uncle).

This uncertainty—and at times I feel more certain—has created in me a×400.jpg

great empathy towards those who report with absolute certainty what happened to them. My inclination is toward believing the testimony of victims generally, but it is especially strong in the case of those battered, abused and murdered due to rape and sexual abuse.

This experience (of the feeling of violation at least) has also caused me to believe that these horrors happen far more often than most of us think, something with which those who collect statistics and are otherwise knowledgeable generally agree.  It has also caused me to be more open to listening to, and finding truth in, those who share experience and knowledge that contradicts my own.

One occasion causes me to be aware of this frequency as well as the need to listen to others–indeed to realize how thin the line can be between one person’s “no” (or lack of “yes) and another’s putting their “need” or sense of privilege ahead of any consideration of the right to safety and security for the body of another human being. This time I was the perpetrator.

During a time in my life when I was single, I became close to a young man whom I met through the Radical Faeries. I will call him Steve, a handsome and quirky guy who favored several European philosophers. We hung out together in Brooklyn and visited the beach on Fire Island. We had many conversations about philosophy, religion, and family. Over time, I became sexually obsessed with him. I made my desires clear, and he made his refusal clear, too. “I want to be friends, but I am not sexually attracted to you.”

That was a clear “no,” but I failed to heed it. One day, as we lay, naked, side by side, on the beach, I reached over and placed my hand on his genitals. He responded immediately by lifting my hand off his body and said “Don’t ever do that again.”

Immediately, I felt shame, and apologized. I told him I did not want to lose him as a friend. He said he too hoped we could remain friends. “Time will tell,” he said.

Soon, we no longer had any contact. I still feel shame and remorse–but it was not until Malachi and I had considerable conversation about consent that I remembered Steve and how I violated him.

I know I am not alone in violating the body of another–which is not an excuse, but is an acknowledgment that our culture has a lot of boundary violations going on, from hugging without permission to unacceptable sexualized touch to rape and other forms of intimate violence. This is, as I see it, all part of a “rape culture” which seems to create, or at least work alongside, other cultural influences and norms so that its adherents and practitioners get what they want, or stop others from getting what they deserve, by dismissing the embodied autonomy and innate worth of others.

This may not be rape as sexualized violence, but efforts to deny the value and beauty of bodies is nonetheless violation and it creates ongoing negative effects in how people view and relate to their own bodies. It is mental and emotional rape even if it is not physical.

A number of political and social leaders, including but not limited to Donald Trump, have drawn upon this to give public voice to what many older white men (and some younger ones, too) believe, namely that the claims of other people—racial groups other than white people, women, even gays and lesbians and certainly transgender people—are overblown, if not false, and are endangering our well-being as a well-organized, orderly society.

Their reaction to these and differences is not to listen, or even to ask questions, so they might learn about the experience of others, but to respond with dismissals, slurs, and belittlement. Alas, any of us can do that when we encounter difference, but it is possible to train ourselves to be more open. But we have to want to be open.

Trump’s ongoing belittlement of women—his crass responses to women who oppose him and the support he receives for and because of it—offer not only evidence of the ongoing power of rape culture but also send a clear signal to many, mostly men but probably also to some women who support these men, that he is “THE MAN.” And Mario Rubio’s effort to belittle Trump’s penis seems to have been, perhaps unconsciously, his attempt to say, “No, he is not THE MAN. I AM THE MAN!”

This takes me back to Tom Bohache’s initial comments when he wrote about the effects on the survivor’s sexuality.  So many people, so many of us, carry scars from this culture even if we do not carry scars from rape of our body, our person. And I believe far more of us than have said it are victims of specific acts of various forms of rape. How many of us carry a feeling of violation even if we cannot name it with any assurance or precision?

And although more women are victims of rape than men (misogyny and

patriarchy are alive and well), there are many men who, unlike my brave friend and colleague Tom, have yet to openly admit their histories. Another of my dearest friends has told me about his repeated gang rape in a Midwestern middle school bathroom.  I know he is bravely working to overcome the damage done to his own sense of self and sexuality, but it took him years even to recall the memory. My friend is one of the most open, caring people I know, but I know (and he knows) he also has much anger inside.

I wonder how many of the angry white men who cheer Trump and others—many of whom have legitimate grievances against an economic system that has shut them out—may also have rape or abuse histories yet to face and tell? Preying on their anger does them no good and undermines the well-being of many others, indeed wreaks social havoc.

As Miller Hoffman writes, “Sex has become weaponized in rape, and folks like me are trying to distinguish between something that is mutual and consensual (sex) and something that is not (violence).”

All of us need to stand, as best we can, in that space to distinguish, and promote, something that is mutual and consensual, speaking up, standing up, and opposing that which is not.


13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nMalachi: Rape, sexual assault, consent violations: it’s a heavy topic, one that is full of emotions and (for some), triggers. It’s an abhorrent act that cuts at the heart of who we are as sexual people- perverting an act that is meant to be spiritual, holy, pleasurable, and fulfilling in order to commit violence on another body, to exert power and control over another person.

If sex is intended to be a reclaiming of our bodies and pleasurable selves, rape is the inverse, removing our capacity for choice, power, or pleasure from the equation. It is not connective and mutual, but one-sided and isolating. It is a violent act.

And this is just the act itself. This does not take into account the fairly

horrendous process of reporting rape in an environment that associates rape of masculine people as a sign of weakness (which often leads to the underreporting of rape on assigned male bodies), and rape of feminine people as a consequence for existing (the comments on the victims clothing, state of sobriety, location, and/or lack of company are more than enough to insinuate that a woman is responsible for her rape by wearing clothes that support her sexuality, choosing to consume alcohol, walking down the street, or simply being alone).

A couple weeks ago, I began to contextualize the concept of rape culture as part of a larger response to Rev. Tom Bohache’s and Rev. Miller Hoffman’s dialogue on facebook about the language and implications when talking about rape.

The conversation highlights aspects of a survivor’s story- including long-term effects and language that we use to designate the difference between consensual acts and acts that are rooted in seeking to hold power over another person.

First, I have to state that I appreciate the importance of the distinction for many: particularly for women and those assigned female at birth, there is an inherent cultural disbelief of a survivor’s story, or a sense that a victim “deserved it.” Because the cultural response is to automatically doubt the victim’s story, phrases like “it’s not sex, it’s violence” become important because they are another way to say, “This was not my fault. I did not have a choice in this.”

In a somewhat-separate facet of my life (my involvement with kink and BDSM communities), I am actively working with several organizations who are trying to (a) navigate allegations of consent violations within the community; (b) instate better policies to keep people safer at events; and/or (c) seek to update reporting processes and be transparent in accountability and addressing consent violation reports. One particular discussion thread that is vital to the conversation is centering the victim’s experience and requests in the healing process. Rev. Tom Bohache makes this

important point that his voice feels diminished and/or silenced by creating the hard line between sex and rape.

In many ways, I understand that hard line and why it is drawn. Rev. Miller Hoffman points that we need ways to distinguish between the act of sex and the atrocity of weaponizing sex- a distinguishment of intention, rather than acts. We don’t want to see any relation between the consensual, sacred aspect of our sexualities and the brutal perversion of sexual expression through rape.

But what is “sex”? Is it simply a mechanical, technical act, a pelvic thrusting motion, a combination of hands and lips that combine to produce a physical sensation? If sex is nothing more than a physical act, then I absolutely see that it is harder to differentiate between the two based on the physical components.

For me, though, sex gets a little more complicated. In BDSM, I have seen people have orgasms fully clothed with no genital touch. I have seen people having sex without having an orgasm. I have seen people having orgasms from pain stimuli. I have seen the exact same two scenarios happen- someone tied up in artistic rope- and for one person, the act is sexual, for the other, it is not.

I still struggle to define what sex is. For me, it most often comes down to the vague, “people are having sex if they consider the actions occurring between them consensual, sexual acts,” which inherently diverges from “rape” in both consent and intention.

We have to all be desiring to do what we are doing for it to be sex, for me. Anything else isn’t automatically, de facto “rape”… there are a whole lot of different interactions that happen between “sex” and “rape.” Those grey areas are not talked about enough, and those gray areas are the entire premise of rape culture.

But as important as the phrase, “That wasn’t sex, that was violence” can be to some survivors (although, clearly, as Tom said, that phrase undermines his own experience in how rape has impacted his ability to be a consensually sexual adult), it is a phrase we cling to because it separates us into us-vs-them. Good people and bad people. Good people don’t rape and rape is violent. Rape is about power. I’m a good person. Therefore, I don’t use sex in violent ways or use it to exert power over others.

But when the focus is only on the black-and-white, sex vs. rape, it minimizes the numerous areas between those two things. I have had situations in which I pushed, coerced, or misread someone else’s interests. Now certainly, when someone said no, I stopped, but the point is, there is a violence when we push our own desires onto someone else. Kissing someone when they don’t want to be kissed. Touching someone when they’re intoxicated. These situations impact someone’s capacity for sexual expression in future situations- sometimes extensively. Rape is not the only form of sexual violence, and without minimizing the atrocities of rape, I think we can also come to understand the ways in which we have used (or seen others use) sex as a means of power and/or selfish intention.

Does this mean we are inherently bad people? No. Does this mean that rapists should get a pass for the atrocities they commit? Absolutely not. Holding people accountable is absolutely necessary, and there is an immense amount of trauma and pain associated with healing from rape. But I think, in many ways, it can be an oversimplication to say “Rape isn’t sex, it’s violence.” Not because that narrative is untrue or not important, but because sex is not purely a mechanical act, and I have found that there are many ways for sex to be weaponized and used as a power tactic.

Recognizing that we need to find a way to differentiate these things is important. But similarly, we have to ensure that, in our desire to separate out the differences in both understanding and semantics, we are not doing so in a way that continues to silence the voices of survivors.


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

How do you feel about the culture you are currently a part of? Do you feel as though you are living in a rape culture? Can you think back to times in your own sexual history where there wasn’t enthusiastic consent from all parties? How do you feel about the phrase, “Rape isn’t sex, it’s violence.”? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please feel free to join us THURSDAY, September 15th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 2, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 2” 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. Although not required, we encourage participants to read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise as well as If We Can’t Talk About It, We Shouldn’t Be Doing It to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description: In this session, Robin and Malachi continue to lay out some historical context of sex within Western Christianity, exploring how a faith whose origin rests on incarnation has become known for a deep anti-body and anti-sex bias. In this session, we will move beyond Judaism and Jesus to early church fathers and what might be called the social construction of early Christianity. There will be time for questions and discussion as well.

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

“Only Yes Means Yes”: On Consent and Cultural Influences

Content warning: This post contains discussions of sexual trauma and history of sexual assault and harassment

by Malachi Grennell

Malachi GrennellRecently, Robin and I began to have some interesting conversations around a Facebook post discussing one person’s response as a survivor of sexual assault. Specifically, the post addressed how this person felt about the delineation between sex, rape, and violence. In thinking about this post, I realized that my understanding and response is entirely dependent on my understanding of a particular cultural context- specifically, the context of rape culture.

Robin and I plan to discuss this specific post more in-depth in a couple weeks. Before we are able to do that, though, we wanted to take this week to talk a little about the concept of rape culture, because this is a multifaceted, complex term that is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. Beyond the complexity, though, it is easy to feel as though we are not affected by rape culture if we have not been survivors (or had immediate family or friends that are survivors) of rape or sexual assualt. But the reality is, rape culture is everywhere and affects every single person.

Rape culture, at its core, is the idea that we live in a culture that fosters

situations for rape through both explicit and implicit sanctioning of certain behavior. Rape culture teaches us, for example, that consent is synonymous with “No Means No,” rather than the idea that “Yes Means Yes.” The difference is subtle, but powerful. “No Means No” implies that a person pushes for what they want until they hear “no” rather than asking for what they want and waiting for a “yes.” It assumes all people are capable of saying no (that, for example, power differences do not exist in the socializing of men and women wherein both are equally empowered to say no- something we know is absolutely not true. Men are taught to be forward and aggressive; women are taught to be diplomatic and accommodating. This makes the “No Means No” method immensely ineffective when those who are taught to push are the only people socially empowered to say no.)

I remember being 19 and riding the train to visit a partner and his family. It was a long train ride, and I took an Ambien to sleep through most of the ride. As I woke up, the person beside me was going to the café car and offered to get me a drink. I accepted and we talked for a bit when he came back. He made me a little uncomfortable, so I tried to get out of the conversation by saying that I was still a bit tired and was going to go back to sleep. He stopped talking, and I settled in, quiet and still, but not sleeping.

After a few minutes I felt something on my leg. I shifted and the pressure on my leg lifted. I figured I must have imagined it. After a few more minutes, though, I felt something on my leg again, around my knee and realized it was his hand. I was frozen, panicked. I didn’t know what to do. I knew that I should say no, but I didn’t want to draw attention to what he was doing and I was terrified of causing a scene. While I was trying to figure out how to respond, his hand kept moving further up my leg and I shifted again, hoping he would stop. His hand stopped moving when I shifted, but the pressure didn’t relieve. I began a mantra to “just breathe, just breathe” in my head while I tried to figure out what to do. As long as he believed I was asleep, he was going to continue touching me. The only choice I felt like I had was to be fully awake and talking to him, because at least when we were talking, he wasn’t touching me.

Could I have theoretically said no? Of course. But the power dynamics present in that situation made me feel like I couldn’t: I was a teenager, and he was a much older man. I was stuck sitting next to him on a train for another hour or so, and I didn’t want to cause a scene (because that idea was ingrained very deeply from a very young age: do not cause a scene.) But rape culture says that because I didn’t resist, or say no, or ask him to stop, that I wasn’t really assaulted. Even though he put his hands on me in a way that I did not want and did not consent to. Even though he only made advanced when he thought I was unable to resist (i.e. while I was asleep).

Rape culture places the burden of preventing rape on the people who are raped, rather than the people doing the raping. I have met very few women who were not taught the trick of carrying their car keys between their fingers or keeping a rolled stash of quarters in their purses to hold while walking to the car. One of my mothers certainly discussed tactics to keep me safe, many of which included an insinuation that men are inherently unsafe, and it was up to me, as a young woman, to protect myself from predatory men.

The truth is, we are all influenced by rape culture. I know I personally have been in situations where I realized, in retrospect, that I put pressure

on someone to have sex with me who didn’t appear to be enthusiastically into it. Did I rape someone? Absolutely not. But did I push for my own agenda when they didn’t seem really excited about coming to bed with me? I did. And I think these are the times when rape culture is the toughest: we do not have to be rapists (or survivors of rape) to be influenced by rape culture. The ways that we are taught to approach and navigate sexual situations is problematic. We don’t like to talk about sex. We don’t like to talk about what we’re doing, or ask for what we want. So instead of talking about it, we do it and hope that it’s ok with the other person (or hope, if it’s not ok with the other person, they will say something). It passes the burden of responsibility to the recipient, rather than taking responsibility for our own desires.

I remember a specific situation when I was in my early twenties and I was working as a line cook in a restaurant. The way the kitchen and restaurant was set up, customers could come sit at the counter to eat and, from that vantage point, watch the cooks prepare the food. Sometimes the wait staff was busy or in the middle of a break, and I didn’t want customers to watch their food sitting under a hot window, so from time to time, I would take food to customers who were sitting at the counter, and often strike up conversations with them.

There was one gentleman in particular that came in frequently, and he would always ask me about my day, how I was doing, making polite conversation. He seemed a little awkward, but fairly harmless, and we would talk for a minute when I brought out his food. After a few weeks, a coworker informed me that that customer had asked for my schedule because “I cooked his food the best” and only came in when I was working. I started to get wary and tried to find reasons not to talk to him, but he sat in a seat where he could always watch me and if I didn’t look busy enough, would start to talk to me, even when I was behind the grill.

On one particularly busy day, he came in and I was having a hard time. He sat for several hours, but it was apparent that I was not going to give him any attention. He left, but handed his waitress a note to pass on to me. She handed it to me with a smile and said, “Compliments to the chef!” When I opened the note, I read that he noted I looked stressed and encouraged me to call him when I got off work so I could come to his house and relax, with his number at the bottom.

I remember each piece of this story so vividly because it caused such a visceral reaction but I couldn’t explain why. He was just being a nice guy, right? So why did I suddenly feel so nauseous? He didn’t actually do anything… and yet, I began to hyperventilate. I was terrified. I was terrified he was sitting in his car, waiting in the parking lot for when I got off work. I was afraid to come to work the next day. I explained the situation to my boss who gave me a couple days off and, when the customer came in, told him I had transferred elsewhere. I never saw the man again.

Was I raped in this situation? Of course not. Do I think I would have been pressured to have sex with him if I had called him? Absolutely. That was almost certainly what he wanted from that exchange, and I was terrified of what would happen if I refused. I didn’t feel like I was able to tell him no because he wasn’t asking a direct question. As I have grown to understand consent better, I understand that there are many things about this situation that are not ok: he was stalking me at my place of work (by asking for my schedule and only coming to my job when I was there). He was manipulating and pressuring me into something I didn’t want without being transparent in his emotions- he had plausible deniability because he never mentioned sex, even though that was almost certainly what he was seeking.

A culture that fosters this type of behavior is incredibly problematic, and it is something that affects all of us. It informs how we understand sex and sexual dynamics, how we approach people we are attracted to, how the world responds to us. The situation I described was complicated by workplace dynamics (I was, to some degree, financially dependent on maintaining a good relationship with customers, even as a cook). But culture is built out of the intersections of different dynamics, and we must actively work to change toxic culture.

This is a large (and seemingly unattainable) task. But it starts with smallyesmeansyes things. An understanding that someone’s bodily autonomy is their own- so ask before you hug someone. Not asking as you’re reaching out with arms open and entering their space, but as you greet them: “Hello! It’s great to see you! May I give you a hug?” and waiting for a response before moving forward. It’s asking your partner- whether you’ve been together 2 days or 25 years- “May I remove your shirt? May I touch your back? Can I go down on you?” etc. It’s not asking what the victim did wrong, but asking for what the victim needs to feel safe. It’s not allowing friends to catcall people on the street from a stoplight, or make sexually objectifying comments about a stranger’s body. If we begin to foster a consent-focused atmosphere- one in which we ask people for a yes, rather than wait for them to set a boundary we may have already crossed- we go a long way in changing what is acceptable in our culture.

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

Have you experienced sexual violation–rape, attempted rape, unwanted advances you did not feel empowered to stop, pressure from an employer, or a customer or anyone who has economic power over you, to be sexual? Do you know how to ask and wait for yes (and do you actually do that), or are you trained to think that the other person has the responsibility, the power, to say no? Are you regularly on guard against sexual advances because of prior experiences, or has it not occurred to you that many people, mostly women but men as well, go around afraid? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please feel free to join us THURSDAY, September 15th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 2, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 2” 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. Although not required, we encourage participants to read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description: In this session, Robin and Malachi continue to lay out some historical context of sex within Western Christianity, exploring how a faith whose origin rests on incarnation has become known for a deep anti-body and anti-sex bias. In this session, we will move beyond Judaism and Jesus to early church fathers and what might be called the social construction of early Christianity. There will be time for questions and discussion as well.

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

When ‘Stuff’ Gets in the Way

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

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

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

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

You can't say that in church jasonkoon net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is my decision.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever had difficulties maintaining intimacy in your relationships? Has your work or career made it difficult for you to be open about your sexuality? What are some other barriers to your ability to be authentic and open in your sexuality? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please feel free to join us THURSDAY, August 18th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 1, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity” from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Rev. Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. Although not required, we encourage participants to read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description: In this first session, Rev. Robin and Malachi lay out some historical context of sex within Western Christianity, exploring how a faith whose origin rests on incarnation has become known for a deep anti-body and anti-sex bias. There will be time for questions and discussion as well.

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for clergy (1 credit for each session with full participation) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although the primary focus is on clergy participation, everyone is welcome to attend.

People’s Lives Are At Stake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mangus Hirschfeld
Mangus Hirschfeld

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

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

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

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

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

Malachi GrennellMalachi: The political climate is terrifying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

come as a culture and society, the reality is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What do you think? How are you feeling about the political/social climate in the U.S. right now? What are some ways you respond to it to keep you from despair, and to help resist it? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

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Finding Sanctuary: Reminders of God through BDSM

by Malachi Grennell

Malachi GrennellLast week, Robin wrote a wonderful solo piece around the challenges and joys of sexuality and aging while I was away at a retreat for people engaged with the BDSM community. This week, while Robin is away at Metropolitan Community Church’s General Conference in Victoria, British Columbia, I get the opportunity to share some of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences from not one, but two different events that I had the opportunity to attend.

“BDSM” is an acronym that stands for “Bondage & Discipline, Domination & Submission, Sadism & Masochism.” BDSM is a more familiar term to most people, but I often tend to simply use “kink,” which describes the larger umbrella of alternate sexual lifestyles (of which BDSM is a part).

BDSM_acronymLike many different types of communities, the kink community is comprised of both private and public aspects: there are those who engage in kinky sex privately, but leave it “in the bedroom,” while others form networks, present and/or attend classes, go to public dungeon spaces, and attend large conferences and events.

I don’t want to turn this writing into a workshop-style piece, but I do think it’s important to give some context. I can imagine- and remember my own impressions before attending an event- that it might appear that a 5-day kink retreat would simply be a massive orgy, full of whips and chains and a lot of leather, where showing up is considered consent and people do whatever they want.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Well, except for the leather. There’s a decent amount of leather around, and it’s glorious.

The truth is, the 5-day retreat is held at a remote campground where they

take people’s privacy very seriously. The days are filled up with classes from educators across the country (and sometimes, from around the world) to teach things like rope bondage safety and flogging techniques and navigating non-monogamy (or, sometimes, navigating monogamy within the kink scene). The evenings are full of events where people can try something out if they haven’t experienced it (and want to), or sit and talk to other people, or even go swimming in the pool or have a dance party. The space is both clothing-optional and sex-positive, which just means that people can be as (un)dressed as they feel comfortable and are allowed to have sex in most places (with a few exceptions, such as places where food is served).

It’s not a massive orgy (although orgies do happen). It’s a community- a group of people who share a common interest- in this case, that happens to be an alternative sexual lifestyle. It’s almost guaranteed that every person will see something they like and hadn’t thought of, as well as see something that is an immediate turn-off. The mantra in the kink community is “Your Kink Is Not My Kink and That’s Ok.” It’s a diverse group of people ranging in age, experience, interests, skill levels, sexualities, identities, and backgrounds.

The truth is, whenever I start writing about kink, it always feels a little overwhelming because there are so many places I want to go. I want to talk about rape culture and what kink has taught me about consent. I want to write about intersectionality and the ways in which kink allows for important, powerful social analysis (and the ways in which the community sometimes falls short of those analysis). I want to write about my experience as a trans person navigating a clothing-optional space. I want to write about the ways in which I have learned to tackle difficult (and sometimes dark) desires in safe, healthy ways. I want to write about catharsis and about navigating trauma and dealing with frustration.

I want to write about everything, and I think that would take a book (or two).

A friend of mine is fond of saying, “We get the camp we need, not necessarily the camp we want.” And she’s right: every event has provided me with important lessons that I needed to learn, even if it’s not necessarily what I wanted to be learning…even if I thought I learned them last time. It’s also worth noting that we cannot get what we want unless we ask for it… two lessons that emerged from kink camp, but are not unfamiliar: I have been wrestling with these throughout my journey with Christian faith.

But these parallels exist. We know, so often, that God provides what we need- the lessons we need, the experiences we need, the people we need- although, at times, it doesn’t exactly match up with what we want (or think we want). Kink camp is much the same way. I spent much of this camp in a caretaking role, ensuring the people that I care about were safe, protected, able to be vulnerable, had a place to decompress. Caretaking is something I have a complicated relationship with, and it’s not necessarily how I wanted to spend my camp… but I do think it’s what I needed to do.

Also, please don’t get me wrong- I had a blast. I had fun, I did all sorts of things, and truly honored the vulnerability and difficulties that friends were going through, and felt humbled that they reached out to me.

I was also reminded that we cannot get what we want unless we ask for it… which not only reminds me prayer, but reminds me that we must participate in our own miracles. I have a difficult time asking for what I want sometimes, and yet I was reminded that I cannot get what I want if I am not willing to ask for it. The juxtaposition between having friends need care and finding their own voices for articulating what they want and need against my own hesitancy to not “be a burden” on others was a powerful experience to have… and has given me lots to think on as I continue to settle back in to daily, clothes-wearing life.

I mentioned that I had the opportunity to attend two events. The first was the planned, 5-day camping retreat. The second was an impromptu trip to a hotel conference where a friend was coordinating overnight security and asked me to come help out. The second event was significantly different from the first event (zoning laws impacted the amount of nudity that is allowed, as well as restricted specific types of sex allowed in public spaces), but I enjoyed the event immensely and was reminded how important it is that we give back to community.

People come to these events for a myriad of reasons, but often it is to find

support and comfort with like-minded people. Much like church, many of us are looking to find support and validation for who we are. Once we have integrated ourselves into that community, we then become a part of sustaining it.

I met many folks at the hotel conference for whom it was their first event, and they were overwhelmed with how accepted and comfortable they felt in that space. As a person who was there to ensure that everyone was safe and comfortable, as well as help make the event run smoothly, it reminded me that someone did this for me at my first event. When we reach a certain point of interaction within community, we become part of sustaining and supporting that community through whatever roles speak to us. Whether that’s a church or a kink event, it was a reminder that we are a part of shaping the communities of which we are a part.

It has been a full, exciting week and a half and I’m certainly still processing many of the individual experiences of both events. The big-picture resonance, however, is something that feels familiar. It’s about community and support. It’s about validation and confirmation. It’s about safety and reclaiming our identities. It is, in so many ways, about sanctuary.


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

What do you think? What are some of your thoughts, feelings, assumptions, or discomforts with BDSM? How do you feel about the synthesis of kink and faith? 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.

Unholy War

. . . 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.

revrobin2-023Robin: 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.

disco dancing drawception com

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?

AR-15 benchmarkarmsllc com

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).

Holocaust open grave American soldiers stand guard along the perimeter of an open mass grave at Mauthausen pinterest com
American soldiers stand guard along the perimeter of an open mass grave at Mauthausen

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, we all are bodies. 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.

human-body and food groups chulavistabooks com

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.

intersex body

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.

Malachi GrennellMalachi:

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).

Matthew Shepard fence A basket of flowers hangs from the fence where Matthew Shepard was left tied and beaten the guardian com
A basket of flowers hangs from the fence where Matthew Shepard was left tied and beaten

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.

Newtown massacre statuemarvels com

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.

Charleston Shooting
Police tape surrounds the parking lot behind the AME Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC, as FBI forensic experts work the crime scene. Associated Press photo

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.

pulse warning pinknews co uk
The club told patrons on its Facebook page to get out and keep running.

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.

body-hate-free-zone teem teenlinkseattle blogspot com

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.


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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.

What’s Your Body Language?

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 GrennellMalachi: 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.

Basic RGBHaving 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.

revrobin2-023Robin:  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!”

cocks are beautiful
A Google image search of “Cocks are beautiful” returns zero results

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.

We Can Do It!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.

bodies divine

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).

Photo by Arnie Katz
Photo by Arnie Katz; courtesy of Anchorhold 

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).

The still charming logo of a now-defunct restaurant chain in the Midwest
The still charming logo of a now-defunct restaurant chain in the Midwest

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.

We’ve Got Some Skin in the Game

by Robin Gorsline and Malachi Grennell

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.

revrobin2-023Robin: 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.

But why?

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×641.jpg

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.

Malachi GrennellMalachi:

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.,375x360.jpg,375×360.jpg

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 every body 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.

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

What do you think? What are your thoughts on nudity? Please share below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed.