The Content of Our Character

We are a nation that has made the gold-star standard of beauty one that is based on racist ideals.

Robin:

revrobin2-023Nowhere is the power of white supremacy more evident than in the industry that thrives by producing, marketing, and selling products to bleach dark human skin. An article in The New York Times about the practice in West Africa, and the action of the government of Ghana in creating a ban on these products alerted me to the practice there (see “What Is the Color of Beauty?”), but the author was quick to point out that this is not limited to West Africa.

Indeed, a look online yielded many products that claim to remove blemishes and dark spots, although I found almost none offered by major retailers and companies in this country that encouraged their use to reduce the darkness of overall skin tone. At the same time, some of them did use the term “freshening” which, in the African context, is sometimes used in preference to “bleaching.” There are products which claim to whiten black skin without saying so in so many words.

This is in line with historic validation, through advertising for example, of white skin as preferable to darker, most especially African or black, skin. In other ways, too, the bodies of people who are seen as more African are devalued, for example big lips among men and women and big hips among women are often viewed negatively.

white-model-candice-swanepoel
http://fashion.zarzarmodels.com/

The underlying ideology—that dark skin is less beautiful than light, or white, skin—is very troubling. It surely is a product of European colonialism, not only in Africa and Asia and Latin America, but also in North America, especially the United States—and here made even more powerful through our history of enslavement of Africans and Native peoples.

This shows up not only in these “skincare” products but also within communities of color, where “colorism”—favoring lighter shades of skin over darker—can create hierarchies of value and even privilege (see, for example, “Skin Tone Prejudice Troubles African-American Heritage”). I am reminded of earlier years—during the 1960’s with the rise of “Black is Beautiful” and later—when there was great energy expended by many individuals to stop straightening their hair in order to let it grow in its natural, gloriously Afro styles, a welcome development away from white cultural domination.

What causes us—and not just Africans and African Americans or other darker-skinned people—to treat our bodies, or the bodies of others, as sites to be manipulated in order to conform to socially constructed standards of beauty? Why do we let others determine our relations with our own bodies?

Is this not abuse?

hydroquinone-campaign-for-safe-cosmetics-safecosmetics-org
safecosmetics.org

I ask the question, aware that it is a term that can be overused.  However, I don’t think it too strong to say about various social mechanisms the help create in us negative feelings about God’s great, some would say God’s greatest, gift to us, our human bodies—especially when these feelings lead us to do things to our bodies, or condone things being done to others (female genital mutilation, for example), that not only demean us but also do us harm. For example, a chemical used in many of the skin bleaching products, Hydroquinone, can decrease the production, and increase the degradation, of melanin pigments in the skin, thus increasing the skin’s exposure to UVA and UVB rays and raising the risk of skin cancer.

I write as an older person, an elder, who is beginning to notice how there are some places on my body I don’t like so well. Regular readers here will know that I struggle with genital size issues, but in this instance I am referring to wrinkles and loose skin on my thighs. For the first time in my life, I bought capsules online that promised to change my body, in this case, to tighten my skin. After using for a few weeks, I observed no change. And I realized that this was my version of having a skin “tuck.” Ouch. I threw out the remaining pills.

I admit to sometimes feeling judgmental about women who have breast implants or tucks to remove wrinkles, yet here I was taking pills that promised that I would look better, that is, I would not look like me any longer. Elder abuse takes many forms, including horrific violence, and I am not claiming that my feelings of embodied negativity constitute such abuse. But I am claiming that the social validation of youthful, slender, tight- and light-skinned, well-muscled (but not too much muscle) bodies often leads to serious emotional and even physical harm for those whose bodies do not measure up. For example, in my case, cannot wrinkles be beautiful, at least as signs of experience and even wisdom?

ghana-women-abantu-for-developmen-ghana-wedo-org
wedo.org Ghana women, Abantu, for development

But back to the people, women and men, in West Africa. They are paying a huge price for centuries of white colonial domination. “We” white people not only took their bodies for slavery in the “New World,” looted their minerals, and continue to hunt their diminishing mammals and other native creatures for sport, we also stole their embodied dignity—and that theft continues today in the form of social values that violate their natural, God-given beauty, and support and encourage them to engage in self-violation.

This is of course a justice issue—the health authority in Ghana is clearly trying to right an injustice and save lives—but also it is a moral and theological issue. We remember Dr. King saying, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  How well we do this tells us about our character. And it is not limited to Africa.

For many years, whenever  I say or sing the Lord’s Prayer, and I come to the part of asking forgiveness for my debts/sins/trespasses, I bring to consciousness images of slaves raped and beaten and killed, Native peoples slaughtered and forced to live in closed-in enclaves, women beaten and denied good jobs, children dying of malnutrition and starvation, etc. Now, I will also call to mind the faces of African women and men whose complexions are altered in obedience to ugly social rules and values.

I know I am not causing this, actively. I know my parents did not do this, or even my grandparents. But what I do know is that I continue to benefit from social values that raise white over black, especially when it comes to skin colors and body typologies, and every moment that I am not engaged in opposing, undoing, white supremacy and white privilege, is a moment when I am not involved in the resistance to them. When I am not in resistance, I am complicit.

tony-perkins-of-the-family-research-council
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council encourages anti-homosexual laws in Africa

And here’s a real and very painful irony. In parts of Africa there are campaigns to rid the populace of what some claim is the scourge of homosexuality. Those campaigns are often encouraged, supported, funded, by white Christians from the United States. The claim is often made that this form of sexual being and living is not native to Africa but was imported in colonial times.

African friends and colleagues of mine, both homosexual and heterosexual, tell me that African life has always included a variety of sexualities. It is one of the sexual gifts God has made, and still makes, available in every corner of the earth.

So, instead of promoting the murder of gay men and lesbians, those U.S. Christians could be doing a real service by helping to overcome a genuine foreign import: the devaluing of black skin.

We must all can learn to celebrate our bodies, all bodies, ourselves. Until we do, God and God’s creation are mocked.

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nMalachi: 

This week, after recovering from a wonderful Thanksgiving, Rev. Robin shared an article, “What Color is Beauty?”  with me, related to the practice of skin-bleaching in West Africa, particularly in Ghana. The practice, although now technically illegal, lightens the skin tone of people- particularly women- by attacking the molecules that produce melanin in the skin.

This practice was recently banned, but the article discusses the inherent tension between the formal laws and the informal social custom which, in this case, amounts to an inherent belief that lighter skin tones are more beautiful. At several points in the article, the preferences of men are stated- and in almost all cases, men state that they are more attracted to women with lighter skin tones.

It’s a disturbing article and a powerful exposé of racial identity and bias in West Africa- a geographic area that is categorically perceived as a “black” area. As a white American, it’s difficult for me to wrestle with the ideas of racial beauty preferences toward whiteness (or lightness) in West Africa- and I have to ground myself in the reminder that this is not an “over there” problem. We face much the same racial dichotomy in the United States.

In this article, the author discusses many ways in which America’s beauty

https://s3.amazonaws.com/user-media.venngage.com/331455-34f0e389fb2968a09af0ea2c798d564b.jpg
https://s3.amazonaws.com/user-media.venngage.com/331455-34f0e389fb2968a09af0ea2c798d564b.jpg

standards are inherently racist. Among them, the author notes that a Google search of “beautiful skin” gives fairly monochromatic results. I decided to do my own search and found that, yes, those results are all eerily… whitewashed. (Check out beautiful skin and flawless skin google searches. And yes, while it is possible to put a “dark” “tan” or “African American” filter on the google searches, it doesn’t change the fact that the default results are predominantly of white women.)

We see, over and over again, how black women are expected to adhere to the beauty standards of white women. Moreover, white appropriation of historically non-white traditions, actions, and aesthetics are often the route through which those things become mainstream (see: locs (dreadlocks), twerking, yoga, cosmetic surgery for butt implants and enhanced lips, etc.) Something isn’t considered fashionable, trendy, or beautiful until it is done on a white body, even if it’s something that originated in POC communities.

http://www.unbelievable-facts.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/2.jpg
Khoudia Diop (Instagram @melaniin.goddess)

Juxtaposed with these pervasive white supremacist ideals of beauty, I also see models like Khoudia Diop, who is one of the darkest-skinned models. The Senegalese model is part of The Colored Girl campaign, aimed at encouraging women to embrace their skin color and affirming the idea that darkness is beautiful. But although she has grown to love and embrace her skin tone, she also discusses being made fun of extensively in New York City for the darkness of her skin, and faced some familial and social pressure to use lightening creams, even in the United States.

We are a nation that has made the gold-star standard of beauty one that is based on racist ideals. From body shape to facial construction to hair texture, we are all encouraged to aspire to whiteness. Unearthing these stereotypes to then battle these ideas is difficult. They are so pervasive, such an inherent part of our culture that it can be difficult to be a white person and see how they manifest.

Yet I think of something like pronounced lips, and recall that it is seen in a negative way on black women, but in a positive way on white women

Colored Girl Campaign (photo credit @malaniin.goddess on Instagram)
Colored Girl Campaign (photo credit @malaniin.goddess on Instagram)

(Angelina Jolie, for example). I also can’t help but notice that these features are often sexualized (e.g. “She’s got blowjob lips”). The same is true with the tendency of black women to have a more pronounced butt, something that is incredibly sexualized.

So there is an interesting tension in our own culture between our ideals of beauty and our ideas of sex appeal. On one hand, “whiteness” is clearly the standard to which all people are expected to aspire (this used to be called “civilizing” people, because non-whiteness = savage from a colonialist perspective. This has not gone away; it has simply been called something else.) Yet on the other hand, we dehumanize, objectify, and sexualize the aspect of women’s bodies that don’t necessarily adhere to white standards.

It reminds me, in many ways, of the experiences that trans women have talked about in trying to date straight men. One friend put it very directly: “They will fuck me all night and tell me I’m the most beautiful person they’ve ever seen,” she said, “and then they leave the room and refuse to hold my hand in the daylight.”

We are told what we should be attracted to: thin, white, cisgendered. Any deviation from that attraction and it becomes a taboo, and we dehumanize and fetishize people to meet our own desires. The craigslist ads alone show this: “white man for black woman; casual sex only” “masculine white man for black woman; cannot host” “married man wants friends with benefits- black girls only” and “White 4 Black” (these are all lines from a local craigslist today). The gist of these ads are, “I’m a white guy looking for casual sex with a black woman, but I can’t have you around my home).

So not only do we set whiteness as the beauty standard, but when we are attracted to people who don’t fit that, we try to hide, minimize, or deny that attraction. Not only is this dehumanizing, but we are then perpetuating the same racist myths and stereotypes that hold up white beauty as superior in the first place.

The racism in the United States is pervasive and deeply rooted in systematic ways. The only way we can begin to combat these ideas is to first recognize that they are there. It’s easy to feel outrage, shock, and horror at women across the world bleaching their skin and risking skin cancer through damaging melanin in the blistering heat of West Africa, but we must also remember and feel that outrage that young women in the United States are often also pressured to lighten their skin so they can be beautiful. We must see it to fight it. We must fight it to end it. And we absolutely must end this dangerous, damaging belief that the value of a person is intrinsically tied to the color of their skin.

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

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

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part 2: Beyond the Norm

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

 

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

 

Unmasking Sex: Performance and Authenticity

Malachi: 

As the Halloween season comes to a close, we’ve seen another13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_n year of dressing up: scary costumes, fun costumes, goofy costumes, themed family costumes, sexy costumes (hopefully limited to adults), and so forth. We’ve seen people become someone else for a day or two: someone that inspired them (I saw quite a few female ghostbusters with steampunk goggles); something they wanted to believe in (a number of classic renditions of devils, angels, witches, etc.); or perhaps someone that they want to be all the time, but can’t (some rockstars, a David Bowie or two, and no shortage of superheroes).

I’ve definitely seen some offensive and problematic costumes as well: people dressed up in “Native” outfits (which are iconic of a whitewashed, Americanized understanding of many cultures, and are particularly offensive right now as protestors are being arrested at Standing Rock); men dressed in beards and a full dress playing “Dude Looks Like A Lady” and mocking non-passing transwomen; kids in blackface. There is a good and a bad side of dressing up, and Halloween inevitably brings out both.

For many, Halloween is a time to put on a mask and become someone (or something) that we aren’t. For others of us, however, it’s a time to unmask, to be who we truly are. For me, I walked around in the clothes I wear every day, plus a little extra makeup. Instead of strange sideways glances and uncomfortable whispers, I got compliments: “Hey, nice costume!”

It’s gotten me thinking about the ways in which we live our lives through performance: performance of gender, performance of faith, the performance of sex. It’s also gotten me thinking about the ways in which performance can be used to mock and even erase the experiences of others, such as some of these offensive Halloween costumes.

Kings & Queens Drag Show, Asheville NC Photo Credit Amy O
Kings & Queens Drag Show, Asheville NC
Photo Credit Amy O

I’ve been a drag performer. I’m not currently doing shows right now, but I did for six years in North Carolina. Drag, to me, is the performance of gender. Regardless of your body type or assigned sex at birth, any body can perform any kind of gender. I did both king and queen performances; sometimes I did both in the same show.

Drag was a means of exploring gender. It was a way to understand the complexities of gender expectations- everything from how to contour a face for feminine makeup (which meant exploring accepted bone structures and facial highlights associated with typical expectations of feminine beauty) to how men move and dance, every piece of drag requires us to understand the boundaries we are working within. Drag is the performance of gender, and as such, the performance heightens and feeds off of the expectations that are deeply rooted in many of us.

But outside of drag, we still perform gender. It is these exact rituals, in fact, that make drag part of what it is. For women, it’s body hair removal, makeup application, cinching the waist for that perfect hourglass figure. For men, it’s working out, looking buff, growing enough facial hair to prove that you can, having the appearance of a large cock. These are the rituals that are utilized in drag for show, but they are not necessarily less performative when done in daily life.

It is difficult to define what masculinity and femininity mean outside of the gender binary, but we can define what characteristics and traits are important to us because they make us feel good in our bodies, versus those rituals that are done because we are told that that is what “makes a real man” or “makes a real woman.” For example, I have no opinion, issue, or preference with a partner’s body hair grooming practices. I care more that those practices come from their own comfort and love of their bodies, and not from an unspoken rule that certain body parts must be shaved.

Which brings me to the concept of performance of sex. Sometimes, we are sexual when we don’t want to be. I’m not talking about rape; I mean, sometimes, we’re not really feeling it, and our partner is, and we love our partner, so we are intimate when we’d maybe rather go to bed, or finish our book, or any number of things (The Ferret writes a really wonderful post about this here) (and often we get more into it as we get started, but the instigation isn’t necessarily coming from us).

But there is a whole aspect of “performance” that comes into sex… particularly with assigned male at birth individuals who use their penises

https://fusiondotnet.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/fusion_sex_quotes_arousal.jpg?quality=80&strip=all
https://fusiondotnet.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/fusion_sex_quotes_arousal.jpg?quality=80&strip=all

for sex. In fact, “perform” is often used as a euphemism for “get hard and stay hard for a suitable length of time during which intercourse occurred.” It’s a question sometimes asked of gay men who have (or are) married to women: “Are you able to perform with her?” as though any man who is capable of getting hard and having sex with a woman is automatically “less gay.” As for assigned female at birth people, well… “faking orgasms” is something many women do on a consistent basis. If that’s not the performance of sex, I’m not sure what is.

Attraction, intimacy, connection: these things are so much more than the operational functions of anatomy, and certainly much more than feigning a particular type of enjoyment for your partner’s benefit.

The performance of faith is trickier, because “faith” means something different to each person.  Regardless of how a person relates to their faith, however, we fairly consistently see faith in God as a transformative experience. I personally believe that that type of transformation doesn’t just happen once or twice in a person’s life, but continues to happen as they grow and deepen their understanding of God and their faith.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/60/c4/b1/60c4b14465af7b726c2102ea7cd90c7d.jpg
https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/60/c4/b1/60c4b14465af7b726c2102ea7cd90c7d.jpg

In that regard, I consider the performance of faith one in which our lives in relation to God have become stagnant. It is a point where we are more focused on the action, rather than the intention and meaning of the action. Are we kind to one another because we truly care for those whose lives have been harder than our own? Or are we kind to people because we have been told that we should be kind?

Like many things, performance isn’t inherently a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary… Alcoholics Anonymous discusses the idea of “fake it ‘till you make it.” Sometimes we need to act in certain ways to help our own understanding and belief get there. But sometimes our performances limit, mock, or erase the ability of others to be as authentic as they want to be. We need to be aware and conscious of the intention of our daily rituals, actions, and beliefs… that awareness can be the difference between performative and transformative.

As we close this Halloween season, I challenge all of us to hold onto and be aware of the performances around us every day, including our own. I challenge each of us to close this time of letting go- the essence of Samhain (the pagan tradition from which we draw much of our Halloween inspiration)- by letting go of some of our own masks and performances. I challenge each of us to consider our intentions and goals in the actions we take- particularly the actions we take for granted. Let’s each put our masks down and work to be who we truly are, rather than carry on the performances of who we think we should be.

Robin:

revrobin2-023What does it mean to perform sexually? Is it only when one engages in genitally-focused activity or other erotic behavior? Or is it possible to perform sexually through speech or other communication?  Is it possible that constructing an identity, or at least an image, is an act of sexual performance?

My answer to these somewhat  theoretical questions is “yes.” And it is an answer from my own experience as a male-bodied-from-birth person. That does not mean that my answer is simple, and it involves a fair amount of personal history. And it seems to me that I am not done answering these questions.

In 1974, I was married to a beautiful, wonderful woman, Judy. We were blessed to have three wonderful daughters who have grown up to be bright, beautiful, powerful women with families and many achievements.

As a result of claiming my homosexuality and coming out as a gay man, Judy and I separated after nine years and then divorced. We remained loving and caring friends, and although she had primary custody of our girls, we worked together to raise them. Sadly, tragically, she died in 2001.

judy-feeding-the-gulls
Judy did everything with gusto

I can never talk or write for long about sexuality without thinking about Judy. She was a very sexy woman. She deserved a better lover than me. Oh, we had sex, but on my side it was mostly about relieving sexual pressure. I loved her, yes, very much, and she had a beautiful body, a beautiful woman’s body. But I did not crave her body, I did not fantasize about her body when we were apart.

Even so, I constructed a sexual identity as “straight” through a wedding, having sex with Judy, and eventually in helping to produce children.

At the same time, I fantasized about various male bodies. I bought a subscription to Playgirl, claiming it was for her (she showed little interest, and did not renew it) but really because I wanted to ogle the naked men.

I should have known long before that I was gay. I did not date girls in high school and had a major crush on a male friend and lesser ones on others, went through extensive psychoanalysis in college, and put off having sex with a woman for quite a few years. Still, I performed as a straight male.

Much of my failure to claim my  gay identity had to do with society—I was a good boy and did not want to make others angry or bothered, and until I got to college I did not know any openly homosexual person—but it is not so simple.

I am more sexually fluid than a label reflects.

julie-andrews-mannishI am not bisexual. I have a clear attraction to men. But I also find some women attractive, and have sexual thoughts about some of them. At the same time, there are limits (including that I am happily monogamous with my husband!).

I have never had sex with a woman that involved more than the “missionary position.” I tried oral sex, but I gagged (definitely not true with men).  So my performance has its limits, but only the couple of women I have slept with would know that for sure.

But my sexual antennae are not always fixed firmly on the gay wavelength. Admittedly, the women I find most alluring often appear somewhat boyish, and transgender men can sometimes move the needle on my attraction dial.

Sexual attraction is, at least for me and I think many if not most others, is not solely about genitals. My husband of 19 years said he was first most attracted to my brain (now he seems to like my body, too!).  Some people are drawn to legs (I really like hairy legs), others to height or the lack thereof, or breasts big and breasts small, chest hair or no chest hair, particular ass shape and sizes, etc.

I loved Judy for her vibrant personality, her laugh, her instinctive kindness and generosity, and I liked her well-curved body, too. Or maybe I liked that other men admired it, and that made me feel good……..these things are often complicated.

kinsey-scale-visual-male-guide
accidentalbear.com

In reality, many of us fall at less than absolute points on Kinsey’s famous (and I think less useful than it used to be) scale and our location can even change. Earlier, others would have classified me as a Zero (exclusively heterosexual, unless you count the one time I engaged in mutual masturbation with a male friend in high school), and now, since 1983, I would be a Kinsey Six (exclusively homosexual).  Does that make me a 5 (incidental heterosexual behavior ) overall?

No. Judy was not incidental in my life. She was, and is, even now, central to who I am and have become. As surely Jonathan is, and has been, for 19 years.

I have two friends, Arlene and Tom (names changed), who have been married for about 10 years. Arlene used to be married to a wonderful “butch” lesbian, Melody. Sadly, Melody died. A couple of years later, Arlene and Tom found each other. Some friends objected, saying Arlene had abandoned Melody. I said I thought love was what counts. Arlene told me that Tom was Melody with “different plumbing.”  I understood her to be telling me that she found a beautiful spirit in him that reminded her of her old love. She clearly loves Tom for who he is and vice versa; they are a lovely couple.

yoga-and-sex-vibrant-heart-yoga
vibrantheartyoga.com

I understand this. If something awful should happen and I would be without Jonathan, who knows who, if anyone, would become central in my life? Would I seek a partner again? If so, it likely would be a male, but that is not certain. And maybe I would decide to stay single. Whatever the outcome, I assure you, though I am 70 years of age, I will perform sexually in some ways or others—certainly by talking and writing about it, self-pleasuring, and continuing to figure out, and live out, perform, my sexual identity/identities.

As our transgender siblings are showing us, lots of things we thought were fixed are more complicated—and it is not just about bathrooms. Creation, especially humanity, is not easily locked into categories; scientists know that there are always exceptions to hard rules.  Creation is bigger than all of our boxes, and so are our bodies and psyches and souls. As the psalmist writes, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . “ (139:14)

That’s surely me, and you, too, and everybody who wonderfully and fearlessly (at least bravely) crosses boundaries and concepts that inadequately describe our full, beautiful, complex humanity. The great thing about life is that it always demands performance, and we get to choose, if we wish, which roles to play . . . and how to play them.

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

How do you feel about performance, particularly in regards to sexuality? How can we challenge ourselves to be more authentic while recognizing performance is an important aspect of our lives? 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!

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

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

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part I: Beyond the Binary

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

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

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

Queer Is a Verb

My entire world is queer. Queer is not just an adjective; queer is a verb.

We are focused on creating an atmosphere of sex positivity and wholeness, of self-love and pleasure within and through our bodies, and doing these things through the lens of Christian faith. Sex, Bodies, Spirit is not just a title, but a way of navigating and understanding the world, who we are within it as whole, embodied people, and how we relate to that which is Holy.

Most weeks, we touch on two (if not all three) of these main focal points of this blog. This week, though, we’re going to dive into something that really ties all three together: the concept of queerness. Queering our spirituality, queering our sexuality, queering our relationship with our bodies. And to do this, we have to tackle the idea of “queer.”

Malachi Grennell:

Queer is a slippery word. I’ve written some about queerness elsewhere (Are You Queer Enough?  and Femme Erasure in the Queer Community), but it is, at its core, a concept defined by negation: to be not something. So part of understanding queer is understanding what is the antithesis of queer, or what concept queer negates.

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nThe other piece to really understanding queer is the powerful, often violent, history of the word. My late godmother, Rev. Jeri Ann Harvey, spoke with disdain when people of my generation sought to “reclaim” queer. “How can you reclaim something you don’t understand?” she would ask. “People were killed over that word. I was shot at for that word. The bullet grazed a piece of my hair off. All for that word. How can you reclaim it without understanding the power of it? If you understood that word, you wouldn’t use it.”

The last time I saw her before she died, we had another conversation about queer. She told me that language was important. If people of a new generation wanted to find power in that word, she understood. It would just never be a word for her, and for many of her generation. There was too much pain associated with it.

As a person who self-identifies as queer, I cannot forget that conversation. But I struggled for years because I wanted to respect all that she (and so, so many others) gave to the LGBT population. I wanted her to know that I understood, as much as I could.

The journey from that conversation to my own sense of identity is so strongly rooted in my understanding of queerness. Ignoring the power of that word didn’t feel like embracing an authentic understanding of it. Grappling with the complicated ideas that queerness presents has been a much more honest way of embracing the struggle of those who came before me.

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SlideShare

I feel like it is often used as a synonym for LGBT, but I don’t really feel like that’s appropriate. LGBT, to me, specifically deals with sexual and gender identity. Queerness feels like it encompasses something different than simply sexual orientation. It’s a framework for life, a context, a way of viewing and responding to oppression. When I think queer, I think of non-normativity. When I think queer, I think radical.

For example, I am not LGB: I am not a woman (and therefore not a lesbian); I am not only attracted to men (and therefore not gay), and I fundamentally believe in more than two genders (and am often attracted to ambiguity of gender), so bisexual doesn’t really fit either. A term was coined some years backed called “pansexual”- a term to describe people who are attracted to a multitude of genders (beyond the binary of male and female). It’s the non-binary gender spectrum version of bisexual.

I identified as pansexual for a good deal of time. (I remember, somewhat to my chagrin, my high school side backpack with “PANSEXUAL” written unapologetically in whiteout across the black front canvas). So what, then, is the defining difference between “pansexuality” and “queerness”?

For me, the distinction comes in the scope of the identity. Pansexual is a definition of sexual orientation and attraction. Queerness identifies that a person does not conform to standard expectations of relationship attraction. Pansexual is an “inclusion” identity: it is defined by what it is (e.g. “I am attracted to a variety of people.”). Queer is an “exclusion” identity: it is defined by what it is not (e.g. “I do not conform to social standards in my attraction.”).

There is no moralistic definition associated with inclusion or exclusion identities; one is not “better” than the other. It is simply a way to think about how the terms are defined, and the scope of those terms. There are many kinds of exclusion identities- most of them begin with the prefix “a-“ (atheist, anarchist, agender, etc.) To be defined by what you are is a much narrower focus. But to be defined as what you are not leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

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Queerness also speaks to a political slant. The Stonewall Riots, for example, feel very quintessentially queer: non-normative, non-gender conforming, fighting back against a violent, oppressive system.

Queerness feels radical, revolutionary, pushing back against the status quo, unapologetic in authenticity. Sounds a lot like Jesus… but then, I have often related to queerness through the model of Jesus.

Which brings us directly to this idea of queering spirituality. In the context of queer as “non-normative,” what does queer spirituality look like today? For me personally, my queer faith is not well-expressed inside of a church building, sitting quietly and singing hymns (although there is a part of me that loves that). My queer faith is gritty and dirty and messy and not always (or usually) pretty.

But when I ask, “What would Jesus do?” I never picture Jesus in a $1,000 three-piece suit, or living in extravagance, or locking his door in the “bad” part of town, or taking more than he needed to sustain himself. I picture the man under the bridge, bringing bottles of water to the homeless in the summer because he understands that deep thirst from that time he was homeless and sleeping under the bridge. I see the man who buys coats and blankets from Goodwill and hands them out in the winter as it starts to get cold. I see the person who picks up their friend doing sex work who was assaulted when a trick got violent. I see a man passing out clean needles on the street so that users don’t have to share. I see someone flipping tables and making a scene because of greed and corruption. I see someone talking about sex in a real, practical, meaningful way in our churches and with one another.

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I don’t see a squeaky-clean image of Jesus, and it’s certainly not an image of Jesus that I can image being worshipped in most mainstream churches. I won’t tell them their image of Jesus is wrong, although I disagree with it. But it’s not my faith.

My queer faith is radical. It’s messy. It’s certainly not blonde-haired, blue-eyed, baby-faced white Jesus. It’s a revolutionary faith. It’s trying to find ways to relate to and embody that model in a world so vastly different from Jesus’. My queerness as a whole- my queerness within my own relationship with my body and gender, my queerness as a sexual person, my queerness in spirituality- it comes together as an integrated, whole person. It’s not just that I am queer in who I sleep with; it’s that the entire outlook of my life is based on a fundamental concept of being other, and navigating social dynamics as someone who cannot- and will not- fit inside the prescribed boxes. My entire world is queer. Queer is not just an adjective; queer is a verb.

Robin Gorsline:

Queerness is a state of mind, a way of being, an orientation to life, and for me a way to think and write, both theologically and otherwise, and even to pray.

revrobin2-023I wrote some years ago in an essay, “Faithful to a Very Queer-Acting God, Who Is Always Up to Something New,” (Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians, Praeger 2013) that “God is continually engaged in disrupting the status quo.”  In some ways, that is my basic understanding of who God is and what God does, as The Lover. And that is the foundation of my queerness.

It is not that God, or I, want change for change’s sake, but I believe God always has more for us than we can possibly understand and accept. That more, whatever it might be in a particular context, is the source of queerness, the source of disruption, the source of unsettling us, or at least me, in our all-too-human comfort with what we already know or claim to know.

For example, I have a friend who has lived a solely gay life for many decades; he had never had sex with anyone but men who were born male. Then, recently, he realized an attraction to several transgender men, and in particular to a transgender man whose anatomy is a mix of parts. Their first sexual sharing was a revelation to my friend, an awareness  that if he had not allowed himself to be open to feelings he did not expect he would have remained in the only category he thought was allowed him.  Now, he is enjoying sex in ways he had never even remotely considered. I think, as he does, that that is God up to some really good stuff.

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Queerness is about undermining categories that seem immutable and fixed. This blog is Queer in that Malachi and I intentionally bring together sex and spirituality, we keep our eyes on human bodies without shame or judgment, we talk openly about our fantasies and our actual sex lives and we are clear that we experience God in all that and believe others can, and some do, as well. In fact, I believe that I experience the divine most through my body. That clearly contradicts the usual Christian line of demarcation between spirit and body, and the attitude that spirit is good and body bad.

Queer theologians and writers (Patrick Cheng, Robert Goss, Mona West, Lisa Isherwood, Tom Bohache, Marcella Althaus-Reid, and myself, among others), as well as other non-Queer theologians, recognize that this division is not an accurate reflection of either Jesus or Paul (or their Jewish ancestors), but that does not stop the tradition from maintaining it. What queers do though is not to continue to argue the case so much as to move on and act from our own embodied wisdom.

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So that is another aspect of Queerness. It is action as well as reflection, it is living in a world that we recognize as decidedly queer at its core—because God is queer—even when others cannot see or experience it . . . yet.

In terms of sex, that can be, like my friend, crossing boundaries we think are impenetrable. And in terms of bodies, it can be choosing to live in ways that challenge social norm, not so much because they challenge norms as that they reflect the reality around and in us.

For example, as many readers know, I wear earrings that most observers assume are meant for persons with female bodies. Earrings may not seem like much, but for me it is what some might call “soul expression.”  They are a reminder to me every day of my inner queerness, and I hope a statement to the world that all is not as it seems (or as dominant culture would have us believe).

Queerness wonderfully affects my daily spiritual practice. I meditate almost every morning, and during part of that most days I masturbate. I sometimes call it “medibating.” I discovered this through another friend, a priest whom I admire greatly. In this form of meditation, embodied pleasure is not only not separate from God, but in truth an integral part of God and my relationship with God.

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Celie (left) and Shug The Advocate.com

It reminds me of a favorite queer theological text, from the conversation Shug and Celie have in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. When Shug speaks of her joy at losing the dominating white man/Father God in her soul and realizing she is part of everything, of the whole creation, she says,

It sort of like you know what, she say, grinning and rubbing high up on my thigh.
Shug! I say.
Oh, she say. God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves ’em you enjoys ’em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going, and praise God by liking what you like.

I often speak of God on the move, not locked up in a book that people insist is the last word of God. I suspect that folks who want to keep God locked up in the Book or in their ecclesiastical rules feel insecure about God, even afraid of God. Life feels safer for them if they know where God is, or at least where they think God is.

I have a different idea. The Bible is very queer, which is why I can agree with those who claim it is a holy text.  The Bible, and the people in it, move like God—they live in a queer universe—because it and they are inspired by God.

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amazon.com

One of my favorite biblical texts is from 2nd Samuel 7 in which God tells Nathan to tell King David not to build a house for God. The text has God saying that life in the tent and tabernacle has been and is fine by God.  Of course, the text also has God saying that David’s successor will build the home for God and the tabernacle (but in my view Solomon’s enterprise is when Israel begins to go off course).

The queer God I know is this God who is not needing a fancy address or dress (although I think God enjoys people dressing up for special occasions) and does not want to be tied down.  In fact, David’s celebratory, leaping dance before the ark as it was brought into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6) feels very queer to me. Saul’s daughter Michal comes out to greet David, chastising him for uncovering himself in front of everyone. David’s response is to claim he will do more things like that, and that feels queer to me, too.

And he is, according to tradition, Jesus’ ancestor. We have no record of Jesus leaping into Jerusalem, but we do have him riding on a donkey and being cheered like a reigning monarch. Of course, it feels sad when we know what is coming and I think Jesus had a pretty good idea about that, too. But the event also feels queer, in that it turned things upside down—the last shall be first, the first last, a queer concept if I ever heard one.

Living is queer, queer is living. Praise God!

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

What is your experience or connection with or feelings about Queerness? Do you think of yourself as queer in any way? Do you find the concept of Queer helpful? Or not? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

Workshop description: Robin and Malachi are still working on the content of the November 17 meeting, but they are seeking to design a session that will examine what they are calling the authenticity of our sexual selves. They anticipate that this will be the first in several sessions in which several non-traditional sexual practices will be explored. They seek to provide factual content as well as to present their views. As always, 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 MCC clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although a primary focus is on clergy education, everyone is welcome to attend and participate.

Holy Fantasy, Holy Reality

. . . holy communion without bread and wine, bodies spirits shared . . . .

We found ourselves recently talking about sexual fantasy. We decided to write about it from our personal perspectives, believing that this is a healthy form of expression (whether we actually enact the fantasy or not). Our writing took us in different directions and we decided to share one this week by Robin and one the next week by Malachi.

NOTE: This week’s offering may push religious boundaries, even shock some readers. 

Robin:

I begin by warming the organic coconut oil
(necessary in cooler months),
come into my prayer space naked as I was created,
lighting three candles, one for each companion
with whom I yearn to sit;
I place a cloth on the chair and sit
dipping my hand into the oil,
lovingly rub it on my flaccid cock
and greet Holy Parent, Beloved Son, Blessed/Blessing Spirit,
saying Thank You, God, Thank You, God, Thank You, God,
sometimes down the shaft on Thank You, up on God,
over and over, slowly, intentionally, wanting to experience God,
sometimes feeling energy around me, Thank You, God,
I feel you God, You are here, in my cock, yes, and body,
and around me, a largeness of space bigger than the room;
and soon I say Help me, God, Help me, God, Help me, God,
saying in between the names of loved ones in need,
Help me, God, Help them, God, Help me help them, God,
sometimes down the shaft on Help me, up on God,
and then again, Thank You, God, down and up, Thank You, God.
I continue for more down and up,
and in a while I begin to feel,
and to see in my mind’s eye,
my three companions,
similarly naked, each partaking of sacred oil
for their bodies, laying it generously
on Parental cock and clitoris, wondrous unity,
Son’s cock, Spirit’s clitoris, each amazing in perfection,
each and all of us feeling a warm blessing and communion,
I begin by saying, You are here, Thank You,
down on You are here, up on Thank You.
and after a while I say, I am here, So blessed,
down on I am here, up on So blessed,
and after some of that, I say, We are here, Joy!
down on We are here, up on Joy!
(and for some round and round, circling, raising the joy).
The movements can even become heated at times,
we sharing some energy, erotic connection,
sighing with pleasure, sometimes crying out
with rushes that can take us to peak
without falling over the other side.

I have more to say, words they already know,
But I am learning to say the prayer
Jesus taught, in Aramaic,
so I say, Abwoon d’bwashmaya
ah-b-woon dahb-wash-maya
(hearing from the tradition, Our Father/Creator)
Our birth in unity, O Birther,
Father Mother of the Cosmos,
down on Ab-woon, up on d’bwashmaya,
down on Our birth in unity, up on O Birther,
down on Father Mother, up on of the Cosmos,
and back to down on Ab-woon, up on d’bwashmaya,
repeating this sequence as many times as feels right.
After a while, I say: Nethqadash shmakh
nit-kadahsh sh-mahk
(hearing from the tradition, Hallowed be Your Name)
Clear space for the Name to live,
Focus Your light and dark within, make it useful,
down on Nethqadash, up on shmakh,
down on Clear space, up on for the Name to live,
down on Focus your light and dark within, up on make it useful,
repeating this sequence as many times as feels right.
After a while, I say: Teytey malkuthakh,
tā-tā malkootahk
(hearing from the tradition, Your Kingdom/realm come)
Creative Fire,
Create Your reign of unity now,
down on Teytey, up on malkuthakh,
down on Creative, up on fire,
down on Create Your reign, up on of unity now.

After more, I offer thanks again, down and up,
as we four gathered, peace and joy reflected
in the candlelight, small smiles of satisfaction
now and again crossing one face or another,
the up and down sometimes slow
sometimes more urgent, always sacred,
holy communion without bread and wine,
bodies spirits shared,
enjoying ourselves as if it were Eden again.
Perhaps it is.

aramaic-lords-prayer-pictureNOTE: If you are interested in the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, you might appreciate this YouTube video (beautiful images and a pleasant voice).

 

 

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

How do you feel about sexual fantasy? Is it part of your sex life? Do you ever write about your fantasies? Share them with your partner(s) or friends. Do you ever fantasize about lovemaking with religious figures? 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.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

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.

If We Can’t Talk About It, We Shouldn’t Be Doing It

Robin:

My survey of early Christian teachings about sexuality (in preparation for next week’s online workshop), largely through the eyes of the historian Peter Brown, leaves me overwhelmed with how much our ancestors struggled over the place and power of virginity in the life of faith. It is as if the call for chastity before marriage in our own day—the abstinence before marriage movement, or saving yourself before marriage—came alive two thousand years ago. But of course, it is the other way around.

revrobin2-023The ancient world of early Christianity was very different from our own. For one thing, life expectancy was shockingly low—2nd Century citizens of the Roman Empire were born into a world where life expectancy was less than 25 years of age. Jewish teaching responded to this fact by emphasizing reproduction to maintain Israel and keep it strong.

But Christian writers and spiritual teachers in the first several centuries after Jesus talked about sexuality differently, and were far from one voice about it. Some felt that people did not have time to be just pleasuring their bodies; they needed to deepen their souls, connect with their spirits, and get ready for death. Others understood that young people might want or need to be sexually active with a spouse in order to reproduce, but they could at a later age opt for what was often called continence within their marriage. Another, Clement of Alexandria, accepted that people would be sexually active but wanted it done, echoing earlier upper-class Roman attitudes, with dignity; and he was clear sex was only for procreation.

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Icon representing Valentinus blogs.uoregon.edu

Still others, often associated with the gnostic teacher Valentinus, believed that their spiritual well-being, indeed their being in and of itself, depended on being part of small communities of students (we might say seekers today) centered around a single spiritual teacher. These communities were, surprisingly in an era so clear about gender hierarchies, composed of both women and men, and required sexual abstinence for their successful and long-lived functioning.

As I write about these strands of our religious history, and prepare for next week’s online workshop—“Roots of Sex Negativity in Western Christianity, Part 2” at 3 pm ET here —I keep thinking about conservative Christian struggles to govern sexual behavior today. How much have things changed?

On the one hand, things have changed a lot. Pre-marital sex is not only the norm, but it is openly acknowledged (in my childhood, even adolescence—back in the social unenlightened times—it existed of course, but was talked about only in hush-hush tones, if at all, and always with shame attached).  Any negative judgment seems muted.

Nudity used to be rather modest, with the showing of some skin considered as much as was allowed. Now, films display bodies, mostly female but more and more male, in all their glory, and some of the more respectable tabloid press (New York Post, e.g.) run stories about celebrities at nude beaches and elsewhere with pictures. True, women’s breasts and all genitals are covered with bar,, stars or headlines, but a quick online search reveals the full picture.

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Generally, I think all of this is healthy. In my own pastoring, most of the couples who came to me for spiritual conversations before commitment or marriage were already living together, or at least being sexually active together. I did not discourage this, or certainly judge it—and not only because most of these couples were same-gender-loving people who lacked widespread support for their love. I had come to the conclusion that practice helps, and not just in bed.  In addition, way too much has traditionally been made about a woman’s intact hymen, creating an easy double standard—and I also believe that Christian theology which depends on the virginity of Mary is oppressive to women, and all the rest of us.

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Adam and Eve from homepage of Christians Enjoying Nudity and Erotica

As for nudity, my only misgiving is how much of the exposure feeds on sensationalism and titillation. I devoutly pray we will someday as a culture get over our shame about our own bodies so we can validate all bodies.  For a website promoting this from a sex-positive perspective—albeit only heterosexual  and partnered sex within marriage but a positive view of masturbation—visit “Christians Enjoying Nudity and Erotica” at http://www.genesis2twenty5.com/index.html .

There is of course another view, in particular as regards pre-marital sex. The movement for abstinence before marriage got a major impetus from the HIV/AIDS epidemic and from the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STD).  One way to avoid even the possibility of one of those serious outcomes is to abstain from all sexual relations.

In addition, proponents claim that better marriages result. I offer a caveat on their behalf: this is really only aimed at heterosexual couples, because the movement promoting abstinence does not actually believe non-heterosexual people should marry, and in reality cares little, if anything, about the quality of lives of gay and lesbian people.

Proponents even claim psychological studies support the desirability of abstinence, but many psychologists and others say they are misusing data, and that some of the studies, including a heavily publicized one conducted by a scholar at Brigham Young University, are deeply flawed (see an example here).

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In addition, those promoting abstinence rely on the general view of biblical texts which is that sex is limited to married persons. However, some scholars, point to texts that are not so clear. For example, American Baptist biblical scholar Jennifer Knust points to the Book of Ruth as showing premarital sex as a blessing. This is, however, a minority view among church leaders despite many public surveys of younger church members in most denominations that record widespread premarital intercourse and oral sex.

I detect differences, perhaps subtle but nonetheless important, between the spiritual teachers and leaders of the first several centuries and those of today promoting abstinence. Those long ago were trying to grasp the difference Jesus and his ministry made in their lives and the lives of those who came to the faith. They felt a new spirituality and believed it impacted their sexual and social lives, requiring them to dissent from existing social patterns.

Today, Focus on the Family and others, often well-meaning I am sure, are trying to stop the shift of cultural influences that challenge established sexual practices.  This is so, even though most of those who engage in pre-marital sex do not aim so much to challenge religious beliefs—which they often view as either outdated or irrelevant—as to simply live open lives in concert with others around them.

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In addition, those of long ago did not expect to change the rules of society—they were trying to build and sustain a movement, but had little, if any, idea they would change Roman society. Too many of them were being martyred to think that way. They did, however, believe that ultimately God would change everything.

The conservative leaders today really are engaged in cultural wars, and despite what appears to be an uphill climb, they seek to win. They want control of sex again, something that religion in the United States seems to have had prior to the 1960s. Thankfully, however, they do not seek to make us all virgins!

 

Malachi:

Malachi GrennellNext week, Robin and I will be holding the monthly Sex, Bodies, Spirit educational webinar. In light of this, we decided to discuss a modern version of an ancient debate: the morality of sex outside of marriage. In particular, we wanted to look at Abstinence Only Sex Education (AOSE) and recognize the ways in which this discussion is much, much older than we often think.

I remember my first sex education class. Specifically, it was called “Family Life,” and it began in the fourth grade. The boys in the class were taken to another room to do something fun with science, and the girls from another class were brought in and we learn about menstruation, puberty, and the beginning discussions of sex (which were, in essence, don’t do it). If the boys asked what we were doing, we were instructed to tell them that it was a “woman’s conversation.”

So many things about this initial conversation were problematic, but I am

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grateful they were contrasted with the lessons I learned at home. Since I grew up in a lesbian household before gay marriage was legal and my biological mother conceived me with my biological father out of wedlock, they were hardly in a position to enforce the “no sex without marriage” line. I was told instead that “if I couldn’t talk about it, I shouldn’t be doing it,” which seemed a much more mature, practical approach to sex education.

The conversation about sex outside of marriage- particularly from a Christian perspective- is an old one, and something that is full of misogyny and anti-woman sentiment. For example, many have heard the adage that “prostitution is the oldest profession”… and plenty of religious writing has broached the subject of prostitution, but the indictment always seems to come down on those offering the services, rather than those partaking (and traditionally, more women than men have engaged in prostitution out of economic necessity…when a husband died or was incapable of working, women needed to find a way to provide for their families even when no jobs were available to them).

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http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-rLyD1lNQIAc/Tcg0kG1Wd_I/AAAAAAAAA3g/fTmSZbPYP6g/s1600/socjes.gif

The birth of Christianity is a synthesis of different cultures: on one hand, Jewish culture, which celebrated the family, and needed to procreate in order to flourish; and Greco-Roman cultures, from which much of modern philosophy was born. Christianity effectively synthesized the thoughts of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates that valued spirit over flesh and viewed women as second-class citizens, useful only as incubators for life given to them by male seed with Judaism, creating a hierarchy that celibacy was better than marriage, but marriage was much better than sex outside of commitment, for only through marriage could the sexual union between a man and a woman be holy.

In fact, most of the discussions about sex in Christianity assume a gold standard of sexual relationship, and discuss all other actions as abominable. If you’re going to be sexual, then you must get married, and the only acceptable configuration of that is a male/female partnership; any deviation (homosexuality, masturbation, female pleasure, prostitution and later, contraception and abortion) were unquestionably sinful.

We can easily see the traces of this line of thinking in modern day AOSE programs. One of the largest criticisms of a study supporting AOSE  is that this particular study did not have the same moralistic slant that most AOSE programs (e.g. people were not characterized as bad or immoral people if they engaged in sex before marriage).

Historically, as well as in the present-day, we see the largest push-back against comprehensive sex education (CSE) from Christian communities. But framed within the context of the larger discussions of sexual morality inside of Christian communities, this is one of many fights that stem from the same basic root.

The point is, the discussion about sex outside of marriage is a much older

http://genderbodyandmind.weebly.com/uploads/1/6/6/5/16659556/4118570_orig.jpg
http://genderbodyandmind.weebly.com/uploads/1/6/6/5/16659556/4118570_orig.jpg

conversation than simply sex education.  It is important to note that Jesus made little comment about sexual practices- the overarching message and teaching of Jesus encouraged people to make informed, educated choices, rather than accept a force-fed theology of the status quo. The point was not to tell people what to believe or how to manifest those beliefs, but to provide as much information as possible.

In fact, I feel very strongly that Jesus would have advocated for CSE (which covers abstinence as well as contraception and STI prevention). We think of interaction with God as a miracle, complete with trumpets blowing and a light ray coming down, but I am reminded of the familiar parable of the man and the flood: a man hears that his town is going to flood and, despite multiple rescue attempts, insists that he is a religious man, God loves him, and God will save him. When we ultimately drowns, he demands an answer from God. God replies that he sent a radio report, a rowboat, and a helicopter, and asks the man, “What the heck are you here?”.

Sometimes, miracles do not look like what we expect them to look. And in a day of HIV and antibiotic-resistant STI infections, we need a miracle. But I’m not sure the answer is simply, “Don’t have sex.” I think the miracle we need is a different approach: encouraging people to talk openly about sex, providing education to people starting to explore their sexual identities, and encouraging a more mature approach to sexuality. God has sent us education, opportunity, and empowerment to speak. Like my moms always taught me, if we can’t talk about it, we shouldn’t be doing it.

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

What do you think about sexual abstinence before marriage? Did you practice that before you were married? Do you support sex education in public schools? Should it be required in all schools (including schools run by religious bodies which oppose discussion of birth control and abortion and homosexuality? Did you receive sex education in school? What was it like? Did it give you information you did not already have? What are the roles of religion and religious institutions in people’s sex lives? 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.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

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.

Puzzling Through the Pieces: A Conversation

We really do have preconceived assumptions, and gender is probably the most obvious (yet so often hidden) and powerful one . . .

By Robin Gorsline and Malachi Grennell

Introduction:

These past two weeks, we have been exploring our relationships with our bodies- specifically, our experiences with gender. Two weeks ago, Malachi opened the discussion with some of his experiences, then Robin continued the discussion last week. This week, we decided to come together and record our conversation, exploring the vulnerabilities in writing these pieces for each of us, examining some of the assumptions we have (and face) when entering these conversations, and acknowledging shifts in perspective as we have grown and changed.

Malachi GrennellM: You and I have both said that these were vulnerable things for us to write… I didn’t know if we wanted to address that a little bit. We don’t really say it in either of our pieces, at least not directly, but it is. It can be easy to think, you know, “Oh, this is so easy to write,” or “They must do this so easily,” but I think there’s something to acknowledging that this was hard, for both of us.

revrobin2-023R: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I thought about this back when I had Jonathan read my post…and I was very nervous. He said when he finished, “Darling, that’s wonderful. It’s beautifully written, and you’re so brave and honest…I’m so proud of you, it’s just wonderful!” I was overwhelmed by that because that was not what I expected. I expected him to be appreciative, but saying, “Are you sure? Should you say this?” etc. Later, I thought, I was so concerned about this person, who is the most intimate person in my life, but there’s nobody else that I know where I would worry; then I thought, well, that’s not true. There are tons of people who, if they read what I wrote, I would experience some kind of anxiety about that. But if it went viral… there were would be a lot of unknown people, and I could probably care less about that. But there is a lot of vulnerability… that was very real to me. And we do need to talk about that, because that’s what we are encouraging people to do!

M: Well, and I think, in being vulnerable, I’ve learned over the course of my life that the things that make me feel vulnerable and exposed are not the things that make other people feel vulnerable and exposed. I can talk about sex and sexuality all day long…yet I didn’t say it in my post, but I told you, I have a lot of queer shame around sleeping with this one particular person. And so I feel a little vulnerable talking about, you know, as a radical queer blah-blah-blah person, sleeping with this cis-gender, heterosexual man who is kind of an asshole because it makes me feel  like I’m faking my politics, faking my beliefs. But it’s interesting because I feel like I’m an open book, until I realize that the things that make me feel vulnerable are just…different. And I wonder if sometimes I come off as seeming very vulnerable or seeming very open, but never actually being forced to push myself…and then when I do, it doesn’t necessarily seem like it.

R: I hear that… I’ve certainly done some talking over the years that I think has put people off, and it usually has been around sexuality or sex. At the same time, for me, talking about it so openly… talking about the size of my penis is, for me, a vulnerable place on one hand, and on the other, it’s an effort at self-healing because it’s something I have carried all my life. I’ve never been entirely comfortable and I’m working really hard to become comfortable with it and finding it easier to do but part of that is because I’m opening up about it and not just pretending it doesn’t exist…and that kind of feeling can come from letting yourself be vulnerable and working through it.

M: I definitely agree with that.

R: Everyone could be helped if we could lead some kind of revolution, if you will, so that more and more people became more vulnerable. So we can talk about… like you’re talking about with this guy where you feel two-faced, and just being really open about it: “So the sex is good,” and that’s important too. Or body issues, whether it’s mine, or a woman with small breasts, or someone embarrassed about a scar, or feeling overweight or being too skinny…or no muscle, or whatever. It seems to be what you and are I finding ourselves doing, and I think it’s our purpose, which is maybe to set examples of openness. And the heavens haven’t fallen yet. They may, but they haven’t yet.

M: That’s something to think about…if this ever got big, people could go back and read these older posts. That’s the thing with the internet…if you put it up there, it’s there forever.

R: (laughs) Sure. But I would be, I think, happy if that happened. I know I would be. But I’m also not going to stop talking about it… I mean, there may come a time when I don’t need to talk about my small penis anymore, but it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t need to talk about it all the time, but when it’s appropriate and part of the conversation, I now feel much more able to say it. The first time I mentioned it on this blog…I was very oblique about it: “I don’t have a porn star’s body,” or something like that . . . if you read between the lines, and you were a thoughtful gay man, or even a man, you might think, “Oh, I bet he has a small dick,” or something, but it was very carefully scripted. And that felt risky in that moment, actually…so I’ve come a long way.

M: I do remember you writing that, it was right before you and I started writing together. So, you have come quite a long way and, you know, in not a whole lot of time. These things do shift, sometimes fairly quickly.

R: Well, part of it is having you, for me, having a partner, having a colleague. It makes a huge difference…it helps a great deal to have someone I trust to have these conversations with. In the process, I go through quite a lot of stuff. People need people to talk to, to have a trusted person to talk to. But you need that as a precursor, as a place to test out some stuff…you can say it more to other people once you figure out your feelings.

Malachi GrennellM: Yeah, absolutely… I’m a big fan of verbal processing in general. I think it’s really helpful to have someone that’s not the person that you’re engaged in whatever with- whether it’s a relationship or sex, I’m a big fan of having a person to talk to. The other thing I find really interesting…for me, as a trans person, I think there are a lot of assumptions about how I’m supposed to feel about my body that are not true for me. I don’t have gender dysphoria, I don’t have any problem with the anatomical configuration of my body. I like my body just fine now with some adjustments from testosterone. But I don’t want bottom surgery that would give me a penis, and I don’t necessarily want top surgery…my discomfort in my own skin has more to do with weight than gender, but I feel like there’s this assumption that, because I’m trans, I have to have certain feelings about my genitals and my anatomy that aren’t actually there. I think we have assumptions about what people are going to have concerns about because of their identity…How many of these conversations do we go into with assumptions about what we think someone else is going through?

revrobin2-023R: I think that’s a very good point. Yeah, I don’t know why I have such a feeling about my penis. It’s a long-time feeling…I’ve recorded some incidents that happened to me that made it feel much more important. I’ve carried those with me, even though I understand how nonsensical they are and wrongheaded the men were…I should rephrase that …not that they were so wrongheaded; they had their own needs and feelings and prejudices and whatever, and I didn’t need to take it in the way that I did, but I did. And there are whole things, on Tumblr, for example, that are devoted to men with small penises, and I started looking at them sometimes because I find it helpful to “put myself in context” if you will. I don’t spend a lot of time there, it’s not my “thing”…so that when I may see a guy with a big one, I think “That’s nice,” but then I also think, “Yeah, but… mine’s nice too.” But what you just said about trans people and yourself in relationship to expectations…and how that can be true of men and women and anyone, we do make assumptions about what’s important based on our own things, rather than what’s important to the person themselves. And I know men talk about various things besides penis size…muscle, weight, age… I mean, here I am aging. I have skin that isn’t as great looking- compared to what it was- and that bothers me, but it doesn’t have the same impact. It’s interesting how these things take deep root in us. How we look out in the world is affected by these phobias or fears or sense of inadequacy.

M: It’s interesting to me…I remember being a teenager and looking at older couples and thinking, “I could never be attracted to someone who looked like that”…and now I’m dating people who look like that, and I’m very attracted to them, but much less attracted to that younger, 18-year-old look. As we change, not only does our relationship with ourselves change, but what we find attractive changes. I’m wondering if there is something to be said, for a relationship between how we feel about ourselves and our own bodies and our own comfort with our bodies changing and how we express our outward desire who we are attracted to. I don’t know that there is, and I don’t know that that’s always true, but I wonder if there is some connection there between our inability to be comfortable with ourselves as growing, aging people that wants to cling to that sense of being “young and beautiful,” because this culture very much reveres the beauty of youth.

R: I think it is interesting…I think about, for myself, Jonathan is 13 years younger than I am. When we became a couple, he was very boyish…what’s interesting to me, I came across a picture from him at that time and I was surprised at how different he looked even though he’s the same basic person. And I thought, “Gosh, I really liked him then, but I REALLY like him now.” This earlier picture was adorable and sexy and cute and he was a wonderful human being and smart and all the things he is now… but there is something about the “now” person that is infinitely more attractive to me. So I can say that about him, but I struggle to say it about me, even though I’ve had the experience of saying, every decade, that “these are the best years of my life,” and it’s been true every time. But I often ignored my body- that wasn’t part of the calculation. Part of the reason for doing these things with you and the MCC online conference about sex and spirituality last fall is I want to change my relationship with my body. I think I’m more at peace with it, even though I still have issues. I’m not ignoring it anymore.  I have the luxury of being a white, gay male… a white male who could pretend my body wasn’t a big deal. I was a brainy person, and a spiritual person… but I didn’t put my body with my spirit. I didn’t let my body be a part of my spirituality, especially after I left the radical Faeries and got back into church full-time. That’s something to say…that’s true. I put my body on the shelf when I came back to be a pastor.

M: That’s a thing, that’s something I struggle with as a person of faith and I am a Christian and I love the church, but I also love so many of the pagan spaces I have been in that allow for a synthesis of bodies and spirituality. We miss something in that, as Christians, and that resonated with me as well.

R: Well, something I might want to mention as a part of our conversation…at General Conference, I would like to set aside some time to talk about these things. One of the things that occurs to me is how out there do I want to be? Because it occurs to me, I would like a little nude time with folks…I don’t know even know if I want to do it, but part of me does.

M: This has to do with vulnerability…..when you say to colleagues, let’s go get naked, not in sexual ways just be naked. You said at beginning, “people may stop speaking to me.” A concern or fear…How do we talk with people about things that make us feel scary, vulnerable?

R: It is so important to have people to talk with, which is a big part of the reason I am thinking about these things at General Conference. Trying to create more community….

Looking at your piece, fairly near the end, where you are talking about being in the mathematics program, and how the gender thing plays out there for you, partly because of being raised in one environment with women as female yourself, and living another way now, or both ways, your way of course, and noticing how few women there were. People expected you to be a boy in how you speak and act, and it is more complicated for you given your body and experience. This is about how we make assumptions, we see people and expect them to feel and be and behave a certain way. We really do have preconceived assumptions, and gender is probably the most obvious (yet so often hidden) and powerful one, race too, but with gender the division is 50/50 between two genderized groups, and it begins at the moment of birth…..Congratulations, you have a baby boy, or you have a baby girl.

M: Its funny, I’ve been looking at baby shower things. Can you believe, they have whole games to guess the sex of the baby. I had never heard this before; the centerpiece of the shower is guessing or revealing the sex of the baby. I have not been part of this baby shower world. I did not realize how focused people are on the sex of the baby. Most of my friends are queer, and not having babies. There are things like cake where it is either pink or blue and when you cut the cake it comes out pink or blue to show the sex. What!? That’s insane. I had no idea!

revrobin2-023 R: Yes it is very acute, and very real. We just make a whole series of assumptions about who a person is based on our perception of their gender. Which is back to the trans things, why the trans movement is so upsetting. Here are people who are changing sides, at least that is how it is perceived so often; even though they are not two opposite things, and even though you and others do not necessarily change their bodies, at least in terms of genitals. Your body is such a contravention of the mode because you haven’t removed your vagina and put a penis in its place, or reduced or removed your breasts, and yet you are making a claim–you are not going around saying I AM A MAN but you are making a claim for masculinity, or maleness, and your body doesn’t correspond in some ways. You’re not alone in this, but trans people really make it clear  how variable bodies are. For so many non-trans people, it seems always to be all about the genitals. When I was so intensely engaged in the marriage debate in Virginia, so much opposition to marriage equality was focused on genitals. So many claim that you have to have a man put his penis inside the vagina of the women to be marriage, saying it is about children, but its not really, it’s about genitals. Of course, marriage is not just about genitals; if that’s all it is, it won’t last long

M: Same thing with the “are you a boy or girl? It’s a fixation on the genitals, and people get really uncomfortable when you point that out.

R: When people like you who are more ambiguous in their gender presentation, or even unlike you, perhaps no facial hair, I would wonder how they saw themselves, and people whose names that are not clear about gender (like mine!), I sometimes felt this great need to get people into a box. Eventually, it dawned on me, why do I need to know? They were human beings and that is what counts. Why do I want to know? Maybe a few circumstances I might need to know, but most of the time is none of my business.  They can share if they wish, but if not I don’t need to know. I don’t think I am alone. We need to help people see this, to see the power of the assumptions and the need to get people in the right box.

Malachi Grennell M: It makes me think … [my partner] Kase and I have this kind of joke, about two kinds
of being androgynous…people where you don’t have enough gender characteristics and others where you have too much. With people like me, with breasts and facial hair, it’s “what do you see first?”, or like Kase, with no obvious signals, no facial hair, etc., and people confront him, “What are you?” How we interact with different bodies is very revealing.

 R: The assumptions though are very dangerous because they really are about control, not about encouraging or enlarging life, but keeping it under control, especially keeping women under control first I think.

 M: Oh yes. One of the first things we do as children is to learn to compartmentalize things, get things into boxes. This leads us to these assumptions. We believe the world is the way we saw it as children, and that’s just not true.

 R: With the whole earring thing for me, people look, and depending on the group or setting, some people seem to look more and look oddly. I also remember a little boy in an office waiting room, and he said to me, “Why are you wearing girls earrings?” He was very matter of fact,   probably age 5 or 6. His mother shushed him, and I said, “Oh its okay. What makes you think the earrings are boy or girl.” He just kind of looked at me, and his mother said, “That is a good point, the earrings are not people, they don’t have to be boys or girls.”

 M: Kids are so much better about gender things. I love it.  “Why does that girl have hair on her face,” talking about me. I love the things that kids see as gender, I have long hair so I must be a girl even though I have facial hair. Of course, the parents get uncomfortable, and I am like whatever….

 R: Our granddaughters, our marriage is just as normal for them as anything. When I visit by myself, or call alone, they ask right away where is Grampa? Its just normal (and they don’t ask about my earrings either). So they are open. How do we help adults get there?

M: Some of it will be generational.  I was part of the first wave of kids being raised openly by gay parents. Now kids have gay grandparents, my sister’s kids have a bunch of grandmothers. At some point it becomes normal even more than for my generation. So it is not necessarily queerness that will be their struggle; they will have their own body or sexual thing. It might be non-monogamy as the thing to get over, its becoming bigger and bigger, more talked about all the time. We’ve deconstructed  interracial marriage, not that racism is gone, still horrible racism, but gay marriage too. We’ve seen the same basic arguments about normalcy and boxes applied to 6,7,8 different things and hopefully we can get over it.

 R: Clearly, one of our missions with this blog, and other things we hope to do, is to help undo assumptions, contributing to deconstructing assumptions, reducing the power of assumptions

M: Yeah, God, I think, doesn’t deal with assumptions, but with where and who people actually are.

R: Amen!

Conclusion:

We could go on and on, so much more to say, to share. What we do know, what is our fervent belief, is that people need to be more open, to talk more. It so often comes down to trust, not only trusting another person, as important as that is in being open, but also in trusting God, trusting God to have made us beautiful in ourselves. The way we are made, in all our variety—as the Psalmist (139:14) says, “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made, wonderful are your works”—is worthy of celebration. It is time to stop hiding ourselves, stop walling off parts of ourselves that don’t fit someone’s idea of what is normal, stop pretending other people who are different are less than us, or abnormal. Oh, the beauty of creation lies in its infinite variety.

It really is a spiritual thing to be open, to share ourselves, to share our differences, our particularities, because in doing so we praise the Creator, and in doing so, we claim more life, not less.

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

What do you think? What is your gender experience, your embodied gender journey? Please share below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed.

Pieces of My Gender Puzzle . . . Thank God!

Our bodies come from God, each one a unique gift to celebrate . . .

by Robin Gorsline

I read Malachi’s post last week (click here for “Puzzle Pieces of God”) with great interest and joy–I so admire his honesty and wisdom. And it caused me to begin looking at my own gendered experience, realizing that even as a cis-gender, monogamy-choosing, much-older, self-identified gay male, I have particular bodily experiences and am on a continuing relational journey with my own body.  Here, I am sharing some of that journey. By sharing our experiences, we hope to encourage everyone to spend time recounting, celebrating and/or changing, and sharing their own gender journeys.

I will start with my earrings, or more accurately my ears, as the most gender-nonconforming part of my body. Many years ago,  I began wearing long dangly earrings–usually, though not always, ones that would be worn by those who are identified as women. I don’t know how this got started exactly, but at least one reason is that I began wearing a hoop or stud earring in my left ear–at the time, in New York, in accord with a custom of many self-identified men to signal we were gay. I remember a child, , asking me why I only decorated one ear. Did I not like the other one? I did not explain my sexuality to this child, making some  dismissive comment about “what people do.” But it got me thinking.

author's photo
author’s photo

Soon thereafter I went to a street crafts fair and found a pair of earrings I really liked–they spoke to me, a poor graduate student, enough that I splurged and brought them (see picture). When I put one on it felt odd, because the dangle made me feel a bit off-center as I walked and it bobbled. Okay. I had my right ear pierced, and after going through the healing time, I put one in each ear. Yes!!! It felt good.

By this time, I had a pretty high-level job at a prestigious Manhattan non-profit, and did not feel comfortable or safe wearing them to work. But I wore them on weekends and to church (that’s a statement about MCC–in this case, church was the one public place I felt comfortable being me, something that does not happen to many people), and sometimes even put them on in the evening. And I began collecting earrings. My daughters gave me earrings for Father’s Day, and my birthday, too (the rest of my family barely mentioned it, a sign of their discomfort).

My earring collection (at least most of it)
My earring collection (at least most of it)

When I began seeking a church to serve, I wore earrings in my sermon videos so they would know how I presented myself. And when the Metropolitan Community Church called me to interview in Richmond, I packed my earrings and wore them during the entire visit. And they chose me to be their pastor!!! I felt so affirmed.

Some years later, I discovered that although most of the church was “okay” with my wearing them, they also felt my earrings were costing us new members. So I took them off in 2010 (and many, though not all, members thanked me), and did not wear them (except occasionally around the house to keep the holes open). I do not think their absence helped us recruit new members, but I did not put them back on in public until last fall. Now I wear them all the time.

And I am so happy. I present now as me.  Can’t imagine going back. But my gender experience/journey is not so easily pigeon-holed, and not just because of earrings (I have never wanted a cock-ring, although for many years I had a nipple ring, only removing it due to a medical procedure).

pinterest.com
pinterest.com

Along the way, I have been asked if I am transgender. I always answer “no,” because I have not felt a desire to change my gender. Some transgender people have wondered if I am afraid to fully embrace my trans-self. It has never felt that way to me. I have felt sometimes that they were trying to get me to change boxes–it almost seemed like a variation on the gender binary, even if they did not mean it that way. I have said, whenever asked, that I am simply being my version of a male-identified person (see more below).

But I also have understood that it is not that simple, and that it might seem to some that I am “playing” transgender–doing something a little transgressive but not out there enough to pose any real danger to myself (from my trans friends and many things I have read, I am well aware of the risks they often face, not to mention homicide rates among transgender women of color, and suicide rates, too).

amazon.com
amazon.com

Over the years, I have said many times, channeling Martine Rothblatt in The Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender (you can buy it here), that there are as many genders as there are people; in other words, each one of us is a unique set of characteristics and behaviors and preferences, some of which are genetic and many of which are simply choices for pleasure, convention, and even aesthetics. The gender binary is really, in my view, a social convenience, and a way to keep one group (namely the male-identified) on top, and as we see in these “bathroom bills” and other regulations, to prevent the people who want or need to live outside the binary from being able to do so without penalty.

With Rothblatt and quite a few others, I even think that sexual orientation is overly, narrowly, constructed as three (or four, including asexuality) self-contained categories. But that topic is for another time.

Back to my body. One particularly important part about my relationship with my body and my gender is my relationship to nudity. I really enjoy being naked, seeing it, in part at least, as a celebration of the body God gives me. I have long enjoyed clothing optional beaches. My husband, Jonathan, and I met at a Radical Faerie gathering–if we were not naked at the moment of meeting, then it was not long after that we were, along with many other male-identified persons. Such is the nature of these gatherings. And over the six years we were friends before becoming a couple, I spent some delightful nude time with him and his then-partner and other friends.

naturalian.blogspot.com
naturalian.blogspot.com

I think I am somewhat of an exhibitionist, but I also think I like to be nude because I want to feel my penis, I want to be aware of it. When flaccid, it is very small, and I am often unaware of it. My testicles and scrotum are also small (and have become smaller due to testosterone supplements).

I have often thought, but not ever asked until now, if those with larger penises are more aware of theirs as they sit, walk, etc. Do they feel it rub against the fabric? (I would be glad for some responses to this question; feel free to share below or by email with me). I know some men (presumably with larger penises and/or scrota) seem to need to rearrange things “down there,” something that rarely happens to me.

When I am naked I can touch my penis easily, reassuring myself it is there, and if I go “commando” (without underwear) I can often feel the fabric of my pants rub against it. It is a real delight, not overtly sexual but certainly pleasurable (and that is true of social nudity, too).

healthtap.com
healthtap.com

This also may be a way to reassure myself of my maleness.  In this way, it is a gender issue: needing the affirmation of a penis to feel truly male-identified. When I become erect (something that is not so easy these days, with age and erectile dysfunction, but it is not impossible, thank God) or even somewhat rising, I feel very good, not only from those wonderful sensations, but also I think as an affirmation of my male-ness.

During my single years in New York, I sometimes put on a skirt (or at least wrapped a cloth around my waist) and went, without underwear, on the subway to a favorite gay bar in midtown. I really enjoyed the feeling of air against my genitals. But I also did that at home at times, and even at Faerie gatherings and the nude beach–because I like wearing a skirt. This is part of my gender expression.

What if I don’t really fit completely into any box? Better in some, not so well in others, but I have a piece of all. I like my penis, I like other penises, but I also wear often what many would call female earrings, and even clothes.

equalgenderpro.wordpress.com
equalgenderpro.wordpress.com

Rothblatt says, “Genitals are as irrelevant to one’s role in society as skin tone.” She is not denying the power of either in our society—white privilege and racism are alive and well, as is sexism—but she is suggesting that neither is determinative of our innate ability to be fully functioning, valuable, and necessary participants in the life of the world.

I see my gender/body journey as a continuing exploration of all the parts of me, parts that, in my worldview, come from God. I now claim wearing earrings, for example, as a call to model divine diversity.  We know that God does not want us to maintain the racialized body hierarchies we have created, even as we seem to have trouble overcoming them. In the same way, God continues to prod me, and many others, to do our part to overcome the humanly-created genderized and sexualized binaries and hierarchies.

I believe our bodies come from God, each one a unique gift to celebrate. It is way past time for us to unwrap and break down the boxes-which are often more like prisons really–and share, expose, live, our whole embodied truths.

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

What do you think? What is your gender experience, your embodied gender journey? Please share below, or write Malachi and/or me at the emails listed.

 

Puzzle Pieces of God: Examining Gendered Socialization

By Malachi Grennell

Last week, Rev. Robin and I wrote a bit about the “bathroom bill” controversy and our personal relationships with public bathrooms. This week, Robin is taking some well-deserved time with family, so I wanted to continue in the discussion of our relationships with our bodies by broadening out a bit and talking about social messaging.

As a trans person, my relationship with my body is something I have cultivated- and that hasn’t always been an easy journey. Social expectations tell me that I have to look, act, and speak in a certain way to be perceived as male while ingrained lessons and female socialization fight against those behaviors (since they often feel contradictory), and sometimes, I feel stuck: stuck in a binary system, stuck with a mismatched conglomeration of pieces that don’t fit together. When I think about my relationship with my body, it feels a little like I’m trying to put together a puzzle, but there’s no guiding image and

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someone mixed up all the pieces from a bunch of different puzzles, so I’m not always sure which pieces I need and which are extraneous (or, perhaps, belong to someone else’s image).

The reality is, though, that every single one of us has to work to cultivate some kind of relationship with our bodies, and our social experiences are a part of that relationship. We have a plethora of messages about what women “should” do (e.g. shave body hair, have a trim waistline, grow hair long, wear makeup, etc.) as well as what men “should” do (e.g. have a certain penis size, build muscle, always be rational and logical without showing too much emotion, make the first move, be attracted to women). Some of these expectations are impossible due to genetic factors, while others are personal preferences. Regardless, though, creating the “perfect man” and “perfect woman” archetype is dangerous and damaging on many levels, not the least of which perpetrates systematic oppression through racism (the ideal body is a white one, based on white standards); sexism (women’s strengths are considered the inferior of a binary dichotomy: emotion is less valuable than reason, and women are assumed emotional while men are assumed rational); classism (those who can afford surgeries, expensive makeup, laser hair removal, etc. vs those who are “stuck” with the body they have); the list goes on.

I think it’s good to cultivate a relationship with your body that is healthy and positive, and if doing things like going to the gym or shaving your legs helps with that, then awesome! The difference is whether we do things because we think we are supposed to or whether we do things because we legitimately like doing them. Furthermore, are we perpetuating systematic violence and oppression with our expression of our bodies or simply striving to be the best “us” we can be, one that is created in the image of God?

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The difference is in our intention and how we allow social conditioning to impact our decisions. When we think about our ideal body, is it a reasonable expectation of goals for the bodies we have? Or is it an unrealistic desire to look like the models in the magazines? The role of social conditioning on gendered expectations is powerful and pervasive and it can be difficult to untangle. The expectations of gendered socialization extend beyond our physical relationships with our bodies, but also focus on emotional and psychological components as well. And for most of us, our expectations are not limited to simply how we believe we should and shouldn’t behave, but extend to include how others should behave and further, assign motive to those behaviors.

Recently, I had an interesting experience. A few weeks ago, a lover came to visit and stay with us for a few days. It’s a somewhat complicated relationship, but he is someone that is a bit notorious for his sexual escapades in some circles, and would probably be referred to as “player” by many people. Overall, we had a good time, but at one point, I noticed that he didn’t seem particularly interested in having sex. I started to feel irritable and resentful and couldn’t figure out what was going on, and suddenly realized- I was feeling rejected. But further than that, I started to feel undesirable in general- and realized that I was assigning motive, intention, and judgement to the situation that didn’t need to be there.

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I interpreted his lack of desire to be sexual as a rejection of me in general: because this one person wasn’t interested in having sex in this one moment, it meant that I was (in general) undesirable-a feeling that was exacerbated by the fact that he is such a player. If he doesn’t want me, then clearly I am not desirable. It was an interesting situation because it reminded me that, as someone who was raised as female, I was very much inundated with messages that my worth as a person directly corresponded to other people (specifically, men’s) evaluation of my sexual desirability.

The truth of the matter was, my friend was actually tired and starting to get a little sick, and felt comfortable enough to not feel a pressure to perform. But my reaction and response reminded me how much my socialization and upbringing still impacts me- even as someone who has worked through a lot of their baggage around gender and gendered assumptions. I thought I had overcome many of these ideas, but was an important reminder to me that this is constant work that needs to be revisited from time to time because those messages are still out there. Even if I don’t identify as female, I am tuned to hear those messages because they were targeted at me for so long.

Similarly, when I was working toward my undergraduate degree in traditional mathematics, I began to notice less and less women in my traditional mathematics courses- but plenty of women in the courses where math students overlapped with the teaching program. In short, many of the women in the mathematics program were training to be teachers- which is wonderful, except that, by my final semester, there was only one woman who remained in the upper-level math courses (she

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and I quickly bonded and are still good friends). One of the things we talked about is the difference between men and women answering questions in class: men tend to have less fear of being wrong, whereas women tend to want to be absolutely sure and worry about “saying something stupid.” She and I often had similar fears about speaking up in class. Yet, for me, most people read and identified me as male and expected me to act according to masculine socialization, yet my brain was still operating from a place of female upbringing and socialization about “being wrong” in a math class. This discrepancy between how people expected me to act and how I was conditioned to act created some awkward social moments and made it difficult to connect to the some of the men in the math department… which was tricky because most of the students in the math department were men. It’s a form of social isolation that is subtle and difficult to identify, but it can impact our capacity to form relationships and make social bonds when we act outside of the social expectations of our perceived gender.

The goal, of course, should be to understand the social nuances of how gender presents itself and decide what fits and what doesn’t. The reality, of course, is much more complicated than that. The messages we get about how men and women “should” behave (never mind gender non-conforming folks, like myself) have lasting, and often damaging, impacts on how we relate to ourselves, our bodies, and other people…and these message can be so subtle, we don’t often notice them consciously.

We are all created in the image of God. To deem ourselves not worthy, less-than, or inferior is to claim that God is all of these things as well. We must combat the messages of how we believe men and women “should” behave. These archetypes not only create impossible standards that can be damaging for those who can’t attain them, but they are also rooted in systematic oppression- those who don’t fit a white, heterosexual, cisgendered narrative (and behave and present accordingly) become “othered” and pressured to compensate.

We are all pieces of a larger puzzle, reflecting the image of God. We’re not necessarily working off a guiding image, and sometimes it can be easier to want to be a different piece: a different shape, a different color, fitting into a different pattern. But without each of us living our authentic selves, being our authentic selves, the image is incomplete. No one piece is more important than another piece. In order to be able to see the image of God, we must first be able to truly see the beauty in the image of ourselves. Should we strive to be the best version of ourselves that we can be? Of course. But the best “us” that we can be is to reach for and honor the image of God within ourselves, rather than constantly trying to compensate for failing to be the image of God presented in someone else.

Sacred, Not Secret: Conversations about Sex

Introducing our Editorial Team:                   Robin Gorsline & Malachi Grennell

This week, we are taking a step back to discuss some exciting changes in the life and evolution of this blog. Begun six weeks ago as a solo enterprise, this blog now has co-authors!! A team of two friends—with gender, sexual, and age differences—aim to give this enterprise a depth and range that reflects a wider perspective of sex and sexuality in this world. Our goal also is to model dialogue that we hope can help others begin their own conversations, and bring many together to contribute to healing the world from sexual dysfunction and all that flows from it.

This week’s post is designed to introduce the co-authors, as well as give some background and context to our identities and our mission with this blog.

Who Am I?

Malachi GrennellMalachi: I am a 27 year old radical queer, trans, kinky, polyamorous writer, mathematician, and artist. My identities feel like a hefty list, but each part of who I am influences my perspective in conversations about sexuality, spirituality, and bodies. Intersectionality is crucial: recognizing that each piece of who we are is not a discrete aspect, but impacted by the other identities we hold. My sexual orientation is queer, as is my gender identity, although I also identify as transmasculine (the terminology can be confusing, so to clarify: I was assigned female at birth and transitioned with hormone replacement therapy for five years and present as masculine most of the time). I am active in the kink/BDSM scene as both a community leader and educator and am happily married in a polyamorous relationship. I have my bachelor’s degree in traditional mathematics with a minor in English, and hope to finish a graduate degree in either public health or applied mathematics. In the meantime, I am blessed with the opportunity to do some art and writing.

revrobin2-023Robin: I am a 69-year-old male-identified gay man—with a propensity to live and share some traditionally feminine aspects of myself—who was once married and is the father of three daughters (leading at least in a technical sense to be considered bisexual by some). I have been married to the same Jewish man for 18 years and we inhabit a traditionally monogamous space.

I come to this writing as a theologian, trained at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York and the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) in Cambridge, MA. Both institutions have a strong commitment to liberative faith and action, and I claim that tradition—especially in its feminist/womanist, Queer, Black liberation modes—as my own. I am an ordained minister in Metropolitan Community Churches (and a member of our local Conservative/Reconstructionist synagogue).

I am old enough to be Malachi’s grandfather and am fairly traditional in many ways. Malachi is already teaching me about sexual things I had heard only in whispers. I am eager to learn, not because I am dissatisfied with my own sexual life (although aging creates sexual challenges, as well as opportunities) but because I am dissatisfied with how little I know about sex and bodies and spirit and their intimate relation, and how little the people I care about know, how little most of us know and understand.

What Is My Experience?

Malachi GrennellMalachi: I have had the extraordinary benefit of growing up in Metropolitan Community Church in Richmond, Virginia, where I first met Rev. Robin. We developed a close, personal relationship throughout my tumultuous late teens and early twenties, and have maintained a friendship as I have settled into a stable, healthy place in my life. As we begin (and in many ways, continue) these discussions and explorations of our bodies and sexualities through the lens of Christian experience, I am honored to be able to call him a colleague and a friend.

revrobin2-023Robin: This blog is changing me. I started it out of frustration at how little Christianity talks about sex in healthy, life-giving, positive ways, and specifically sadness that my own faith movement, Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), does little better in that regard than other mainline Protestant denomination.

Aging has impacted my formerly casual relationship with my own sexuality. I have had to stop taking it for granted. In the process, I have discovered how much I like my body, not in spite of but because of,  its “imperfections” (as evaluated by cultural assumptions of what constitutes embodied perfection).

I am writing to help Christians (and those affected by Christianity) overcome the Platonic dualism we adopted long ago, to overturn not only the dualism of body/sex vs. spirit but also the hierarchy that puts the latter on top. I cherish the Eros that touches us all, creating a wholeness surely intended by God. It is touching me in new and delightful ways, and a more embodied spirituality is emerging in my life. The angels are rejoicing!

What Are My Goals and Passions?

Malachi GrennellMalachi: The aspects of my identity that I have chosen to highlight about myself have a purpose. I have long since lost the notion of binary opposing concepts: male/female, gay/straight, creative/logical, normal/deviant, right/wrong. In discussions around topics as heated as sexuality, it can be easy to accept binary dichotomies because we are inundated with them every day. The scientist in me feels it necessary to claim my bias, and for me, that bias is a belief in the subjective truth. What works for one person may not work for the next; it does not mean that one person is right and one is wrong, but simply that there are two different perspectives highlighting different conclusions. Similarly, when Robin first approached me and asked me to co-author this blog, I immediately thought of both the ways that we are similar and the ways we are different. Through a foundation of mutual respect and trust, we are able to bring our experiences- both those that are similar and those that are different- to this conversation in a way that not only enriches our perspectives and our lives, but broadens the conversation beyond the binary.

revrobin2-023Robin: My ministry today lies in writing and teaching. I am honored to have been appointed Writer-Theologian in Residence at MCC in the District of Columbia (MCCDC).  This blog is part of that ministry. My writing and ministry, however, are about more than sexuality and gender. I stand at the intersection of those life forces as well as those of race (in particular for me, white privilege and supremacy), and ethnicity. I understand my particular contribution to be in helping to pry open the tightly locked doors of Christian orthodoxy to let in the life-giving and unsettling breezes of Jesus’ unorthodox approach to life and faith. I am passionate about helping Palestinians, and all oppressed and disregarded peoples, discover and live out their identity. And I am care deeply about reversing trends of negativity and death infecting our national politics, especially as that creates new opportunities for global self-destruction.

What Are My Hopes for this Blog?

Malachi GrennellMalachi: While I have chosen not to seek ordination at this point in my life, I have always felt a call to ministry that has manifested in my writing and discussions. Writing this blog, like much else in my life related to sexuality and gender, is ministry.  I believe strongly in the example set forth by Jesus to challenge the expectations of the status quo, and I truly believe that exploring our sexuality and relationships with our bodies through the lens of faith has the capacity to bring us into relationship with the Holy in new, powerful ways. As Christians, I believe that it is important that we have honest, open, frank discussions about ourselves as sexual beings and how we can embrace our sexuality as a sacred aspect of ourselves in Christ. Growing up in MCC, I was taught that sexuality is not a secret part of who we are, but a sacred part of who we are, yet in recent years, that message has grown quieter and more abstract. I was both honored and excited when offered to opportunity to co-author this blog because I believe that it’s a vital conversation that is often neglected in faith communities. In that spirit, I am thrilled to be a part of creating space for much-needed discussion, dialogue, honesty, and growth.

revrobin2-023Robin: So, we are near the beginning of this enterprise, but I have been engaged in it long enough to realize that greater gifts could be had if it were a shared enterprise. And, as often happens, the right person appeared!

I have known Malachi since 2003, when I became pastor in Richmond. Her (how she presented herself then) lesbian parents were leaders in that congregation. From the beginning I recognized someone of uncommon strength, intelligence, and perception. Recently, I asked Malachi for coffee to discuss being a resource person for this blog. As we talked I knew I had found, or God had presented me with, a co-author.

One thing I am discovering I am not traditional about: wanting to talk about sex not just in the bedroom with my husband but also out in the open, in public, in church, among friends and family, and in our public life—not in the usual ways of judgment and/or titillation and nervous humor, but with honesty, openness, gratitude, and intelligence about something central, indeed necessary, to our lives.

So I hope Sex, Bodies, Spirit becomes a space where conversations begin and grow, and become an integral part of a movement to spread the conversation into all corners. Malachi and I, friends for many years, hope to model open, honest, and caring conversation that can happen among friends and across boundaries of age, sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity, and embodied ability, not to mention sexual practices and pleasures.

 As a Team . . .

Although we come from different perspectives, we share a passion for genuine, open discussion with one another and with others.  Because we both see and experience the ways in which Christianity has stifled and silenced the conversations around sex and sexuality, our focus is primarily on exploring these concepts through the lens of Christian faith. However, we welcome discussions that reference or center on different faith practices, and occasionally will reference different faith practices as applicable.

There will be organic development in our topics from week to week, but we seek to have relevant and coherent threads through the ongoing development of the blog. We draw inspiration from the liturgical calendar, recent events, our personal lives, and public discussions as we discuss and write together.

What We Hope to Achieve:

Perhaps the greatest achievement would be to begin conversation threads that shift and grow with us and our readers. We are seeking to create intentional, safe space to foster dialogue and personal growth. Our hope is that over time we will help construct a conversation that reaches a broad platform of people seeking to integrate their sexuality and spirituality in authentic, mindful ways. Part of facilitating that growth and conversation is our willingness to be transparent: transparent in our own struggles with these issues, transparent in our discussions and dialogues, and transparent in our conclusions, whether or not we reach the same conclusions. Along the way, we intend to provide some tools for further study and research, as well as some suggestions to move forward.

Through research and thoughtful study, we present this platform for discussion. We will actively work to make this a safe space, free from oppressive language. We seek to understand the privileges afforded to each of us and be accountable to the reality that our perspectives come from the intersections of identity, power, and privilege in this society. We seek to incorporate other perspectives and views that add to the discussion in positive, affirming ways.  Finally, we seek to approach these subjects with humility and care, understanding that the rift—created some millennia ago and carried forward to this moment–between sexuality and spirituality can be a tender and even anxious space. Our ultimate goal is to contribute to healing this deep and often dangerous wound.

 

 

More Sex, Sacred Sex

This blog is sex-positive.

This blog is body-positive.

This blog is spirit-positive.

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This blog promotes the union of all three of these positives. Indeed, the union of them is, I believe, God’s intention, God’s desire. That union brings us as close to God as we can be, or to put it another way, it is total union with the divine. It is the God spot within us, each of us, what I would like to call the G-Spot (different but not opposed to the physical G-spot many claim in women’s bodies and in men’s bodies).

However, this understanding of the relationship between spirituality, sexuality, and bodies may contradict at a pretty deep level how we think about them. We are taught, from a young age, that our sexual selves are at odds with our spiritual selves, and it can be difficult to overcome the inundation of social and religious messages that remind us to keep our sexuality and our spirituality compartmentalized.

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So, part of what this blog (not just this post but the blog as it unfolds over time) hopes to do is to bring us into contact with new understandings and to help us navigate changes in our beliefs and practices as we feel ready to do so (and of course also to help us investigate and reaffirm beliefs that still feel right to us). This may be seen as an unlearning and re-orienting process. As with any unlearning process, it can feel clunky and awkward at first. The goal is quite simply to facilitate openness to and celebration of the sacred union of our–yours, mine and others–sex, bodies and spirits. 

In this process, we can be self-conscious in a way that we haven’t fully experienced before because we are, perhaps (or probably) for the first time, being fully present in our bodies with ourselves and our partners. That awkwardness isn’t an indication that we are “doing it” wrong… it is part of the process of growing and healing the chasm that results from seeing our sexual, embodied selves as sinners separate from God to seeing our sexual, embodied selves as holy and communing with God.

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One way to experience that sacred union is to be in deep sexual union with our partner(s). And such union is, it seems to me, to be an entirely fitting and holy way to observe Lent.

In keeping with last week’s edition, “In Lent: More Sex, Not Less,” (click here to read) I want to encourage all of us to consider intentional, multiple, deeply erotic and spiritual, sessions with our sexual partners.

In response to last week’s post, my friend and colleague Malachi Grennell wrote the following:

. . . sharing sexual intimacy can be a conduit to connecting with the Holy in our own lives. I am leaning toward saying, “Have sex! Have lots of sex, with yourself or with your partner(s), but do it with intention. Do it with the understanding that these bodies are holy, and we are created in the image of God and the Earth and this is a time of awakening, a deep thaw after a long winter.” We allow ourselves to be distracted . . . but now we can refocus, reconnect, and begin to thaw out our Spirit in anticipation for what is coming. Have sex, in ways that feel good and pleasurable and enjoyable, but perhaps, in this spirit of Lent, our sexual selves can come with a different form of intention: one of pleasure, certainly, but also one of connection… not just with the body, but with the spirit that resides in each person.

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I could not have said it better myself. I hear Malachi encouraging us to be holy sexual and sexually holy, urging us to move more fully into sacred union. 

So, here are some suggestions.

  • Pray, ask God, by whatever name or description you relate to a power outside and greater than yourself, for guidance about how best to be connected sexually, bodily, and spiritually with yourself, with your partner(s), with the divine
  • Share with your partner(s) about this, too, telling them what you are learning, and encourage them to pray or connect however they do with their power.  Be as open as possible in your sharing; that will encourage your partner(s) to do the same. 
  • Set aside some time for you to talk together, perhaps even pray together (you might even consider doing this while naked, not so much with the idea of immediately jumping into bed but more to be aware of your mutual vulnerability and the divinely created/inspired beauty of each of your bodies/spirits). Again, openness is key to this really helping you. 
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    Agree on times you wish to engage each other in intentional times of sexual/bodily/spiritual sharing. Try to pick times/dates that will allow for sufficient time without interruption, and that are unlikely to be preempted by other concerns. I encourage you to commit to a minimum number of times (think of it as like trying out a new church–e.g., agree to go 6 times to give it a fair test). 

  • Agree, if you can in advance, on the kinds of things you might want to do (maybe even something new that has arisen during prayer and/or discussion)–but don’t feel bound if during a session you decide, mutually, to do something else. Again, keep talking, sharing not only your bodies but also your learnings and feelings. Discuss the ways in which you feel inadequate, awkward, or self-conscious. Don’t hide from or shy away from these things, but bring the whole of yourself–including those parts of you which feel most vulnerable–and present them to your partner(s). And don’t forget to laugh! 
  • Keep your appointments, make them a priority. Things do come up, of course, so if one of you feels the need to cancel, talk about what is going on–if it is a matter of unavoidable schedule conflict, see if you could reschedule instead of cancelling. 
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    Include time after to meditate or pray, and discuss, how it went, how you felt, what you learned, what gifts you received, what worries or troubles you encountered, etc. I encourage you to think about whether including God in this holy time of union (including God or your greater power in your sex, if you will), has changed–improved I hope–your relationship with God/power, yourself, and your partner(s).

  • Of course, remember to give thanks to God or the power you called upon for guidance
  • Commit to the next time.

And, if you are an observant Christian, I encourage you to begin thinking about how you might build this way of being holy sexual/sexually holy into your celebration of Easter, a time to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus’ body through the sharing of your bodies. The same for Jewish lovers, or interfaith lovers: as we approach Passover, think about celebrating the liberation of Hebrew bodies through celebrating your own embodied, sexual, spiritual liberation. 

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Two points:

  • I refer to partner(s) above, as does Malachi, because we realize that people engage their sexuality in multiple ways. I am encouraging you to recognize what is holy in whatever way you are sexually active–and I am not going to judge it, assuming that you are not damaging anyone through it. There is one “should” here: Sex should not cause trauma (if it does, it is not sex). 
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    Next week, I will take a look at what is sometimes called solo sexuality or self-pleasuring–what I was raised to call “the M word,” i.e, masturbation–as  another way to experience sacred union with the divine.

So, to connect last week’s message with this one, here’s the word: Have sex! More sex! Intentional sex. Holy Sex. Enjoy the eternal, embodied, erotic sacred union with the divine within yourself and within your partner(s) and with Godself. Spend some quality time with your G-Spot!