Family Secrets

Everyone knows about them , but no one will talk about them or acknowledge them.

revrobin2-023Robin:

Jonathan and I have become invested in a television drama called “A Place to Call Home,” about a “to the manor born” family in Australia. We like it for superb acting, engaging plot lines, and the general lack of violence (Note: it is available through Acorn TV, “the best British streaming TV,” –we access it through ROKU).

As the first season unfolded, the characters became increasingly complex, and we got hooked, especially as one by one various characters revealed secrets. In some ways the main theme of the program is the hiding and disclosing of family secrets.  As you might imagine most of them involve sex in one way or another.

As I told Malachi about the program, we began to realize we had each experienced, and even yet experience, some aspects of keeping, being, and revealing secrets [as you might expect, his experience is less “mainstream” than mine].

As a pastor, I heard secrets.  Many, if not most, of them were about abuse of various kinds, especially sexual abuse and violence in the home. Most people would tell about it as they sought to explain feelings they wanted to change—attitudes and fears that had been induced by the ugly behavior.

Of course, in a church community with many LGBT people, and in a relatively conservative area (Richmond, Virginia) some members felt they had to keep their sexual orientation and non-cis gender feelings secret—either due to family issues or potential loss of jobs and housing, or all of the above. However, non-LGBT people also talked about secrets, many of them related to sex.

Two very dear friends of mine have harrowing histories of sexual abuse—one due to boys forcing sex on him in the boys’ bathroom at school, and the other due to a parent being utterly inappropriate in describing to my friend in some detail the parent’s disgust at sexual behavior by the other parent in their marriage.  Both friends continue to feel effects from these incidents, many years later.

In fact, my friend who suffered from sexual assault had blocked the memory for decades. It came out in intensive therapy due to sexual issues with my friend’s partner. My friend acknowledged a feeling of sexual “frozenness” (my word) and sought help to be freed. It is a work in progress.

I hid my sexual attraction to men until I was in my mid-30s. But I had realized it much earlier, and on two occasions broke my silence. The first time I told my parents, and they seemed to listen but then returned to watching television. They simply did not know what to do with their 16-year-old son standing in the middle to the living room telling him he was “homosexual” (five or six years before Stonewall). And then, when I was in college, I told my priest and asked him what to do. He spoke to my parents, and then, with their permission and my acquiescence, arranged for me to see a therapist.

playgirl magazine
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Supposedly, after some months I was “okay,” at least “better.”

I did not entirely fool myself, however—for example, Playgirl magazine came into being a year or two before I was married in 1974 and I ordered a subscription, allegedly for my new wife. I was sad when she showed little interest in it, and I—who had eagerly consumed the pictures in each issue—had no excuse to renew it.

And before we were married, she asked me about an observation by a friend of hers in our small town that I was “homosexual.” I assured her I was not—that the therapist I had seen while in college had “cured” me.

When I did come out to her, she told me she had never quite let go of fear that her friend had been right. And my mother told me that she had felt relief as we had several children. Surely, she reasoned, I could not be “that way” if we were having babies! But she also told me, after I came out, that a cleaning woman had found a copy of Playgirl in a file drawer in the room where I occasionally slept when staying over to help her care for my invalid father.

I had a secret, but so did they.  Secrets breed secrets.

Why do we keep sexual secrets?

One answer is shame. “There is no part of being human about which Americans feel more shame than sex,” says Marty Klein, a sex therapist writing in Psychology Today.

But why shame? One reason, according to Klein, is “sexual exceptionalism—the idea that sex is different than everything else, and needs special rules to govern it.”

One “rule” is the prohibition on the public display of naked bodies. That prohibition seems to rest on the idea that nakedness equals sex (an equation strongly disputed by naturists).

I have long been enamored of nudity, my own and that of others. I like being naked. But I think I made a mistake when, years ago, I was naked, with other naked male friends, at the beach when my daughters, then in their teens and pre-teens, were present. I have carried shame about that behavior.

My shame became more acute after my half-sister, the daughter of my father from his first marriage, told me that our father went around the house, when she was a teen, without his pants on and thus showing his genitals (she told me this 20 year

Robin naked at desk 1_edited-1

s after he died). She hated it, as did her mother. This never happened in the home in which I lived with our father and my mother (not hers).

Thus, I continue to worry that my writing about nudity—and perhaps choosing at some point to call myself “The Naked Theologian”—will once again cause me to engage in shameful behavior, at least toward my daughters. As I ponder and pray about that possibility I keep wondering if I need to give my daughters “veto power” over my decision.

Then, I think about church. Do I give “veto power” to the people at church who don’t like my writing about sex and bodies, and most assuredly would not be comfortable with “The Naked Theologian?”

Church of course, is a major contributor to rules about sex. Many church people, and others, even think that sex is the major focus of the Bible.

Knust Unprotected TextsThere is a lot of sex in various parts of the text, and there are texts that contain prohibitions and judgments. But there are other texts, other stories, which do neither (and even “normalize” things prohibited elsewhere). In fact, as Jennifer Wright Knust writes in Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire, “When read as a whole, the Bible provides neither clear nor consistent advice about sex and bodies. . . .”

One way to reduce the power of sexual secrets, and move forward in overcoming abuse and violence, is to discard the idea that the Bible is a reliable sex manual.  Then we might begin allowing God into our all parts of our lives, including sex.

I suspect God would like that, and we’d be happier, and safer, too.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

I’ve been the family secret. In fact, in many ways, I’m sure I still am, partially of my own choosing, partially of my family’s choosing. I haven’t stayed in touch with most of my family of origin- my grandmother asks my mother about me, but beyond that, I don’t know that much of my extended family really makes an effort to know much about my life. After all, I was the illegitimate child born out of wedlock and raised by lesbians- they were, for much of my life, the “family secret.” Now, I’m a transgender, queer, non-monogamous, kinky sex educator. At some point in the journey of my life, my extended family stopped reaching out to me. My family is no stranger to secrets.

Family secrets are a complicated thing. Whether they are born from a place of shame or an attempt to “keep the peace” at family gatherings, they’re like the big pink elephant in the room. Everyone knows about them , but no one will talk about them or acknowledge them.  I think that’s the thing that makes them “secrets”… it’s not so much that they “aren’t known,” but simply that they “aren’t acknowledged.” It’s not, for example, that anyone had any misconceptions about my parent’s relationship: they were obviously more than friends and roommates, and very clearly were lovers. It wasn’t a secret in the sense that no one knew they were partners. It was a secret in the sense that their partnership was never publicly acknowledged or respected as equal to other people’s partnerships. I certainly felt that tension in how I was accepted (or not accepted) as family with my non-biological mother’s family.

Being the family secret is a form of silencing and erasure. It’s a way for people who are supposed to love us unconditionally to choose not to see a part of who we are. For queer people especially, it entirely removes our capacity to exist in the world as whole people: rainbowspiritual, emotional, physical, and sexual. Our sexuality, our genders, our relationship configurations and familial configurations are erased, hidden, and ignored; our capacity to be sexual beings is denied.

This month, we celebrate Pride month. Pride at being able to live authentically, to be who we are- all of who we are- when so many of us have lived for a long time as the family secret. Perhaps it’s not coincidence that the subtle verbal acknowledgement of one queer person to another used to be, “Are you family?” We made our own families, families where we found unconditional love and support when we refused to allow who we are to be a secret, something to ignore and work around, a burden, a discomfort.

This week, we also honor the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting at Pulse

pulse anniversary
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nightclub where 49 young people lost their lives in a tragic hate crime aimed at permanently silencing queer people of color. The queer community- particularly queer communities of color- are no stranger to secrets, either. I think of those people who may have been outed simply by being at Pulse that night- both those who died, and those who lived and suffered the consequences of trauma. What families who had skirted around, never acknowledged, or tried to ignore the sexuality of a loved one must be feeling. I think of the toll of family secrets, and the crushing weight of regret that sometimes comes when we realize we have forever lost an opportunity to show unconditional love.

We are- our queerness, our lives, the ways we love and fuck and connect and build families- we are working against a lifetime of being taught that who we are should not be acknowledged. That who we are makes people uncomfortable, that it causes waves, that it is better kept a secret. We celebrate Pride as a response to these messages, a deliberate way of opening up our own family secrets- and in many ways, opening up our families. One of my mothers has a beautiful phrase that I have adopted as a mantra in my own life: “the only eggshells in this house are in the fridge.” We don’t tiptoe around truth and reality and important conversations because they are uncomfortable.

In my adult, chosen family, I hope we never have family secrets. As I continue to raise my goddaughter, I hope that she never feels the sense of silencing, the shame, the shifts in language, the awkwardness that I felt as a child growing up. I hope she never feels that she is part of a family secret- and a source of family shame.

As a trans, queer person myself, I consciously make the choice not to engage with much of my extended family. Not because I think they are bad or incapable of changing, but bisexual symbolbecause I am not willing to do the things my parents did (and to some degree, still do) to self-silence, to shift, to alter who they were. I am not willing to pretend to be something- or someone- I am not. So perhaps, for them, I exist in the stories my mother tells about me, however twisted and convoluted she presents my life. I recognize that, in many ways, she is still in the same place of seeking love, acceptance, and affirmation for her life, struggling against being the family secret while also wanting to keep the peace. I know that the ways she represents my life aren’t accurate; it’s her choice to make, and it’s mine to not engage with my families of origin to give a more accurate perspective.

We each come out in our own ways, at our own times. Pride reminds us- and the anniversary of Pulse reminds us- how dear, how precious, how important authenticity is. Our sexuality is not inconvenient. Our sexuality does not need to be a secret or something danced around in awkward pauses over family dinners. Now, more than ever, it is vital that we see our sexuality as a part of the whole image of who we are. Now, more than ever, we cannot afford to be silent or circumnavigated. Now, more than ever, we must break our own silences- in whatever ways they manifest- and refuse to be the family secret.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What is your relationship with family (or community) secrets? Have you been asked to hold the secrets of others? Have you felt like you were “the secret” in some capacity? 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.

 

third Thursday
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us TOMORROW, THURSDAY, June 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.

Our focus will be “Creating Consent Culture in Our Churches.” Malachi and Robin will discuss how church leaders and members can foster an atmosphere of trust and exploration through mutual concern and consent while considering difficult topics such as various forms of sex, the spiritual ground of sex, and sexual attitudes and behaviors.

Previous month’s sessions can be watched here.

Bisexual (In)Visibility

We must make more room in our churches and communities to talk about bisexuality, pansexuality, and queerness.

 

revrobin2-023Robin:

Reading one of the sex- and bodies-focused blogs I receive, my attention was drawn to the subject of bisexuality, a topic Malachi and I have not addressed in a focused way. So here goes.

The particular article, “And New on the Bisexuality Spectrum—‘Mostly Hetero’,” looks at a phenomenon recently under discussion among researchers, namely a nuancing of the traditional sexuality continuum. What caught my eye was the term “mostly hetero.” In response, I  murmured  “I am mostly homo.”

That “mostly” may surprise some readers, because I clearly identify myself as gay. But it was not always so. I was married for more than eight years (1974-83), and my wife gave birth to three daughters.  I was the sperm donor, not through artificial insemination but through penile-vaginal sex. She and I had sex, and more than three times!

I loved Judy very much, but in reality our sex—much desired by her—was not so much for me about lust for her body (which was very sexy by many standards, not to mention her energy and winning personality) as it was to satisfy my own need for sexual release and to honor my commitment to her.  I did not fantasize about men during our love-making, but I did the rest of the time. I never stopped looking at men.

don't assume gay or straightWhen I finally accepted my same-sex desires, working with a therapist and coming out to Judy, and had my first male-male sex (other than one time of masturbation with a friend in our early teens), I suddenly knew why many talked about sex as the pinnacle of pleasure.  The fireworks were there in a way they had not been with her.

But I wondered, off and on for a while, am I bisexual or homosexual? Still, over a relatively short time I became clear I am homosexual.  On the traditional scale, first enunciated by Alfred Kinsey in the late 1940s, that is a 6. But I do find the occasional woman attractive enough to wonder what it would be like to be sexual with her.

So maybe I am a 5.5 or 5.7 or 5.8, not quite a 6.0. Mostly homo.

Yet, I never had sex with a woman after Judy. Not even close. And I had sex with many men during my times of being a single male. So my heterosexuality is very muted.

lesbian couple black with kids
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I know many gay men and lesbian women who are parents like me—children born during a marriage into which they entered before realizing, or finally accepting, they prefer sex with a person of the same gender. Most of these people report not being very happy in the marriage, but they had sex.

What this points to is the elasticity of sexuality, the wideness of the range of possibilities. I remember a lesbian friend who for decades was in a relationship with the woman of her dreams—when I got to know them there were no longer young, but there was no hiding their obvious love and joy each other; it was infectious to all around them. Then her wife died. A year or two later, she met a man and they fell in love. Many were shocked, and even angry.

Perhaps because I remembered how much I loved Judy, I called her to extend congratulations. She said to me that her new love was, in her mind and heart, just a male version of her wife.

So sometimes it is the person that makes the difference. A former male lover of mine was, like me, married. When he divorced, and we were sharing a seaside cottage with our respective daughters for a week, I seduced him. We were together after that for more than six years—and he has had a second husband for more than two decades.  Was he gay before, or did things, he, just change?  Or did he let some part of him, previously hidden, emerge?

sex is not love so no confusion hereAnother way to see this is accept that sex and sexual orientation are not synonymous with affection and love.  We are able to act sexually through our bodies—our genitals, our hands, our tongues—in ways that are not always synchronous with the social structure or construction of sexuality we have adopted (or has been given to us). And, as outlined above, these structures or constructions, these categories, are not always as fixed as we may wish. Human beings, human bodies, are complicated—no matter how much many want to get us each into one of the major boxes.

Hidden is a word many use about bisexuality. Bisexuals often complain about invisibility in the LGBT movement.  They have a good argument. We know a lot about the L and the G—and more and more (although not enough) about the T, but precious little about the B.

I have heard many gay men and lesbian women claim that a person claiming the B is “just going through a phase,” or is “getting up the courage to claim their real identity” as L or G. This is so sad. It might be true in some cases, but so what? It still is not easy for everyone to come out, just because it is far easier than it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago.  And, of course, it sounds so much like the judgment and jibes aimed at many gay and lesbian people on our own coming out journeys.

sex my gender doesn't fit in your boxes
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These attitudes are so much about making sure the boxes work, and that each person is in the right box. Indeed, the very term “bisexuality” rests on the concept that there are two genders, thus reinforcing the gender binary, and three sexual orientations—hetero, homo, and bi. Both concepts fail to account for the fluidity of sex and gender, indeed the fluidity of our bodies.

That does not mean that people should not claim bisexuality. I know people for whom it is an entirely accurate self-designation. They like to have sex with men and they like to have sex with women—most of them may lean in one direction or the other—while some are equal opportunity folks—however they lean or don’t, they refuse to deny themselves the opportunity to experience both. I think “both” is great. And “all,” too, as in pansexual (but that is another post for me).

So, is the hiddenness, the silence, about bisexuality because it is too complicated? That may be part of the explanation. But I think the far greater reason is that bisexuality, despite seeming to reinforce the boxes, really does call into question the fixedness of sexual identity, sexual orientation, and potentially even gender (more about this another time, too).

labels can limit usSometimes, I chafe against labels, but I know they are useful for organizing ourselves. We do make choices and want to name them. So, in the name of opening up more about sex and bodies, we need to stop invisiblizing the bisexuals. Stand up for B!!!

It may help to think and write this way—LGBT, and we need to keep on doing this, too—LGBT. And LGBTQIA (bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning, Intersex, and Ally/Advocate), too (WordPress won’t allow me to make the particular letters larger, which is what I hoped to show).

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

I find it difficult to jump into the topic of bisexuality, although it’s an important subject and one that needs to be talked about more, not less. The “B” in LGBT is often ignored, overlooked, or erased.

Often times, we use someone’s appearance to make an assumption about their identity. If we see, for example, a person presenting as male holding hands with someone who is presenting as female, we assume heterosexuality. If we see two people who appear to be of the same gender, we often assume homosexuality. Bisexuality isn’t something we tend to assume because it would require us to see the same person in a variety of situations in which they were holding hands with different people… and since monogamy (along with heterosexuality) are both the assumed default, that doesn’t tend to happen as often.

Bisexual folks are often faced with a lot of belittling and erasure of their identities: “Oh, you just can’t make up your mind,” or “You’ll sleep with anyone,” or “Well, you’re only bisexual when you’re single; once you have a partner, that kind of determines it, doesn’t it?” or “This is just a phase; you’ll settle on your identity eventually.” This kind of erasure is incredibly toxic and is predicated on the idea that someone else knows your identity better than you do. Tangentially, it feeds into the ideas of slut-shaming, or that having a lot of sex with different people is an inherently bad or negative thing.

And yet, sometimes, I have to confess, I have a hard time with bisexuality- partially

bisexual symbol
Bisexual Symbol

because of the way bisexual identities contribute to my erasure. “Bi-” means two, and bisexual is “sexual attraction to both genders.” And for some people, that’s a completely accurate assessment of their sexual orientation: they are attracted to men and women. For others, though, they take bisexual to mean “attracted to all genders,” without realizing that bisexuality is predicated on enforcing the gender binary (there’s that “bi-“ prefix again). There is no room for gender non-conforming in a binary world, and bisexuality is based on the idea that there are two genders, and someone is attracted to both of them.

It’s a tricky, nuanced line of discussion, because I don’t want to disrespect someone else’s identity or contribute to the erasure of who they are… but I also have to recognize that there is a level of bisexuality that makes me uncomfortable. Not because I care about someone being attracted to more than one gender, but because bisexuality implies by definition that there are only two genders, and I actively work against things that reinforce the gender binary. And so I’m not always sure how to have a discussion and dialogue around bisexuality. I feel conflicted about raising that up when greater visibility for one group of people directly contributes to erasure for another group- particularly a group of which I am a part.

A non-binary adaptation of bisexual is “pansexual;” that is, a sexual orientation that spans across gender binary and non-binary individuals and recognizes an attraction for a variety of types of bodies, identities, and presentations. At times in my life, I have identified as pansexual. In fact, in high school, I had a black side bag in which I wrote “PANSEXUAL” in white out across the front. What can I say, I was a pretty brazen high schooler.

pansexual pride
Pansexual Pride

I shifted from pansexual to queer when I realized that the way I fuck, the way I have relationships, the way I interact with sexuality and bodies is heavily informed by my politics and social analysis. My politics, as it turns out, are a direct result of my understanding and identity as a Christian, so in many ways, my faith has informed my identity as a queer person- including my sexual identity. And I think, at the heart of the erasure that many bisexual folks feel, they want to be seen as people who have the capacity to love different types of bodies, configurations, and identities. And I think it’s important that people feel seen in their sexuality, even if the way in manifests right now, or in this relationship, doesn’t paint the whole picture.

When queer femme-identifying people are seen holding hands with their male-presenting partners, they often feel the complexities of their identities are erased (I’ve written about this some in a piece Are You Queer Enough? and Femme Erasure in the Queer Community) or that, by “passing” as straight, they aren’t welcome in queer spaces. And that’s something we have perpetuated, beginning with things like bisexual erasure and not allowing people to live their authentic, sometimes complicated, truths.

We have bisexual (and pansexual, and queer) people in our churches, people whose identities don’t necessarily match up with how we see them presenting. We might assume that the couple that just walked in is a heterosexual couple, but in reality, he might be a queer transmasculine person, and she might be a femme lesbian. We may shun someone if, after ending a same-sex relationship, they begin to form a relationship with someone of the opposite gender. These are problematic behaviors- to ostracize or shun anyone based on their sexual orientation- that are often based in our own assumptions about who someone is based on how we view them, rather than how they view themselves.

We must make more room in our churches and communities to talk about bisexuality, pansexuality, and queerness. We must allow space for people to be seen and share their experiences authentically, and not worry about hearing the same toxic, damaging messages they hear elsewhere. Bisexuality and pansexuality are not myths, nor are they the result of someone “not being able to make up their mind.” People’s identities are not defined in comparison to their intimate partners; their identities exist regardless of the relationships they are in. It’s time we allow people to see and be seen for their whole selves, and not just the selves we feel most comfortable interacting with.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What are your feelings about bisexuality? Are you, or have you ever been, bisexual? Do you think bisexuality is a valid sexual orientation? Why or why not? Do you have sex with a person of only one gender (as you and others define that) or more than one? Do you have fantasies about crossing the line? Do you watch sex films (aka pornflicks), and if so, do you watch people with only one orientation or do you sometimes see what others are doing? 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 in two weeks, THURSDAY, June 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.

Previous month’s sessions can be watched here.

In the Sheets, In the Streets

It’s not just what we do in the sheets, but how we act in the streets.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

It’s so easy, sometimes, to get caught up in the analytical, theoretical aspects of being poly. But something I don’t always do a good job at sharing is the beautiful ways in which my life is able to manifest outside of the conversations and theoretical discussions. So, this week, I will do my best to suspend some of my heavier, denser thought patterns and talk a little about a fantastic “poly-full” weekend I had with friends and a much-anticipated date.

My partner and I have a mutual friend that we know through the kink community who lives several hours away. We (myself and this friend) had been talking more, and my partner had noticed (and I explicitly acknowledged) that I had a growing attraction to them. So, at my partner’s urging (which included no shortage of teasing), I asked this person on a date, and was delighted to receive an enthusiastic yes.

This was something I knew I needed. It was important to me to spend one-on-one time with this person and, yes, certainly, there was a strong sexual component that was explicitly acknowledged. As I was preparing to drive up, I recalled, at several points, the piece that Robin and I wrote last week, “What A Good Fuck,” and recognized internally that, if I had sex on my date, there would be a component of radical resistance to it. When I originally wrote the poem included in last week’s piece, “Fuck Me Fiercely,” I acknowledged privately to my upcoming date that they were on my mind while writing it.

So, although my partner got sick just before I left, they encouraged me to go spend time with this person, and I got to experience- simultaneously- the joy and love and stability of my partner as well as the giddiness, excitement, and nervousness of going on a first date.

I feel… immensely blessed to have the people in my life that I do. The night before my

compersion
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date, I stayed with a friend who has become very close recently, and felt immensely safe sharing my fears, concerns, nerves, and excitement. He reassured me, teased me gently, told me I looked wonderful, and radiated compersion (a term used in the poly community to mean “experiencing joy when those around you are experiencing joy” and is often explicitly used to refer to warm, happy feelings when someone you care about is going on a date that they are excited about). He sent me on my way early afternoon to go on my date, assuaging my nervousness and reminding me to be a whole, real, present person.

And it was a fantastic date! We spent time together. They cooked a wonderful meal and we had conversations about God and politics, about theology and resistance, about kink and mental health and a whole slew of other disconnected but equally vibrant things. I was giddy and nervous and excited. I checked my phone and had encouragement from friends and partners and people who love me that want to see me happy.

That’s the thing about poly that gets missed so often: I think we truly want to see the people we love happy. And when things are going well, we are able to manage our emotions and reconcile jealousy (when it’s present) and send our partners a message that says, “Hey, I really hope you’re having a good time and hoping you get laid!”

And that’s what I got this weekend from my partner. Encouragement, excitement, a listening ear as I was driving home and laughing at the silly escapades and incredibly hot experiences on my date. I had a friend that messaged me, asking to hear anything I was willing to share because he was so excited for me. I’ve had days of secret smiles and fond musings over beautiful memories and anticipation for when we might make time to get together again (something that was a mutually agreed-upon desire). And on the way home, I took a few extra minutes to stop and get some flowers and a balloon (and some chicken noodle soup) because I also love my partner, and I wanted to take the time, in the midst of my happiness, to show him that I loved him, missed him, and thought of him.

And from my date? I looked at them and acknowledged that I felt like fucking them was an act of radical resistance, and they agreed. We had coffee and sex and went out for breakfast

locked-fingers
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(or, perhaps, lunch) at a diner and they held my hand and showed affection toward me publicly. It seems like a small thing, but it solidified the way that sex as resistance feels. That I am not just simply someone to desire privately, but relegated to platonic interactions beyond the bedroom. That they, someone who is predominantly read as male, are willing to hold my hand. That they are not ashamed.

And that’s something in and of itself. It’s not just what we do in the sheets, but how we act in the streets. When we are able to connect and feel these acts of radical resistance in bodies and sex and fucking and intimacy, and then we claim that by holding hands and showing affection publicly… that, in and of itself, is its own resistance. It’s a refusal to hide and fly under the radar and give into fear. Watching someone willingly shrug off the privilege they carry as a white-presenting, male-presenting person and choose, instead, to risk being associated with me, someone who is harassed almost daily for the way that I look… that is a type of courage that I respect, and feel honored to have witnessed and received.

So poly can be fun. It’s theoretical and analytical and please don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of conversations that happen around these moments. But when the conversations go well, and everyone is on the same page, and the relationships we have built are strong, then my partner can send me off on a date where sex will most likely happen, and text me encouragement and excitement and joy, where I can feel the compersion coming from him and I know that he is genuinely happy that I was able to get something I needed. The giddiness and feeling of radical resistance through fucking and holding hands over diner food, through carefully learning someone’s body and ways of moving, to begin to learn how my body can interact with their body, and what that feels like in a visceral way, and to come home and share those stories with my partner and watch the slow smile start blooming across their face as they nod and say, “I’m so glad you had a good date.”

Robin:

In 1993 or 1994 I wrote a poetic reflection on Ruth 4:7-17 to be read as part of the observance of “Lesbian and Gay Worship Week” at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (where I was a doctoral student).

revrobin2-023As Malachi and I have thought about how to draw upon biblical resources to further understanding of, and openness toward, non-monogamous relationships and families, I remembered the poem. I also remembered the commentary by Queer biblical scholar Mona West who describes “Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz’s decision to create their own family and define their own understanding of kinship and responsibility to one another within the context of the inheritance and kinship laws of ancient Israel.”  (The Queer Bible Commentary, SCM Press, 2006, pp. 190-194). West draws a clear connection between this ancient story and the ways Queer communities and persons have long been “creating our families.”

She does not explicitly connect this to polyamorous partners, nor did I when I wrote the poem. However, as I continue to explore the reality and beauty of non-monogamous relationships it is now clear to me that these three people chose to live in a form of polyamory, to create family for themselves and for their child, Obed, the ancient ancestor of King David and, if the Gospel accounts are to be believed, of Jesus.

the-queer-bible-commentary-amazon-com
amazon.com

Thus, a revised version of the poem, below, contains a few additional lines that reflect not only the evident polyamory but also seek to express some gender fluidity, not so much for Naomi, Ruth and Boaz as for all who are called women and men in the poem (and to reflect how Ruth pushes the boundaries of behavior by women of that time by her boldness in creating a relationship with Boaz).

In other words, this biblical text, like others, can show us how life, how God, opens up more truth than we previously knew, if we stay open to what we have not yet seen. With God, there is always more.

Meditation on Ruth 4:7-17

A son was born to Naomi
A son whose mother was Ruth
Naomi and Ruth bore a son
Boaz provided the seed
Naomi and Ruth provided the son
The women of the neighborhood provided a name
The women of the neighborhood said to Naomi and therefore also to Ruth who loved Naomi
Blessed be God who has not left you this day without next of kin
The women of the neighborhood said to Naomi who lost a husband and two sons
You shall be nourished by your son born to Ruth whose love is more dear to you than seven sons
The fidelity of Ruth and Naomi for one another brought forth a child from the womb of one
to the mothering breasts of the other.

This is the Book of Ruth and Naomi
not the Book of Boaz the Husband/Father nor the Book of Obed the Son
The Book of Ruth and Naomi because Ruth says to Naomi whom she loves more dearly than seven sons
where you go I will go
where you lodge I will lodge
your people shall be my people
your God my God
It is the Book of Ruth and Naomi
because Ruth was not a Hebrew but a Moabite
a foreigner who chose to live among the people of her mother-in-law
It is the Book of Ruth and Naomi
because their love the love of a Moabite woman for a Hebrew woman produces the ancestor of David the king of Judah
David the Israelite King has Moabite blood because of the love of Ruth and Naomi
It is the Book of Ruth and Naomi
because the women of the neighborhood call both women mother
because the women of the neighborhood name the child
claiming the power of naming the child born to the two women
this child Obed the Son of Woman.

Jesus the Son of God the Son of Man the Son of David the Son of Jesse the Son of Obed
the Son of Ruth and Naomi
all praise the love of Ruth and Naomi
who bear the ancestor of the ancestors of the King of Judah and the King of the Jews
All praise the love of Ruth and Naomi

Stop!

The value of the love of two women is not the men and kings they produce.
Perhaps King David danced naked in the public square because he was the son of Naomi and Ruth
Perhaps he loved Jonathan surpassing the love of men for women because he was the son of Naomi and Ruth
But the love of two women is sufficient unto itself

Perhaps Jesus cherished the one known as the beloved disciple in a special way because among his foremothers were Naomi and Ruth
Perhaps Jesus loved Lazarus most of all because his ancient mothers were Naomi and Ruth
But the love of two women is sufficient unto itself
The hunger of two loving women must be fed even if that means one sweats in the fields for Boaz by day and lies with him by night
The security of two women must be met even when that means one sends the other forth into an unfriendly world.

Women loving women men loving men
defining their own genders and desire
not dependent on birth certificates or the rules of others
make our way in that unfriendly world which demands we deny our desires
to make the world safe for Boaz.
But Boaz was not a bad man
he responded honorably in his time to Ruth and Naomi
but we no longer accept the necessity (or protection) of invisibility in the household of Boaz.
We who were once children loving one another in the first faint stirrings of pre-pubescent desire
are now grown to woman-loving-womanhood and man-loving-manhood
however we choose to define ourselves.

We are your children whom you do not see until we tell you who we are by whom we love
This very day some who are still children will die in despair at their own hands because they cannot yet find the voice to claim their love against the silence which blankets them in shame
They die at our hands too for our failure to hear them into speech
our failure to love them into love.

We who are grown to woman-loving-womanhood and man-loving-manhood
however we choose to define ourselves
We who kiss woman to woman man to man
who share the kiss of peace which disturbs the peace
We who believe in revolutionary love
also give life and love to children
who are the children of the promise of Ruth and Naomi.
Our children are born of women
into constellations of family, of parenthood, often dazzlingly complicated
not conforming to what is claimed by many to be the right and only way.
Two women using the semen of one man or several men whom they know or do not know
Two men asking a woman whom they know (and alas sometimes paying one they do not know) to bear the child of all three
Two women two men three women three men
Even a man and a woman who are not lovers except as they love a child
Two men one woman two women one man
bearing the children of their loins
or sometimes adopting the child unwanted or unclaimed by others.
The combinations are endless
the children are loved
with or without benefit of clergy
with or without blessing by the state
too often with suspicion by the social gaze.

The children are loved
by women by men in the neighborhood who give them their names
by women by men who are family without blood ties
whose blood is simultaneously thick with passion and care and a refusal to be invisible or silent
whose lust for life is predicated on and nourished by an honest lust for one another
and a lust for justice for the children — all children.
All praise the love of Ruth and Naomi
All praise the family of Ruth and Naomi and Boaz and Obed
All praise God who loves all, who is love.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What are your thoughts and reflections on Ruth 4:7-17? Have you had any experience with non-monogamy and unconventional relationships that have brought you joy to think on? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

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Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, February 16th 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.

polyamory-symbol-happy-parties-com
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Workshop description: Non-Monogamy 2 continues from where a previous workshop ended. On December 15, 2016, Malachi and Robin delved into non-monogamy. Malachi described its various forms in contemporary culture and offered observations from personal experience. Robin commented on some of the positive aspects and understandings he has gained through learning more about non-monogamy and reflected on his own feelings (which are more positive than he would have thought). There was a good discussion among those participating on the call, and questions were raised. Malachi and Robin plan to offer more information, and specifically some responses to the questions. If you were unable to be present on December 15, we are hoping a video of the presentation (but not the discussion) will soon be available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep Marching

Malachi and Robin each participated in the recent Women’s March in Washington, D.C. They offer some observations below.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi: 

There has been much discussion- before, during, and after- on inclusivity and intersectionality at the Women’s March held in DC (as well as the hundreds of sister marches that occurred around the world). I was fortunate enough to be present at the march in DC with my family and several dear friends and, miraculously, managed to stay with the same group of eight people.

I have many complicated feelings about the march- some positive, some negative, and some that are just observations. Because, clearly, the march was a huge success- although the standards for what makes a march successful are nebulous- and it was empowering to see so many people uniting against a common cause.

I think, perhaps, that’s the most poignant piece of the march, for me. It was not a group of people uniting FOR, but AGAINST: against oppression, against corruption, against invasive laws, against Donald Trump. But the things each person was FOR varied widely: some for pro-sex worker visibility, some were pro-LGBTQ equality, some were pro-Black Lives Matter, etc. I’ve talked some about this in other places, but when you have a collection of people whose unifying factor is what they aren’t, rather than what they are, it risks reinstating a hierarchical system that priorities of those with the loudest voices.

There were many wonderful things about the women’s march: some really powerful signs (the one that has stuck with me, for example, was the woman who carried the sign, “I refuse to be gaslighted” which, to me,

https://www.spreadshirt.co.uk/image-server/v1/designs/15856169,,/who-run-the-world-girls.png
https://www.spreadshirt.co.uk/image-server/v1/designs/15856169,width=178,height=178/who-run-the-world-girls.png

spoke volumes about history of emotional abuse as well as the ongoing rewriting of facts coming from the political arena.) My goddaughter joining in on the chant, “Who runs the world?” “Girls!” and watching her sense of empowerment growing. Her discussions of “my body, my choice” in the car on the ride home. Watching the people I was with proudly sporting signs and buttons that spoke to the visibility of sex workers.

The march was powerful to be at for many reasons, but it was also a complicated place to be. With the exception of our goddaughter, everyone else in our group can pass as white (although I don’t know how they necessarily identify). We did not experience firsthand some of the direct harassment and erasure that I hear many POC folks talking about.

I did feel a little uncomfortable about the pink pussy hats, however. I understood the point behind them, but there is an underlying message that implies that genitals are pink (not true) and ownership of a vagina defines womanhood (also not true).

I have heard POC women say that the pink pussy hats didn’t bother them; I’ve heard others say it felt exclusionary (some knit brown and black pussy hats instead of pink). I’ve heard some transwomen say they felt excluded, and others say they didn’t have an issue with the genital-focused discussions.

Again, there isn’t an objectively “right” or “wrong” answer to this; this is

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https://img1.etsystatic.com/177/0/5730702/il_340x270.1167085353_gime.jpg

a natural byproduct of the unifying force being “against” rather than “for.” When we march against, that ends up looking distinctly different from person to person and group to group. But I do think there are some important points from the women’s march that should be addressed.

I feel like there has been some criticism of the criticism aimed at the women’s march. Because yes, we should celebrate that it was a success and felt empowering. And it was, and we should, and many are. But I also think there is a vital part of the conversation that involved intentionally recognizing that intersectionality, while present in some aspects, felt glaringly missing in many regards- never mind that telling people how they “should” feel is an erasure of differing experiences altogether.

I think of the history of social justice movements, and recognize that there is some degree to which the freedoms afforded to one group often feel like they come at the cost to another. Many in marginalized communities have felt the sting of being told to “wait their turn.” I remember when HRC dropped gender from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because they didn’t think they could get it passed if trans people were included, and “something is better than nothing.” Trans people were effectively told that our presence wasn’t worth fighting for, that gay rights was more important than trans rights. I have not supported HRC since then (as they have continued to have policies that I found problematic).

The criticisms I see of the march feel very much like they are coming from a place of understanding- and not wanting to repeat- the mistakes of the past. Because so often, people don’t keep showing up once they’ve gotten the freedoms that personally affect them. I truly believe that the best way to ensure freedoms for everyone is to bind together the fates of different communities and identities. Thus, we arrive at the basis of intersectionality.

None of us are single-dimensional people. We all have privileges and oppressions that contribute to our ability to navigate the world. It’s not

http://www.themarysue.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/jessica-intersectional-feminism-sign-650x376.jpg
http://www.themarysue.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/jessica-intersectional-feminism-sign-650×376.jpg

that the experiences of one community are “the same” as the experiences of another community; it’s understanding that, when something impacts one community, all communities are residually impacted. It’s the essence of the quote “oppression anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere.” We may not have the same struggle, but there is room for your struggle in my resistance. And if there isn’t… am I just interested in representing my own interests? To me, that undermines the purpose of social justice.

I truly believe we have to stop looking at just those issues that will directly affect our own lives and take in the broader scope of human injustice. In doing that, we can then see which solutions are beneficial to all versus which solutions only benefit us directly- and furthermore, recognize when those solutions come at the expense of another community. If white people are not willing to listen when POC say that something is harmful or damaging, then we are fueling and supporting racism. If men are not willing to listen when women say something is harmful or damaging, then we are fueling and supporting sexism. And so forth.

we-can-do-itSo do I think the women’s march was bad? Absolutely not. I felt empowered to be there with the people I was with, and I was glad I went. But I am also a white person in a sea of white faces, and I was surrounded by white privilege that didn’t directly impact me. If I let that slide, then I am part of the problem fueling racism, and I’m not interested in being a part of a group of people willing to actively ignore problematic aspects of their resistance.

There is space in my resistance for your struggle. I am against this government, against this president, and against the people who feel emboldened by his assent to power. But I am also for my communities, for my friends, for ending dehumanization and isolation. Each struggle impacts another, and we can put in the work and intention to make sure that our movements do not come at the cost of other’s freedoms. That is the kind of resistance I want to work toward.

Robin: 

I went to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. on January 21. I wanted my body to be counted among those who choose to resist the rising intolerance of difference and the drumbeat of injustice being encouraged and led by the new President and his minions.

revrobin2-023From the moment at 7 am when I drove into the Metro parking lot at Greenbelt station and realized it was already more than half full and that cars were arriving steadily, I began to feel the power that comes from joining my body, my soul, with others who have an ever-widening understanding of who we, as a people, a nation, are called to be (my sign below on the left, from the back page of the Washington Post of Friday).

I had wanted to beat the rush, and here I was right in the middle of it. And I was glad. The train was full when we started (Greenbelt is the end of the Green Line) and it got fuller at each of the twelve stops until Gallery Place/Chinatown where I was getting off to meet a group—especially at College Park/University of Maryland. There is something wonderfully energizing about the arrival of 20 or 30 collegians into an already crowded space—noisy, laughing, so clearly enjoying each other—that I needed right then.

As I walked about 15 minutes towards the Hyatt Regency on New Jersey Avenue where I was meeting my group from Temple Shalom, I began seeing other marches, carrying signs, many smiling and saying “Good Morning” in response to my greeting.  Two women at different moments asked to take my picture (they liked the combination of purple clergy shirt and collar and dangly purple earrings with my white beard).

we-the-peopleThe signs kept coming—more versions of the one that first caught my eye on the train, “Pussy Grabs Back”—so many creative expressions of resistance, often coupled with humor and word play. Even the edgy, angry signs seemed to carry a certain joi de vivre, such that my body and my soul began to feel much lighter than the day before.  There is life here, I thought, especially in contrast to the bleakness of the President’s divisive speech the day before (much of the media called his tone “dark” but dark is beautiful; it was bleak, no grace, no joy, no hope except if we let him do what he wants).

That is when I began to realize one of the main things that divides me, and many others, from him.

All of us that day, or at least me and most of us, carry some real and deep fear about what the next four years will be. We march because we choose to stand up and push back against those determined to undo many of the gains for justice and inclusion that have been made. And we want to make more.

The President also is afraid, very afraid. In fact, I think fear drives everything he says and does, even though he works hard to disguise his fear. The fact that he puts his name in very large letters on everything he erects (yes, erects) is, I believe, a response to his fear that he will be forgotten, disregarded, abandoned. His response to this base level fear of erasure is to make himself as big as possible. But it is all about him, even when he claims it is about other folks who feel left out or behind (many of whom have valid complaints).

trump-towerThe difference at the march is that we were there for things we care about, our own needs of course, but also because we know our needs are linked to the needs of others. So, we want to gather together to create a new world, a more just and generous world.

He wants people to gather together to honor him—hence his claim the media lied about the size of the crowd at the inauguration.

Was the march a perfect vehicle for women and allies and advocates to express our determination to resist being sucked into his fear-based vortex? Certainly not.  It was not well-organized. The inexperience of march organizers showed (and in their defense, they did not have much time to build the necessary structure).

The pink pussy hats were pretty and the sea of pink could be captivating, but of course not all “pussies” are pink, and not all women have them either. I did not see and hear enough about transwomen, for example, although I was grateful to Angela Davis for mentioning them, and especially transwomen of color, several times. And she mentioned the need for solidarity with Palestinians, too. As so often, she told deep, often difficult, truths very clearly. I also was glad to be surrounded by, and participate in, chants of Black Lives Matter.

cant-build-a-wall-hands-too-smallI was uncomfortable with many of the references to the President’s allegedly small dick. On the one hand, the size of his organ is of little or no consequence and of no interest to me. On the other hand, I do not appreciate men being criticized or ostracized because of penis-size prejudice.  And I continue to wonder if at least some of his need for big buildings and large crowds is due to some body issues, including perhaps having a smaller-than- he-wants penis. I certainly know something about taking on shame about having a small one myself.

There were other troubling moments. What to do about abortion opponents? I am clearly pro-choice because I believe women have the basic human right to control their own bodies. That makes it hard for me to engage in dialogue with people who claim abortion is murder.  That language really does not allow for much room for conversation (for more than hour, I was stuck in a spot at the march where the most visible sign in the distance was one that made the murder claim—very surreal). Yet, I am inclined to try to listen to women who say this, because they have some standing in the debate as those who, unlike me and all male-bodied persons, can actually bring a fetus to maturation and delivery. The decision to deny co-sponsorship to an anti-abortion group needs more discussion before the next march.

abortion-sign-clashAnd that is one more piece of good news. Already people are talking about an annual Women’s March. We can keep doing this to help us stay energized and focused on creating the change we want and need, and opposing the change the President and other fearful people claim is necessary (the return to “good ole days” when women and many others knew their place, behind and under the control of white straight men with money and power).

Of course, much can be improved with the march—better organization, more intentional and complete inclusion, even more local marches, etc.

What’s really at stake here are bodies, the well-being of bodies, especially those more regularly marginalized and abused. I realize I carry a lot of privilege, my white male body is part of the group many of whose leaders continue to insist on the right to dominate all others. The fact that I am gay and older does not deny me the privilege that comes with my gender and my color, though in some moments those identities can reduce that privilege.

civil-disobedienceSo, what the Women’s March reminded me of is pretty basic: I need to put my body on the line more than I have been doing in the past few years. It’s time to put my body on the line with others whose bodies are already there.

Thus, I intend to show up for Black Lives Matter, abortion rights, trans siblings, immigrants, all of us affected by climate change and especially to push back against the denial of science, hungry children and families, homeless people, sex workers, Palestinians whose homes are destroyed and whose land is occupied too often by others, and certainly victims of abuse of many kinds, among others.

I hope you’ll join me. That’s how marching works. And wins.

 

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

Did you participate in a local march or action? Did you feel included or did you feel “othered” by those around you? What are your thoughts on protest in the coming weeks, months, and years? 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, February 16th 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:

Coming soon!

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

Queering Language

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

Malachi:

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

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

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

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

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

art-and-anarchism
art-and-anarchism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Two Ears

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

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

radical-faeries-commons-wikimedia-org
commons.wikimedia.org

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

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

gender-signs-genderqueer-pinterest
pinterest.com

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

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

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

That’s queer. Praise God!

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

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

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

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part 2: Beyond the Norm

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

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

The Power of Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

o-trevor-noah-facebook
Trevor Noah http://i.huffpost.com/gen/2779212/images/o-TREVOR-NOAH-facebook.jpg

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

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

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

http://www.cumbria.gov.uk/Images/racism_tcm31-190623.jpg
http://www.cumbria.gov.uk/Images/racism_tcm31-190623.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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http://image.slidesharecdn.com/finalpresentation2-141208025718-conversion-gate02/95/wmst-490-final-11-638.jpg?cb=1418007478

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

What is your experience with reclaiming oppressive language? How does language choice impact and frame conversations for you? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Session 3, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 3” from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

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

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

Only Yes Means Yes, Part II: On Rape Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No experience of rape or sexual abuse.

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

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

This uncertainty—and at times I feel more certain—has created in me a

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http://www.camelcitydispatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/HQFINAL.EditorialCartoon.ReportingRape.11.25.14-525×400.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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https://sojo.net/sites/default/files/blog/shutterstock_109552409.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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http://cdn.youthkiawaaz.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/26/male-rapes-in-india/male-rapez.png

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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http://www.virginia.edu/sexualviolence/images/affirmative_consent.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.pcar.org/sites/default/files/u14/pyramid.jpg
http://www.pcar.org/sites/default/files/u14/pyramid.jpg

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

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

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

 

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

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

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please feel free to join us THURSDAY, September 15th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 2, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 2” from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. Although not required, we encourage participants to read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise as well as If We Can’t Talk About It, We Shouldn’t Be Doing It to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

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.