Bodies on the Line

This is the time to reach out in support, to create new networks, to open spaces and create something new.


revrobin2-023Bodies are always at risk in the world. But it feels to me that many bodies, and in some ways most bodies, are under attack in the United States these days.

Here are a few items in the news that create that reality for me:

  • Trans Bodies. In one of his first acts as the new Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions has alerted the federal appeals court in Texas that the government will no longer appeal the ruling af the district court judge who blocked, nationwide, Obama Administration rules protecting trans students in public schools. Read more here   This raises concern about how the new administration might position the government (or if it will try to do so) in a case, involving an appeal from the Gloucester County, Virginia, School Board already scheduled for hearing at the Supreme Court (the board appealing an appeals court ruling granting the right to Gavin Grimm to use the boy’s restroom at the county high school). Every trans public school student and their parents are facing great risk, not long after the Obama Administration raised hopes for real change.
  • ice-police-raids-pj-media
    PJ Media

    Immigrant Bodies. In the past few days, there has been reports of a marked increase in the number of ICE raids and arrests of immigrants who are without the necessary papers and those with criminal records. The targets have centered on eleven states, including California, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Illinois. Some of this continues Obama Administration practice of expelling immigrants with criminal records, but it also seems more people than under Obama have been deported for not having papers. The actions seem clearly focused Mexican nationals and other Latin Americans living in the United States. Articles in various foreign-language local media outlets have reported on widespread fear. Read more here and here.   Who knows where this will all end, but it is safe to say that millions of bodies, not just those who are deported but also those left behind, are likely affected.

  • Refugee Bodies. Closely connected are others from foreign lands, especially those fleeing horrible violence in their own land who, according to the President and others in the government, allegedly want to wreak it here. Clearly, we do not know how far the current government will be able to go, but in the meantime it is pretty scary–tens, nay hundreds, of thousands, at least, are at risk. .
  • Bodies Needing Healthcare. The continuing uncertainty about whether there will be any realistic replacement of the Affordable Care Act (after its almost certain repeal) leaves many facing not having health care that is affordable and accessible. The legislation to repeal seems stalled at the moment, as apparently those rabidly opposed to the program are realizing that though they belittled it many people depend on it for adequate health care. What does not seem to be going away however, is the determination of the Republican Congress and the President to end the Obama version even if they cannot agree on what the new one should look like. The anxiety for many with clear and ongoing needs for care is real—millions of bodies are at risk.
  • protect-womnes-healthWomen’s Bodies. Connected to the future of health care is the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. The bodies of at least two million low-income women are at stake if Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence succeed in doing what the Trump campaign promised last fall: take all federal Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood and give it to local community health clinics. Even if that does not happen, the health of many other women will be impacted due to the high proportion of women’s services, other than abortion, provided by Planned Parenthood clinics all over the nation. Read more here.
  • LGBT Bodies. And even one bad action averted is not fully reassuring. After public pressure, and according to some sources, the intervention of the President’s daughter and son-in-law, the rumored Executive Order to rescind protection of lesbian and gay persons in federal employment decisions was withdrawn. Read more here. The White House even publicly announced the change, touting the President as supportive of LGBT rights. Read more here.  Still, the Administration has not yet issued an expected order about religious freedom that would undermine LGBT rights, and Vice President Mike Pence has a long record of championing anti-LGBT causes. These factors leave many nervous about how far protections for LGBT will be undermined and rolled back. It seems clear there will be no forward movement—queer bodies again in jeopardy.
  • protect-my-vote-chip-somodevilla-getty-images
    Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

    Black Bodies, Poor Bodies, Elderly Bodies. The confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General causes a rising concern among African Americans, and other racial minorities, about federal protections. It seems clear that the Justice Department will slow down, or even end, efforts to help, and certainly stop suits against, local police departments to end racial profiling and other racist practices. In addition, voting rights seem likely to be under threat, and that involves not only African Americans but also poor people and elderly people of all races.

It may be then, that white straight men (WSM), at least those not poor, have little to fear, especially in their bodies. Those who want to grab pussy can still do so—just don’t talk about it in the locker room (someone might take you seriously), and their voting is not at issue.

I am old enough to remember days like that, the days when America was really great, at least for middle- and upper-class WSM. I don’t want to go back there. I doubt you do either.

Malachi and I usually write more obviously about bodies as connected to sex. However, he and I know that patriarchal constructions of society are never far removed from sex. And bodies are always at risk—even, potentially, some of those male bodies that look secure (e.g., men with LGBT children or siblings, friends and neighbors or business associates or co-workers who are Black or LatinX or Muslim, etc.).

bayard-rustin-angelic-troublemakersThe theological truth is that every body belongs to God, is part of the family of God, and deserves not only respect but also tender care and opportunities to thrive and glow, each in their own way. I am at a loss to explain how people who say they are conservative can so easily not engage in conserving each and every one of these glorious creations, and even more, actively engage in opposing efforts to care for every single body.

I shall resist as best I know how all anti-body rhetoric and activity. That begins with writing the truth as I see it, and asking you and others to join me in more truth-telling, marching, writing letters to Congress, and agitating wherever and whenever we can, being the “angelic troublemakers” (St.) Bayard Rustin called up decades ago.



14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMy childhood minister (prior to Rev. Robin), Rev. Gill Storey, told me once that “patriotism is the birthplace of racism.” That phrase has stuck with me throughout the years and has greatly influenced and informed my perspectives and beliefs on patriotism (particularly post 9/11) through adulthood. Right now, though, I think that it’s a particularly poignant message, as we have seen an uptick in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids behind the banner of “Make America Great Again.”

Indeed, how can we not see the link between patriotism and racism right now? But beyond racism, we see an assault on all bodies that do not conform to the accepted “all-American” look. We see, as Robin has linked, article after article in which different groups are being actively targeted because of their (actual and perceived) race, gender identity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, ethnicity, and/or country of origin.

Today, I don’t come with facts and figures, theory and substantiation. Today, I come with stories. Memories. Moments in my life that resonated so strongly that, when I see the echoes of them today, they make me shake with rage and fear.

I remember being trans in high school. I remember going by the name “Tony” on days where I wanted to be a boy. I remember, in acts of solidarity (as we understood them at the time), guys from band sitting with me on the bus and explaining which pocket you put your wallet in and which wrist should carry your watch. I remember, for the most part support. Except for that one day, when I needed to pee, and went into the bathroom, and freaked out a younger girl coming out of the stall. When I told this story to my friends, they looked at me and said, “Well… duh. You should have used the men’s room.” I didn’t know how to explain my fear of what would happen if I did, and instead tried to avoid using the bathroom at school, ever.

I remember changing band uniforms on the bus- they had a boys bus and a girls bus, and I was never sure which I should be in, which half my friends telling me one thing, and the other half saying something different.

I was on a trans panel a few years ago, and I listened to a friend talk about

being in a chronic state of dehydration because he didn’t want to navigate the public bathrooms on a college campus. I was floored, realizing that I, too, don’t drink nearly enough water and live in a chronic state of dehydration as a subconscious method of avoiding bathrooms. This is not a particularly good thing for me, as an adult, but it’s significantly worse for children and teenagers, whose bodies are growing and changing. It’s one small side effect of these bathroom bills and anti-trans laws that is rarely talked about, but we (as trans people) are doing violence to our own bodies to mitigate the fear of violence being perpetrated onto us.

Compared to what kids are facing now (and what many other kids faced when I was in school), my experience coming out as trans in high school was positively charmed. But I also remember the tension, the fear, the anxiety, the nervousness I felt in an environment that was, for the most part, fairly safe. And then I think about what these laws could do, the impacts they could (and do) have on kids who are struggling to figure out everything from who they want to take to prom to where they want to go to college to how to explain to their parents about why they missed curfew, and it makes me sick with rage and fear and concern. I want to be there, to be able to support these kids, to take something off the stress they are feeling from every other part of their lives. I see high school teachers struggling to connect and wanting to support their students, but not knowing how to.

I have friends that are undocumented, who are struggling to figure out next steps for themselves, their partners, their families. I have friends directly impacted by the ICE raids, struggling to figure out where to go to get away from the threats and realizing that there is nowhere to go. I have other friends talking about trapdoors to basements and who has enough space to house a family for a little while.

I have known someone whose visa ran out, and she and her partner had to figure out next steps because her partner, who was chronically ill, was as a vet and received all medical care through the VA. Leaving wasn’t an option for her partner, staying wasn’t an option for her, and being apart was an option for neither.

I have known black and brown bodies, black and brown friends who have been targeted by the police and civilians because of the color of their skin. I have known queer women who have committed suicide because of sexual assault. I have known sex workers who have been threatened with “outing” and prosecution unless they provided services to the police.

These are not abstractions for me. These are my friends, my people, the ones that I have potlucks with and watch their dogs while they’re away. These are the people whose postcards cover my kitchen wall and whose heads I have held while they cried. This is not statistics or figures or even something new for me. These are the people that I stand beside at protests, watching their courage as they hold signs and claim their lives and identities.

These laws enshrine an attitude in this culture that many have tried to deny for years. Yet as the days pass and executive order followed by cabinet appointment followed by misinformation continues to come from the White House, more begin to see the atrocities and we are banding together.

relationshipsThis is the time for community. This is the time to reach out in support, to create new networks, to open spaces and create something new. Now is the time that we must persevere, and the intersections of our identities give us different abilities and privileges to work within toward that goal.

If patriotism is the birthplace of racism, what then is the birthplace of freedom? Extending our communities to those of different experiences. Inviting refugees and welcoming immigrants. Holding hands on the street. Stopping and witnessing when the police have stopped and questioned a person of color on the street. Actively working against rape culture.

These executive orders and lawsuits and appointments are dire, and they are an assault on bodies- all bodies. So perhaps, those of us with more privilege can use our bodies- our whiteness, our straightness (or straight-passingness), our American citizenship, our maleness- to protect those who might otherwise be killed in the onslaught. We build community and protect others against this assault on our bodies, our beings, our existence. And through community, we are able to truly find freedom.

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.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us tomorrow, 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: 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.

Our Right to Choose

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.