Which Jubilee Will It Be?

. . . we have to find more ways to talk openly and positively about sex and bodies and spirituality

Malachi is on leave this month

Robin:

All justice is embodied justice; all injustice is embodied injustice.

Nude Shoot: Robin Gorsline, 10/3/2017I was reminded of that maxim—which I long ago adopted as a central key to understanding how the world works and doesn’t work—when I encountered an article in Huffington Post, “LGBTQ Adults in U.S. Less Likely to Have Jobs and Be Insured, Study Finds.” 

It must be noted immediately that the title of the article is misleading in that it appears to include transgender persons in the study. However, the study itself dealt only with sexual orientation, and there is no mention of gender variant or transgender persons in the report. Nor did the study indicate any awareness of queerness. My guess is that were a similar study done for those categories there would be an even greater disparity of outcomes as regards employment and health. It seems clear that in the U.S. attitudes towards transgender persons are considerably more negative than those toward LGB persons. I doubt most people, outside the LGBTQ world, even know much about being queer (and of course, many within the community debate use of the term).

huffington-post-logo-e1467848295212 (1)Despite legal gains and significant shifts in public attitudes, the reality remains that being, or being identified as, lesbian, gay, and bisexual carries considerable penalty and loss for many (and in some places, there even have been gains for transgender persons but the penalties are far more pervasive, often involving violence).

It is in the everyday interactions among people, among living and breathing human bodies, where deep, negative, often unacknowledged, attitudes and practices remain operative.

The study described in the article, led by Brittany Charlton, an assistant professor at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, confirms the results of earlier studies in showing that “overall, both male and female sexual minorities were about twice as likely to have been unemployed and uninsured over the prior year compared to straight peers. They were also more likely to report poorer health and quality of life.”

Charlton and her team also note that “Most of the study participants were white and their families had middle-to-high household incomes.” She says that this indicates “we may have underestimated levels of employment, being uninsured, and having poor health-quality of life.”

So, as always, race and class play a significant negative role.

LGBT-DiscriminationI doubt many readers here will be surprised by the results of this study, although maybe some might have thought that later results would be less negative than those from 1996 and 2004. That does not appear to be the case. This would indicate the depth of resistance that remains in the U.S. towards LGBTQ equality. And this study does not include the social attitudinal and legal effects of the Trump administration’s overt negativity towards those in sexual and gender minority communities.

Indeed, reports indicate that anti-LGBTQ homicides in 2017 nearly doubled from the prior year. According to a report by NBC News, “People of color were disproportionately represented in the findings and constituted the majority of victims. In total, 37 of the 52 victims were people of color. Thirty-one of the victims were black and four were Latinx. Twenty-seven of the victims were transgender women, and 22 of those victims were transgender women of color. Cisgender (non-transgender) men accounted for 20 of the homicides, most of which were related to “hookup violence,” the report states.

So what is my point? Again, we know we have a long way to go—that gains are not enough, and that some gains are already undermined, and more may be.

My point in highlighting this survey and other reports is simply this: we have to find more ways to talk openly and positively about sex and bodies and spirituality.

spiritual sexIt is especially important for us to link sex and bodies with spiritual life, if for no other reason than that so many retain old artificial divisions based on ancient understandings that the body is the site of unclean and even evil thoughts and acts while the spirit is pure and holy.

But frankly, we need to do this for a larger reason—namely that everyone will be helped when we, all of us, can see the divine in all things, including our bodies and sexuality. And we will not get there without also showing that the wide variety of bodies and sexual practices are good and blessed and holy (assuming there is always consent for any sexual activity).

I can say I am continually frustrated within my own faith movement, Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), because of deep unwillingness to acknowledge and share our various sexual lives and practices. Indeed, this blog began initially by me alone, in response to that frustration, to try to start conversation. Few seemed to notice, especially within MCC.

Then, Malachi joined me and thanks to his openness and courage the range of experiences and topics grew significantly. Still, few joined the readership.

My frustration is particularly acute because we promote each of our blog posts through various MCC social media fora, and have been doing so the entire time. Still, few join.

Troy Quote 01What is particularly vexing is that MCC was founded on sex, namely to overcome the reality that open and self-affirming lesbian and gay people were regularly denied full membership and leadership in Christian churches generally and were often hounded out and deeply damaged. It was because of sex that the Rev. Elder Troy Perry called the first service on October 6, 1868.

Yes, it will be 50 years this fall since that first service in living room of Troy Perry’s little pink house (isn’t that delicious?) in Los Angeles.

Jubilee year Proclaim-LibertyIn the Jewish traditions out of which Christianity emerged, 50 years was the time of jubilee. At the end of seven cycles of Sabbath years, according to Leviticus 25:8-13, slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly evident.

That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee to you. In it you shall not sow, neither reap that which grows of itself, nor gather from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you. You shall eat of its increase out of the field. In this Year of Jubilee each of you shall return to his property.(11-12)

What will Metropolitan Community Churches celebrate this Jubilee year? Will it be how we have survived (right now more or less by the skin of our teeth)?

Or will it be to return to the original vision God had for Troy and us—to truly blow the trumpet of liberation for sexual minorities and all people who see the divine in our intimate, embodied relationships, to become the teachers of the Church universal, the beacons of hope and joy, and justice, in and for all bodies?

Let us pray.

What’s Your Comfort Zone?

Our sense of safety, of self, of ideology, all of these things lay within our comfort zones . . . .

Malachi:

DSC_0599Robin and I recently spent some time discussing comfort zones- for me, particularly, the nuanced difference between “comfort zone” and “gut instinct.” The distinction between the two, I think, is difficult to ascertain sometimes because stepping outside of our comfort zones and having a gut feeling about something can often feel much the same.

But let’s back up and talk about what comfort zones are. At the most basic level, our comfort zone is where we feel the most safe. We know our surroundings, we know the people we are engaging with, the know the circumstances, and we don’t feel threatened in any capacity. Our sense of safety, of self, of ideology, all of these things lay within our comfort zones.

And that’s a great place to be! It’s good to feel calm and self-assured and safe. I think we all need a respite from hard emotional, psychological, and spiritual work sometimes. The problem with comfort zones, though, is that staying within them too long often leads to stagnation.

My mother is fond of reminding me that “we don’t change until it hurts bad enough.” Growth, change, they all come from tension, from butting up against something we thought we believed and finding our beliefs questioned. And in order to do that, we have to be outside of our comfort zones.

I spend a lot of time in therapy, parsing out my unusual comfort zones. I am, for example, perfectly comfortable walking around naked in (designated) public spaces, having sex in public, tying people up, getting tied up, talking about sex hypothetically,

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Photo by NearlyCandy Photography

saying, “I love you,” and so forth. But it feels immensely outsides my comfort zone- that is, it makes me very uncomfortable and, in some ways, vulnerable to the point of feeling unsafe- to instigate sex with a partner, or identify and communicate something that I want. I once noted in my journal, “Why is it easier to say, ‘I love you,’ than it is to say, ‘I want to fuck you’?”

Because comfort is subjective, based on each of our personal and interpersonal experiences. Comfort zones are the boundaries drawn as a result of trauma and struggle, as well as positive experiences. But perhaps that’s a key point in all of this- comfort zones are based on boundaries, a separation of safe and not-safe, a delineation between what reinforces and supports our beliefs and what challenges them.

It’s the foundation of how we draw boundaries in general: boundaries with one another, boundaries with ourselves. Which is where we have to talk about the nuances between comfort zones and gut instinct. Because where pushing outside of comfort zones can be a really positive thing and lead to self-introspection and change, gut instinct is often there to help keep us safe. It’s the feeling that something is off, something isn’t quite right. And that feeling is important, too; that’s often what happens when our bodies pick up on subtle cues that we aren’t consciously aware of. And that edge, that discomfort, that heightened awareness when our gut instincts kick in… often feels much the same as stepping outside of our comfort zones.

The difference is, of course, that one is a perceived lack of safety, whereas the other might be alerting us to something legitimately dangerous. It’s important that we press outside our comfort zones for growth and change, but it’s also important that we listen to our gut instincts. So how do we know, in moments of discomfort, which is which?

For me, especially because my understanding of comfort is fairly warped, I often have to play, “What’s the worst that could happen?” in my mind to remind myself that there is no actual danger in being outside my comfort zone. So, for example, when I am in a position where I want to instigate sex with a partner, and I get that terrified feeling that comes along with that desire, I have to remind myself that the worst that can happen is that my partner isn’t interested and declines. And then I remind myself that that’s not even a bad outcome because I feel so grateful to be with people who trust me enough to not only state their desires, but to state their lack of desire. Someone saying “no” helps me trust comfort zonethat they really mean “yes” when they say yes. There is no actual danger here; only growth and positive communication.

On the other hand, if I’m walking down the street and I start to feel uncomfortable, I do the same thing. I think about what the possible outcomes are. I think about “what area” I’m in, and whether the reactions I’m having are coming from a place of internalized racism (is this a predominantly black part area, and how is that influencing my sense of safety?) I think about the experiences I’ve been having (have I seen anyone? How have those interactions been?) and use as much information as I can to decide whether I’m just… a white person outside of my comfort zone (which I can use as an opportunity for growth and change and tackling my own internalized racism) or am I someone that people are interacting with in a violent or unwelcome sexual way where I should be concerned about my own safety?

I appreciate, for example, that this blog and these discussions often fall outside of people’s comfort zones. We butt up against the status quo, the “accepted” mainstream doctrine for Christianity and Christian belief in openly- deliberately- discussing sexuality and the miracle of our bodies with respect to our faith practices. But there is no danger here. There is thought, hopefully well-articulated for the most part, and discussion, and lived experience. There are people on the other end of these words that don’t have the answers, but want to push ourselves outside the spiritual comfort zone to find new ways of connecting with and understanding ourselves, one another, and the holy. It may be discomforting. It may make us angry, or scared, or uncertain, or all of the things that happen when we decide to question deeply held beliefs.

But at the end of all of this, there is God, smiling as we struggle with complexities of what it means to be human and seek to worship as authentically as we know how. There is a quote that comes to mind from Thomas Merton’s prayer, “Thoughts in Solitude,” though I first heard it paraphrased from a TV show: “I don’t know how to please you, Lord, but I think the fact that I want to please you pleases you.”

I believe that God is pleased when we push ourselves outside our comfort zones, seeking to grow and change and understand God, ourselves, the world, and each other better. Our comfort zones provide a good respite from the daily struggles of the world, a reprieve when we are exhausted, but we cannot live there all the time, for it a place of quiet rest, and not necessarily a place of vibrant growth.

Robin:

“I would like to do that with (or for or even to) you, but it’s not in my comfort zone.” Over the years of my life, I have said this a few times, probably more than I remember.  It also has been said to me.

What is a “comfort zone?” One definition I found says, “a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.” Obviously, there can be locations which always, or at least generally, feel like comfort zones—home, I hope, although I know that is not the case for too many—but there also can be specific episodes or situations in other places that can feel like they are within our comfort zone. Sometimes, we even find new zones.

It is tempting, and for me often the case, to stay in traditional (for me) comfort zones and to live only in places and situations that are clearly comfortable, and to avoid those that don’t feel that way. As a well-privileged white cis gender male with extensive education and a middle class background, it is not difficult to live only in my social comfort zone. However, there are times when I, we, must act beyond our comfort zones.

My comfort zone does not include stepping into the midst of an argument between two or more people that is turning ugly and seems to be heading toward violence. But I might have to do it anyway, if I want no further violence, bloodshed or irreversible outcomes.  Of course, this depends on my investment in the people (and possibly institutions) involved, and potentially my desire for safety for all of us, including me.

Right now, I feel myself being more of an agitator than is my usual comfortable practice—I like to think of it as being one of Saint Bayard Rustin’s “angelic troublemakers”—on social media sites linked to my faith community, Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC). The details don’t matter here, but what is causing me to act up more than normal is a desire to resist and overcome the debilitating and oppressive power of white supremacy in our history and our present that has been and is infecting policies and practices of our leadership and others.

Doing this feels outside my comfort zone, and yet it also feels right. But sometimes, I feel skittish. I recently reposted an important notice from a leader who was resigning her posts because as an African American woman she no longer feels recognized and heard. I began that post with the words, “This will probably get me in trouble……” Fortunately, I was called on those words, and edited them out, realizing they were only designed to shield me from the discomfort and/or anger of others.

Here is irony: My search for a definition of “comfort zone” lead me a link to the “Comfort Zone,” a novelty and party store that I know, from visits, carries a large array of sex toys, “adult” videos, sexy clothing (especially for women). I have gone there to purchase lube and cock rings. It would not be comfortable for many (probably most) people to visit this store (ironically, I only learned about it because it is next door to our veterinarian’s clinic).

But of course, this blog, Sex Bodies Spirit, is also outside the comfort zone of many people. I started it, joined a little later by Malachi (praise God!) and we then added a monthly online teaching, through Metropolitan Community Churches, but it certainly did not draw much interest from clergy and members (we had, and have a few fans from MCC).  The monthly teaching no longer exists.

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I think that is a loss for the church, but you can’t easily get people to leave their comfort zones. Indeed, church communities are notoriously skittish about talking about sex. Not doing sex, just talking about it, openly, positively, maturely—as if it were a key part of being human (which, of course, it is).

As regular readers of this space know, I like being naked. I would like to be naked more of the time than I am (at this time of year our house is too chilly). And I wish there were beaches and other venues in the near vicinity where I could be naked when I want.

But, as Malachi and I talked about the topic of “comfort zones” 10 days ago, I realized that I had some anxiety about being one of two presenters and discussion facilitators in an online venue where the next topic is nudity. Titled “Naked and Unashamed,” Rev. Dr. Frank Dunn and I will discuss various spiritual aspects of nudity. We will even be nude, and encourage others to do the same if that is within their comfort zones. [This is through Jonathan’s Circle, a group of men, started by Frank some years ago, who participate in various ways to learn more about sexuality and spirituality and their connections.]

I have been trying to discern the nature of my anxiety. I can’t believe it is being naked on camera. I have posed naked in front of dozens of people, ridden my bike naked through the streets of Philadelphia with a thousand other naked people in front of many times that number of clothed Philadelphians, and posted full-frontal nude pictures of myself on my personal blog, “The Naked Theologian.”  As the name of that blog says, I am quite willing to be identified with nakedness, and to be seen naked. I even read a poem at a public reading in my town about my fantasy of dancing naked in the town square, how others joined in, and we decided to make it an annual event (no one commented or asked me about it afterwards).

So what is going on? What part of me is being challenged?

I have puzzled about this, and have concluded that for some reason I do not fully understand this particular naked adventure is making my commitment to nudism more real than it has been. Indeed, as soon as I wrote that sentence, I decided to crank up the heat in my study and take all my clothes off.

It certainly feels good to do that, and it helps me understand that, at least in some ways, I am more comfortable naked than clothed. Don’t get me wrong, clothes matter to me (I enjoy color and my own ideas of my style), but if I could, I would live naked all the time.

I have found a new comfort zone.

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

What are your comfort zones? Do you ever venture beyond one or more of them? If so, under what circumstances? If not, why not? How in touch are you with your various comfort zones? 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.

Mark Your Calendar! April 11, right here, the next installment of Sex, Bodies, Spirit.

 

Putting Sex back into Christmas

Robin:

Each year at Christmas, we encounter the biblical description of what has become known as the Virgin Birth (not to be confused with“ immaculate conception,” which says the conception of Mary was immaculate).  We have two sources for this, chapter one of both the Gospel according to Matthew and according to Luke. Mark is silent, as is John. This “pure” way of Jesus’ conception maintains a powerful hold for many believers.

Long ago, I became convinced that this is theological make believe, dreamt up by those who felt that the Messiah could not be the Messiah if he were the product of the sexual activity of his parents. If he is going to be the Son of God, surely God must be his father, right?

Of course, this denies the fact that for me, and most Christians, and Jews, too, every human being is born a child of God. Whether this is literal or figurative is important but does not take away the power of the connection between humanity and the divine One. Without God, the Source of all life, we would not be here.

I remember when I served as a seminary field education intern at an Episcopal congregation in Brookline, MA, I was assigned to meet weekly with the women’s Bible study group. When I told them we would read the birth account from Matthew and from Luke for the following week, one of the members, an older woman born in England, said, “You won’t require us to believe in the virgin birth will you?” Others supported her.

I assured them we did not have theological litmus tests in the group. During our subsequent discussion of the texts, most of the women, some of whom were mothers, spoke very plainly about their belief that Jesus was the child of Mary and Joseph in all respects. The mothers spoke movingly about the birthing experience, including knowing that, whether their husbands were allowed to be present or not (this was 1981 and these births had taken place considerably earlier when the presence of fathers in the delivery room was less common), they shared the intense feelings—the pain and the joy—with the partner who shared the responsibility for creating and caring for this new life.

I was very moved. I thought about the stories of the birth in the stable, how Joseph is pictured as being there with Mary and the baby and how he took them to Egypt for safety against the rampage of King Herod. I also thought about the birth of my daughters, perhaps most powerfully the first but with all three, and how I was present in the delivery room and how I heard angels singing and creation cheering as Judy’s labor pains became more and more intense, then gave way to birth. Each time I felt overwhelming joy and awe. I wept, I thanked God again and again for bringing me and Judy together in the first place and then blessing our marriage and love-making and being on the parenting journey with us. We—Judy, God and I—were a threesome creating life.

I say love-making, but of course I mean sex. Over the course of our almost nine-year marriage, Judy and I had sexual intercourse—more than three times—that resulted in the births of three girls. Some people say, “We’re trying to make a baby.” It is a nice way of saying they are having sex, and hope sperm and egg will meet and mate.

For some reason we can’t talk about it. I think a key reason for that is the idea that Jesus had to be born without human sexual activity in order to be holy. In order to be better than every other human he could not be conceived in the usual way. That sets up a system in which human sexuality is devalued. I admit to not being an expert about ancient attitudes toward sex, so it is entirely possible, I imagine likely, that the devaluing of human sexuality was already a common social idea.

Either way, today we can’t even talk about sex in general, really talk about it, honestly and seriously without innuendo and jokes (often offensive). Currently, much conversation is, rightly, focused on the misuse and abuse of sex, and that soul-searching and fundamental change must continue.

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Still, I want us as a society, and certainly those of us who are Christians, to find ways to talk more openly about the beauty and power of sex. One way to do that is to put the sex back in Christmas, or more accurately to jettison the Virgin Birth in favor of the real conception and the real birth which brought Jesus into the world.

According to polls, most Americans believe in the facticity of the Virgin Birth. Many Christian theologians and clergy, probably most, see it as an essential doctrine. “To remove the miraculous from Christmas is to remove this central story of Christianity,” according to Gary Burge, a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. “It would dismantle the very center of Christian thought and take away the keystone of the arch of Christian theology.”

Burge, and many others share this view: If Jesus was not virgin-born, then he was not the son of God; if he was not the son of God, then he was just another crucified man and not the sacrifice that would redeem the sins of the world. (To read a journalistic account of this debate, click here )

I want to be clear on one point: I do not question the power of God to do this impregnating, but I do question whether God would see the need to undermine the power and beauty of divinely-inspired creation in order to anoint a human as Messiah.

God likes sex, wants us to have more of it—with consent—and enjoy it more, not only during the acts but to be able to talk about it and enjoy it openly in anticipation and memory. Indeed, I think if we could get sex really out in the open it would be less susceptible to abuse.

So, here’s to Mary and Joseph, who got it on and created Jesus of Nazareth. Thanks be to God!

Malachi:

Perhaps this is less of a risqué statement now than it would have been at other points, but as we approach the Christmas season, I have to make a confession: I have never believed in the immaculate conception, nor the concept of the virgin birth.

This is, perhaps, a strange thing because, after all, isn’t the virgin birth a central aspect of the Christmas story and, in fact, the entirety of the Christian faith? I remember having a conversation with someone- I believe it was my mother, while she was in seminary- and we were discussing the concepts of virgin birth and immaculate conception. She told me that what makes the story of Mary unusual isn’t the claim of impregnation while maintaining virginity-

Photo credit: NearlyCandy Photography

historically, queens would make this claim as justification for what made their sons fit to rule over other men; they were not just men, but half-gods, conceived through divine intervention and ordained by deity to rule. No, what made Mary’s claim uncommon wasn’t that she claimed immaculate conception, but that she did so as a commoner. She was not a queen and she was in no position to bear children destined to rule over others.

Understanding that history solidified my belief that Mary was not, in fact, a virgin. I don’t know how she was impregnated, but I assume one of two things happened: either she had premarital intercourse with someone (perhaps Joseph, perhaps someone else), or she was sexually assaulted and became pregnant as a result. Either way, I think there are powerful messages in the concept of the Christmas story that are missed when we cling to a belief in the virgin birth story.

I think we find an incredible story of mercy. A story that shows us the power of God to take a horrific experience (such as assault or rape) and transform it into something healing and powerful. Do I think that the birth of Jesus is a justification for the traumatic experience of rape? Of course not; I’ve never ascribed much to an “ends justify the means” mentality. Rape is, in and of itself, a traumatic, horrific experience, and to live through it (and bear children as a result of it) is atrocious. But the world is full of trauma and horrific experiences that people must figure out how to live through (as we continuously work to eradicate sexually-based violence), and in the story of Mary, I see an immense capacity for healing and transformation after a violating experience.

How can we come to heal from our own traumas and begin to see the experiences that shaped us in new ways? Without minimizing the horror of violence visited upon bodies, how can we realistically move through these experiences to come to a new way of existing in our world? Perhaps we become brazen, like Mary. Perhaps we speak up, and speak our truth. For her, her truth was that she was carrying a child destined to become the King of Kings, the Messiah. She was scorned and ridiculed for her truth, yet she spoke it anyway. What truth can we speak from our own wounds and traumas?

On a less heavy note, my preference is to believe that Mary had premarital

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sex. Perhaps she was working as a sex worker, or perhaps she and Joseph got caught up in a moment of passion. Regardless, she broke social mores and bore the consequences of that. And God didn’t care. God is not bound my social rules, nor is God bound by expectations and social hierarchy. This child would be the vessel through which others would come to know and understand God, a message made that much more powerful in understanding that his roots are less than pristine.

What a message- we do not have to be perfect, or come from perfect circumstances, to be a vessel for God. We do not have to meet social criteria or man-made rules to be anointed and appointed. We are Enough, just as we are, not in spite of where we come from, but because of it. Mary had sex outside of wedlock and bore a child who would be known as the son of God. What further proof do we need in the awesome mercy of God, in the miracle of the Christmas story, in the power of our own sexuality to form and build and create?

I want to put the sex back into Christmas because I think the sex is important. I think that we have a rich, powerful story that explores the awesome power of sex to build and form connection, to create life- not just “life” in the sense of a child, but “life” in the sense of creating new life within each of us, allowing space for ourselves to grow in the power of God through our sexual experiences and expressions. Focusing on the virginity and purity of the story, for me, takes away from the awesome power of God to transform our lives- our very human, imperfect lives. Taking the sex out of Christmas allows us to cling to these ideas of purity and morality, an anti-sex sentiment that runs rampant in Christianity when, in fact, the origin of our faith is most likely rooted in sexual exploits that defied social rules!

Photo Credit here

Sex is good. And quite frankly, what I see in the Christmas story is one of God saying, “I don’t care if you signed the piece of paper before you fuck; I care that you live lives of intentionality and care, that you are willing to see the miracle of your existence and hear me when I speak your name. I care that you will listen to my call, even when others around you do not understand, even when others around you disagree, I want to know that you remain steadfast in your love for me.” And that is what I get out of Christmas: a story of healing. One of transformation. One where a young woman proudly claimed her right to bear children ordained by God. One where God shucks off the limiting rules of humanity and reminds us that God cannot be constrained by our limited perspectives on purity.

This is a message of hope, yes. One of power and transformation. But it is not found through ignoring, minimizing, or disregarding our sexual selves, but found through claiming, owning, experiencing them fully, and hearing when the voice of God speaks our names.

We’re Back

… join us Wednesday, October 11 as we reengage exploration of our spirituality as it connects with our relationships to ourselves, our bodies, and our sexuality. 

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nAfter making the difficult decision to take a hiatus from this blog over the summer, Robin and Malachi are excited to announce that we will be returning–with a few adjustments–this month.

revrobin2-023To help balance our passion for speaking honestly about sexuality and spirituality against the drain of writing every week, we have decided to publish once a month for the next several months to help ease back into the discussions and topics.

Then, beginning in January, we hope to publish twice a month–one piece co-authored by us, and a second piece featuring a guest author. We welcome suggestions (or volunteers) for different voices you would like to see highlighted in these discussions. At this time, we will not be returning to the monthly seminars offered as continuing education courses for clergy, though you are welcome to review this past year’s sessions here.

National-Coming-Out-DaySo join us Wednesday, October 11–and National Coming Out Day–as we reengage in this discussion and exploration of our spirituality as it connects with our relationships to ourselves, our bodies, and our sexuality.

Sex, God, and Unicorns

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Robin:

One of our readers sent me a link to an article—she called it “horrible”—as a way of encouraging me and Malachi to keep writing. “Christians Are Not Called to Have Amazing Sex” by Rachel Pietka (read it here) is, in my view, an attempt to stall or reverse any movement within Christianity to talk openly, and most importantly, positively, about sex in all its varieties, and even more to stand aggressively against openness to premarital sex (and although it is not named, I am sure also against same-sex sex and other “abominations”).

The author’s main point seems to be to stop people from making sex into God. I am aware that there are people for whom sex is an idol—on a par with making tons of money or being at the pinnacle of social or career success or having a “perfect” body—and I evrevrobin2-023en know a few men who think the cock (theirs and all others, too) is God. But by and large, in my experience within Christianity, even in Metropolitan Community Churches, there is a much greater danger that sex is the devil, Satan’s agent to lead us astray, and/or it is so spiritually dangerous that we should not talk openly about it. If we pretend not to know about it, then it will surely not bother us.

But that default position is not at all accurate. I grew up in a time when sex talk of any sort was really taboo. That did not stop people from having sex.

I remember when I was about eight (1954 or so), my mother’s best friend and her husband (she was a high school English teacher and he was the high school principal) invited people to their home for a reception in honor of their son and his new wife (a surprise to all because there had been no wedding invitations). What became immediately obvious was that the young woman was pregnant.

pregnant womanPeople sat around, sipping tea and maybe taking a bite of cake or cookie, in more or less stunned silence. No one knew what to say. We lived in a small conservative town 40 miles northwest of Detroit—and this sort of thing was not supposed to happen (never in the “better” families).

I have some small memory of the strangeness; I think I might have been the only child present but am not sure. I know my parents, shocked though they may have been (and they may have known of the situation in advance), would not have abandoned their friends.

What my mother recounted many times about the afternoon was her gratitude to her future son-in-law who came with my sister (she was friends with both newlyweds). He did not grow up in our town, and was in some ways a stereotypically “brash” Jew (there were no Jews in our town). He mingled with people and doggedly worked to create small-talk—breaking the silence. He was an actor, and for decades a well-regarded professional stage director, and he knew how to get people engaged. My mother often said, “Bentley saved the day.” But even he could not get people talking about what was really bothering them—and I am sure my mother was also glad of that!

I recount this story, well aware that much has changed in the 60 years since, but also well aware that in other ways little has changed. We still cannot really talk about sex.

You can't say that in church jasonkoon net
jasonkoon.net

And while we may agree when someone, like me or Malachi, speaks of sex as a gift of God or writes about the godliness of sex or divinely inspired eroticism, we never speak of it in church. When was the last time you heard the word “sex” used in a prayer in church or any public gathering? Is your sex life on your personal gratitude list? Or if in your mind it does not merit gratitude, is it on your prayer request list? Do you ask God for more sex, better sex, perhaps both?

My point is simply this: far from needing to police people’s desire to have good sex lives, we need to help all of us openly, joyfully, claim our desire for great sex, to pay attention to what kind of sex we want and even to learn more about how to get it.

And here’s the corollary for me: God wants us to have great sex, too. That’s why our bodies are wired the ways they are, we are created as sexual beings. How did we get here anyway? (I know its not nice or polite to think about our biological parents having sex, but I assure you they did).

So, I am going to pick up where my brother-in-law left off 50+ years ago: I am going to talk about bodies and sex.

Robin naked at desk 1_edited-1I am sitting at my desktop writing this, and I am naked. Of course, being naked is not the same as sex. Being naked is simply being our authentic selves, not covering up our body, the body we have from God. We are created in the image of God, and thus our bodies are part of the divine portrait. After many decades of not feeling good about my body, I finally learning to like it, indeed love it. Nakedness helps.

Sitting here naked—which I like to be as much as possible—allows me to “touch myself” as I feel moved to do so. I run my hands over my chest, tousle and then smooth my unruly hair, rub my sore feet and aching back as best I can. And I touch my penis and testicles (I call them my cock and balls—someday I may write a piece on why I choose to say “cock” rather than “dick”).

And at times, I do more than touch them. I massage them, I stimulate them. I do this as I write—and not just when writing this blog focused on sex, bodies, and spirit; I do this when writing more heady and traditional theology or poetry or other social commentary. Sometimes, I do this while I am feeling stumped about a word choice or when I am trying to discern what the next paragraph or stanza should be. The situation may have nothing to do with sex, but my body, my genitals, crave some stroking.  I respond, with pleasure. Sometimes, I just touch them to express self-love.

And of course, I also touch myself erotically when I think about a hot time with my husband (or even just picturing him) or a scene or a body I have seen online or a story I have read at Nifty Erotic Stories Archive, a place for gay men, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender (often but not always non-professional) writers to post their erotic stories (sorry, I don’t know the location for similar non-LGBT erotic writing—I am sure there are many). Nifty asks for donations to pay for the site, but it is accessible free of charge.

And of course, sometimes I get pretty worked up, and even ejaculate. That feels very good.

sex is divine arealrattlesnake com
arealrattlesnake.com

Okay, I have outed myself as a sexual being.  I have done this to make two points: first, we need more openness, more celebration, not less, about sex—especially in churches, communities called together by God who loves sex and wants us to like it, too.

And second, it is up to us to lead the way. I am glad to start.

How about you? Maybe you’d like to out yourself, too. It can feel pretty good! Even godly.

We could start a new spiritual movement—or rejuvenate the old one. God would be pleased.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

I have a habit of referring to myself as a “unicorn;” that is, a somewhat mythical being that doesn’t quite seem to be real. This spans across many different facets of my identity, but I bring it up here specifically because I am a second (and in some interpretations, third) generation queer person.

As I have spoken about elsewhere, I was raised in a lesbian family and identify as queer myself. But beyond that, many of the people who mentored and nourished my growth were also mentors to my parents, some of whom were old enough to be their parents. As a result, my family as I understood it consisted of people who have lived, and fought, as queer people over the span of three generations.

This directly impacted so many parts of my life- not the least of which was my concept of sex and personal sexual growth. In my life, neither my mothers (nor any other trusted adult in my life) told me that I should “wait until marriage to have sex.” For one thing, my parents (and most other adults in my life) were queer, and thus denied the rights of marriage. It would have been hypocritical at best to espouse a “no sex until marriage” code when it wasn’t one they were able to follow themselves.

Certainly, they had commitment and were, in the eyes of God, married, even if the state didn’t see it that way. Nonetheless, though, they didn’t tell me that I should wait until marriage- they told me that “if I couldn’t talk openly about it with my partners, then I probably shouldn’t be doing it with them.”

During sex education in high school, I certainly understood and heard the message that the best way to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies was to abstain from sex, but I was also exposed to information about birth control and barrier protection methods (I discovered later that I was immensely lucky for the sex education I received).

But beyond sex education in school, I found my growing sexuality supported and

hitachi
Hitachi Magic Wand Photo Credit

encouraged by many of the adults around me, all of whom I met through church. For example, one woman was teaching me to drive stick shift, and over the course of the day, the topic of sex came up. She asked me if I felt comfortable masturbating, and encouraged me to do more of it, noting that some of the best sex of her life had been with herself.

Another adult encouraged me to “wine and dine” myself: that is, take myself on a date and allow self-pleasure to be the result of desire, rather than necessity.

But perhaps my favorite story is when I was coming home on a break from college at 18 and spending time at my godmother’s house. In college, I began to aggressively explore my sexual identity, and had been having copious amounts of sex with a variety of people. Feeling a little full of myself, I was recounting my sexual exploits to my godmother, who promptly asked me, “Are you being safe?” I looked at her with a puzzled expression and stated, “Well… everyone I’m sleeping with was assigned female at birth, so…”

She looked at me again, and said, “Ok. So, are you being safe?” I had no idea what she was talking about. She then went into her bedroom, came out with a box of nitrile gloves and a dental dam, pulled out a tub of ice cream from the freezer, and proceeded to teach me about safer sex methods, using the ice cream as a prop while she explained (and demonstrated, on the ice cream) how to use a dental dam.

I say all this to say, I had a very unusual experience in my own introduction to sex, and most of it came through the church, and from generations of queer people who had done the hard work to overcome much of their own sexual repression and were eager to counteract the puritanical social messages they knew I would receive.

Yet even I have hangups about sex. Despite their best efforts, I felt a sense of internalized shame about some of my own sexual desires, and still had to deal with the impacts of social messaging that taught me that desiring sex, as a woman, was shameful. But for me, so few of those messages came through the church- in fact, the church is where I found the most affirming messages about sex.

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Photo Credit

And that, to me, is the key, the crux of MCC. We have generations of stories and people that have struggled and fought to overcome their own sexual repressions. Why are we not leading the charge to be a Christian movement that not only accepts, but loudly rejoices in our existence as sexual beings? (I say this, of course, recognizing and respecting those who are asexual and do not necessarily identify as sexual.) In this regard, I don’t want to be a “unicorn”- I wish everyone had stories like mine, of going to a place of worship and finding not only acceptance, but open celebration and support of who they are as sexual beings.

I recognize that these conversations happened one-on-one, and not inside of worship. Yet we should know that our churches and our sanctuaries are places where we can find people with whom to have these conversations. We should know that our whole selves- including our sexual selves- will be celebrated and embraced when we walk through the doors of an MCC.

We receive so many messages about sex every day: messages using sex to sell us a product, messages telling us that certain types of sexual expression are wrong, messages that enforce the “right” kind of sexual behavior, messages that shame us for our sexual desires, messages that blame victims for sexual violence, and so forth. Shouldn’t our sanctuaries be a place of true refuge from the sexual oppression- and repression- that we face every day?

Silence is so often complicity. When so many others are speaking vocally in oppressive and repressive ways, why do we stay silent, or speak in whispers? What levels of shame and sexual repression do we still need to overcome in our own lives so that we may speak our truths? I challenge each of us to consider, deeply, the messages we have received over the course of our lives- the positive and the negative. Which have we done the work to reject, and which do we still carry with us? Which help our growth in community, with God, with one another, and which hinder it? Which feed the shame and silence, and which support the foundations to speak our truths?

We seek to live our lives out loud, but we must remember that our sexuality is a part of our lives, of our spirits, of our means of connecting with one another and with God. To silence that aspect of ourselves is to silence a portion of the holy that lives within each and every one of us.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What are your feelings about talking about sex? Do you want to, but feel you can’t most places? What were the messages you received as your grew up about sex, and about talking openly about it? What role does shame play in your relationship with sex? If you 40 and older, what changes about sexual attitudes do you see in our culture today? Are you comfortable with them? Why or why not? If you are under 30, is society (and/or church) open enough or do you want more? Why or why not? Do you think we can mention sex in church with appreciation and candor?  Do you pray about sex? 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 next week, 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.

How Resurrected (and Res-erected) Are Our Bodies?

we have perpetuated the violation of Jesus’ body by our insistence that his was not a real body

Robin:

revrobin2-023The Sunday of the Resurrection, AKA Easter Sunday, has come and gone, and in the liturgical calendar we are now in the season of Easter during which the Gospels record various appearances by the embodied Jesus.

The interactions can be confusing—ranging, in John, from Jesus telling Mary not to touch him because he has not yet risen to his slightly later appearance to a gathering of the disciples, showing his wounds, and still later inviting Thomas to put his fingers and hands in the holes in his side. Even then, he seems to go through walls to join them, thus causing many to question how fleshy and intact his body was. And in Luke, he appears to several of them on the road to Emmaus and then stands among the disciples in Luke and Mark, and in Luke he asks for and eats food in their presence.

Then there is Lazarus, who was not crucified and does not ascend, but whose body is resurrected from the tomb. He was all wrapped up in the tomb, and comes out at Jesus’ command, and then others peel the cloth from him.

resurrectionAll this raises some questions for me about post-resurrection bodies. I have wondered at times if Lazarus was naked under the burial clothes. What about Jesus? The gospels all say the soldiers took his clothes at the cross. Or did they each have a chaste covering of their loins? Jesus must have at least been uncovered in his upper body in order for the disciples to see and touch the holes.

At least one writer has speculated how rude and disorienting it must have been for Lazarus to be brought back after being at rest in the tomb. At least Jesus may have been prepared for something to happen after being crucified and entombed–even if he did not know what it would be exactly.

So how do we understand what constitutes post-resurrection bodies? What to make of this, in terms of our bodies? Are we ever resurrected?

St Thomas byCaravaggio
St. Thomas by Caravaggio

As I ponder these questions, I experience the gospel accounts taking pains to tell us Jesus was resurrected in his body, just as Lazarus had been. I hear yet again the theme of incarnation, that doctrine of theology that has long been difficult for the church to comprehend—God appeared in the body of one born of a woman, so the teaching goes, and the writers seem to say that “he” reappeared the same way.

It will not surprise regular readers here that this reinforces my belief in the centrality of bodies, my perception and deep conviction that spirituality is an embodied connection with divinity and each other, that it is not limited to our minds, our words, our thoughts but is as much centered in our bodies and in our embodied relationships (for example, check out my post in “WTF Do We Do with Lent?”).

A certainty has grown in me over the years that the church—really all, or almost all, of it—has gotten very far away from incarnation—not only do we fail to talk openly and honestly, and positively, about sex as part of our faith lives (God forbid we should talk about it in church!), we don’t even want to acknowledge that we all have bodies. That’s why, when I began this blog, I knew I had to include sex and bodies in the title—no circumlocutions, no beating-about-the-bush, just clearly sex and bodies, connected with spirit. They go together without qualification, without apology.

The Sexuality of Jesus by Wm PhippsBut that is not what happened after Jesus showed his post-resurrection body, and after the gospel writers included accounts of his appearances. Over the centuries theologians and popes and many others have expended considerable energy making Jesus less fully human than divine—while claiming he is both in all respects. Some writers have resisted this—William Phipps, e.g., has offered several texts, Was Jesus Married? and The Sexuality of Jesus that openly explored possibilities—but in reality few have raised these matters as part of our shared faith journey.

Of course, we have no images of Jesus’ body drawn in his own time, and he has been portrayed in all sorts of ways—too often as blonde and blue-eyed in Western traditions—but in all mainstream portrayals of him on the cross he has at least a cloth over his genitals. This seems to contradict the gospel testimony, as well as what we can assume would have been the intent of authorities to shame him through nakedness. In some ways, we have perpetuated the violation of Jesus’ body initially done by the authorities by our centuries of insistence that his was not a real body. It feels like sexual violence to me. I suggest one post-Resurrection way to begin getting real about bodies is to let Jesus have a whole one.

However, as interesting as it would be to see drawings of his actual appearance, the post-Resurrection bodies that most interest me are ours. I don’t mean just ours personally but actual bodies all around the world. All bodies.

Naked Jesus and thieves on the cross
http://www.wilgafney.com (and check out Rev. Gafney’s blog for March 28, 2013 for powerful analysis of sexual violence and the body of Jesus)

All bodies are sacred—that is a clear teaching of Jesus, which he enunciated many times especially in caring for the bodies of those at the margins of respectable society, and again on the cross by telling his neighbor (the thief, according to the story, also naked) that he too would be blessed.  So what are we doing to bring his teaching into actual practice?

Are we who have too much food giving some of it up that others may live? Are we who are protected by the world’s strongest military, telling our leaders to use fewer bombs and do more diplomacy and give more aid and provide more examples of peace to help victims of violence to be saved and healed? Are we who possess gender privilege—people with penises and all those whose gender identity already matches our genital configuration—standing up for and with people with vaginas and transgender neighbors, friends, and family members?

Perhaps we need to understand that the bodies that need resurrection are our own, that we need to do as Lazarus did in response to Jesus, we need to come out of the anti-incarnational tomb in which we have buried not only Jesus but ourselves.

soccer in cassocks
Couldn’t find any images of clergy in shorts!

I like to be naked, and hope someday to participate in clothing optional worship. But I know most people are not ready for that. A less daring thing would be for clergy who robe each week to cease doing so for a period of time, and talk about that how that feels. And perhaps, in warm months or climates, they could wear shorts or tank tops or both, and encourage church members to do the same.

Let us see and show that we have bodies that join in worship of the God who creates our bodies. Indeed, denial of our bodies dishonors the One who creates and blesses them. And for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, it is a denial of his embodiment, his teaching,  living, dying, and being raised in his beautiful body in the wholeness of God.

Malachi

This week, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the living movement of life triumphant over death, of truth persevering over falsehood, light victorious over darkness. We celebrate what is at the heart of our faith as Christians: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ is here, and Christ will come again.

Easter is a holy time, a celebratory day for Christians. And yet, every time we approach and move through this season, I cannot help but laugh in memory of a story an old pastor told me about her first Easter service as a newly-ordained clergy, fulfilling her calling as an associate pastor. She was dressed in full regalia, walking down the church aisle and making her way to the front of the congregation. As she opened her mouth to welcome all and begin the service, in her nervousness, she proclaimed loudly that she was excited to gather in fellowship to celebrate the glory of Christ’s erection!

Whoops. It still makes me laugh to this day, partially because I know that every pastor and preacher has their own story of a time they humorously misspoke, but mostly because I can’t hear the word “resurrection” without boldly also hearing the word “erection.”

I wondered if the two words shared a common root; it turns out, etymologically, they don’t. “Resurrection” actually shares its origin and

http://www.ltocz.com/easter-good-friday-2014-770×449.jpg

history with the word “resurgence,” which I think is a pretty powerful way to think about this time of celebration. A resurgence, movement, rising up in collective celebration.

But I can’t stop thinking about the phonetic connection between “resurrection” and “erection.” “Erection” is an interesting word, because when we think of it, we tend to think of the arousal of penises. But clitorises can also become erect with arousal. The concept of erection is not one that is solely the purview of assigned male at birth bodies; erection is a concept that can be applied to all genitals. Similarly, “resurrection” is not just for people who look, think, act, feel, or identify as certain way; it is for anyone who wants to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, and ourselves in Christ.

During Lent, we focused on intentional contemplation. We made space for those things that are often neglected by removing or minimizing things in our lives that detract from our relationship with God. We sat still, cultivating patience, breathing through the discomfort. But coming through Lent into Easter, we celebrate resurrection, resurgence, momentum, exuberance. Or, perhaps, we celebrate re-erection, a renewal of arousal, awareness, pleasure.

In this week following Easter, I am led to think about our post-resurrection (and post-erection) bodies. I think about the orgasmic bliss that often comes post-erection: the connection we have with ourselves, with our partner(s), with something deep and holy. I wonder how we

https://bthomaswriter.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/0451de6a985bed1173e770666fda1c68.jpg

might embody that sense of connection in our post-resurrection bodies. How might we come to see the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection as a sense of (re)forming a connection, celebrating the orgasmic delight in life triumphant? How might we come to erect ourselves, our bodies, our postures, our spiritualties, in light of the risen Christ?

Coming through Lent, a time of deep meditation and contemplation and stillness, Easter is a time of celebration and movement. I can’t help but think of it like sex: slowly learning another person’s body, what works to build connection and what doesn’t, how you communicate with one another, verbalizing intention and desire to build connection. And while not all sex ends in orgasm, Easter feels like the release of orgasmic excitement: Christ is risen!

And now, we look at the work we have done over Lent and in the days leading up to Easter. What kinds of connections have we made? Have been honest with ourselves about our desires, our intentions? These are changed bodies, changed spirits; what have we learned in this process? Who are we and how do we move through the world?

Hopefully, we have learned ways that we feel connected and closer to one another, and to God. Hopefully, we have also learned some things that don’t work. There is space in growth for fumbling; in fact, learning what doesn’t work is almost as vital as learning what does, both in our spiritual

http://www.dfumc.com/reg/easter/lent.jpg

and our sexual selves.

The period of Lent is over, and Easter has brought the culmination of this period of contemplation and reflection to a close. And yet, I hope that we find this to be truly a resurgence. I hope we find ourselves revitalized, connected, excited to move forward, rising up in celebration, rising up against hatred and injustice and social inequality. I hope we find ourselves eager to do the work that we have each been called to do.

But mostly, I hope that this period of post-resurrection finds us in a state of orgasmic bliss. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

Amen.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

As we celebrate the risen-ness of Jesus’ body, what do we experience in our own bodies? Can we allow the radical implications of divine incarnation to affect us, help us to experience God in all that we do and are? What resurrection experiences have you had? Can you feel the resurgence of God in your body? Do you experience physical/sexual erection/arousal and orgasm as divine? 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

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, THURSDAY, April 20 for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC.To access the call, please click here.

Our focus will be on these issues: How do we as people of faith learn to navigate the social stigmas and assumptions of sexuality, particularly in light of divergent gender expectations? How can we come to dismantle toxic masculinity and puritanical femininity to embrace and be empowered as healthy, sexual beings? How do we construct the ethics of our sexual practices in a world that shames us for acknowledging sexual desire? Join us Thursday, April 20 for a discussion aimed at opening dialogue and dismantling many of these assumptions and social stigmas that impact our abilities to live fulfilling, sexual lives.

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.

Constructing Gender, Constructing Sex

The messages we receive– across gender, cultural context, sexual orientation, and so forth– are complicated and tricky . . . .

Malachi:

As Robin and I prepare for next week’s discussion on gendered expectations and social stigmas with respect to sexual development (see invitation at the end of this post), we are taking time this week to think about how we have each been impacted by social expectations- particularly as our senses of selves (gender, sexual, embodied) have developed in very different social and political climates.

As frequent readers here know, I was assigned female at birth and was raised as a woman in a lesbian household. Although I no longer identify as female, this upbringing shaped my understanding of sexuality in ways that still impact me today- both positively and negatively. So many of my experiences are flashes of memory pieced together, like scenes from a play acted out against this particular backdrop.

On the positive side, I was absolutely raised with the concept of “queer sex”- this idea that sex doesn’t have to be a linear path that begins with kissing, transitions into foreplay, and culminates with penetrative sex and simultaneous orgasm (or someone’s orgasm, anyway). This “script” of sexuality is one that I learned much later, and not through personal experience, but through conversations about how most people approach sex.

The downside of my upbringing was a deep fear of men, both from the circumstances of my life (living in a home of all women) and from explicit

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messages from one of my mothers. I remember being a child, somewhere between the ages of 5 and 9, and my mother telling me (as I was going outside to play) that if any of the female neighbors asked me to come over and help them with something, that was fine, but if any of the male neighbors did, to come inside and tell her immediately. This was the first time in my life I was aware that there were differences in the actions of men and women, and while it’s something that I didn’t fully understand at the time, it registered for me that women were ok to be alone with, but men were not.

The bridge between my positive understandings of sex as an inherently queer act and some of the negative lessons I inherited is emblematic in a semi-sexual relationship throughout high school, where my boyfriend and I struggled to explore our own sexual desires in the midst of our hang-ups. Perhaps because I was well-conditioned to fear male sexuality, I was terrified of engaging with ejaculate fluids. As a result, he spent much of our sexual explorations unsatisfied- but even in that, he never pressured me or made me feel bad that I was not comfortable bringing him to orgasm.  I understand, looking back, that this was a deviation from the typical responses of a teenage male to that situation, and I feel remarkably blessed that he was so patient and understanding and queer, in his own ways.

The times we tried to have penis-in-vagina intercourse (which was only once or twice), he experienced some performance anxiety and was not able to get hard enough to penetrate me, something that felt simultaneously disappointing and relieving: I was sexually attracted to him, but I was terrified of getting pregnant, and a part of me was convinced that if we had sex even once, I would end up pregnant (like “those girls,” because a lot of my thoughts were framed in an uncomfortably classist and anti-sex way, I now realize).

I remember (and am still friends with) the woman to whom I lost my virginity, around the same time I was having these explorations. I was 16 years old, and she was a good friend, and we ended up having sex during a sleepover at her house. I remember feeling a little caught up in “doing it right,” and feeling unsure about how to communicate my own desires. I felt like it was important that I make her feel good about what she was doing, whether it was pleasurable or not, which is a hang-up I still work through with new sexual partners.

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My instinct is to please people, to make them feel good about what they’re doing… even if what they’re doing isn’t pleasurable to me. That piece is very much part of female social conditioning: to be diplomatic, to minimize personal needs in favor of the needs of others, to encourage people and help them feel that they are doing something well. This translates, to me, as not speaking up for my own wants and needs during sex.

These experiences occurred within the backdrop of reading (and rereading, many times) Stone Butch Blues, and understanding the empowerment of female sexuality within the butch/femme dynamic- another vital contribution to my understanding of queer sex and sexuality. So many of these things— growing up in a lesbian household, fear of men and masculine sexuality (although I was clearly attracted to men), losing my virginity to a woman, feeling (to some degree) a resonance with the butch/femme dynamics in Stone Butch Blues, fear of getting pregnant (and subliminal judgement towards those women who did), discomfort with claiming my own sexual desires-these things have all been a part of my social messages around sex and sexuality.

In many ways, I was spared much of the heteronormativity models of sexual dynamics, but I still received a lot of toxic messages about both men and women. There was a part of me that believed that all men would rape, if given the chance, and it was up to me to never put myself in a

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position where that could happen. I believed, in many ways, that women could do anything that men could do (which is and was absolutely true), but I still inherited a lot of sexual shame from my closeted mothers. I was never inundated with “no sex until marriage” messages.  At that time, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal, and my parents weren’t willing to instill that in their children, but sex wasn’t something we talked about much.

Having such mixed concepts about sex made gender transition really interesting, because I was suddenly being perceived as male and expected to navigate the world with the social conditioning and cues of men, but I had no idea what those were, except toxic messages about sexual aggression. The conditioning I had was female, but it wasn’t a typical woman’s experience, I don’t think, and my exposure to men was limited. I felt completely lost in how to navigate sexual situations as a transmasculine person.

I remember going on a date with a heterosexual woman and realizing, at some point, I needed to have the “I’m trans” conversation with her. I had no idea how to have that conversation, and I was immensely relieved when she said, “I know.” It was one of the first times I ever felt a pressure to conform to a gendered expectation, and I had no idea what the expectations were, or how to meet them. We attempted to have sex once, but I was so nervous that we ended up simply cuddling and sleeping next to one another. I was coming from a place of not wanting to be sexually aggressive, and she was coming from a place of expecting me to make the first move.

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I’m not sure if I have it figured out much better, except that I feel less constrained by the expectations of social norms because my gender doesn’t fit neatly into any particular category, and I have spent so much time immersed in consent-based cultures that I have rewritten many of my own negotiations about sex. I still recognize some level of fear when faced with masculine sexuality, but I can talk about that with partners in a way I never used to be able to, and tackle some of where that comes from.

The messages we receive– across gender, cultural context, sexual orientation, and so forth– are complicated and tricky and come from a variety of places. Sometimes it’s difficult to parse out why we feel a certain way toward something, but I think, more than anything, I have come to realize how deeply embedded gendered sexual conditioning is, and how it contributes both to toxic masculinity and the puritanical ideal of femininity.

These ideas further distance us from our partners and lovers, but they also distance us from our own desires. Learning, relearning, and unlearning some of these messages has been one of the most important steps I have taken to be more embodied in myself: my spiritual self, my sexual self, and my body. Maybe when we talk about queering sex, it’s not just in the acts and narratives, but also in the ways that we combat these social messages to interact queerly with our gender, our bodies, and our lovers. And I, for one, am in favor of more ways of queering sex.

 Robin:

revrobin2-023I was born in 1946, an early Boomer, in a small, socially and politically conservative town 40 miles northwest of Detroit, and grew up on a tree farm three miles from town. Church was a center of our family life.

I should have known, and probably others suspected, that my gender identity was complicated—I asked for toy kitchen utensils and pots and pans, not for trucks, not even much interest in Tinker Toys (my generation’s version of Legos). I asked for dolls, too, but as I remember those were refused.

Over time, I learned to contain my cross-gender impulses, and I am sure my parents felt relief.

Puberty made containment more complicated, of course. Boys were the focus of all my fantasies, and really the only classmates I ever looked at with desire. I can still see some of them in my mind’s eye, in the gym class showers and just hanging out in school.

toy cooking setI did not know any open homosexuals, although I should have guessed that one somewhat effeminate friend, Bob H.—like me, born to older parents who were religious—liked boys, too. On a multi-day sixth-grade school trip to a nature preserve, where we stayed in big rooms of single-sex bunks, he came back from the showers with a visible erection and the words, “You should see Bob S.’s ‘thing’—it’s huge!” I went to the showers but missed that show even as I remembered the erection I did see (first one I ever saw, other than my own).

I suspect others must have sensed my proclivities, but nothing was ever said to my face. And I was the high school BMOC (big man on campus)—president of my class and the Student Council, editor of the school paper, president of the band, valedictorian, etc—which seemed to inoculate me from people pushing me to date. If girls sought me out, I missed it entirely.

shhh_webI do remember one time being part of a group of girls before class while one of them talked about how a boy tried to penetrate her, but she had to stop him because he was “too big.” I was so unfamiliar with the concept of male-female sex, or at least so uninterested, I asked what she meant! They all laughed and she, somewhat red-faced, told me. It took me a long time to get over wanting to see his “big one.” Actually, perhaps I never have.

I tell all this as a prelude to reflecting on how gender, and other, expectations for me as a PWP—person with a penis—have affected my sexual life and practices.

I well remember my first sex with a woman—the young sister-in-law of a college friend at whose wedding I served as best man. It is clear that she set her cap for me and I succumbed. But it is also clear to me that the couple of times we had intercourse were, for me, about getting off. I had little interest in her or her needs.

That experience led me to engage with several female college friends, to the same result. I got off. Hope they did. In that sense, I lived up to a traditional model of masculinist behavior—the woman exists to meet man’s need.  I am not proud of the fact that my wife of nearly nine years (and three children) did not fare much better in bed (even though I deeply loved her).

its_all_about_me_black_tshirtHowever, I also know that when I finally owned up to my queerness, I still approached sex with men in a similar fashion. It really was all about me. And I did not even then focus on it a lot—not the way I think many men, whatever their orientation, do.

Frankly, I was almost as intimidated by penis-bodies as by ones with vaginas (except that I did not gag when I sucked and licked cock and assholes like I did when I tried to lick cunt). But over time I learned to be more open, more free, even going to J.O. (jack-off) clubs in New York where my small cock was not in great demand. But then I never really tested that by going after men. I mostly watched—and of course, got off, and went home.

With my husband of almost 20 years, unlike my first male partner of 6.5 years, I have learned to cherish his body, to seek his pleasure as well as mine, to create a shared eroticism blossoming in us together.

And as I have shared here before, as my body has aged and my ability to produce an erection is seriously challenged, I have become more invested in sex. Strange as it may seem, I think in one way I have become more masculinist in that for the first time in my life I think about sex a lot. It is one of the reasons I began this blog. I want more sex, and one of the ways I get it is by writing about it (I can get pretty turned on writing some of these posts!).

Dangers-of-Thinking
David Hayward nakedpastor.com

I now celebrate sex like I never did before. Yet I sense some need to offer an excuse or an apology for that—as an older man, and/or as an ordained clergyperson.  Given those identities, is it appropriate for me to be so interested in sex?

There is a widespread social belief that interest in sex, and engagement in it, declines with age, so that by the time people are in the 70s and 80s  there is no sex happening. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary (see The Secret Lives of Sexuality in the Elderly), but I am aware I, at 70, feel pressure to keep quiet about sex.

Certainly, as a clergyperson, I feel constrained—even though I no longer am employed by a church, and am officially retired, I still wear the clerical collar, preach, teach, write, provide spiritual counsel—against being open sexually. The social pressure in church about sex, especially in maintaining a prohibition on talking openly about it without negative judgment, is powerful. This pressure also impacts negatively on reclaiming my joy in naturism (living naked as much as possible).

The irony for me in this is that I feel more and more certain that it is God who is calling me to be more open sexually, more open about and with my body—not to abandon monogamy and not to shock others, but to study, write, and teach about the gifts shared in sex, bodies, and spirit. This is the first time I have had to cope with feelings of guilt (other than fear of not doing it well enough), maybe even shame, about my ministry.

It can feel a bit like Jesus healing on the Sabbath—breaking the religious/social/cultural rules to do as God wants and getting in trouble for it. Still, I guess that is pretty good company! Like Jesus, I am grateful for God’s call (and aware I have it a lot easier!).

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What is your history with gender and other ways you experienced being shaped as a sexual being? Are there ways in which your sexual life, sexual practices, do not fit neatly into the usual gender and sexual orientation categories? If so, what are they and what has influenced you? Would you like to change any of that? Why?  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 in about two weeks, THURSDAY, April 20 for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC.To access the call, please click here.

Our focus will be on these issues: How do we as people of faith learn to navigate the social stigmas and assumptions of sexuality, particularly in light of divergent gender expectations? How can we come to dismantle toxic masculinity and puritanical femininity to embrace and be empowered as healthy, sexual beings? How do we construct the ethics of our sexual practices in a world that shames us for acknowledging sexual desire? Join us Thursday, April 20 for a discussion aimed at opening dialogue and dismantling many of these assumptions and social stigmas that impact our abilities to live fulfilling, sexual lives.

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.