Silence Is Not Helping

. . . justice, or the lack of it, always involves bodies

Malachi is on leave. 

Robin:

Nude Shoot: Robin Gorsline, 10/3/2017The national conversation, indeed the raging national debate and finger-pointing, focused on sexual abuse, assault, and rape has many layers. None of this is about sex, not real sex, joy, passion, love, between or among consenting persons—it is about the use of sex to violate another/others.

And yet, as I will argue later in this piece, our social squeamishness about sexual honesty, our phobia about talking openly about sex, is a critical element in our national failure to deal with widespread, and so often hidden, abuse and assault. 

sexual violenceLet me examine two other aspects that also have touched me. Both involve gender roles as enforced by our culture. Both are about bodies—as I never tire of saying, justice, or the lack of it, always involves bodies. 

The first is the contrast between the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasy Ford and Judge, now Justice, Kavanaugh at the final hearing on his nomination to the Supreme Court. The second is an article by Monica Hesse of the Washington Post, “Dear Dads: Your daughters told me about their assaults. This is why they never told you.”  I discuss this below.

I need not spend much time on the first, it having been discussed in many places by many people. But what I do want to say is how clearly the two people reflected the expected, indeed demanded, gender role of women as calm, reasonable, self-effacing, gracious, cordial, concerned about the other person, gentle, etc., and men as strong, assertive, angry when necessary (and so often necessary). not giving any quarter, not caring about others, not even acknowledging others (especially women and children). 

Justice Kavanaugh raged; Dr. Ford smiled. Justice Kavanaugh sneered at Senators, especially women; Dr. Ford spoke deferentially and softly.

As many have noted, Justice Kavanaugh appeared to be coming from the place of righteous indignation, a visceral reaction to what he, and many others, perceived to be an assault on his place of honor and white male privilege as one who began with a silver spoon in his mouth and has carefully made sure it was never removed. How dare you question, undermine, my carefully constructed persona and and record! 

This leads me to another, and related, set of gender roles, namely those governing the relationships among fathers and daughters (and sons, too). Monica Hesse discusses how often daughters (and sons, too) do not tell their fathers about the sexual abuse, assault, and rape they endure. They don’t even talk about the catcalls and rude whistles and comments they endure on the street or the gender-based discrimination and lack of respect and advancement in the workplace. 

Monica Hesse

Some men are now asking their daughters, and maybe sons as well, if there is anything they should know, anything that their children did not tell them earlier, perhaps from shame, or fear of talking about sexual matters, or, as Hesse points out, because they fear their fathers cannot handle the pain they have endured (or are still enduring). Aside: this seems to me a deep tragedy in the current situation—it’s not just women like Dr. Ford and so many others who endured something earlier, but also the women, and men, who are currently enduring such horrors. What is the silencing and dismissals by so many authorities, e.g., President Trump, doing to them?

Hesse reviews communications she has received from many victims, and notices how many are now telling their fathers for the first time about rape and abuse, as well as how many are choosing not to tell. Those in the latter group still don’t think their fathers can handle the emotional upset, or they fear their fathers will rage like Justice Kavanaugh (but go much further by attacking their attacker and even killing him and ending up in jail), or they feel so much gratitude for all their father has done for them that they don’t want him to feel even a hint of ingratitude. One son says that he won’t tell because “manliness” is so important to his father. 

I am grateful to and proud of the children who are telling their fathers. It helps make their relationships more whole by being more honest. 

And I admit to being disappointed by those who are choosing not to tell. I can’t and won’t criticize them for an intensely personal decision. Still, I hope they will stay open to the possibility of self-revelation, and self-empowerment, at some point. 

I believe they will gain, their fathers (and mothers) will gain, and frankly, all of us will gain, too. 

The more honest we are with each other the better our society works. 

This leads me to raise an issue that regular readers of this blog may recognize from prior posts: namely the inability of our society to engage in honest conversation about sex, sexual expression, and sexuality. 

As I said above, sexualized abuse, mistreatment or rape are not forms of sex. They are methods of abuse and domination and violation/violence. 

But I believe part of the problem we have with being honest about violations of bodies and the people who inhabit them is our squeamishness to talk about sex in the first place. It seems clear to me that this is definitely true when it comes to raising sons. 

I turn 72 on the date of publication of this post and as I read articles and books and testimonies about how we are teaching our children about sex and relationships things don’t feel all that different than when I was a pre-adolescent and teenager. In so many locales sex education focuses mainly on “just say no” and “wait until you’re married.” Actually, in my youth, we had only “wait, it’s a sin before marriage,” which did not stop many of my peers from being sexually active (and I imagine some being predatory and violent). 

I read of how some parents talk to their daughters about being safe, taking precautions; they may even tell sons something similar. And of course, how “no means no,” but even more how consent is more than simply allowing something to be done by one person (or more) to another (others). Consent is an active agreement by both (all) parties. Anything short of that is non-consensual, abusive, and violative behavior. It does not appear to me that that message is getting through to boys, or many grown men either. 

What is also so often missing is testimony about the power and beauty of sex and sexuality, how when engaged in with sensitivity and care for each other(s) it can enrich life, because sex is a powerful, and can be a liberating, force in our bodies and lives. 

I think that can begin by teaching the beauty and power of masturbation, the safest form of sex, not only in terms of avoiding pregnancy and STDs but also in terms of not harming any person (with one caveat: using images that encourage violence and violation as a form of stimulation do cause harm). 

Just think how different it could have been for Dr. Ford if Brett Kavanaugh (or whomever violated her) and other high school boys had either jerked off by themselves or engaged in a circle jerk.  

I am not sure we have gotten far beyond the days when Dr. Joycelyn Elders, U.S. Surgeon General, was forced to resign by President Clinton on December 10, 1994 for responding openly, and affirmatively, to an honest question about masturbation. 

all bodies deserve respectBodies are at risk in so many ways, of course not just sexually but also in terms of lack of food, healthcare, water, and exercise, not to mention war, police violence and crime—and at the most basic level of social interaction, simple respect by each of us for all the bodies with whom we come into contact as well as those we never know.

Our political climate as revealed in the past several weeks certainly is working against such respect, certainly as it involves our sexual beings. It is time to own our failings and work together to create change. 

Where’s the Shame?

Just think what a different world it would be . . . .

(Malachi is on leave this month.)

Robin:  Nude Shoot: Robin Gorsline, 10/3/2017

I have been thinking a lot about shame lately—both because it has been in the news and because it has not been. 

Take former New York Mayor and Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani—the man I used to call “Bulliani” when I was one of his constituents—who said of Stephanie Clifford (more widely known as Stormy Daniels): 

“So Stormy, you want to bring a case, let me cross-examine you. Because the business you were in entitles you to no degree of giving your credibility any weight,” Giuliani told an audience in Tel Aviv, adding later, “I’m sorry I don’t respect a porn star the way I respect a career woman or a woman of substance or a woman who … isn’t going to sell her body for sexual exploitation.” (ABC News June 6, 2018)

Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani

The thrice married Guiliani—who had affairs before ending each marriage (to legalize the affair—doesn’t use the word “shame,” but the bite of his words has the same effect as saying, “Shame, Shame, Shame! I can see and hear many righteous Christian women in my home town wagging their fingers, tut-tutting, and saying, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

What I have always found revealing is that the language of shame is rarely used about murder or theft or embezzlement but is so often attached to sexual acts and behavior.  The shaming reflects the virulent and deep-seating sex phobia that permeates the land. And it is women who are expected to bear the shame. 

Which is one of the reasons I am grateful to Pope Francis expressing “shame and sorrow” over the actions of pedophile priests (NPR August 16, 2018). For once, we have a man expressing shame about the actions of men who engage in sexual abuse and exploitation. 

Pope FrancisThe words feel good, even though the lack—so far—of concrete action does not. Being ashamed, expressing shame, and remorse, is good, but the repentance and reparations have yet to come. Based on what has been revealed by the Attorney General of Pennsylvania, even more revelations are coming (New York’s Attorney General is now engaged in a similar project).  

But what clearly is missing, at least in most cases, are expressions of shame by many of the perpetrators. The perpetrators include not only the actual abusive priests, but also their organizational superiors who often turned a blind eye toward the behavior or simply moved the offending priest to another location where he could start again. So, many need to express shame, remorse, repentance, and together find ways to make reparations.

Payoffs by dioceses and others to victims, with clauses that prohibit them from talking about what happened, are neither remorse or reparations, they are hush money to avoid public scandal. They keep the victim ensnared in a silence that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to deal constructively with their own feelings and find ways to reclaim the parts of their lives that were severely damaged.

Stormy Daniels
Stephanie Clifford (AKA Stormy Daniels)

Which brings us back to Stormy Daniels. She has decided to break the silence, and confront the denials by one Donald J. Trump and throw the settlement she agreed to back in the face of her former lover and his attorney. In other words, she has decided not to carry the shame any more. 

One could make a case that, as “the other woman,” she owes Melania Trump an apology, but the person far more responsible for making such an apology is the man to whom Melania is married (and was married at the time of the affair).  Don’t look for that to happen any time soon. 

But as a porn star, indeed as a self-respecting businesswoman/sex worker who made money by being sexually available, needs make no apology—unless she over-charged for her services or performed the agreed upon acts in poor ways. No shame, no blame unless the services did not meet the standards as advertised and agreed upon. 

This was consensual sex, friends. Unlike the priests and their victims, both boys/men and girls/women. 

Oh, speaking of non-consensual sex, how about all the celebrities and corporate executives (men in all cases, except one so far I think) accused of abusive behavior? None of that appears to have been consensual. 

golden parachuteSome of them have expressed regret for “any pain they caused,” and many have lost their jobs—but few, if any, are suffering any economic loss. So many have “golden parachutes” built into their contracts—and/or their employers really don’t want to go through a trial with all of its attendant bad publicity—that they seem to land on their financial feet quite nicely. Buyouts leave them with good nest eggs to cushion the loss of status. And a few already seem to be attempting come-backs of one sort or another—and I predict more will try—which surely does not feel to me like feeling any shame. 

I have done some things in my life of which I am not proud, and even feel shame. I remember when I, as a county commissioner, backed down when one of our county department heads threatened to expose what he called my “strange sexual habits visiting porn stores” if I persisted in my complaint about the mistreatment of two gay male constituents who were overheard having sex in their tent at a county park in my district. I still feel the sting of that, and have spoken and written about the shame I feel. I wish I could find the two men and say it to their faces. 

I acted to save my political and marital neck, at the expense of the dignity of the two men. I went on to win re-election (before deciding to hang up politics to go to seminary). Talk about a golden parachute.

I am accountableAnd of course, there are the years of my marriage when I denied my own gay identity, and frankly the quality and quantity of sexual care my wife deserved, not to mention the pain my coming out, separation, and divorce caused her and our daughters. Much good came of all that, too, but I still carry a sense of shame. It long ago stopped immobilizing me and I have fully owned my role in all the pain, have been forgiven by all involved and have even forgiven myself, but the shame is still there. I realize it will never be erased. 

The shame of Mr. Trump, the priests and their superiors, and all the celebrity and big business men will not go away either, even if they never own it. But we’d all, and especially their particular victims, be better off if they stood up like real (I am tempted to say “men” because of the ancient, and generally wrong, idea that men are the strong ones) people who own not only their glory but all the rest of their character and behavior, too. 

Just think what a different world it would be if we all took responsibility, full responsibility, for all our conduct, if we all strove to be accountable at all times. Those who can lead us in that direction are the real heroes in my book. 

Our Sex, Our Bodies, Our Spirit

. . . some ways we incorporate our sexuality and spirituality in our lives to be authentically ourselves

Robin: 

As is our practice, Malachi and I engaged in conversation about this month’s installment of SexBodiesSpirit. Neither of us had an idea of a topic (usually one of us does).  We both have had very busy and demanding days of late so we weren’t sure what might emerge.

But we enjoy talking with each other, learning from each other, and over the course of an hour or so we decided to write about our respective contexts in terms of the issues and lives involvNude Shoot: Robin Gorsline, 10/3/2017ed in sex, bodies and spiritual life. Although we share many ideas and ideals about these deeply entwined subjects, we engage them quite differently. We hope that our readers will see some of the possibilities for their own lives, and will resonate with our understanding that there is a wide variety ways to be sexual, to be embodied, and to be spiritual.

Some of our differences may be generational and age-related, and gender-related, too (me labeled and socialized as male and he labeled and socialized as female until he chose to claim his true gender identity).  I was born in 1946, Malachi in 1988. Even more than our age difference is the great disparity in the social contexts in which each of us came to adulthood. Baby Boomers (me) experienced one set of social norms, Gen Y (Malachi) folks another.

I now identify as queer, even gender queer in some respects at least, but when I came out as gay in the early 80’s the word queer was still an epithet for most. It took me 20+ years since then to begin to consider queerness as my identity of choice, and only in the past several years have I fully embraced it.

gender queerWhat this means in terms of sex, for me at least, is that after giving up my professed heterosexuality and embracing my same-sex self, I engaged in vanilla sex with some initial men, and then with my first male partner, then with various one-night stands (and a few jerk-off clubs in New York) until my now 20+-year monogamous marriage with Jonathan. It never even crossed my mind to consider three-ways (in fact, one early lover, not long after I came out, wanted that and I reacted with horror and disgust, partly due to my dislike for the proposed partner but mostly due to my gut rejection to the very idea). I had never even heard of kink and BDSM! And it has only been in the past decade or so that polyamory has become a more wide and accepted practice.

All of this is to say that sexually I am pretty tame. Of course, my age and the resulting diminished drive and capacity for sex plays a role, too.

And yet my mind, my soul—and indeed my body (nude as much as possible in this body-fearing world) in some ways I am only beginning to understand—feel very much alive and sexy. I love sex even though I don’t have a lot of it!

kinkAnd I am thrilled to have learned so much from Malachi and others about kink, BDSM, and polyamory—I am grateful to be alive at a time in history when so many old sexual taboos and shackles are being removed. Even when they are not my practices, I revel in the possibilities, for myself perhaps and certainly for others. Who knows how much freer I can yet become, and even more how much more liberation is in store for our world?

This very much informs my theologizing, my queer theologizing. Indeed, it may be most accurate to say that my sexual horizons and my embodiment, are now in synch with my spiritual and theological orientation. They are all working together in ways unknown to me before.

I have long believed that my higher power, whom I call God, is a totally loving being, a totally caring Creator, who empowers us to live whole lives, filled with love and passion and justice and self- and other-care, and strength and gentleness and much, much more. In the past 10 years or so, I have come to understand that our bodies, yours and mine and everyone else’s, are the centers and vehicles of our wholeness, and that sexuality, sex in all its myriad (and consensual) forms is the energy driving the movement toward wholeness. I say sex or sexuality but I mean a perhaps a more capacious term too, namely the Eros (or Body) of God.

sistine chapelWhat do I mean by the eros of God, the body of God? For me, it’s pretty simple, though it may not be so for others. The body of God is how I refer to what many call The Creation, the entire created order, all life forms not just humans, you and me and every other human being and creature and object of any sort. It’s all God from start to finish and all of it together makes up God’s body.

I often use the two terms, eros of God and body of God, interchangeably, because I find it difficult to separate them, but for our purposes I will say that the eros of God is the energy that infuses the body of God. As a queer theologian, it seems clear to me that one cannot have the body without the energy, which is why I so often use them together and interchangeably.

What I now know, and believe from the depths of my soul and body (and those two terms, so often seen as distinct, are a complete unity to me), is that God speaks to me through my body, with the divine Eros, and makes that eros mine too. I have long said, “There is always more with God,” and now I see that that is not just a mental or theological construct but actually comes directly to and through me in body, sex and spirit.

proclaimI don’t know if I can make this unity as clear to my readers as it is to me, but I hope it may give the reader some sense of why—despite a seemingly limited sex life these days (and through my entire life)—I can now stand and say, Luther-like and with great joy and thanksgiving, “My God, my sex, my body, my spirit—all one without exception and without end.” And I stand and pray it is so for Jonathan and my children and grandchildren, Malachi and other friends and colleagues, and my neighbors and certainly my readers, indeed the entire world.

This feels to me like a manifesto, a rootedness so strong that I proclaim it to the world in joy and hope and certainly in love. You read it here first.

But I will have more to say (here and elsewhere) over the coming months and years about this and its implications for Christianity (and especially my own MCC movement and other progressive religious movements in and outside Christianity), and in our shared political and social life in the United States and the world.

I don’t engage in partnered or solo sex all that often these days, but if I am paying attention, if I allow true God/erotic consciousness to engage me I can, and often do, have moments of connectivity with Eros, with the whole of who I am and the greater whole, that provide unique feelings of deep satisfaction and bliss, forms of orgasm, every day. I hope and pray that whatever shapes your sex life, your Eros, take, that this is true for you, too.

Malachi:

Photo by DWL

Sometimes I think it’s easy for me to forget the context of my life in integrating the work that I do, the work that I am passionate about, the work that fills and nurtures my spirit. As Robin and I sat down to do our monthly discussion about the things going on in our lives and what we might want to write about, he made the comment that this collaboration, this project, writing about sexuality and bodies and spirituality was grounding for him. It was a way for him to focus on these things that fed his spirit in a way that it wasn’t often fed.

I mulled over that a bit because I have a somewhat different experience. I am a professional kinkster and live my entire life talking about sexuality, about bodies, and somewhat about spirituality. This project feeds my need for connection with the spiritual, with the Holy, with God, but it integrates very easily into the rest of my life. Although our beliefs and ideas tend to converge and synthesize well together, Robin and I do come from divergent experiences in many different aspects, and we decided to take this month to write about some of our own contexts and the ways in which we incorporate our sexuality and spirituality into our lives in ways that feel authentic- and also in ways that we can then come together and talk about it.

I commented above that I am a professional kinkster. My sole means of income comes from working within the kink and BDSM communities: as an educator, as a ropemaker, as an event producer and promoter, as event staff. I spend my life surrounded by people for whom kink is an common part of their lives. But I also spend my life talking about sex, and the manifestations of sexuality. I spend a lot of time talking about intersection: the intersections of oppression within subgroups and subcultures, the idea that the things we do in the kink community are sometimes non-consensually done outside of the kink community, and having an awareness of how we engage and interact with hard parts of our sexuality that feel loaded with shame, stigma, or trauma.

I make bondage rope for a living. It seems perfectly normal to me to say, “I make rope,” when people ask me what I do, and I have to step back and remind myself that my lexicon is often different than other people’s (the most common response I get to that statement is, “What do you mean?” because rope is not a common part of every person’s life.)

The truth is, I have desensitized myself to a world and a life that is vastly divergent from most people’s experiences, and I no longer have any sense of what is “normal” and what isn’t. I recognize that this often creates a communication barrier between myself and others: I don’t know how to begin to talk about what I spend my time doing without first giving an in-depth primer about the kink scene and the social structures and norms of that space. Something as common in my world as the sentence, “I’m going to camp and looking for some pick-up play, specifically a sadistic rope scene,” takes a lot of explaining: what “pick-up play” is, what a “scene” is, how this is different than bedroom bondage or sexually-based kinks, what “camp” is, etc.

This isn’t something that’s foreign to me. I often feel like this when trying to talk about gender, something I have been analyzing for as long as I can remember to the point where my construction and understanding of gender is useless without the foundational groundwork of primers and Gender 101 classes and a working understanding of the binary system, what it is, and why it’s important to dismantle. But in trying to talk about or explain my gender, I am often very aware of the gap between myself and the people asking the questions, and it can feel difficult to bridge that gap in a quick, casual conversation.

My life is somewhat inaccessible, and that’s something I have to reconcile when I focus in on this project. My baseline assumptions, ideals, and beliefs are the product of years of struggling with different ideas and concepts, and I don’t always know how to condense those things down into something short, sweet, and accessible.

I don’t think this is bad, but I do think it’s something I need to be aware of. Because for me, it’s easy to integrate my sexuality, my relationship with my body, and my spirituality together. I have constructed my life to be able to think and talk about these things freely and surrounded myself with people with whom these discussions are commonplace. I have to step back and recognize that what seems easy to me is only easy because of the opportunities I have been afforded (a product of a generation that popularized language around BDSM, gender, and sexuality to make these things more accessible) and the ways I have been able to construct my life and income.

That being said, I think it’s still possible, regardless of everything else, to find ways to think and challenge yourself around these topics. To find people with whom you can share your experiences and thoughts and fears and struggle with the oppressive systems we work within. I think it’s possible to find a way to invite the holy into your bedroom, recognize the holy in your body, and find ways to bring these things together in a way that feels authentic for you.

I recognize that most people cannot live the way I do. Most people can’t- and don’t want to- spend their entire lives talking about sex, thinking about gender, teaching about oppression, and so forth. So the question I have for you- which is often the question I ask Robin- is, “What’s your ‘in’?” How do you access these things? What about what we talk about resonates with you? Where you do find your spirit calling you to explore, and what pathways and avenues are available to you?

How do we access these parts within ourselves that haven’t yet found an outlet, a way to be fully embraced? It doesn’t need to be as all-or-nothing as I (and in many ways, Robin as well) have done.

Where is the sexuality resonating in your spiritual practice? Where is your spirituality calling out to you to challenge your understanding of freedom, autonomy, and oppression? Where in your body does your sexuality resonate?

The context of my life affords me the opportunity to live these things fully, every day. And I love my life for it, as complicated as it can be sometimes (particularly while raising a child on the brink of preteen years). And although our experiences are divergent, I love that Robin and I are able to come together to share our thoughts and feelings with one another and with readers. But I think, sometimes, I lose sight that the conclusions work within the specific framework of my life, and aren’t necessarily possible for everyone. And that’s ok. The idea is never to tell others what is authentic for them; the idea has always, for me, been about helping people find new ways to ask questions, to challenge themselves, to seek more authentic relationships with one another, with themselves, and with God.

That is, I believe, what we are ministers, teachers, parents, community members, and friends do: not necessarily give answers, but share our experiences in hopes of sparking new questions.

 

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

What are your perspectives, your sense of self about sex, bodies, spirit? Have they changed over the years? How do you experience the unity of these three central parts of our lives? Do you, or are they separate and distinct? 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! August 8th (or thereabouts), right here, the next installment of Sex, Bodies, Spirit. Our apologies for being too busy to post on July 11.

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.

DashHouse.com

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-

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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!

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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.

Who Needs An Excuse?

We must work together to change a sex-negative culture . . . .

Malachi:

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Photo Credit: Nearly Candy Photography

We have just finished out Halloween and with it, the season of costuming and playing dress-up…both for kids and for adults. And once again this year, I found myself immensely frustrated at the options for Halloween costumes…both for kids and adults, particularly femme and female-presenting people.

There is a quote from the movie “Mean Girls” that sums it up very succinctly: “Halloween is the one day of the year that women can dress like sluts and no other girls can say anything about it.” As much as I wish this were a Hollywood-ized exaggeration, I look at the costume options available for women and find that to be poignantly true. Sexy cops, sexy firefighters, sexy postal workers, sexy this, sexy that.

My issue with this is two-fold: first, this starts at a very young age and, while I respect that children often develop their own sense of sexuality at various ages, sexualizing children’s costumes is, to me, a pretty disturbing thing. That’s a whole different conversation, although it does bear mentioning (as I have a nine year old daughter, I felt this very personally this year).

The bigger issue I have with this trend, though, is not that women are expressing their sexuality, but rather, that there needs to be an excuse, some sense of having “permission” to exist as a sexual being. The fact that Halloween- a time in which we dress up and “pretend” to be somethingother than what we are- is a time when women are encouraged to claim their own sexuality lends itself to the idea that, at other points, women should not express their sexuality. If we pretend to be something other than what we are for Halloween, then what does it say about what we “allow” women to be in terms of sexual expression the other 364 days of the year?

This isn’t something that’s limited to Halloween, although that is theexample most on my mind at the moment. But we have to create these opportunities where it’s ok for people to claim their sexuality as a part of their whole selves… almost as though it is a hiatus from “real” life. Never mind that women are chronically sexualized by other people on a daily basis… women are allowed to be seen as sex symbols, sex objects, but not allowed to claim and own their sexuality as their own, lest they be seen as “sluts” (as though having a healthy and full sexual life is a negative thing, never mind that we encourage the same behavior in men that we shame in women).

I had a friend recently describe interactions with me as “dripping with sex appeal.” They clarified that it was not that I was inappropriately sexual toward anyone, but that the way that I inhabit my body and move through the world is one in which my sexuality is an active part. I remember hearing this and feeling immensely uncomfortable, as though I had broken some unspoken rule about how we were “supposed” to engage with other people. Should I find ways to limit and/or minimize the extent to which my sexuality influences the way I interact with others?

I don’t think the problem is that I am too sexual; I think the issue is that we are so used to compressing people down into non-sexual boxes and not allowing them to be the full expressions of who they are: physical, spiritual, sexual, mental, emotional. There is a vast difference between “sexualizing another person for our benefit” and “allowing other people to exist as a sexual being.” I think, sometimes, we seek to distance ourselves so much from the former that we also diminish the latter. As a result, we give into a culture that allows for discrete moments of permission that allow people to claim their sexuality in obvious ways, but minimizes it at other times.

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Juxtaposed against this, I think of the times I spend in the kink community, particularly the week-long, outdoor camping events. One of the hardest things about leaving that space is the recognition that we have to put on our “normal” clothes, go back into the world, and try to adjust our behavior to something that is considered more socially acceptable, which comes down to compressing our sexual selves back into a box. I’ve never been particularly good at that, and it’s not something I want to get better at. I do not want to look for excuses to exist as, among other things, a sexual being, nor do I believe that claiming one’s own sexuality is “asking for” harassment, catcalling, etc.

We live in a world impacted by sexuality and sexual expression, regardless of how we experience sexual attraction (or whether we experience sexual attraction at all). We live in a world that actively seeks to diminish our capacity to experience and express ourselves as sexual beings, instead offering moments of respite in which we can express these things without fear of social reprise or stigma. We live in a world that stigmatizes sexuality- particularly the sexuality of women (rather than the perceived sexuality of women for the pleasure of men).

There aren’t easy answers or solutions to these things, but I believe it

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begins with small changes. Wear that risque shirt. Wear the pants or skirts or fabrics or shoes or makeup that make you feel sexy in your body- not for anyone else, but for yourself. Claim your sexuality as something that is a part of you, for you, rather than something that is on display for the approval (or disapproval) of others. Share that article on your facebook page about safer sex practices or ways to spice up your sex life or interesting facts about BDSM or whatever thing it is that you read and wondered if it was “too much” to share on social media. Write erotica that expresses your sexual fantasies. Change your language in small ways: rather than the “walk of shame” the morning after sex, think of it as a walk of victory. Rather than thinking someone is a slut because they have multiple sexual partners, try to think how cool it is that someone is in touch with their own experience of sexuality that they are able to explore it in many different ways. Consider how you might respond to a behavior if it was done by someone in a different demographic: if a man did it, would it feel as taboo? How do your reactions change if that person is a person of color, older or younger than you, etc.?

We must work together to change a sex-negative culture. We must actively work to change the ways we talk and think about sex… and who is “allowed” to exist as a sexual being, versus who must be given permission (and under what circumstances). We must change the way we claim and view our own sexuality… not as a taboo, isolated part of ourselves, but as simply a part of ourselves that coexists with many other facets of who we are. Owning and claiming these things are necessary and vital- both to changing the culture of how we view sex and sexuality, but also to how we view ourselves as whole, integrated beings. We exist in a sexualized world, and many of us experience a sense of our own sexuality. What a joy it would be to be able to exist comfortably within ourselves as, among other things, sexual people, taking another step toward integrating our minds, our bodies, and our spirits as one.

Robin:

As Malachi and I talked the other day about this week’s blog, he mentioned the over-sexualizing of Halloween costumes for women.  As he explained more about it, I realized I was ignorant of this phenomenon. One reason is because I pay little attention to Halloween (but a quick Google search confirmed a high preponderance of costumes for women designed to present the wearer as a sex object). Also, as a gay man, I pay little attention to what women wear on Halloween.

But as we talked further, it became clearer to me that this emphasis at Halloween is part of the hiding of sex. If many can leer and wink at Halloween, then it makes it possible to pretend that sex is something only to be brought out at specified, sanctioned times, and thanks to sexualizing women specifically, they remain objects. Patriarchy wins again.

That got me thinking about other times we sexualize something so we can “play” with sex without actually really being open about it.

For example, there is the wedding night. In today’s culture, where most couples have already lived and slept together, the wedding night is less fraught with anticipation and anxiety, but there are plenty of couples who have “saved” themselves. And, I still hear people making suggestive remarks about the wedding bed.

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Then, there is the bachelor party for a straight male partner—inviting a sex dancer or worker is sometimes part of the celebration, in observation of the “last time” the about-to-be married person is supposed to experience sex outside marriage. I am less familiar with bachelorette parties, but do know they sometimes take place in a club or other venue with male strippers.

Less obvious perhaps is special occasion sex—on an anniversary or birthday, of the day of or after a promotion or new job, or winning an award or prize. I don’t meant to suggest there is a problem with this per se, but I do think it can fall into a pattern of needing a reason to be sexual.  I sometimes joke with my Jewish beloved that the Torah instructs a husband to satisfy his wife as part of the Sabbath observance. I appreciate what I call the earthiness of Judaism in this, especially as compared to so much Christian prudery and shame. Imagine if Sunday, or going to church, became an occasion to have sex (not during worship but because of it)! And imagine if we could talk about it!

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Indeed, in my view, Christianity is a, if not the, major culprit in creating and perpetuating sex and body negativity (and in many ways patriarchy and misogyny as well). The irony of this is stunning, not just because of our Jewish roots but also because allegedly we celebrate God come to earth in embodied form. As Richard Rohr writes, “Christians worship Jesus because he did not forget but fully lived the union of human and divine. . . The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Note that it does not just say “Jesus,” but “flesh.”

Sadly, we are left with no record of Jesus actually living as a sexual being. I have long believed that the wedding at Cana was an occasion after which Jesus enjoyed sex with someone (a male or female disciple or another partner or even his wife). Nor was that the only time Jesus acted on sexual desires; despite the tradition, he did not die a virgin. The tradition’s reliance on his conception as a “pure” act rather than messy human intercourse also contributes to sex negativity.

nudist groupI want to come at this another way, too, to point out that there are times when we can be so determined that there not be sex that sex can sound like something bad (to be clear, when I say sex, I mean consensual sexual activity; anything else is abuse and violation). As a recently confirmed nudist, I note that most nudist or naturist organizations push very hard against the common misconception that gatherings of naked people automatically lead to sex. Indeed, it is vital that participants, women and men and people who present as either or both, feel safe to be completely exposed.

At the same time, I sometimes experience the efforts to create safety as sex-negative, almost as if nudists never have sex or don’t like sex or think sex is bad. This is tricky in U.S. culture where non-full-frontal nudity—female and male—in an advertisement is used to create desire leading to buying the product. Corporations sexualize bodies in order to make a sale—it is acceptable to be a sexy model in an ad.  Of course, only certain types of bodies are used in this way—I am unlikely to see my 71-year-old, wrinkled body, or any other older person’s unclothed body, used to sell anything!

elder sexOn the other hand, I have noticed recently a growing number of articles in various publications about elder sex. The first point often seems to be that is okay, even good, for older people to be sexual. Some of my contemporaries tell me they are grateful for this while pointing out that they have been doing it all along, with or without permission. That is surely true for me.

My soul and body tell me that that sex is a regular part of life, to be enjoyed as often as possible, because it can be so much fun and contribute to the well-being of consenting people enjoying themselves and experiencing divinely-inspired union(s). Being sexual is a gift each of us, and all of us, receive as part of human wholeness. We don’t need an excuse or permission to be wholly ourselves. I pray we stop setting up some people and groups as sex objects, and denying the sexuality of others, as a means of keeping this most natural of human activities under tight control.

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

Have you ever felt or do you feel you need a reason, other than desire, to have sex? Have you ever felt, or do you feel, you feel you need permission to have sex? Have you participated in “special occasion” sex, and if so, how did it feel? 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! December 13, right here, the next installment of Sex, Bodies, Spirit.