Got Pride?

What exactly are we celebrating?

Robin: 

I remember my first Gay Pride event; it was Boston 1983. I was in awe—the crowds, the joy, the chants, the idea of marching for freedom where the Sons of Liberty had dared to defy the British Crown, the Faeries and other outrageously costumed folks, so much fun!

And I remember the religious service at the Arlington Street Church (UU); it was so moving to share worship with people of many faiths,  sexualities, and genders, and to share our commitment to liberation and justice for all.

I don’t remember any festival after the march, although I am sure folks gathered to eat and talk and buy all the sorts of things that vendors make available at such events.

What I remember is the march. In fact, it is always the march that matters most to me. Pride, for me, is less a social event and more a movement for liberation, a political act, a joyful, powerful form of civil/religious disobedience.

Virginia PrideThis is why, although I faithfully attended every Pride while serving as Pastor of MCC Richmond, I was never very happy at the event. First, those in charge wouldn’t name it anything but Virginia Pride (does that mean we’re proud of our state?), and we did not march.  Anywhere.

Block parties can be fun, but I thought, and still do, that we were in a struggle to change the world—to save not only our own bodies but those of countless others in our nation and around the globe. We surely need to celebrate ourselves, our fabulousness, but we need more. We need to march, speak up, act up, speak truth not only to power but to the entire world.

My belief grows out of my awareness of how political and social change is achieved, and even more from my belief and practice as a Queer liberation theologian. Real change, deep change, transformation that is sustainable, requires great passion, long-term commitment, and ceaseless organizing.  I agree with the sentiment often attributed to anarchist Emma Goldman’s, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution,” but I also know, and know she knew, there will be no revolution if all we do is dance.

CraigRodwell
Craig Rodwell 20 years before I knew him

My belief in and commitment to activism was confirmed when I met Craig Rodwell. Beginning in September 1987, I worked for him as a sales clerk for eight months at the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop on Christopher Street in the Village (Greenwich). Founded in 1967 by Craig, two years before Stonewall, this was the first bookshop in the world to be devoted to gay and lesbian literature.

Craig was not the best boss I ever had, but the books were great, some notable people came in, and I had the opportunity to hear many stories that confirm that he was, or should have been and still should be, an icon in the LGBT movement.  The truth is that we might never have heard of Stonewall if Craig had not rushed to a phone and alerted the New York Times to what was happening at 53 Christopher Street on the evening of June 28, 1969.

In November, 1969, Craig and three others at the meeting of the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO) proposed an annual demonstration on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street. They also proposed that the annual event “encompass  the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged—that of our fundamental human rights . . . .”

Christopher Street Liberation Day 1970Fundamental human rights. That’s the struggle they saw then, and I and many see today. That means LGBTQIA Pride events are political, they are about social change.

Of course, they also are about personal change and affirmation, and it is wonderful when we see people newly out celebrating with joy and love. This year, a friend of mine from church went to her first Pride march and festival in D.C. and was transformed by the experience. So, we still need LGBTQIA Pride.

But others in the community still find themselves on the margins. Some of them blocked this year’s Capital Pride Parade (notice it is a parade, not a march, and actually someone from outside would not know who was being proud of what). The group No Justice, No Pride, objected to sponsorship of the events by several major corporations. One member of that group who is Native American said, “Capital Pride’s list of sponsors reads like a who’s who of Native genocide: FBI, NSA, CIA, Wells Fargo, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Federal Bureau of Prisons.” Others objected to the presence of uniformed policemen marching in the parade. “We deserve to celebrate Pride without being forced alongside the police who kill us,” said another participant (read more here).

Many transgender people continue to feel invisibilized in these events as well. And D.C. Black Pride continues to be held in late May, in part in recognition of the white racism that has for so long been a significant component of community life.

Wells Fargo equals genocide protest at Capital Pride 2017I know many parade participants were angered by the protests, which caused a re-routing of the main parade. Some shouted “Shame” and other angry words. I do not see it that way. To me, these protests are in the very best tradition of the Stonewall rioters and the early activists in the 1950s and 60s, even before Stonewall. And certainly they are in line with ACT Up and other HIV/AIDS activists.

I have not attended LGBTQA Pride celebrations for several years, having grown bored with the lack of political consciousness by those who organize most of the events. I feel some guilt about this. I know it is important to participate in community events.

However, I would have been very interested in the protests, had I known about them in advance.  I am going to pay more attention during the year and see if Pride organizers make an effort to get events more in tune with our need for a powerful political movement and our need to claim the work we, as a community, still have to do. If they do, I will be at Capital Pride.

If not, I will be there, too, joining others in speaking truth to the community we love. Craig died in 1993; otherwise, I have a feeling he would be joining me—if he had not already been fomenting rebellion long before most of us understood the need.

Malachi:

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nI have mixed, complicated feelings about Pride. On one hand, of course, it’s wonderful to be in a space where we are able to openly celebrate who we are- our sexuality and sexual orientation, our gender identities (to some extent) and families and the ways in which we build and show and create love. That being said, however, I somewhat detest pride and what it has become.

The first pride rallies and marches were built on the momentum of the Stonewall riots. They were a time queer people could come together and stand in solidarity against the police brutality constantly perpetrated against the queer community. It was a time where we released ourselves from shackles of fear and embraced all of who we are, regardless of social messages.

Pride was dangerous. Going meant you could lose everything- your home, your family, your kids, and possibly your life. Of course, it is a result of years of pride festivals and parades that have helped push LGBT…well, L/G rights, anyway, through to where that concern, while still present for some, is not as pervasive as it used to be.

Stonewall uprising with cops.jpgAnd now, instead of protesting the police, we hire them to protect our marches and rallies and block parties. In this, we have forgotten, of course, that police brutality is still a massive problem for people of color, particularly trans women of color, for sex workers, and for non-assimilation queers, especially non-binary folks.

So when I went to Baltimore pride, I wanted to be overwhelmed and astonished at how white it was, how incredibly…normative it felt, but instead, I felt a sense of resignation. Baltimore is a predominantly black city, but here was our pride: overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly…normal looking, minus the plethora of rainbows.

Oh yes. The rainbows. Regular ROY-G-BIV rainbows, no black or brown stripe present. If you haven’t read the controversy around the Philadelphia pride flag (you can read it here), it appears that the rainbow is sacred and should not be altered to include black and brown stripes (we’ll just ignore all the variations of the pride flags we have had over the years, ok? See here and you can read a piece, “Is the Rainbow Enough?” from Robin several years ago about it here).

Roy-G-Biv-song-TMBGPerhaps I’m a bit cynical. But never has it been more clear to me that we need intersectional analysis around pride. We make pride unsafe for the very people who were our founders. It has become a large block party, and that’s fine… we should have block parties and dance and celebrate and wear rainbows… but to me, that’s not pride. That’s just another night at the club.

To me, the whole purpose and intent of pride is that it is a time to come together against those things that threaten our communities: police brutality, homelessness, drug addiction, homophobia and transphobia, loss of healthcare, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, etc. We still have so far to go, and it feels like pride is a celebration of winning one battle when the war wages on around us.

Maybe that seems melodramatic. We have come a long way from the social climate of the 1960’s, but I worry that we have been so single-minded in our approach that we start to view our queerness in a vacuum. And yet… queer POC still face systemic racism every day. Queer homeless youth (and queer youth in general) have a heartbreaking suicide rate. Queer sex workers are still victims of assault and violence from the police with no recourse to deal with it. Trans women are still murdered at an absurdly high rate. And this doesn’t begin to touch the intersections of these things: queer homeless youth who are sex workers. HIV positive POC trying to access medical care. And so on.

loud and queerSo, what exactly are we celebrating? I think that’s well-reflected in the demographics of our pride parades… yes. We can get married. Those are celebrating have, in many regards, “already arrived.” But I found myself wondering where these faces and bodies are when there are protests against police brutality and ending stigma around sex work and…and…

This evolution of pride does not bring me joy. It brings me a lot of sadness and grief and anger because I can see the lines of division and privilege so poignantly. This pride was not built for people who do not (or cannot) assimilate to the mainstream queer dream. This pride was not built for non-white bodies. This pride was not built for trans and non-binary bodies. This pride was not built for sex worker bodies. It was not built for these bodies… but it was built on the backs of these bodies.

Audre Lorde on intersectionalityMy pride? My pride sees color. My pride recognizes that we all face different struggles, some individual and some systemic. My pride recognizes that, until we are willing to see color, willing to see sex workers as human, willing to see trans people as worthy of respect, willing to see one another as whole people, willing to be just a little bit uncomfortable, then we still have work to do. I’ll show up for the work. I’ll show up for the intersections. I’ll show up for the grit and the grime and do the best I can, and it won’t always be right, and I hope someone has the emotional capacity to inform me that I’m doing it wrong, and I hope I have the grace to hear it and honor the work it takes to be a constant educator because of the color of someone’s skin or the shape of someone’s jawbone or the way someone makes money.

My pride is uncomfortable. My pride is loud and unashamed and talking about hard issues that no one else will talk about. My pride may or may not have rainbows, but it has a diversity of ideas. My pride is intersection.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What are your feelings about LGBTQIA Pride? When was the first Pride you attended, and how did you feel? How satisfied are you with our progress in combatting homophobia, bi-phobia, transphobia? What more needs to be done? Do Pride celebrations have a role in this work? What would you change about Pride in your community, if anything? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

 

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Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, July 20th 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.

Family Secrets

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

revrobin2-023Robin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do we keep sexual secrets?

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

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

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

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

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

Robin naked at desk 1_edited-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What is your relationship with family (or community) secrets? Have you been asked to hold the secrets of others? Have you felt like you were “the secret” in some capacity? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

 

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Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

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

Previous month’s sessions can be watched here.

Honest Talk about Sexual Violence

We need to start recognizing and naming sexual violence when we see it.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

Robin and I recently had a discussion around two distinct issues that had come to our respective attention: Robin heard about incidents where, after being expelled from college for committing a sexually violent act, those accused decided to fight the expulsion in court. I have been closely following a new trend called “stealthing,” in which men are removing condoms during sex without the knowledge of their partners. (For more information, see here and here).

I will let Robin speak more to the first issue, as he is more knowledgeable about that situation, but the rise of “stealthing” is an escalating trend of sexual violence rooted in patriarchal and sexist ideals. The action itself is bad enough- it is, at bare minimum, a violation of consent- but often it’s the intention behind the action that brings it back to power structures, hierarchy, and oppression.

There are websites devoted to helping men learn how to “stealth” effectively- tricks for getting the condom off without their partner knowing as well as discussions about intent which range from “condoms are uncomfortable and limit the ability to receive pleasure, and sex is about pleasure, so you should be able to experience it fully” to “it’s your right to spread your seed and reproduce and no one has the right to prevent you from doing this.” It elevates the comfort, safety, and security of men over that of women (I have only heard of stealthing occurring in heterosexual dynamics; I have not yet heard of this trend reaching gay men)- not to mention “dominance” of men over women.

There are plenty of people that I currently sleep with that I would refuse to sleep with if they didn’t wear a condom. Wearing a condom during genitally penetrative sex is a

condoms
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requirement, partially because of pregnancy, but mostly because of the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Now, if I had a conversation with a partner, knew what they had been tested for, and made a conscious choice to possibly expose myself to whatever risks that carried, that’s one thing. But for someone to remove a condom without my knowledge- and without knowing that he may have done this before, with other people- I lose not only the ability to consent, but also the agency to determine whether I am willing to risk my health.

I have had a terrifying situation in which a sweetheart and I were about to engage in penetrative sex, and they had put a condom on. Right before they entered me, they realized that the condom had come off, and we immediately stopped and assessed the situation, and they put another condom on and we were able to continue. But in that moment, I realized that I would not have known unless he said something- it would have been very easy for someone in his position to continue, and I wouldn’t have known any different until later. (Thankfully, he was just as panicked as I was).

In that situation, it was incredibly important that I be able to trust my sexual partner. However. I think it’s also important to state that victims of stealthing are not to blame for these situations. The person who does the action (removes the condom without knowledge or consent) is responsible for the harm they cause.

It’s a difficult and nuanced thing to parse out. I have nothing against casual sex- goodness knows, I’ve engaged in plenty of casual sex with people I didn’t know very well. And I don’t want to imply in any capacity that if someone is the recipient of sexual violence based on having casual sex, that that is in any way their fault. But I do want to underscore the vulnerability many sexual partners experience and the importance of building, establishing, and maintaining trust in sexual relationships- particularly if you are not monogamous, or aren’t in a steady relationship and are just casually dating. The

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vulnerability that someone could very easily do this without your knowledge. The vulnerability that you are trusting someone with your body, your safety, and possibly your future (if you were to get pregnant)… these are things that are becoming increasingly more important to think about as trends such as “stealthing” are on the rise.

It’s also entirely possible that people in established relationships- ones where trust has been developed- do this to their partners. Again, the blame for this lies solely on the person who removes the condom. This is in no way meant to shame people for engaging in sexual activities, or insinuating that they “should have known better.” That type of thinking is indicative of rape culture, and I recognize that my consistent- nearly repetitive- assertion that it is never the victim’s fault is my own attempts to actively combat that type of thinking. Putting ourselves in vulnerable positions does not mean that we are at fault when someone takes advantage of that vulnerability.

Regardless of circumstance, thought, I think that it’s extremely important that we call this what it is- sexual violence. Not an accident, not a misunderstanding, not a “gee, that sucks,” but intentional sexual violence. Putting ourselves in a vulnerable position does not mean that we are to blame when someone takes advantage of that vulnerability. Sex has risks associated with it, and we do the best we can to mitigate those risks. But when we are in a vulnerable state, and someone introduces new risk without our knowledge or consent, this is sexual violence.

In this culture, we are conditioned to view sexual violence in a very specific way. We

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expect it to look like how it is portrayed in media- a person walking alone in an alleyway gets jumped by a group of strangers- but the reality is, sexual violence doesn’t always (or even often) look like that. Sexual violence is usually more insidious and manipulative- and often comes from a friend or trusted individual.

We need to start recognizing and naming sexual violence when we see it. We need to distance ourselves from the Hollywood version and make an effort to see- and combat- actual forms of sexual violence. And it starts by recognizing that trends like stealthing are dangerous, damaging, and contribute to rape culture in a variety of ways. The intimacy and vulnerability of sex can be an incredibly powerful aspect of our physical, emotional, and spiritual connection with someone. But when that vulnerability is exploited, then it perverts that which is sacred.

Robin:

revrobin2-023A recent article in the Washington Post caught my attention and my concern. Entitled “College Men Use Anti-Bias Law to Fight Sex-Assault Findings,” the author recounted a trend among male collegians who have been punished and/or expelled from college for rape and other sexual violence to sue to collect damages, have their expulsion removed from the college record, and even obtain re-admission (link here).

Frankly, I felt angry as I read about men who seem determined to erase what they did and move on with no penalty. Male privilege, male supremacy, strike again!

I tried to balance that with a few instances in which there might be false reports of assault (most experts in this area is that the percentage of false reports is well less than 10%; many cite the figure of two percent), and that sometimes there might even be violations of due process in college administrative procedures. But that just reminded me how inadequate the so-called criminal justice system, and its collegiate parallel for student discipline, is in actually solving social problems.

Another reason for my anger is that rape is severely under-reported (most authorities say 90+% go unreported). Most authorities say sexual violence is the most under-reported violent crime in the United States. Given this, while I feel for someone falsely accused, I find myself not all that interested.  Given how many rapists get away with ruining the lives of others, why should I, we, care?  This may sound harsh, and perhaps I would feel differently if a friend of mine was among those falsely accused.

Report ItThe high proportion of under-reporting is due to many factors. Authorities often cite these: fear of retaliation, uncertainty about whether a crime was committed or if the offender intended harm, not wanting others to know about the rape, not wanting the offender to get in trouble, fear of prosecution (e.g. due to laws against premarital sex), and doubt in local law enforcement.

Based on conversations with both women and men over the years, my observation is that there are two main reasons: fear of not being believed, and shame that it happened. Both are, in my view, the clear result of living in a predominantly patriarchal world. The first and largest number of victims are women and children. But men are raped and violated, too. Patriarchy is male power granted dominance, a system in which men (first and foremost white men with economic privilege) hold the power and women, and men who are seen by some men as ‘not real men” or “less-than men” are largely excluded from it. The most ugly and severe outcome of patriarchal systems is misogyny, the hatred of women for being women.

Rape unreportedThis reality is reflected in results from a 2015 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll of college students. “Asked about things students could do to prevent sexual assault, 93 percent said it would be effective if men respected women more.” (See “College students remain deeply divided over what consent actually means”)

If men respected women more. Now that’s a concept!

Feminism has helped women make gains, and the rise of the LGBT equality movement has helped create significant social change. However, it was 1995—only 22 years ago—that Hillary Clinton shook the global, and U.S., political world with her declaration, in Beijing, that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” And she echoed that point of view in 2011—only six years ago—by declaring in Geneva that “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”

Most interesting to me is that no one of her stature and influence had said either thing up to that time. The outcome of the 2016 presidential election provides a certain irony; the same Hillary Clinton was defeated by a man who famously claimed to grab women “by the pussy” at will.

Hillary Clinton 2That candidate, now the President of the United States, recently spoke up as a character witness for a media personality who has been repeatedly charged with sexual assault and abuse—to the point that his employer, Fox News, removed him from the air (so far, he has not used his millions in severance payments to sue). The President experienced no discernible decline in popularity due to his unsought observation. It seems to have been more of the “locker room talk” that he claimed was the source of his “pussy” comment—in other words, boys will be boys.

Other facts bear out how in the United States progress for equality is slow. Only 29 chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies (5.9%) are women. In the current Congress, there are only 104 women (19.4% of 535 members).

Here a few other relevant facts more directly about sexualized violence:

  • Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted
  • Young people are at the highest risk of sexual violence; Ages 12-34 are the highest risk years for rape and sexual assault.
  • 1 out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime
  • Young women are especially at risk. 82% of all juvenile victims are female. 90% of adult rape victims are female.
  • Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
  • Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are 4 times more likely.
  • Men and boys are at risk of sexual violence. About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
  • 1 out of every 10 rape victims are male.
  • Males age 18-24 who are college students are five times more likely than non-students in the same age group to be victim of rape or sexual assault
  • 21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18% of non-TGQN females, and 4% of non-TGQN males.

every 98 secondsKnowing all this, what do we do about it? And specifically, what do people of faith do about it?

I will write more about this in future posts, but I will say here that the first thing is to talk about it. Not hide it. And that means breaking the silence in church not only about sexual violence but also sex in general, as well as focusing on gender equality and overcoming misogyny.

Those are central to our mission on Sex, Bodies, Spirit, because we believe they are central to living as God creates and calls us to live—honoring all, caring for all, sustaining life.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

Have you, and/or someone(s) you care about and love, been the victim of sexual violence? Was it reported? If so, what happened? If not, how are you, or they, dealing with it now? What do you think can be done to reduce, if not eliminate, sexual violence? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us next week, THURSDAY, May 18th 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.

On May 18, our topic will be . . . .

“Old Story, New Threats: Creating Responses to Religious Oppression”

The growing movement to claim “religious liberty” as a way to discriminate is not new. The history of Metropolitan Community Churches reflects decades of LGBT people being kept out and kicked out of churches which claimed that our sexuality and gender identity and expression offended their theologies. In a new era of discrimination masked as religious liberty, LGBT people are not the only groups experiencing religiously-based oppression. As we seek to come together and unite, our responses in this historical moment are critical to the future not only of our faith but also our country and wider world. Malachi and Robin intend to draw on the experience of MCC and others to suggest ways we can work together to promote true liberty and justice for all. Join the conversation!

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.

art-and-anarchism

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.

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.

Can Prayer Be Erotic?

By not entering into communication with God with our whole bodies, what are we missing in the conversation?

Robin:

I remember a time more than 20 years ago, when, as a striving doctoral student in systematic theology, I gave a paper at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. All I remember are comments from two more senior people in the academy. They both said, rather vehemently, that “desire” is not a theological category.

AAR logo_slideshowI was surprised. I did not make such a claim overtly in my paper. But as they spoke, it dawned on me that their analysis of what underlay my argument was correct, even though I thought they were wrong in their judgment. Desire is a theological category because desire is of God.

Let me quickly add this caveat: not everything we desire is godly, part of God’s desire for our lives, any more than everything we claim is love actually meets God’s understanding of love. But the activity and reality of desire are gifts from God.revrobin2-023

I will now fast forward to a time several weeks ago when I was enjoying an evening with nudist friends—a social group that gathers monthly for a party in a private home. I have met some lovely people through this group, including a young man who is becoming a dear friend.

The rules of the group preclude sexual activity—this is true of almost all nudist, or naturist, groups—and as one happily committed to monogamy in my marriage, I would not participate were it otherwise. And yet, I find desire.

The people, perhaps numbering 30, come in all shapes and sizes, colors, nationalities, and sexualities. I am not aware of transgender people, but I could be wrong. Certainly, all genders are welcome.

nude dinner groupSome of the body appearances are more appealing to me than others. I have my gay tilt toward the male ones, of course, but as nudists often say, all the bodies are beautiful, just as they are. And in some way or other, I desire connection with them all. Not sex, but desire.

Frankly, I find it easier to start connections with new people who are naked than with people who are clothed.  Naked people have removed a layer of protection, we’re more vulnerable. Vulnerable people make connections more easily.

Here’s where my theological point comes in: In my experience, God wants us to connect more—with God of course, but also with each other. That’s why I think naked bodies—the ones God gave us for which we eventually become responsible—are beautiful, powerful  expressions of the divine. Each human body is an image of God, and more than that, each is a means, an opportunity, to create connection.  I call this connectivity “eros.”

Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde

Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde first introduced me to the erotic as something more than physical sex, calling it “an assertion of the lifeforce of women.”  I think that is true of male-identified persons, too. I know it is true of me.

Lorde also said “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire.”

At this party, I also witnessed a sign of eros. Several of the men, at various times in the evening, exhibited full or partial erections. I do not know precisely what they were feeling, but imagine they found some other body alluring, or perhaps something someone said or did gave them a charge, or perhaps they were just feeling happy. Who knows, maybe all of the above?

What I know is that such a beautiful sight touched me. I’ll admit they were good-looking men but my reaction was not so much about them, or even wanting them, as it was about me. What I felt, rather keenly, was my desire for an erection of my own.

Regular readers of this space know of my erectile dysfunction and issues related to my prescribed treatment of testosterone replacement therapy. Erections are not very common for me.

erectionsBut then, even when earlier I could more easily get hard, I never did except during sexual encounters or solo masturbation. For a long time, I carried shame about my small cock, and even as I worked at shedding that I still felt an erection was only for private times, only for having sex. I had bought into our culture’s view that bodies are mostly meant to be hidden, and certainly male bodies with visible erections.

But as I gazed upon these men I realized the truth of Lorde’s observation. I was experiencing myself—feeling my own embodiment in a deep way (partly through something I could not achieve then)—and experiencing strong feelings of desire, of connection, feelings that in that moment felt chaotic because I was being drawn simultaneously more deeply into myself and toward others.

I did not seek sex with them, or they with me, and yet I wanted to connect with them. I wanted to talk with them, I wanted to learn more about them in general as well as to learn more about what caused them to get hard in that moment.I wanted, and I still want, to see the world through their eros as well as my own.

I am not sure I am explaining this very well, because I think I am still trying to figure it out. But as I continue to reflect, I am coming to understand that my erotic feelings—certainly those I share with my husband, but also those I experience at other times by myself and with others, too, including in more common moments like feeling the sun on my body or the touch of soil as I dig in the garden or observing or participating in a moment of human connection or human/animal connection—are a form of prayer. Eros is for me embodied prayer, a prayer for connection with myself, with others, and with God.

upraised hands prayerI have read a number of articles and books about body prayer. None of them mention the genitals and anus. It is as if we cannot mention that part of God. But God will not be stopped or ignored.

The good news for me is that whether I get a really good erection ever again (and I’m working on it—more about that another time) or not, God continues to desire me and I God, and others, too.  I know I will continue to call out “O God, O God,” when I ejaculate (dry or wet) because God is in that moment of chaotic, exuberant joy. And I know I will continue to be blessed by my own eros and the eros of others—with and without obvious arousals, just by being open to, and desiring, each other, the world, and God.

Let us pray.

Malachi:


When I think about prayer, I have the quintessential image in my mind of someone kneeling by their bed, hands folded, head bowed, saying their prayers before bed. I must have gotten this image from pamphlets and movies because that’s never something that was a part of my life or experience growing up, nor is it something I really do now.

Thinking about prayer makes me think a little about worship, and how the image in my mind of worship is also very different than my physical experience of worship. The word “worship” brings to mind the image of being in church on a Sunday morning, perhaps hands raised, in celebration of God. And while I have worshiped that way at different

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points in my life, I don’t currently have a home church I am attending…but I certainly still worship.

I can’t help but think about the intention of these ideas- the intention of prayer and the intention of worship. To me, the intention, the purpose of worship is to celebrate: to celebrate a God who loves and cares for us, to celebrate that we are made in God’s image and that God is in each one of us. “The God in me recognizes and honors the God in you.” We can worship with our whole bodies. We can worship through dance and singing, through cooking and sharing conversation, through cultivating gardens and protesting, and yes, we can absolutely worship through sex. If our intention behind our actions is one of honoring and celebrating our creator, then I call that worship.

So what, then, could be said about prayer? I believe the intention of prayer is desire and connection: we want a shift in something in our own lives, or we want someone we care about to be lifted up, or we just want to put something out there, outside of ourselves, because it feels too big for us to carry alone. And if those actions we take outside of church that are done with intention of celebration can be worship, can’t those things done with the intention of desire and connection be a form of prayer?

It’s something I haven’t thought much about before, to be honest. I’ve certainly appreciated sex as an act of worship, but I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of it as a form of prayer. But it makes sense to me that

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prayer is something I have often felt disconnected from- I have a hard time, sometimes, sitting with my own desire. And I’ve learned to listen to those things that are mirrored disconnections in my life, because they are often related. If I am feeling disconnected from my own ability to name my desires, then prayer becomes that much more difficult because I’m not always sure what I am bringing to the conversation.

Prayer is, to me, an active conversation. It’s one in which we bring ourselves and our desires and lay them out honestly- both with ourselves and with God. I don’t think prayer requires us to know the answers- in fact, many times, I think we come to prayer because we don’t. But I do think that we have to have the awareness of what we want from ourselves, from one another, from God, to be able to name it in some capacity. It’s vulnerable. We may be saying, “I can’t do this alone.” We may be saying, “I need help and guidance.” I think about the times- particularly this most recent time- where I have struggled with my own sexual relationships, and how thinking of my own needs and desires as a form of prayer might have helped in those situations.

I also think of how many people will have sex following the death of a loved one. It’s often called an affirmation of life- in our grief of losing someone, we affirm that we are still living, still capable of feeling connected and good in our bodies. I wonder if that, too, can be thought of as prayer- raising up our grief, our desire for healing and wholeness and connection.

Prayer can also, of course, be celebratory, coming from a place of gratitude and thankfulness. Prayers of connection and reconnection.

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Prayer is hope. And worship and prayer are intrinsically intertwined, I think. We can act out of a place of celebration and desire simultaneously: celebration for what is and desire for what comes.

But prayer is, I think, a conversation we have with our whole bodies- not just with bowed heads, speaking words aloud or in our minds. That is absolutely a form of prayer, and a valid one, but I think we miss something of the conversation if that’s the only way we can envision prayer.

I think about conversations and communication styles. A vast majority of our communication is non-verbal: facial and body expressions are a crucial part of how many people communicate. By not entering into communication with God with our whole bodies, what are we missing in the conversation? What are we holding back by viewing prayer within such rigid parameters? How might we envision new ways of praying that include the use of our bodies, minds, and spirits- a conversations from our whole selves?

I know, for me, that I’m going to struggle with this idea for a while. I’m going to have to think about what it means to communicate my desires as an act of prayer. I’m going to have to think about what it means to have conversations with God with my whole body- to do so with intention and purpose, instead of thinking arbitrary thoughts toward God when it’s convenient for me. So I am thinking more about how to relate to and connect with the idea of prayer- one that fits with how I worship, rather than something I saw in a movie. I don’t have answers, but I do have a fervent desire to be more connected. And it seems desire is a good place to begin.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What are your desires? Do the sexual ones feel holy? Do you recognize any type of eros in your life? How do you experience sex as a force in your life that impacts your spirituality and your mental well-being, and how do those other aspects affect your sex? Can you imagine sex as prayer? Do you think God participates in your sexual life? Does your sexual life connect you with God? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, THURSDAY, March 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Intimacy Whiplash

Explore non-monogamy in action with Malachi as he talks about both the importance of connection and radical intimacy as well as the need for self-care

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nEvery so often, I am afforded the incredible opportunity to appreciate how magnificent and blessed my life is- the capacity to see the image of God in others, as well as catch glimpses within myself. This past week provided such an opportunity, and I want to take this time to share a bit about it- as well as some of the impact it has had on me in the aftermath.

I have referenced FetLife at other points in this blog, but for those who are unfamiliar with the site, it is basically Facebook for kinky individuals. It provides an opportunity to connect with other people, learn about local events, and share, read, and witness other people’s experiences through photos, videos, and writing.

I do a fair amount of writing on FetLife- some erotic writing, some writing about my journey, thoughts, and experiences. This past week, I stumbled upon a prolific writer who posted some things about power dynamics that resonated with me, and I messaged him to let him know that his writing had had an impact and to ask his permission to link his writing in a piece I was doing exploring some of my own thoughts. This began a back-and-forth public dialogue between the two of us, each writing inspiring a new piece by the other, and so forth, over the course of four or five days. We wrote about vulnerability and the process of writing, about transparency and fear, about how we relate to ourselves and the world around us. For two people who had never met before, it was quite an intimate exchange held over a public forum.

Prior to this happening, I had made plans to attend a BDSM party in Philadelphia on Saturday, and I noticed that the gentleman on the other end of the computer was local to the area. At some point, we realized we would be at the same event, and decided that an in-person meetup and handshake was in order. So our back-and-forth discussion built up into a climactic finale that lasted through Saturday, the last post going up just hours fetlife-logobefore we were planning to connect in person.

That experience colored most of my week in some way or another. I had a pretty full weekend planned, and the backdrop of writing so openly, vulnerably, and expansively impacted the interactions and connections I was having in real life, away from a computer screen. On Thursday, I spent time with someone with whom there has been mutual attraction slowly building. I went to her house and we hung out, got food, talked, smoked too much (at least, on my end), curled up and watched TV, and learned to be around one another outside of the pressurized space of conventions (which is where we usually end up connecting). It was a wonderful, connective time that didn’t include sex- and that was absolutely perfect.

Friday evening, a friend (and mutually acknowledged crush) was in town to work an event happening in Baltimore, and stayed over at my house- again, someone who I only see at conventions, normally. My partner was out of town visiting some sweethearts, so we had the house to ourselves and got to spend time together talking- again, outside of the pressurized space of a convention. We didn’t feel any pressure to have sex (although we interacted in sexual ways, certainly). I was excited to have them in my home and have the opportunity to let them see me in a new way- people in my home feels like a certain level of intimacy and vulnerability, and people sleeping in my bed feels even more so.

Saturday morning, after my friend had left, I collected my things and drove up to visit a dear friend with whom there has been some growing sexual tension. On the way, I was able to talk to my partner, who told me that he was comfortable if anything sexual happened between myself and this person. We talked about it for a little while, and I felt comfortable in the boundaries we established. When I arrived, I was greeted by my friend and his partner, as well as a person I had never met in person before, but had talked to for several weeks leading up to this weekend. We immediately connected and the four of us had a wonderful time cooking dinner together and sharing space.

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I then got some one-on-one time with this new acquaintance, and felt immediately at ease, comfortable talking openly with her about a plethora of things, from mental illness to sexual dynamics to poly boundaries to our shared overindulgence of caffeine. She and I made our way to the party together after checking into a hotel that she, myself, and our mutual friend had planned on sharing together (my friend’s partner was not planning to attend).

This felt culminating and climactic in many ways. I got to meet the person with whom I had been sharing so much writing intimacy and, while we didn’t get a chance to talk long, it was a wonderful introduction and, and I hope, the beginning of a continued friendship. I got to watch some wonderful interactions and bask in the sense of feeling connected and loved and cared for by people I know very well as well as people I am just beginning to know.

I gave my friend a blowjob in the car. It was the beginning of us exploring a sexual dynamic, and it felt fulfilling and satisfying and wonderful- particularly because I have shared so much non-sexual space with this person in the past, I feel like he and I have built up a level of intimacy that I don’t usually have with people prior to having a sexual relationship with them. We went into the hotel room, and then the three of us cuddled into bed together with no strange, hard, or weird feelings between us.

In the morning, I got up and drove a little further north- my partner was going to leave New York City that afternoon, and conveniently, a person that I have begun sleeping with lives within walking distance of a commuter line. So I planned to spend the day with them while my partner finished his trip, and then we would meet up and drive home together.

This particular person is someone I have been on a date with previously, and we are still in the stage of being a little awkward and clumsy around each other- but it’s also endearing and tender and sweet. And so when we spent Sunday afternoon in their bed, learning and exploring one another in new ways, when I saw them drop their guards and become tender and vulnerable and open, those moments felt like a blessing, and made me feel giddy and excited and so full of joy. I found that I have just as much pleasure in sleeping with them as I do watching them cooking. Both feel intimate in different ways, and both help me feel connected to this person in different ways, and I like the ability to share both kinds of space with them.

I think of all the work my partner and I do to make things like this possible. I think of thepolyamory-symbol-happy-parties-com fights and the long hours talking and processing. I think of the contracts we have written with one another for finite periods of time that are records of who we are in those moments and a safety net to fall back on when we disagree about the terms of our relationship. I think about the frustrations, but also the joys, of living poly. Of unexpected, spontaneous connections and hours talking about someone we’ve recently met that makes us feel smitten.

If I had written this Sunday night or even Monday morning, this whole post would be bursting with exuberant glee, with no negative feelings in sight. But I’m not. I’m writing this on Tuesday evening, and the reality is, I’ve actually had a harder day and a half than I thought I would.

There is something called “con drop,” which is an experience that people have after going to a convention and feeling so full, so present, so seen- and then returning to their day-to-day lives and noticing the ways in which that kind of intentionality and integration is not present. It affects people in different ways, but when I’ve felt con drop in the past, it usually makes me feel a little cranky, but mostly, I feel needy and insecure and frustrated.

So Monday, when I returned to work and found myself getting irritated over the smallest things, when I found myself checking my phone too often and feeling sadder than usual to have no texts, when I began to question and doubt these connections that I had felt over the past week, I was somewhat baffled until I realized that I was “dropping” from a weekend so full of connection and feeling seen and making intimate connections and being present with people, and I didn’t know how to make the transition from that back to my life, particularly my life at work. My newfound friend put it quite well when we were talking about this earlier (as she mentioned she was dealing with some of the same emotions). She said, “masking emotion feels so wrong post radical connection.”

And that’s the crux of it, I think. I’m feeling some intimacy whiplash but mostly, I’m

self care
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feeling like I need to mask my emotions (particularly working in customer service, and that feels disingenuous, particularly when juxtaposed against a weekend full of radical integration of self. And please don’t get me wrong: I think that that kind of radical vulnerability and intimacy is incredibly important, and I want to strive for more of that in my life, not less. But it’s also important to make space for self-care in all of this. It’s important that we hold these lessons- that we are valuable, that we are loved, that we are seen, that we are beautiful, that we are important, that we matter, that we are worthy of love and affection, in whatever forms that takes. But it’s also difficult when, for whatever reason, something in our life butts up against that in a way that we are not able to shift or change. And dealing with that self-doubt and confliction is an important part of growth in learning how to be whole, integrated people.

I have so much gratitude in my life right now- gratitude, first and foremost, for a partner that is able and willing and excited to navigate these spaces with me. For each of these people, who allowed me to be present with them in different ways throughout the week and met me wholeheartedly in those spaces. And for the hard feelings the past day or so, that remind me that we can appreciate great joy, expansive happiness, unexpected miracles, but we are able to appreciate them partially because they don’t exist all the time, and disconnecting from that is difficult, but it reminds us why it is so poignant in the first place.

I encourage radical vulnerability and intimacy, in whatever ways feel authentic to you: perhaps through creation of art, music, or writing, perhaps through conversations over coffee with an old friend, perhaps through sex (with someone else, or perhaps with multiple people), perhaps through worship. I think it is a powerful way to grow and allow ourselves to see and be seen. I also believe it’s important to take time after that to recognize that radical vulnerability can be difficult and scary, and that’s ok. When we open ourselves up in new ways, sometimes we have to take a little time to reassure ourselves that we are still safe, loved, and cared for.

That piece is an important part of my weekend I’m glad I haven’t missed, because it’s giving me a chance to learn to trust myself.Because part of radical openness, intimacy, and vulnerability isn’t just learning to be open with others. Part of it is learning love, trust, and care for yourself, too. We cannot allow others to see what we are not willing to see ourselves. And that, I think, is the greatest blessing of all- when we can see ourselves, made in the glory and image of God, then that is what we are able to show others. And in its many different names, faces, and manifestations, the image of God in each of us is a glorious sight to behold. May we all learn to see the God in ourselves and in others. May we all learn to share the God in ourselves and be open to receiving the image of God in others.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What would radical intimacy and vulnerability look like in your life? How can you find ways that allow you to connect both with the image of God in others as well as the image of God in yourself? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

third Thursday
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us on THURSDAY, March 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description: “Creating Space,” particularly in worship is our focus: creating space for different ideas, beliefs, communities, and perspectives. Creating space can be a difficult process that requires us each to examine our own internal biases, prejudices, and desires about what we want from our churches  and communities. And yet, it is important that we start somewhere- and, for us, that “somewhere” is based in a firm belief in sexual and bodily liberation. So mark your calendar to be with us for this important conversation on March 16! 

Truths of Sex

focusing on liberating possibilities through sex contributes to living out divine commands to love and to do justice

by Malachi and Robin

Introduction:

Next Thursday, March 16th, we will co-host a discussion on Creating Space, particularly in worship: creating space for different ideas, beliefs, communities, and perspectives. Creating space can be a difficult process that requires us each to examine our own internal biases, prejudices, and desires about what we want from our churches and communities. And yet, it is important that we start somewhere- and, for us, that “somewhere” is based in a firm belief in sexual and bodily liberation.

So today, we offer these truths, not as a manifesto, nor as a comprehensive perspective, but as a starting point. These sexual truths for Christians (and all other humans) give us a place of common ground from which to begin, and provide a foundation on which to stand as we work to bridge those things that so often are used to keep us divided.

Some Current Background

We read a recent gruesome newspaper account of abuse by an English evangelical Christian leader, John Smyth (“Dozens Say Christian Leader Made British Boys ‘Bleed for Jesus’”).

revrobin2-023Once again, we learn of someone who claims to be spiritual using violence to enforce his version of sexual morality—in this case, beating boys bloody for masturbating, for watching pornography, for “having indecent thoughts.” And his reign of terror, while beginning with boys at the oldest boarding school in England, Winchester College, continued in Zimbabwe when he was sent away by the very Christian charity he ran because of an investigation into his barbaric practices, and more recently in South Africa.

He was arrested in Zimbabwe for homicide in the pool death of a 16-year-old boy at a camp he ran, but eventually charges were dropped. In February, he was removed from work with youth by a church in South Africa, following claims of inappropriate behavior (but without proof of criminal acts).

This story is not new, of course, but its gruesomeness is shocking, almost as much as the reality that once again church authorities are complicit, with law enforcement it seems, in covering up the crimes—until they have gone on so long and become global that denial is no longer viable.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nWe focus on it not because the story is new, but because it is depressingly familiar—and because it is not only Mr. Smyth and those who abetted his behavior who bear responsibility for the evil he has done. Frankly, it is a religious movement, our faith, Christianity, which continues to look the other way when it comes to opening a responsible conversation about sex and faith.

We don’t mean a dialogue promoting safe sex, although that is critical—any spiritual community that does not put condoms and dental dams in the restrooms and does not promote sex education for its youth (and even its 20-somethings) is guilty, in our view, of at least social/spiritual negligence.

What we are proposing, however, is a conversation that begins grounded in the truth that sex is not only good, but also is divinely created for our well-being and our pleasure. But it must be more than an affirmation of sex as a godly thing, more than offering a hymn or two to extol the beauties of creation and creating.

What is really needed is attention to specifics, to naming body parts, to sharing joys of sex acts, to sharing fears of sex acts as well—basically being very open and honest about the range of feelings, practices, and desires among us. We are beginning to think we need something akin to Luther’s 95 Theses, perhaps a list of Sexual Truths for Christians (and All Other Humans).

It could begin this way (please know we do not intend this to be comprehensive or final).

Sexual Truths for Christians (and All Other Humans)

  • ·         Open and honest conversation in religious and social settings about sexual desires and issues is the right of every person. It also is the right of any person to decline to participate in any part of such conversations that feel oppressive or harmful. However, objecting to the conversation on the basis of biblical teachings or some version of “God’s Law” is not sufficient to end the conversation, it is instead a beginning point for dialogue on the question of authority and self-realization in our sexual lives.
  • ·         Sexual positions are as varied and variable as the people who engage in them. None are right or wrong, only to be evaluated on their efficacy to produce pleasure and satisfaction for the parties involved.
  • ·         Ways of being sexual can change over time—persons who consider themselves primarily or exclusively engaged in different-sex sex or same-sex sex, or any other orientations or preferences, are free to try whatever option pleases them and helps them to become more the person God creates them to be.
  • ·         There are as many genders as there are people, and each one is beautiful and desirable.
  • ·         Masturbation is a God-encouraged way to love oneself, and even to do so with another or others.
  • ·         Nudity is beautiful and a way of praising God.
  • ·         There is no part of the human body that is not beloved of God, no part that is not beautiful, whatever its function(s). This includes the anus, a site of intense sexual pleasure for many.
  • ·         Consensual monogamy is no more moral than consensual non-monogamy.
  • ·         No person shall be denied the opportunity to engage in any sexual act or activity that they view as positive and life-affirming, provided such act or activity does no harm to others. This includes practices known as BDSM and kink, and all non-traditional forms of sexual living.
  • ·         No person shall be forced to engage in any sexual act or activity that is offensive to them or that they view as harmful to their physical, social or spiritual well-being.
  • ·         Neither the Bible nor God mandates only one way to be sexual.
  • ·         Every person can choose how they wish to live sexually, choices that may be made on an ongoing basis as more about sex is revealed in their lives and by others around them.
  • ·         God made us to be able to live as sexual beings, because God understands that the eros, the life energy, released and shared in sex can be an agent of communication, a way to bring people together
  • ·         Sexualized violence, that is, doing injury to another or others through bodily penetration, beatings, verbal attack or the like is not sex, it is violence and must be treated as such by legal and ecclesiastical authorities.

As stated above, this is far from an exhaustive treatment of our need to establish a new code of sexual living for Christians.

Both of us have a rich history in MCC—Robin as as an ordained clergyperson and Malachi as a member from a young age—proud to claim a heritage in a religious movement begun in 1968 to free lesbian and gay Christians from the tyranny of heterosexist, patriarchal views and rules about sexuality. And as believers and sexual beings, we have been agitating for many years for wholesale change in our sexual ethics and theologies.

We remain discouraged that even that tradition, with its rich history of teaching the wider church about sex in the 1970s and 80s, and showing the way in caring for those stricken and dying with HIV/AIDS into the 90s, has lost its way. We write this blog each week, and once each month, on the third Thursday, we offer online teaching about issues of sex, bodies and spirit. Our audience for both remains small. And few are clergy or other religious leaders.

In the United States we are going through trying times. We suspect that many think that talking about sex is not what is needed right now. Surely, we have much to struggle about, work against, in areas where the new administration is turning things upside down and backwards.

However, it is clear to us that focusing on liberating possibilities through sex in our lives can contribute to living out the divine command to love and to do justice, that indeed we can undermine all the historical forces determined to take us back to old days of narrowness and fear by claiming and proclaiming the freedom God gives us in our embodied, sexual, spiritual selves.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

Have you wondered where God ends and sex begins? What if there is not really a boundary? What if God is part of, central to, our sexual pleasure? How do you experience sex as a force in your life that impacts your spirituality and your mental well-being, and how do those other aspects affect your sex?  And how can we find ways to talk about this in church, how can we bring God and sex and God’s people into the same space, the same sanctuary? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us on THURSDAY, March 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description: “Creating Space,” particularly in worship is our focus: creating space for different ideas, beliefs, communities, and perspectives. Creating space can be a difficult process that requires us each to examine our own internal biases, prejudices, and desires about what we want from our churches  and communities. And yet, it is important that we start somewhere- and, for us, that “somewhere” is based in a firm belief in sexual and bodily liberation. So mark your calendar to be with us for this important conversation on March 16!