Weighing In

I have a long, hard, complicated relationship with my body and weight . . . .

Malachi:

It’s that time of the year: New Year’s Resolutions, fad diets, pressure to “lose the holiday pounds,” and so forth. Everywhere I look, I see advertisements and products designed to encourage weight loss- particularly weight loss for women.

I have a long, hard, complicated relationship with my body and weight. As someone who was socialized female, I felt- and sometimes, still feel- the pressure and expectations to look a certain way, to have a certain body type. I developed an eating disorder in my late teens that manifested as an addictive process- an addiction to ephedrine-based diet pills.

When I stopped taking diet pills, it was partially because I looked at myself in the mirror one day, and it was like I was seeing my body in focus for the first time. I looked emaciated; you could count every rib without trying too hard. I looked straight down at my stomach, though, and realized that, from my perspective, I still looked fat. Still had a small pouch of untoned skin that I needed to get rid of.

I knew then that if I didn’t stop, this would kill me.

My weight, moreso even than my gender, is where most of my body dysmorphia is. I am larger-framed for a woman and small-framed for a man; even my body doesn’t like to conform to social expectations. I am, by BMI charts, still considered “overweight” at 5’9” and 160 pounds- never mind that my bone structure and frame aren’t taken into account for things like BMI.

I have an incredibly warped understand of what I think my body looks like versus what my body actually looks like. One of the most amazing (and, in many respects, healing) things I have done is look at photographs of myself in rope suspension. In those photographs, I look strong, competent, capable. My body looks how I mostly want my body to look. It’s disorienting and difficult, sometimes, to reconcile the images I see in photographs with the person looking back at me in the mirror, but I do that work every day.

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This time of year is particularly difficult. With so much social pressure to lose weight and get in shape, I feel that pressure viscerally. I feel the old urges and habits creeping up. I have had to learn to differentiate between habits that support me getting healthier versus those that are aimed at getting thinner, and critically analyze whether I am doing something because I want to get closer to the internal image I have of myself, or whether I’m doing something because I want other people to see me in a specific way.

And that’s an important point: I have a habit of dating people who are physically in much better shape than I am, and compounded with my already-warped understanding of my body, makes me feel incredibly self-conscious when lying naked with people who have well-developed abdominal muscles and lean, thin frames. I have to remember (often with conscious mental reminders) that I do not need to change my body for the people I am attracted to. Clearly, if I’m lying naked beside them, they are already attracted to me!

I remember, about two years ago when my partner and I were actively trying to get pregnant, I was on prenatal vitamins, which shifted my weight distribution to make me curvier (and I’ve already got plenty of curve). Several of the women that lived near me commented that I was getting “thick,” a phrase often used in the black community to compliment a women on the size of her thighs and butt. I remember having incredibly conflicted feelings- recognizing that the comment was a compliment, feeling self-conscious about how I was carrying my weight, recognizing that beauty standards and “thinness” are incredibly racist constructs that discount the body shapes of many women of color, feeling uncomfortable about people making comments about my body at all. I’m not sure I was ever able to reconcile those feelings, beyond recognizing that discomfort with having my weight distributed in a particular way was an incredibly racist outlook on bodies… but I still didn’t know how to shake my fear that I was gaining weight.

Photo: honey_bare

This past weekend, I attended a two-day rope suspension intensive with a sweetheart of mine that culminated in each of us doing a series of different ties that focused on transitioning a body through various positions in rope. The person I was with videotaped first him tying me, then me tying him. As I watched the videos later, I was astounded at what my body looked like in someone else’s rope (I usually tie myself in different positions, and don’t have as many images of being tied by other people). He chuckled a bit as I kept exclaiming, “But… is that really me?!” at the video as we watched it, reminding me that that is what I look like. Watching that video felt eye-opening to me, to really see and experience how my body moves, where the musculature is well-defined, how my first person perception is immensely skewed when compared to the third-person perspective I got to see through watching the video.

These two experiences stand out vividly as reminders that what other people see and appreciate about my body are not the things I see. They are reminders that what we see is based on our own experiences: gender, cultural, racial, social, socioeconomic, etc. What we see and value, both in ourselves and in others, is directly connected to the things we are taught to appreciate through social and environmental influences. As a result, it can be difficult to divorce what we do for ourselves from what we do to gain approval from other people.

It’s hard to differentiate what actions I take because I want to look good for other people, and what actions I take because I want to get closer to my internal “ideal” of what I think I should look like- particularly when that “ideal” might not be attainable for my body type (I will never, for example, be a 6’4” cis man with broad shoulders, which is what I think I should look like about half the time. I will also never be a 5’4” cis woman that fits into petite clothing, which is often the other image I have in my mind of what I think I should try to look like).

I think it’s good to be healthy. I think it’s good to do things that promote a sense of comfort in our own skin. But in this culture- one that pressures women (in particular, although I absolutely appreciate that there is pressure on men as well) to look a certain way (particularly for the benefit of attracting men)- it can be hard to differentiate what we do for ourselves versus what we do for the benefit of other people.

What is your ideal image of yourself? Is it something that is attainable? Why is that your ideal, and how is it different than how you currently see yourself? Are there any roadblocks that might prevent you from seeing or realizing when you have hit your ideal image of yourself? And most importantly, regardless of anything else, how can we learn to love, appreciate, and honor the bodies we have now- even as we take steps to support the health of our bodies? We must ask ourselves these questions before giving in to the latest diet, the newest weight loss miracle drug, before we start obsessing over calories and starving ourselves so that we can “afford” to have a piece of cake. These things are things that have the potential to do harm to our bodies if not done carefully and with a lot of critical thought.

We must learn how to love the skin we are in, so that, if we decide we want to take steps toward changing it, we do so with love and not from a place of self-deprecation and shame. This is something I remind myself every day, because we are all still works in progress.

Robin:

I stripped and stepped on the scale Monday morning—part of my weekly ritual upon rising. I looked down and frowned. No matter how I stood, the reading was 185. Damn!

I had hoped for 180, or at least 182—it was 183 the previous Monday. For more than two months, I have been using an iPhone app called “Lose it,” seeking to reduce my weight from 202 to 180. I have done well with this easy way to track my caloric intake and exercise. Despite this setback, I remain confident that I will get to 180.

Why am I doing this?

For one thing, I realized that as I age (I am now 71) my health will be more stable without excess weight. The friend who introduced me to this app, a man of similar age and build to me, had similar thoughts—and when I saw him it was clearly working. So I decided to try.

But, and this is a big “but” (my other butt is not huge but ample), I also admit I want to look good. This is especially so now that I have become an avid nudist, hanging out when I can with other naked folks (and by myself too). Further, I am seeking to do some life (nude) modeling for artists and photographers. Wouldn’t it be great if I lost much, if not most, of that “spare tire” around the middle? Wouldn’t I look better, as well as feel better?

For whom? For me, or for others? Or is it both?

I had not done much self-analysis about all this until Malachi and I talked recently. As he described the pressure woman-identified people feel from society to look a certain way, to be thin, to fit into a bathing suit without any fat showing, to wear certain types of clothing to look sexy in alluring bodies, I realized that men, especially gay men, are not immune to this either. But I know the most severe social pressure is applied to women to “look good.” In our patriarchal, sexist-dominated culture where abuse and rape run rampant, that translates into “look sexy.”

All this is big business, too. Weight-loss products and anti-aging treatments and surgery are highly profitable for many companies and others. In that sense, it is hard, perhaps impossible, to stay centered in a seeking one’s own well-being without simultaneously viewing our bodies as commodities to be trimmed and shaped and made acceptable and desirable to the greater culture.

I want to push against all this pressure. I will say here, as I often say, every body, every single body, is beautiful and worthy. Period. All God’s creatures are beautiful! I believe that with all my heart and soul.

And I also know that I can draw back in some horror, I pray not disgust, when I see someone, of any gender, in what medical practitioners would consider a very obese state (but of course, I am not a medical professional, and besides no one asked me for a diagnosis). I do correct myself, and do my best to suspend any judgment, even seeking, where appropriate, to be friendly.

So the social rules and patterns are powerful. We are victims and we are perpetrators, too. At least I am, based on what I know are my own reactions. I suspect others can feel my judgment even as I try to reign it in. As several friends have told me over the years, they assume others are judging them for their weight, and it colors their own sense of self and behavior.

What a loss for them, and for the rest of us! We are helping people, good people, feel bad about themselves, and that inevitably means they can, will, be less productive as individuals, less positive about life, and less willing to participate to the vitality of our common life.

As part of my preparation for this piece, I checked on my BMI (body mass index), that medical model of adult body fat, and discovered that when I started my effort at losing weight at 202 pounds I had an “overweight BMI” of 26.7. If I had weighed just 26 pounds more, at 228, I would have had an “obese BMI” of 30.1. Yikes, I can tell you I was above that not too many years ago.

And when I reach my goal weight of 180, I will register a “normal BMI” of 23.7. Whew! A normie. I actually reached “normality” at 189 pounds. Thirty-nine pounds (on my height of 6’1”) separates me from obesity and “normality.”

Make no mistake. I am glad to have lost weight, and part of that is because I like how I feel.  I also like being able to wear 36”-waist jeans instead of 38s (and to think there was a time when I wore 42).

I also enjoy looking at myself in the mirror more than I used to, partly because I like the fact that my little dick and balls hang better and thus look bigger, now that some of my abdominal fat is gone.

But this is also reflects my desire to claim what I feel is my inner spiritual identity as a lean and lanky cis-bodied man. So, this weight-loss effort is part of a self-improvement, self-actualization, project. I realize that until I began to take seriously living naked as much as possible (not so possible at this cold time of year) I did not treat my body all that well. This change has been good.

Our motives and intentions matter.  And it is vital that we understand at the same time that we do not engage our own bodies, and the bodies of others, in a social vacuum. My dream for myself is to shed the pounds and the unhealthy attitudes, and to activate, claim and honor, from my deepest soul and body, the whole human being I am created to be. And my dream for our world, certainly our body-phobic, body-obsessed U.S. culture, is that everyone can do that.

Stop the blame, stop the shame. Honor, respect and care for all.

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

How do you feel about your weight, your body image? Do you judge yourself for being overweight, or over-skinny, or for something else? Is your health more important to you than your appearance, or is it the other way around? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Mark Your Calendar! February 14, right here, the next installment of Sex, Bodies, Spirit.

Sex, God, and Unicorns

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Robin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hitachi Magic Wand Photo Credit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What are your feelings about talking about sex? Do you want to, but feel you can’t most places? What were the messages you received as your grew up about sex, and about talking openly about it? What role does shame play in your relationship with sex? If you 40 and older, what changes about sexual attitudes do you see in our culture today? Are you comfortable with them? Why or why not? If you are under 30, is society (and/or church) open enough or do you want more? Why or why not? Do you think we can mention sex in church with appreciation and candor?  Do you pray about sex? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

Previous month’s sessions can be watched here.

Passive Bodies, Active Bodies

. . . the majority of our communication is non-verbal . . . .

Malachi:

I was spending time with a friend this past weekend, and I realized that they tend to speak in passive voice during conversation. Passive voice is a means of communicating that centers the object of the sentence, rather than the subject (for example, “I walked the dog” is active, whereas “The dog was walked by me” is passive). It’s an unusual style because it tends to feel ambiguous and somewhat awkward.

This got me thinking about communication in general, particularly because the majority of our communication is non-verbal. We have language to differentiate active and passive language when it comes to the words we use; however, I am beginning to think that extending that to our non-verbal communication could have a powerful effect on how present we are able to be in our bodies.

I feel like, for example, that I tend to speak actively but move in my body very passively. I allow things to happen to me, rather than acting upon the world around me. I have written elsewhere about my complicated relationship with acknowledging and expressing desire, but my partner used to say that I needed permission before I felt comfortable wanting something. That is, I needed to know that the desire was reciprocated before I was willing to acknowledge my own desires independently. I have a tendency to wait for things around me to settle before deciding where I want to position myself in my relationships and environments.

I don’t feel like this is the healthiest way to live, because it is reactionary

and responsive, rather than proactive. It also feels a bit dishonest, because

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it creates an image of wanting the same things as someone else, when it’s really more of an acceptance of what is being offered. If I existed less passively in my body- that is, if I were more willing to claim my own desires upfront- then I might find that myself and someone else want completely divergent things, and it could spare both of us a lot of heartache to realize that earlier on in a relationship.

Don’t get me wrong; I think there are times when existing passively is important and necessary. Moments, for example, where we recognize that the privileges afforded to us by our gender (or gender presentation), race (or presentation of race), ability, sexual orientation, authority, etc. put us in greater positions of power than those around us, we may actively choose to exist passively in our bodies in order to center or elevate those voices that are less commonly heard. But I think the key here is “actively choosing.” Passive movement isn’t inherently a bad thing, but I think doing so with intention is vital. Not only does it allow us to consider the complexities and intersections of oppression (and how we fit into them), but it also helps keep us grounded and centered in our bodies, even in those moments that we are existing more passively.

As someone who was assigned and socialized female through my childhood and teenage years, I think that women in particular are conditioned toward passive movement. Women are taught to endure microaggressions (such as unwarranted catcalling or comments that someone should smile) as compliments thrust upon them by strangers. Women are taught to be somewhat sexually submissive, allowing men to “make the first move.” When discussing sexual assault, women’s behavior (how much she had to drink, what she was wearing, what part of town she was in, etc.) is often centered, rather than the assaulter’s behavior. I don’t know if there can be a clearer case of the expectations of passive movement- where the object (the behavior of the woman who was assaulted) is the focus, rather than the subject (the behavior of the assaulter) or the action itself (the assault).

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In this way, I feel like passive movement and existence in our bodies contributes to rape culture. I say this, not at all meaning that “people passively allow themselves to get raped,” but that, when you have one group of people who are expected to allow things to happen and one group who is expected to do things, we end up in a toxic cycle. Rape culture (which, by definition, centers the actions of the receiving party, rather than the actions of the perpetrating party) very much enforces the passive existence of women and feminine-of-center individuals.

And while I am making generalizations here, I absolutely appreciate that there are men and masculine-of-center individuals who also tend toward passive movement for any number of reasons. I don’t mean to erase or discount those experiences, but I can only speak from my own personal experience and, having transgressed across gender lines a few times, I feel very strongly that the emphasis on men is active body language, whereas the emphasis on women is passive.

So how do we negotiate our relationship with our body language? How do we begin to center ourselves- when it’s appropriate- with our movements, our bodies, our actions? Like so many things, it is a sense of self-awareness, an active engagement in how our bodies move and interact with the world.

Do we allow the world to wash over us, to act upon us? Do we find ourselves reacting rather than acting more often than not? And if so, why is that? Where does that come from within each of us? It’s a form of being disconnected from ourselves, from our bodies, from our actions, from our desires. When and how might we shift from passive to active language with our bodies?

I don’ t know that there are universal answers to these questions. Every

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person moves through the world differently, and has to decide for themselves how they want to act and interact. For myself, though, I want to make a more intentional effort to be active in my body language- and more than just active, but proactive. To hear and honor the messages my body is telling me instead of the messages I have received from society that the needs of other should always surpass my own. I see the value and importance of taking up space and centering myself as the subject of my own life, rather than a passive object upon which life happens to.

Better yet, though, I am learning to see the value and importance in the wants, needs, and desires of my body. I am not willing to allow so much of my communication in the world to be so passive, and in order to get what we want, we must be willing to acknowledge what we want- and don’t want. As we grow into ourselves and new ways of understanding how we move through the world, may we do so with intention and deliberate action, rather than putting ourselves last in the focus of our own lives.

Robin:

Recently, during a conversation about sex and sexuality, I was asked if I revrobin2-023identify as a “top” or a “bottom.”

I found myself stammering a bit, not because I objected to the question
(although it feels old-fashioned) but because I felt unsure how to answer. In my early days as an out gay man, the term for some of us who enjoy being fucked and fucking another was “versatile.”  I don’t know if that terminology appears on today’s online sex sites or not. But after a little hemming and hawing that is the way I answered my friend.  After all, my husband and I have some routines we often (although not always) follow, and they involve us in various positions.

But when Malachi suggested we focus on active and passive bodies this week, I thought of that conversation—knowing that this is larger than just positions and practices during sex.

Speaking personally, I began to ask myself some questions. How do I stand, how do I walk, how do I, as the saying goes, carry my body (what an odd linguistic construction)? How do I sit in a chair, how do I place my body in a group of people?

posture chart-final-CopyWhen I was a full-time solo pastor, I recognized the importance of body language—both my own and learning to read others. I was the leader and wanted to convey authority and competence yet I also wanted to convey openness and enough vulnerability for people to want to trust me and talk to me. I don’t know how successful I was; I suspect I confused some people!

At the open communion in an MCC worship service, it is customary to offer the communicant prayer with the bread and cup. Clergy and lay servers alike have to learn to pay attention to body signals. Some people want you to practically hug them (as the hug you) during prayer while others slgnal keeping up to an arm’s length distance. There are subtle variations between those two poles. Respecting these signals is critical to the person being able to receive the blessing of the holy meal.

Gender often plays a significant role. Women are usually raised to listen, men to talk. But that is not about just speech patterns. In fact, speech is not the most important and powerful way we communicate. Our posture, the way we take up space, the tilt of our head, the direction of our eyes, all these and many other factors convey far more than the words from our mouths.

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The man who conveys his desire to listen—body seeming relaxed, looking directly at the speaker, perhaps head tilted just a little, nodding in comprehension or even agreement (perhaps a slight smile or murmur), conveys a different message from the man whose body seems tense, who is looking at his watch or beyond the speaker, not nodding but indicating an impatience and a desire to speak. There are women who exhibit these behaviors, too. Gender is important, but it is not necessarily determinative of every person or interaction. Many of us have learned, often due to work requirements or other needs, to overcome at least some of our early conditioning.

That conditioning may be the result of gendered socialization, but it also may be the result of other factors, including things that happened to us. I remember as a child, and even as a teenager, being uncomfortable in gatherings of my father’s family. They all were loud, talking over each other, and they also took up space—I mean by that they sat, stood, and walked in ways that made sure others knew they were not only in the room but also intended to take charge, even to be the center of the action. There was a lot of dominance behavior going on, even among the women.  I suspect the women learned it in self-defense.

Overacted VII generally shut down in those gatherings, unless someone specifically invited me to speak. Then I often stammered, despite intelligence and an ability to speak. I still engage in variations of that today. In a class or other group, I tend to be quiet. A professor in seminary told me that she loved to read what I wrote for her, but was disappointed by how little I shared aloud in class.

There is an exception to this general pattern. I am a comfortable public speaker.  Give me a role that requires me to not only speak but also stand up and assume center stage, and I will do it. That was true long before pastoring, but it served me well in that role, too.

So, active or passive?

I am tall, but do not stand and walk tall. Like many tall people, though far from all, I slouch. Recent, ongoing back pain is causing me to pay more attention to posture, so I think I am learning a bit about living in my tall body. Plus, as I wrote recently, I am seeking to claim what I think is my natural lankiness (see “Who Is Your Type?” ). That pain is also causing me to pay more attention to how I sit as I write. I also am using an adjustable height desk, so I write for 30-45 minutes while seated, and then shift and do the same while standing.

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I really like writing, and even reading, while standing at the desk. I usually spend my days at home naked, and there is something very empowering for me to stand, naked, and write. I feel like I am claiming my body in a new, active, way.

I also attend some meetings regularly, sometimes sitting in a circle of chairs and other times at a table. I have been noticing lately that when sitting in a circle I tend to fold myself up, and when at a table I lean in with my head resting on my hand (my arm cocked at the elbow). As at my desk, I am paying more attention to my posture, and shifting to sit up tall.

Active or passive? It seems I lean toward passive, with a new commitment to become more active. This comports well with how I am coming to understand my life pattern for the past 50+ adult years. I am seeing now that I have lived a reactive life, doing what arrived in front of me whether it was actually mine to do or not.

Today, as I claim my vocation as a writer, learning to work on my own without an institutional structure to govern and guide me, I am becoming more active.

Neither passive or active is wrong or bad, of course. I am just hoping for more balance between the two. Surely, we are engineered for both—that reflects the largeness, the depth and width and breadth of God and God’s desire for us to be ourselves—and I am grateful to be broadening my horizon.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

How do identify your body and the ways you interact with others? Passive or active? Some of both? What difference does the context make? Do you see patterns in your body behavior and attitude that reflect, and do not reflect, social conditioning, gender roles, etc.? 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
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Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about three weeks, 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.

A Summer without Body Shaming?

let’s come from a place of loving our bodies . . . .

Malachi:

My day job is in a coffee shop. The past week or so that I’ve been working, I’ve noticed a14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_n significant uptick in the number of sugar free, nonfat, no whipped cream drinks that have been ordered. As I’m chatting with customers while making their drinks, I’m hearing a lot of comments like, “Time to get that beach body back!” or “Gotta lose these pounds now that it’s getting warmer!” or some variation thereof.

There is also an increase in gym membership deals right now (I know this because I have been shopping around for a gym, and all of a sudden, there are a whole bunch of really attractive offers). There are also more and more ads on social media for “lose 10 pounds in a week!” or some new fad diet or reminders that we may have fallen off the New Year’s Resolution, but now is a great time to recommit. All of this is to say, it seems to be the season where people are focusing more and more on their figures.

And I think it’s great to be healthy. Please let me say this first: being healthy, caring for and supporting our bodies is a great thing to strive for. But far too often we equate “thin” with “healthy,” and around this time of year, we are more focused on how we will look in a bathing suit (or naked) than we are on making substantive changes that will have a long-term effect on our overall health.

From this perspective, I think we need to be really careful about how we approach these warmer months, and be aware of our capacity for body-shaming… not just other people, but ourselves. I would hope that people wouldn’t make negative or derogatory comments

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about another person’s body, but we know that those comments happen, and they are immensely hurtful. But as much as we need to ensure that we do not do that to others, we also have to be careful that we are not body-shaming ourselves.

Again, this comes down to the focus on health vs thinness. If we are saying to ourselves, “I don’t feel very good in my body and I want to get healthier,” that’s one thing. But if we are focusing on appearance and thinness, then we run the risk of shaming ourselves for our bodies which, in and of itself is hard enough, but it also has a cascading effect.

In this society, we tend to associate certain physical traits with certain character traits (which is the heart of systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.). We associate thinness with success, beauty, responsibility, self-control. We tend to associate heaviness with laziness, out-of-control (particularly eating habits), irresponsible (especially with food choices), and not attractive. So when we view ourselves as not-thin and reinforce those messages, we are also reinforcing the connotations of those messages: that we are not attractive, or make poor choices, or aren’t responsible, or are lazy.

For example, it’s easy to slip from, “I really need to lose a few pounds,” to, “If I were motivated enough, I would start walking around the block,” or “I feel so guilty for eating that brownie; why did I do that?” or “No one will be interested in me if I look like this.”

The truth is, health and weight are related, but they aren’t the same thing. Some bodies

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are simply larger than other bodies. I have friends who are larger than I am, but significantly more healthy in their consistency of working out and how they eat. Conversely, I have other friends with significantly more unhealthy habits, but a high metabolism, so they are consistently thin and slender.

I have a history of diet pill abuse and addiction. I remember the positive reinforcement I got when I was underweight and how much harder it was to quit, knowing I would have to endure comments about gaining weight. It has taken a long time to learn to love the body that I have, and I still have to be careful. I’ve joined a gym recently, but only after having long conversations with my partner about where I was coming from (wanting to be in better shape) to make sure I wasn’t in a toxic place of self-shaming and wanting to be thin.

We don’t always know what’s going on with someone else’s body. But we can be aware of what’s going on with our own. So as we approach these warmer months of bathing suits and shorts, nudity and tank tops, let’s come from a place of loving our bodies. A place of perfectbody.jpgnot comparing ourselves to an unachievable (and very white) beauty standard. We can want to improve, strengthen, and support our bodies. We can seek to be healthier. But if our bodies are temples, then approaching them with self-deprecating messages isn’t the way that we make space for them to be holy places.

Let’s be kind to ourselves, and be aware of the messages we are sending to ourselves, and strive to love the bodies that we have- rather than listen to the messages of the bodies we are told we should aspire to have.

Robin:

I have heard several people in the past couple of days speak about getting back to the gym—“summer’s coming,” one said, “and I want to look my best!”  Frankly, I have seen that friend naked and I think they already look fabulous. But I understand that most, if not all, of us have insecurities about our bodies, specifically about how they look—not only to others but also to ourselves.

I have been talking about looking for a new bike because I want to start regular riding. Around our home are some good streets for riding, including bike lanes, and I want to enjoy them and outdoor exercise. I also need to build lower- and mid-body strength and flexibility.

But the biggest impetus for me to ride now is to be prepared to participate in the World Naked Bike Ride in Philadelphia on September 9, 2017 (click here for more information, and let me know if you are interested in sharing it with me). But this is not a competitive or long-distance event, so I don’t need lots of preparation.

What I do want (as opposed to need) is to look my best. When I take my clothes off in public I don’t want excess body fat, I want to be, and feel, lanky (see “Who Is Your Type?” for more about my lankiness), sleek, while riding and while standing around with lots of other unclothed, and even clothed, people. I want to look my best in photos, too (and I hope there will be photos).

I remember my New Year’s resolution to lose 10-15 pounds—the commitment I failed to keep for more than a couple of weeks, if that.  Why did I drop the ball, not the pounds? I think a major reason is that I need more incentive to eat less and exercise more.

It doesn’t even have to be the beach or a naked event. We are getting ready to change wardrobes, too, wearing fewer and less bulky clothes, making our bodies more visible. We want to look our best, and for many In our culture, that seems to mean “thin,” or at least not “fat.”

Who tells us that? And how are “thin” and “fat” defined? How do we feel about whatever category in which we, or others, place us?

According to a standard BMI (Body Mass Index) chart from the National Institute of Health, I am overweight, not obese. Do both mean fat? Probably, at least not thin.

According to a different standard, offered by the Smart Body Mass Index, my weight is appropriate for my age, height, and sex. So I am not overweight? Not fat? But am I thin?

I want to be thin!!!

BMIAccording to the standard chart, I’d have to lose 22 pounds to be “normal” (as opposed to “overweight,” “obese,” and “extreme obesity.”) What is that? I have never thought of myself as normal, and don’t intend to do so now.

The use of that word on the government chart speaks volumes about the feeling so many have about our bodies.  We want to be “normal” and seek some sort of “Good Bodies Seal of Approval” for ourselves—and most of all we want to feel we can apply the approval to ourselves. But we are sure we fall short. We are not normal; the (mostly white) models in magazines are normal, our neighbor without any visible body fat is normal, the hunky guy or curvy woman at the gym is normal. We are not.

So we carry shame, or at least embarrassment.

beauty pageant swimsuit competitionFemale-bodied persons generally carry the heavier burden, because they, more than male-bodied persons, are subject to constant aesthetic scrutiny—standards about everything from hip and breast size to hair and makeup (they are the ones expected to wear make-up), and certainly weight. Some of this is not under their control—hip and breast shape, if not size, come with the body. Genes count—even though they are rarely considered by those who judge.

But that is not to say that men don’t have issues, too. I have known some really gorgeous men—by worldly standards as well as mine—who carry negative feelings about at least some aspect of their bodies. For some, it can be penis shape and size, or it can be “spindly” legs or flat butts, and just like women, they come with the body (working out doesn’t always change legs or butts on men). There are men, as there are many more women, who feel they can never be thin enough.

I don’t want that sort of thinness and I do not suffer from anorexia, but I want to lose my belly. The rest of me is pretty good for a 70-year-old man—not muscular but not seeking big biceps, etc. I wouldn’t mind being more toned and defined, but it is the belly that really gets to me.

Of course, my husband loves my belly. And I love his belly. But I want mine gone. This has at least something to do with the fact that my father had a belly, too. He had spindly legs and while strong—he spent his days in physical labor—was not muscular. But his belly was big. I never liked how it looked.

food plus feelingsBut there are social factors at work, too. Pictures of beautiful (mostly white) people who are thin do much to create the social standard that beauty is thin. Moreover, incessant advertising about the joys and coolness of fast food and good feelings when enjoying desserts, lead many to adopt unhealthy eating habits.

I know from personal experience that it is easy for parents to use food as a way to incentivize good behavior, and even to use food to convey love. As a parent, I hope I did not do either of those too much. I know as a child that my parents used food to anesthetize feelings, their own and mine, and to convey their love for me and each other.

In fact, I was a skinny kid until about age 10 when my father began making a large batch of peanut butter milkshakes to share with me every night. In one school year, I went from skinny (early lankiness) to overweight, teetering toward really fat. I have been fighting it ever since.  The only time I have ever been thin since then was when I was diagnosed with adult mononucleosis at age 36—considered a very serious illness at that age—and lost more than 70 pounds. Then I was truly skin and bones. Too thin.

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I have woven personal history with some social commentary because body image is both a major social issue and a deeply personal one. We carry our own feelings, our shame and disappointment in ourselves, but that personal reality affects those around us, too.

We are at our most spiritually and emotionally healthy, as individuals and a society, when we realize that no body—including our own—whatever its shape or condition, reflects anything other than our innate beauty as beloveds of God.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

How do you feel about your body? Why What standards do you apply in evaluating it, and where do they come from? When and how do you judge the bodies of others, or don’t you do that at all? If you do this, what is the source of the criteria by which you judge others’ bodies? 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 three weeks, 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.

Constructing Gender, Constructing Sex

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

Malachi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Robin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dangers-of-Thinking
David Hayward nakedpastor.com

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

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

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

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

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

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What is your history with gender and other ways you experienced being shaped as a sexual being? Are there ways in which your sexual life, sexual practices, do not fit neatly into the usual gender and sexual orientation categories? If so, what are they and what has influenced you? Would you like to change any of that? Why?  Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

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.