Robin: So many friends, and many others, are expressing apprehension about this new year, anxious—whatever their political leanings—about whether our nation, indeed the world, can survive the tumult we have been experiencing for the past year and more. And I admit, as a political and socially progressive person, I have significant fear for the future of our liberal democracy and for the cause of liberation throughout the world.
Are their signs of hope? Always. I am by nature a hopeful person, and that is strengthened by my faith in a God who is always present, in every moment available to us if we pay attention. So, I see possibilities in the efforts of many to organize protests and to develop agendas of change which are inclusive and grounded in the desire for justice for all—and the commitments I see, and am asked to join, to stand steadfast, strong, and tall for a nation and world grounded in the innate value and dignity of every person and creature.
And, thanks to conversation with Malach (so much that is new and fresh in my life comes from our ongoing dialogue—may everyone older like me have a Malachi in their lives)i, I am seeing seeds of possibility in the legacies left us by some Queer icons who left this hallowed earth in 2016. What I realize is that I draw not only hope but some specific ideas from them, not so much to copy what they did as to see ways to take things to new levels.
As I ponder Prince, David Bowie, and George Michael, and their legacies, I see some of what we, or at least I, need in 2017—attitudes and actions promoted by this queer-sainted trio who died last year.
Prince specialized in pushing various limits. We need more of that. Of course, some of the limits tested our understanding of him….for example, his membership in the Jehovah’s Witness movement. And it seems his attitudes on social issues, such as marriage equality, were more in line with that group than his flamboyance would seem to indicate. Still, the fact he dressed however he pleased, crossing various gender boundaries, even playing with sexuality at times, made him fascinating. And his talent for music—writing, performing—never stopped showing up.
As a queer, I am especially drawn to his open assault on gender rules. He was way ahead of LGB activists in that regard, and it sometimes seems to me that it was Prince who helped many transgender folks realize they could be themselves (and the rest of us to affirm that).
We need more of that, not less, especially when in the White House we will soon have someone who is so insecure in his masculinity that he needs to defend his penis size, and to use his ability to feel up women as proof that he is all man.
Experimentation, Innovation, Re-Invention.
David Bowie was songwriter, performer, actor who seemed almost always to have a golden touch. Not seeming to be content with what he had just done, he moved from musical style to musical style. And he was a good actor, too, and for me as a nudist, I was glad he was unashamed of his body (not exactly a porn star version, see picture) in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth.
But it may be, for me at least, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust for which I am most grateful. The album, and later the tour, features a bisexual alien rock superstar, shedding light on the artificiality of rock music in general, discussing issues of politics, drug use, and sexual orientation. Although it seems Bowie was primarily heterosexual, he claimed bisexuality (with his wife), and even at one point said he was gay. But then, in a way like Prince, he also asked what such labels really matter.
Like Prince, he did not let social boundaries hedge him in, and it was true of his various musical adventures, too. Pop, glam rock, industrial, jungle, plastic soul, electronics—all part of the Bowie genre. And then, of course, there is “Let’s Dance”—how many clubs have I danced my heart out to that?
We need more joy, more of that dancing exuberance, more reaching for stars, again in the face of so much angst and anger in our nation and world right now.
I admit I had a crush on George Michael as my daughters became aware of him and the group Wham! and then as he continued to perform alone. I read speculation about his sexuality a couple of times before he was arrested in 1998 for “indecent behavior” in a public restroom in Beverly Hills.
I admit to not having been as impressed with his music as by his face. But I did admire his refusal to deny he had been in a public restroom for sex—his arrest in 1998 in Beverly Hills for “engaging in a lewd act.” Caught in a sting, he pleaded no contest.
It is what comes next that really catches my admiration. In a song and video, “Outside,” he chose to satirize our police obsession with public sex. It is not great music, and even the lyrics could be stronger, but he challenges our double-standards about sex, including by the end of the video to boldly ask, “Who is policing the police?” (as two cops follow their arrest of an offender by passionately kissing each other).
We need more sex, not the abusive or patriarchal actions of men dominating women against their will, but real sex, the kind where people are vulnerable in the intimacy of their souls and bodies without worrying too much about socially enforced boundaries (let each of us set our own, as long as we do so without harm to others).
So what do these three suggest to me for 2017, and beyond?
In the face of a resurgent patriarchal view of life (a la Messrs. Trump and Pence and others), I say “to the ramparts”—not just to protest though that is often necessary, but more to push the boundaries further and further.
Let us find inspiration in Prince.
We need more people throwing gender rules to the wind—not just trans folk but so many of us that it is no longer possible to pretend traditional dress codes have any relevance. I am committed to pushing beyond my earrings this year.
Let us find inspiration in David Bowie.
We need more people creating their own versions of Ziggy Stardust. I don’t know exactly how that will manifest in me, but as a theologian and poet I am going to find ways to experiment with new ways of perfecting my crafts. And I will go naked as much as I can (including the World Naked Bike Ride in Philadelphia this fall—how about we have tens of thousands sharing in that this year?).
Let us find inspiration in George Michael.
I don’t know about you, but I am going to write and publish erotic poetry. I want to be more public about my joy in sex, in my body, in the body of my husband and others, too. Of course, I will keep writing on this blog, and teaching about sex, bodies and spirit online, with Malachi—challenging the religious establishment to get over its fear of God’s great gifts. I intend to center my theological and poetic arts in the eros of God.
Indeed, that is what is needed more than ever, a celebration of the eros of God, all the ways the divine touches us and urges us to touch each other. So, yes, let us protest and plan political agendas and actions, but let us also be outrageous, experimental, innovative, re-inventive, and surely sexy.
To 2017, the Year of the Eros of God!
Who becomes the heroes when the heroes have died?
2016 was a tumultuous year. While I appreciate that there are many things to celebrate from last year, it was also a year when the queer community lost some powerful figures in pop culture: David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael, to name just a very few.
As we begin this new year- for many of us, with a sense of relief that 2016 has finally come to a close- there is also a sense of trepidation with the incoming administration and political climate. And I can’t help but think about these heroes- the Bowies and Michaels, the Princes, the gender transgressors and sex symbols and “dirty, filthy fuckers” (thanks for that one, George).
More importantly, I am thinking about how we move forward: what does it mean to be Bowie in today’s world? It’s not just about a man putting on makeup or claiming his sexuality or dancing around in pants that display his package while holding a riding crop (though the Labyrinth is worth seeing for this scene alone).
What does it mean to be George Michael? His unapologetic song, “Outside,” is a fantastic, unashamed song that addressed not only his own sexuality (after being charged with lewd acts for having homosexual sex in a bathroom), but in calling out the hypocrisy of criminalizing sexual behavior. His many, many acts of
kindness and generosity that have come out since his death show the true merit of his character. Without such a public stage, without access to copious amounts of wealth, how can we follow in Michael’s footsteps?
And Prince? Prince was never a part of shaping my understanding of the world the way George Michael and Bowie were, but his flamboyance, his seemingly-juxtaposing beliefs on queerness in general… what does is mean to be Prince today, to hold contrasting beliefs that many would say are in direct opposition to one another, and live in that in-between space?
These three men were marked by their actions, yes, but it’s not the actions themselves. It is the intention behind the actions, but more importantly, it is the refusal of shame that marks these men as incredible, and that is something we can all seek to emulate.
We cannot allow ourselves to be brought to silence by shame. We cannot allow ourselves to change who we are because we are made to feel ashamed of how we look, or who we love, or how we fuck. Our sexuality is a central part of who we are, and we must live our lives fully.
Bowie and Prince gave us permission to be weird. Michael gave us permission to claim our bodies and sexual expressions and find power in those things. He gave us permission (and an example) of how to be kind and gentle to one another without seeking credit or glory for the deeds. We are becoming the people that people will remember. As we face a daunting future, how might we pass along the lessons we have learned to the generations to come?
It comes down to authenticity. We combat our shame through embracing the power of authenticity. It sounds so much easier, obviously, than it is to live. As these men taught us, it’s not about the actions themselves (or imitating or repeating those actions), but about the intentions behind them: to be whole, real, messy, complicated, authentic people.
I find myself floundering to live up to these expectations sometimes. I am afraid for myself. I am afraid for my goddaughter, for my family. It is easier to blend into the shadows and hide until it feels safe. And for some, for many, that is a necessary course of action, and I applaud and respect people doing what is best for them.
For me, though, I feel the need to be a Bowie in my world. I feel a need to be a Michael. I feel the need to be brazenly, unapologetically queer and transgressive in ways that feel authentic to me. I feel the need to keep my beard and grow my hair and wear eyeliner and clothes that confuse people. I feel the need to be my own manifestations of ambiguity in the world. For me, seeing that ambiguity, seeing Bowie as a sexual icon, seeing that transgression gave me permission to explore that within myself. If I can make one child’s life better, if I can give one person hope, if I can help one person see themselves in a different- more authentic- light, then I will be a Bowie in my world.
If I can help someone claim their sexuality- whether through BDSM or non-monogamy or queerness-if I can help them claim their desires or explore their interests or own the fact that they might be dirty, filthy fuckers and proud of it, then I am a Michael in my world. If I can make a person’s day easier or better- whether or not they ever knew that the act of kindness came from me- then I am a Michael in my world.
Our sexuality and expressions of our bodies are not necessarily the entirety of who we are, but they are a vital part of our understanding of ourselves. When we shelter those parts of ourselves away as shameful or secret, the rest of who we are suffers in tandem- including our ability for kindness, compassion, and empathy. To nurture authenticity is to combat shame, and combating shame not only fulfills our own lives, but it might be the thing that inspires someone else to be their authentic self.
So let us be Bowies in 2017. Let us be Princes and Michaels. Let us push the boundaries with intention and live our lives with joy. Let us combat fear with compassion and shame with authenticity. Let us learn from our heroes and continue building on the foundation they laid for us.
Let us become the heroes this world- and each of us- so desperately needs.
We Want to Hear from You! Help Make this a Conversation!
Who has impacted your understanding of how you navigate the world as a sexual and/or queer person? What people have had an impact on your experiences and pushed you to be the best versions of yourself? What was it about those people that made such a substantial impact? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.
Join Us Third Thursdays!
Please join us THURSDAY, January 19th 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.
Sacred, Not Secret, Part 3: Beyond the Norm
We invite you to join us on Thursday, January 19th for the third part of the series, “Sacred, Not Secret” where Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline continue to discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. On January 19, they will continue to explore non-normative relationship structures and practices, focusing this time on kink and BDSM. This one-hour workshop will examine different aspects of these sexual activities, as well as discuss ways that we can be more open and inclusive to practitioners–because do not doubt that you know and interact with them, in church and elsewhere.
Recordings of the workshop presentations by Malachi and Robin are being made available periodically.