Our Sex, Our Bodies, Our Spirit

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

Robin: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Malachi:

Photo by DWL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

What are your perspectives, your sense of self about sex, bodies, spirit? Have they changed over the years? How do you experience the unity of these three central parts of our lives? Do you, or are they separate and distinct? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Mark Your Calendar! August 8th (or thereabouts), right here, the next installment of Sex, Bodies, Spirit. Our apologies for being too busy to post on July 11.

The Eros of God

Let us combat fear with compassion and shame with authenticity. . . .

revrobin2-023Robin: 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.

Outrageousness.

Prince specialized in pushing various limits. We need more of that. Ofprince-lovesexy-cover 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.

davidbowie-themanwhofelltoearth-12_infoboxDavid 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.

More Sex.

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 george-michaeldominating 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!

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

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

bowie-labyrinth
David Bowie as the Goblin King in the Labryinth

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 15698206_10154001701567665_2385558159859365080_nactions), 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.

08revolution-master768
Prince, performing in Paris in 1986. Credit Pascal George/Agence France-Presse

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.

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discoverpittsfield.com

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.

Workshop description:

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.

Queer Is a Verb

My entire world is queer. Queer is not just an adjective; queer is a verb.

We are focused on creating an atmosphere of sex positivity and wholeness, of self-love and pleasure within and through our bodies, and doing these things through the lens of Christian faith. Sex, Bodies, Spirit is not just a title, but a way of navigating and understanding the world, who we are within it as whole, embodied people, and how we relate to that which is Holy.

Most weeks, we touch on two (if not all three) of these main focal points of this blog. This week, though, we’re going to dive into something that really ties all three together: the concept of queerness. Queering our spirituality, queering our sexuality, queering our relationship with our bodies. And to do this, we have to tackle the idea of “queer.”

Malachi Grennell:

Queer is a slippery word. I’ve written some about queerness elsewhere (Are You Queer Enough?  and Femme Erasure in the Queer Community), but it is, at its core, a concept defined by negation: to be not something. So part of understanding queer is understanding what is the antithesis of queer, or what concept queer negates.

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nThe other piece to really understanding queer is the powerful, often violent, history of the word. My late godmother, Rev. Jeri Ann Harvey, spoke with disdain when people of my generation sought to “reclaim” queer. “How can you reclaim something you don’t understand?” she would ask. “People were killed over that word. I was shot at for that word. The bullet grazed a piece of my hair off. All for that word. How can you reclaim it without understanding the power of it? If you understood that word, you wouldn’t use it.”

The last time I saw her before she died, we had another conversation about queer. She told me that language was important. If people of a new generation wanted to find power in that word, she understood. It would just never be a word for her, and for many of her generation. There was too much pain associated with it.

As a person who self-identifies as queer, I cannot forget that conversation. But I struggled for years because I wanted to respect all that she (and so, so many others) gave to the LGBT population. I wanted her to know that I understood, as much as I could.

The journey from that conversation to my own sense of identity is so strongly rooted in my understanding of queerness. Ignoring the power of that word didn’t feel like embracing an authentic understanding of it. Grappling with the complicated ideas that queerness presents has been a much more honest way of embracing the struggle of those who came before me.

queer-identity-slideshare-1-728
SlideShare

I feel like it is often used as a synonym for LGBT, but I don’t really feel like that’s appropriate. LGBT, to me, specifically deals with sexual and gender identity. Queerness feels like it encompasses something different than simply sexual orientation. It’s a framework for life, a context, a way of viewing and responding to oppression. When I think queer, I think of non-normativity. When I think queer, I think radical.

For example, I am not LGB: I am not a woman (and therefore not a lesbian); I am not only attracted to men (and therefore not gay), and I fundamentally believe in more than two genders (and am often attracted to ambiguity of gender), so bisexual doesn’t really fit either. A term was coined some years backed called “pansexual”- a term to describe people who are attracted to a multitude of genders (beyond the binary of male and female). It’s the non-binary gender spectrum version of bisexual.

I identified as pansexual for a good deal of time. (I remember, somewhat to my chagrin, my high school side backpack with “PANSEXUAL” written unapologetically in whiteout across the black front canvas). So what, then, is the defining difference between “pansexuality” and “queerness”?

For me, the distinction comes in the scope of the identity. Pansexual is a definition of sexual orientation and attraction. Queerness identifies that a person does not conform to standard expectations of relationship attraction. Pansexual is an “inclusion” identity: it is defined by what it is (e.g. “I am attracted to a variety of people.”). Queer is an “exclusion” identity: it is defined by what it is not (e.g. “I do not conform to social standards in my attraction.”).

There is no moralistic definition associated with inclusion or exclusion identities; one is not “better” than the other. It is simply a way to think about how the terms are defined, and the scope of those terms. There are many kinds of exclusion identities- most of them begin with the prefix “a-“ (atheist, anarchist, agender, etc.) To be defined by what you are is a much narrower focus. But to be defined as what you are not leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

were-here-were-queer-we-riot-art-and-anarchism
art-and-anarchism

Queerness also speaks to a political slant. The Stonewall Riots, for example, feel very quintessentially queer: non-normative, non-gender conforming, fighting back against a violent, oppressive system.

Queerness feels radical, revolutionary, pushing back against the status quo, unapologetic in authenticity. Sounds a lot like Jesus… but then, I have often related to queerness through the model of Jesus.

Which brings us directly to this idea of queering spirituality. In the context of queer as “non-normative,” what does queer spirituality look like today? For me personally, my queer faith is not well-expressed inside of a church building, sitting quietly and singing hymns (although there is a part of me that loves that). My queer faith is gritty and dirty and messy and not always (or usually) pretty.

But when I ask, “What would Jesus do?” I never picture Jesus in a $1,000 three-piece suit, or living in extravagance, or locking his door in the “bad” part of town, or taking more than he needed to sustain himself. I picture the man under the bridge, bringing bottles of water to the homeless in the summer because he understands that deep thirst from that time he was homeless and sleeping under the bridge. I see the man who buys coats and blankets from Goodwill and hands them out in the winter as it starts to get cold. I see the person who picks up their friend doing sex work who was assaulted when a trick got violent. I see a man passing out clean needles on the street so that users don’t have to share. I see someone flipping tables and making a scene because of greed and corruption. I see someone talking about sex in a real, practical, meaningful way in our churches and with one another.

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I don’t see a squeaky-clean image of Jesus, and it’s certainly not an image of Jesus that I can image being worshipped in most mainstream churches. I won’t tell them their image of Jesus is wrong, although I disagree with it. But it’s not my faith.

My queer faith is radical. It’s messy. It’s certainly not blonde-haired, blue-eyed, baby-faced white Jesus. It’s a revolutionary faith. It’s trying to find ways to relate to and embody that model in a world so vastly different from Jesus’. My queerness as a whole- my queerness within my own relationship with my body and gender, my queerness as a sexual person, my queerness in spirituality- it comes together as an integrated, whole person. It’s not just that I am queer in who I sleep with; it’s that the entire outlook of my life is based on a fundamental concept of being other, and navigating social dynamics as someone who cannot- and will not- fit inside the prescribed boxes. My entire world is queer. Queer is not just an adjective; queer is a verb.

Robin Gorsline:

Queerness is a state of mind, a way of being, an orientation to life, and for me a way to think and write, both theologically and otherwise, and even to pray.

revrobin2-023I wrote some years ago in an essay, “Faithful to a Very Queer-Acting God, Who Is Always Up to Something New,” (Queering Christianity: Finding a Place at the Table for LGBTQI Christians, Praeger 2013) that “God is continually engaged in disrupting the status quo.”  In some ways, that is my basic understanding of who God is and what God does, as The Lover. And that is the foundation of my queerness.

It is not that God, or I, want change for change’s sake, but I believe God always has more for us than we can possibly understand and accept. That more, whatever it might be in a particular context, is the source of queerness, the source of disruption, the source of unsettling us, or at least me, in our all-too-human comfort with what we already know or claim to know.

For example, I have a friend who has lived a solely gay life for many decades; he had never had sex with anyone but men who were born male. Then, recently, he realized an attraction to several transgender men, and in particular to a transgender man whose anatomy is a mix of parts. Their first sexual sharing was a revelation to my friend, an awareness  that if he had not allowed himself to be open to feelings he did not expect he would have remained in the only category he thought was allowed him.  Now, he is enjoying sex in ways he had never even remotely considered. I think, as he does, that that is God up to some really good stuff.

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Queerness is about undermining categories that seem immutable and fixed. This blog is Queer in that Malachi and I intentionally bring together sex and spirituality, we keep our eyes on human bodies without shame or judgment, we talk openly about our fantasies and our actual sex lives and we are clear that we experience God in all that and believe others can, and some do, as well. In fact, I believe that I experience the divine most through my body. That clearly contradicts the usual Christian line of demarcation between spirit and body, and the attitude that spirit is good and body bad.

Queer theologians and writers (Patrick Cheng, Robert Goss, Mona West, Lisa Isherwood, Tom Bohache, Marcella Althaus-Reid, and myself, among others), as well as other non-Queer theologians, recognize that this division is not an accurate reflection of either Jesus or Paul (or their Jewish ancestors), but that does not stop the tradition from maintaining it. What queers do though is not to continue to argue the case so much as to move on and act from our own embodied wisdom.

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So that is another aspect of Queerness. It is action as well as reflection, it is living in a world that we recognize as decidedly queer at its core—because God is queer—even when others cannot see or experience it . . . yet.

In terms of sex, that can be, like my friend, crossing boundaries we think are impenetrable. And in terms of bodies, it can be choosing to live in ways that challenge social norm, not so much because they challenge norms as that they reflect the reality around and in us.

For example, as many readers know, I wear earrings that most observers assume are meant for persons with female bodies. Earrings may not seem like much, but for me it is what some might call “soul expression.”  They are a reminder to me every day of my inner queerness, and I hope a statement to the world that all is not as it seems (or as dominant culture would have us believe).

Queerness wonderfully affects my daily spiritual practice. I meditate almost every morning, and during part of that most days I masturbate. I sometimes call it “medibating.” I discovered this through another friend, a priest whom I admire greatly. In this form of meditation, embodied pleasure is not only not separate from God, but in truth an integral part of God and my relationship with God.

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Celie (left) and Shug The Advocate.com

It reminds me of a favorite queer theological text, from the conversation Shug and Celie have in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. When Shug speaks of her joy at losing the dominating white man/Father God in her soul and realizing she is part of everything, of the whole creation, she says,

It sort of like you know what, she say, grinning and rubbing high up on my thigh.
Shug! I say.
Oh, she say. God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves ’em you enjoys ’em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that’s going, and praise God by liking what you like.

I often speak of God on the move, not locked up in a book that people insist is the last word of God. I suspect that folks who want to keep God locked up in the Book or in their ecclesiastical rules feel insecure about God, even afraid of God. Life feels safer for them if they know where God is, or at least where they think God is.

I have a different idea. The Bible is very queer, which is why I can agree with those who claim it is a holy text.  The Bible, and the people in it, move like God—they live in a queer universe—because it and they are inspired by God.

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One of my favorite biblical texts is from 2nd Samuel 7 in which God tells Nathan to tell King David not to build a house for God. The text has God saying that life in the tent and tabernacle has been and is fine by God.  Of course, the text also has God saying that David’s successor will build the home for God and the tabernacle (but in my view Solomon’s enterprise is when Israel begins to go off course).

The queer God I know is this God who is not needing a fancy address or dress (although I think God enjoys people dressing up for special occasions) and does not want to be tied down.  In fact, David’s celebratory, leaping dance before the ark as it was brought into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6) feels very queer to me. Saul’s daughter Michal comes out to greet David, chastising him for uncovering himself in front of everyone. David’s response is to claim he will do more things like that, and that feels queer to me, too.

And he is, according to tradition, Jesus’ ancestor. We have no record of Jesus leaping into Jerusalem, but we do have him riding on a donkey and being cheered like a reigning monarch. Of course, it feels sad when we know what is coming and I think Jesus had a pretty good idea about that, too. But the event also feels queer, in that it turned things upside down—the last shall be first, the first last, a queer concept if I ever heard one.

Living is queer, queer is living. Praise God!

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

What is your experience or connection with or feelings about Queerness? Do you think of yourself as queer in any way? Do you find the concept of Queer helpful? Or not? 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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discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, November 17th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST. 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 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: Robin and Malachi are still working on the content of the November 17 meeting, but they are seeking to design a session that will examine what they are calling the authenticity of our sexual selves. They anticipate that this will be the first in several sessions in which several non-traditional sexual practices will be explored. They seek to provide factual content as well as to present their views. As always, there will be time for questions and discussion as well.

As Metropolitan Community Church strives to move forward and maintain relevance with shifting social mores, the MCC Office of Formation and Leadership Development offers Sex, Bodies, Spirit online on the third Thursday of every month at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. This workshop is approved as a continuing education course for MCC clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although a primary focus is on clergy education, everyone is welcome to attend and participate.