Summer of Transformations

Robin: 

revrobin2-023The three months since our hiatus began in late June have been filled with adventure and change for me.  I think of this as “My Naked Summer,” but this is about more than taking off my clothes. Another way to understand this time is to realize how much I have made friends with my own body, and in the process become more deeply connected with my soul.

I began this process with a four-day spiritual retreat at The Woods, an LGBT clothing optional campground near Lehighton, PA, in the Poconos. I packed gear and drove the 150 miles, excited to be on my way.  I pitched my tent, hiked trails and found secluded spots for periods of contemplation of nature, my life, and God.

Robin journaling at The Woods
Quiet time at The Woods

I had been unsure about why I desired a naked retreat, but as soon as I had a few hours of walking around sans clothes, with other people similarly undressed (and some dressed, too), I felt this great elation. I thought to myself, “this is the way I would like to live all the time.”  It seems clear to me that God called me there to learn this truth.

When I returned from camping, I knew I had to find more ways to be naked outdoors and among people. The ninth annual Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride in September beckoned. I am so glad I went—I experienced great joy hanging out with upwards of a thousand other naked or mostly naked folks, riding for more than two hours through downtown Philadelphia.

That’s me riding in Philadelphia, “Bare Is Beautiful” painted on my chest

There is a palpable sense of happiness and freedom in every group of naked people I have ever known, and this was no exception. It felt good to experience the approval of so many “textiles” watching us on every street, too. You can read more about it, and see a short video clip of me riding (note: you will see naked bodies) here as well as a reflection on the ride and my feelings before I went here

Again, I realized how much I yearn for nudity outside my home. So, right after I returned from Philadelphia I began learning more about several nudist groups I had joined but with which I had yet to connect.

The first result of that search is an event that sent my spirit soaring: standing, sitting, and lying nude in the studio of a photographer and artist. I was photographed extensively in various poses and then he spent an hour drawing my genitals. I loved the experience with the camera—my whole body felt alive, and I stopped worrying about my “Imperfections”—and want more, but watching him draw my dick and balls—he sat less than two feet in front of my sitting body—was fun and so very affirming. In that time, I shed more of my embarrassment (and shame) about my small “package” than in all the therapy and self-affirmation over many years. I look forward to more, even hoping to hire out for modeling in art classes.

Photo by J. Wayne Higgs (also shown drawing)

But this is about more than baring my body. Through that I am connecting more deeply with my soul. As I have become more comfortable with my physical being I have experienced a new sense of self as a gender queer cis gay male lover, Christian theologian and poet.

It feels like another coming out—there have several over the years in addition to coming out as gay in 1982—this time as a free, or at least freer, spirit, willing to move beyond a lifetime of obeisance to social norms. Even when I violated a norm, say sexuality in the 80’s, I compensated in other ways so no one would forget what a good guy I am.

I am still a good guy, at least I try to be, but that no longer includes hiding the beauty of my body, indeed the beauty of all bodies and it means being even more determined to talk about sex (and race, so connected to all this) in religious contexts—in fact, it means that I am becoming a more active, committed advocate for greater body and sexual openness in our society.  I am surely glad to continue this work with Malachi.

Soon I will change the name of my personal blog, “Make Love. Build Community,” to “The Naked Theologian.”  This new blog is not intended to focus on naked bodies, but it will not hide them (including my own) either.

My intention is to provide resources for an ongoing movement of free thinkers and free bodies, especially within, but not limited to, faith communities.  Liberation, justice, freedom are always about bodies. When our bodies are free, we have a better chance to be free in our whole selves, and to promote the freedom of others.

I recognize the risk of rejection and disapproval by some, but the call of God on my soul, and my body, is strong, and I am now, at 71, ready to respond to that call with renewed energy, joy, love and hope.

What a summer it has been, and what adventures lie ahead!

Malachi:

This has been a period of transformation. In many ways, this has been the culmination of lessons that began early this year and came to fruition throughout the course of the summer.

When Robin and I decided to take a hiatus from writing, I admit a sense of relief. This had begun to drain me more than feed me, and I had a summer of conferences and conventions looming that I knew would take every ounce of emotional strength I had. So I confess, I welcomed the respite, although I have missed the discussions Robin and I would have every week to reflect and prepare. As much as I needed the break, however, God does not. Though I wasn’t doing this particular work, I began to recognize that this may have been by design. After all, God had some work to do on me.

Much of what we have written about in the past is our own internal sense of our relationships with ourselves and the holy, how that manifests through the expressions of our bodies and the work of our hands and the exploration of our sexualities. For me, these things have come together in a singular way: learning rope.

photo by honey_bare

Rope (and rope bondage) is often portrayed as a sexual activity, a way to restrain a partner during intimacy. In reality, though, it is so much more than that. Rope can be performative (for those who are familiar with aerial silks, it’s not dissimilar). It can be meditative, it can be cathartic, it can be connective, it can be spiritual. For me, specifically, rope isn’t inherently sexual, but is a way for me to let go of anxiety around my body and body language. Because I spend so much time aware of my presentation- am I being open and accessible with my body language, or closed down and unapproachable? What do people see when they look at me, and is it what I want them to see?- rope gives me a respite from that. Someone else is arranging my body and positioning. Someone else is in control of what my body presents, how it moves, what it’s saying. It’s a specific type of comfort and freedom that’s difficult to explain, but it’s a place I have found a lot of peace.

This summer, I found connection unlike anything I have experienced in years with someone through tying with them. At one of the kink events I attended early in the summer, I met someone to whom I was immediately attracted who is part of the rope community, which is a subculture inside the larger BDSM community. He and I did a rope scene together in which he tied and moved me in various ways, and through that interaction, we both recognized a chemistry and connection that we both wanted to explore further. That dynamic quickly became sexual, and we have spent the summer building a relationship that feels mutual, balanced, and pushes both of us- both inside and outside of rope.

In August, I worked another event at which I was able to witness one of the most breathtaking rope performances I have ever seen. The performer took herself through a series of different body positions and manipulations through different ways of tying, creating an image of a chrysalis, and then cutting herself free. It was transformative- both the content of the performance, but also the impact it had on me.  Watching this ignited a passion in me- I wanted to learn how to do that– and I decided to begin-again- the journey of learning how to tie.

I’ve dabbled in learning rope before, but it hasn’t been the right time, and it’s never stuck. My own fears about being “bad” at rope often got in my own way, and I didn’t seek out the resources to learn how to be better. Immediately after watching the performance, however, I had a conversation with a friend who handled me a small length of rope and taught me two or three things to practice to get started, supporting my first steps in this journey. Not long thereafter, I had a conversation with someone who is the first person I ever tied with, explaining that I wanted to start learning, but I wanted to do so in a space that was more queer and femme-focused- voices that, much like in mainstream culture, are often drowned out by the voices of cis white heterosexual men. They concurred, and began organizing a monthly rope skill share at their home with a collection of queer and femme people who love rope. It has been in that space, more than any other, that I have found confidence, community, and support.

These interactions- meeting my now-sweetheart, watching that performance, and joining a queer rope group- have been the foundations of my explorations inside of rope. The performance was a catalyst to get involved in a community on which I have been on the periphery for years. The rope group gives me a safe place to learn and try new things without fear of judgement when I (inevitably) mess up. My sweetheart who, coincidentally, is also an engineer, built a rig in my home so that I could have a space to practice more. And through rope, I am constantly learning and challenging my own sense of perfectionism and fear of failure through the process of learning something new and very skill-based. I have found a deep peace when I tie, something that feels calm and meditative, something that feels like a way to deepen connection with my own body while simultaneously stepping out of self-consciousness. I am learning how to feel strong in my body, how to view my body as a source of strength and power.

Although in many ways, rope has felt like the catalyst, the reality is that there has been so much work to prepare myself to be open to new ways of engaging. Rope is a manifestation of openness and, while it is the most prominent, it is not the only one. New relationships, different means of understanding and articulating boundaries, and a powerful sense of autonomy and self-expression have all come from a sense of openness and willingness to be vulnerable and honest. That openness needed some time to settle and feel sustainable and safe, and for that, I am still immensely grateful that Robin and I took a period of time to pause and reflect. But we are- and I am- back now, and excited to push forward on the powerful and transformative journey of Sex, Bodies, Spirit.

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

Have you experienced transformation through your body? If not, do you want to? What does your body teach you spiritually? Have you experienced profound change due to taking a break from work or studies or some other activity? 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! November 8, right here, the next installment of Sex, Bodies, Spirit.

Truths of Sex

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

by Malachi and Robin

Introduction:

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

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

Some Current Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual Truths for Christians (and All Other Humans)

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

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

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

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

Our Whole Selves

“…it can be so easy to simply come from a place of being a sexual being…It’s a lot harder, I think, to be a whole person.”

Robin:

revrobin2-023Malachi and I agreed that he would post solo this week, in order to share reflections from his weekend kink convention. As I read it, I am moved by how his intention to be a whole person—to not hold himself back—helped him create a new level of personal fulfillment and whole self-expression.

There is a lesson here for me, and maybe for you. For me, it is a reminder that not being afraid of sex, not seeking to control it but rather to live into my whole being including my embodied desire for pleasure, with self and another/others, takes me to a new level of wholeness, of personal shalom.

And one more thought: kink is not part of my sexual life, at least not yet. But that does not mean I cannot learn more about my body, about sex, about wholeness, from those for whom it is a key part of their living. If we talked more openly about sex, about our sexual experiences, just imagine what we might learn  (and perhaps even teach!).

Malachi:

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_n
This past weekend, I had the extreme fortune to attend a weekend-long annual kink and BDSM convention in DC. This was my third year attending this particular event, and my eighth convention put on by this particular group.  I had a good sense of what I was walking into- the environment, the people, the experience. But given the current political climate and location of this event, I confess I felt some sense of trepidation that I don’t usually feel before events like this.

This was my first time working as event staff, and I was feeling the weight of that, and nervousness of what things might come up. Particularly being in DC at an alternative sexuality conference, I felt a good deal of nervousness, worrying about someone entering the event that was not supposed to be there and compromising the safety of attendees.

In reality, though, this was one of the best conferences I have been to. I don’t necessarily want to go into all the details of everything that happened, but I walk away from these events with new lessons to ponder every time, and this is no exception. So, this week, I offer this small reflection of thoughts and lessons that I grappled with throughout my time this weekend.

And while these reflections are given in the context of a BDSM convention, the truth is, most of what I took from this conference had to do with being wholly present in my body. Giving space for the good where I am prone to seeing the bad. Allowing myself permission to want, and ask for, things that made me feel good.

Competency: This was a really big one this weekend. Working as staff, I was concerned that I would mess up or not know how to handle a situation appropriately. I was scared of failing. As I was training and began to work, I felt deeply reassured that I was not working without a safety net- other staff members were quick to answer any questions I had. As the weekend progressed and I got more proficient, more than once, another person wouldimg_7381 begin to do something and then defer the task to me: “You can handle this.”

I began to learn how to trust myself. How to make decisions that impacted other people. How to recognize my own competency. There is a lot of discussion about imposter’s syndrome and feeling like you’re waiting for everyone to realize that you don’t really belong there. And sometimes, I still feel like I’m “too new” to the BDSM community to have any form of leadership role within it (I’ve only been around for a couple of years). But feeling the support from others and watching as my decisions turned out well, I began feeling more competent. And competency helped me feel confident, and feeling confident shifted a lot of the ways that I navigated within the convention outside of work.

Confidence: Directly related, my confidence soared. I felt sexy, happy, fun, excited, exciting, and desirable. I accepted compliments about myself, my body, my capacity for caring, and my presence more gracefully than usual. I gave myself permission to ask for the things I wanted, and decline the things I didn’t (rather than feel a sense of obligation to engage in things I didn’t want and assume that it was too much of a bother for those things I did).

In short, I took up space and set appropriate boundaries for myself. The tapes that usually play in my head took a break for the weekend, and I felt comfortable in my own skin. I approached someone I hadn’t met before that I found sexually attractive and stated as much (and ended up having sex with him shortly thereafter). I acknowledged feelings of mutual attraction with a friend. I graciously accepted those who told me they were attracted to me without needing to feel guilty if the feeling wasn’t reciprocated.

Catalyst: I made things happen for myself. I didn’t just focus on work and logistics and distractions, and I also didn’t get caught up in a web of trauma processing. A few months ago, I was in a situation in which I was breaking up a fight and got kicked in the face, resulting in some minor fractures along my eye socket and cheekbone. After it happened, I

malachi-rope
Photo by BDSLR

felt uncomfortable going to kink parties and play spaces for a little while because I wasn’t sure how I would respond to seeing sexualized depictions of violence that felt a little too close to home.

I’ve since been to smaller parties, but this was the first large convention I had attended, and many of the people who know me there know me within the specific context of kink-
and particularly things that include a level of heavy impact. I was scared, I think, that I wouldn’t be able to do things that I enjoyed because of either (a) exposure to situations that looked similar to my trauma or (b) because people tend to approach me for certain kinks that look similar to my trauma, and wouldn’t be interested in doing anything else with me.

I found both to be untrue. I got to branch out and explore a lot of things I often don’t get to (like rope bondage). And as I explored, I also found that I got more comfortable asking for new things. I felt like I was breaking out of a box, in many regards, and allowing my post-trauma body to exist in a familiar space in new ways. That, in and of itself, was cathartic and healing.

Connection: I had the opportunity to connect with some wonderful people at this event- people I had seen in passing, but got to know through conversation and physical interaction. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the “WOW” factor at BDSM events, and it feels really important to make sure that there is also time for the subtler things- moments of friendship, moments of kindness, moments where we are able to connect with one another as whole people, rather than sexual objects or kinky people.

Particularly in spaces like this, where there is such a sex-positive atmosphere, it can be so easy to simply come from a place of being a sexual being because our sexuality is so often repressed in the rest of our lives. Casual conversations between total strangers often involve descriptions of acts that many people would blush at telling their best friend. In that space, it is easy to be sexual. It’s a lot harder, I think, to be a whole person. To feel uncertain or insecure. To feel nervous or have a political analysis. To be asexual. To be a

img_1869-02-08
Photo by LoganV

parent or to have a new job or to be in the middle of moving or any of the other mundane, day-to-day things we have going on.

My challenge this event was to be a real person, and I found myself able to be grounded in that space- not because of sex, and not in spite of the overt sexuality, but because I gave myself permission to be a whole person. To be nervous about working on staff and allowing others to offer help. To accept words of encouragement and compliment, rather
than brushing it off. To allow myself to ask for things and not be afraid of what might come up in my own mental processing of trauma. To allow myself to have real conversations with people about things other than just sex and kink.

Overall, I had a fantastic time and a wonderful weekend. As always, leaving events like this leaves me wanting more, and more- but I can also give myself permission to be present in this moment, enjoying the calm and sitting with the feelings and reflections of a powerful, wonderful, affirming weekend.

If You Think It, You Can Kink It

More often than not, kink isn’t about whips and chains so much as it is about finding a way to creatively express who you are.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi: 

Truthfully, I feel like I could write pages and pages on my experiences in kink and BDSM. I jokingly say that I’ve been kinky since I was 5 (which is only partially a joke), but in all honesty, kink has been such a vital part of my life, particularly in the past 6 years.

Completing our three-part series, “Sacred, Not Secret” on Thursday, January 19th, Robin and I will talk more from an educational and spiritual perspective on kink and BDSM. So today, I just want to write about what I have learned from kink, both from the community and from my sexual partners.

Before I get into that, though, a few words on language, semantics, and assumptions: “kink” and “BDSM” are often used interchangeably, although they mean different things. “BDSM” is a multifaceted acronym that means “Bondage/Discipline, Domination/Submission, Sadism/Masochism.” There are other dynamics that can fall under this heading (for example, M/s relationships are “Master/slave” relationships, rather than Masochist/Sadist dynamics), but in general, BDSM is describing certain intentions behind actions. S/M implies an intention of pain applied/received, D/s implies a level of emotional power exchange, B/D implies an intention of physical power exchange.

“Kink,” on the other hand, is more of an action, a thing you do. “My kinksBDSM_acronym are…” is a common beginning of a sentence, followed by a list of things a person likes doing. They may or may not come with a BDSM intention (For example, someone might have a kink for sex in public (exhibitionism), but only when it’s done in an established D/s relationship. Someone else might just have a kink for exhibitionism, but no interest in a D/s relationship.)

So, the two certainly overlap (think of a Venn diagram), but they are not synonymous. The other big assumption I want to tackle before diving into my own lessons learned is this: not all kink and BDSM is sexual. This is probably the hardest one to grasp, because I think non-kinky people (usually referred to as “vanilla”) can understand that some people need certain things in order to have an orgasm. Here we get into the distinction between “kink” and “fetish”: a fetish is defined as something someone requires in order to have sexual arousal. Fetishes are inherently sexual; kinks are not.

I tend to define kink as “anything that is used to help deepen and further your connection to yourself and/or your relationships with others.” Which is a really big and nebulous definition, but it incorporates kink as catharsis, kink as spirituality, kink as sexuality, kink as art, kink as community. Which brings me to…

If you can think it, you can kink it

It’s cheesy, but I have absolutely learned that anything (and when I say anything, I mean anything) can be a kink. From glitter to food to leather cleaning to smoking cigars to drinking coffee to cleaning to body painting to… the list is endless. And maybe this seems silly, but it has given me a place to allow my creativity to flourish. You think it would be fun if we ran around a field and play-wrestling and smacking each other with glitter? Let’s do it! I think it would be awesome to inflict pain via direct impact (e.g. kicking and punching someone) while periodically stopping to drink shots of coffee? Hey, let’s make this happen! You want to find a way to face a difficult and traumatic situation in your life by recreating it in a safe way? Let’s talk about what that means to you. It brings you great joy and peace to do someone’s dishes as a way of expressing your care for them as 10866118_10100347062366349_6573193232652256420_owell as quiets your own thoughts and helps you feel calm? I have a sink and plenty of dishes.

More often than not, kink isn’t about whips and chains so much as it is about finding a way to creatively express who you are. It’s silly and goofy and absurd and sometimes it’s hard and difficult and powerful, but it can just be… fun.

Learn yourself, know yourself

In kink, similar to poly, it is of the upmost importance to know what you want and, I would argue, work to understand those desires. If you like pain, great! What kind of pain? Sharp, stingy, thuddy, dull? How much pain? Rate on a scale of 1-10 the level that you enjoy experiencing. Do you want to stay at that level, or get pushed beyond it? Do you like small amounts of intense pain or long, slow amounts of a steady buildup of pain?

You like being restrained? Great! Do you enjoy the feeling of being unable to move? Or does it help you feel more present in your body? Does it make you feel afraid or safe to be tied up? Do you only want to be tied to furniture (e.g. a bed) or would you be interested in doing artistic rope?

malachi-rope
Photo Credit BDSLR

Knowing and understanding your desires not only helps you be able to talk about and ask for the things you want, but it also helps you understand what similar things you might also be interested in trying. For example, if you like being restrained because you enjoy the feeling of not being able to move, you might also like certain types of rope suspension (and not just handcuffs to the bed). If, however, you like being restrained because it helps you feel more present in your body, then you might also be interested in experimenting with different stimuli (pain, sensation, etc.) to see how that might contribute (or detract) from the feeling.

Understanding where we are coming from is crucial, not just because it helps us articulate what we want, but also because it helps inform and guide enthusiastic, informed consent.

Consent isn’t sexy; it’s mandatory.

Ok, so I think consent is also sexy. But it is mandatory to get consent before interacting in any way with another person. Different communities do this differently, but for me, I recognize that my lessons inside both radical and kink scenes (both of which, for me, were consent-focused) has made me more aware of the ways in which I interact with people outside of those settings.

I ask before I hug someone, unless I know them well enough that we have given one another permission to hug without asking. I ask before I touch someone else’s things- be it a book on someone’s book shelf, or sitting on someone’s bed. I am aware of how close I am standing to people in line at the coffeeshop, aware of people’s personal space, aware of body language signals that imply whether or not it is welcome to approach someone. I ask before broaching emotionally-loaded conversations to make sure that the person I’m talking to is in a space to have those conversations.

It comes from navigating spaces in which enthusiastic consent is expected. As I was saying above, knowing where a desire is coming from is a vastly important aspect of the kink scene because of enthusiastic,

sussexstudent.com
sussexstudent.com

informed consent. For example, if someone wants a situation (also called a “scene”) that will cause them a lot of pain because they like the endorphins, that’s a very different situation than someone who wants to do a scene that will cause them a lot of pain because they are dealing with a traumatic experience and want to find a cathartic way to deal with that. The person inflicting the pain might be fine with the former, but not able to deal with the emotional fallout from the latter (and that is completely fine). So we have to have consent- not just to be touched in certain ways or subjected to certain sensations and experiences, but also to decide what situations we want to engage in.

Fear

Kink is an amazing way to face all kinds of fears. For me personally, kink has truly helped me dismantle many of my thoughts, feelings, and assumptions about my interactions with cisgendered men and allow myself to be physically and emotionally vulnerable and connected in a way that I had not experienced before. Allowing cismen to tie me up, for example, has been a really powerful experience for me- not just because I like the feeling of rope, but also because I put myself in a position where someone had power over me, and I had to yield to that feeling of vulnerability and learn to trust that I was safe.

I have utilized kink to deal with sexual trauma, fear of queer-bashing, internalized distrust of cismen, feelings of inadequacy, and fear of the unknown. I hope that I would have found a way to confront these fears outside of the kink scene; however, for me, the kink scene was immeasurably helpful in propelling my own healing in these areas, and I do not feel like I would be in the place that I am without my engagement in the kink scene.

I have a hard time imaging what kind of image this paints for someone who is not intimately involved in kink or BDSM (see Robin’s observations below). Kink is so many things to so many people, and the only blanket statement I can make about kink is that you can’t make any blanket statements. Every person’s experiences are different and come from a different place.  Kink has taught me a lot about who I am and how I want to navigate the world. My way isn’t the only way, but it feels real and authentic to me. Kink has helped me be a better version of myself: more honest and open, better able to articulate and hold to boundaries, to understand the process the world that I live in. I celebrate who I am- the serious and the goofy, the sexual and the platonic, the spiritual and the embodied, and watch the lines between these black-and-white dichotomies slowly fade to gray.

Robin:

revrobin2-023About a year ago, as I sat at a meeting, a church lay leader told the group that she and her partner were in a dominant/submissive relationship. I was delighted by her honesty, her courage, and frankly also intrigued because she suddenly seemed like a more interesting person than I had imagined.

At that point I had no real knowledge of what she meant. What I was sure about is that she and her partner were not the only people in the congregation with those interests and practices in their lives. Her revelation was related to the discussion—namely how to talk about sex in a church context—and helped frame and explain her point of view, but it was not central to our main topic. Still, I now note with interest that I did not seek her out later to learn more, despite my usual interest in all things sexual.

You can't say that in church jasonkoon net
jasonkoon.net

There are several reasons for this, I think.  The first may be that this whole subject felt scary to me. It certainly presses all my internalized buttons about feeling a need to appear “normal.” Not just in church, but in our society generally, dominant/submissive sex or life in general is not considered mainstream.  Nice people avoid this, or at least avoid talking about it, and certainly do not admit to being interested or involved.

Of course, in another sense this is nonsense. We live in a world where we are dominated in one way or another, and many, maybe most, if not all, of us, are dominant sometimes. Just think about our current political realm. I doubt I need to use names of some dominant people very much in the headlines these days. Those of us who are parents, not to mention bosses or owners of various enterprises, have certainly dominated others at times. The truth is we, or at least I, live in denial about the place of dominance and submission in life.

And I am aware, now, that I had a preconceived idea about what dominant/submissive meant—mainly that one put the other through pain. I am not a big fan of pain of any sort.

The reality, as I am learning, is that being “dom and sub” is not so simple. Yes, some activities are about physical pain. But others can be more about psychological needs—as Malachi has told me, for example, being submissive can be an opportunity to let go of all your needs to meet some internalized standard or set of standards about your looks or behavior, standards that for many of us are heavy burdens to bear through most of our lives.

So, as Malachi and I prepare to lead an online discussion on kink/BDSM, I am learning more about this way of sharing and celebrating lives and bodies. I know that people engage in activities that meet their needs—emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual—and that is good for them, and for the rest of us, too, when people are finding personal satisfaction and fulfillment. What I also know is that I can learn from them about what they do and why they do it, and in the process I will learn more about myself. I may even discover something I want to do that I never knew about, or even knew I wanted.

So far, I have only delved a little, with Malachi’s help, into the world of what practitioners usually call “kink,” what I and others, if we are feeling particularly sophisticated, may call BDSM (activities, often sexual but not always, involving bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, and sadomacocism), I have read articles and watched a lecture and visited a website, fetlife.com.  It is all very educational for me.

fetlife-logoAs I perused fetlife.com, I did not think there would be anything to catch my fancy, but I have discovered that exhibitionism is a popular activity. That certainly is something I have long known was part of me and as part of my education I am seeking to learn more.

What I am already learning is that there are many kinds of exhibitionism; and as I continue looking around, I discover that the larger world of kink seems almost limitless. Malachi told me, “if you think it, you can kink it,” and I am beginning to see that truth.

This raises up a positive attribute I am seeing in my explorations, namely that “kinksters” know what they want and they say so. They also appear to know how much of it they want and how often, and any limits they need to set. I think many of us could learn from this, especially perhaps when it comes to sex. Frank conversations with our partner(s) are, I observe, too rare in many more traditional relationships. Many of us are victims of an old attitude of “don’t talk about it” when it comes to sex. Frankly, our sex lives, and the world, would be a better place if many of us were more honest about sex, if we really named our needs and desires.

The other thing I am observing is the centrality of consent and trust. Kinksters know that for their needs and desires to be met they need others whose needs and desires also are deserving of respect. And this means honoring limits as well as dreams and fantasies. All of this builds trust. And trust is key to good sex, as in all forms and venues of intimacy.

Imagine if our entire world could learn that while sex can often be playful, it is not a game of one getting something from another or one lording it over others. It is about satisfaction and joy and deep feelings of wellness and pleasure for all involved.

tie me up
http://www.polyvore.com/cgi/img-thing?.out=jpg&size=l&tid=144025376

And then there is play. BDSM people often enact what they call “scenes,” meaning that by dreaming and planning together they create shared time for pleasure and intimacy—time that involves their bodies as well as a setting and often some sort of equipment or toys. Costumes can be involved, too. If the scene is complicated, or involves new types of activity to one or more of the participants, practice may be necessary. This can sound serious, but like much satisfying play, sexual or otherwise, organization can be important, and even practice can be pleasurable.

There is so much more to kink than these few notes. I am learning that it is not all about sex. Some rope tying I watched did not seem sexual to me and I was even bored through much of it. But it seemed satisfying to the participants.

So, I am beginning to see that this is all more involved than I could have imagined—and very rich and satisfying for those whose needs and desires it satisfies.

What seems clear to me is that once again I can learn from others whose desires, attitudes, and activities are different from my own. There is no room for judgment, no need for fear. Instead, we can affirm people who are consensually pleasing, supporting, and even stretching each other. The world needs more of that, not less.

I hope you will join us next Thursday, January 19 online for further remarks from Malachi and me, and a time for participants to share their thoughts and feelings, too. Details below.

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.

discoverpittsfield.com
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.

Finding Sanctuary: Reminders of God through BDSM

by Malachi Grennell

Malachi GrennellLast week, Robin wrote a wonderful solo piece around the challenges and joys of sexuality and aging while I was away at a retreat for people engaged with the BDSM community. This week, while Robin is away at Metropolitan Community Church’s General Conference in Victoria, British Columbia, I get the opportunity to share some of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences from not one, but two different events that I had the opportunity to attend.

“BDSM” is an acronym that stands for “Bondage & Discipline, Domination & Submission, Sadism & Masochism.” BDSM is a more familiar term to most people, but I often tend to simply use “kink,” which describes the larger umbrella of alternate sexual lifestyles (of which BDSM is a part).

BDSM_acronymLike many different types of communities, the kink community is comprised of both private and public aspects: there are those who engage in kinky sex privately, but leave it “in the bedroom,” while others form networks, present and/or attend classes, go to public dungeon spaces, and attend large conferences and events.

I don’t want to turn this writing into a workshop-style piece, but I do think it’s important to give some context. I can imagine- and remember my own impressions before attending an event- that it might appear that a 5-day kink retreat would simply be a massive orgy, full of whips and chains and a lot of leather, where showing up is considered consent and people do whatever they want.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Well, except for the leather. There’s a decent amount of leather around, and it’s glorious.

The truth is, the 5-day retreat is held at a remote campground where they

http://www.leather-maniacs.com/user_html/1334067439/pix/a/n/1238540764-26532.jpg
http://www.leather-maniacs.com/user_html/1334067439/pix/a/n/1238540764-26532.jpg

take people’s privacy very seriously. The days are filled up with classes from educators across the country (and sometimes, from around the world) to teach things like rope bondage safety and flogging techniques and navigating non-monogamy (or, sometimes, navigating monogamy within the kink scene). The evenings are full of events where people can try something out if they haven’t experienced it (and want to), or sit and talk to other people, or even go swimming in the pool or have a dance party. The space is both clothing-optional and sex-positive, which just means that people can be as (un)dressed as they feel comfortable and are allowed to have sex in most places (with a few exceptions, such as places where food is served).

It’s not a massive orgy (although orgies do happen). It’s a community- a group of people who share a common interest- in this case, that happens to be an alternative sexual lifestyle. It’s almost guaranteed that every person will see something they like and hadn’t thought of, as well as see something that is an immediate turn-off. The mantra in the kink community is “Your Kink Is Not My Kink and That’s Ok.” It’s a diverse group of people ranging in age, experience, interests, skill levels, sexualities, identities, and backgrounds.

The truth is, whenever I start writing about kink, it always feels a little overwhelming because there are so many places I want to go. I want to talk about rape culture and what kink has taught me about consent. I want to write about intersectionality and the ways in which kink allows for important, powerful social analysis (and the ways in which the community sometimes falls short of those analysis). I want to write about my experience as a trans person navigating a clothing-optional space. I want to write about the ways in which I have learned to tackle difficult (and sometimes dark) desires in safe, healthy ways. I want to write about catharsis and about navigating trauma and dealing with frustration.

I want to write about everything, and I think that would take a book (or two).

http://www.challies.com/sites/all/files/03-30-Lewis.jpg
http://www.challies.com/sites/all/files/03-30-Lewis.jpg

A friend of mine is fond of saying, “We get the camp we need, not necessarily the camp we want.” And she’s right: every event has provided me with important lessons that I needed to learn, even if it’s not necessarily what I wanted to be learning…even if I thought I learned them last time. It’s also worth noting that we cannot get what we want unless we ask for it… two lessons that emerged from kink camp, but are not unfamiliar: I have been wrestling with these throughout my journey with Christian faith.

But these parallels exist. We know, so often, that God provides what we need- the lessons we need, the experiences we need, the people we need- although, at times, it doesn’t exactly match up with what we want (or think we want). Kink camp is much the same way. I spent much of this camp in a caretaking role, ensuring the people that I care about were safe, protected, able to be vulnerable, had a place to decompress. Caretaking is something I have a complicated relationship with, and it’s not necessarily how I wanted to spend my camp… but I do think it’s what I needed to do.

Also, please don’t get me wrong- I had a blast. I had fun, I did all sorts of things, and truly honored the vulnerability and difficulties that friends were going through, and felt humbled that they reached out to me.

I was also reminded that we cannot get what we want unless we ask for it… which not only reminds me prayer, but reminds me that we must participate in our own miracles. I have a difficult time asking for what I want sometimes, and yet I was reminded that I cannot get what I want if I am not willing to ask for it. The juxtaposition between having friends need care and finding their own voices for articulating what they want and need against my own hesitancy to not “be a burden” on others was a powerful experience to have… and has given me lots to think on as I continue to settle back in to daily, clothes-wearing life.

I mentioned that I had the opportunity to attend two events. The first was the planned, 5-day camping retreat. The second was an impromptu trip to a hotel conference where a friend was coordinating overnight security and asked me to come help out. The second event was significantly different from the first event (zoning laws impacted the amount of nudity that is allowed, as well as restricted specific types of sex allowed in public spaces), but I enjoyed the event immensely and was reminded how important it is that we give back to community.

People come to these events for a myriad of reasons, but often it is to find

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http://melaniemilletics.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/diversity.png

support and comfort with like-minded people. Much like church, many of us are looking to find support and validation for who we are. Once we have integrated ourselves into that community, we then become a part of sustaining it.

I met many folks at the hotel conference for whom it was their first event, and they were overwhelmed with how accepted and comfortable they felt in that space. As a person who was there to ensure that everyone was safe and comfortable, as well as help make the event run smoothly, it reminded me that someone did this for me at my first event. When we reach a certain point of interaction within community, we become part of sustaining and supporting that community through whatever roles speak to us. Whether that’s a church or a kink event, it was a reminder that we are a part of shaping the communities of which we are a part.

It has been a full, exciting week and a half and I’m certainly still processing many of the individual experiences of both events. The big-picture resonance, however, is something that feels familiar. It’s about community and support. It’s about validation and confirmation. It’s about safety and reclaiming our identities. It is, in so many ways, about sanctuary.

 

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

What do you think? What are some of your thoughts, feelings, assumptions, or discomforts with BDSM? How do you feel about the synthesis of kink and faith? 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.