Who Needs An Excuse?

We must work together to change a sex-negative culture . . . .

Malachi:

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Photo Credit: Nearly Candy Photography

We have just finished out Halloween and with it, the season of costuming and playing dress-up…both for kids and for adults. And once again this year, I found myself immensely frustrated at the options for Halloween costumes…both for kids and adults, particularly femme and female-presenting people.

There is a quote from the movie “Mean Girls” that sums it up very succinctly: “Halloween is the one day of the year that women can dress like sluts and no other girls can say anything about it.” As much as I wish this were a Hollywood-ized exaggeration, I look at the costume options available for women and find that to be poignantly true. Sexy cops, sexy firefighters, sexy postal workers, sexy this, sexy that.

My issue with this is two-fold: first, this starts at a very young age and, while I respect that children often develop their own sense of sexuality at various ages, sexualizing children’s costumes is, to me, a pretty disturbing thing. That’s a whole different conversation, although it does bear mentioning (as I have a nine year old daughter, I felt this very personally this year).

The bigger issue I have with this trend, though, is not that women are expressing their sexuality, but rather, that there needs to be an excuse, some sense of having “permission” to exist as a sexual being. The fact that Halloween- a time in which we dress up and “pretend” to be somethingother than what we are- is a time when women are encouraged to claim their own sexuality lends itself to the idea that, at other points, women should not express their sexuality. If we pretend to be something other than what we are for Halloween, then what does it say about what we “allow” women to be in terms of sexual expression the other 364 days of the year?

This isn’t something that’s limited to Halloween, although that is theexample most on my mind at the moment. But we have to create these opportunities where it’s ok for people to claim their sexuality as a part of their whole selves… almost as though it is a hiatus from “real” life. Never mind that women are chronically sexualized by other people on a daily basis… women are allowed to be seen as sex symbols, sex objects, but not allowed to claim and own their sexuality as their own, lest they be seen as “sluts” (as though having a healthy and full sexual life is a negative thing, never mind that we encourage the same behavior in men that we shame in women).

I had a friend recently describe interactions with me as “dripping with sex appeal.” They clarified that it was not that I was inappropriately sexual toward anyone, but that the way that I inhabit my body and move through the world is one in which my sexuality is an active part. I remember hearing this and feeling immensely uncomfortable, as though I had broken some unspoken rule about how we were “supposed” to engage with other people. Should I find ways to limit and/or minimize the extent to which my sexuality influences the way I interact with others?

I don’t think the problem is that I am too sexual; I think the issue is that we are so used to compressing people down into non-sexual boxes and not allowing them to be the full expressions of who they are: physical, spiritual, sexual, mental, emotional. There is a vast difference between “sexualizing another person for our benefit” and “allowing other people to exist as a sexual being.” I think, sometimes, we seek to distance ourselves so much from the former that we also diminish the latter. As a result, we give into a culture that allows for discrete moments of permission that allow people to claim their sexuality in obvious ways, but minimizes it at other times.

Photo credit: Nearly Candy Photography

Juxtaposed against this, I think of the times I spend in the kink community, particularly the week-long, outdoor camping events. One of the hardest things about leaving that space is the recognition that we have to put on our “normal” clothes, go back into the world, and try to adjust our behavior to something that is considered more socially acceptable, which comes down to compressing our sexual selves back into a box. I’ve never been particularly good at that, and it’s not something I want to get better at. I do not want to look for excuses to exist as, among other things, a sexual being, nor do I believe that claiming one’s own sexuality is “asking for” harassment, catcalling, etc.

We live in a world impacted by sexuality and sexual expression, regardless of how we experience sexual attraction (or whether we experience sexual attraction at all). We live in a world that actively seeks to diminish our capacity to experience and express ourselves as sexual beings, instead offering moments of respite in which we can express these things without fear of social reprise or stigma. We live in a world that stigmatizes sexuality- particularly the sexuality of women (rather than the perceived sexuality of women for the pleasure of men).

There aren’t easy answers or solutions to these things, but I believe it

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begins with small changes. Wear that risque shirt. Wear the pants or skirts or fabrics or shoes or makeup that make you feel sexy in your body- not for anyone else, but for yourself. Claim your sexuality as something that is a part of you, for you, rather than something that is on display for the approval (or disapproval) of others. Share that article on your facebook page about safer sex practices or ways to spice up your sex life or interesting facts about BDSM or whatever thing it is that you read and wondered if it was “too much” to share on social media. Write erotica that expresses your sexual fantasies. Change your language in small ways: rather than the “walk of shame” the morning after sex, think of it as a walk of victory. Rather than thinking someone is a slut because they have multiple sexual partners, try to think how cool it is that someone is in touch with their own experience of sexuality that they are able to explore it in many different ways. Consider how you might respond to a behavior if it was done by someone in a different demographic: if a man did it, would it feel as taboo? How do your reactions change if that person is a person of color, older or younger than you, etc.?

We must work together to change a sex-negative culture. We must actively work to change the ways we talk and think about sex… and who is “allowed” to exist as a sexual being, versus who must be given permission (and under what circumstances). We must change the way we claim and view our own sexuality… not as a taboo, isolated part of ourselves, but as simply a part of ourselves that coexists with many other facets of who we are. Owning and claiming these things are necessary and vital- both to changing the culture of how we view sex and sexuality, but also to how we view ourselves as whole, integrated beings. We exist in a sexualized world, and many of us experience a sense of our own sexuality. What a joy it would be to be able to exist comfortably within ourselves as, among other things, sexual people, taking another step toward integrating our minds, our bodies, and our spirits as one.

Robin:

As Malachi and I talked the other day about this week’s blog, he mentioned the over-sexualizing of Halloween costumes for women.  As he explained more about it, I realized I was ignorant of this phenomenon. One reason is because I pay little attention to Halloween (but a quick Google search confirmed a high preponderance of costumes for women designed to present the wearer as a sex object). Also, as a gay man, I pay little attention to what women wear on Halloween.

But as we talked further, it became clearer to me that this emphasis at Halloween is part of the hiding of sex. If many can leer and wink at Halloween, then it makes it possible to pretend that sex is something only to be brought out at specified, sanctioned times, and thanks to sexualizing women specifically, they remain objects. Patriarchy wins again.

That got me thinking about other times we sexualize something so we can “play” with sex without actually really being open about it.

For example, there is the wedding night. In today’s culture, where most couples have already lived and slept together, the wedding night is less fraught with anticipation and anxiety, but there are plenty of couples who have “saved” themselves. And, I still hear people making suggestive remarks about the wedding bed.

bachelor_party_2 The Plunge.com
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Then, there is the bachelor party for a straight male partner—inviting a sex dancer or worker is sometimes part of the celebration, in observation of the “last time” the about-to-be married person is supposed to experience sex outside marriage. I am less familiar with bachelorette parties, but do know they sometimes take place in a club or other venue with male strippers.

Less obvious perhaps is special occasion sex—on an anniversary or birthday, of the day of or after a promotion or new job, or winning an award or prize. I don’t meant to suggest there is a problem with this per se, but I do think it can fall into a pattern of needing a reason to be sexual.  I sometimes joke with my Jewish beloved that the Torah instructs a husband to satisfy his wife as part of the Sabbath observance. I appreciate what I call the earthiness of Judaism in this, especially as compared to so much Christian prudery and shame. Imagine if Sunday, or going to church, became an occasion to have sex (not during worship but because of it)! And imagine if we could talk about it!

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Indeed, in my view, Christianity is a, if not the, major culprit in creating and perpetuating sex and body negativity (and in many ways patriarchy and misogyny as well). The irony of this is stunning, not just because of our Jewish roots but also because allegedly we celebrate God come to earth in embodied form. As Richard Rohr writes, “Christians worship Jesus because he did not forget but fully lived the union of human and divine. . . The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Note that it does not just say “Jesus,” but “flesh.”

Sadly, we are left with no record of Jesus actually living as a sexual being. I have long believed that the wedding at Cana was an occasion after which Jesus enjoyed sex with someone (a male or female disciple or another partner or even his wife). Nor was that the only time Jesus acted on sexual desires; despite the tradition, he did not die a virgin. The tradition’s reliance on his conception as a “pure” act rather than messy human intercourse also contributes to sex negativity.

nudist groupI want to come at this another way, too, to point out that there are times when we can be so determined that there not be sex that sex can sound like something bad (to be clear, when I say sex, I mean consensual sexual activity; anything else is abuse and violation). As a recently confirmed nudist, I note that most nudist or naturist organizations push very hard against the common misconception that gatherings of naked people automatically lead to sex. Indeed, it is vital that participants, women and men and people who present as either or both, feel safe to be completely exposed.

At the same time, I sometimes experience the efforts to create safety as sex-negative, almost as if nudists never have sex or don’t like sex or think sex is bad. This is tricky in U.S. culture where non-full-frontal nudity—female and male—in an advertisement is used to create desire leading to buying the product. Corporations sexualize bodies in order to make a sale—it is acceptable to be a sexy model in an ad.  Of course, only certain types of bodies are used in this way—I am unlikely to see my 71-year-old, wrinkled body, or any other older person’s unclothed body, used to sell anything!

elder sexOn the other hand, I have noticed recently a growing number of articles in various publications about elder sex. The first point often seems to be that is okay, even good, for older people to be sexual. Some of my contemporaries tell me they are grateful for this while pointing out that they have been doing it all along, with or without permission. That is surely true for me.

My soul and body tell me that that sex is a regular part of life, to be enjoyed as often as possible, because it can be so much fun and contribute to the well-being of consenting people enjoying themselves and experiencing divinely-inspired union(s). Being sexual is a gift each of us, and all of us, receive as part of human wholeness. We don’t need an excuse or permission to be wholly ourselves. I pray we stop setting up some people and groups as sex objects, and denying the sexuality of others, as a means of keeping this most natural of human activities under tight control.

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

Have you ever felt or do you feel you need a reason, other than desire, to have sex? Have you ever felt, or do you feel, you feel you need permission to have sex? Have you participated in “special occasion” sex, and if so, how did it feel? 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! December 13, 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.

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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! 

Celebrating All the Holy Bodies

This is the season of the outcasts . . .

Note: Malachi and Robin are taking a break next week, in service to caring for our own sex, bodies, and spirit. We return January 4. 

Robin: 

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Holidays! Joyous Yule!! Beautiful Solstice!revrobin2-023

“Tis the season of merriment, love, joy, singing, overeating and drinking, and exclamation points. I mean, it’s Christmas!

And yet, not everyone is feeling the warmth or blessing. There is stress, and worse. For many, going home for the holidays is fraught with anxiety, a time to have to deal with alcoholic or abusive or just unpleasant relatives. And of course, many people have no home to go to—whether homeless people seeking shelter under a bridge or on a heat vent, or Queer youth have been kicked out of their homes.

I don’t mean to be a downer, a Scrooge—Jonathan and I are blessed to be spending about a week in Brooklyn with our three daughters and their families—but at Sex, Bodies, Spirit, we are aware that there are bodies who are not so warmly embraced by the Spirit of Christmas or the lights and latkes of Hanukkah.

starbucks-red_holiday_cups_2016_resizedFirst, there is the War on Christmas, now won, by his own declaration, by President-elect Trump. Some people may feel relieved, or even safer, by this “victory,” but even now I tend to steer clear of Starbucks from October through December. I worry, too, when I go to Target and other big name stores.  There’s nothing like the spirit of Christmas to get people arguing about important things, such as the greetings of store clerks and coffee containers. My body carries a certain level of anxiety about all this whenever I go out into the world of commerce (including my refusal to give money to the Salvation Army, despite their good work, because of their institutional homophobia and transphobia).

But of course, my friend Tyrone the Pennyman, who panhandles at the Greenbelt Metro Station, knows a lot more about embodied anxiety. He sits many days on a ledge outside the station, saying, over and over, “pennies, pennies, pennies” to the streams of riders coming and going. Occasionally, someone stops and gives him something—and he has some regulars, like me, who stop to chat, providing encouragement and a buck or two, or perhaps five.

penniesHe has been doing this for some years he tells me, after his career as a merchant failed, and the evidence—ragged clothes, torn umbrella, many missing teeth, a tattered bag or two—seems clear: he is not making a killing no matter how high the market goes. Ho! Ho! Ho! sticks in my throat, my heart.

And yet—despite what seems to be a ravaged body—his smile, his warmth and grace, as we greet each other reflect what I experience as the beauty of Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Yule (and Ramadan, which sometimes comes in December) all rolled into one.  Every body, every single body, no matter how tattered and worn, carries God’s beauty.

As I reflect on Tyrone’s beauty—and tens of thousands,  probably hundreds of thousands, of others struggling to stay alive on our streets—I think of the paintings of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, and the shepherds and angels, the cattle and sheep, the whole cast. The family was not exactly homeless, but they did not have a hospital bed for the birth, and no one in the neighborhood knew them.  Still, they were all beautiful, including the innkeeper and all those unnamed, unknown folks living nearby.

meetup-logo-fontI went to a holiday party last weekend at the home of someone I had never met. I had a wonderful time, having found the party on Meetup. The group, Birds of a Feather, is a clothing optional/nudist  group that gathers monthly for social time (not sex).  All those bodies, men and women, gay, straight, bi (don’t think there were any trans folks but the host is hopeful someday), were beautiful.

I confess I was sad to put my clothes on when it came time to leave.  I like being naked. I mention this because during our eight-day holiday trip, I will not be naked—other than in bed. Going home, or gathering with loved ones, can sometimes carry a price—this one quite small compared to the joy we will share.

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But as I reflect on that, I think of the young woman who wrote for advice in the Washington Post about how to balance her love for her live-in boyfriend and the condemnation by her parents and her pastor of their “sin.” She comes from a fundamentalist Christian family, and she had not yet told her parents about the change in her life. She was afraid, so she procrastinated. Then, her pastor found out, and, behind her back, told her parents. Now, she is faced with choices: kick the boyfriend out, continue “living in sin” and be tried by the church, or leave the church on her own.

Leaving aside the unprofessional—I think outrageous—conduct by the pastor, I mourn how little Happy Christmas there will be in that family. How many homes are there like that? So many.

For example, this week, a friend of mine, who volunteers regularly at a homeless shelter in northwest D.C., told me that one of the social work interns, a young man from New York, told him about Catholic priests in his hometown who counsel families of LGBT youth to kick their children out of the house. I knew several young people selling their bodies on the streets of Richmond, victims of this by their families in other parts of Virginia.

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This is undoubtedly the main reason LGBT youth, and older folks too, constitute a higher than expected proportion of street people. I just wonder if the priests, and parents, have really read either the Hebrew or Christian scriptures. Or thought about how they act in a way contrary to Joseph and his response to Mary (first by declining to have her stoned, and then, listening to divine inspiration, marrying her and helping to raise their son)?

According to the gospel writer Luke, Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem in order to be registered, or counted, in the first census, ordered by Emperor Augustus.  We in the United States may think of the census today as a rather benign thing, unless, of course, we are undocumented persons. In some ways, in the days of Jesus, most people were undocumented, at least by the lights of the Roman occupiers. Every body needed to be counted, to make it clear that Rome had control. Bodies were under threat all the time.

israeli-checkpoint-2The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem may not seem that far, but for a woman in late pregnancy, riding on a donkey, it cannot have been easy. Nor is it today, pregnant or not. Journeying from Nazareth in the nation of Israel to Bethlehem in the West Bank is not without hurdles, always the potential for trouble, especially if your papers are not right, or even if something over which you have no control goes wrong. Bodies are still under threat today.

So, as I ponder this holy and spiritual time for so many, and feel some joy myself, I am simultaneously aware that the only justice that really works is that which is abundantly and equally for all holy bodies created in the image of God. With my Jewish siblings, I celebrate that the oil lasted for eight days, and pray somehow the light never goes out—that all bodies will be seen and touched and healed and cared for, and loved as Jesus was loved, in all their glory.

Malachi: 

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nTis the season… of Yule and Chanukah, of Christmas and gift-giving, of a time when we are encouraged to think of those around us (with our wallets, certainly, but also in a marked elevation of kindness and goodwill toward others). It is a time intended to be celebratory and full of laughter, but more often than not, leaves us feeling somewhat stressed and (although we rarely say this out loud), wishing for the season to hurry up and come to a close.

And so, as we draw ever-closer to our celebrated holiday(s) of choice, the time seems to move far too fast (we need to pick up those last-minute presents and clean the house and wrap the gifts and…and…and…), for many, this time can also bring a level of dread and stress that is not necessarily associated with the pressures of living in a capitalistic economy.

I remember Christmas with my family growing up. As a child, I was immune to many of the microaggressions my lesbian parents experienced, including one aunt’s tirade against the sinful nature of my mothers’ relationship and who bought presents for whom, depending on whether they were considered “real” family or not. My parents worked extra-hard to make the holidays perfect; they made up for the awkwardness by being super-hosts. The tree was trimmed and underneath was bursting with more presents than any family needed; the family recipes were made to perfection; the house was spotless; and I was cleaned up and in some appropriately-adorable seasonal attire, walking around ensuring everyone’s drinks were full and passing out presents from under the tree. Hello, lesbian Hallmark dream.mommy-mama-and-me

As a parent now, I understand the pressures of trying to do these things with a child, struggling to remain authentic while wanting her to experience the magic of the holidays. Our tree has been up and trimmed since early December, and I have watched (and contributed) to the growing piles of presents under the tree, torn between joy at recreating the beautiful moments of my own queer childhood and struggling with the myths that are perpetrated in this recreation.

We are not a wealthy family, but we are able to make ends meet, for the most part. Buying presents is certainly not the easiest thing to budget in, but we have tried. This year, we (myself, my partner, and our 8 year old goddaughter) will be spending Christmas with my lovely sister and her wife, their two children, and two of my mothers.  And as overjoyed as I am to have this time with them, I also feel the anxiety building. They live an entirely different type of life than we do, and I wonder about the awkwardness to which I am no longer immune: bringing a child (who is not my biological child, but still my child in every other sense of the word) to my family Christmas, a child that will blurt out things that will most likely make me stutter and blush, that doesn’t really have a grasp of table manners or indoor volume or general neatness, who my parents are (understandably) struggling to understand their relationship to her…

Whoever said we recreate our childhoods must have been laughingly looking into the future of my own experiences.

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http://www8.gmanews.tv/webpics/v3/2012/12/640_thumb-gayrights.jpg

And yet, I am blessed beyond belief. I am blessed with assurances of a roof over my head and (awkward or not), my chosen family welcomed with open arms. I think of those who cannot or will not interact with their families of origin because they have been kicked out or refuse to be inauthentic. I think of those who disguise their lovers as “friends” or “roommates” (as my parents did for many years) in order to maintain a family connection. I think of the child whose family cannot afford presents this year, or the child who doesn’t get to see their family much because they are working multiple jobs to keep the lights on and the heat going. I think of those who are on the streets as the weather turns cold, whether by their own choice or because they were kicked out.

This blog is a blog on sexuality and bodies. And while it may not seem relevant to the despairing hope and unexpected blessings of the holiday season, our bodies, our queerness, our sex and sexuality are an integral part of who we are, and we can’t just leave that part behind when we are with family. It’s having a couple split up, one in the spare bedroom and one on the couch, because “we won’t tolerate sinful behavior in this house.” It’s packages addressed to the wrong name containing clothes that are for the wrong gender because “you’ll always be my daughter.” It’s the stutter and questioning face a family member makes when they go to introduce your partner: “This is…uhh, well… this is Joe’s, ummm… this is Joe’s friend.”

Because after the holidays are over, and the thank you cards are written, and we return to the quiet normalcy of our homes (having now stuffed more stuff into dusty corners)… we look across the room at our partners. We look in the mirror at ourselves. We watch our children, and we sit in our homes and we feel the sense of sadness and loss. If our own families cannot give us unconditional love, how do we come to understand God’s

twt-thumbs.washtimes.com/media/image/2014/12/09/ap131677965439_c0-217-5184-3238_s561x327.jpg?bdd6e722bc732344245ff05c12322508da41adf1
twt-thumbs.washtimes.com

love for us?

Many have come to understand the story of the birth of Jesus as a miracle of God: a savior born of a virgin. I, personally, do not see the story that way. For me, I see a powerful lesson in this season: that those who have strayed from the expectations of society are unconditionally loved. That a woman who conceived a child out of wedlock bore a Savior in her womb. That regardless of the conditions under which she came to conceive, she was chosen to bring light forth into the world.

This is the season of the outcasts. This is the season where people from different religions, class systems, sexual practices, ages, abilities, and possessions come together to celebrate life. So for those of you struggling with no room at the family inn, this season is for you. For those of you who live outside the expectations of sexual expression, this season is for you. For those of you who are working jobs that most people disdain (be it shepherds or fast food workers or sewage cleaners), this season is for you. For those of you who come together to celebrate community and togetherness, regardless of your religious and spiritual backgrounds, this season is for you. Celebrating the birth and story of Jesus is radically embracing the crossing of social norms- something Jesus himself came to embody in his ministry.

So to all of us, and to all of you struggling this holiday season, this season is for you. Not because of gifts or awkward in-laws or uncomfortable conversations with the Republican cousin, but because, from birth to death, Jesus crossed nearly every social norm he could, and God continues to claim him as God’s own. I am reminded of the Avalon song, “Orphans of God.”   I close with the chorus of this incredible song, reminding us that there are no orphans of God.

“There are no strangers,
There are no outcasts,
There are no orphans of God
So many fallen, but hallelujah,
There are no orphans of God.”

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

What do you think influences your sense of your own body, your relationship with your body? And what influences how you see and evaluate the bodies of others? What bodies are most sexy for you? Is your own body sexy for you? 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.

  • October 2016, “The Roots of Sex Negativity in Western Christianity, Part 3, is available here
  • September 2016, “The Roots of Sex Negativity in Western Christianity, Part 2, is available here
  • August 2016, “The Roots of Sex Negativity in Western Christianity, Part 1” is available here.

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.

A First For First Ladies

. . . slut-shaming implies that women who express their sexuality are less-than. And that is exactly what is happening with Melania Trump.

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nMalachi:

This election season has been a rollercoaster. Perhaps that’s an understatement; this election season has been a tumultuous, seemingly never-ending cycles of news reports and un-Presidential soundbites. Many of us- myself included- were simply praying for the day when it would come to an end.

I think we had false expectations of what that would mean. I think many of us assumed that Clinton would win, and we could stop hearing news reports of Trump making derogatory comments about women, sexual assault, gold star families, disabled reporters, war heroes and…well, just about everyone, really. I think we thought that the end of the election meant the end of Donald Trump. The election results, tragically, have shown us a very different, harsh reality.

So Donald Trump is the President-Elect of the United States. Donald Trump, the man who brags about sexual assault (“grab them by the pussy”), using references to women’s periods to insinuate that they are overly emotional (“she was bleeding out of her eyes, she was bleeding out of her…wherever”), calling women “fat, pigs, not a 10,” and referenced his daughter’s sex appeal (“…what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father…”).

Ok, so Donald Trump is a sleazy man with the focus of a pubescent boy. That’s…not fine, but it seems to be the reality (for the record, there is no issue with young people of any gender exploring their sexuality and understanding their bodies in puberty. There is, however, an issue with a 70 year old man that doesn’t appear to have matured beyond that.)

But unfortunately, with the election results in, we are still hearing a lot of sexist, anti-women rhetoric- and it’s not coming from Donald Trump (or even Republicans), but from liberal-minded individuals, particularly Democrats.

Images comparing different first ladies, looking much how we expect put-together, professional women to appear, are then juxtaposed with Melaniafullsizerender-1
Trump’s nude modeling images, with captions like, “Stay classy, America!” and “How did we get from this…to THIS”.

 

The insinuation in these images is, of course, that Melania is not “classy” enough to be first lady, and that her history as a model (particularly as a nude model) makes her unfit to be first lady. Much of this is reactionary, particularly after much of the gender and race-based insults aimed at Michelle Obama over the past 8 years. But that doesn’t not make it ok.

First of all, we weren’t electing a first lady; we were electing a president. And, quite frankly, while I appreciate that couples talk and influence one another’s perspectives, ultimately, our criticisms need to be aimed at Donald Trump, not Melania. But second, there is absolutely nothing wrong with nude modeling. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. And those who speak on equality, justice, fairness, etc., but then shame Melania for the ways in which she has used her body sound, at best, hypocritical.

Slut-shaming is a real thing. It’s enforcing and supporting different sexual ideals for men and women. It’s rewarding male promiscuity while assuming any woman who has had sex with more than one person is a slut. It is finding ways to denigrate women for having the same times of sexual relationships that men are permitted to have.

http://www.kichaka.net/SlutImages/slutshaming2.png
http://www.kichaka.net/SlutImages/slutshaming2.png

In short, slut-shaming implies that women who express their sexuality are less-than. And that is exactly what is happening with Melania Trump.

Please understand: I do not like the Trumps at all. And the hateful, vitriolic that comes from Donald Trump is not ok. But it is not more ok when liberally-minded people utilize a woman’s sexuality to insult her (or her husband). There are plenty of things to complain about in the Trump family. Melania’s sexuality or nude photo shoots are, quite frankly, the absolute least of my concerns.

Furthermore, Melania is very archetypically, stereotypically beautiful. She was a supermodel, and was able to utilize her physical appearance for financial gain. It’s perfectly reasonable to talk about unrealistic standards of beauty in the United States. It’s absolutely appropriate and necessary to address the ways in which people who don’t look like Melania struggle with body issues. But we do not build ourselves up by tearing others down. I can appreciate that she is beautiful without resenting the fact that I

https://i.redd.it/r11cp6w4kibx.jpg
https://i.redd.it/r11cp6w4kibx.jpg

don’t look like her. I don’t want to look like her, but I don’t build up my own self-image by tearing her (and those who look like her) down.

In addition, the implications that someone who is beautiful cannot also be intelligent are incredibly insulting to women across the world, including previous first ladies. Insinuating that she will be a less-than first lady because she shot nude photographs is about more than just “class” (an extremely white, patriarchal term). It’s buying into the idea that the more beautiful someone is, the less intelligent they are. Utilizing someone’s physical appearance to make a comment on their intelligence is what Donald Trump does.

Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” They’ve gone low, and many have gone low with them. Criticize Donald Trump, absolutely. But his wife’s physical appearance isn’t the point of the conversation, nor should it be the focus of his presidency. It’s time to remember what we are fighting for. Don’t buy into these stereotypes. Resist the urge to take these cheap shots and focus instead on the important issues. Her ability and freedom to celebrate her body should be applauded, not mocked. Otherwise, in some ways, we are all no better than Donald Trump.

revrobin2-023Robin:

We have been through the most sexually consequential presidential campaign and election in American history—and that’s saying something when we remember Bill Clinton’s affairs in his first campaign (and later), the rumors about Jefferson’s slave concubine in 1800 and later, and scandal when Grover Cleveland married a much younger woman.

I wish I could say that the cause of sexual openness was greatly advanced by this election, but I cannot. I can say that more women have learned the importance of speaking up when they are victimized by abuse that uses sex for its power, physical and mental abuse that damages the sexuality of its victims, and in some ways diminishes all of us. I am hoping that more men learned the importance of standing with these victims, and also to speak up for themselves when they are victims, and for other men who are victimized.

This election did not further the cause of our society being able to conduct open, thoughtful, honest conversations about sex. As a society, we remain shut down and ashamed by sexuality, by sex, including our own.

Of course, we are inundated with sex every day, much of it used to sell products as well as, in some cases, to promote, sell, people (pictures of movie stars, porn, etc.).

scott-brown-cosmopolitan-trendhunter-com
pre-Senate Scott Brown trendhunter.com

Rarely, if ever, however, has our political system used sex directly to promote leaders. Oh yes, there have been a few times when male political leaders have appeared shirtless—Paul Ryan, Barack Obama, John F. Kennedy—but only ones whose bodies are relatively lean, well-built, young-ish. There also was former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown who posed for Cosmopolitan long before running for office.

However, no woman in a prominent political position, or even local office, has been viewed as a sex symbol, and certainly has not appeared naked, or even partially so. Until now.

Our new First Lady, Melania Trump, a former fashion model, has been photographed without any clothes on, her hand mostly covering her genital area. The photo is not one casually snapped at a clothing optional or nude beach; she is modeling and the shot, including very lovely breasts, conveys a message of desire.

fullsizerender-1Of course, there have been comments, even a graphic comparing that picture of Melania to one showcasing the glamor of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Nancy Reagan and Michelle Obama. It was not meant as a compliment to our new First Lady.

In other words, she is supposed to feel shame, or at least we are.

I don’t. And I hope she doesn’t either.

Baring her body was, and is, not only not a crime, but it is not immoral or wrong. We need to get over the fixation on nudity as dirty.

I did not vote for him, and can’t imagine doing so if he seeks re-election. And of course I did not vote for her. She comes as part of the electoral deal; I just hope he does not dump her for a newer model now that he has won the big prize.

I do feel shame that my country has elected a man to be President who seems to view women, or least the younger, nubile ones, as meat for his sexual dining pleasure. His attitudes, and apparent behaviors, are not sexy in my book. They are boorish and ugly, using sex as a “thing” and as a way to trump-et his sense of patriarchal superiority and entitlement.

marco-rubio-and-donald-trump-debating-chicagotribune-com
ChicagoTribune.com

And frankly, I feel shame that two of the Republican men seeking their party’s nomination discussed the President-elect’s penis size. What that has to do with anything about being president is beyond me (after all, the President doesn’t really need a penis, does she?). I would not have minded so much if they had gotten naked—although I somehow doubt that, despite his self-avowed excellent temperament, the President-elect is much to look at (Senator Rubio might be better).

But shame because a model, or a First Lady, is naked? No way.

She is a beautiful woman, although this particular photograph does little for me—and not just because I am more interested in men’s bodies than women’s. In reality, I would rather see her smiling and naked.

Of course, other bodies, or at least penises, were involved in this election. Hillary Clinton cannot do much without someone managing to mention Bill’s hyper-active one, not to mention Anthony Weiner’s self-exposure to young girls and others. This latter organ may well have cost her the election, due to the FBI review of his computer containing many of Clinton’s emails.

melania-trump-harpersbazaar-com
First-Lady-to-be, Melania Trump HarpersBazaar.com

So, we have the spectacle of men who should be ashamed because of their behavior, and a woman some want to shame because she openly shares her beauty, the very beauty that God gave her.

Let me be clear. I do not think it matters if she is conventionally beautiful or not. Or even young. Old bodies are good, worth sharing and admiring, too, even those of the President-elect and Secretary (and former President) Clinton.

Indeed, perhaps we should ask all candidates (and potential First Spouses) for President (maybe other offices, but it might be best to start with a small group) to share not only their tax returns but also nude pictures. Or they could debate in the nude. That might help them be more real in the rest of the campaign, knowing that we know what they look like without any physical masks. It might even discourage some from running (not necessarily a bad thing, although I would be sad if this were due to body shame).

democratic-presidential-candidatesAnd perhaps the United Nations could insist that world leaders shed the armor of their clothes when they address the General Assembly and Security Council. It might reduce saber rattling when leaders appear more vulnerable.

I am actually grateful to Melania Trump for breaking a barrier and perhaps helping us as a nation get more real about sex and bodies. I also think God is pleased; after all, she is made in the image of God. As is her husband, and all the rest of us, too.

However, it is up to us to carry this forward. Malachi and I continue to be clear about the need for more conversation in U.S. culture, and especially in churches, about sex . But much of the time it feels like we are talking only to each other.

You can help, by posting a comment, and even sharing this blog with others.

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

What do you think influences your sexuality and sexual expression? Have you ever noticed a deviation from your expectations of your sexuality? Do you find that there are certain traits that turn you on? 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, 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:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part I: Beyond the Binary

What turns you on? Is your attraction based on anatomy, gender identity, or something else entirely?

Sacred, Not Secret is a three-part series beginningThursday, November 17 at 3 PM EST/19:00 UTC in which Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline, authors of the blog Sex, Bodies, Spirit, discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. This month, they go “beyond the binary” of gay and straight to explore the fluidity of sexual desire, and explore ways that we can be an open, affirming space for people- not in spite of our sexual relationships, but because of them!

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.

I Know It When I See It

. . . as sex- and body-positive Christians, how do we approach, address, and discuss porn in a positive way?

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [‘hardcore pornography’] and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…”

-Justice Potter Stewart, Jacobellis vs. Ohio

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nMalachi:

This infamous quote describing Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s understanding of pornography in 1964 fairly well encapsulates the difficulty in defining and delineating what is considered porn- or, in the context of this particular court case, what is considered “obscene.”

In the 52 years since this opinion was written, it has become even harder for us to really encapsulate what pornography is. I think we can agree that there is a difference between porn, art, erotica, and nudity, but trying to tease of the difference between these things becomes increasingly more difficult.

For example, nudity (the act of being naked) is not an act that is

Justice Potter Stewart
Justice Potter Stewart

inherently sexual in and of itself. Erotica and porn, however, both have a central sexual component (which often includes nudity), and art spans across genres. There are some who consider porn and erotica to both be types of art, and many more who consider the human body (e.g. nudity) to be a living work of art in and of itself.

The delineation wouldn’t matter as much if there was not a moralistic hierarchy associated with each category. Nudity can go many different ways: there are those who claim that nudity is immodest, while others claim that they are better able to commune with God when they are fully present in their bodies (and thus, the image of God). There are those who believe that, if something is categorized as “art,” it is supposed to inspire human emotion- both good and bad- and thus art is distinct from moralism. Others, however, feel the term “art” is overused to describe works that are obscene.

Engaging with erotica and porn, however, is generally assumed to be immoral by many who claim Christianity (in fact, most of the Western religious traditions speak out against porn and, to a lesser degree, erotica). There is a quote from the television show “The West Wing” in which a conservative Christian man asks, “If you can buy pornography on any street corner for $5, isn’t that too high a price to pay for free speech?” This question fairly well sums up much of the feeling of mainstream conservative Christianity with respect to pornography.

However, as sex- and body-positive Christians, how do we approach, address, and discuss porn in a positive way? I think we often fall into the habit of silence about things like porn usage because it can be hard to tease out exactly how this relates to our relationship with God.

I remember when I started taking testosterone, and my sex drive spiked rapidly, to the point that I needed to masturbate every day. If I didn’t, I was incredibly irritable and cranky. At times, I wasn’t “in the mood,” so to speak, but knew that I needed to find a way to get turned on enough to masturbate so that I could go about my day. At those points, porn was an incredibly useful tool to elicit certain physical responses to allow myself to have an orgasm.

IMG_0631Furthermore, I have participated in making porn. Not often, but I have had sex for money while being filmed: perhaps the most crude method of defining porn. Most of my reasons behind doing it were because I wanted to, but there was also the element of financial stress that led me to do it at the time that I did. I have also been photographed doing sexual acts when I go to kink conventions, and those photographs are for sale via the photographers hired by the company. I don’t know if that counts as porn, exactly, but goodness knows, there are plenty of naked pictures of me on the internet. I don’t think porn is an inherently bad thing. There are certainly problematic aspects about the industry (including, but not limited to, economic and financial distress, poor working conditions, and abuse/mistreatment of models, particularly women), but porn as a concept is not, to me, inherently bad.

With porn, we have to consider the aspects of fetishization and objectification. People searching for a specific type of porn (e.g. “trannys” or “big black cock”) are problematic because they tend to be dehumanizing. And while some people may like being objectified, many other people get tired of being seen as a one-dimensional object to fulfill someone else’s fetish…particularly when that objectification doesn’t end at the computer screen, but carries out in day-to-day life. They can also perpetuate oppressive stereotypes that are sexist, racist, transphobic, homophobic, etc. (from “women are submissive” to “black men have large penises” to “lesbians just need a man to come finish them off”). Each of these ideas are easy to find on most porn sites, and there are entire sites that are dedicated to a particular fetishization.

Is it wrong to be attracted to a particular aspect of a person? Of course not.

https://media.npr.org/assets/img/2014/02/01/craigslist-race-instagram_wide-3e3f9a9a0c770e95401c946ca3ec98feb7257608.jpg?s=1400
Craigslist: for when you have a racial preference in your partners, and no filter.

But the difference is, porn often allows us to be attracted to an aspect without considering the person. Porn also has the unfortunate byproduct of creating unrealistic expectations about sex. Porn is not necessarily about sex, but about performance of particular acts. Much as drag is about the performance of gender, porn is about the performance of sex (and much as drag bears little resemblance to gender as we see it in every day life, porn bears little resemblance to everyday sex).

Like anything, in order to interact with something in a healthy way, we have to understand what it is and why we are interacting with it. We can’t judge someone else’s intentions, but it’s important that we look at our own and try to understand (if we are consumers of porn) what it is we get out of it- including whether it impacts our expectations of our own sexual lives. I don’t think there is anything wrong with watching porn- regardless of whether someone is monogamous or polyamorous, porn can have a role in a person’s sexual satisfaction (both self-satisfaction and satisfaction with partners).

We know that our relationship with porn can be unhealthy. But is it

http://www.feministpornguide.com/periodictableoffeministporn.png
http://www.feministpornguide.com/periodictableoffeministporn.png

possible for our relationship with porn to be healthy or neutral (e.g. causing no harm or benefit)? I think it can be. I think porn can be an incredibly useful tool. But as with all things, it’s important that we have an analysis of the industries and products we consume. It is, for example, beneficial to pay for porn from companies that are known to treat their models well, rather that utilizing free porn that may come at the cost of a person’s well-being.

Recognizing that porn is a service (much like many other services we consume) and approaching consumption of the service in an ethical manner is important. It’s also important that we ensure we aren’t allowing our consumption of porn to interfere with our relationships- with ourselves, our partner(s), or God. In moderation, porn (like alcohol, working out, dieting, and many other things) is just fine. It is when we reach the extremes- either of our consumption itself, or the expectations and assumptions we make about other people- that porn becomes a detrimental aspect of some people’s sexual lives.

Robin:

Both Malachi and I are comfortable with nudity and have said so here . We think it healthy, fun, and body-affirming.

revrobin2-023However, one of the objections nudists often encounter is that baring all in “public” (a term that encompasses a wide range of circumstances) is “pornographic.” So what is pornography, what makes something pornographic?

As shown above, Justice Stewart famously remarked that he did not know how to define pornography, but he knew it when he saw it. It was likely not his intention to open the door to a wide range of interpretations and definitions, but in effect what he is saying is that one person’s porn may be another’s art . . . or at least erotica.

Nudity, art, erotica, pornography……..four terms that often are used in connection with bodies, sexuality, and sexual activity.

In my view, the naked body is never pornographic, no matter the context, no matter the body. Human bodies are creations of God, gifts from God, in all our varieties and forms of beauty. We may well be naked when being sexual, but being naked does not equate to being sexual. Most nudists are quick to point out that being naked does not lead automatically to sex. Yet, being naked and sexual can be beautiful, wondrous.

large group of naked people
naturalian.blogspot.com

Regular readers of this blog know I have carried negative feelings about a part of my body, my penis or dick or cock or whatever name you use. Much of that has been healed, in part because I have been able to share it openly here. My shame—for that is what it was—is no longer a secret, and thus its power has been greatly reduced.

Another help has been to spend some time looking at pictures of small penises online, to let myself see the beauty of the men who share themselves, in celebration. This has involved seeing all sorts and conditions of men—old, young, thin, not thin, white, black, Asian, Latino, Native, tall, short, cute (to me) and not so cute, etc. On occasion, these pictures show men engaged in sexual activity, solo or otherwise.

Is all this pornographic? Not for me. It has been healing. I have felt God in it, showing me how creative God is in sculpting penises. It finally broke through to me that God did not punish me by giving me a small penis. God blessed me, and still blesses me, just as I am.

michelangelo David penis and hand this is cabaret com
thisiscabaret.com

It has also been useful in this exploration to look at art. Michelangelo’s sculpture of David is perhaps the most famous nude male ever. This hero has, thanks to the sculptor, a small cock, although it is bigger than Adam’s as pictured by the same artist on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I have seen more recent portrayals of the crucifixion with Jesus and the other two men hanging with him naked, and their dicks are of moderate size. None of this feels pornographic to me (of course, the crucifixion is ugly).

So what is porn?

A common definition is “printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings.” A legal definition may be “the depiction of sexual behavior that is intended to arouse sexual excitement in its audience.”

For the layperson, it may be hard to differentiate that from obscenity, which the Supreme Court has described as materials “utterly without redeeming social importance.” But obscenity is not limited to sexual acts.

porn
youtube.com

So the statue of David is not pornographic, even though it displays sexual organs, because it was not intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings. It might of course stimulate someone who is struggling with sexuality but that was not, presumably, the sculptor’s intent.

So, intent matters.

But I wonder how easy it is to sort out erotic feelings from emotional ones. One person would see those pictures of men with small organs and think “that’s erotic, and therefore pornographic.” But others, like me, may find emotional healing. In the process, I might even become sexually aroused, but the primary focus is emotional healing. And to me, that would have enormous social importance, helping me to become a more balanced, evolved person and therefore a better citizen, co-worker, leader, etc.

And then I have to wonder about the conflation of “erotic” with something negative. Personally, I like erotic feelings and often find them laden with positive emotional feelings and reactions as well.

Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve Christians Enjoying Nudity and Erotica

I have referred previously to an interesting website, “Christians Enjoying Nudity and Erotica” (click here to visit). The developer of that site, a male clergyperson who uses a pseudonym, which is exclusively oriented towards heterosexuality and marriage between a man and a woman (even as it contains many erotic pictures of men, and of women, which can excite sexual feelings in not only heterosexual persons but also those who are homosexual and bisexual), says

I confess that I simply love to see nudity. I also enjoy the sensuality and beautiful sexuality of erotica. But I am definitely not a fan of porn! In fact, I find the stuff uninspiring, un-stimulating, and unfulfilling. I hate it and how it depicts women and defiles men. . . . neither is erotica pornography no matter how much some writers would like to simplistically lump it all together. Porn can rightly be described using the degrading “F” word, or as someone “screwing” someone. Erotica depicts the sacred splendor of sexual activity between a man and a woman, and it can do so in a way that is redemptive and glorifying to God who gave us the gift of sex and designed our bodies to engage in and enjoy it.

So, perhaps we might say, following him, that porn is sex without heart, without larger meaning, without any spiritual or divine connection. Or we might say that porn is sex as a mechanical act, and/or a way to make money for those who control the production (not so much for the sexual actors). Porn is, we might say, a way to degrade women or others who are made into objects.

So what do I think? Porn is indeed in the eye of the beholder. The porn with which I am uncomfortable is whatever is done to make money for the producers without being sure the actors and the crew are well compensated (including for the actors at least some sort of royalty system). It is not the sex but the economics that make it porn.

Prior Lake RobinI don’t think individuals or couples or groups who take pictures of themselves to share, to give away, make porn. Sexting is not porn. Posting your naked picture or your video masturbating on the internet is not porn.

Personally, I don’t really have the guts to do it, but I admit I get turned on by the idea. I did write a piece about nudism for a blog (“A Naked Wholeness” at Jonathan’s Circle and I offered to let them use a full-frontal nude picture of me—the only one I have ever had taken—but the owner declined saying they did not use “explicit” pictures.  I was very excited by the idea of my picture appearing (and there is a more chaste version of the photo with my post.

Finally, back to those pictures of small cocks I looked at on the internet. Some of them were professional models and actors in commercial sex films. Most were ordinary men. It depended on the site. Not one of the sites charged money to view the pictures or even the videos (often excerpts from commercial fare, but also often just an ordinary guy or more than one).

anthony-weiner
former Congressman Antony Weiner biography.com

What I did realize is that what started out as a curative for me could become a habit. I realize there were days when I looked more than once. There were also whole stretches of time when I did not look. I hesitate to say I feared an addiction, although I am aware that some claim that about themselves and/or others.

But because of a special event at my church this weekend, some of us are fasting—food, fast food, alcohol, sex, overworking, etc. I have chosen to fast from looking at pictures of naked men with small or small-ish, or even larger, penises. In fact, I deleted the links so as to make a stronger commitment, and I have decided to not look for a longer than this week. I am thinking forever.

After all, the small cock I really like is mine. I don’t need to go on the internet for that. And if I want to see a bigger one, well . . . . I can stay home. And if I want to see more of them, of whatever size, I can go to a nudist gathering.

And the good news is that it will be more than me and my PC and screen.

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

How do you feel about pornography? Do you see a difference from it and erotica? Do you utilize porn as part of your life, or have you at some other time ? Do you feel addicted to porn, or do you know, or suspect you know, someone else who is? Is a naked body a sign of sex for you? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, October 20th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 3, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 3” 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. Although not required, we encourage participants to read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Workshop description: In this session, Robin and Malachi continue to lay out some historical context of sex within Western Christianity, exploring how a faith whose origin rests on incarnation has become known for a deep anti-body and anti-sex bias. In this session, we will move beyond early church fathers and what might be called the social construction of early Christianity to later medieval and Reformation eras, and perhaps into more modern times. 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 clergy (.5 credit for each session) and focuses on equipping and empowering leaders to bring these conversations to their communities. Although the primary focus is on clergy participation, everyone is welcome to attend.

What’s Your Body Language?

Can we not grasp the divine origins, the godliness, of our bodies—every part, every orifice, every appendage, every organ, every inch of skin?

by Robin Gorsline and Malachi Grennell

Introduction: How we talk about something can be, at times at least, as important as what we say about it. The language we use often says something about how we feel about the subject; likewise, our language is often impacted by our audience. When it comes to sex, the language, the terms we use at the bar drinking with friends, or with a sexual partner, may not be the same ones we use a classroom, at church (if we ever talk about “it” at church), or in print. In writing this blog, we have struggled with our language around bodies and sexuality, trying to speak to an audience that is ever fluctuating and changing. This week, we decided to explore the tension inherent in our “body language” and how we can bring the sacredness of our bodies and sexualities together with the vernacular language that is so often branded as “dirty”.

Malachi GrennellMalachi: Cunt. Dick. Pussy. Cock. Ass. The vernacular language describing different arrangements of genitalia may feel comfortable for some, while others find those words distasteful and prefer more clinical language, such as penis or vagina (or, in some cases, vulva). Language can be a tricky, complicated landscape to navigate. Perhaps we are more comfortable using words that describe our own anatomy, while those words that define anatomy different than our own might feel more awkward or foreign, particularly if we gravitate toward same-sex tendencies.

For myself, for example, the word “pussy” used to make me feel really uncomfortable, and not at all something that would describe any genitalia I have. Whenever I heard it used, it reminded me of watching heterosexual porn: some cisgendered man with a particularly prodigious member penetrating a petite cisgendered woman growling, “You like when I fuck that pussy?” while going at it.

Perhaps that’s too graphic of an image, although the reality is, many people watch porn and, in my experience, a considerable amount of porn, includes some aspect of “dirty talk.” It feels almost humorous to imagine that same situation wherein the man instead says, “You like it when I penetrate your vagina?” That feels less… sexy, less rough, less… something.

Basic RGBHaving the vernacular language to discuss our genitals contributes something to our language and I think it’s an important component in how we talk about our bodies and our sexualities- as well as how we use our bodies and sexualities to denigrate one another.

There seems to be a time and a place to use certain language, and it’s something that Robin and I have struggled with in writing this blog. We are, after all, writing about bodies and sexuality, yet tend to favor the more clinical language of penis and vagina in our writing. That has been a conscious choice, but sometimes, it has felt awkward and clunky. So, like everything else that we struggle with, we’ve decided to write about the language itself.

I remember my partner, Kase, coming home one evening while he was in his last semester of nursing school. He was working with a group called the Western North Carolina Community AIDS Project (WNCCAP), and the person he was primarily working with gave workshops to different at-risk groups about safer sex practices. Kase was telling me this story because, at the beginning of the workshop, the man stood up and said something to the effect of, “I’m going to be talking about dicks and pussies in this workshop because people aren’t talking about penises and vaginas when they’re fucking.”

Many of the students in Kase’s nursing program were scandalized and offended. “That’s indecent and inappropriate,” many of them said. “I can’t believe he said that!” It made them incredibly uncomfortable…and yet. The workshop wasn’t for them- they were helping out at a location for high-risk individuals, and the workshop was aimed at people who were doing sex work, who were homeless, who were addicted, and part of the way to make that information relevant to that population of people was to use the language that was appropriate for them.

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http://orig13.deviantart.net/c317/f/2009/295/7/c/cunt_is_not_a_bad_word_by_apocalyptopiadesigns.jpg

So when it is appropriate to use certain language? I’m not sure there is a good barometer. I don’t like the idea that language like dick and pussy is only applicable to high-risk populations- that is not only classist and creates a correlation between risky actions and risqué language, it’s also simply not true. Personally, I’m more excited and interested to listen to a workshop about cunts and cocks than penises and vaginas.

Perhaps, for many, the language feels intimate and personal, something that shouldn’t be shared publicly. “Suck my cock” is something that might be said to a lover and carries with it the intimacy of that experience, whereas “performing fellatio” is a term in abstraction, something we can distance ourselves from as an arbitrary sexual act. Perhaps the hypothetical feels safer because it reveals less of our sexual selves, and our sexual selves can feel incredibly vulnerable. We err on the side of safety because not only might our language come under fire, but the implication of using certain language makes us feel as though our sexual selves are also being criticized.

Which brings me to another very important point: nearly every single euphemism we have for genitalia is also a derogatory statement. “He’s such a dick;” “She’s being a cunt;” “That guy is an ass;” “Don’t be such a pussy.” In fact, the only term I can’t think of a vernacular, non-sexual phrase for is cock. The point is, though, that we use genital language as way to denigrate others; even “fuck” is used in a negative way (“Fuck you!”). It is telling, I think, as to our social attitudes toward bodies and sex, that the majority of our negative terms are directly related to terms for our bodies and sexual acts.

vulvua
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In all of this, of course, we cannot ignore that there is an inherent genderedness to this language. Cock and dick are in reference to the penis, whereas cunt and pussy are in reference to the vulva (of which the vagina is a part). A friend of mine has a button that said, “The Ass is the Great Equalizer.” It’s humorous, but the truth is, we all have an anal orifice and, for some, that is a component of their sexual experience. It can be so easy to get wrapped up in the gendered language of “frontal genitalia” that we forget to include the ways in which anal intercourse is also an important aspect of many people’s sexual lives- regardless of identity or genital configuration.

The language we use for our genitals gets to be an even more complicated discussion when referencing trans people. I, for example, tend to use both cock and cunt in reference to what’s in my pants, but that’s a highly individual choice. I have known many trans people across the spectrum of identity who refer to their anatomy with a wide variety of terms (“junk,” for example, tends to be a common term- and it bears noting that “junkie” is a term associated with heroin addiction).

Sometimes the claiming of language helps someone feel more comfortable and at home in their bodies, and that’s a powerful experience for a trans person. As a result, when I have sex with someone for the first time, I have the “what can I touch and what do you call it?” conversation- both to have active, enthusiastic consent for any sexual acts that occur, but also so I know how that person wants their body parts referenced.

It’s not always an easy or comfortable conversation. It certainly feels easier to reference bodies in abstraction rather than laden with both the intimacy of our own experiences and the connotation of negative association that often comes with the vernacular language. And yet, sometimes the clinical language is ill-suited for our purpose. While I strive to not cause unnecessary discomfort, I do believe that, sometimes, it is important that we push outside the box a bit. As someone with a history of writing and publishing, I know how important word choice is to convey a particular message- it can be the difference between a house and a home. So perhaps we should put just as much care into the words we use for our sexual selves- not to illicit the “shock factor” of using “dirty” words (a term I have always hated), but rather the willingness to be vulnerable with our language choices when the situation arises.

revrobin2-023Robin:  Recently, in preparing a blog post, I added a parenthetical note that went something like this: I just wish that sometimes I could say dick or cock; it feels so formal, clinical, to keep saying penis, especially when talking about my own.  But, it was not really germane to the main point of the post and I chose to delete it before publication. But that sentiment kept haunting me, so during our most recent editorial conference when Malachi raised the question of language I agreed it is time to say something out loud.

My interest is not limited to wanting to be less formal and clinical. There is another aspect that strikes right at the heart of what Malachi and I are trying to do in this space. We really want people, all people, to feel comfortable talking about sex, and not just in clinical settings (with our doctor when we have a problem or in a sex education class, e.g.). We want sex talk to be everyday talk.

But how can we do that when we can’t use everyday language during the conversation? Indeed, how can we have conversations if we don’t, or won’t, use the language that is the most conversational ? I admit that our ideas of what is conversational will vary, but in truth there really is a line about sexual language that we are expected not to cross (no “dirty” words).

And how can we use that language when it is considered “dirty,” when  the only time we hear it is as a negative—“He’s such a dick,” “She’s a cunt,” “What a boob!” “You’re an asshole,” or the angry, in our face (so to speak), “Fuck you!”

cocks are beautiful
A Google image search of “Cocks are beautiful” returns zero results

The truth is that a dick or cock or penis is a beautiful body part, as is a cunt or vagina or vulva and breasts/nipples, and yes, even the asshole or anus. And they serve important functions, including sexual pleasure. But in our embarrassment, and yes our shame, most of us have concluded the only way we can mention them openly is by making them negative.

Some non-mainstream print media may resort to a wink, saying c—k, or d—k, or c—t.  I have not seen v—na,  or v—va , but I have seen a-hole. The New York Times and others found themselves making a somewhat blushing reference to a less common term for the phallus, namely weenie, when writing about former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s penchant for sharing pictures of his via social media.

We Can Do It!One piece of male anatomy seems to have escaped the negative connection. Occasionally, someone will talk disparagingly about a leader not having “the balls” to make a tough decision, the implication that the testicles, affectionately known as balls or nuts, contain real power. I think somewhere I read an appreciation of Hillary Clinton, or perhaps Margaret Thatcher, that included the idea that she (or they) have balls, they are tough, despite being female—and again in much ordinary conversation, it is the masculine term or aspect that conveys strength.  They cannot be strong on the basis of being themselves, being women.

bodies divine
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Can we not grasp the divine origins, the godliness, of our bodies—every part, every orifice, every appendage, every organ, every inch of skin?  I have searched Genesis pretty thoroughly and do not find any qualifiers on God’s part. . . . and God saw that it was good (* Some Exceptions Apply, especially when speaking of the reproductive and sexual organs).

But if we actually used these terms positively, even joyfully, then we might have to admit that sex itself is not only good and necessary, it is a form of spiritual, indeed holy, conversation (unless, of course, it is used to violate someone’s body and sacred being).  That would then bring the slang we have made “dirty” into the realm of the holy and beautiful, and that would really upset the world, we would really be troubling the waters.

It is my experience and study that convince me that this troubling the waters is what God does, over and over, again and again. Stirring things up is one of the main activities of God.  It is thus, in my view, one of the main reasons we have been given sex. Sure, it is necessary to reproduce the species, but the fact that it can be so pleasurable means that we return to it, and each time we do, God sees an opportunity to help us grow spiritually. Sadly, we usually miss that part of the message, and think we are just having sex.  There’s nothing wrong with that, of course; sometimes sex is just sex, just as a cigar can be just a cigar (and not one of those four-letter male appendages we don’t like to name).

Photo by Arnie Katz
Photo by Arnie Katz; courtesy of Anchorhold 

As a gay man, I admit to considerable fascination with those particular appendages—whatever the name. I also admit to less interest in cunts or vaginas. But a woman’s body is a wonder to behold, a creation of beauty, quite aside from sex, and that includes her “private parts.”

Where did that expression come from?  How can something be private when we all have them, and we know we do? I know, I know, private is different from secret; nobody says that the fact we have genitals is a secret, just that we are to keep them covered in public (and in most homes, too, except in the bathroom or bedroom).  But frankly, it feels more like an open secret, and sometimes those can be very destructive. I know of too many families deeply injured by open secrets, and sex is so often part of it.  I also know that organizations, like churches, can have open secrets, and since everyone assumes everyone else is on it, no one ever takes responsibility for the ways the secret hurts some, or even possibly all, of the group.

And, as Malachi has written previously in this space, one of the challenges that many cisgender people who are insecure in their own bodies experience from transgender people is that all of sudden we don’t know just which parts an individual actually has. We claim these are private parts, but that is not really true. We do want to know, we want certainty, about who has what. So, the trans person’s genitals become a contested field, no longer private parts.

Partly in order to overcome my own secret shame about my private parts, I have written in this space about my small penis . . .  er, dick, or as I prefer cock (a term that so far as I know is not generally used negatively). Probably some readers are tired of it by now (sometimes I am tired of dealing with it, too, but undoing decades of emotional and spiritual damage, in some senses, trauma, is not done overnight).

The still charming logo of a now-defunct restaurant chain in the Midwest
The still charming logo of a now-defunct restaurant chain in the Midwest

You may think it odd to quibble about which slang term to use for “my little guy” (I have referred to him this way at times).  But as I have looked a explicitly sexual literature and pictures from time to time, I have picked up something which I think is true, namely that a dick is any size but a cock is always big (and that translates to powerful). Of course, this could be my imagination—I certainly have not spent a lot of time on this study, nor have I encountered any learned essays.

At any rate, I want to claim power for mine, and so I often refer to my cock. And then there is of course, the old English nursery rhyme, “Who Killed Cock Robin?” not to mention the rock band of that name, and just the fact that a male Robin bird is sometimes called a Cock Robin. That would be me, a male Robin, Cock Robin, Not Dick (as in Cheney) Robin.

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

What do you think? What are your thoughts on body and sex languages? Please share below (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

We’ve Got Some Skin in the Game

by Robin Gorsline and Malachi Grennell

Introduction: We have been writing lately about sex, and about sexual freedom (including its limits). But this blog is also about bodies, and we have mentioned them pretty much only in the context of sex and sexual activities. But bodies are far more than instruments of sex and sexuality.

From the moment of birth to the moment of death, we live in and through our bodies. The English language makes it possible to speak of our bodies as if we are separate, can stand apart, from our bodies, and yet the reality is we are our bodies.  Wherever we are, there are our bodies. Without them, we are not.

And yet, most all of us have conflicts about our bodies—too fat, too tall, too short, too thin, breasts too big or not, penises too small or not, sagging skin as we age, bald or hairy, big hips or small, big noses or not, thick lips or thin, etc. And most people are not keen on showing off our naked bodies to others, surely not in places more public than locker rooms (and the trend today is against what used to be called “gang showers” where everybody stood under nozzles in one big room, divided by gender, of course). It was not all that long ago that men and boys swam naked at YMCAs, but today such an idea would result in wholesale condemnation.

What is it about the naked human body that scares so many of us? Why is it that the sight of a naked toddler running around at the beach is considered adorable, but the sight of an adult, or even an older child or teen, doing the same thing is considered scandalous, rude, offensive, even ugly? And why is it illegal in almost every public place? Who and what are we protecting? In this post, Robin and Malachi explore both their relationships with nudity as well as discuss the social climate and response toward bodies in various stages of undress.

revrobin2-023Robin: For Christians and Jews, biblical texts carry weight. “God saw that it was good,” is the divine response recorded in the Book of Genesis in response to creation. And then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” . . . . and “God blessed them . . . .” and “God saw that everything God had made, and indeed it was very good.” The website Christians Enjoying Nudity and Erotica makes many of these points more fully, albeit with a more conservative biblical worldview and without recognizing sexuality other that the hetero- variety or gender outside the usual binary.

Created in the image of God, and yet we hide, as if somehow we are ashamed of God, ashamed of our lineage, afraid to show our part of the divine image and afraid to see others (even as we are often titillated by images of naked bodies). We have taken the lesson from the second chapter of Genesis, in which Adam and Eve violate the command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge and discover they are naked, cover themselves, confess to God what they have done, and are punished by God for it.  We continue their cover-up down to this day.

But why?

In 2016, I still see news stories about someone being scandalized at a

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/wqvc16nXl-Y/maxresdefault.jpg
https://i.ytimg.com/vi/wqvc16nXl-Y/maxresdefault.jpg

mother exposing her nipples in public while breastfeeding an infant. Sadly, this most beautiful and loving of human encounters is turned into something morally unclean.

And, the campaign for “top equality,” letting women go topless the same way men do, shocks many. Their objections often take on the tone of “how dare people upset this ancient standard.” Yet, it is not so long ago—in the 1930s and 1940s—that men were freed to bare our nipples and even go shirtless.

The outrage over Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the halftime show of the SuperBowl in 2004 now seems dated, and yet I still hear of people who belittle her because of it. Network television went through periods of great controversy about showing naked rear ends, but now we can see naked everything on some cable shows.  In some European countries, television is not restricted.

And the controversy over sexting reveals a cross-current of emotions and attitudes. In terms of sending nude images or sexually explicit images (these are not necessarily the same thing), consent is the primary issue in

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https://www.netsafe.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/sexting-scrabble-1140×641.jpg

many instances, and those under 18 are generally considered unable to give consent to receive or send any such images. Many observers also note that the usual gender divide operates in sexting: it is more acceptable for men to send these images than women. The ease with which phones and their cameras can make it easy to take nude pictures of oneself and/or of one’s spouse or partner or even friends has resulted in an increase of non-professional nude images easily available on the internet and elsewhere. Some of this is simply part of the sexual lives of lovers/spouses. But because there are people who exploit others, and because sexting often involves nude bodies, there is considerable social conflict.

I have been undergoing changes in my own practices of late. It is not that I have not enjoyed being naked with others, and by myself, in the past.

I remember growing up in the country—fifty acres of mostly fields and forest, with a few of them taken up with my father’s nursery and our home and outbuildings. Sometimes, in the summer, when I was home alone (probably age 12 and up), I would take off my clothes and run around our back yard. And, on occasion, I would head to the “back 40” and find a good spot to be naked (and try not to get eaten up by mosquitoes).

This might have given me some clue that I harbored nudist proclivities, but it has taken a long time for me to recognize it and really own it. That is not to say I have not been naked around others (in addition to gym changing and showers in school) at times in the years between then and now—clothing optional beaches and swimming, Radical Faerie gatherings (where I met the man who eventually became my husband, Jonathan), and one visit to a nudist gathering in Maine.

But today, I enjoy being naked in our home. And I realize I would like to be publicly naked in more places than beaches and social groups where it is permitted. It is not so much the thrill of it, although at times the feeling of freedom can make me giddy (see “Baring My Body, Opening My Soul” about my experience of naked yoga), as it is simply feeling centered and good in my body. And, as regular readers of this blog know, this freedom has helped me come to terms with my small penis, and to actually begin to appreciate it (and not simply endure it as I use it for peeing and pleasure).

One of the reasons I began this blog was to explore questions of nudity, specifically to help create conversation that is thoughtful and non-exploitative, for myself and for others. I recognize that most of us get naked to share sexually with our partner(s), but as the organized nudist/naturist movement never tires of saying, nudity does not equal sex. Just because people are naked does not mean they want to have sex.

Many of us are naked, enjoy being naked, because it feels good. I am

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https://gapyear.s3.amazonaws.com/images/made/images/content/14.09.18.hw.dp.NHSMoldenNorway_582_388.jpg

learning to like my body, in all its particularities, and I feel more whole as a result. For the first time, recently, I wrote a sermon while naked;  I think it helped me be more honest and clear. Part way through the first period of writing, it occurred to me that this may be how God sees me ordinarily—and that helped me feel the divine presence more than usual while composing the text. I somehow doubt God is all that interested in my clothing, but I am quite sure God is interested in the real me.

So, I am now ready to call myself a nudist, or a naturist—I have yet to make a final choice among these too, but I think I lean toward nudist, because I want to be really clear about my identity (while recognizing no part of identity is probably ever entirely clear and fixed). That is the reason I chose a very clear title for this blog—no obfuscation, masks, or euphemisms.

I am blessed to have a husband who, while not joining me in this identity or behavior (except at the beach and during our love-making), appreciates the sight of my naked body as we navigate life at home. I am really enjoying his positive, and playful, comments.

Now, if I thought my neighbors and townspeople would do the same…..that might begin to feel a bit like Eden. But that is not to be, at least yet!

If there are readers, however, who share, or want to share, in the nudist life with me, let me know. Perhaps we can find time and space for mutual care, support, and society.

Malachi GrennellMalachi:

I like the way the sun feels on my skin. But more than that, I like the way that I feel in my skin when I am in spaces where nudity is an accepted aspect of the space. In fact, I often find that my lower back begins to hurt after several days of being in clothing-optional environments because I am actually standing up straight, and the muscles in my back are not used to good posture. That’s true of a lot of transmasculine people- posture issues arise from slouching shoulders forward to conceal breast tissue. While I’m not ashamed of my breasts, sometimes, I need to find a bathroom to use, and have to “pass” as something. When I’m in clothing-optional spaces, I find that my posture is better and I hold my head high and push my shoulders back.

I have not spent time in nudist cultures, but I understand that the lack of clothing does not create a sexualized environment. My experiences being naked in public, however, are within sexualized spaces: several times a year, I attend a BDSM/kink-focused event that allows for public nudity (as well as public sex). By attending these events, people understand that they will be encountering all types of bodies in all states of dress (or undress). I recognize, as a result, that my relationship with nudity may be impacted by that difference in sexualization, and I absolutely do not claim to speak for nudist culture- simply my relationship to being naked in a semi-public space. Right now, I am gearing up for one of these events coming up soon, and I can’t help thinking about my relationship with nudity- and more than just nudity, but my relationship with revealing aspects of my skin as the weather makes a sudden turn toward summer.

I have fairly prominent facial hair, as well as a decently large chest. As we approach summer (or, in the case of this year, make a sudden pivot from freezing rain to August heat), I have the think very carefully about my safety when navigating the juxtaposition of these two gendered characteristics. If I wear shirts that reveal “too much” cleavage, then I am at a much higher risk for violence: especially if people can’t tell “what” I am. Yet I don’t tend to like clothes that come up too high on my neck; they make me feel like I’m being choked (not in a good way) and besides, I like the feeling of the sun hitting my shoulders and the top of my chest.

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http://ih2.redbubble.net/image.12298463.0857/pp,375×360.jpg

It’s one of the downsides of so much media around trans people and trans bodies. All of a sudden, everyone has an opinion about bodies like mine- not just about bathrooms, but about how we should transition and present ourselves. People with the best of intentions will still say things like, “Well, if you would just wear clothes that didn’t reveal your shape…” or “I’m fine with people who want to transition, but these confused people who are ‘in the middle’ need to pick a side.”  Comments like this tell me that if only I was the “right” kind of trans…

…then what? I’m never quite sure how that sentence ends, but the insinuation is that I “ask for” or “invite” the harassment and comments by the way I present myself. If I could just pass a little more, people wouldn’t even notice my breasts. If I could just… look like one gender, then there wouldn’t be any problems. In short: if I could be a little more inauthentic for everyone else’s comfort.

But the reality is, I like wearing some women’s clothes, especially shirts. They make me feel good, and I’m not ashamed of my breasts, and I have a nice, curvy figure that, if only I would shave off this beard and various instances of body hair, would make me a very beautiful woman (by young, white, slender, able-bodied standards of beauty). But since I went on testosterone to be able to grow facial hair (and I’m actually quite attached to my beard), wearing the shirts I want to wear reveals a part of my body that puts me at risk for violence. And society tells me that it’s my fault.

Perhaps this is why I prefer spaces where clothing is optional. Because while I might be as much of an anomaly there as I am in the rest of the world, I don’t feel this strange division to hide certain parts while revealing others when, quite frankly, my entire body is fetishized and sexualized on a daily basis. In fact, I feel more sexualized walking down the street fully clothed on an average day than I do walking around completely naked with 1,000 strangers at a BDSM-focused retreat. And perhaps that’s where my frustration comes in: if I’m going to be sexualized anyway, then why do I have to put on these clothes that feel restrictive and sometimes bulky and are so dang hot? If people are going to wonder what’s in my pants regardless, then why bother wearing pants? I feel like I am being undressed in the minds of others, but don’t get any of the benefits of being naked.

Of course, I understand why that’s not a viable option. Not everyone is comfortable with public nudity, and, as Robin and I discussed last week, we must be sure that our expressions of sexual freedom do not minimize or infringe on someone else’s experiences. But as a non-binary trans person, I just get so frustrated. Come to think of it, as a human being, I get frustrated. How much skin is too much? The answer to that is so full

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of double standards and hypocritical nonsense, I’m not sure where to start. Nipples of people who either (a) have a penis attached to their bodies or (b) have had reconstructive surgery to remove the mammary tissue are fine for public consumption, but nipples attached to people without penises who have not had reconstruction surgery are NOT OK- even while breastfeeding (which is what nipples are for…) Women go to swimming pools and beaches in bikinis, but if she answered the door in a bra and underwear, that would be totally inappropriate. Men are expected to have a certain amount of body hair (because body hair=testosterone=masculine), but women are expected to shave it off (and those who don’t often become targets of ridicule and some will choose to cover their armpits and legs to avoid the judgement). Armpits and legs. These are not inherently sexualized parts of the body (although some do find them sexy or sexual). Even women who adhere to the strictest of body expectations and standards are then treated as walking sexual objects- and it’s “her fault” because, of course, why else would someone want to look like that unless she was wanting attention?

Knowing that people who are comfortable, for the most part, with the binary dichotomies and standards often can’t win the “how much skin is too much skin?” fight reminds me that I am not alone in this- but there is also a twinge of despair in there. “If cis-folks can’t just exist in the world without people policing their bodies and using their bodies to blame and shame them,” I think, “how can I ever hope to?” And maybe I can’t. Sometimes, with a body configured the way that mine is, with an identity that manifests the way that mine does, every action I take with my body- from using a public bathroom to getting dressed and going to the supermarket- feels like a revolutionary action, simply because it is being done by this body, and this body (clothed or otherwise) has to fight for a space to exist. And sometimes, I get tired of being a revolutionary just because I woke up

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and left my house (instead of actually doing something revolutionary). So I seek respite and reprieve where I can. And if kink camp is the space where I feel completely comfortable in my body and in my skin, where my back hurts because my posture is finally amazing, where I have to use sunblock for once in my life because the breasts and my butt are the only parts of my body at risk of burning, then I go to kink camp.

Certainly, this is not the experience of every trans person. Binary or non-binary, I know plenty of trans people who don’t feel comfortable being naked in public. My relationship with my body as a trans person is unique, and I would be curious to see how I would feel in a nudist space that was not inherently sexual in nature. Nonetheless, though, my experience as a trans person cannot be separated from my relationship with nudity because both require an element of examination of internal comfort and external presentation.

It’s about nudity, but it’s about more than nudity. It’s about an understanding that my body is really not that strange, although living in this world would have many believe otherwise. It’s about claiming that space, not because I am so interesting, but because every body is interesting- your body, and mine, and the person next door, and Robin’s and whomever- all bodies are interesting and beautiful. Being able to be naked- whether the space is inherently sexual or not- takes away the shock of people being naked which, in turn, means people stop fixating on what’s between people’s legs and start wondering more about what’s inside people’s heads.

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What do you think? What are your thoughts on nudity? Please share below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed.