Holy Fantasy, Holy Reality

. . . holy communion without bread and wine, bodies spirits shared . . . .

We found ourselves recently talking about sexual fantasy. We decided to write about it from our personal perspectives, believing that this is a healthy form of expression (whether we actually enact the fantasy or not). Our writing took us in different directions and we decided to share one this week by Robin and one the next week by Malachi.

NOTE: This week’s offering may push religious boundaries, even shock some readers. 

Robin:

I begin by warming the organic coconut oil
(necessary in cooler months),
come into my prayer space naked as I was created,
lighting three candles, one for each companion
with whom I yearn to sit;
I place a cloth on the chair and sit
dipping my hand into the oil,
lovingly rub it on my flaccid cock
and greet Holy Parent, Beloved Son, Blessed/Blessing Spirit,
saying Thank You, God, Thank You, God, Thank You, God,
sometimes down the shaft on Thank You, up on God,
over and over, slowly, intentionally, wanting to experience God,
sometimes feeling energy around me, Thank You, God,
I feel you God, You are here, in my cock, yes, and body,
and around me, a largeness of space bigger than the room;
and soon I say Help me, God, Help me, God, Help me, God,
saying in between the names of loved ones in need,
Help me, God, Help them, God, Help me help them, God,
sometimes down the shaft on Help me, up on God,
and then again, Thank You, God, down and up, Thank You, God.
I continue for more down and up,
and in a while I begin to feel,
and to see in my mind’s eye,
my three companions,
similarly naked, each partaking of sacred oil
for their bodies, laying it generously
on Parental cock and clitoris, wondrous unity,
Son’s cock, Spirit’s clitoris, each amazing in perfection,
each and all of us feeling a warm blessing and communion,
I begin by saying, You are here, Thank You,
down on You are here, up on Thank You.
and after a while I say, I am here, So blessed,
down on I am here, up on So blessed,
and after some of that, I say, We are here, Joy!
down on We are here, up on Joy!
(and for some round and round, circling, raising the joy).
The movements can even become heated at times,
we sharing some energy, erotic connection,
sighing with pleasure, sometimes crying out
with rushes that can take us to peak
without falling over the other side.

I have more to say, words they already know,
But I am learning to say the prayer
Jesus taught, in Aramaic,
so I say, Abwoon d’bwashmaya
ah-b-woon dahb-wash-maya
(hearing from the tradition, Our Father/Creator)
Our birth in unity, O Birther,
Father Mother of the Cosmos,
down on Ab-woon, up on d’bwashmaya,
down on Our birth in unity, up on O Birther,
down on Father Mother, up on of the Cosmos,
and back to down on Ab-woon, up on d’bwashmaya,
repeating this sequence as many times as feels right.
After a while, I say: Nethqadash shmakh
nit-kadahsh sh-mahk
(hearing from the tradition, Hallowed be Your Name)
Clear space for the Name to live,
Focus Your light and dark within, make it useful,
down on Nethqadash, up on shmakh,
down on Clear space, up on for the Name to live,
down on Focus your light and dark within, up on make it useful,
repeating this sequence as many times as feels right.
After a while, I say: Teytey malkuthakh,
tā-tā malkootahk
(hearing from the tradition, Your Kingdom/realm come)
Creative Fire,
Create Your reign of unity now,
down on Teytey, up on malkuthakh,
down on Creative, up on fire,
down on Create Your reign, up on of unity now.

After more, I offer thanks again, down and up,
as we four gathered, peace and joy reflected
in the candlelight, small smiles of satisfaction
now and again crossing one face or another,
the up and down sometimes slow
sometimes more urgent, always sacred,
holy communion without bread and wine,
bodies spirits shared,
enjoying ourselves as if it were Eden again.
Perhaps it is.

aramaic-lords-prayer-pictureNOTE: If you are interested in the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, you might appreciate this YouTube video (beautiful images and a pleasant voice).

 

 

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

How do you feel about sexual fantasy? Is it part of your sex life? Do you ever write about your fantasies? Share them with your partner(s) or friends. Do you ever fantasize about lovemaking with religious figures? 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.

cunt_is_not_a_bad_word
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
http://farm9.static.flickr.com/8237/8425053733_e6a06805a2_m.jpg

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
http://beforeitsnews.com/mediadrop/uploads/2013/38/5c3d622bbe350fbc957b1e3866f497da72aa5606.jpg

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.

Puzzling Through the Pieces: A Conversation

We really do have preconceived assumptions, and gender is probably the most obvious (yet so often hidden) and powerful one . . .

By Robin Gorsline and Malachi Grennell

Introduction:

These past two weeks, we have been exploring our relationships with our bodies- specifically, our experiences with gender. Two weeks ago, Malachi opened the discussion with some of his experiences, then Robin continued the discussion last week. This week, we decided to come together and record our conversation, exploring the vulnerabilities in writing these pieces for each of us, examining some of the assumptions we have (and face) when entering these conversations, and acknowledging shifts in perspective as we have grown and changed.

Malachi GrennellM: You and I have both said that these were vulnerable things for us to write… I didn’t know if we wanted to address that a little bit. We don’t really say it in either of our pieces, at least not directly, but it is. It can be easy to think, you know, “Oh, this is so easy to write,” or “They must do this so easily,” but I think there’s something to acknowledging that this was hard, for both of us.

revrobin2-023R: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I thought about this back when I had Jonathan read my post…and I was very nervous. He said when he finished, “Darling, that’s wonderful. It’s beautifully written, and you’re so brave and honest…I’m so proud of you, it’s just wonderful!” I was overwhelmed by that because that was not what I expected. I expected him to be appreciative, but saying, “Are you sure? Should you say this?” etc. Later, I thought, I was so concerned about this person, who is the most intimate person in my life, but there’s nobody else that I know where I would worry; then I thought, well, that’s not true. There are tons of people who, if they read what I wrote, I would experience some kind of anxiety about that. But if it went viral… there were would be a lot of unknown people, and I could probably care less about that. But there is a lot of vulnerability… that was very real to me. And we do need to talk about that, because that’s what we are encouraging people to do!

M: Well, and I think, in being vulnerable, I’ve learned over the course of my life that the things that make me feel vulnerable and exposed are not the things that make other people feel vulnerable and exposed. I can talk about sex and sexuality all day long…yet I didn’t say it in my post, but I told you, I have a lot of queer shame around sleeping with this one particular person. And so I feel a little vulnerable talking about, you know, as a radical queer blah-blah-blah person, sleeping with this cis-gender, heterosexual man who is kind of an asshole because it makes me feel  like I’m faking my politics, faking my beliefs. But it’s interesting because I feel like I’m an open book, until I realize that the things that make me feel vulnerable are just…different. And I wonder if sometimes I come off as seeming very vulnerable or seeming very open, but never actually being forced to push myself…and then when I do, it doesn’t necessarily seem like it.

R: I hear that… I’ve certainly done some talking over the years that I think has put people off, and it usually has been around sexuality or sex. At the same time, for me, talking about it so openly… talking about the size of my penis is, for me, a vulnerable place on one hand, and on the other, it’s an effort at self-healing because it’s something I have carried all my life. I’ve never been entirely comfortable and I’m working really hard to become comfortable with it and finding it easier to do but part of that is because I’m opening up about it and not just pretending it doesn’t exist…and that kind of feeling can come from letting yourself be vulnerable and working through it.

M: I definitely agree with that.

R: Everyone could be helped if we could lead some kind of revolution, if you will, so that more and more people became more vulnerable. So we can talk about… like you’re talking about with this guy where you feel two-faced, and just being really open about it: “So the sex is good,” and that’s important too. Or body issues, whether it’s mine, or a woman with small breasts, or someone embarrassed about a scar, or feeling overweight or being too skinny…or no muscle, or whatever. It seems to be what you and are I finding ourselves doing, and I think it’s our purpose, which is maybe to set examples of openness. And the heavens haven’t fallen yet. They may, but they haven’t yet.

M: That’s something to think about…if this ever got big, people could go back and read these older posts. That’s the thing with the internet…if you put it up there, it’s there forever.

R: (laughs) Sure. But I would be, I think, happy if that happened. I know I would be. But I’m also not going to stop talking about it… I mean, there may come a time when I don’t need to talk about my small penis anymore, but it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t need to talk about it all the time, but when it’s appropriate and part of the conversation, I now feel much more able to say it. The first time I mentioned it on this blog…I was very oblique about it: “I don’t have a porn star’s body,” or something like that . . . if you read between the lines, and you were a thoughtful gay man, or even a man, you might think, “Oh, I bet he has a small dick,” or something, but it was very carefully scripted. And that felt risky in that moment, actually…so I’ve come a long way.

M: I do remember you writing that, it was right before you and I started writing together. So, you have come quite a long way and, you know, in not a whole lot of time. These things do shift, sometimes fairly quickly.

R: Well, part of it is having you, for me, having a partner, having a colleague. It makes a huge difference…it helps a great deal to have someone I trust to have these conversations with. In the process, I go through quite a lot of stuff. People need people to talk to, to have a trusted person to talk to. But you need that as a precursor, as a place to test out some stuff…you can say it more to other people once you figure out your feelings.

Malachi GrennellM: Yeah, absolutely… I’m a big fan of verbal processing in general. I think it’s really helpful to have someone that’s not the person that you’re engaged in whatever with- whether it’s a relationship or sex, I’m a big fan of having a person to talk to. The other thing I find really interesting…for me, as a trans person, I think there are a lot of assumptions about how I’m supposed to feel about my body that are not true for me. I don’t have gender dysphoria, I don’t have any problem with the anatomical configuration of my body. I like my body just fine now with some adjustments from testosterone. But I don’t want bottom surgery that would give me a penis, and I don’t necessarily want top surgery…my discomfort in my own skin has more to do with weight than gender, but I feel like there’s this assumption that, because I’m trans, I have to have certain feelings about my genitals and my anatomy that aren’t actually there. I think we have assumptions about what people are going to have concerns about because of their identity…How many of these conversations do we go into with assumptions about what we think someone else is going through?

revrobin2-023R: I think that’s a very good point. Yeah, I don’t know why I have such a feeling about my penis. It’s a long-time feeling…I’ve recorded some incidents that happened to me that made it feel much more important. I’ve carried those with me, even though I understand how nonsensical they are and wrongheaded the men were…I should rephrase that …not that they were so wrongheaded; they had their own needs and feelings and prejudices and whatever, and I didn’t need to take it in the way that I did, but I did. And there are whole things, on Tumblr, for example, that are devoted to men with small penises, and I started looking at them sometimes because I find it helpful to “put myself in context” if you will. I don’t spend a lot of time there, it’s not my “thing”…so that when I may see a guy with a big one, I think “That’s nice,” but then I also think, “Yeah, but… mine’s nice too.” But what you just said about trans people and yourself in relationship to expectations…and how that can be true of men and women and anyone, we do make assumptions about what’s important based on our own things, rather than what’s important to the person themselves. And I know men talk about various things besides penis size…muscle, weight, age… I mean, here I am aging. I have skin that isn’t as great looking- compared to what it was- and that bothers me, but it doesn’t have the same impact. It’s interesting how these things take deep root in us. How we look out in the world is affected by these phobias or fears or sense of inadequacy.

M: It’s interesting to me…I remember being a teenager and looking at older couples and thinking, “I could never be attracted to someone who looked like that”…and now I’m dating people who look like that, and I’m very attracted to them, but much less attracted to that younger, 18-year-old look. As we change, not only does our relationship with ourselves change, but what we find attractive changes. I’m wondering if there is something to be said, for a relationship between how we feel about ourselves and our own bodies and our own comfort with our bodies changing and how we express our outward desire who we are attracted to. I don’t know that there is, and I don’t know that that’s always true, but I wonder if there is some connection there between our inability to be comfortable with ourselves as growing, aging people that wants to cling to that sense of being “young and beautiful,” because this culture very much reveres the beauty of youth.

R: I think it is interesting…I think about, for myself, Jonathan is 13 years younger than I am. When we became a couple, he was very boyish…what’s interesting to me, I came across a picture from him at that time and I was surprised at how different he looked even though he’s the same basic person. And I thought, “Gosh, I really liked him then, but I REALLY like him now.” This earlier picture was adorable and sexy and cute and he was a wonderful human being and smart and all the things he is now… but there is something about the “now” person that is infinitely more attractive to me. So I can say that about him, but I struggle to say it about me, even though I’ve had the experience of saying, every decade, that “these are the best years of my life,” and it’s been true every time. But I often ignored my body- that wasn’t part of the calculation. Part of the reason for doing these things with you and the MCC online conference about sex and spirituality last fall is I want to change my relationship with my body. I think I’m more at peace with it, even though I still have issues. I’m not ignoring it anymore.  I have the luxury of being a white, gay male… a white male who could pretend my body wasn’t a big deal. I was a brainy person, and a spiritual person… but I didn’t put my body with my spirit. I didn’t let my body be a part of my spirituality, especially after I left the radical Faeries and got back into church full-time. That’s something to say…that’s true. I put my body on the shelf when I came back to be a pastor.

M: That’s a thing, that’s something I struggle with as a person of faith and I am a Christian and I love the church, but I also love so many of the pagan spaces I have been in that allow for a synthesis of bodies and spirituality. We miss something in that, as Christians, and that resonated with me as well.

R: Well, something I might want to mention as a part of our conversation…at General Conference, I would like to set aside some time to talk about these things. One of the things that occurs to me is how out there do I want to be? Because it occurs to me, I would like a little nude time with folks…I don’t know even know if I want to do it, but part of me does.

M: This has to do with vulnerability…..when you say to colleagues, let’s go get naked, not in sexual ways just be naked. You said at beginning, “people may stop speaking to me.” A concern or fear…How do we talk with people about things that make us feel scary, vulnerable?

R: It is so important to have people to talk with, which is a big part of the reason I am thinking about these things at General Conference. Trying to create more community….

Looking at your piece, fairly near the end, where you are talking about being in the mathematics program, and how the gender thing plays out there for you, partly because of being raised in one environment with women as female yourself, and living another way now, or both ways, your way of course, and noticing how few women there were. People expected you to be a boy in how you speak and act, and it is more complicated for you given your body and experience. This is about how we make assumptions, we see people and expect them to feel and be and behave a certain way. We really do have preconceived assumptions, and gender is probably the most obvious (yet so often hidden) and powerful one, race too, but with gender the division is 50/50 between two genderized groups, and it begins at the moment of birth…..Congratulations, you have a baby boy, or you have a baby girl.

M: Its funny, I’ve been looking at baby shower things. Can you believe, they have whole games to guess the sex of the baby. I had never heard this before; the centerpiece of the shower is guessing or revealing the sex of the baby. I have not been part of this baby shower world. I did not realize how focused people are on the sex of the baby. Most of my friends are queer, and not having babies. There are things like cake where it is either pink or blue and when you cut the cake it comes out pink or blue to show the sex. What!? That’s insane. I had no idea!

revrobin2-023 R: Yes it is very acute, and very real. We just make a whole series of assumptions about who a person is based on our perception of their gender. Which is back to the trans things, why the trans movement is so upsetting. Here are people who are changing sides, at least that is how it is perceived so often; even though they are not two opposite things, and even though you and others do not necessarily change their bodies, at least in terms of genitals. Your body is such a contravention of the mode because you haven’t removed your vagina and put a penis in its place, or reduced or removed your breasts, and yet you are making a claim–you are not going around saying I AM A MAN but you are making a claim for masculinity, or maleness, and your body doesn’t correspond in some ways. You’re not alone in this, but trans people really make it clear  how variable bodies are. For so many non-trans people, it seems always to be all about the genitals. When I was so intensely engaged in the marriage debate in Virginia, so much opposition to marriage equality was focused on genitals. So many claim that you have to have a man put his penis inside the vagina of the women to be marriage, saying it is about children, but its not really, it’s about genitals. Of course, marriage is not just about genitals; if that’s all it is, it won’t last long

M: Same thing with the “are you a boy or girl? It’s a fixation on the genitals, and people get really uncomfortable when you point that out.

R: When people like you who are more ambiguous in their gender presentation, or even unlike you, perhaps no facial hair, I would wonder how they saw themselves, and people whose names that are not clear about gender (like mine!), I sometimes felt this great need to get people into a box. Eventually, it dawned on me, why do I need to know? They were human beings and that is what counts. Why do I want to know? Maybe a few circumstances I might need to know, but most of the time is none of my business.  They can share if they wish, but if not I don’t need to know. I don’t think I am alone. We need to help people see this, to see the power of the assumptions and the need to get people in the right box.

Malachi Grennell M: It makes me think … [my partner] Kase and I have this kind of joke, about two kinds
of being androgynous…people where you don’t have enough gender characteristics and others where you have too much. With people like me, with breasts and facial hair, it’s “what do you see first?”, or like Kase, with no obvious signals, no facial hair, etc., and people confront him, “What are you?” How we interact with different bodies is very revealing.

 R: The assumptions though are very dangerous because they really are about control, not about encouraging or enlarging life, but keeping it under control, especially keeping women under control first I think.

 M: Oh yes. One of the first things we do as children is to learn to compartmentalize things, get things into boxes. This leads us to these assumptions. We believe the world is the way we saw it as children, and that’s just not true.

 R: With the whole earring thing for me, people look, and depending on the group or setting, some people seem to look more and look oddly. I also remember a little boy in an office waiting room, and he said to me, “Why are you wearing girls earrings?” He was very matter of fact,   probably age 5 or 6. His mother shushed him, and I said, “Oh its okay. What makes you think the earrings are boy or girl.” He just kind of looked at me, and his mother said, “That is a good point, the earrings are not people, they don’t have to be boys or girls.”

 M: Kids are so much better about gender things. I love it.  “Why does that girl have hair on her face,” talking about me. I love the things that kids see as gender, I have long hair so I must be a girl even though I have facial hair. Of course, the parents get uncomfortable, and I am like whatever….

 R: Our granddaughters, our marriage is just as normal for them as anything. When I visit by myself, or call alone, they ask right away where is Grampa? Its just normal (and they don’t ask about my earrings either). So they are open. How do we help adults get there?

M: Some of it will be generational.  I was part of the first wave of kids being raised openly by gay parents. Now kids have gay grandparents, my sister’s kids have a bunch of grandmothers. At some point it becomes normal even more than for my generation. So it is not necessarily queerness that will be their struggle; they will have their own body or sexual thing. It might be non-monogamy as the thing to get over, its becoming bigger and bigger, more talked about all the time. We’ve deconstructed  interracial marriage, not that racism is gone, still horrible racism, but gay marriage too. We’ve seen the same basic arguments about normalcy and boxes applied to 6,7,8 different things and hopefully we can get over it.

 R: Clearly, one of our missions with this blog, and other things we hope to do, is to help undo assumptions, contributing to deconstructing assumptions, reducing the power of assumptions

M: Yeah, God, I think, doesn’t deal with assumptions, but with where and who people actually are.

R: Amen!

Conclusion:

We could go on and on, so much more to say, to share. What we do know, what is our fervent belief, is that people need to be more open, to talk more. It so often comes down to trust, not only trusting another person, as important as that is in being open, but also in trusting God, trusting God to have made us beautiful in ourselves. The way we are made, in all our variety—as the Psalmist (139:14) says, “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made, wonderful are your works”—is worthy of celebration. It is time to stop hiding ourselves, stop walling off parts of ourselves that don’t fit someone’s idea of what is normal, stop pretending other people who are different are less than us, or abnormal. Oh, the beauty of creation lies in its infinite variety.

It really is a spiritual thing to be open, to share ourselves, to share our differences, our particularities, because in doing so we praise the Creator, and in doing so, we claim more life, not less.

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

What do you think? What is your gender experience, your embodied gender journey? Please share below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed.

Pieces of My Gender Puzzle . . . Thank God!

Our bodies come from God, each one a unique gift to celebrate . . .

by Robin Gorsline

I read Malachi’s post last week (click here for “Puzzle Pieces of God”) with great interest and joy–I so admire his honesty and wisdom. And it caused me to begin looking at my own gendered experience, realizing that even as a cis-gender, monogamy-choosing, much-older, self-identified gay male, I have particular bodily experiences and am on a continuing relational journey with my own body.  Here, I am sharing some of that journey. By sharing our experiences, we hope to encourage everyone to spend time recounting, celebrating and/or changing, and sharing their own gender journeys.

I will start with my earrings, or more accurately my ears, as the most gender-nonconforming part of my body. Many years ago,  I began wearing long dangly earrings–usually, though not always, ones that would be worn by those who are identified as women. I don’t know how this got started exactly, but at least one reason is that I began wearing a hoop or stud earring in my left ear–at the time, in New York, in accord with a custom of many self-identified men to signal we were gay. I remember a child, , asking me why I only decorated one ear. Did I not like the other one? I did not explain my sexuality to this child, making some  dismissive comment about “what people do.” But it got me thinking.

author's photo
author’s photo

Soon thereafter I went to a street crafts fair and found a pair of earrings I really liked–they spoke to me, a poor graduate student, enough that I splurged and brought them (see picture). When I put one on it felt odd, because the dangle made me feel a bit off-center as I walked and it bobbled. Okay. I had my right ear pierced, and after going through the healing time, I put one in each ear. Yes!!! It felt good.

By this time, I had a pretty high-level job at a prestigious Manhattan non-profit, and did not feel comfortable or safe wearing them to work. But I wore them on weekends and to church (that’s a statement about MCC–in this case, church was the one public place I felt comfortable being me, something that does not happen to many people), and sometimes even put them on in the evening. And I began collecting earrings. My daughters gave me earrings for Father’s Day, and my birthday, too (the rest of my family barely mentioned it, a sign of their discomfort).

My earring collection (at least most of it)
My earring collection (at least most of it)

When I began seeking a church to serve, I wore earrings in my sermon videos so they would know how I presented myself. And when the Metropolitan Community Church called me to interview in Richmond, I packed my earrings and wore them during the entire visit. And they chose me to be their pastor!!! I felt so affirmed.

Some years later, I discovered that although most of the church was “okay” with my wearing them, they also felt my earrings were costing us new members. So I took them off in 2010 (and many, though not all, members thanked me), and did not wear them (except occasionally around the house to keep the holes open). I do not think their absence helped us recruit new members, but I did not put them back on in public until last fall. Now I wear them all the time.

And I am so happy. I present now as me.  Can’t imagine going back. But my gender experience/journey is not so easily pigeon-holed, and not just because of earrings (I have never wanted a cock-ring, although for many years I had a nipple ring, only removing it due to a medical procedure).

pinterest.com
pinterest.com

Along the way, I have been asked if I am transgender. I always answer “no,” because I have not felt a desire to change my gender. Some transgender people have wondered if I am afraid to fully embrace my trans-self. It has never felt that way to me. I have felt sometimes that they were trying to get me to change boxes–it almost seemed like a variation on the gender binary, even if they did not mean it that way. I have said, whenever asked, that I am simply being my version of a male-identified person (see more below).

But I also have understood that it is not that simple, and that it might seem to some that I am “playing” transgender–doing something a little transgressive but not out there enough to pose any real danger to myself (from my trans friends and many things I have read, I am well aware of the risks they often face, not to mention homicide rates among transgender women of color, and suicide rates, too).

amazon.com
amazon.com

Over the years, I have said many times, channeling Martine Rothblatt in The Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender (you can buy it here), that there are as many genders as there are people; in other words, each one of us is a unique set of characteristics and behaviors and preferences, some of which are genetic and many of which are simply choices for pleasure, convention, and even aesthetics. The gender binary is really, in my view, a social convenience, and a way to keep one group (namely the male-identified) on top, and as we see in these “bathroom bills” and other regulations, to prevent the people who want or need to live outside the binary from being able to do so without penalty.

With Rothblatt and quite a few others, I even think that sexual orientation is overly, narrowly, constructed as three (or four, including asexuality) self-contained categories. But that topic is for another time.

Back to my body. One particularly important part about my relationship with my body and my gender is my relationship to nudity. I really enjoy being naked, seeing it, in part at least, as a celebration of the body God gives me. I have long enjoyed clothing optional beaches. My husband, Jonathan, and I met at a Radical Faerie gathering–if we were not naked at the moment of meeting, then it was not long after that we were, along with many other male-identified persons. Such is the nature of these gatherings. And over the six years we were friends before becoming a couple, I spent some delightful nude time with him and his then-partner and other friends.

naturalian.blogspot.com
naturalian.blogspot.com

I think I am somewhat of an exhibitionist, but I also think I like to be nude because I want to feel my penis, I want to be aware of it. When flaccid, it is very small, and I am often unaware of it. My testicles and scrotum are also small (and have become smaller due to testosterone supplements).

I have often thought, but not ever asked until now, if those with larger penises are more aware of theirs as they sit, walk, etc. Do they feel it rub against the fabric? (I would be glad for some responses to this question; feel free to share below or by email with me). I know some men (presumably with larger penises and/or scrota) seem to need to rearrange things “down there,” something that rarely happens to me.

When I am naked I can touch my penis easily, reassuring myself it is there, and if I go “commando” (without underwear) I can often feel the fabric of my pants rub against it. It is a real delight, not overtly sexual but certainly pleasurable (and that is true of social nudity, too).

healthtap.com
healthtap.com

This also may be a way to reassure myself of my maleness.  In this way, it is a gender issue: needing the affirmation of a penis to feel truly male-identified. When I become erect (something that is not so easy these days, with age and erectile dysfunction, but it is not impossible, thank God) or even somewhat rising, I feel very good, not only from those wonderful sensations, but also I think as an affirmation of my male-ness.

During my single years in New York, I sometimes put on a skirt (or at least wrapped a cloth around my waist) and went, without underwear, on the subway to a favorite gay bar in midtown. I really enjoyed the feeling of air against my genitals. But I also did that at home at times, and even at Faerie gatherings and the nude beach–because I like wearing a skirt. This is part of my gender expression.

What if I don’t really fit completely into any box? Better in some, not so well in others, but I have a piece of all. I like my penis, I like other penises, but I also wear often what many would call female earrings, and even clothes.

equalgenderpro.wordpress.com
equalgenderpro.wordpress.com

Rothblatt says, “Genitals are as irrelevant to one’s role in society as skin tone.” She is not denying the power of either in our society—white privilege and racism are alive and well, as is sexism—but she is suggesting that neither is determinative of our innate ability to be fully functioning, valuable, and necessary participants in the life of the world.

I see my gender/body journey as a continuing exploration of all the parts of me, parts that, in my worldview, come from God. I now claim wearing earrings, for example, as a call to model divine diversity.  We know that God does not want us to maintain the racialized body hierarchies we have created, even as we seem to have trouble overcoming them. In the same way, God continues to prod me, and many others, to do our part to overcome the humanly-created genderized and sexualized binaries and hierarchies.

I believe our bodies come from God, each one a unique gift to celebrate. It is way past time for us to unwrap and break down the boxes-which are often more like prisons really–and share, expose, live, our whole embodied truths.

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

What do you think? What is your gender experience, your embodied gender journey? Please share below, or write Malachi and/or me at the emails listed.

 

Does Size Matter? Does Blood Count?

Let’s engage in real discussion about bodies and sexuality in ways that don’t require someone else to be put down . . .

We are a culture that is simultaneously obsessed with sex while instilling a sense of shame and belief that our bodies are inherently “not good enough.”  Remember Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl in 2009—the shock and horror expressed by so many at the sight of a female breast on national television resulted in moralistic finger-pointing and efforts to make sure such exposure would never happen again.

Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction thedailybeast com
thedailybeast.com

As mentioned last week, advertisers take advantage of this by creating a sense of envy in each of us by portraying models that embody characteristics we find desirable. We compare ourselves to these models and find ourselves coming up short. Perhaps this is why we are addicted to sex scandals in the media: as uncomfortable, and even terrible, as it is for the people caught in the midst of a media blitz, it provides a sense of triumph for the rest of us:  we can see that these people and these bodies we had previously (and perhaps somewhat unconsciously) cast as superior in our minds are truly no different than, and perhaps morally inferior to, us.

The danger, however, is one that is instilled in each of us from childhood. From anti-bullying talks and lessons many of us heard from parents, we know that the way to feel good about ourselves should never come at the expense of someone else. Unfortunately, we see this happening time and time again, even showing up in the discussions and debates from presidential candidates. But even further than simply an underlying sense of shame and degradation, we see the roots of sexism and racism present in how these comments are both presented and interpreted.

penis to be proud of mobogenie com
mobogenie.com

Marco Rubio stated that Donald Trump has small hands and “you know what that means.” And, of course, many (if not most) of us do: small hands (or small feet) in some way indicates that a man has a small penis, and in this society, we have an underlying message that size=importance. And, of course, Trump took the bait and made sure everyone knew Rubio was wrong (“I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.”).

There is a sentiment, perhaps unconscious but nonetheless real, among white men in particular that penis size has some bearing on their importance. The porn industry has played on this by objectifying and fetishizing the image of “big black men” with small, white women for years, promoting what began in our deep racialized past. Not only are comments such as these designed to humiliate and/or denigrate a person based on a barometer that has no bearing on fitness for high political office, but it is a sentiment predominantly perpetrated by white men because there are other assumptions rampant in this society that are directly related to the penis size of black men (and it has very little to do with holding high office). The racial double-standard is one that is easily overlooked, but must be discussed if it can ever be dismantled.

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

To our knowledge, no one has talked about the size of Barack Obama’s penis. That may be because he does not present as a “big Black buck” fresh off the plantation,  but the loathing towards the President, expressed by so many people who consider themselves white, surely has some roots in this ugly mythology.

And of course, what does this equation mean in relation to the women who seek office, and those who seek to compete in corporate boardrooms and politics? If penis size=importance, then women are entirely left out of the discussion.

Or, if a woman is strong (e.g., Hillary Clinton), she can be seen as too much like a man, yet still held to different standards. She lacks a penis but she makes up for it by being “tough,” often seen as “strident,” meaning she is not soft and feminine (also see Freud and others on “penis envy”). Where a man is described as a “strong leader” or “innovative thinker,” women who display similar attributes are considered “control freaks” or often just considered “bitchy.”  This further connects to a distinctly feminine bodily activity:  menstruation.

female period-glitter thepulpzine com
thepulpzine.com

Donald Trump, reacting to Megyn Kelly’s unwelcome questions, stated that she was  “bleeding from her eyes… bleeding from her…wherever.” Clearly meant to insinuate that Ms. Kelly’s comments were the result of a hormone-induced menstrual cycle, it not only serves to put down Ms. Kelly, but also reaffirm the idea that women who are menstruating are not capable of having informed, logical discussions.  Women are expected to be emotional… but not too emotional.

It is striking that, while men are evaluated about their “manhood”  based on something they are ultimately expected to take pride in (their penis and penis size), women are judged based on something that they are supposed to hide and be ashamed of (menstruation). There have been outrages on social media platforms because photos of women- fully clothed- with spots of period blood on their pants were taken down as obscene (ironically, in a set of photographs designed to show the realities, struggles, and shame around menstruation).

tampax-pearl-updated2The truth is, these attacks are not only irrelevant to the discussion of presidential candidates, but they are reinforcing social stigmas and prejudices. Furthermore, they are creating a model as leaders that says we should behave this way–that when someone disagrees with you, you should bully them and shame them about something that is not relevant to the topic at hand. Rather than modeling adult, professional methods of disagreement, we see our potential future leaders resorting to tactics that are being undermined in kindergarten, elementary, and high school classrooms where young people are being taught alternative models of behavior.

And our concern is that in both these cases and others, political discourse is sexualized without anyone actually have to use the word “sex.” These are examples of sexual innuendo which is rife in our culture.

The use of (often barely) coded language reveals an essential truth, namely that the only way we can talk openly, publicly about sex and certain body parts is through circumlocutions, indirection, and in many cases through anxious humor (Rubio’s remarks were met with nervous laughter from the crowd, according to news reports).

sex-ed-2 henajafri wordpress com
henajafri.wordpress.com

But it is no surprise to us that this sort of conversation is happening in public, since it clearly happens all the time in less public venues. The idea that hand/finger size correlates to penis size is pretty common, and there are many people who don’t think women can be trusted with challenging tasks because of their inability to be rational at least a few days each month.

Increasingly, what was once private, even taboo, is now becoming public. But there is a difference between ‘public” and being “open.” Most men and probably many women don’t know how to have easeful conversations about menstruation, and the entire culture is pretty much in denial publicly about male and female body parts “down there.”

This is true even as there is a trend on parts of cable television, and in film, to show penises, and as many continue to press for more women in leadership roles in business and government.

We are a society hung up on sex but afraid to admit it. And we surely are afraid to admit that we engage in all sorts of assumptions and judgments based on bodily appearance.

We must do better. Let’s engage in real discussion about bodies and sexuality in ways that don’t require someone else to be put down in order for us to feel empowered.

Solo Sex, Sacred Sex

. . . masturbation, or solo sex or self-pleasuring as it is also known, is a gift from God for the people of God . . . .

[Note: this blog post is focused on a sensitive topic; the images on the page are very mild, but there are links to two teaching sites that are more sexually open. Also, I want to acknowledge the editorial and content assistance generously provided by Malachi Grennnell, good friend and cherished colleague.]

Masturbation gets a bad rap.

Even though many people do it. Even though it is not illegal.

But it won’t get a bad rap here.

national masturbation month linkedin com
linkedin.com

Indeed, it is my view that masturbation, or solo sex or self-pleasuring as it is also known, is a gift from God for the people of God. As a Christian theologian, it seems clear to me that God delights in sexual pleasure, provided no one is injured. And as was stated last week in terms of partnered sex (see More Sex, Sacred Sex), Lent is a great time for single people, and others who choose to masturbate by themselves or with others, to engage in sacred self-pleasuring, meditative masturbation, not only for the joy of it and for feeling good about our bodies but also for the avenue of divine engagement and closeness it can provide. Engaging in sacred sex, partnered or alone, deepens our intimate relationship with ourselves, God, and others.

is masturbation a sin yurlystasyuk com
yurlystasyuk.com

As a society, however, embracing our solo sexuality as a method of communing with the Holy is barred by a series of sociological and religious ideological practices that have permeated our understanding of masturbation. So before we can move toward embracing solo sexuality as a meditative process, we need to dismantle some of the myths around masturbation:

  • Religious institutions frequently condemn masturbation as a practice.

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church teaches that masturbation is “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” Evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians generally share the sentiment, although there is some more recent deviation from that perspective. Similarly, Islam generally teaches that masturbation is contrary to God. However, many mainstream Protestants have been reducing their condemnation (and some writers, theologians and ethicists now affirm the value of it).  Jews often refer to the biblical text in which Onan “spills his seed,” but other than the Orthodox, there is not an outright prohibition within Judaism. In short, many of the religious institutions rooted in more conservative theologies and worldviews tend to view masturbation in a negative light; however, many of the organizations that do are also rooted in the belief that the primary role of sex is to procreate. These two perspectives (masturbation is bad and sex is for procreation) also lend themselves easily to the condemnation of same-sex couples. The structure and framework of these practices tend to be rooted in self-shaming, and for those of us seeking to embrace the Holy through our sexual selves, there is very little in the teachings of these practices that is congruent with our lives. Why should we continue to maintain this ideology about masturbation when we have shrugged off similar teachings about partnered sex and relationship dynamics?

  • Masturbation leads to addiction.
SONY DSC
lifefocus-tv

In the past few years, another concern involving masturbation has arisen, namely easy access to online pornography which has for some led to addictive behavior–endless masturbation sessions online (either in terms of frequency or duration, or both). Clinicians have expressed concern as with other forms of addictive behavior but not all professional bodies have expressed it with the same degree of concern. It is important to note that addiction to porn is not the same thing as addiction to masturbation, nor does one necessarily lead to the other.

In addition, of course, addictive use of pornographic materials or masturbation does not, as is true in the case of any sexual or other behavioral or substance addictions, mean that either is bad in and of itself. As is the case with alcoholism, e.g., the problem is not the substance per se (pornography or masturbation), but rather the spiral of addiction itself.

In short, we can absolutely support healthy masturbation practices without supporting obsession or addiction.

  • Masturbation is just a means of achieving relief–to be over and done as fast as possible.
The Quickie  theshorthorn com
theshorthorn.com

Perhaps one of the most pervasive perspectives of this climate is the idea that our bodies are inherently “not good enough.” We are inundated with messages that teach us to be self-shaming: our weight, the size of our breasts or penises, how we express ourselves. With these repetitious messages that we are “not good enough,” it’s no wonder that we approach masturbation as a mechanical act, a necessary relief to be finished as fast as possible.

We are not taught to celebrate our bodies, but to hide and shame them. We are taught that there is something wrong with us, even down to how we manage our pubic hair (discussions around shaving/trimming/managing pubic hair is perhaps one of the most intrinsic ways that we feel shame around these ideas that our bodies are “not good enough”).

naked praying man frank-answers com
frank-answers.com

Masturbation as a meditative practice can help to combat the idea that we are inherently flawed. While we are bombarded daily with impossible images and ideals of the perfect bodies, we must learn to combat these social messages with nurturing care to the body we were given. Practicing masturbation as a means of embracing our bodies (which were created in the image of God) is one of the most powerful ways we can learn to love ourselves. And it is important to state that loving ourselves, children of God, is a way of honoring God.

So how can solo sex or self-pleasuring or masturbation–or “jacking off” or “jilling off,” depending on gender–help us deepen our spiritual lives? Learning a little about two teachers of masturbation may help us answer this question.

naked praying woman lowbird com
lowbird.com

Betty Dodson, Ph.D., is the “Masturbation Maven” of our time. She single-handedly helped women in the earlier heady days of feminism, and even now, to learn to love their bodies through self-pleasuring. Her classic text is Sex for One: The Joy of Self-Loving. She really brought the clitoris, and its pleasuring, into the light of day for untold numbers of women. And, as she says, in the process, she freed many women to finally have real orgasms through heterosexual intercourse. No more faking it, thanks to Betty. Later in her career, she even led masturbation sessions for men.

Betty Dodson eventbrite com
Betty Dodson eventbrite.com

Dodson, now 86 and still teaching, writes of her experience of bringing together her practice of Transcendental Meditation and masturbation (activities that were part of her daily routine) when she was too busy to do each by itself. She switched from two twenty-minute TM sessions, one morning and one evening, to one forty-minute session of meditation with her vibrator (Betty is very big on vibrators, even encouraging men to try them on their penises), a practice that regularly led her to orgasm. She realized she felt “harmony between my body and my mind,” centered in her body and relaxed in her mind.

If you want to learn more about, or from, Betty Dodson–which I encourage for women, and men, too–click here for her website, where you will find all sorts of resources, some for free and others not, but all honest and sex-positive and caring. Please note that Betty does not hide body parts–her own and those of others. There is no shame here, so be prepared to see, e.g, a celebration of the clitoris, and hear frank talk about sex.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Bruce Grether prweb.com

More recently, she has a colleague on the male side of things, Bruce Grether. Since 1995, he has been “a male masturbation activist and teacher,” showing us, according to Joseph Kramer (another renowned teacher of sexual energy and pleasure, and the founder of the Body Electric School), “that the sustained sexual arousal produced from mindful masturbation gives us access to the magic deep within our hearts.” (click here to visit his website, Erotic Engineering). A note here, too. You will find lots of naked men on this site, mostly masturbating–and as with Betty’s site, lots of informed discussion about sexuality (Bruce is himself often, though not always, clothed).

Mindful masturbation, according to Grether, opens us to “limitless possibilities for bliss you can give yourself.” And masturbation, according to both Dodson and Grether, does not have to be a solo activity. Couples and lovers can share, and even groups. Older people, coupled and single, who may be experiencing less than the optimal functioning of earlier years, often find masturbation a very positive experience.

divine skies  icr.org
icr.org

One key element of mindful masturbation for men, according to Grether, is to not focus on ejaculation. This is not a race, but a process of self-pleasuring. Experienced practitioners can have many orgasms without ejaculation (did you know men can have “dry orgasms?). You might think of these as moments of divine revelation or connection–exquisite sensations taking over your body, then ebbing, and perhaps returning later after more stroking. Dodson, like all experts on female sexuality, stresses women’s ability for orgasmic release in waves–and both Grether and Dodson encourage staying with, enjoying and even learning from, all the feelings of pleasure.

So, what to do? Here are some suggestions for what is essentially a masturbatory meditation ritual/session. Here I am using my word “God” to stand for whatever greater or spiritual power you may identify in your life.

  • daily meditation 99u com
    99u.com

    Pray. Ask God to help you set aside a time and place to make love with and to yourself. Commit to setting aside this time–an hour or more if you can, to start with, but less if you are unsure (but not less than 20 minutes if at all possible). Try to set aside time at least several times a week–and more if possible. If scheduling is important, set a timer so you can be sure you go the full time but also stop when you need to for the rest of your life. Daily masturbatory meditation–morning or evening–would be ideal. This can feel strange, doing a new thing that contradicts much you may have been taught, so take time to breathe, to ask God to guide and protect you. The big thing here is to let God be with you, or more accurately because God already is, to let yourself be with God.

  • Find a space where you feel safe, comfortable (a good temperature for nakedness), and will not be disturbed. Light a candle if you wish. You might want music, but then it might distract your meditation–you will learn what works for you. Ask God to bless the space and your time together (you and God, and others if present).
  • candlelight freegreatpicture net
    freegreatpicture.net

    Pray. Ask God to help you take off all your clothes, one article at a time. Make a ritual out of getting undressed. Take a moment to smell the article of clothing, give thanks for its protection of your body. Touch yourself in the area where you removed an article of clothing as one way of getting closer to your body. Celebrate each area as your remove the layers. When you are naked, ask God to guide your hands to touch yourself all over, slowly, lovingly. Don’t rush this. Linger wherever you wish. Doing this in front of a mirror can be very enriching, but it is not necessary. What is important is that you allow yourself to enjoy the process, enjoy your body. Again, this may tap into issues of body shame–about specific body parts or your whole body–so breathe, ask God to help you see your body as God sees it, a divine creation of beauty and joy.

  • naked woman from back istockphoto com
    istockphoto.com

    A key to this process is breathing. So now that you are naked and more comfortable, sit quietly, eyes closed, and breathe. If you wish, you can visualize parts of your body and give thanks for their gifts to you. Breathe from the gut as much as possible. This helps energize your genital area.

  • Think of a mantra you want to use to help you stay focused on your embodied spiritual energy, and begin to say it. Repeating a word or phrase with each touching, or at least each time you find yourself moving toward a climax, keeps you grounded. Some people use a word, “love,” or “joy.” Others may use a phrase. “God is good, all the time” is one possibility. In my meditation, I am partial to a phrase from Franciscan writer Richard Rohr, “Astonish me with Your love!” Using the mantra helps you stay grounded in a meditative state. I also encourage you to listen for God, who may use this time to say something important and loving to you. Leave some space for God to “speak.”
  • Touch your pleasure organ–your clitoris or penis–and gently rub it. Feel the sensation. Just hold it for a while, too. Breathe. Then more rubbing/stroking, remembering to repeat your mantra, too. Also, touch around the organ, enjoy the neighborhood!
  • relax everthingandnothing com
    everythingandnothing.com

    Just stay with this as long as you can, not rushing, letting feelings of pleasure move through you. Touch yourself all over. Touch your penis or clitoris in different ways, rub them in different ways. The two websites mentioned above have many resources for techniques, ways of touching yourself to maximize sensation.

  • Of course, be open to orgasm and ejaculation but try not to rush it. Again, this can feel strange, since so many of us have been taught to release tension as quickly as we can. This is not about tension release, although that will happen, so much as it is about consciousness, God-consciousness for you. Try to ride the wave(s) of pleasure and feel yourself go deeper into ….. what? yourself, God, your soul, Holy Spirit–all of the above most likely.
  • Whatever happens, thank God!!!

I have laid out a pretty simple process. But I suspect for many, probably most, it will not be easy. We have issues to overcome, body- and sex-negativity that pervades our culture. So be gentle with yourself. Take your time, do this in stages if you have to, taking one or more sessions just to set the mood and get undressed and touch yourself a little. There is not a right way to do any of this, and you have the rest of your life to develop your own practice and style.

Keeping a holy Lent kingofpeace org
kingofpeace.org

This practice does not need to be limited to Lent; in fact, I hope you let it become a continuing part of your life. However, in Lent, when we have so often been told to give something up, perhaps you can choose to give up hurried, shame-based, masturbation for deeper self-loving that celebrates God and the body you have from God. That would be a new way of living to celebrate at Easter, or if you are Jewish, at Passover!

The key is to stay open to the endless possibilities, not only of pleasure but also of other forms of divine presence and revelation. Remember, pleasuring your body pleases, pleasures, God, too. In your shared pleasuring, you and the divine grow more united, more loving, more whole. And that will help you the rest of your day, the rest of your life, be filled with more positive energy—good for you and for the world.

Enjoy solo sex, sacred sex, today!

 

 

 

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: The Real Story?

So, if Jesus had a penis (see prior post here), then Mary had a vagina, right? Well, of course. And Joseph had a penis, too.

Jesus may have been the result of immaculate conception, but surely his birth was like every other human birth–Mary carrying him for nine months to term (remember her visit to Elizabeth?), then her water breaking, and the contractions beginning, and her having to push and push and push. Apparently, he was her first child, so it was a lot of work (births after the first one are often far easier for the mother).

Mary, Jesus. and Joseph, in modern incarnation jesusisnotalone blogspot com
jesusisnotalone.blogspot.com

I don’t know the custom of that time, but I hope Joseph was there (while doubting it was permitted), encouraging her. Three of the absolutely most precious and wondrous times in my life were being present with my wife, Judy, at the births of our three daughters, holding her hand, giving her encouragement, hearing the first squalls from the newborn, and being able to wipe Judy’s sweaty brow and give her a kiss of the deepest gratitude and joy. I hope Joseph did not miss that.

Actually, I hope he did not miss the impregnation either. I know, I know. It was the Holy Spirit. But I have my doubts. In fact, I don’t believe he did miss it. I think Jesus was conceived in the usual way.

St. Paul's Brookline stpaulsbrookline org
stpaulsbrookline.org

I remember when, as a first-year seminarian in 1981 working in my field education parish, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookline, MA, the rector assigned me to meet with the weekly Women’s Bible Study. I began in Advent. As we finished what was my first meeting with them, I announced that the following week we would study Luke 1:26-38 (click here to read the text).

“Oh no,” said Elizabeth, a an older woman from England, “We don’t have to believe in the Virgin Birth, do we?” All eyes turned to me, the new guy (and the only man in the room), and as I took a deep breath, I said, “No you don’t. There are no litmus tests here.”

All during the week, I felt anxious about our next meeting. I chose not to tell the rector, feeling a bit like Joseph taking Mary and Jesus to Egypt to avoid trouble from Herod. That made me nervous, too.

giving birth pushing-lying-down  evidencebasedbirth com
evidencebasedbirth.com

During the actual discussion, these women, many of whom had given birth and all of whom were either married or engaged to men, were remarkably open in their story-telling and their hope that Jesus was conceived in the usual way. Frankly, I had never dared speak of my doubts until that night, and I kept much of it to myself–my job being to facilitate their exploration–but I felt sure they were right.

Over the years since, I have become convinced that the virgin birth was invented by the story-tellers and gospel writers of long ago. I don’t doubt it could have happened, and still could happen in another situation–all things are possible with God–but I have three reasons for thinking it did not in this case.

First, the God I know, from the biblical record, as well as my own life, chooses ordinary human beings and ordinary human situations through which to manifest the divine desire for wholeness in the world. I believe Joseph and Mary were, in this instance, the ordinary human vehicles God chose.

young_couple_having_passionate_sex_3-4_tmb anybunny com
anybunny.com

Second, I think they had sexual intercourse that led to the birth of Jesus before they were married. It is entirely in keeping with the biblical record that God would select the child born out of wedlock to carry the mantle of Messiah.  In fact, to do otherwise really runs counter to that record. But the disciples, and probably Mary and Joseph, and others, worried that the wider world would be scandalized by an illegitimate child being the Messiah. So they changed the story (biblical texts are filled with these “edits” by scribes and others).

Third, I surely believe Jesus was the son of God, but then I think each of us is a child of God. Jesus did not have to be born through impregnation of Mary by the Holy Spirit to become the Messiah–he did have to choose to use the gifts God gave him to be so but then God gives us similar gifts, too. The thing is, Jesus made the choice, and did not change his mind.

Children of God bobjones org
bobjones.org

There is a bit of the divine in each human being, and that holiness is passed on from God through our parents. Conception, the mating of a female egg and male sperm, is a moment of divinity in the body of the mother–a moment that is the continuation of the holy union of penis and vagina, followed by continued lovemaking, ejaculation by the male, and receiving of the semen by the female (as well as her own natural lubrication).

Now, I can hear abortion opponents saying, “See, abortion is the murder of one of God’s children.” I do not share that view. There are times when this union is not holy, certainly in the case of rape and incest. But even in the absence of those horrors, God gives us free will to choose how we will live with the gifts of God. Many women, for all sorts of reasons, choose to refuse the gift.

magnificat elobservadorenlinea com
elobservadorenlinea.com

Mary chose to keep this gift and nurture Jesus. Indeed, what we call the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) could be her response to the birth of Jesus even though the writer of Luke has placed it with her meeting with Elizabeth (and it is a wonderful hymn of gratitude for the gift, wherever it is placed in the story).

The view of Jesus’ conception espoused here has not only biblical resonance in terms of so much else in the record (just think of all the unlikely people God chooses to work through), but also undermines the sex negativity inherent in the texts we have received.

The church and indeed most of us as Christians have been influenced more by Platonisn–with its severe split between body and spirit–than by the earthiness of the Bible, the union of body and spirit that happens over and over again. This influence was enhanced by the account of Jesus’ conception.

shame-on-you cherispeak wordpress com
cherispeak.wordpress.com

Jesus and sex are kept a safe distance apart from conception to death–no sex between his parents leading to his birth, no hint of sex by him during his life, and a chaste cloth to cover his genitals on the cross. Nobody ever said this to me, but I imagine some priests or parents, or both, have told pubescent boys, “You mustn’t masturbate, Jesus didn’t, you know. He doesn’t want you doing it either.You must be pure like him.” Of course, that would involve those adults admitting (at least to themselves) that Jesus had “one of those things.”

jesus-feet-walking  umcholiness wordpress com
umcholiness.wordpress.com

Of course, this is my opinion. Biblical literalists will throw every text they can at me from the Gospels to prove me wrong. Many of them will even most likely tell me I am not a Christian (the good news is that not many such people read my writing).

But I know I love, and I do my best to follow, Jesus–the flesh and blood, fully embodied, incarnate, Jesus who walked the earth, taught, healed, loved, ate, peed and defecated, sweated, cried, wiped and maybe even picked his nose, and, I believe, had sex (as did his parents).

My Messiah was a real man, and his mother and father were real human beings, too.

Praise God!