Weighing In

I have a long, hard, complicated relationship with my body and weight . . . .

Malachi:

It’s that time of the year: New Year’s Resolutions, fad diets, pressure to “lose the holiday pounds,” and so forth. Everywhere I look, I see advertisements and products designed to encourage weight loss- particularly weight loss for women.

I have a long, hard, complicated relationship with my body and weight. As someone who was socialized female, I felt- and sometimes, still feel- the pressure and expectations to look a certain way, to have a certain body type. I developed an eating disorder in my late teens that manifested as an addictive process- an addiction to ephedrine-based diet pills.

When I stopped taking diet pills, it was partially because I looked at myself in the mirror one day, and it was like I was seeing my body in focus for the first time. I looked emaciated; you could count every rib without trying too hard. I looked straight down at my stomach, though, and realized that, from my perspective, I still looked fat. Still had a small pouch of untoned skin that I needed to get rid of.

I knew then that if I didn’t stop, this would kill me.

My weight, moreso even than my gender, is where most of my body dysmorphia is. I am larger-framed for a woman and small-framed for a man; even my body doesn’t like to conform to social expectations. I am, by BMI charts, still considered “overweight” at 5’9” and 160 pounds- never mind that my bone structure and frame aren’t taken into account for things like BMI.

I have an incredibly warped understand of what I think my body looks like versus what my body actually looks like. One of the most amazing (and, in many respects, healing) things I have done is look at photographs of myself in rope suspension. In those photographs, I look strong, competent, capable. My body looks how I mostly want my body to look. It’s disorienting and difficult, sometimes, to reconcile the images I see in photographs with the person looking back at me in the mirror, but I do that work every day.

Photo credit

This time of year is particularly difficult. With so much social pressure to lose weight and get in shape, I feel that pressure viscerally. I feel the old urges and habits creeping up. I have had to learn to differentiate between habits that support me getting healthier versus those that are aimed at getting thinner, and critically analyze whether I am doing something because I want to get closer to the internal image I have of myself, or whether I’m doing something because I want other people to see me in a specific way.

And that’s an important point: I have a habit of dating people who are physically in much better shape than I am, and compounded with my already-warped understanding of my body, makes me feel incredibly self-conscious when lying naked with people who have well-developed abdominal muscles and lean, thin frames. I have to remember (often with conscious mental reminders) that I do not need to change my body for the people I am attracted to. Clearly, if I’m lying naked beside them, they are already attracted to me!

I remember, about two years ago when my partner and I were actively trying to get pregnant, I was on prenatal vitamins, which shifted my weight distribution to make me curvier (and I’ve already got plenty of curve). Several of the women that lived near me commented that I was getting “thick,” a phrase often used in the black community to compliment a women on the size of her thighs and butt. I remember having incredibly conflicted feelings- recognizing that the comment was a compliment, feeling self-conscious about how I was carrying my weight, recognizing that beauty standards and “thinness” are incredibly racist constructs that discount the body shapes of many women of color, feeling uncomfortable about people making comments about my body at all. I’m not sure I was ever able to reconcile those feelings, beyond recognizing that discomfort with having my weight distributed in a particular way was an incredibly racist outlook on bodies… but I still didn’t know how to shake my fear that I was gaining weight.

Photo: honey_bare

This past weekend, I attended a two-day rope suspension intensive with a sweetheart of mine that culminated in each of us doing a series of different ties that focused on transitioning a body through various positions in rope. The person I was with videotaped first him tying me, then me tying him. As I watched the videos later, I was astounded at what my body looked like in someone else’s rope (I usually tie myself in different positions, and don’t have as many images of being tied by other people). He chuckled a bit as I kept exclaiming, “But… is that really me?!” at the video as we watched it, reminding me that that is what I look like. Watching that video felt eye-opening to me, to really see and experience how my body moves, where the musculature is well-defined, how my first person perception is immensely skewed when compared to the third-person perspective I got to see through watching the video.

These two experiences stand out vividly as reminders that what other people see and appreciate about my body are not the things I see. They are reminders that what we see is based on our own experiences: gender, cultural, racial, social, socioeconomic, etc. What we see and value, both in ourselves and in others, is directly connected to the things we are taught to appreciate through social and environmental influences. As a result, it can be difficult to divorce what we do for ourselves from what we do to gain approval from other people.

It’s hard to differentiate what actions I take because I want to look good for other people, and what actions I take because I want to get closer to my internal “ideal” of what I think I should look like- particularly when that “ideal” might not be attainable for my body type (I will never, for example, be a 6’4” cis man with broad shoulders, which is what I think I should look like about half the time. I will also never be a 5’4” cis woman that fits into petite clothing, which is often the other image I have in my mind of what I think I should try to look like).

I think it’s good to be healthy. I think it’s good to do things that promote a sense of comfort in our own skin. But in this culture- one that pressures women (in particular, although I absolutely appreciate that there is pressure on men as well) to look a certain way (particularly for the benefit of attracting men)- it can be hard to differentiate what we do for ourselves versus what we do for the benefit of other people.

What is your ideal image of yourself? Is it something that is attainable? Why is that your ideal, and how is it different than how you currently see yourself? Are there any roadblocks that might prevent you from seeing or realizing when you have hit your ideal image of yourself? And most importantly, regardless of anything else, how can we learn to love, appreciate, and honor the bodies we have now- even as we take steps to support the health of our bodies? We must ask ourselves these questions before giving in to the latest diet, the newest weight loss miracle drug, before we start obsessing over calories and starving ourselves so that we can “afford” to have a piece of cake. These things are things that have the potential to do harm to our bodies if not done carefully and with a lot of critical thought.

We must learn how to love the skin we are in, so that, if we decide we want to take steps toward changing it, we do so with love and not from a place of self-deprecation and shame. This is something I remind myself every day, because we are all still works in progress.

Robin:

I stripped and stepped on the scale Monday morning—part of my weekly ritual upon rising. I looked down and frowned. No matter how I stood, the reading was 185. Damn!

I had hoped for 180, or at least 182—it was 183 the previous Monday. For more than two months, I have been using an iPhone app called “Lose it,” seeking to reduce my weight from 202 to 180. I have done well with this easy way to track my caloric intake and exercise. Despite this setback, I remain confident that I will get to 180.

Why am I doing this?

For one thing, I realized that as I age (I am now 71) my health will be more stable without excess weight. The friend who introduced me to this app, a man of similar age and build to me, had similar thoughts—and when I saw him it was clearly working. So I decided to try.

But, and this is a big “but” (my other butt is not huge but ample), I also admit I want to look good. This is especially so now that I have become an avid nudist, hanging out when I can with other naked folks (and by myself too). Further, I am seeking to do some life (nude) modeling for artists and photographers. Wouldn’t it be great if I lost much, if not most, of that “spare tire” around the middle? Wouldn’t I look better, as well as feel better?

For whom? For me, or for others? Or is it both?

I had not done much self-analysis about all this until Malachi and I talked recently. As he described the pressure woman-identified people feel from society to look a certain way, to be thin, to fit into a bathing suit without any fat showing, to wear certain types of clothing to look sexy in alluring bodies, I realized that men, especially gay men, are not immune to this either. But I know the most severe social pressure is applied to women to “look good.” In our patriarchal, sexist-dominated culture where abuse and rape run rampant, that translates into “look sexy.”

All this is big business, too. Weight-loss products and anti-aging treatments and surgery are highly profitable for many companies and others. In that sense, it is hard, perhaps impossible, to stay centered in a seeking one’s own well-being without simultaneously viewing our bodies as commodities to be trimmed and shaped and made acceptable and desirable to the greater culture.

I want to push against all this pressure. I will say here, as I often say, every body, every single body, is beautiful and worthy. Period. All God’s creatures are beautiful! I believe that with all my heart and soul.

And I also know that I can draw back in some horror, I pray not disgust, when I see someone, of any gender, in what medical practitioners would consider a very obese state (but of course, I am not a medical professional, and besides no one asked me for a diagnosis). I do correct myself, and do my best to suspend any judgment, even seeking, where appropriate, to be friendly.

So the social rules and patterns are powerful. We are victims and we are perpetrators, too. At least I am, based on what I know are my own reactions. I suspect others can feel my judgment even as I try to reign it in. As several friends have told me over the years, they assume others are judging them for their weight, and it colors their own sense of self and behavior.

What a loss for them, and for the rest of us! We are helping people, good people, feel bad about themselves, and that inevitably means they can, will, be less productive as individuals, less positive about life, and less willing to participate to the vitality of our common life.

As part of my preparation for this piece, I checked on my BMI (body mass index), that medical model of adult body fat, and discovered that when I started my effort at losing weight at 202 pounds I had an “overweight BMI” of 26.7. If I had weighed just 26 pounds more, at 228, I would have had an “obese BMI” of 30.1. Yikes, I can tell you I was above that not too many years ago.

And when I reach my goal weight of 180, I will register a “normal BMI” of 23.7. Whew! A normie. I actually reached “normality” at 189 pounds. Thirty-nine pounds (on my height of 6’1”) separates me from obesity and “normality.”

Make no mistake. I am glad to have lost weight, and part of that is because I like how I feel.  I also like being able to wear 36”-waist jeans instead of 38s (and to think there was a time when I wore 42).

I also enjoy looking at myself in the mirror more than I used to, partly because I like the fact that my little dick and balls hang better and thus look bigger, now that some of my abdominal fat is gone.

But this is also reflects my desire to claim what I feel is my inner spiritual identity as a lean and lanky cis-bodied man. So, this weight-loss effort is part of a self-improvement, self-actualization, project. I realize that until I began to take seriously living naked as much as possible (not so possible at this cold time of year) I did not treat my body all that well. This change has been good.

Our motives and intentions matter.  And it is vital that we understand at the same time that we do not engage our own bodies, and the bodies of others, in a social vacuum. My dream for myself is to shed the pounds and the unhealthy attitudes, and to activate, claim and honor, from my deepest soul and body, the whole human being I am created to be. And my dream for our world, certainly our body-phobic, body-obsessed U.S. culture, is that everyone can do that.

Stop the blame, stop the shame. Honor, respect and care for all.

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

How do you feel about your weight, your body image? Do you judge yourself for being overweight, or over-skinny, or for something else? Is your health more important to you than your appearance, or is it the other way around? 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! February 14, right here, the next installment of Sex, Bodies, Spirit.

Passive Bodies, Active Bodies

. . . the majority of our communication is non-verbal . . . .

Malachi:

I was spending time with a friend this past weekend, and I realized that they tend to speak in passive voice during conversation. Passive voice is a means of communicating that centers the object of the sentence, rather than the subject (for example, “I walked the dog” is active, whereas “The dog was walked by me” is passive). It’s an unusual style because it tends to feel ambiguous and somewhat awkward.

This got me thinking about communication in general, particularly because the majority of our communication is non-verbal. We have language to differentiate active and passive language when it comes to the words we use; however, I am beginning to think that extending that to our non-verbal communication could have a powerful effect on how present we are able to be in our bodies.

I feel like, for example, that I tend to speak actively but move in my body very passively. I allow things to happen to me, rather than acting upon the world around me. I have written elsewhere about my complicated relationship with acknowledging and expressing desire, but my partner used to say that I needed permission before I felt comfortable wanting something. That is, I needed to know that the desire was reciprocated before I was willing to acknowledge my own desires independently. I have a tendency to wait for things around me to settle before deciding where I want to position myself in my relationships and environments.

I don’t feel like this is the healthiest way to live, because it is reactionary

and responsive, rather than proactive. It also feels a bit dishonest, because

http://www.baggagereclaim.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/image6.jpg

it creates an image of wanting the same things as someone else, when it’s really more of an acceptance of what is being offered. If I existed less passively in my body- that is, if I were more willing to claim my own desires upfront- then I might find that myself and someone else want completely divergent things, and it could spare both of us a lot of heartache to realize that earlier on in a relationship.

Don’t get me wrong; I think there are times when existing passively is important and necessary. Moments, for example, where we recognize that the privileges afforded to us by our gender (or gender presentation), race (or presentation of race), ability, sexual orientation, authority, etc. put us in greater positions of power than those around us, we may actively choose to exist passively in our bodies in order to center or elevate those voices that are less commonly heard. But I think the key here is “actively choosing.” Passive movement isn’t inherently a bad thing, but I think doing so with intention is vital. Not only does it allow us to consider the complexities and intersections of oppression (and how we fit into them), but it also helps keep us grounded and centered in our bodies, even in those moments that we are existing more passively.

As someone who was assigned and socialized female through my childhood and teenage years, I think that women in particular are conditioned toward passive movement. Women are taught to endure microaggressions (such as unwarranted catcalling or comments that someone should smile) as compliments thrust upon them by strangers. Women are taught to be somewhat sexually submissive, allowing men to “make the first move.” When discussing sexual assault, women’s behavior (how much she had to drink, what she was wearing, what part of town she was in, etc.) is often centered, rather than the assaulter’s behavior. I don’t know if there can be a clearer case of the expectations of passive movement- where the object (the behavior of the woman who was assaulted) is the focus, rather than the subject (the behavior of the assaulter) or the action itself (the assault).

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In this way, I feel like passive movement and existence in our bodies contributes to rape culture. I say this, not at all meaning that “people passively allow themselves to get raped,” but that, when you have one group of people who are expected to allow things to happen and one group who is expected to do things, we end up in a toxic cycle. Rape culture (which, by definition, centers the actions of the receiving party, rather than the actions of the perpetrating party) very much enforces the passive existence of women and feminine-of-center individuals.

And while I am making generalizations here, I absolutely appreciate that there are men and masculine-of-center individuals who also tend toward passive movement for any number of reasons. I don’t mean to erase or discount those experiences, but I can only speak from my own personal experience and, having transgressed across gender lines a few times, I feel very strongly that the emphasis on men is active body language, whereas the emphasis on women is passive.

So how do we negotiate our relationship with our body language? How do we begin to center ourselves- when it’s appropriate- with our movements, our bodies, our actions? Like so many things, it is a sense of self-awareness, an active engagement in how our bodies move and interact with the world.

Do we allow the world to wash over us, to act upon us? Do we find ourselves reacting rather than acting more often than not? And if so, why is that? Where does that come from within each of us? It’s a form of being disconnected from ourselves, from our bodies, from our actions, from our desires. When and how might we shift from passive to active language with our bodies?

I don’ t know that there are universal answers to these questions. Every

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person moves through the world differently, and has to decide for themselves how they want to act and interact. For myself, though, I want to make a more intentional effort to be active in my body language- and more than just active, but proactive. To hear and honor the messages my body is telling me instead of the messages I have received from society that the needs of other should always surpass my own. I see the value and importance of taking up space and centering myself as the subject of my own life, rather than a passive object upon which life happens to.

Better yet, though, I am learning to see the value and importance in the wants, needs, and desires of my body. I am not willing to allow so much of my communication in the world to be so passive, and in order to get what we want, we must be willing to acknowledge what we want- and don’t want. As we grow into ourselves and new ways of understanding how we move through the world, may we do so with intention and deliberate action, rather than putting ourselves last in the focus of our own lives.

Robin:

Recently, during a conversation about sex and sexuality, I was asked if I revrobin2-023identify as a “top” or a “bottom.”

I found myself stammering a bit, not because I objected to the question
(although it feels old-fashioned) but because I felt unsure how to answer. In my early days as an out gay man, the term for some of us who enjoy being fucked and fucking another was “versatile.”  I don’t know if that terminology appears on today’s online sex sites or not. But after a little hemming and hawing that is the way I answered my friend.  After all, my husband and I have some routines we often (although not always) follow, and they involve us in various positions.

But when Malachi suggested we focus on active and passive bodies this week, I thought of that conversation—knowing that this is larger than just positions and practices during sex.

Speaking personally, I began to ask myself some questions. How do I stand, how do I walk, how do I, as the saying goes, carry my body (what an odd linguistic construction)? How do I sit in a chair, how do I place my body in a group of people?

posture chart-final-CopyWhen I was a full-time solo pastor, I recognized the importance of body language—both my own and learning to read others. I was the leader and wanted to convey authority and competence yet I also wanted to convey openness and enough vulnerability for people to want to trust me and talk to me. I don’t know how successful I was; I suspect I confused some people!

At the open communion in an MCC worship service, it is customary to offer the communicant prayer with the bread and cup. Clergy and lay servers alike have to learn to pay attention to body signals. Some people want you to practically hug them (as the hug you) during prayer while others slgnal keeping up to an arm’s length distance. There are subtle variations between those two poles. Respecting these signals is critical to the person being able to receive the blessing of the holy meal.

Gender often plays a significant role. Women are usually raised to listen, men to talk. But that is not about just speech patterns. In fact, speech is not the most important and powerful way we communicate. Our posture, the way we take up space, the tilt of our head, the direction of our eyes, all these and many other factors convey far more than the words from our mouths.

evolution of posture axisrmt com
axisrmt.com

The man who conveys his desire to listen—body seeming relaxed, looking directly at the speaker, perhaps head tilted just a little, nodding in comprehension or even agreement (perhaps a slight smile or murmur), conveys a different message from the man whose body seems tense, who is looking at his watch or beyond the speaker, not nodding but indicating an impatience and a desire to speak. There are women who exhibit these behaviors, too. Gender is important, but it is not necessarily determinative of every person or interaction. Many of us have learned, often due to work requirements or other needs, to overcome at least some of our early conditioning.

That conditioning may be the result of gendered socialization, but it also may be the result of other factors, including things that happened to us. I remember as a child, and even as a teenager, being uncomfortable in gatherings of my father’s family. They all were loud, talking over each other, and they also took up space—I mean by that they sat, stood, and walked in ways that made sure others knew they were not only in the room but also intended to take charge, even to be the center of the action. There was a lot of dominance behavior going on, even among the women.  I suspect the women learned it in self-defense.

Overacted VII generally shut down in those gatherings, unless someone specifically invited me to speak. Then I often stammered, despite intelligence and an ability to speak. I still engage in variations of that today. In a class or other group, I tend to be quiet. A professor in seminary told me that she loved to read what I wrote for her, but was disappointed by how little I shared aloud in class.

There is an exception to this general pattern. I am a comfortable public speaker.  Give me a role that requires me to not only speak but also stand up and assume center stage, and I will do it. That was true long before pastoring, but it served me well in that role, too.

So, active or passive?

I am tall, but do not stand and walk tall. Like many tall people, though far from all, I slouch. Recent, ongoing back pain is causing me to pay more attention to posture, so I think I am learning a bit about living in my tall body. Plus, as I wrote recently, I am seeking to claim what I think is my natural lankiness (see “Who Is Your Type?” ). That pain is also causing me to pay more attention to how I sit as I write. I also am using an adjustable height desk, so I write for 30-45 minutes while seated, and then shift and do the same while standing.

Passive vs active sciencewritingblog wordpress com
sciencewritingblog.wordpress.com

I really like writing, and even reading, while standing at the desk. I usually spend my days at home naked, and there is something very empowering for me to stand, naked, and write. I feel like I am claiming my body in a new, active, way.

I also attend some meetings regularly, sometimes sitting in a circle of chairs and other times at a table. I have been noticing lately that when sitting in a circle I tend to fold myself up, and when at a table I lean in with my head resting on my hand (my arm cocked at the elbow). As at my desk, I am paying more attention to my posture, and shifting to sit up tall.

Active or passive? It seems I lean toward passive, with a new commitment to become more active. This comports well with how I am coming to understand my life pattern for the past 50+ adult years. I am seeing now that I have lived a reactive life, doing what arrived in front of me whether it was actually mine to do or not.

Today, as I claim my vocation as a writer, learning to work on my own without an institutional structure to govern and guide me, I am becoming more active.

Neither passive or active is wrong or bad, of course. I am just hoping for more balance between the two. Surely, we are engineered for both—that reflects the largeness, the depth and width and breadth of God and God’s desire for us to be ourselves—and I am grateful to be broadening my horizon.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

How do identify your body and the ways you interact with others? Passive or active? Some of both? What difference does the context make? Do you see patterns in your body behavior and attitude that reflect, and do not reflect, social conditioning, gender roles, etc.? 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

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Please join us in about three weeks, THURSDAY, May 18th 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.

Who Is Your Type?

. . . let God reveal to you something that shows you how beautiful you are . . . .

Malachi is off this week.

Robin:

revrobin2-023A friend and I sat talking recently, and one topic we discussed prompts me to write here about these questions: What body types do you like, and why? And what might your response say about you?

He, a gay man in his mid-20s, and I agreed that many people evaluate, or judge, others based on body types, and that in our experience, gay men may be particularly prone to this.

But he and I both know straight or bisexual male friends who can readily tell you what type of female body draws their attention, as well as female friends, lesbian or bi- and straight, who can do the same about their preferences. When I was younger, and single, hanging out with other younger, single friends, men and women, LGBT and not LGBT, we often knew each other’s preferences and would at times point out someone we thought they’d like.

female body shapes goqii com
goqii.com

 

There were men who liked big-breasted women, and sometimes big-hipped, too, and others whose ideal was more petite all over. There were women who wanted lanky men and others who wanted hairy men, even one who was drawn to bald men (supposedly with higher sex drives). Women loving women seemed interested in less external appearance, but the presence or absence of body hair was important and clothes mattered and hairstyles, too (butch or femme was a big deal). Much of this involves the performance of gender.

Certainly, as I came out 35 years ago there were clear guidelines for a certain “clone” appearance—borne of some desperation, at least in part, to find each other. I never fit very well in the expectation to be lean with some muscle (but not too much), butch, well-hung, trim haircut, wearing the correct jeans and a flannel shirt and an earring in the left ear and the correct color bandana handkerchief in the correct rear pocket.

Castro clones late 70s flickr com
Castro clones, late 70s  flickr,com

 

One thing is missing from this list: racial identity. As I look back on those years in the 80’s, and into the 90s, the presentation of the iconic gay man always involved white men. No Black or Latino or Asian or Native American men need apply. That racism, white supremacy really, is still true, even though I, as a white person, want to say it is gone, or at least reduced. The online hook-up sites say otherwise (as does continuing animus against the Obamas and the resurgence of white nationalists).

These days, as I spend many of my days at the keyboard in my home office, I wear jeans and a flannel shirt (when I am not naked). But I am not as lean as I wish or could be, no one would ever call me butch (the dangly, often “feminine-appearing” earring in each ear does not help), and my genitalia have shrunk not grown with age and my skin has begun to sag and wrinkle in places.

Okay, that’s me, or at least my body (and how I cover it). But what are my standards for others?

male and female models gumtree com
In a routine Google search for “male and female models” it was nearly impossible to find any skin tones other than white

I admit to really liking lanky men with not a lot of body hair (except I really get excited by hairy calves, and men with long hair are often a turn-on for me). Men of all colors and ages— whatever they wear or don’t (naked always best) and whatever their genitals look like—who meet those criteria draw my attention.

However, what is of great interest to me is how much my beloved husband of 20 years does not match those criteria. He is considerably shorter than me, and has wonderful body hair (including but not limited to his calves, but has not grown his hair long since well before we met 26 years ago).

I love his body. I fell in love with him after we had been friends for six years (and he had been in relationship with another man that entire time). I knew his body because we met while naked at a Radical Faerie gathering and spent time together with his partner and others on the beach at Fire Island. I was not surprised by his body when we first shared sex; I was happy. I still am.

But I also know that he told me early in our relationship two things: he was surprised that my small cock did grow. And that the most important element of his attraction for me was, and is, my mind—even as he loves my body, too.

body types among Olympic athletes mymodernmet com
Body types among Olympic athletes mymodernmet.com

 

So what do body types tell us? Are they important, or just a game? Are they a way to deal with our vulnerability, creating a test by which we can reject those who may not meet our standards, or to help us feel in control at times when our inner selves may feel out of control?

Or might they reveal something about us beyond what they say about others? Is there any spiritual component or is our interest in certain types of bodies without connection to God?

Twenty or more years ago, Margaret R. Miles, the esteemed historian of antiquity (especially in her work on Christianity, the body, and Platonism), quoted the philosopher Plotinus (204-270 C.E.): “We are what we look upon and what we desire.” The statement has stayed with me, its wisdom touching me even as I was not entirely sure what it meant.

When my friend and I engaged in this conversation about body types and I began to think about my own preferences, I understood Plotinus’ point more fully. For me, at least, my fascination with lanky men is because, despite my extra weight, I am, at heart, a lanky man. I don’t need to marry a lanky man, indeed I have yet to meet one I want to marry. What I do need is to claim my own lankiness. I feel both challenged and encouraged when I see such a body. I don’t want the body of that man, but I do want what he has, for myself. I want to perform my maleness, at least partly, in this way in my body.

Plotinus-Quotes-3This then becomes a more spiritual quest, a going deeper into myself, into the human God makes with the name Robin Hawley Gorsline. It is about weight loss, yes, but it also, and I think more importantly, about claiming my own soul.

I do not know if this is true of others, I do not know if you can find some clue about your true, inner being by focusing on your preferred body type(s). But I encourage you to think about it, to see if you can find yourself in the ideal you seek in others.

It also is useful to think about the process of how our types develop, how we connect with them and give them power and voice. I will write more about this another time, but I have found it useful to dig into my early years to remember the bodies of others, adults as well as younger peers, that were important to me, both positively and negatively.

Beauty is of course more than skin deep, at least the kind that lasts beyond momentary fascination. Miles writes, “Seeing beauty depends on the beholder. It is a spiritual discipline that is trained and exercised by contemplation.”

I hope you sit with yourself, at least a little, and let God reveal to you something that shows you how beautiful you are—even as your eyes may wander. As Plotinus also wrote, “We ourselves possess Beauty when we are true to our own being . . . .”

I believe that the purpose, the goal of living, is to become the person God creates in our souls and bodies—to become the reflection of God’s beauty that we always and already are. That is my type, and yours.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

Do you feel like you have a specific “type” of person you are attracted to? How has that impacted the relationships you have formed? Have you noticed anything different in the relationships that deviated from your typical physical preference of “type”? 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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Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, 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.

When Bodies “Betray” Us

Sometimes our bodies, our hearts, and our minds are working on different wavelengths, and we have to figure out how to sync them all up.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

I haven’t spoken much about it, but over the past year, I’ve had some serious issues in my sexual life.

These issues were not specifically related to my attraction to anyone else. My sex drive simply… shut off. Things that used to feel pleasurable simply… didn’t anymore. It’s not that they felt bad, exactly (although the longer it went, the more guilt and shame I felt, and those feelings began to make sexual touch feel bad). It’s that things that used to feel sexually arousing had about as much sex appeal as scratching my elbow.

I still don’t know what caused this or why. I also don’t know what made my sex drive turn back on, or why- it was like a switch got flipped and suddenly, I had interest in sex again. In fact, I had interest in sex AND interest in all the sex I hadn’t had over the last 10 months. It was sex over-drive.

Until the switch flipped back on, though, the truth of the matter was, I could barely have sex with my partner, and it was incredibly difficult on both of us. Perhaps the only thing that made it easier on him was that I also wasn’t having sex with anyone else- myself included. I masturbated when my body simply demanded an orgasm as a basic necessity- much as you use the bathroom when your body informs you that you need to go. But I didn’t really get any pleasure out of it- sex with myself or with others felt more mechanical than connective.

I am terrified that that will happen again. That I will wake up tomorrow and find no interest in sex. And the next day, and the next day, and so forth. My partner is wonderfully patient with me, for which I can never be grateful enough, but I know this long stretch of minimal sexual interaction was incredibly difficult. It was incredibly hard not to take it personally, or feel like I just wasn’t attracted to him. And as much as I tried to explain that it wasn’t about him, it was still an understandably hard time for both of us.

I wanted to fix it. I felt incredibly broken and felt an immense amount of pressure to fix
my sex drive, fix myself, fix our relationship. Every night, we would go to bed, and I could loss-of-libidofeel him wanting to ask, but holding it in. I could feel myself trying to pep-talk myself into it: “You love him. He’s beautiful. You are attracted to him. You want to be intimate with him. You want to, dammit!” But try as I might, I couldn’t feel connected to my sexual self… which also meant I couldn’t feel connected to his sexual self. And so I would hold him, and think, “Maybe tomorrow. Maybe I can do it tomorrow.” And I would feel how much it hurt him, and I would think, “You’ve got to fix this. You’ve got to do this. Tomorrow. You have to deal with this tomorrow.” But tomorrow would come, and it would happen all over again.

Sometimes, our bodies do things that we don’t understand. It can be their way of telling us that something’s up. Our connection is broken, somewhere, and it’s trying to mend, but it needs our help. Sometimes there is something we aren’t focusing on that we need to- sometimes, it’s our mental health (I started seeing a therapist partway through this process, and it has helped immensely), or physical health. Sometimes, our bodies are changing, and those changes impact our ability to be sexual. And sometimes… sometimes it’s just that there is a lot of tension, stress, and pressure and our bodies are energetically exhausted.

Sometimes, our minds really want something and our bodies won’t cooperate. On a more lighthearted note, I recently began sleeping with someone who was designated male at birth, and interacts with his penis in a sexual way. We were fooling around a bit, and he looked at me, somewhat sheepishly, and said, “I think I’m having a bit of…performance anxiety.” And then we spent a few minutes talking about how “getting hard” isn’t necessarily the same as “being aroused”- that he was incredibly turned on, he just couldn’t get hard in that moment.

Oh.

I didn’t even know that was a thing that could happen. I knew, of course, that it was possible for people with penises to get hard without necessarily being aroused, but I never realized that the opposite could be true. I also know that it’s completely possible to want to want to be sexual, but not have the energy for it.

The point of all of this is that sometimes, our desires and our actions don’t always match up. Sometimes our bodies, our hearts, and our minds are working on different wavelengths, and we have to figure out how to sync them all up. And that can be incredibly hard- no pun intended.

passionAnd there isn’t an easy answer for these things. The breakdown and disconnect comes from different places for different people for different reasons. Figuring out how to reconnect with ourselves can be a difficult process- especially when we’re exhausted, or don’t have the time or the energy to deal with it right now.

From someone who went through a 10 month dry spell, I highly recommend dealing with it before it becomes a prolonged thing. Because at some point, you’re not just dealing with a disconnection within yourself; you’re dealing with a disconnection from your partner(s), and you’re dealing with the guilt and shame that goes with that.
I wish I knew an easy way to do that. I wish I knew what really caused the disconnect for me in the first place, and what helped bridge it, so that I don’t fall back into that place. It’s not a place I want to be. So while I am feeling strong and connected and sexual and in touch with these parts of myself (and my partner), I am doing the work I can to maintain and strengthen that connection. I am doing the work- difficult as it may be- to understand what broke down in the first place. Our sexual selves are an extension of ourselves, and sometimes the breaks have nothing to do with sex, exactly… the break is simply an extension of brokenness somewhere else inside ourselves that we need to address.

It’s a poignant reminder that taking the time to heal the disconnections within ourselves can also help strengthen the intimate relationships that sustain us, and remembering that our sexual connection with ourselves enables our capacity for a sexual connection with others. For some, they do not want, seek, or desire a sexual relationship with others- and that’s totally fine. But for others of us, who do desire those things, we have to constantly do the work of being whole, real, connected people, and listen to what our bodies are telling us.

revrobin2-023Robin:

The old adage, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” feels increasingly apt as I age.

I am reminded of this sexually when despite almost a decade of TRT (Testosterone Replacement Therapy) intended to help me cope with ED (erectile dysfunction)—ever notice how we make initials out of things as a way to code them, for ease of communication to be sure, but also perhaps as a way to avoid saying certain words in public—I continue to experience a lack of penile hardness far more often than I want.

I have alluded to this in this space before, but it seems like the right time to explore what for me is a sensitive topic, and to include how physical limitations can impact emotions—for in truth, there are times when even the spirit can seem weak.

I don’t think I am alone among those born with penises when I say I have a complex relationship with mine. As I have said  before, I have struggled (and do still to some degree) with its small-ish size.

I used to comfort myself with the knowledge that when erect it measured 5.5 inches (yes, many, perhaps most, of us, measure), which is the average length of an erect penis according to those who study these things. But now, sad to say, it is more like 4.5 inches. I have moved to below average.

banana erections healthtap com
healthtap.com

But my husband has never complained and seems to like my little guy. So, all should be well, right?

Well, not so fast. TRT helped overcome ED at least a little for a year or two. But hard still was not really happening. So I tried pills, a pump, even injecting something into my cock just before sex (so romantic to say to my husband, “Okay, dear, I’m done, can you please take the syringe to the disposal container in the kitchen? Then hurry back!”). It didn’t do much either. Cialis on a daily basis  (unlike ingesting it just before sex) worked wonders, but then it lowered my already low blood pressure to dangerous levels. No more Cialis.

Herbs seem to help a little, maybe, and walnuts are said to be good for erections. I like walnuts, so I eat some most days (have to watch how many, however, due to fat content). So we “limp” along.

I did learn from a wonderful doctor I saw once in Richmond that my little guy was suffering from disuse. So I began to masturbate regularly (have written about this here before—“It Gets Better”).  And that can help in sex with my husband, sometimes as well.

But lately, I have not even been that keen on jerking off. What’s going on?

uses-of-testosterone-ageonics-medical
Ageonics Medical

And the last several times he and I have made a date for sex I confess I did not feel much of the usual anticipatory arousal. Nor did I have much luck getting hard—a little when he stroked me, but it did not last when he stopped. Even his penetration, while feeling okay, did not get my juices going or my guy to rise to the occasion (being fucked is usually a turn-on for me and I get hard and often ejaculate with great joy).

I am writing this history about my flesh not simply to confess or even to ask for sympathy (although it would be accepted). I am writing because I know I am not alone among men with these issues, and because I believe talking openly about sex is vital to survival, indeed to thriving. I know that is true for me, but I believe it is true for others, too. I also know men are not the only part of the human race with sexual issues.

I also feel quite sure that all this is having an impact on my emotions, as my emotions are having an impact on my physical self—and all of it is having an impact on my spirituality, my God connection.

This embodied self which is me—sexual body, spiritual body, emotional body—is subject to analysis from different disciplines, different perspectives, but it is at the same time a unity in which the various parts interact to create me at any given moment. Of course, this creation is not affected only from within me and my parts, but also by the social body/bodies of which I am a part.

prayer-patheos
patheos.com

But here’s the deal for me, at least as I see it. This recent lack of sexual interest is linked, I believe, to my lack of interest in a daily God connection. I am having a dry spell, and it is not just in one of my private parts.  My focused prayer life, like my sex life, has been off-balance.

What makes this really interesting, to me at least, is that another part of my life—my writing, especially poems—has been more lively of late. I may not be expressing much through my genitals or through prayer time, but I have been really enjoying written ejaculations. In fact, poetry composition requires considerable foreplay and massaging to find just the right word, and the process often feels very erotic to me (no matter the subject of the poem).  So maybe I have been more erect than I knew?

Is this just a question of balance—pulling back (or out) just a bit from writing and inserting a bit more God time and/or sex-play—so that the various parts of me receive adequate attention and produce appropriate levels of expression?

writingpoetry-tl-shreffler-1
TL Shreffler

It sounds too simple, frankly, but I know it is not easy. What is easy, because, it is well-learned from our culture and religion, is to separate these aspects and treat only one at a time. I have spent a lot of energy trying to find a pill or cure for ED. I often turn to some new prayer or practice or commitment to make time for God. I engage a therapist to figure out what feelings need to change and how to change them.

What I do not often do is explore the links among these parts (and others), and certainly not to explore how they could help me to be more me, more potent, in all parts of my life.

I really like using the word potent, or potency—because it has two fields of meaning. The first is about forcefulness, effectiveness,  persuasiveness, cogency, influence, strength, authority, power.  Those are aspects I want associated with my poetry and other writing, and also descriptive of God’s place in my life (and my place in God). The second meaning, according to the dictionary, is “a male’s ability to achieve an erection or to reach orgasm” (I want the “or” to be “and”).

I want a potent life. God wants that for me, too. And for you, for all of us. That’s my belief, my truth.

aliveOf course, there is a limitation in this word, in the second part. But I know many potent women, and I trust you do, too. Some of them have been, and are, my teachers. And I sure know potent trans folk, whatever their genital configurations (some teachers here, too)! They may not achieve erect penises or ejaculate semen, but they do stand very tall and they certainly give forth powerful self-expression.

I am a whole person, continuing to come into my wholeness, my potency. I hope and pray, and believe, that is true for you, because that is what God wants for each, all, of us. And if you don’t feel it right now, stay open, there is always more with God.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

Have you had sexual “dry spells?” How did it feel? Did you do anything to move out of it, or did change just happen? 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?  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
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Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, 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.

polyamory-symbol-happy-parties-com
happy-parties.com

Workshop description: We are still working out the precise content, but we will be discussing how to help church leaders and congregations open up sexual conversations, and to be open to people of differing sexual practices. Stay tuned for more specifics, and in the meantime mark your calendar to be with us on March 16!

If You Think It, You Can Kink It

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

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you can think it, you can kink it

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

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

Learn yourself, know yourself

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

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

malachi-rope
Photo Credit BDSLR

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

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

Consent isn’t sexy; it’s mandatory.

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

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

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

sussexstudent.com
sussexstudent.com

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

Fear

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

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

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

Robin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who has impacted your understanding of how you navigate the world as a sexual and/or queer person? What people have had an impact on your experiences and pushed you to be the best versions of yourself? What was it about those people that made such a substantial impact? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part 3: Beyond the Norm

We invite you to join us on Thursday, January 19th for the third part of the series, “Sacred, Not Secret” where Malachi Grennell and Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline continue to discuss alternative expressions of sexuality and intimacy from a Christian perspective. On January 19, they will continue to explore non-normative relationship structures and practices, focusing this time on kink and BDSM. This one-hour workshop will examine different aspects of these sexual activities, as well as discuss ways that we can be more open and inclusive to practitioners–because do not doubt that you know and interact with them, in church and elsewhere.

Recordings of the workshop presentations by Malachi and Robin are being made available periodically.

Unmasking Sex: Performance and Authenticity

Malachi: 

As the Halloween season comes to a close, we’ve seen another13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_n year of dressing up: scary costumes, fun costumes, goofy costumes, themed family costumes, sexy costumes (hopefully limited to adults), and so forth. We’ve seen people become someone else for a day or two: someone that inspired them (I saw quite a few female ghostbusters with steampunk goggles); something they wanted to believe in (a number of classic renditions of devils, angels, witches, etc.); or perhaps someone that they want to be all the time, but can’t (some rockstars, a David Bowie or two, and no shortage of superheroes).

I’ve definitely seen some offensive and problematic costumes as well: people dressed up in “Native” outfits (which are iconic of a whitewashed, Americanized understanding of many cultures, and are particularly offensive right now as protestors are being arrested at Standing Rock); men dressed in beards and a full dress playing “Dude Looks Like A Lady” and mocking non-passing transwomen; kids in blackface. There is a good and a bad side of dressing up, and Halloween inevitably brings out both.

For many, Halloween is a time to put on a mask and become someone (or something) that we aren’t. For others of us, however, it’s a time to unmask, to be who we truly are. For me, I walked around in the clothes I wear every day, plus a little extra makeup. Instead of strange sideways glances and uncomfortable whispers, I got compliments: “Hey, nice costume!”

It’s gotten me thinking about the ways in which we live our lives through performance: performance of gender, performance of faith, the performance of sex. It’s also gotten me thinking about the ways in which performance can be used to mock and even erase the experiences of others, such as some of these offensive Halloween costumes.

Kings & Queens Drag Show, Asheville NC Photo Credit Amy O
Kings & Queens Drag Show, Asheville NC
Photo Credit Amy O

I’ve been a drag performer. I’m not currently doing shows right now, but I did for six years in North Carolina. Drag, to me, is the performance of gender. Regardless of your body type or assigned sex at birth, any body can perform any kind of gender. I did both king and queen performances; sometimes I did both in the same show.

Drag was a means of exploring gender. It was a way to understand the complexities of gender expectations- everything from how to contour a face for feminine makeup (which meant exploring accepted bone structures and facial highlights associated with typical expectations of feminine beauty) to how men move and dance, every piece of drag requires us to understand the boundaries we are working within. Drag is the performance of gender, and as such, the performance heightens and feeds off of the expectations that are deeply rooted in many of us.

But outside of drag, we still perform gender. It is these exact rituals, in fact, that make drag part of what it is. For women, it’s body hair removal, makeup application, cinching the waist for that perfect hourglass figure. For men, it’s working out, looking buff, growing enough facial hair to prove that you can, having the appearance of a large cock. These are the rituals that are utilized in drag for show, but they are not necessarily less performative when done in daily life.

It is difficult to define what masculinity and femininity mean outside of the gender binary, but we can define what characteristics and traits are important to us because they make us feel good in our bodies, versus those rituals that are done because we are told that that is what “makes a real man” or “makes a real woman.” For example, I have no opinion, issue, or preference with a partner’s body hair grooming practices. I care more that those practices come from their own comfort and love of their bodies, and not from an unspoken rule that certain body parts must be shaved.

Which brings me to the concept of performance of sex. Sometimes, we are sexual when we don’t want to be. I’m not talking about rape; I mean, sometimes, we’re not really feeling it, and our partner is, and we love our partner, so we are intimate when we’d maybe rather go to bed, or finish our book, or any number of things (The Ferret writes a really wonderful post about this here) (and often we get more into it as we get started, but the instigation isn’t necessarily coming from us).

But there is a whole aspect of “performance” that comes into sex… particularly with assigned male at birth individuals who use their penises

https://fusiondotnet.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/fusion_sex_quotes_arousal.jpg?quality=80&strip=all
https://fusiondotnet.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/fusion_sex_quotes_arousal.jpg?quality=80&strip=all

for sex. In fact, “perform” is often used as a euphemism for “get hard and stay hard for a suitable length of time during which intercourse occurred.” It’s a question sometimes asked of gay men who have (or are) married to women: “Are you able to perform with her?” as though any man who is capable of getting hard and having sex with a woman is automatically “less gay.” As for assigned female at birth people, well… “faking orgasms” is something many women do on a consistent basis. If that’s not the performance of sex, I’m not sure what is.

Attraction, intimacy, connection: these things are so much more than the operational functions of anatomy, and certainly much more than feigning a particular type of enjoyment for your partner’s benefit.

The performance of faith is trickier, because “faith” means something different to each person.  Regardless of how a person relates to their faith, however, we fairly consistently see faith in God as a transformative experience. I personally believe that that type of transformation doesn’t just happen once or twice in a person’s life, but continues to happen as they grow and deepen their understanding of God and their faith.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/60/c4/b1/60c4b14465af7b726c2102ea7cd90c7d.jpg
https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/60/c4/b1/60c4b14465af7b726c2102ea7cd90c7d.jpg

In that regard, I consider the performance of faith one in which our lives in relation to God have become stagnant. It is a point where we are more focused on the action, rather than the intention and meaning of the action. Are we kind to one another because we truly care for those whose lives have been harder than our own? Or are we kind to people because we have been told that we should be kind?

Like many things, performance isn’t inherently a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary… Alcoholics Anonymous discusses the idea of “fake it ‘till you make it.” Sometimes we need to act in certain ways to help our own understanding and belief get there. But sometimes our performances limit, mock, or erase the ability of others to be as authentic as they want to be. We need to be aware and conscious of the intention of our daily rituals, actions, and beliefs… that awareness can be the difference between performative and transformative.

As we close this Halloween season, I challenge all of us to hold onto and be aware of the performances around us every day, including our own. I challenge each of us to close this time of letting go- the essence of Samhain (the pagan tradition from which we draw much of our Halloween inspiration)- by letting go of some of our own masks and performances. I challenge each of us to consider our intentions and goals in the actions we take- particularly the actions we take for granted. Let’s each put our masks down and work to be who we truly are, rather than carry on the performances of who we think we should be.

Robin:

revrobin2-023What does it mean to perform sexually? Is it only when one engages in genitally-focused activity or other erotic behavior? Or is it possible to perform sexually through speech or other communication?  Is it possible that constructing an identity, or at least an image, is an act of sexual performance?

My answer to these somewhat  theoretical questions is “yes.” And it is an answer from my own experience as a male-bodied-from-birth person. That does not mean that my answer is simple, and it involves a fair amount of personal history. And it seems to me that I am not done answering these questions.

In 1974, I was married to a beautiful, wonderful woman, Judy. We were blessed to have three wonderful daughters who have grown up to be bright, beautiful, powerful women with families and many achievements.

As a result of claiming my homosexuality and coming out as a gay man, Judy and I separated after nine years and then divorced. We remained loving and caring friends, and although she had primary custody of our girls, we worked together to raise them. Sadly, tragically, she died in 2001.

judy-feeding-the-gulls
Judy did everything with gusto

I can never talk or write for long about sexuality without thinking about Judy. She was a very sexy woman. She deserved a better lover than me. Oh, we had sex, but on my side it was mostly about relieving sexual pressure. I loved her, yes, very much, and she had a beautiful body, a beautiful woman’s body. But I did not crave her body, I did not fantasize about her body when we were apart.

Even so, I constructed a sexual identity as “straight” through a wedding, having sex with Judy, and eventually in helping to produce children.

At the same time, I fantasized about various male bodies. I bought a subscription to Playgirl, claiming it was for her (she showed little interest, and did not renew it) but really because I wanted to ogle the naked men.

I should have known long before that I was gay. I did not date girls in high school and had a major crush on a male friend and lesser ones on others, went through extensive psychoanalysis in college, and put off having sex with a woman for quite a few years. Still, I performed as a straight male.

Much of my failure to claim my  gay identity had to do with society—I was a good boy and did not want to make others angry or bothered, and until I got to college I did not know any openly homosexual person—but it is not so simple.

I am more sexually fluid than a label reflects.

julie-andrews-mannishI am not bisexual. I have a clear attraction to men. But I also find some women attractive, and have sexual thoughts about some of them. At the same time, there are limits (including that I am happily monogamous with my husband!).

I have never had sex with a woman that involved more than the “missionary position.” I tried oral sex, but I gagged (definitely not true with men).  So my performance has its limits, but only the couple of women I have slept with would know that for sure.

But my sexual antennae are not always fixed firmly on the gay wavelength. Admittedly, the women I find most alluring often appear somewhat boyish, and transgender men can sometimes move the needle on my attraction dial.

Sexual attraction is, at least for me and I think many if not most others, is not solely about genitals. My husband of 19 years said he was first most attracted to my brain (now he seems to like my body, too!).  Some people are drawn to legs (I really like hairy legs), others to height or the lack thereof, or breasts big and breasts small, chest hair or no chest hair, particular ass shape and sizes, etc.

I loved Judy for her vibrant personality, her laugh, her instinctive kindness and generosity, and I liked her well-curved body, too. Or maybe I liked that other men admired it, and that made me feel good……..these things are often complicated.

kinsey-scale-visual-male-guide
accidentalbear.com

In reality, many of us fall at less than absolute points on Kinsey’s famous (and I think less useful than it used to be) scale and our location can even change. Earlier, others would have classified me as a Zero (exclusively heterosexual, unless you count the one time I engaged in mutual masturbation with a male friend in high school), and now, since 1983, I would be a Kinsey Six (exclusively homosexual).  Does that make me a 5 (incidental heterosexual behavior ) overall?

No. Judy was not incidental in my life. She was, and is, even now, central to who I am and have become. As surely Jonathan is, and has been, for 19 years.

I have two friends, Arlene and Tom (names changed), who have been married for about 10 years. Arlene used to be married to a wonderful “butch” lesbian, Melody. Sadly, Melody died. A couple of years later, Arlene and Tom found each other. Some friends objected, saying Arlene had abandoned Melody. I said I thought love was what counts. Arlene told me that Tom was Melody with “different plumbing.”  I understood her to be telling me that she found a beautiful spirit in him that reminded her of her old love. She clearly loves Tom for who he is and vice versa; they are a lovely couple.

yoga-and-sex-vibrant-heart-yoga
vibrantheartyoga.com

I understand this. If something awful should happen and I would be without Jonathan, who knows who, if anyone, would become central in my life? Would I seek a partner again? If so, it likely would be a male, but that is not certain. And maybe I would decide to stay single. Whatever the outcome, I assure you, though I am 70 years of age, I will perform sexually in some ways or others—certainly by talking and writing about it, self-pleasuring, and continuing to figure out, and live out, perform, my sexual identity/identities.

As our transgender siblings are showing us, lots of things we thought were fixed are more complicated—and it is not just about bathrooms. Creation, especially humanity, is not easily locked into categories; scientists know that there are always exceptions to hard rules.  Creation is bigger than all of our boxes, and so are our bodies and psyches and souls. As the psalmist writes, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . “ (139:14)

That’s surely me, and you, too, and everybody who wonderfully and fearlessly (at least bravely) crosses boundaries and concepts that inadequately describe our full, beautiful, complex humanity. The great thing about life is that it always demands performance, and we get to choose, if we wish, which roles to play . . . and how to play them.

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

How do you feel about performance, particularly in regards to sexuality? How can we challenge ourselves to be more authentic while recognizing performance is an important aspect of our lives? 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!

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

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 beginning Thursday, 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.