Bisexual (In)Visibility

We must make more room in our churches and communities to talk about bisexuality, pansexuality, and queerness.

 

revrobin2-023Robin:

Reading one of the sex- and bodies-focused blogs I receive, my attention was drawn to the subject of bisexuality, a topic Malachi and I have not addressed in a focused way. So here goes.

The particular article, “And New on the Bisexuality Spectrum—‘Mostly Hetero’,” looks at a phenomenon recently under discussion among researchers, namely a nuancing of the traditional sexuality continuum. What caught my eye was the term “mostly hetero.” In response, I  murmured  “I am mostly homo.”

That “mostly” may surprise some readers, because I clearly identify myself as gay. But it was not always so. I was married for more than eight years (1974-83), and my wife gave birth to three daughters.  I was the sperm donor, not through artificial insemination but through penile-vaginal sex. She and I had sex, and more than three times!

I loved Judy very much, but in reality our sex—much desired by her—was not so much for me about lust for her body (which was very sexy by many standards, not to mention her energy and winning personality) as it was to satisfy my own need for sexual release and to honor my commitment to her.  I did not fantasize about men during our love-making, but I did the rest of the time. I never stopped looking at men.

don't assume gay or straightWhen I finally accepted my same-sex desires, working with a therapist and coming out to Judy, and had my first male-male sex (other than one time of masturbation with a friend in our early teens), I suddenly knew why many talked about sex as the pinnacle of pleasure.  The fireworks were there in a way they had not been with her.

But I wondered, off and on for a while, am I bisexual or homosexual? Still, over a relatively short time I became clear I am homosexual.  On the traditional scale, first enunciated by Alfred Kinsey in the late 1940s, that is a 6. But I do find the occasional woman attractive enough to wonder what it would be like to be sexual with her.

So maybe I am a 5.5 or 5.7 or 5.8, not quite a 6.0. Mostly homo.

Yet, I never had sex with a woman after Judy. Not even close. And I had sex with many men during my times of being a single male. So my heterosexuality is very muted.

lesbian couple black with kids
jezebel.com

I know many gay men and lesbian women who are parents like me—children born during a marriage into which they entered before realizing, or finally accepting, they prefer sex with a person of the same gender. Most of these people report not being very happy in the marriage, but they had sex.

What this points to is the elasticity of sexuality, the wideness of the range of possibilities. I remember a lesbian friend who for decades was in a relationship with the woman of her dreams—when I got to know them there were no longer young, but there was no hiding their obvious love and joy each other; it was infectious to all around them. Then her wife died. A year or two later, she met a man and they fell in love. Many were shocked, and even angry.

Perhaps because I remembered how much I loved Judy, I called her to extend congratulations. She said to me that her new love was, in her mind and heart, just a male version of her wife.

So sometimes it is the person that makes the difference. A former male lover of mine was, like me, married. When he divorced, and we were sharing a seaside cottage with our respective daughters for a week, I seduced him. We were together after that for more than six years—and he has had a second husband for more than two decades.  Was he gay before, or did things, he, just change?  Or did he let some part of him, previously hidden, emerge?

sex is not love so no confusion hereAnother way to see this is accept that sex and sexual orientation are not synonymous with affection and love.  We are able to act sexually through our bodies—our genitals, our hands, our tongues—in ways that are not always synchronous with the social structure or construction of sexuality we have adopted (or has been given to us). And, as outlined above, these structures or constructions, these categories, are not always as fixed as we may wish. Human beings, human bodies, are complicated—no matter how much many want to get us each into one of the major boxes.

Hidden is a word many use about bisexuality. Bisexuals often complain about invisibility in the LGBT movement.  They have a good argument. We know a lot about the L and the G—and more and more (although not enough) about the T, but precious little about the B.

I have heard many gay men and lesbian women claim that a person claiming the B is “just going through a phase,” or is “getting up the courage to claim their real identity” as L or G. This is so sad. It might be true in some cases, but so what? It still is not easy for everyone to come out, just because it is far easier than it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago.  And, of course, it sounds so much like the judgment and jibes aimed at many gay and lesbian people on our own coming out journeys.

sex my gender doesn't fit in your boxes
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These attitudes are so much about making sure the boxes work, and that each person is in the right box. Indeed, the very term “bisexuality” rests on the concept that there are two genders, thus reinforcing the gender binary, and three sexual orientations—hetero, homo, and bi. Both concepts fail to account for the fluidity of sex and gender, indeed the fluidity of our bodies.

That does not mean that people should not claim bisexuality. I know people for whom it is an entirely accurate self-designation. They like to have sex with men and they like to have sex with women—most of them may lean in one direction or the other—while some are equal opportunity folks—however they lean or don’t, they refuse to deny themselves the opportunity to experience both. I think “both” is great. And “all,” too, as in pansexual (but that is another post for me).

So, is the hiddenness, the silence, about bisexuality because it is too complicated? That may be part of the explanation. But I think the far greater reason is that bisexuality, despite seeming to reinforce the boxes, really does call into question the fixedness of sexual identity, sexual orientation, and potentially even gender (more about this another time, too).

labels can limit usSometimes, I chafe against labels, but I know they are useful for organizing ourselves. We do make choices and want to name them. So, in the name of opening up more about sex and bodies, we need to stop invisiblizing the bisexuals. Stand up for B!!!

It may help to think and write this way—LGBT, and we need to keep on doing this, too—LGBT. And LGBTQIA (bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning, Intersex, and Ally/Advocate), too (WordPress won’t allow me to make the particular letters larger, which is what I hoped to show).

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

I find it difficult to jump into the topic of bisexuality, although it’s an important subject and one that needs to be talked about more, not less. The “B” in LGBT is often ignored, overlooked, or erased.

Often times, we use someone’s appearance to make an assumption about their identity. If we see, for example, a person presenting as male holding hands with someone who is presenting as female, we assume heterosexuality. If we see two people who appear to be of the same gender, we often assume homosexuality. Bisexuality isn’t something we tend to assume because it would require us to see the same person in a variety of situations in which they were holding hands with different people… and since monogamy (along with heterosexuality) are both the assumed default, that doesn’t tend to happen as often.

Bisexual folks are often faced with a lot of belittling and erasure of their identities: “Oh, you just can’t make up your mind,” or “You’ll sleep with anyone,” or “Well, you’re only bisexual when you’re single; once you have a partner, that kind of determines it, doesn’t it?” or “This is just a phase; you’ll settle on your identity eventually.” This kind of erasure is incredibly toxic and is predicated on the idea that someone else knows your identity better than you do. Tangentially, it feeds into the ideas of slut-shaming, or that having a lot of sex with different people is an inherently bad or negative thing.

And yet, sometimes, I have to confess, I have a hard time with bisexuality- partially

bisexual symbol
Bisexual Symbol

because of the way bisexual identities contribute to my erasure. “Bi-” means two, and bisexual is “sexual attraction to both genders.” And for some people, that’s a completely accurate assessment of their sexual orientation: they are attracted to men and women. For others, though, they take bisexual to mean “attracted to all genders,” without realizing that bisexuality is predicated on enforcing the gender binary (there’s that “bi-“ prefix again). There is no room for gender non-conforming in a binary world, and bisexuality is based on the idea that there are two genders, and someone is attracted to both of them.

It’s a tricky, nuanced line of discussion, because I don’t want to disrespect someone else’s identity or contribute to the erasure of who they are… but I also have to recognize that there is a level of bisexuality that makes me uncomfortable. Not because I care about someone being attracted to more than one gender, but because bisexuality implies by definition that there are only two genders, and I actively work against things that reinforce the gender binary. And so I’m not always sure how to have a discussion and dialogue around bisexuality. I feel conflicted about raising that up when greater visibility for one group of people directly contributes to erasure for another group- particularly a group of which I am a part.

A non-binary adaptation of bisexual is “pansexual;” that is, a sexual orientation that spans across gender binary and non-binary individuals and recognizes an attraction for a variety of types of bodies, identities, and presentations. At times in my life, I have identified as pansexual. In fact, in high school, I had a black side bag in which I wrote “PANSEXUAL” in white out across the front. What can I say, I was a pretty brazen high schooler.

pansexual pride
Pansexual Pride

I shifted from pansexual to queer when I realized that the way I fuck, the way I have relationships, the way I interact with sexuality and bodies is heavily informed by my politics and social analysis. My politics, as it turns out, are a direct result of my understanding and identity as a Christian, so in many ways, my faith has informed my identity as a queer person- including my sexual identity. And I think, at the heart of the erasure that many bisexual folks feel, they want to be seen as people who have the capacity to love different types of bodies, configurations, and identities. And I think it’s important that people feel seen in their sexuality, even if the way in manifests right now, or in this relationship, doesn’t paint the whole picture.

When queer femme-identifying people are seen holding hands with their male-presenting partners, they often feel the complexities of their identities are erased (I’ve written about this some in a piece Are You Queer Enough? and Femme Erasure in the Queer Community) or that, by “passing” as straight, they aren’t welcome in queer spaces. And that’s something we have perpetuated, beginning with things like bisexual erasure and not allowing people to live their authentic, sometimes complicated, truths.

We have bisexual (and pansexual, and queer) people in our churches, people whose identities don’t necessarily match up with how we see them presenting. We might assume that the couple that just walked in is a heterosexual couple, but in reality, he might be a queer transmasculine person, and she might be a femme lesbian. We may shun someone if, after ending a same-sex relationship, they begin to form a relationship with someone of the opposite gender. These are problematic behaviors- to ostracize or shun anyone based on their sexual orientation- that are often based in our own assumptions about who someone is based on how we view them, rather than how they view themselves.

We must make more room in our churches and communities to talk about bisexuality, pansexuality, and queerness. We must allow space for people to be seen and share their experiences authentically, and not worry about hearing the same toxic, damaging messages they hear elsewhere. Bisexuality and pansexuality are not myths, nor are they the result of someone “not being able to make up their mind.” People’s identities are not defined in comparison to their intimate partners; their identities exist regardless of the relationships they are in. It’s time we allow people to see and be seen for their whole selves, and not just the selves we feel most comfortable interacting with.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What are your feelings about bisexuality? Are you, or have you ever been, bisexual? Do you think bisexuality is a valid sexual orientation? Why or why not? Do you have sex with a person of only one gender (as you and others define that) or more than one? Do you have fantasies about crossing the line? Do you watch sex films (aka pornflicks), and if so, do you watch people with only one orientation or do you sometimes see what others are doing? 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 in two weeks, THURSDAY, June 15th 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.

Previous month’s sessions can be watched here.

Bodies on the Line

This is the time to reach out in support, to create new networks, to open spaces and create something new.

Robin: 

revrobin2-023Bodies are always at risk in the world. But it feels to me that many bodies, and in some ways most bodies, are under attack in the United States these days.

Here are a few items in the news that create that reality for me:

  • Trans Bodies. In one of his first acts as the new Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions has alerted the federal appeals court in Texas that the government will no longer appeal the ruling af the district court judge who blocked, nationwide, Obama Administration rules protecting trans students in public schools. Read more here   This raises concern about how the new administration might position the government (or if it will try to do so) in a case, involving an appeal from the Gloucester County, Virginia, School Board already scheduled for hearing at the Supreme Court (the board appealing an appeals court ruling granting the right to Gavin Grimm to use the boy’s restroom at the county high school). Every trans public school student and their parents are facing great risk, not long after the Obama Administration raised hopes for real change.
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    PJ Media

    Immigrant Bodies. In the past few days, there has been reports of a marked increase in the number of ICE raids and arrests of immigrants who are without the necessary papers and those with criminal records. The targets have centered on eleven states, including California, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Illinois. Some of this continues Obama Administration practice of expelling immigrants with criminal records, but it also seems more people than under Obama have been deported for not having papers. The actions seem clearly focused Mexican nationals and other Latin Americans living in the United States. Articles in various foreign-language local media outlets have reported on widespread fear. Read more here and here.   Who knows where this will all end, but it is safe to say that millions of bodies, not just those who are deported but also those left behind, are likely affected.

  • Refugee Bodies. Closely connected are others from foreign lands, especially those fleeing horrible violence in their own land who, according to the President and others in the government, allegedly want to wreak it here. Clearly, we do not know how far the current government will be able to go, but in the meantime it is pretty scary–tens, nay hundreds, of thousands, at least, are at risk. .
  • Bodies Needing Healthcare. The continuing uncertainty about whether there will be any realistic replacement of the Affordable Care Act (after its almost certain repeal) leaves many facing not having health care that is affordable and accessible. The legislation to repeal seems stalled at the moment, as apparently those rabidly opposed to the program are realizing that though they belittled it many people depend on it for adequate health care. What does not seem to be going away however, is the determination of the Republican Congress and the President to end the Obama version even if they cannot agree on what the new one should look like. The anxiety for many with clear and ongoing needs for care is real—millions of bodies are at risk.
  • protect-womnes-healthWomen’s Bodies. Connected to the future of health care is the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. The bodies of at least two million low-income women are at stake if Speaker Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence succeed in doing what the Trump campaign promised last fall: take all federal Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood and give it to local community health clinics. Even if that does not happen, the health of many other women will be impacted due to the high proportion of women’s services, other than abortion, provided by Planned Parenthood clinics all over the nation. Read more here.
  • LGBT Bodies. And even one bad action averted is not fully reassuring. After public pressure, and according to some sources, the intervention of the President’s daughter and son-in-law, the rumored Executive Order to rescind protection of lesbian and gay persons in federal employment decisions was withdrawn. Read more here. The White House even publicly announced the change, touting the President as supportive of LGBT rights. Read more here.  Still, the Administration has not yet issued an expected order about religious freedom that would undermine LGBT rights, and Vice President Mike Pence has a long record of championing anti-LGBT causes. These factors leave many nervous about how far protections for LGBT will be undermined and rolled back. It seems clear there will be no forward movement—queer bodies again in jeopardy.
  • protect-my-vote-chip-somodevilla-getty-images
    Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

    Black Bodies, Poor Bodies, Elderly Bodies. The confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General causes a rising concern among African Americans, and other racial minorities, about federal protections. It seems clear that the Justice Department will slow down, or even end, efforts to help, and certainly stop suits against, local police departments to end racial profiling and other racist practices. In addition, voting rights seem likely to be under threat, and that involves not only African Americans but also poor people and elderly people of all races.

It may be then, that white straight men (WSM), at least those not poor, have little to fear, especially in their bodies. Those who want to grab pussy can still do so—just don’t talk about it in the locker room (someone might take you seriously), and their voting is not at issue.

I am old enough to remember days like that, the days when America was really great, at least for middle- and upper-class WSM. I don’t want to go back there. I doubt you do either.

Malachi and I usually write more obviously about bodies as connected to sex. However, he and I know that patriarchal constructions of society are never far removed from sex. And bodies are always at risk—even, potentially, some of those male bodies that look secure (e.g., men with LGBT children or siblings, friends and neighbors or business associates or co-workers who are Black or LatinX or Muslim, etc.).

bayard-rustin-angelic-troublemakersThe theological truth is that every body belongs to God, is part of the family of God, and deserves not only respect but also tender care and opportunities to thrive and glow, each in their own way. I am at a loss to explain how people who say they are conservative can so easily not engage in conserving each and every one of these glorious creations, and even more, actively engage in opposing efforts to care for every single body.

I shall resist as best I know how all anti-body rhetoric and activity. That begins with writing the truth as I see it, and asking you and others to join me in more truth-telling, marching, writing letters to Congress, and agitating wherever and whenever we can, being the “angelic troublemakers” (St.) Bayard Rustin called up decades ago.

 

Malachi: 

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMy childhood minister (prior to Rev. Robin), Rev. Gill Storey, told me once that “patriotism is the birthplace of racism.” That phrase has stuck with me throughout the years and has greatly influenced and informed my perspectives and beliefs on patriotism (particularly post 9/11) through adulthood. Right now, though, I think that it’s a particularly poignant message, as we have seen an uptick in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids behind the banner of “Make America Great Again.”

Indeed, how can we not see the link between patriotism and racism right now? But beyond racism, we see an assault on all bodies that do not conform to the accepted “all-American” look. We see, as Robin has linked, article after article in which different groups are being actively targeted because of their (actual and perceived) race, gender identity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, ethnicity, and/or country of origin.

Today, I don’t come with facts and figures, theory and substantiation. Today, I come with stories. Memories. Moments in my life that resonated so strongly that, when I see the echoes of them today, they make me shake with rage and fear.

I remember being trans in high school. I remember going by the name “Tony” on days where I wanted to be a boy. I remember, in acts of solidarity (as we understood them at the time), guys from band sitting with me on the bus and explaining which pocket you put your wallet in and which wrist should carry your watch. I remember, for the most part support. Except for that one day, when I needed to pee, and went into the bathroom, and freaked out a younger girl coming out of the stall. When I told this story to my friends, they looked at me and said, “Well… duh. You should have used the men’s room.” I didn’t know how to explain my fear of what would happen if I did, and instead tried to avoid using the bathroom at school, ever.

I remember changing band uniforms on the bus- they had a boys bus and a girls bus, and I was never sure which I should be in, which half my friends telling me one thing, and the other half saying something different.

I was on a trans panel a few years ago, and I listened to a friend talk about

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http://www.travelheals.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/drinkmorewater8x10.jpg

being in a chronic state of dehydration because he didn’t want to navigate the public bathrooms on a college campus. I was floored, realizing that I, too, don’t drink nearly enough water and live in a chronic state of dehydration as a subconscious method of avoiding bathrooms. This is not a particularly good thing for me, as an adult, but it’s significantly worse for children and teenagers, whose bodies are growing and changing. It’s one small side effect of these bathroom bills and anti-trans laws that is rarely talked about, but we (as trans people) are doing violence to our own bodies to mitigate the fear of violence being perpetrated onto us.

Compared to what kids are facing now (and what many other kids faced when I was in school), my experience coming out as trans in high school was positively charmed. But I also remember the tension, the fear, the anxiety, the nervousness I felt in an environment that was, for the most part, fairly safe. And then I think about what these laws could do, the impacts they could (and do) have on kids who are struggling to figure out everything from who they want to take to prom to where they want to go to college to how to explain to their parents about why they missed curfew, and it makes me sick with rage and fear and concern. I want to be there, to be able to support these kids, to take something off the stress they are feeling from every other part of their lives. I see high school teachers struggling to connect and wanting to support their students, but not knowing how to.

I have friends that are undocumented, who are struggling to figure out next steps for themselves, their partners, their families. I have friends directly impacted by the ICE raids, struggling to figure out where to go to get away from the threats and realizing that there is nowhere to go. I have other friends talking about trapdoors to basements and who has enough space to house a family for a little while.

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http://15130-presscdn-0-89.pagely.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Stop-Deportations.jpeg

I have known someone whose visa ran out, and she and her partner had to figure out next steps because her partner, who was chronically ill, was as a vet and received all medical care through the VA. Leaving wasn’t an option for her partner, staying wasn’t an option for her, and being apart was an option for neither.

I have known black and brown bodies, black and brown friends who have been targeted by the police and civilians because of the color of their skin. I have known queer women who have committed suicide because of sexual assault. I have known sex workers who have been threatened with “outing” and prosecution unless they provided services to the police.

These are not abstractions for me. These are my friends, my people, the ones that I have potlucks with and watch their dogs while they’re away. These are the people whose postcards cover my kitchen wall and whose heads I have held while they cried. This is not statistics or figures or even something new for me. These are the people that I stand beside at protests, watching their courage as they hold signs and claim their lives and identities.

These laws enshrine an attitude in this culture that many have tried to deny for years. Yet as the days pass and executive order followed by cabinet appointment followed by misinformation continues to come from the White House, more begin to see the atrocities and we are banding together.

relationshipsThis is the time for community. This is the time to reach out in support, to create new networks, to open spaces and create something new. Now is the time that we must persevere, and the intersections of our identities give us different abilities and privileges to work within toward that goal.

If patriotism is the birthplace of racism, what then is the birthplace of freedom? Extending our communities to those of different experiences. Inviting refugees and welcoming immigrants. Holding hands on the street. Stopping and witnessing when the police have stopped and questioned a person of color on the street. Actively working against rape culture.

These executive orders and lawsuits and appointments are dire, and they are an assault on bodies- all bodies. So perhaps, those of us with more privilege can use our bodies- our whiteness, our straightness (or straight-passingness), our American citizenship, our maleness- to protect those who might otherwise be killed in the onslaught. We build community and protect others against this assault on our bodies, our beings, our existence. And through community, we are able to truly find freedom.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

What are your thoughts and reflections on Ruth 4:7-17? Have you had any experience with non-monogamy and unconventional relationships that have brought you joy to think on? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us tomorrow, THURSDAY, February 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: Non-Monogamy 2 continues from where a previous workshop ended. On December 15, 2016, Malachi and Robin delved into non-monogamy. Malachi described its various forms in contemporary culture and offered observations from personal experience. Robin commented on some of the positive aspects and understandings he has gained through learning more about non-monogamy and reflected on his own feelings (which are more positive than he would have thought). There was a good discussion among those participating on the call, and questions were raised. Malachi and Robin plan to offer more information, and specifically some responses to the questions. If you were unable to be present on December 15, we are hoping a video of the presentation (but not the discussion) will soon be available.

Keep Marching

Malachi and Robin each participated in the recent Women’s March in Washington, D.C. They offer some observations below.

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi: 

There has been much discussion- before, during, and after- on inclusivity and intersectionality at the Women’s March held in DC (as well as the hundreds of sister marches that occurred around the world). I was fortunate enough to be present at the march in DC with my family and several dear friends and, miraculously, managed to stay with the same group of eight people.

I have many complicated feelings about the march- some positive, some negative, and some that are just observations. Because, clearly, the march was a huge success- although the standards for what makes a march successful are nebulous- and it was empowering to see so many people uniting against a common cause.

I think, perhaps, that’s the most poignant piece of the march, for me. It was not a group of people uniting FOR, but AGAINST: against oppression, against corruption, against invasive laws, against Donald Trump. But the things each person was FOR varied widely: some for pro-sex worker visibility, some were pro-LGBTQ equality, some were pro-Black Lives Matter, etc. I’ve talked some about this in other places, but when you have a collection of people whose unifying factor is what they aren’t, rather than what they are, it risks reinstating a hierarchical system that priorities of those with the loudest voices.

There were many wonderful things about the women’s march: some really powerful signs (the one that has stuck with me, for example, was the woman who carried the sign, “I refuse to be gaslighted” which, to me,

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spoke volumes about history of emotional abuse as well as the ongoing rewriting of facts coming from the political arena.) My goddaughter joining in on the chant, “Who runs the world?” “Girls!” and watching her sense of empowerment growing. Her discussions of “my body, my choice” in the car on the ride home. Watching the people I was with proudly sporting signs and buttons that spoke to the visibility of sex workers.

The march was powerful to be at for many reasons, but it was also a complicated place to be. With the exception of our goddaughter, everyone else in our group can pass as white (although I don’t know how they necessarily identify). We did not experience firsthand some of the direct harassment and erasure that I hear many POC folks talking about.

I did feel a little uncomfortable about the pink pussy hats, however. I understood the point behind them, but there is an underlying message that implies that genitals are pink (not true) and ownership of a vagina defines womanhood (also not true).

I have heard POC women say that the pink pussy hats didn’t bother them; I’ve heard others say it felt exclusionary (some knit brown and black pussy hats instead of pink). I’ve heard some transwomen say they felt excluded, and others say they didn’t have an issue with the genital-focused discussions.

Again, there isn’t an objectively “right” or “wrong” answer to this; this is

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https://img1.etsystatic.com/177/0/5730702/il_340x270.1167085353_gime.jpg

a natural byproduct of the unifying force being “against” rather than “for.” When we march against, that ends up looking distinctly different from person to person and group to group. But I do think there are some important points from the women’s march that should be addressed.

I feel like there has been some criticism of the criticism aimed at the women’s march. Because yes, we should celebrate that it was a success and felt empowering. And it was, and we should, and many are. But I also think there is a vital part of the conversation that involved intentionally recognizing that intersectionality, while present in some aspects, felt glaringly missing in many regards- never mind that telling people how they “should” feel is an erasure of differing experiences altogether.

I think of the history of social justice movements, and recognize that there is some degree to which the freedoms afforded to one group often feel like they come at the cost to another. Many in marginalized communities have felt the sting of being told to “wait their turn.” I remember when HRC dropped gender from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because they didn’t think they could get it passed if trans people were included, and “something is better than nothing.” Trans people were effectively told that our presence wasn’t worth fighting for, that gay rights was more important than trans rights. I have not supported HRC since then (as they have continued to have policies that I found problematic).

The criticisms I see of the march feel very much like they are coming from a place of understanding- and not wanting to repeat- the mistakes of the past. Because so often, people don’t keep showing up once they’ve gotten the freedoms that personally affect them. I truly believe that the best way to ensure freedoms for everyone is to bind together the fates of different communities and identities. Thus, we arrive at the basis of intersectionality.

None of us are single-dimensional people. We all have privileges and oppressions that contribute to our ability to navigate the world. It’s not

http://www.themarysue.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/jessica-intersectional-feminism-sign-650x376.jpg
http://www.themarysue.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/jessica-intersectional-feminism-sign-650×376.jpg

that the experiences of one community are “the same” as the experiences of another community; it’s understanding that, when something impacts one community, all communities are residually impacted. It’s the essence of the quote “oppression anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere.” We may not have the same struggle, but there is room for your struggle in my resistance. And if there isn’t… am I just interested in representing my own interests? To me, that undermines the purpose of social justice.

I truly believe we have to stop looking at just those issues that will directly affect our own lives and take in the broader scope of human injustice. In doing that, we can then see which solutions are beneficial to all versus which solutions only benefit us directly- and furthermore, recognize when those solutions come at the expense of another community. If white people are not willing to listen when POC say that something is harmful or damaging, then we are fueling and supporting racism. If men are not willing to listen when women say something is harmful or damaging, then we are fueling and supporting sexism. And so forth.

we-can-do-itSo do I think the women’s march was bad? Absolutely not. I felt empowered to be there with the people I was with, and I was glad I went. But I am also a white person in a sea of white faces, and I was surrounded by white privilege that didn’t directly impact me. If I let that slide, then I am part of the problem fueling racism, and I’m not interested in being a part of a group of people willing to actively ignore problematic aspects of their resistance.

There is space in my resistance for your struggle. I am against this government, against this president, and against the people who feel emboldened by his assent to power. But I am also for my communities, for my friends, for ending dehumanization and isolation. Each struggle impacts another, and we can put in the work and intention to make sure that our movements do not come at the cost of other’s freedoms. That is the kind of resistance I want to work toward.

Robin: 

I went to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. on January 21. I wanted my body to be counted among those who choose to resist the rising intolerance of difference and the drumbeat of injustice being encouraged and led by the new President and his minions.

revrobin2-023From the moment at 7 am when I drove into the Metro parking lot at Greenbelt station and realized it was already more than half full and that cars were arriving steadily, I began to feel the power that comes from joining my body, my soul, with others who have an ever-widening understanding of who we, as a people, a nation, are called to be (my sign below on the left, from the back page of the Washington Post of Friday).

I had wanted to beat the rush, and here I was right in the middle of it. And I was glad. The train was full when we started (Greenbelt is the end of the Green Line) and it got fuller at each of the twelve stops until Gallery Place/Chinatown where I was getting off to meet a group—especially at College Park/University of Maryland. There is something wonderfully energizing about the arrival of 20 or 30 collegians into an already crowded space—noisy, laughing, so clearly enjoying each other—that I needed right then.

As I walked about 15 minutes towards the Hyatt Regency on New Jersey Avenue where I was meeting my group from Temple Shalom, I began seeing other marches, carrying signs, many smiling and saying “Good Morning” in response to my greeting.  Two women at different moments asked to take my picture (they liked the combination of purple clergy shirt and collar and dangly purple earrings with my white beard).

we-the-peopleThe signs kept coming—more versions of the one that first caught my eye on the train, “Pussy Grabs Back”—so many creative expressions of resistance, often coupled with humor and word play. Even the edgy, angry signs seemed to carry a certain joi de vivre, such that my body and my soul began to feel much lighter than the day before.  There is life here, I thought, especially in contrast to the bleakness of the President’s divisive speech the day before (much of the media called his tone “dark” but dark is beautiful; it was bleak, no grace, no joy, no hope except if we let him do what he wants).

That is when I began to realize one of the main things that divides me, and many others, from him.

All of us that day, or at least me and most of us, carry some real and deep fear about what the next four years will be. We march because we choose to stand up and push back against those determined to undo many of the gains for justice and inclusion that have been made. And we want to make more.

The President also is afraid, very afraid. In fact, I think fear drives everything he says and does, even though he works hard to disguise his fear. The fact that he puts his name in very large letters on everything he erects (yes, erects) is, I believe, a response to his fear that he will be forgotten, disregarded, abandoned. His response to this base level fear of erasure is to make himself as big as possible. But it is all about him, even when he claims it is about other folks who feel left out or behind (many of whom have valid complaints).

trump-towerThe difference at the march is that we were there for things we care about, our own needs of course, but also because we know our needs are linked to the needs of others. So, we want to gather together to create a new world, a more just and generous world.

He wants people to gather together to honor him—hence his claim the media lied about the size of the crowd at the inauguration.

Was the march a perfect vehicle for women and allies and advocates to express our determination to resist being sucked into his fear-based vortex? Certainly not.  It was not well-organized. The inexperience of march organizers showed (and in their defense, they did not have much time to build the necessary structure).

The pink pussy hats were pretty and the sea of pink could be captivating, but of course not all “pussies” are pink, and not all women have them either. I did not see and hear enough about transwomen, for example, although I was grateful to Angela Davis for mentioning them, and especially transwomen of color, several times. And she mentioned the need for solidarity with Palestinians, too. As so often, she told deep, often difficult, truths very clearly. I also was glad to be surrounded by, and participate in, chants of Black Lives Matter.

cant-build-a-wall-hands-too-smallI was uncomfortable with many of the references to the President’s allegedly small dick. On the one hand, the size of his organ is of little or no consequence and of no interest to me. On the other hand, I do not appreciate men being criticized or ostracized because of penis-size prejudice.  And I continue to wonder if at least some of his need for big buildings and large crowds is due to some body issues, including perhaps having a smaller-than- he-wants penis. I certainly know something about taking on shame about having a small one myself.

There were other troubling moments. What to do about abortion opponents? I am clearly pro-choice because I believe women have the basic human right to control their own bodies. That makes it hard for me to engage in dialogue with people who claim abortion is murder.  That language really does not allow for much room for conversation (for more than hour, I was stuck in a spot at the march where the most visible sign in the distance was one that made the murder claim—very surreal). Yet, I am inclined to try to listen to women who say this, because they have some standing in the debate as those who, unlike me and all male-bodied persons, can actually bring a fetus to maturation and delivery. The decision to deny co-sponsorship to an anti-abortion group needs more discussion before the next march.

abortion-sign-clashAnd that is one more piece of good news. Already people are talking about an annual Women’s March. We can keep doing this to help us stay energized and focused on creating the change we want and need, and opposing the change the President and other fearful people claim is necessary (the return to “good ole days” when women and many others knew their place, behind and under the control of white straight men with money and power).

Of course, much can be improved with the march—better organization, more intentional and complete inclusion, even more local marches, etc.

What’s really at stake here are bodies, the well-being of bodies, especially those more regularly marginalized and abused. I realize I carry a lot of privilege, my white male body is part of the group many of whose leaders continue to insist on the right to dominate all others. The fact that I am gay and older does not deny me the privilege that comes with my gender and my color, though in some moments those identities can reduce that privilege.

civil-disobedienceSo, what the Women’s March reminded me of is pretty basic: I need to put my body on the line more than I have been doing in the past few years. It’s time to put my body on the line with others whose bodies are already there.

Thus, I intend to show up for Black Lives Matter, abortion rights, trans siblings, immigrants, all of us affected by climate change and especially to push back against the denial of science, hungry children and families, homeless people, sex workers, Palestinians whose homes are destroyed and whose land is occupied too often by others, and certainly victims of abuse of many kinds, among others.

I hope you’ll join me. That’s how marching works. And wins.

 

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

Did you participate in a local march or action? Did you feel included or did you feel “othered” by those around you? What are your thoughts on protest in the coming weeks, months, and years? 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, February 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description:

Coming soon!

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

The Eros of God

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

revrobin2-023Robin: So many friends, and many others, are expressing apprehension about this new year, anxious—whatever their political leanings—about whether our nation, indeed the world, can survive the tumult we have been experiencing for the past year and more. And I admit, as a political and socially progressive person, I have significant fear for the future of our liberal democracy and for the cause of liberation throughout the world.

Are their signs of hope? Always. I am by nature a hopeful person, and that is strengthened by my faith in a God who is always present, in every moment available to us if we pay attention. So, I see possibilities in the efforts of many to organize protests and to develop agendas of change which are inclusive and grounded in the desire for justice for all—and the commitments I see, and am asked to join, to stand steadfast, strong, and tall for a nation and world grounded in the innate value and dignity of every person and creature.

And, thanks to conversation with Malach (so much that is new and fresh in my life comes from our ongoing dialogue—may everyone older like me have a Malachi in their lives)i, I am seeing seeds of possibility in the legacies left us by some Queer icons who left this hallowed earth in 2016. What I realize is that I draw not only hope but some specific ideas from them, not so much to copy what they did as to see ways to take things to new levels.

As I ponder Prince, David Bowie, and George Michael, and their legacies, I see some of what we, or at least I, need in 2017—attitudes and actions promoted by this queer-sainted trio who died last year.

Outrageousness.

Prince specialized in pushing various limits. We need more of that. Ofprince-lovesexy-cover course, some of the limits tested our understanding of him….for example, his membership in the Jehovah’s Witness movement. And it seems his attitudes on social issues, such as marriage equality, were more in line with that group than his flamboyance would seem to indicate. Still, the fact he dressed however he pleased, crossing various gender boundaries, even playing with sexuality at times, made him fascinating. And his talent for music—writing, performing—never stopped showing up.

As a queer, I am especially drawn to his open assault on gender rules. He was way ahead of LGB activists in that regard, and it sometimes seems to me that it was Prince who helped many transgender folks realize they could be themselves (and the rest of us to affirm that).

We need more of that, not less, especially when in the White House we will soon have someone who is so insecure in his masculinity that he needs to defend his penis size, and to use his ability to feel up women as proof that he is all man.

Experimentation, Innovation, Re-Invention.

davidbowie-themanwhofelltoearth-12_infoboxDavid Bowie was songwriter, performer, actor who seemed almost always to have a golden touch. Not seeming to be content with what he had just done, he moved from musical style to musical style. And he was a good actor, too, and for me as a nudist, I was glad he was unashamed of his body (not exactly a porn star version, see picture) in the film The Man Who Fell to Earth.

But it may be, for me at least, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust for which I am most grateful. The album, and later the tour, features a bisexual alien rock superstar, shedding light on the artificiality of rock music in general, discussing issues of politics, drug use, and sexual orientation. Although it seems Bowie was primarily heterosexual, he claimed bisexuality (with his wife), and even at one point said he was gay. But then, in a way like Prince, he also asked what such labels really matter.

Like Prince, he did not let social boundaries hedge him in, and it was true of his various musical adventures, too. Pop, glam rock, industrial, jungle, plastic soul, electronics—all part of the Bowie genre. And then, of course, there is “Let’s Dance”—how many clubs have I danced my heart out to that?

We need more joy, more of that dancing exuberance, more reaching for stars, again in the face of so much angst and anger in our nation and world right now.

More Sex.

I admit I had a crush on George Michael as my daughters became aware of him and the group Wham! and then as he continued to perform alone. I read speculation about his sexuality a couple of times before he was arrested in 1998 for “indecent behavior” in a public restroom in Beverly Hills.

I admit to not having been as impressed with his music as by his face. But I did admire his refusal to deny he had been in a public restroom for sex—his arrest in 1998 in Beverly Hills for “engaging in a lewd act.” Caught in a sting, he pleaded no contest.

It is what comes next that really catches my admiration. In a song and video, “Outside,” he chose to satirize our police obsession with public sex. It is not great music, and even the lyrics could be stronger, but he challenges our double-standards about sex, including by the end of the video to boldly ask, “Who is policing the police?” (as two cops follow their arrest of an offender by passionately kissing each other).

We need more sex, not the abusive or patriarchal actions of men george-michaeldominating women against their will, but real sex, the kind where people are vulnerable in the intimacy of their souls and bodies without worrying too much about socially enforced boundaries (let each of us set our own, as long as we do so without harm to others).

So what do these three suggest to me for 2017, and beyond?

In the face of a resurgent patriarchal view of life (a la Messrs. Trump and Pence and others), I say “to the ramparts”—not just to protest though that is often necessary, but more to push the boundaries further and further.

Let us find inspiration in Prince.

We need more people throwing gender rules to the wind—not just trans folk but so many of us that it is no longer possible to pretend traditional dress codes have any relevance. I am committed to pushing beyond my earrings this year.

Let us find inspiration in David Bowie.

We need more people creating their own versions of Ziggy Stardust. I don’t know exactly how that will manifest in me, but as a theologian and poet I am going to find ways to experiment with new ways of perfecting my crafts. And I will go naked as much as I can (including the World Naked Bike Ride in Philadelphia this fall—how about we have tens of thousands sharing in that this year?).

Let us find inspiration in George Michael.

I don’t know about you, but I am going to write and publish erotic poetry.  I want to be more public about my joy in sex, in my body, in the body of my husband and others, too. Of course, I will keep writing on this blog, and teaching about sex, bodies and spirit online, with Malachi—challenging the religious establishment to get over its fear of God’s great gifts. I intend to center my theological and poetic arts in the eros of God.

Indeed, that is what is needed more than ever, a celebration of the eros of God, all the ways the divine touches us and urges us to touch each other. So, yes, let us protest and plan political agendas and actions, but let us also be outrageous, experimental, innovative, re-inventive, and surely sexy.

To 2017, the Year of the Eros of God!

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

Who becomes the heroes when the heroes have died?

2016 was a tumultuous year. While I appreciate that there are many things to celebrate from last year, it was also a year when the queer community lost some powerful figures in pop culture: David Bowie, Prince, and George Michael, to name just a very few.

As we begin this new year- for many of us, with a sense of relief that 2016 has finally come to a close- there is also a sense of trepidation with the incoming administration and political climate. And I can’t help but think about these heroes- the Bowies and Michaels, the Princes, the gender transgressors and sex symbols and “dirty, filthy fuckers” (thanks for that one, George).

More importantly, I am thinking about how we move forward: what does it mean to be Bowie in today’s world? It’s not just about a man putting on makeup or claiming his sexuality or dancing around in pants that display his package while holding a riding crop (though the Labyrinth is worth seeing for this scene alone).

What does it mean to be George Michael? His unapologetic song, “Outside,” is a fantastic, unashamed song that addressed not only his own sexuality (after being charged with lewd acts for having homosexual sex in a bathroom), but in calling out the hypocrisy of criminalizing sexual behavior. His many, many acts of

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

kindness and generosity that have come out since his death show the true merit of his character. Without such a public stage, without access to copious amounts of wealth, how can we follow in Michael’s footsteps?

And Prince? Prince was never a part of shaping my understanding of the world the way George Michael and Bowie were, but his flamboyance, his seemingly-juxtaposing beliefs on queerness in general… what does is mean to be Prince today, to hold contrasting beliefs that many would say are in direct opposition to one another, and live in that in-between space?

These three men were marked by their actions, yes, but it’s not the actions themselves. It is the intention behind the actions, but more importantly, it is the refusal of shame that marks these men as incredible, and that is something we can all seek to emulate.

We cannot allow ourselves to be brought to silence by shame. We cannot allow ourselves to change who we are because we are made to feel ashamed of how we look, or who we love, or how we fuck. Our sexuality is a central part of who we are, and we must live our lives fully.

Bowie and Prince gave us permission to be weird. Michael gave us permission to claim our bodies and sexual expressions and find power in those things. He gave us permission (and an example) of how to be kind and gentle to one another without seeking credit or glory for the deeds. We are becoming the people that people will remember. As we face a daunting future, how might we pass along the lessons we have learned to the generations to come?

It comes down to authenticity. We combat our shame through embracing the power of authenticity. It sounds so much easier, obviously, than it is to live. As these men taught us, it’s not about the actions themselves (or imitating or repeating those 15698206_10154001701567665_2385558159859365080_nactions), but about the intentions behind them: to be whole, real, messy, complicated, authentic people.

I find myself floundering to live up to these expectations sometimes. I am afraid for myself. I am afraid for my goddaughter, for my family. It is easier to blend into the shadows and hide until it feels safe. And for some, for many, that is a necessary course of action, and I applaud and respect people doing what is best for them.

For me, though, I feel the need to be a Bowie in my world. I feel a need to be a Michael. I feel the need to be brazenly, unapologetically queer and transgressive in ways that feel authentic to me. I feel the need to keep my beard and grow my hair and wear eyeliner and clothes that confuse people. I feel the need to be my own manifestations of ambiguity in the world. For me, seeing that ambiguity, seeing Bowie as a sexual icon, seeing that transgression gave me permission to explore that within myself. If I can make one child’s life better, if I can give one person hope, if I can help one person see themselves in a different- more authentic- light, then I will be a Bowie in my world.

If I can help someone claim their sexuality- whether through BDSM or non-monogamy or queerness-if I can help them claim their desires or explore their interests or own the fact that they might be dirty, filthy fuckers and proud of it, then I am a Michael in my world. If I can make a person’s day easier or better- whether or not they ever knew that the act of kindness came from me- then I am a Michael in my world.

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

Our sexuality and expressions of our bodies are not necessarily the entirety of who we are, but they are a vital part of our understanding of ourselves. When we shelter those parts of ourselves away as shameful or secret, the rest of who we are suffers in tandem- including our ability for kindness, compassion, and empathy. To nurture authenticity is to combat shame, and combating shame not only fulfills our own lives, but it might be the thing that inspires someone else to be their authentic self.

So let us be Bowies in 2017. Let us be Princes and Michaels. Let us push the boundaries with intention and live our lives with joy. Let us combat fear with compassion and shame with authenticity. Let us learn from our heroes and continue building on the foundation they laid for us.

Let us become the heroes this world- and each of us- so desperately needs.

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

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

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.

Celebrating All the Holy Bodies

This is the season of the outcasts . . .

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

Robin: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bible-thumper
pilgrimgram.com

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

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

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

homeless-youth-on-street-flick
flickr.com

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

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

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

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

Malachi: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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love for us?

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think influences your sense of your own body, your relationship with your body? And what influences how you see and evaluate the bodies of others? What bodies are most sexy for you? Is your own body sexy for you? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part 3: Beyond the Norm

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

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

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

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

Fetishes, Fluidity, and Frankness

Malachi: I am heterosexual. Actually, I guess it’s heteroflexible. Now it’s bisexual, then full-blown lesbian. Well, pansexual maybe fits better. Except, no. I think, queer. Yes, queer.

I’m a girl. Or, no. I’m 13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nandrogynous. Zie and hir pronouns, please. Only, I think I am a boy. Testosterone and male pronouns now. Except I hate passing, but love my facial hair. Plus, I’d like to have kids someday. So, maybe no more testosterone, but I’ll keep the beard. Masculine pronouns are fine, but gender-neutral also work: they/them please. Dangit, I think my gender is just queer, too.

For many people, identity is a spectrum rather than a fixed point. As a mathematician, I think in terms of continuous and discrete: my identities are fluid and continuous, but at discrete moments in time, I can pinpoint how I identify.

I feel very strongly that I am the compilation of every person I have ever been, even if I no longer identify in some of those ways. I am not, for example, heterosexual- but at one point in my life, I strongly held that identity and it was crucial to how I understood how I fit into the world. Although I do not (and have not) identified as straight for quite some time, I recognize and appreciate the place that identity had in my life: as the child of lesbian parents, I wanted desperately to be normal and fit it. My heterosexuality was my rebellion, my assertion of my independence, my declaration that I was different from my parents.

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Of course, that didn’t particularly stick, and I fell head-over-heels for a woman my freshman year of high school. From there, my identity seemed to ping-pong back and forth for a while, and I finally settled on bisexual. But then I learned about gender theory and came to a better understanding of my own gender. I realized quickly that “bisexual” didn’t make a whole lot of sense because my gender wasn’t a fixed entity, so “attraction to same and attraction to different” held no meaning for me. Everyone was different from me, so I must be straight, except that didn’t work, because I was attracted to people with the same genital configuration.

Around this time, I discovered the term “pansexual.” It felt better than bisexual, but still a little clunky and awkward in my mouth. From there, I grew to have a better understanding and self-definition of queer, and finally settled on “queer” as both a sexual and a gender identity.

This is not every person’s experience, but I think that we spend a lot of time trying to understand where we fit in the boxes we are offered. As a trans person, I have had several experiences in which a person and I had a sexual connection, and then they immediately began to struggle: in order to validate their own identity (particularly a binary identity), they had to invalidate mine (e.g. men who claimed heterosexuality or women who were lesbians needed to see me as female in order to not have an identity crisis).

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I have found that identity and attraction can get complicated, particularly when trans people are involved. There are so many levels and facets to what makes us attracted to a particular person- are we attracted to a masculine or feminine presentation? Are we attracted to a particular genital configuration? Are we attracted to the particular way someone carries themselves?

The reality is, identity is complicated and tough to navigate sometimes. And when our identities are based on our relationship to other people, it becomes a lot harder to avoid invalidating one person’s identity in order to affirm the other person’s.

Understanding where our attraction comes from and why we are attracted to what/whom we are attracted to is important. It also helps differentiate between an attraction preference and a fetish.

I really love people’s backs. It’s almost always one of the things that I love on a person’s body. But I have to like the person attached to the back. It becomes a fetish when the person is no longer a factor in the attraction.

As a trans person, I have experienced first hand (many, many times) what it feels like to be fetishized. I have felt the distinction of someone who wanted to sleep with me because of the anomaly of my presentation rather than for who I am.

This is not, of course, to say that there is anything wrong with having a particular fetish. We have to make sure, however, that when our fetishes are based on a person (rather than an object, such as shoes or rope or lingerie) that we do not dehumanize or objectify the person.

Our identities shift and change, as do our sexual preferences. The identities I have carried are the result of exposure to new ideas, conversations about those ideas, and self-analysis around what those ideas mean to me. And it’s taught me that there are straight men who will sleep with trans guys, and still feel totally comfortable in their heterosexuality because they are attracted to a certain genital configuration, but can be totally respectful of someone’s identity. And there are gay men who will sleep with trans men and feel totally comfortable in their homosexuality, because they are attracted to the physical presence of someone, and don’t care what the genital configuration looks like. And there are people who want to sleep with trans people for the novelty of the juxtaposition between physical appearance and genital configuration. The first two, I have found to be

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wonderful and not particularly limiting to a person’s sexual identity or expression. The third, however, becomes a much more problematic perspective because it treats a trans person like an interchangeable object- any trans person will due.

Understanding where attraction comes from and what we are attracted to about a person goes a long way to understanding when our attractions fall outside of our expectations, and help keep us from fetishizing another person. Self-awareness is what makes the predominantly heterosexual man sleep with a trans man and feel completely comfortable about his identity and the identity of his male lover, rather than invalidating his lover’s identity to reassure his own masculinity.

Of course, this can all be applied to women, and trans people as well. It’s an important aspect of our sexual selves that we need to be aware of because sometimes, our own sense of sexual attraction takes us by surprise. These labels are great, but in a comment on last week’s post, Frank states, “I wonder what would happen if we gave ourselves blanket permission simply to express who and what we were at any given moment, regardless of what some category called for.”

I wonder too, what would happen, if we could simply find joys in the places where joy calls to us, and not get so hung up on how a certain label defines our actions.

Robin:  There is a certain joy in contemplating how far, over the course of about 30 years since I came out as a gay man, LGBTQIA people have come revrobin2-023in terms of public acceptance. I say this, even though of course there are many obstacles, especially for those groups whose initials follow L and G (but not including A, and recognizing that Gs generally fare better than Ls, due in large measure to misogyny and patriarchy).

I came out to myself and to my then wife 34 years ago (at age 35), after completing my first year of seminary, and then began coming out to others in the seminary community and the wider world. In that same period, I also came out to the priest of the Episcopal Church in Michigan where I had grown up and served as a lay leader. He responded by telling me that he and the Vestry (the church board) no longer supported my seminary education and did not wish for me to darken the doors of the church again (ten years later, they made an exception, when at my sister’s request I preached at our mother’s funeral who had stopped going to the church when they rejected her son–and again eight years after that when I was permitted to speak at the memorial service for my former wife).

I have been actively involved in various religious endeavors to promote LGBTQI equality over all the years since 1982, and in some ways my life feels like a personal version of the larger liberation struggle. Again, the struggle is far from over, but now I find myself engaged, through this blog with Malachi and our monthly teaching through MCC, in a different way,

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one that assumes equality and seeks to widen the conversation so that the entire Christian church (and I pray other religious bodies) becomes more open to and celebratory of all forms of life-affirming, God-given sexuality.

That means that we, Malachi and I, tackle subjects that most people, and certainly the church, tend to ignore and even devalue.

For example, my coming out process allowed me for the first time to experience, and admit, how my desire was impacted by particular characteristics of men. Until I was honest with myself about my powerful attraction to the bodies of men I was unable to acknowledge, let alone celebrate, how certain types of men–their bodies and their minds and personalities–fueled my desire.

When I first came out, certain body characteristics assumed a great importance. I was in my mid-30s and one might have thought I would be more balanced in responses. However, in some ways I was like a teenager finally freed to let my hormones assume full control. Not able to experience honest powerful sexual desire in my teens, I was now like a kid in a candy shop. Frankly, given my sex life in the early days of my newfound sense of self, it is a wonder I am not HIV+. I give God thanks for my health every day.

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I knew right away I liked men with long hair. At the same time, I liked hairless chests and minimal or even hairless (shaved) crotches while I craved hairy legs. One other thing: I discovered that men taller than my 6’2″ frame really drew my attention. I had a desire, even need, to lean into them and be hugged. Who knows where this comes from. It just was, and I still admire that today.

However, it did not take me too long to rebel against a gay male culture I observed, and participated in at times, that made such criteria the only guides for relating to other men.  I learned that finding a man who met at least some of those criteria might make for a fun, even hot, one-night stand of sexual action . . . but then what? Did we have anything to talk about once the deed was done? Did I even want to contemplate breakfast with him?

I also learned that a man I desired might discover, when we were naked, that I did not meet his standards. I had a few such painful times, especially when they discovered the size of my cock.

I have had three male lovers, including my husband of 19 years, who lasted more than a couple of nights. None of them is tall–all three significantly shorter than me. They each had, and still do as far as I am aware (not easily ascertained now with two of them), beautifully hairy legs. One had a pretty hairless chest, but not the other two. No long hair in the bunch, although Jonathan says he had that years before we met; nor did any of them even consider shaving or even shaping their pubic hair. Of course, as above, I am unable (and unwilling) to check on this with numbers one and two; I will say one man–not one of the three–in my earliest times talked about not only trimming his pubic hair but also blow drying and shaping it ever day.  I regret that I  never was able to watch that process.

What I have come to understand over these 34 years is that each of these men whom I desired (and with Jonathan still desire in an incredibly powerful, even overwhelming, way), while physically attractive each in their own way, drew me to them for more than their physical attributes. In this sense, my particular body turn-ons, festishes might be the more

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accurate term, were and are only part of the package.

Each of these men has a brilliant mind, and a very sophisticated sense of humor as well as a willingness to engage difficult questions of morality and values openly and honestly. Don’t get me wrong: I love sex, want to have sex, but sex for me is more than kissing, licking, sucking, fucking, and ejaculation followed by a feeling of peace and joy.

In some ways, sex is how I live; every human encounter, even those with women where my physical desire is not so obvious, has an erotic component. That, for me, is God’s gift to each of us to create connection. I have different kinds of sex with different people, and with a very few–and for 19 years only one–I have engaged in acts of the utmost physical intimacy.

That does not mean that I my head is not turned, or my interest piqued, at times by a tall man at a party or even on the street, or a man whose chest (or more) I see in the gym shower or locker room–a guy, or woman, can be head over heels-in-love (and sex) with one (or more) and still admire others. Frankly, I am glad to know that at 70 years of age I still notice. As I quoted two weeks ago, in “Queer Is a Verb,” Shug said to Celie (in Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”), “that’s some of the best stuff God did.”

And that is why I hope and pray that some day we can have open conversations, real sharing, about our personal feelings and desires within communities of faith–because indeed these particularities are part of the gift of God to each of us. Like all gifts of God they deserve to be shared, not shunned or made into nasty secrets that cause us shame.

To do other than celebrate God’s gifts, all of them, is to deny God and the reality that all that draws us to others is God within us.

 

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

What do you think influences your sexuality and sexual expression? Have you ever noticed a deviation from your expectations of your sexuality? Do you find that there are certain traits that turn you on? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, November 17th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part I: Beyond the Binary

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

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

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

Queer Is a Verb

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

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

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

Malachi Grennell:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin Gorsline:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Celie (left) and Shug The Advocate.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living is queer, queer is living. Praise God!

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

What is your experience or connection with or feelings about Queerness? Do you think of yourself as queer in any way? Do you find the concept of Queer helpful? Or not? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

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Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, November 17th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description: Robin and Malachi are still working on the content of the November 17 meeting, but they are seeking to design a session that will examine what they are calling the authenticity of our sexual selves. They anticipate that this will be the first in several sessions in which several non-traditional sexual practices will be explored. They seek to provide factual content as well as to present their views. As always, there will be time for questions and discussion as well.

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