Silence Is Not Helping

. . . justice, or the lack of it, always involves bodies

Malachi is on leave. 


Nude Shoot: Robin Gorsline, 10/3/2017The national conversation, indeed the raging national debate and finger-pointing, focused on sexual abuse, assault, and rape has many layers. None of this is about sex, not real sex, joy, passion, love, between or among consenting persons—it is about the use of sex to violate another/others.

And yet, as I will argue later in this piece, our social squeamishness about sexual honesty, our phobia about talking openly about sex, is a critical element in our national failure to deal with widespread, and so often hidden, abuse and assault. 

sexual violenceLet me examine two other aspects that also have touched me. Both involve gender roles as enforced by our culture. Both are about bodies—as I never tire of saying, justice, or the lack of it, always involves bodies. 

The first is the contrast between the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasy Ford and Judge, now Justice, Kavanaugh at the final hearing on his nomination to the Supreme Court. The second is an article by Monica Hesse of the Washington Post, “Dear Dads: Your daughters told me about their assaults. This is why they never told you.”  I discuss this below.

I need not spend much time on the first, it having been discussed in many places by many people. But what I do want to say is how clearly the two people reflected the expected, indeed demanded, gender role of women as calm, reasonable, self-effacing, gracious, cordial, concerned about the other person, gentle, etc., and men as strong, assertive, angry when necessary (and so often necessary). not giving any quarter, not caring about others, not even acknowledging others (especially women and children). 

Justice Kavanaugh raged; Dr. Ford smiled. Justice Kavanaugh sneered at Senators, especially women; Dr. Ford spoke deferentially and softly.

As many have noted, Justice Kavanaugh appeared to be coming from the place of righteous indignation, a visceral reaction to what he, and many others, perceived to be an assault on his place of honor and white male privilege as one who began with a silver spoon in his mouth and has carefully made sure it was never removed. How dare you question, undermine, my carefully constructed persona and and record! 

This leads me to another, and related, set of gender roles, namely those governing the relationships among fathers and daughters (and sons, too). Monica Hesse discusses how often daughters (and sons, too) do not tell their fathers about the sexual abuse, assault, and rape they endure. They don’t even talk about the catcalls and rude whistles and comments they endure on the street or the gender-based discrimination and lack of respect and advancement in the workplace. 

Monica Hesse

Some men are now asking their daughters, and maybe sons as well, if there is anything they should know, anything that their children did not tell them earlier, perhaps from shame, or fear of talking about sexual matters, or, as Hesse points out, because they fear their fathers cannot handle the pain they have endured (or are still enduring). Aside: this seems to me a deep tragedy in the current situation—it’s not just women like Dr. Ford and so many others who endured something earlier, but also the women, and men, who are currently enduring such horrors. What is the silencing and dismissals by so many authorities, e.g., President Trump, doing to them?

Hesse reviews communications she has received from many victims, and notices how many are now telling their fathers for the first time about rape and abuse, as well as how many are choosing not to tell. Those in the latter group still don’t think their fathers can handle the emotional upset, or they fear their fathers will rage like Justice Kavanaugh (but go much further by attacking their attacker and even killing him and ending up in jail), or they feel so much gratitude for all their father has done for them that they don’t want him to feel even a hint of ingratitude. One son says that he won’t tell because “manliness” is so important to his father. 

I am grateful to and proud of the children who are telling their fathers. It helps make their relationships more whole by being more honest. 

And I admit to being disappointed by those who are choosing not to tell. I can’t and won’t criticize them for an intensely personal decision. Still, I hope they will stay open to the possibility of self-revelation, and self-empowerment, at some point. 

I believe they will gain, their fathers (and mothers) will gain, and frankly, all of us will gain, too. 

The more honest we are with each other the better our society works. 

This leads me to raise an issue that regular readers of this blog may recognize from prior posts: namely the inability of our society to engage in honest conversation about sex, sexual expression, and sexuality. 

As I said above, sexualized abuse, mistreatment or rape are not forms of sex. They are methods of abuse and domination and violation/violence. 

But I believe part of the problem we have with being honest about violations of bodies and the people who inhabit them is our squeamishness to talk about sex in the first place. It seems clear to me that this is definitely true when it comes to raising sons. 

I turn 72 on the date of publication of this post and as I read articles and books and testimonies about how we are teaching our children about sex and relationships things don’t feel all that different than when I was a pre-adolescent and teenager. In so many locales sex education focuses mainly on “just say no” and “wait until you’re married.” Actually, in my youth, we had only “wait, it’s a sin before marriage,” which did not stop many of my peers from being sexually active (and I imagine some being predatory and violent). 

I read of how some parents talk to their daughters about being safe, taking precautions; they may even tell sons something similar. And of course, how “no means no,” but even more how consent is more than simply allowing something to be done by one person (or more) to another (others). Consent is an active agreement by both (all) parties. Anything short of that is non-consensual, abusive, and violative behavior. It does not appear to me that that message is getting through to boys, or many grown men either. 

What is also so often missing is testimony about the power and beauty of sex and sexuality, how when engaged in with sensitivity and care for each other(s) it can enrich life, because sex is a powerful, and can be a liberating, force in our bodies and lives. 

I think that can begin by teaching the beauty and power of masturbation, the safest form of sex, not only in terms of avoiding pregnancy and STDs but also in terms of not harming any person (with one caveat: using images that encourage violence and violation as a form of stimulation do cause harm). 

Just think how different it could have been for Dr. Ford if Brett Kavanaugh (or whomever violated her) and other high school boys had either jerked off by themselves or engaged in a circle jerk.  

I am not sure we have gotten far beyond the days when Dr. Joycelyn Elders, U.S. Surgeon General, was forced to resign by President Clinton on December 10, 1994 for responding openly, and affirmatively, to an honest question about masturbation. 

all bodies deserve respectBodies are at risk in so many ways, of course not just sexually but also in terms of lack of food, healthcare, water, and exercise, not to mention war, police violence and crime—and at the most basic level of social interaction, simple respect by each of us for all the bodies with whom we come into contact as well as those we never know.

Our political climate as revealed in the past several weeks certainly is working against such respect, certainly as it involves our sexual beings. It is time to own our failings and work together to create change. 

Honest Talk about Sexual Violence

We need to start recognizing and naming sexual violence when we see it.


Robin and I recently had a discussion around two distinct issues that had come to our respective attention: Robin heard about incidents where, after being expelled from college for committing a sexually violent act, those accused decided to fight the expulsion in court. I have been closely following a new trend called “stealthing,” in which men are removing condoms during sex without the knowledge of their partners. (For more information, see here and here).

I will let Robin speak more to the first issue, as he is more knowledgeable about that situation, but the rise of “stealthing” is an escalating trend of sexual violence rooted in patriarchal and sexist ideals. The action itself is bad enough- it is, at bare minimum, a violation of consent- but often it’s the intention behind the action that brings it back to power structures, hierarchy, and oppression.

There are websites devoted to helping men learn how to “stealth” effectively- tricks for getting the condom off without their partner knowing as well as discussions about intent which range from “condoms are uncomfortable and limit the ability to receive pleasure, and sex is about pleasure, so you should be able to experience it fully” to “it’s your right to spread your seed and reproduce and no one has the right to prevent you from doing this.” It elevates the comfort, safety, and security of men over that of women (I have only heard of stealthing occurring in heterosexual dynamics; I have not yet heard of this trend reaching gay men)- not to mention “dominance” of men over women.

There are plenty of people that I currently sleep with that I would refuse to sleep with if they didn’t wear a condom. Wearing a condom during genitally penetrative sex is a

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requirement, partially because of pregnancy, but mostly because of the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Now, if I had a conversation with a partner, knew what they had been tested for, and made a conscious choice to possibly expose myself to whatever risks that carried, that’s one thing. But for someone to remove a condom without my knowledge- and without knowing that he may have done this before, with other people- I lose not only the ability to consent, but also the agency to determine whether I am willing to risk my health.

I have had a terrifying situation in which a sweetheart and I were about to engage in penetrative sex, and they had put a condom on. Right before they entered me, they realized that the condom had come off, and we immediately stopped and assessed the situation, and they put another condom on and we were able to continue. But in that moment, I realized that I would not have known unless he said something- it would have been very easy for someone in his position to continue, and I wouldn’t have known any different until later. (Thankfully, he was just as panicked as I was).

In that situation, it was incredibly important that I be able to trust my sexual partner. However. I think it’s also important to state that victims of stealthing are not to blame for these situations. The person who does the action (removes the condom without knowledge or consent) is responsible for the harm they cause.

It’s a difficult and nuanced thing to parse out. I have nothing against casual sex- goodness knows, I’ve engaged in plenty of casual sex with people I didn’t know very well. And I don’t want to imply in any capacity that if someone is the recipient of sexual violence based on having casual sex, that that is in any way their fault. But I do want to underscore the vulnerability many sexual partners experience and the importance of building, establishing, and maintaining trust in sexual relationships- particularly if you are not monogamous, or aren’t in a steady relationship and are just casually dating. The

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vulnerability that someone could very easily do this without your knowledge. The vulnerability that you are trusting someone with your body, your safety, and possibly your future (if you were to get pregnant)… these are things that are becoming increasingly more important to think about as trends such as “stealthing” are on the rise.

It’s also entirely possible that people in established relationships- ones where trust has been developed- do this to their partners. Again, the blame for this lies solely on the person who removes the condom. This is in no way meant to shame people for engaging in sexual activities, or insinuating that they “should have known better.” That type of thinking is indicative of rape culture, and I recognize that my consistent- nearly repetitive- assertion that it is never the victim’s fault is my own attempts to actively combat that type of thinking. Putting ourselves in vulnerable positions does not mean that we are at fault when someone takes advantage of that vulnerability.

Regardless of circumstance, thought, I think that it’s extremely important that we call this what it is- sexual violence. Not an accident, not a misunderstanding, not a “gee, that sucks,” but intentional sexual violence. Putting ourselves in a vulnerable position does not mean that we are to blame when someone takes advantage of that vulnerability. Sex has risks associated with it, and we do the best we can to mitigate those risks. But when we are in a vulnerable state, and someone introduces new risk without our knowledge or consent, this is sexual violence.

In this culture, we are conditioned to view sexual violence in a very specific way. We

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expect it to look like how it is portrayed in media- a person walking alone in an alleyway gets jumped by a group of strangers- but the reality is, sexual violence doesn’t always (or even often) look like that. Sexual violence is usually more insidious and manipulative- and often comes from a friend or trusted individual.

We need to start recognizing and naming sexual violence when we see it. We need to distance ourselves from the Hollywood version and make an effort to see- and combat- actual forms of sexual violence. And it starts by recognizing that trends like stealthing are dangerous, damaging, and contribute to rape culture in a variety of ways. The intimacy and vulnerability of sex can be an incredibly powerful aspect of our physical, emotional, and spiritual connection with someone. But when that vulnerability is exploited, then it perverts that which is sacred.


revrobin2-023A recent article in the Washington Post caught my attention and my concern. Entitled “College Men Use Anti-Bias Law to Fight Sex-Assault Findings,” the author recounted a trend among male collegians who have been punished and/or expelled from college for rape and other sexual violence to sue to collect damages, have their expulsion removed from the college record, and even obtain re-admission (link here).

Frankly, I felt angry as I read about men who seem determined to erase what they did and move on with no penalty. Male privilege, male supremacy, strike again!

I tried to balance that with a few instances in which there might be false reports of assault (most experts in this area is that the percentage of false reports is well less than 10%; many cite the figure of two percent), and that sometimes there might even be violations of due process in college administrative procedures. But that just reminded me how inadequate the so-called criminal justice system, and its collegiate parallel for student discipline, is in actually solving social problems.

Another reason for my anger is that rape is severely under-reported (most authorities say 90+% go unreported). Most authorities say sexual violence is the most under-reported violent crime in the United States. Given this, while I feel for someone falsely accused, I find myself not all that interested.  Given how many rapists get away with ruining the lives of others, why should I, we, care?  This may sound harsh, and perhaps I would feel differently if a friend of mine was among those falsely accused.

Report ItThe high proportion of under-reporting is due to many factors. Authorities often cite these: fear of retaliation, uncertainty about whether a crime was committed or if the offender intended harm, not wanting others to know about the rape, not wanting the offender to get in trouble, fear of prosecution (e.g. due to laws against premarital sex), and doubt in local law enforcement.

Based on conversations with both women and men over the years, my observation is that there are two main reasons: fear of not being believed, and shame that it happened. Both are, in my view, the clear result of living in a predominantly patriarchal world. The first and largest number of victims are women and children. But men are raped and violated, too. Patriarchy is male power granted dominance, a system in which men (first and foremost white men with economic privilege) hold the power and women, and men who are seen by some men as ‘not real men” or “less-than men” are largely excluded from it. The most ugly and severe outcome of patriarchal systems is misogyny, the hatred of women for being women.

Rape unreportedThis reality is reflected in results from a 2015 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll of college students. “Asked about things students could do to prevent sexual assault, 93 percent said it would be effective if men respected women more.” (See “College students remain deeply divided over what consent actually means”)

If men respected women more. Now that’s a concept!

Feminism has helped women make gains, and the rise of the LGBT equality movement has helped create significant social change. However, it was 1995—only 22 years ago—that Hillary Clinton shook the global, and U.S., political world with her declaration, in Beijing, that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” And she echoed that point of view in 2011—only six years ago—by declaring in Geneva that “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”

Most interesting to me is that no one of her stature and influence had said either thing up to that time. The outcome of the 2016 presidential election provides a certain irony; the same Hillary Clinton was defeated by a man who famously claimed to grab women “by the pussy” at will.

Hillary Clinton 2That candidate, now the President of the United States, recently spoke up as a character witness for a media personality who has been repeatedly charged with sexual assault and abuse—to the point that his employer, Fox News, removed him from the air (so far, he has not used his millions in severance payments to sue). The President experienced no discernible decline in popularity due to his unsought observation. It seems to have been more of the “locker room talk” that he claimed was the source of his “pussy” comment—in other words, boys will be boys.

Other facts bear out how in the United States progress for equality is slow. Only 29 chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies (5.9%) are women. In the current Congress, there are only 104 women (19.4% of 535 members).

Here a few other relevant facts more directly about sexualized violence:

  • Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted
  • Young people are at the highest risk of sexual violence; Ages 12-34 are the highest risk years for rape and sexual assault.
  • 1 out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime
  • Young women are especially at risk. 82% of all juvenile victims are female. 90% of adult rape victims are female.
  • Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
  • Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are 4 times more likely.
  • Men and boys are at risk of sexual violence. About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
  • 1 out of every 10 rape victims are male.
  • Males age 18-24 who are college students are five times more likely than non-students in the same age group to be victim of rape or sexual assault
  • 21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18% of non-TGQN females, and 4% of non-TGQN males.

every 98 secondsKnowing all this, what do we do about it? And specifically, what do people of faith do about it?

I will write more about this in future posts, but I will say here that the first thing is to talk about it. Not hide it. And that means breaking the silence in church not only about sexual violence but also sex in general, as well as focusing on gender equality and overcoming misogyny.

Those are central to our mission on Sex, Bodies, Spirit, because we believe they are central to living as God creates and calls us to live—honoring all, caring for all, sustaining life.

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

Have you, and/or someone(s) you care about and love, been the victim of sexual violence? Was it reported? If so, what happened? If not, how are you, or they, dealing with it now? What do you think can be done to reduce, if not eliminate, sexual violence? 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 next week, THURSDAY, May 18th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

On May 18, our topic will be . . . .

“Old Story, New Threats: Creating Responses to Religious Oppression”

The growing movement to claim “religious liberty” as a way to discriminate is not new. The history of Metropolitan Community Churches reflects decades of LGBT people being kept out and kicked out of churches which claimed that our sexuality and gender identity and expression offended their theologies. In a new era of discrimination masked as religious liberty, LGBT people are not the only groups experiencing religiously-based oppression. As we seek to come together and unite, our responses in this historical moment are critical to the future not only of our faith but also our country and wider world. Malachi and Robin intend to draw on the experience of MCC and others to suggest ways we can work together to promote true liberty and justice for all. Join the conversation!

Healing Through Fantasy

I have always been ashamed of my fantasies…

Introduction: Last week, Robin shared a beautiful, erotic poem depicting a fantastical spiritual experience. My piece on fantasy this week is quite different and much heavier. With that in mind, I want to make a content warning note: this piece does discuss rape, sexual assault, and intense shame around fantasies. Please use your best judgement in engaging and reading.


13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nWhen I was a child, I used to relax and calm myself down for sleep by fantasizing.

I didn’t realize this is what I was doing, of course. But each night, when I would settle down for sleep, I would close my eyes and picture a boy that I had a crush on coming into my bedroom. At six or seven years old, the taboo-ness of having a boy in my bedroom at night was risqué enough, and the concept of “having sex” wasn’t something I understood well enough to take it any further.

As I got older and began to understand (to some degree) this elusive concept of sex, my fantasy would change. I dreamed of growing up and going to a school where people learned and experimented with having different types of sex. There was a lounge where people of all genders would walk around in various stages of undress. Some people would be having sex, some cuddling, others walking around serving drinks (the whole thing had a very Greek feel to it). Outside of the main foyer, there were thousands of hallways with different doors, and people were welcome to walk into the rooms beyond the doors.

Some nights, when I was having a particularly difficult time falling asleep, I would venture out and open some of the doors. The one I remember most vividly led to a room that was designed to look like the outdoors: grass growing, and a massive tree on one side and a couple having sex in the middle of the field that didn’t pay me any mind. I was embarrassed, but fascinated to watch, and ultimately fell asleep.

I remember wondering what could possibly be going on in other rooms. I

didn’t have the imagination to dream up thousands of rooms worth of sexual fantasy, but some part of my mind allowed space for the possibility. At the time, having sex outside, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and experiencing/participating in orgies and/or group sex were the extent of my creativity- but granted, I was still prepubescent, and these are fairly extravagant fantasies. Imagine my surprise when I began to get active in the kink and BDSM communities and realized that the places I had imagined as a child truly existed!

I have always been ashamed of my fantasies, and I’m not fully sure where that shame comes from. I think I have had a pervasive sense, since I was a child, that I am not like other people and, in trying to avoid getting ostracized, I learned to keep these things hidden. It took me many years to admit to partners that I had fantasies at all and even longer to be comfortable sharing them. Even still, this is something that I struggle with.

Some of my shame comes from the nature of my fantasies as I got older. The six-year-old fantasy of someone coming into my room at night slowly grew and morphed, and I began to fantasize about someone coming into my room and touching me while I slept. Sometimes it was someone I knew, sometimes it was a stranger. These eventually transformed into fantasies of being raped, which compounded my feelings of shame and secrecy.

As someone who was developing an understanding of sexual harassment and violence, I thought I was a horrendous person. Rape is a violent, disturbing act, not something to fantasize about! It was at this point that I realized I could never talk to my partners about my fantasies. Many of them had survived sexual assault; what would they say to this blatant disregard to the atrocities of rape that I found sexual excitement in imaging?×620.jpg

I stumbled onto some articles online of other people who experienced the same thing and shared their histories of shame and self-hatred in coming to terms with their fantasies. Realizing I was not the only person to experience this was the first step in healing. Openly admitting it to my partner was the second.

I began to talk about it with my partner (with many hours of coaxing). I would not have been able to had he not been as open, gentle, and patient with me as I stumbled through the words, “I have rape fantasies.” He didn’t shame me for it, but embraced me and told me that this didn’t change a thing between us, and we could keep talking about it as much (or as little) as I wanted.

That conversation began a sense of healing that I am still working through, even today. My partner and I talked (and still talk) a lot about fantasies and the role they play in sexual dynamics and relationships. Beyond those conversations, though, I began to see and understand how fantasies can be enacted and come to life when I began to get more involved in the kink community.

The kink community taught me safe and responsible ways to interact with my fantasies and furthermore, helped me understand where they come from (for me) and what I got out of manifesting them. The reality is, as someone whose body has been utilized without my consent in innumerable situations (everything from unwanted touch to assault), rape fantasies became a way for me to process and deal with my own trauma. It became a way for me to relive and configure my own experiences in a way that made me face the trauma, but still allowed me to have control over the situation.

Perhaps this sounds extreme, and maybe it is. But the kink community has safeguards built in place that are universally understood within the community. Among other things, safewords are a key component used in many situations. The terms “yellow” and “red” are used by a person when they need a situation to pause or stop completely.

The purpose of this is simple: for some people, they have a difficult time saying “no” to something (particularly if they have been socialized to be placating or accommodating). Often called stoplight safewords, “yellow” is a method of communicating that a person needs something to pause briefly; “red” is a method of communicating that something needs to

stop completely. These are less socially-loaded words that allow someone to take a break to figure out what they need to communicate. In many situations, “hold on” or “stop for a second” or “I think I’m done” work just as well.

However, there are certain situations where a person wants to be able to protest and say things like “No” and “Please stop” and deliberately have these protests ignored. This is where safewords become really crucial, because it is important for a person to still be able to communicate if something is truly not ok and needs to stop versus the act of protest that is ignored.

This is a difficult concept that can be hard to grasp if a person is not wired toward fantasies that include an aspect of resistance. That’s ok. It’s certainly not something that everyone enjoys, but it is something that is important for some people (such as myself), and it’s important to have good safeguards in place for those who need that.

There is also a saying in the kink community that is crucial to creating safe space to enact fantasies: “Your Kink is Not My Kink and That’s OK.” The truth is, what works for one person might be traumatic or distasteful to someone else. For me, having the freedom and space to interact with these long-standing fantasies without the risk of someone shaming me for having them was invaluable. While I understood in theory that I was not alone in dealing with violent, traumatic fantasies, my interaction with the kink community helped me come to terms with the reality of that truth. I am not a disgusting, terrible person. It helped bridge a deep chasm of shame that I had lived with for most of my life, as well as gave me some tools to navigate these things in responsible, healthy ways.

For me, though, there is a responsibility when engaging in violent fantasies to also maintain a good awareness and analysis of the realities of those fantasies in life outside of kink. Rape is something that happens to people every day, and it is a violent, brutal act that strips people of their humanity (as well as inducing long-term consequences like depression, impact on future sexual relationships, and body dysphoria). Rape is not a joke, and I don’t treat it is such. But interacting with resistance-based fantasies has been a part of my sexual experience since I was a child, and self-shaming for that is not a healthy way to live, either.

Certainly, not all fantasies are as complicated and loaded as that one, and certainly, I have other fantasies. But something I have had to come to terms with is the difference between the idea of a sexual experience and the reality of experiencing something. There are things that, in my head, are immeasurably hot, but in real life, I don’t actually like the experience as much. And vice versa: there are things that, when they happen in real life, I think are incredibly hot, but in a fantasy, don’t do much for me.

For me, fantasies are both a way to stimulate sexual desire and navigate difficult experiences that have impacted our sexual lives. They are a way for our minds to let our bodies know what is sexually stimulating and exciting. It gives us creative ways to share our bodies and sexual experiences with our partners. And, for some, they can give us a way to heal from experiences that have damaged or hurt our sexual interactions (in addition to other tools, such as therapy, medication, etc. as applicable to each person.)

I don’t believe I am alone in self-shaming for fantasies. I think that many people have been embarrassed or ashamed to admit their fantasies: either they don’t want to admit they have them at all, or the nature of the fantasy feels embarrassing or shameful. I have come to a point in my life where I think that fantasies are some of the healthiest ways to explore our sexuality. We don’t need to act on (or act out) every fantasy that we have. But it is important to be honest and celebrate our fantasies- even the ones that make us feel vulnerable.

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

How do you feel about sexual fantasy? Do you let yourself fantasize without judgment? Are you ashamed of any of your fantasies? Do you share any of your fantasies with your partner(s) or friends? Does fantasy have a place in your sex life? Have you engaged in sexual behavior that you fantasized about only to discover you didn’t like it?  Or did it please you as much as your fantasized it would? Or differently? Please share your thoughts, your heart on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us THURSDAY, October 20th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 3, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 3” from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. Although not required, we encourage participants to read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description: In this session, Robin and Malachi continue to lay out some historical context of sex within Western Christianity, exploring how a faith whose origin rests on incarnation has become known for a deep anti-body and anti-sex bias. In this session, we will move beyond early church fathers and what might be called the social construction of early Christianity to later medieval and Reformation eras, and perhaps into more modern times. There will be time for questions and discussion as well.

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

“Only Yes Means Yes”: On Consent and Cultural Influences

Content warning: This post contains discussions of sexual trauma and history of sexual assault and harassment

by Malachi Grennell

Malachi GrennellRecently, Robin and I began to have some interesting conversations around a Facebook post discussing one person’s response as a survivor of sexual assault. Specifically, the post addressed how this person felt about the delineation between sex, rape, and violence. In thinking about this post, I realized that my understanding and response is entirely dependent on my understanding of a particular cultural context- specifically, the context of rape culture.

Robin and I plan to discuss this specific post more in-depth in a couple weeks. Before we are able to do that, though, we wanted to take this week to talk a little about the concept of rape culture, because this is a multifaceted, complex term that is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. Beyond the complexity, though, it is easy to feel as though we are not affected by rape culture if we have not been survivors (or had immediate family or friends that are survivors) of rape or sexual assualt. But the reality is, rape culture is everywhere and affects every single person.

Rape culture, at its core, is the idea that we live in a culture that fosters

situations for rape through both explicit and implicit sanctioning of certain behavior. Rape culture teaches us, for example, that consent is synonymous with “No Means No,” rather than the idea that “Yes Means Yes.” The difference is subtle, but powerful. “No Means No” implies that a person pushes for what they want until they hear “no” rather than asking for what they want and waiting for a “yes.” It assumes all people are capable of saying no (that, for example, power differences do not exist in the socializing of men and women wherein both are equally empowered to say no- something we know is absolutely not true. Men are taught to be forward and aggressive; women are taught to be diplomatic and accommodating. This makes the “No Means No” method immensely ineffective when those who are taught to push are the only people socially empowered to say no.)

I remember being 19 and riding the train to visit a partner and his family. It was a long train ride, and I took an Ambien to sleep through most of the ride. As I woke up, the person beside me was going to the café car and offered to get me a drink. I accepted and we talked for a bit when he came back. He made me a little uncomfortable, so I tried to get out of the conversation by saying that I was still a bit tired and was going to go back to sleep. He stopped talking, and I settled in, quiet and still, but not sleeping.

After a few minutes I felt something on my leg. I shifted and the pressure on my leg lifted. I figured I must have imagined it. After a few more minutes, though, I felt something on my leg again, around my knee and realized it was his hand. I was frozen, panicked. I didn’t know what to do. I knew that I should say no, but I didn’t want to draw attention to what he was doing and I was terrified of causing a scene. While I was trying to figure out how to respond, his hand kept moving further up my leg and I shifted again, hoping he would stop. His hand stopped moving when I shifted, but the pressure didn’t relieve. I began a mantra to “just breathe, just breathe” in my head while I tried to figure out what to do. As long as he believed I was asleep, he was going to continue touching me. The only choice I felt like I had was to be fully awake and talking to him, because at least when we were talking, he wasn’t touching me.

Could I have theoretically said no? Of course. But the power dynamics present in that situation made me feel like I couldn’t: I was a teenager, and he was a much older man. I was stuck sitting next to him on a train for another hour or so, and I didn’t want to cause a scene (because that idea was ingrained very deeply from a very young age: do not cause a scene.) But rape culture says that because I didn’t resist, or say no, or ask him to stop, that I wasn’t really assaulted. Even though he put his hands on me in a way that I did not want and did not consent to. Even though he only made advanced when he thought I was unable to resist (i.e. while I was asleep).

Rape culture places the burden of preventing rape on the people who are raped, rather than the people doing the raping. I have met very few women who were not taught the trick of carrying their car keys between their fingers or keeping a rolled stash of quarters in their purses to hold while walking to the car. One of my mothers certainly discussed tactics to keep me safe, many of which included an insinuation that men are inherently unsafe, and it was up to me, as a young woman, to protect myself from predatory men.

The truth is, we are all influenced by rape culture. I know I personally have been in situations where I realized, in retrospect, that I put pressure

on someone to have sex with me who didn’t appear to be enthusiastically into it. Did I rape someone? Absolutely not. But did I push for my own agenda when they didn’t seem really excited about coming to bed with me? I did. And I think these are the times when rape culture is the toughest: we do not have to be rapists (or survivors of rape) to be influenced by rape culture. The ways that we are taught to approach and navigate sexual situations is problematic. We don’t like to talk about sex. We don’t like to talk about what we’re doing, or ask for what we want. So instead of talking about it, we do it and hope that it’s ok with the other person (or hope, if it’s not ok with the other person, they will say something). It passes the burden of responsibility to the recipient, rather than taking responsibility for our own desires.

I remember a specific situation when I was in my early twenties and I was working as a line cook in a restaurant. The way the kitchen and restaurant was set up, customers could come sit at the counter to eat and, from that vantage point, watch the cooks prepare the food. Sometimes the wait staff was busy or in the middle of a break, and I didn’t want customers to watch their food sitting under a hot window, so from time to time, I would take food to customers who were sitting at the counter, and often strike up conversations with them.

There was one gentleman in particular that came in frequently, and he would always ask me about my day, how I was doing, making polite conversation. He seemed a little awkward, but fairly harmless, and we would talk for a minute when I brought out his food. After a few weeks, a coworker informed me that that customer had asked for my schedule because “I cooked his food the best” and only came in when I was working. I started to get wary and tried to find reasons not to talk to him, but he sat in a seat where he could always watch me and if I didn’t look busy enough, would start to talk to me, even when I was behind the grill.

On one particularly busy day, he came in and I was having a hard time. He sat for several hours, but it was apparent that I was not going to give him any attention. He left, but handed his waitress a note to pass on to me. She handed it to me with a smile and said, “Compliments to the chef!” When I opened the note, I read that he noted I looked stressed and encouraged me to call him when I got off work so I could come to his house and relax, with his number at the bottom.

I remember each piece of this story so vividly because it caused such a visceral reaction but I couldn’t explain why. He was just being a nice guy, right? So why did I suddenly feel so nauseous? He didn’t actually do anything… and yet, I began to hyperventilate. I was terrified. I was terrified he was sitting in his car, waiting in the parking lot for when I got off work. I was afraid to come to work the next day. I explained the situation to my boss who gave me a couple days off and, when the customer came in, told him I had transferred elsewhere. I never saw the man again.

Was I raped in this situation? Of course not. Do I think I would have been pressured to have sex with him if I had called him? Absolutely. That was almost certainly what he wanted from that exchange, and I was terrified of what would happen if I refused. I didn’t feel like I was able to tell him no because he wasn’t asking a direct question. As I have grown to understand consent better, I understand that there are many things about this situation that are not ok: he was stalking me at my place of work (by asking for my schedule and only coming to my job when I was there). He was manipulating and pressuring me into something I didn’t want without being transparent in his emotions- he had plausible deniability because he never mentioned sex, even though that was almost certainly what he was seeking.

A culture that fosters this type of behavior is incredibly problematic, and it is something that affects all of us. It informs how we understand sex and sexual dynamics, how we approach people we are attracted to, how the world responds to us. The situation I described was complicated by workplace dynamics (I was, to some degree, financially dependent on maintaining a good relationship with customers, even as a cook). But culture is built out of the intersections of different dynamics, and we must actively work to change toxic culture.

This is a large (and seemingly unattainable) task. But it starts with smallyesmeansyes things. An understanding that someone’s bodily autonomy is their own- so ask before you hug someone. Not asking as you’re reaching out with arms open and entering their space, but as you greet them: “Hello! It’s great to see you! May I give you a hug?” and waiting for a response before moving forward. It’s asking your partner- whether you’ve been together 2 days or 25 years- “May I remove your shirt? May I touch your back? Can I go down on you?” etc. It’s not asking what the victim did wrong, but asking for what the victim needs to feel safe. It’s not allowing friends to catcall people on the street from a stoplight, or make sexually objectifying comments about a stranger’s body. If we begin to foster a consent-focused atmosphere- one in which we ask people for a yes, rather than wait for them to set a boundary we may have already crossed- we go a long way in changing what is acceptable in our culture.

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

Have you experienced sexual violation–rape, attempted rape, unwanted advances you did not feel empowered to stop, pressure from an employer, or a customer or anyone who has economic power over you, to be sexual? Do you know how to ask and wait for yes (and do you actually do that), or are you trained to think that the other person has the responsibility, the power, to say no? Are you regularly on guard against sexual advances because of prior experiences, or has it not occurred to you that many people, mostly women but men as well, go around afraid? 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 feel free to join us THURSDAY, September 15th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online: Session 2, “The Roots of Sex-Negativity in Western Christianity: Part 2” from 3-4:00 EST. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components. Although not required, we encourage participants to read Sex as a Spiritual Exercise to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

Workshop description: In this session, Robin and Malachi continue to lay out some historical context of sex within Western Christianity, exploring how a faith whose origin rests on incarnation has become known for a deep anti-body and anti-sex bias. In this session, we will move beyond Judaism and Jesus to early church fathers and what might be called the social construction of early Christianity. There will be time for questions and discussion as well.

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