Who Needs An Excuse?

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

Malachi:

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Photo Credit: Nearly Candy Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Nearly Candy Photography

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

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

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

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

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

Robin:

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

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

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

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

bachelor_party_2 The Plunge.com
ThePlunge.com

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

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

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akacatholic.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever felt or do you feel you need a reason, other than desire, to have sex? Have you ever felt, or do you feel, you feel you need permission to have sex? Have you participated in “special occasion” sex, and if so, how did it feel? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

Mark Your Calendar! December 13, right here, the next installment of Sex, Bodies, Spirit.

 

When Bodies “Betray” Us

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

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh.

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

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

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

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

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

revrobin2-023Robin:

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

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

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

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

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

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healthtap.com

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

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

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

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

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

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Ageonics Medical

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

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

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

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

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patheos.com

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

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

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

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TL Shreffler

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

Have you had sexual “dry spells?” How did it feel? Did you do anything to move out of it, or did change just happen? How do you experience sex as a force in your life that impacts your spirituality and your mental well-being, and how do those other aspects affect your sex?  Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

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discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

Please join us in about two weeks, THURSDAY, March 16th for Sex, Bodies, Spirit Online from 3-4:00 EST/19:00 UTC. To access the call, please click here. Please note that some members of the call (including Robin and Malachi) choose to enable video during the call. Video is not necessary; we encourage participants to participate as they feel comfortable. A sidebar chat option is available to those who choose not to enable their audio/video components.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

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happy-parties.com

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

love for us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part 3: Beyond the Norm

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

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

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

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

A First For First Ladies

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

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nMalachi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

revrobin2-023Robin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ChicagoTribune.com

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

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

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

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

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First-Lady-to-be, Melania Trump HarpersBazaar.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

Workshop description:

Sacred, Not Secret, Part I: Beyond the Binary

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

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

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

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.

Malachi:

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

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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?

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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

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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.

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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.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

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

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

Only Yes Means Yes, Part II: On Rape Culture

Content warning: Contains discussions of rape, sexual abuse, and trauma. Some discussions and/or images may be triggering.

Rev Dr.Tom Bohache:  As a rape survivor, I am always troubled when people say, “Rape isn’t about sex; it’s about violence,” for I think it both trivializes it and misses the point. It IS violence, but it is ALSO sex. The horror and outrage is that sex has been used as the vehicle to perpetuate violence, and the survivor’s sexuality has been (forever?) perverted by this act. Some of the lasting effects might be body shame, self doubt, fear of intimacy, and an unwillingness to engage in certain sexual acts. (In my case, it tainted receptive anal sex for me.)

Rev. Miller Hoffman: it feels tricky to me, Tom. Sex has become weaponized in rape, and folks like me are trying to distinguish between something that is mutual and consensual (sex) and something that is not (violence). I think the confusion between rape and sex may be at the heart of Brock Turner’s light sentence, for example: much less likely if he had assaulted her with a bat.

Rev. Dr. Bohache: Yes, there are many layers to the issue. But what bothers me is when people make a statement like the one I quoted without realizing the complexity. It feels dismissive.

Rev. Hoffman: Absolutely. Especially if that’s the response when we are trying to talk about rape’s impact on our sexualities.

revrobin2-023Robin: The dialogue above, on a Facebook page that hopes to continue conversations that began in October 2015 as part of an ongoing symposium, “Who Are We Really? Re-Engaging Sex and Spirit,” sparked conversation between me and Malachi, and we decided to share some of our own experiences and thoughts.

Two weeks ago, Malachi began the conversation with a powerful post, “Only Yes Means Yes”: On Consent and Cultural Influences.”

Before that, as we talked, I began by saying something to the effect that it might be a future topic, and that I might be able to write about it even though I had no personal experience of rape or sexual abuse.

No experience of rape or sexual abuse.

As the words came out of my mouth, they got stuck in the air just beyond my lips.

Then I was able to offer a correction to Malachi. I said I have no specific memory or evidence that I was abused but I have long carried the feeling I was. Based on embodied reactions to an uncle, I have long wondered if I had been abused by him when I was three years of age and left in the care of him and my aunt for a week or two (I was not terribly fond of my aunt, but I felt no revulsion for her, as did towards my uncle).

This uncertainty—and at times I feel more certain—has created in me a

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great empathy towards those who report with absolute certainty what happened to them. My inclination is toward believing the testimony of victims generally, but it is especially strong in the case of those battered, abused and murdered due to rape and sexual abuse.

This experience (of the feeling of violation at least) has also caused me to believe that these horrors happen far more often than most of us think, something with which those who collect statistics and are otherwise knowledgeable generally agree.  It has also caused me to be more open to listening to, and finding truth in, those who share experience and knowledge that contradicts my own.

One occasion causes me to be aware of this frequency as well as the need to listen to others–indeed to realize how thin the line can be between one person’s “no” (or lack of “yes) and another’s putting their “need” or sense of privilege ahead of any consideration of the right to safety and security for the body of another human being. This time I was the perpetrator.

During a time in my life when I was single, I became close to a young man whom I met through the Radical Faeries. I will call him Steve, a handsome and quirky guy who favored several European philosophers. We hung out together in Brooklyn and visited the beach on Fire Island. We had many conversations about philosophy, religion, and family. Over time, I became sexually obsessed with him. I made my desires clear, and he made his refusal clear, too. “I want to be friends, but I am not sexually attracted to you.”

That was a clear “no,” but I failed to heed it. One day, as we lay, naked, side by side, on the beach, I reached over and placed my hand on his genitals. He responded immediately by lifting my hand off his body and said “Don’t ever do that again.”

Immediately, I felt shame, and apologized. I told him I did not want to lose him as a friend. He said he too hoped we could remain friends. “Time will tell,” he said.

Soon, we no longer had any contact. I still feel shame and remorse–but it was not until Malachi and I had considerable conversation about consent that I remembered Steve and how I violated him.

I know I am not alone in violating the body of another–which is not an excuse, but is an acknowledgment that our culture has a lot of boundary violations going on, from hugging without permission to unacceptable sexualized touch to rape and other forms of intimate violence. This is, as I see it, all part of a “rape culture” which seems to create, or at least work alongside, other cultural influences and norms so that its adherents and practitioners get what they want, or stop others from getting what they deserve, by dismissing the embodied autonomy and innate worth of others.

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This may not be rape as sexualized violence, but efforts to deny the value and beauty of bodies is nonetheless violation and it creates ongoing negative effects in how people view and relate to their own bodies. It is mental and emotional rape even if it is not physical.

A number of political and social leaders, including but not limited to Donald Trump, have drawn upon this to give public voice to what many older white men (and some younger ones, too) believe, namely that the claims of other people—racial groups other than white people, women, even gays and lesbians and certainly transgender people—are overblown, if not false, and are endangering our well-being as a well-organized, orderly society.

Their reaction to these and differences is not to listen, or even to ask questions, so they might learn about the experience of others, but to respond with dismissals, slurs, and belittlement. Alas, any of us can do that when we encounter difference, but it is possible to train ourselves to be more open. But we have to want to be open.

Trump’s ongoing belittlement of women—his crass responses to women who oppose him and the support he receives for and because of it—offer not only evidence of the ongoing power of rape culture but also send a clear signal to many, mostly men but probably also to some women who support these men, that he is “THE MAN.” And Mario Rubio’s effort to belittle Trump’s penis seems to have been, perhaps unconsciously, his attempt to say, “No, he is not THE MAN. I AM THE MAN!”

This takes me back to Tom Bohache’s initial comments when he wrote about the effects on the survivor’s sexuality.  So many people, so many of us, carry scars from this culture even if we do not carry scars from rape of our body, our person. And I believe far more of us than have said it are victims of specific acts of various forms of rape. How many of us carry a feeling of violation even if we cannot name it with any assurance or precision?

And although more women are victims of rape than men (misogyny and

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patriarchy are alive and well), there are many men who, unlike my brave friend and colleague Tom, have yet to openly admit their histories. Another of my dearest friends has told me about his repeated gang rape in a Midwestern middle school bathroom.  I know he is bravely working to overcome the damage done to his own sense of self and sexuality, but it took him years even to recall the memory. My friend is one of the most open, caring people I know, but I know (and he knows) he also has much anger inside.

I wonder how many of the angry white men who cheer Trump and others—many of whom have legitimate grievances against an economic system that has shut them out—may also have rape or abuse histories yet to face and tell? Preying on their anger does them no good and undermines the well-being of many others, indeed wreaks social havoc.

As Miller Hoffman writes, “Sex has become weaponized in rape, and folks like me are trying to distinguish between something that is mutual and consensual (sex) and something that is not (violence).”

All of us need to stand, as best we can, in that space to distinguish, and promote, something that is mutual and consensual, speaking up, standing up, and opposing that which is not.

 

13494904_10100653721109769_3022759221022255872_nMalachi: Rape, sexual assault, consent violations: it’s a heavy topic, one that is full of emotions and (for some), triggers. It’s an abhorrent act that cuts at the heart of who we are as sexual people- perverting an act that is meant to be spiritual, holy, pleasurable, and fulfilling in order to commit violence on another body, to exert power and control over another person.

If sex is intended to be a reclaiming of our bodies and pleasurable selves, rape is the inverse, removing our capacity for choice, power, or pleasure from the equation. It is not connective and mutual, but one-sided and isolating. It is a violent act.

And this is just the act itself. This does not take into account the fairly

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horrendous process of reporting rape in an environment that associates rape of masculine people as a sign of weakness (which often leads to the underreporting of rape on assigned male bodies), and rape of feminine people as a consequence for existing (the comments on the victims clothing, state of sobriety, location, and/or lack of company are more than enough to insinuate that a woman is responsible for her rape by wearing clothes that support her sexuality, choosing to consume alcohol, walking down the street, or simply being alone).

A couple weeks ago, I began to contextualize the concept of rape culture as part of a larger response to Rev. Tom Bohache’s and Rev. Miller Hoffman’s dialogue on facebook about the language and implications when talking about rape.

The conversation highlights aspects of a survivor’s story- including long-term effects and language that we use to designate the difference between consensual acts and acts that are rooted in seeking to hold power over another person.

First, I have to state that I appreciate the importance of the distinction for many: particularly for women and those assigned female at birth, there is an inherent cultural disbelief of a survivor’s story, or a sense that a victim “deserved it.” Because the cultural response is to automatically doubt the victim’s story, phrases like “it’s not sex, it’s violence” become important because they are another way to say, “This was not my fault. I did not have a choice in this.”

In a somewhat-separate facet of my life (my involvement with kink and BDSM communities), I am actively working with several organizations who are trying to (a) navigate allegations of consent violations within the community; (b) instate better policies to keep people safer at events; and/or (c) seek to update reporting processes and be transparent in accountability and addressing consent violation reports. One particular discussion thread that is vital to the conversation is centering the victim’s experience and requests in the healing process. Rev. Tom Bohache makes this

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important point that his voice feels diminished and/or silenced by creating the hard line between sex and rape.

In many ways, I understand that hard line and why it is drawn. Rev. Miller Hoffman points that we need ways to distinguish between the act of sex and the atrocity of weaponizing sex- a distinguishment of intention, rather than acts. We don’t want to see any relation between the consensual, sacred aspect of our sexualities and the brutal perversion of sexual expression through rape.

But what is “sex”? Is it simply a mechanical, technical act, a pelvic thrusting motion, a combination of hands and lips that combine to produce a physical sensation? If sex is nothing more than a physical act, then I absolutely see that it is harder to differentiate between the two based on the physical components.

For me, though, sex gets a little more complicated. In BDSM, I have seen people have orgasms fully clothed with no genital touch. I have seen people having sex without having an orgasm. I have seen people having orgasms from pain stimuli. I have seen the exact same two scenarios happen- someone tied up in artistic rope- and for one person, the act is sexual, for the other, it is not.

I still struggle to define what sex is. For me, it most often comes down to the vague, “people are having sex if they consider the actions occurring between them consensual, sexual acts,” which inherently diverges from “rape” in both consent and intention.

We have to all be desiring to do what we are doing for it to be sex, for me. Anything else isn’t automatically, de facto “rape”… there are a whole lot of different interactions that happen between “sex” and “rape.” Those grey areas are not talked about enough, and those gray areas are the entire premise of rape culture.

But as important as the phrase, “That wasn’t sex, that was violence” can be to some survivors (although, clearly, as Tom said, that phrase undermines his own experience in how rape has impacted his ability to be a consensually sexual adult), it is a phrase we cling to because it separates us into us-vs-them. Good people and bad people. Good people don’t rape and rape is violent. Rape is about power. I’m a good person. Therefore, I don’t use sex in violent ways or use it to exert power over others.

http://www.pcar.org/sites/default/files/u14/pyramid.jpg
http://www.pcar.org/sites/default/files/u14/pyramid.jpg

But when the focus is only on the black-and-white, sex vs. rape, it minimizes the numerous areas between those two things. I have had situations in which I pushed, coerced, or misread someone else’s interests. Now certainly, when someone said no, I stopped, but the point is, there is a violence when we push our own desires onto someone else. Kissing someone when they don’t want to be kissed. Touching someone when they’re intoxicated. These situations impact someone’s capacity for sexual expression in future situations- sometimes extensively. Rape is not the only form of sexual violence, and without minimizing the atrocities of rape, I think we can also come to understand the ways in which we have used (or seen others use) sex as a means of power and/or selfish intention.

Does this mean we are inherently bad people? No. Does this mean that rapists should get a pass for the atrocities they commit? Absolutely not. Holding people accountable is absolutely necessary, and there is an immense amount of trauma and pain associated with healing from rape. But I think, in many ways, it can be an oversimplication to say “Rape isn’t sex, it’s violence.” Not because that narrative is untrue or not important, but because sex is not purely a mechanical act, and I have found that there are many ways for sex to be weaponized and used as a power tactic.

Recognizing that we need to find a way to differentiate these things is important. But similarly, we have to ensure that, in our desire to separate out the differences in both understanding and semantics, we are not doing so in a way that continues to silence the voices of survivors.

 

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

How do you feel about the culture you are currently a part of? Do you feel as though you are living in a rape culture? Can you think back to times in your own sexual history where there wasn’t enthusiastic consent from all parties? How do you feel about the phrase, “Rape isn’t sex, it’s 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 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 as well as If We Can’t Talk About It, We Shouldn’t Be Doing It to mentally prepare for this discussion. If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

discoverpittsfield.com
discoverpittsfield.com

Workshop description: In this session, Robin and Malachi continue to lay out some historical context of sex within Western Christianity, exploring how a faith whose origin rests on incarnation has become known for a deep anti-body and anti-sex bias. In this session, we will move beyond 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.