Bodies on the Line

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

Robin: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Malachi: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Want to Hear from You!

Help Make this a Conversation!

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

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Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

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

Keep Marching

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

14947937_10100747005631839_8991378826366585167_nMalachi: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Did you participate in a local march or action? Did you feel included or did you feel “othered” by those around you? What are your thoughts on protest in the coming weeks, months, and years? Please share your thoughts, your heart, on these questions or anything else this blog raises for you (see “Leave a Comment” link on upper left, underneath categories and tags), or box below, or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed above their pictures on the right.

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Join Us Third Thursdays!

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

Workshop description:

Coming soon!

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

Bullies and Brokeness

. . . people who are assigned female at birth, or AFAB) are often taught to associate their own self-esteem with their attractiveness . . . .


img_1869-02-08Malachi
I recently wrote about two different experiences I had while picking my goddaughter up from school. In one instance, a group of men in a car slowed down and began oogling, jeering, and catcalling, and I responded with an indication that they needed to keep moving. In the other, I was followed for several blocks on my way to her school by someone on a motorcycle who was repeatedly trying to get my phone number. When I had picked her up and was walking back home with her, he reappeared, and I did the best I could to shield her from any additional inappropriate comments.

These stories are not isolated incidents. This is just the reality of Parenting While Trans. Or simply just the reality of Being Trans.

When Robin and I were talking about what we wanted to write about today, these experiences were on the forefront of my mind, and he was talking about his experiences with bullying. I was reminded that I was spared a lot of bullying in my childhood years. I can never stop being grateful for that, given many of the horror stories I have seen, heard, and read about.

But as we continued to talk, my mind started going. “Bullying” is one form of harassment, one that many people (across gender identities and expressions) face. It’s a form of harassment meant to denigrate someone, made to make someone feel “less than,” or “not worthy” of kindness. It’s a brutal and atrocious tragedy that leads to instances like Columbine and increased risk for suicide (especially among LGBTQ people).

I didn’t get bullied through much of high school. But I do remember when I started getting harassed- right around the time I started having sex. And it occurred to me that harassment tends to take two distinct forms, particularly when it comes from men.

Bullying is something I see men doing to other people (they perceive as)

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male. Again, this is not to say that women are not bullied… but when I think of bullying, I think of a young man being called “fag” and “sissy,” being mocked for not exhibiting traditional masculine traits. Often the bullies are bigger, stronger, more masculine  (the incredibly stereotypical, iconic jock image). In short, the “purpose” of the bullying, if you will, is to tear other men down.

Women (or those perceived as women), tend to receive harassment based on their sexuality. It’s supposed to be a “compliment” that she would catch someone’s interest. Where men are expected to fight back against the bullying, women are expected to graciously accept and take it as a compliment.

I was pretty queer in high school. Blatantly, outspokenly, rainbow-wearing, gender-neutral pronoun-using queer. I was also a particularly awkward teenager and not viewed by my peers as a sexual being. My body wasn’t commented on because it wasn’t the type of body that it would occur to many people to make comments about. I wasn’t so unattractive that I was picked on, but I wasn’t attractive in the way that people noticed.

When I started to portray more elements of “mainstream” attractiveness, I found myself the target of catcalls, people stopping me on the sidewalk to ask for my number, people asking me if I was an escort (I confess, at that point, I had no idea what that was or what they were talking about). In short: when I began to be viewed by others as a sexual object, I began to receive more attention… and some of that attention was most definitely harassment.

The next logical step here is that women (and people who are assigned female at birth, or AFAB) are often taught to associate their own self-esteem with their attractiveness, and their attractiveness with the

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external affirmation they receive. But that attention is not always (or often) desired or requested. It becomes a mixed bag of emotions that boils down, “That person is creepy, but I still got it!” It’s an affirmation that we are still attractive and, because our value is predominantly tied to our attractiveness, it implicitly states something about our value and worth as human beings.

It starts young: “He pulled your hair? He must have a crush on you.” equates physical abuse with signs of affection, and it escalates from there. People who are AFAB have learned to equate harassment and abuse as signs of affection for most of their lives, and it is a deep sociocultural lesson that is incredibly difficult to unlearn.

There is, for me, another element of the story that further complicates matters. The people who harassed me on the street were (both times) men of color (of different ethnic backgrounds).

The night I got home after the motorcycle incident, my partner decided to order some food, and asked me if I wanted anything. I wasn’t hungry, so I said no. About half an hour later, I was sitting on my stoop, doing some work on my computer, and a car pulled up on my block, idling right outside my house and the driver (a young man of color) nodded at me.

I felt my stomach drop and my face got defensive. I glared at him until-oh! I remembered my partner had ordered food!- and stuck my head inside to let him know his food was here.

That moment stays with me, though, because it was a moment where my recent experience was coloring my reality, and I realized that I have some work I need to do to deal with my own racism.

As someone who was AFAB in a country with such deeply-held racism, I recognize that, even now, so much of my socialization has taught me to hate and fear black men. I don’t want to believe that that is true, but I know

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http://www.kappaphi.org/sites/default/files/styles/large/public/images/articles/serving-and-leading-through-brokenness-6.jpg?itok=jzTgBxBL

that it is. I grew up in the South, and racism is very much not dead. And there is a part of me that must recognize my socialization taught me that black men will rape white women.

It’s a brutal, difficult, ugly thing to face about myself. Particularly when I want, so badly, to be angry. I have these warring factions between my own oppression and harassment as a trans person, and my own privilege and prejudice as a white person living in a predominantly non-white city.

I have no idea how to reconcile these things, but I cannot pretend that they are not there.

And so we are left with this incredibly mixed, jumbled up discussion of harassment, gender, race, social expectations. If ever there was an argument for intersectionality, I think this would qualify. Because these things are not simple, and I have not unlearned so much of my own social conditioning.

I think it comes down to this: we are all broken. We lash out from brokenness, we buy into stereotypes from brokenness, we allow our fear to control us from brokenness. Healing is a long, slow process. It’s a hard process, but I do not want to view the world from a broken place any longer.

 

 

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Bullies I Have Known, and Know

A bully is as a bully does, from kids
to politicians and other famous people
to the guy on my high school bus
who talked tough, bent others’ fingers
and arms behind our backs,
until we cried out, begging him to stop.
I want to ask a couple of bullies these days
to stop—not being sure they are older
emotionally than the guy was on the bus
fifty-plus years ago (whose name I remember
but will not say)—even though their names
are on the front page every day,
one of whom could become
Bully in Chief, succeeding a long line
of less aggressive Commanders
in Chief from Washington to Obama.

Bus bully was actually a nice guy when he grew up,
apologized in his twenties—imagine that,
a bully apologizing, admitting his error without
being forced or shamed, simply because he knew
he had been wrong, he had done wrong.
I do not remember his explaining
why he had been so mean—perhaps, as so often,
his father or mother, or both, had been
bullies or overly aggressive, or he was reacting
to too much passivity at home, or maybe
he was hiding a secret, though I doubt
he was hiding homoerotic feelings or desires
toward me and others. Or was he just scared
of changes in his life and his budding body, like National
Bullies seem to fear change in our society.

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Jacobinmag.com

Queers, immigrants, Blacks, Muslims—all pretty scary
to those accustomed to feeling (not necessarily being,
depending on economics) in charge,
though he who seeks to be Bully in Chief
is used to having his way, telling others where the line,
or wall, is drawn, who will design it, who will pay for it.
And then there are women, and trans people, and gender queers,
those whose bodies are pawns to be moved or touched
or groped or fucked or cut or dumped or shot at will
(or all of the above),
depending on what the aggressor feels he needs
to prove. He may want to show off before an audience
or he may feel insecure and act when no one
is looking, or his need for control may be satisfied
by talk alone, boasting what he can do, or wants to do—
and will do when he feels threatened enough to act.

But let’s not be fooled. Talk costs.
A woman or girl, women and girls, walking,
as well as those who defy gender norms,
on the street, cat-called names that presume a relationship,
pay dearly in the insecurity that stalks and ridicules
claims of a so-called free society.
Or maybe it is the leers in classrooms by professors
or cops on beats, subtle but clear, poking innuendo
by salesmen, or dissing of bodies by the powerful.
Is it any wonder that women have to try harder
to speak up in boardrooms and science labs,
other male domains, risking drawing ire and attention,
violation of their spirits, minds, and bodies?

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ilakea.blogspot.com

Nor is it only women who pay, though they pay the most.
Boys and young men have to be brave to push against
the Master Bullies and bullies-in-training in their school
and neighborhood and town,
to resist the National Bullies and he who would be
Bully in Chief; and we who are men, especially white men, grown in this
angry, fearful, putrid soil, must stand too,
in solemn, fierce resistance, not only for our sisters,
mothers, daughters, female and trans friends and neighbors
here and across the globe, but also to be sure
sons, brothers, nephews, male friends and neighbors
here and across the globe learn to live in soulful,
beautiful human wholeness that does not depend
on domination, violating others to feel safe.

I do not like bullies.
But I no longer cower in fear. I will stand
and I will resist. If you stand with me,
and I with you,
we can stop them.
We and others can, and will, be free.

 

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

What was (or is) your experience will bullying and harassment? 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, 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.  If you have questions or concerns prior to the workshop, please write one of us at the email addresses above our pictures.

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

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

What Is Sexual Freedom? Malachi Responds

. . . sexual freedom feels like the ability to make choices about our bodies . . .

by Malachi Grennell

In thinking about sexual freedom, the first thought that pops into my head is, “Well, freedom stands opposed to constraints. We are free when nothing bars our way to fulfillment.” But as I think about this, I’m not sure this is exactly the correct sentiment: I think freedom is an understanding of the choices available, and the ability to have informed consent in what choices (and, for some, what limitations) we put on our sexual relationships.

For example, someone that is monogamous because monogamy is the only option that was ever presented to them is not necessarily “free;” they are simply doing what they know to do, whether or not it is healthy for them. Someone who chooses to pursue monogamous relationships because they feel that that is the relationship structure that feels most authentic to who they are…that, to me, is freedom.

I don’t think that constraints are inherently bad when they are chosen with intention and understanding. Limitations can keep us safe and healthy. For example, as a non-monogamous person, my partner and I have limitations on what types of sex we have outside of our relationship:

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http://www.scarleteen.com/

neither of us have sex with people without barriers (condoms, dental dams, gloves, etc.) to minimize the risk of disease transmission. Am I less “free” because of it? Yes, in some respects: it impacts some of the technical aspects of sexual relationships, but I also chose and consented to this particular limitation because it keeps me (and my partner, and our sexual partners) safe, and there is a type of freedom in that safety as well.

For me, my biggest hang-up (and perhaps, largest self-imposed obstacle to sexual freedom) is my discomfort with communicating desire. I have a

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http://quotesgram.com/

difficult time asking for what I want sexually. Now, my sexual relationships are incredibly fulfilling and satisfying and I’m quite happy in them, but something I have struggled with for years is my difficulty in stating, “I want (fill in the blank).” It comes from different places: at times, it comes of a place of feeling like I don’t deserve to feel certain types of pleasure, at times it comes from fear of rejection, at times it comes from a place of being fairly satisfied with what’s currently happening (or satisfied enough not to ask for something different), at times it comes from a place of genuinely not knowing what I want.

This is a constraint on my sexual identity and relationships that I don’t like and have been actively working to overcome this for years- and have made great progress, although it’s still something that I have to be very aware of. And in this way, I feel that my own sense of sexual freedom in inhibited in a way that I don’t like- but the issue is more than just a sexual one. It’s a sense of worthiness (which directly relates back to socialization and women wanting for the sake of wanting); it relates to sexual trauma, survival mechanisms, and shame (include feeling like my desires were shameful in and of themselves); it relates to feeling uncomfortable with my body and skin and trying to incorporate desire into that discomfort.

Sexual freedom is a tricky thing because I can’t limit it to simply my sexual self. My idea of sexual freedom also includes an aspect of freedom in my body and an understanding of gender dynamics which also includes an understanding that gendered expectations are not the same across cultures, so there needs to be an element of dismantling racism and culturalism, which also means shifting our understanding of class dynamics (which also ties pretty directly into sexual freedom anyway), and the whole thing is a gigantic, circular discussion of the different ways that oppression affects our ability to be whole, authentic people.

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BDSM acronym

As a person who has friends who are (or have been) sex workers- and as a person who has considered sex work at points in my own life-sexual freedom feels like the ability to make choices about our bodies- including using our bodies for income if we want (there is a fantastic quote from an Ani DiFranco song that goes “I want you to pay me for my beauty/I think it’s only right/cause I have been paying for it/all of my life”). As a member of the BDSM community, sexual freedom is about finding safe and creative ways to explore fantasies with informed and enthusiastic consent, to feel safe to discuss and try new things, to experience new sensations and do so in ways that feel good and empowering and authentic and safe. As a queer person, sexual freedom is the ability to be a sexual person without the threat of violence because of the audacity to be a sexual person. As a trans person, sexual freedom is not erasing my experiences as a sexual person- as a woman, I received a good deal of sexual harassment and some sexual assault and violence, and I still carry that with me even though I don’t identify as female. As a trans person who identifies as male but does not always “pass,” many people who don’t know me often believe that I am a man transitioning to a woman, and I receive much of the fetishization, sexualization, and objectification that transwomen experience- so although I am not a transwoman, sexual freedom is, for me, freedom from existing as a sexual object (rather than a human being).

Sexual freedom can be a lot of different things, depending on where we are coming from and through what lens we are viewing freedom. There is “freedom to” and “freedom from,” and cultivating those things takes different kind of work and different kind of energy. I am, in so many

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glogster.com

ways, more “free” now than I was at previous points in my life- and I think that’s good. It is a sign, to me, that I am continuing to shift and change and allow myself to be transformed. Yet I am finding, as I consider and explore the idea of sexual freedom, that as I allow myself the “freedom to…” (explore aspects of BDSM, be in healthy non-monogamous relationships, tackle old trauma and demons, etc.), I find myself in the position of seeking “freedom from…” (objectification, harassment, erasure, etc.) In short: “freedom to” feels like the ability to make an informed choice or decision about ourselves as sexual people, whereas “freedom from” feels like a systematic oppression we are seeking to escape or remove. And I think both are crucial and vital: we cannot impact systematic oppression without allowing a shift in ourselves, and we cannot shift in ourselves until we have an understanding of the options available to us. We must find a way to cultivate both.

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

What do you think? What is your idea of, or relationship with, sexual freedom? Please share below (or at the combined site for Malachi’s and Robin’s personal stories), or write Malachi and/or Robin at the emails listed.

Puzzling Through the Pieces: A Conversation

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

By Robin Gorsline and Malachi Grennell

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

M: I definitely agree with that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R: Amen!

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

Pieces of My Gender Puzzle . . . Thank God!

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

by Robin Gorsline

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

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

author's photo
author’s photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

pinterest.com
pinterest.com

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

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

amazon.com
amazon.com

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

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

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

naturalian.blogspot.com
naturalian.blogspot.com

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

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

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

healthtap.com
healthtap.com

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

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

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

equalgenderpro.wordpress.com
equalgenderpro.wordpress.com

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

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

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

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

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

 

Puzzle Pieces of God: Examining Gendered Socialization

By Malachi Grennell

Last week, Rev. Robin and I wrote a bit about the “bathroom bill” controversy and our personal relationships with public bathrooms. This week, Robin is taking some well-deserved time with family, so I wanted to continue in the discussion of our relationships with our bodies by broadening out a bit and talking about social messaging.

As a trans person, my relationship with my body is something I have cultivated- and that hasn’t always been an easy journey. Social expectations tell me that I have to look, act, and speak in a certain way to be perceived as male while ingrained lessons and female socialization fight against those behaviors (since they often feel contradictory), and sometimes, I feel stuck: stuck in a binary system, stuck with a mismatched conglomeration of pieces that don’t fit together. When I think about my relationship with my body, it feels a little like I’m trying to put together a puzzle, but there’s no guiding image and

puzzle
http://www.giovanioltrelasm.it/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/puzzle.jpg

someone mixed up all the pieces from a bunch of different puzzles, so I’m not always sure which pieces I need and which are extraneous (or, perhaps, belong to someone else’s image).

The reality is, though, that every single one of us has to work to cultivate some kind of relationship with our bodies, and our social experiences are a part of that relationship. We have a plethora of messages about what women “should” do (e.g. shave body hair, have a trim waistline, grow hair long, wear makeup, etc.) as well as what men “should” do (e.g. have a certain penis size, build muscle, always be rational and logical without showing too much emotion, make the first move, be attracted to women). Some of these expectations are impossible due to genetic factors, while others are personal preferences. Regardless, though, creating the “perfect man” and “perfect woman” archetype is dangerous and damaging on many levels, not the least of which perpetrates systematic oppression through racism (the ideal body is a white one, based on white standards); sexism (women’s strengths are considered the inferior of a binary dichotomy: emotion is less valuable than reason, and women are assumed emotional while men are assumed rational); classism (those who can afford surgeries, expensive makeup, laser hair removal, etc. vs those who are “stuck” with the body they have); the list goes on.

I think it’s good to cultivate a relationship with your body that is healthy and positive, and if doing things like going to the gym or shaving your legs helps with that, then awesome! The difference is whether we do things because we think we are supposed to or whether we do things because we legitimately like doing them. Furthermore, are we perpetuating systematic violence and oppression with our expression of our bodies or simply striving to be the best “us” we can be, one that is created in the image of God?

tumblr_mpkp6i9Bl11r6u05ro1_1280
http://arthlete.tumblr.com/image/54834994929

The difference is in our intention and how we allow social conditioning to impact our decisions. When we think about our ideal body, is it a reasonable expectation of goals for the bodies we have? Or is it an unrealistic desire to look like the models in the magazines? The role of social conditioning on gendered expectations is powerful and pervasive and it can be difficult to untangle. The expectations of gendered socialization extend beyond our physical relationships with our bodies, but also focus on emotional and psychological components as well. And for most of us, our expectations are not limited to simply how we believe we should and shouldn’t behave, but extend to include how others should behave and further, assign motive to those behaviors.

Recently, I had an interesting experience. A few weeks ago, a lover came to visit and stay with us for a few days. It’s a somewhat complicated relationship, but he is someone that is a bit notorious for his sexual escapades in some circles, and would probably be referred to as “player” by many people. Overall, we had a good time, but at one point, I noticed that he didn’t seem particularly interested in having sex. I started to feel irritable and resentful and couldn’t figure out what was going on, and suddenly realized- I was feeling rejected. But further than that, I started to feel undesirable in general- and realized that I was assigning motive, intention, and judgement to the situation that didn’t need to be there.

rejection
http://www.reclaming.net/

I interpreted his lack of desire to be sexual as a rejection of me in general: because this one person wasn’t interested in having sex in this one moment, it meant that I was (in general) undesirable-a feeling that was exacerbated by the fact that he is such a player. If he doesn’t want me, then clearly I am not desirable. It was an interesting situation because it reminded me that, as someone who was raised as female, I was very much inundated with messages that my worth as a person directly corresponded to other people (specifically, men’s) evaluation of my sexual desirability.

The truth of the matter was, my friend was actually tired and starting to get a little sick, and felt comfortable enough to not feel a pressure to perform. But my reaction and response reminded me how much my socialization and upbringing still impacts me- even as someone who has worked through a lot of their baggage around gender and gendered assumptions. I thought I had overcome many of these ideas, but was an important reminder to me that this is constant work that needs to be revisited from time to time because those messages are still out there. Even if I don’t identify as female, I am tuned to hear those messages because they were targeted at me for so long.

Similarly, when I was working toward my undergraduate degree in traditional mathematics, I began to notice less and less women in my traditional mathematics courses- but plenty of women in the courses where math students overlapped with the teaching program. In short, many of the women in the mathematics program were training to be teachers- which is wonderful, except that, by my final semester, there was only one woman who remained in the upper-level math courses (she

how_it_works
https://xkcd.com/385/

and I quickly bonded and are still good friends). One of the things we talked about is the difference between men and women answering questions in class: men tend to have less fear of being wrong, whereas women tend to want to be absolutely sure and worry about “saying something stupid.” She and I often had similar fears about speaking up in class. Yet, for me, most people read and identified me as male and expected me to act according to masculine socialization, yet my brain was still operating from a place of female upbringing and socialization about “being wrong” in a math class. This discrepancy between how people expected me to act and how I was conditioned to act created some awkward social moments and made it difficult to connect to the some of the men in the math department… which was tricky because most of the students in the math department were men. It’s a form of social isolation that is subtle and difficult to identify, but it can impact our capacity to form relationships and make social bonds when we act outside of the social expectations of our perceived gender.

The goal, of course, should be to understand the social nuances of how gender presents itself and decide what fits and what doesn’t. The reality, of course, is much more complicated than that. The messages we get about how men and women “should” behave (never mind gender non-conforming folks, like myself) have lasting, and often damaging, impacts on how we relate to ourselves, our bodies, and other people…and these message can be so subtle, we don’t often notice them consciously.

We are all created in the image of God. To deem ourselves not worthy, less-than, or inferior is to claim that God is all of these things as well. We must combat the messages of how we believe men and women “should” behave. These archetypes not only create impossible standards that can be damaging for those who can’t attain them, but they are also rooted in systematic oppression- those who don’t fit a white, heterosexual, cisgendered narrative (and behave and present accordingly) become “othered” and pressured to compensate.

We are all pieces of a larger puzzle, reflecting the image of God. We’re not necessarily working off a guiding image, and sometimes it can be easier to want to be a different piece: a different shape, a different color, fitting into a different pattern. But without each of us living our authentic selves, being our authentic selves, the image is incomplete. No one piece is more important than another piece. In order to be able to see the image of God, we must first be able to truly see the beauty in the image of ourselves. Should we strive to be the best version of ourselves that we can be? Of course. But the best “us” that we can be is to reach for and honor the image of God within ourselves, rather than constantly trying to compensate for failing to be the image of God presented in someone else.