In these times, more than ever, our practices become what sustain and nourish our resiliency and our capacity to resist, without collapsing from fatigue. Our practices are our freedom; we choose where we place our valuable attention. Through practice, we become the artists of our own lives, refusing to subsist only on a diet of despair and powerlessness, instead practicing what deeply feeds us; joy, kindness, forgiveness, boundaries, pleasure.
Consciously choosing what we practice is how we liberate our lives, personally and collectively, from the tyranny of the over culture. It is my professional opinion that making certain our bodies are feeling pleasure is a radical act of resistance, and a necessary act of self-care.
Sexual liberation can be understood not as a state, but as a series of practices. Practices which support the commitment to freedom in one’s body, on one’s own terms. Choosing the erotic as a path to freedom takes tremendous courage, willingness to resist most of what you are told you should and should not do, feel, know and experience as a sexual being. Erotically liberating practices are countless, and wonderfully diverse; if the path of the erotic calls to you, choose one practice and follow it with avid curiosity as you discover what is true for you.
Here are five practices of sexual liberation, created for your delight and reflection. One does not need to do all, or any, of these practices while pursuing freedom. Any practice (no matter how small) repeated over time, can lead to big changes in your sexual freedom.
I do not invoke sexual liberation lightly; I understand that it is the path for some, and not all, and also timing is key. No judgement if this is not your path, or not your path right now. No judgement that the erotic is the best path. As Rumi wrote, “there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” But if practicing sexual liberation supports your wellness, my blessings on your practices!
Without further ado, practices that support Sexual Liberation.
Shamelessness: the practice of desiring, touching, and communicating with innocent abandon. Throwing off the repressive yoke of shame to embrace an inner attitude of freedom. How to practice: Notice when shame arrives knocking at the door. Usually, shame is attempting to control our speech, actions or requests. Once you notice that shame is in the house, imagine throwing it off of you. Shake yourself free (metaphorically, and even physically), take a big breath, and do or say the thing. You can name that you are feeling shame, and acting anyway. By practicing shamelessness, we free ourselves of the constriction of shame.
Lustiness: the practice of commitment to experience the world through the lens of lusty vigor. How to practice: Notice during the day when you have sexual feelings or thought. Perhaps someone hot crosses in front of you when you are stopped at a red light. Perhaps you wake feeling aroused. Once you notice the erotic stirring within you, bring your breath to it. Breathe into the feeling, and see if it wants to expand a little bit in your body. Allow yourself to slip into feeling lascivious. Instead of stopping lust when it happens, follow it for awhile and see where it leads.
Permission: the practice of wanting what I want. Allowing the space in my life to want new, surprising things. How to practice: To give yourself permission to do something, you have to first notice when desire for something arises. Perhaps the impulse towards something you want is quite brief, and the inhibition of the impulse occurs almost immediately. Start by paying attention to those small desires, those moments where your desire surprises you. Notice what happens in your body when your impulse, and then inhibition, arise. Now experiment with telling yourself you can have whatever it is, if you really want it. Notice what happens in your body when you do that! If what you want is within the realm of harming none, and brings you pleasure, try actually following through on giving yourself permission.
Celebration: the practice of celebrating sex, your body, body diversity by cultivating an attitude of raunchy joy, loud and raucous praise for the sensual and the sexual, and lip-smacking wonder and delight. How to practice: Savoring and Celebrating both require your attention. Talking with friends about the great sex you had last night, or praising your lover’s many delights out loud to them. You can cultivate gratitude for your erotic encounters, and remember them with relish and in detail in the day or so after they finish.
Erotic Self-confidence: the practice of moving your body and making moves on your playmate without fear of rejection. How to practice: Athletes often use the power of their imagination to practice winning the game or meet. They go into great detail, forming a neural pathway in their brain that has already HAD the experience they are preparing for. Erotic self-confidence is similar. You can practice ahead of time, in your imagination. Of course, an erotic encounter will go how it goes, but preparing your brain for a confident experience will help. Another part of practicing erotic self-confidence involves practicing feeling confident. This can be in any situation. You tune your internal channel to the “I am a sexy, confident beast.” And you practice feeling that, and believing it is true.
Choose one of these practice and try it out, if it brings you joy. Explore it to the edge. The practices of Sexual Liberation call you home, set you free, and nourish the revolution.
I’d love to hear about your erotic practices. What works? What have you explored? How does your erotic practice nourish you? Please leave a comment below! It makes me happy to hear from you.
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There are many exploratory erotic spaces that I want to be in. However, the specific spaces I want don’t usually exist. Often, that means I create them, because I want them to be in the world.
Recently, I created two very different erotic explorations, Transexy and Black Velvet. The events had very different intentions and different results. In reflecting and contrasting the two parties, I learned that my desire can’t be separated from my commitment to good body politics, and in fact, I’m turned ON by spaces that actively deconstruct the dominate narrative of attraction! Maybe you are too?!?
The first space I facilitated was Transexy: a sex party for transmasculine folks, many of whom had never attended a sex party. There were probably 50 people initially in the room, as I led us through a series of warm-up games. Games that help you know what you want in the moment, and communicate it clearly to your partner. Games that teach about boundaries and consent, as well as non-verbal negotiation.
You know, the type of sexy education we all should have gotten as teenagers, except we didn’t. And in this particular demographic there’s a higher percentage of folks dealing with really intense stuff than in the general population: dysphoria, shame, trauma, internalized transphobia, challenges receiving touch and having sex at all. So this party was a Big Fucking Deal. Just being naked together was an act of solidarity and revolution in a society that says trans bodies are fucked up, wrong, and that’s often best case.
The second space I facilitated was Black Velvet: a sex party in the dark for all different types of bodies, genders, sexual orientations, races, ages, body sizes, political affiliations. The only thing in these bodies had in common was that they were somehow connected to me or my fellow organizers, and we trust them. This party was held, from start to finish, in the complete darkness. Consent, boundaries, negotiation, desire… all without any sense of sight. Yep.
Black Velvet is an event that a friend and I conceived a few years ago, as we lamented over not getting to be gay males in the 1970’s pre-HIV sex scene. Dark rooms, also known as blackrooms or backrooms, were a common feature of gay bars, where anonymous sex can easily take place. We decided to create an erotic experiment that would recreate the dark room space:
Question: What happens erotically, between a group of people in a completely dark, anonymous, anything-goes-but-consent-is-required space?
Hypothesis: Participants will explore their own erotic desires, curiosities, hang ups, and boundaries, and will move beyond who they know themselves to be as erotic beings.
Having conducted one Black Velvet several years ago, I wanted a chance to go deeper into the experience, and am doing so this fall with a series of three by invite-only events. Last Saturday was the first of the three.
The practice of holding complexity
At the first party for transmasculine folks, I knew the space was radical. There were moments when the healing in the room was palpable. I looked around and could almost see shame constructs crashing through the floor, to be returned as power and pleasure in community. I knew without doubt how powerful and necessary this space was/is. I feel dedicated to continuing to create such spaces for folks with marginalized identities and bodies. And yet.
At one point, I looked around, and the bodies lying on the floor made a map of oppression. Central to the space were the young, white, able-bodied, thin more masculinized body with beauty privilege. Surrounding that central pile were groupings of folks with less desirability cred: the fat, the older, the disabled, POC, less masculine folks. I couldn’t see class status, but I’m sure it was also reflected in the space.
All of the privilege centralized, and upheld by the folks having to do the emotional labor of wrestling with their own self-worth and feelings of desirability. It broke my heart. And this map was somewhat my fault; I didn’t set up a critical space, or invite in the politics of desirability to be named and seen. I don’t think I even realized them so clearly, until this party.
Hey, where did my gender go?
At the second party, because of the absence of the visual, I have no idea if this map of oppression repeated itself. My sense is that it did not. It was a much smaller group, in a small space, and the edges of the space aren’t very far from the center. From the reports that participants submitted, there is no evidence to suggest this happened. While we can never erase oppression and desirability politics from our sex spaces, I’m curious if these become quieter factors when you just can’t see who you’re are messing around with.
Some racial features, and body size somewhat identifiable by touch, but in my experience, most touch started with limbs, where it was pretty impossible to discern the entirety of someone’s presentation. The space was designed to be scent-free, so that a participant with a disability around scent could participate, so again, that subverted some of the centralization of able-bodies, in terms of scent.
For at least a couple of the participants in Black Velvet, the absence of the visual was distracting from being connected to their arousal. I personally found the absence of the visual helped me to concentrate on what I was feeling and experiencing with each body I encountered. It’s interesting to me how the actual erotic energy feels with various folks.
I had significant erotic encounters with four different folks, and a variety of other encounters. Each time, the energy I share with my partners has a distinct quality. There is one person in particular who is running a low base note of Eros, and I lower my dial and feel the connection open like a slow, wide river… deep and sultry and timeless.
I know that I feel more desirable in the dark. I don’t worry about what the connection “means” or how I’m perceived, or if I’m wanted. It is clear that if someone is engaging with me, they want me. It really shuts up the dumb stories in my head about not being hot enough.
Of these two events, Black Velvet is the hotter erotic space for me. And in part, it’s because there has been some negation of the prevalent visual narrative that tells me who I’m supposed to be attracted to, and who is supposed to be attracted to me.
At Black Velvet, I found that I was attracted to all kinds of bodies in the dark. Bodies I would probably never engage with erotically were I able to see them, because they don’t go along with my narrative of who I am attracted to.
Yeah, but what’s this have to do with desirability?
Here’s the thing. We all think that our desires, who we want, what we want, is just mysterious magic. Like, isn’t it surprising that my desire trends towards everything that culture tells me is attractive?
While many may think of who we are attracted to as personal preference, those preferences are not developed in a vacuum. It’s impossible to separate one’s desires from the culture and society in which they were formed, so it’s important to think critically about it. ~Tristan
There’s this thing called sexual capital. The more you are what culture centralizes as “good, normal, beautiful” the more of this sexually currency you possess. You get to trade it for things like dates, being asked out, make-out sessions, getting laid, etc. Yeah, all the good stuff! The problem is, that just like in other forms of capitalism, some folks have more access to sexual capital than other folks do.
As an older, fat white person with sags and wrinkles and a weird gender presentation, I have less access than if I were younger, thinner, and conventionally hotter. I have more access to sexual capital because I facilitate erotic stuff frequently, and have experience with touch, boundaries, etc. Sexual capital isn’t good or bad, it just is. But sexual capital becomes bad when we refuse to acknowledge the impact it has in radical spaces designed for sexual exploration, especially on those with less access to it.
I had a heart-breaking conversation with one guy with less access to sexual capital at Transexy, who sat on the edges of the party. When I enquired if he wanted my help integrating in, he said simply “I’m waiting to be wanted.”
“this unwillingness to recognize how love, fucking and whom we find attractive is political. It’s like we, as a society, have created this whole untouchable area around intimacy in our lives – and perhaps the most important area – the area I think could use the most critique – leading to this massive resistance around analyzing any decisions relating to love and sex. You hear terms like “preference” or “love is love” or “you can’t help who you like” and the conversation stops there.” ~Hari Ziyad
I mean, of course privilege and centralization of certain bodies occurs in these spaces. It occurs everywhere, and why would we expect radical sex spaces to really be any different?? I always say that there are no safe spaces, spaces where we magically leave all our socialization at the door and show up pure and innocent in our desires. Nope. Never gonna happen. But we can start to create sexual spaces for exploration that deliberately hold a critical lens, and strive towards inclusivity.
Mia Mingus talks about moving toward the ugly. Ugly folks and those deemed less culturally desirable have just as much chance to be good at touching and connecting as folks who hold the beauty bundle, maybe even more, because they are working to gain sexual capital rather than having it handed to them.
I learn that for an erotic space to turn me on, it’s gotta be reflective of my politics. Erotic spaces that oppress, no matter how well-intentioned or revolutionary in their own way, just don’t get my nut off. In this post, I’m publically making a commitment to never holding sexualized spaces again that don’t have an active lens of critique and desire to deconstruct oppression, as opposed to reproduce it unconsciously.
Lemme say that one more time: I’m committed to creating revolutionary, erotic spaces for marginalized bodies and identities that hold a critical lens around sexual capital. I’m committed to bringing my work to people who think inclusivity is the hottest thing. And I am pretty certain that my politics can get even juicer, even bolder. That my personal and professional approach to sexual arousal that lifts people up can expand and evolve. Now THAT’S a hot erotic experiment.
In the dark
We are all desire
There is no age
No race or gender
In the dark
We are sweat
In the dark
We are delicious
If you like this, gimme some comment love below?
It’s good to talk about the nuances of a pleasure revolution, in particular for those of us with sexual trauma.
And yet pleasure can be complicated. Or maybe it always is.
What is pleasure? How do you know it when you feel it? What’s your capacity for staying with it? Can you bear it for hours? Do you let pleasure absorb deeply inside you, defining your embodied existence? Does pleasure validate your worthiness? Or, like most of us, do you gulp down the delicious meal, rush towards orgasm, or in other ways try to escape from feeling sustained pleasure?
I work with many folks with sexual trauma. I struggle to not let their heartbreaking stories become my normal; to allow myself to feel the impact of each and every violation of each client, without becoming swamped in despair.
The suck-ass truth is that for those of us with sexual trauma, we bear the burden of working through it. It’s not fair. It’s so not fair. And yet, without our own personal work navigating towards sexual freedom, we remain stuck in a sexuality that is not our full expression. And this is of course an okay choice, but it is not the one I nor my clients are making. We want pleasure.
I sit with my clients through the weeks and months and sometimes years as they fight for their right to feel pleasure, and as they build their capacity to stay with it
While listening, it raised a question I’ve been feeling into ever since. What is it to live in the world, completely dedicated to expressing the thing you are here to express? To give yourself completely to that thing? That even trembling with fear, flooded with overwhelm and suffering pain you just throw yourself into yourself, and pour yourself out again? To allow inspiration to have its way with you, and to focus focus focus your expression in the way that only you could ever do?
I am committed to developing my full erotic expression in this lifetime. There are moments when I am able to allow pleasure to completely ride me, moments when my body exists inside of me!
But more often are the complicated pleasure moments. The times I’m using my strategies to stay present, to explore what’s possible in this body in this moment. The days where my libido caught a train to Detroit, or I’m distracted by the books I need to read for my lit review. Or I’d rather just get off quick and nap, than do the work of feeling deep pleasure.
My erotic practice is about practice. My erotic practice is about Practice. Like learning to shape a voice made for rock and roll, or hone muscles that can powerlift heavy weight, or learning the art of feeling the trauma of my clients and letting it move through me instead of getting stuck, I am devoted to my art of subtle, nuanced erotic feeling.
This is my pleasure revolution; to develop sensitivity to sensation, to develop the capacity for feeling, in the face of trauma that says ‘No, don’t feel. You don’t deserve it!’ or ‘It’s not safe to feel that!’
Through practice I’ve learned to fuck harder when shame strikes. To remain soft and open to receiving pleasurable touch when tears come. To speak hard-to-say truths in the middle of beautiful moments. To continue erotic energy when my partner is triggered. To receive erotic energy while I’m triggered. To pause, reset, and continue. To explore how to hold pleasure for a long, long time, through all the bullshit that comes up.
Almost all of my clients long for easy pleasure. Pleasure without tears at the end, or having to stop in the middle. Pleasure that doesn’t require explaining to one’s partner that the reason they can’t touch your left thigh has nothing to do with them, but could they please try and not? Pleasure that is just simple. However, that’s not the hand they are holding. Instead , erotic expression involves work and practice and willingness to experience the grief/rage/anger/sadness/numbness, again and again beyond boredom, ad nauseum. Trauma legacy.
And yet. I’m not totally convinced that complicated, hard-earned pleasure isn’t just a tiny bit more worthwhile. I’m not actually convinced that ‘easy pleasure’ and ‘deep pleasure’ ever coexist. It’s a revolution because it’s an overturning of the false dichotomy of the ‘haves’ who get pleasure and the ‘have-nots’ who don’t. Pleasure for the People! Committing to full erotic expression after trauma is a seizing of personal power in the face of hegemony and shame.
That said, choosing full erotic expression as a trauma survivor takes the time it takes, and maybe that time is never. I’m not the pleasure police. It is a valid choice to focus self-expression in totally different arenas. There is no ‘should’ about feeling anything. Just choices about where we choose to place the limited resource of our attention. Living a life of hedonism and pleasure happens to be where I choose to rebel in the face of my trauma and upbringing.
Would I have committed my life to this personal and professional exploration of reclaiming pleasure without sexual trauma? I’ll never know, but I doubt it. My pleasure is earned, hard-won. It’s my art. It’s my practice. It’s my connection with self and partner and the Divine.
And truly, not today, but some days, pleasure really is effortless
If this speaks to you, please leave a comment below.
When my kids and I moved into a 38-foot converted bus on a commune for a few years, we had 240 square feet of living space. My physical boundaries became tiny! All of my movements became tighter as my body adapted to living in a minuscule space. It took a couple of months of head-bumping and hip-bashing, but I learned to navigate precisely and efficiently within a very small radius.
When we left the bus and moved into a sprawling house in San Francisco, I noticed acutely the feeling of ‘too much space.’ I felt ill-confined, like I was wearing clothes that were way too big. I didn’t know how to fill that much space with my movement. Like a goldfish in a small bowl, my body had adapted to smaller physical boundaries Re-expanding my personal space was uncomfortable. It was a couple of months before I could walk down the middle of the hall, without pressing myself to the edge of the wall. My physical boundaries defined the way I experienced my life.
For many of us, our emotional boundaries, or lack thereof, define how we experience our partners and our relationships.
What are boundaries?
Basically, boundaries are the edges of our experience. Your skin is the boundary to your body. Your door is the boundary to your house. The amount of time you can stay at a family gathering and feel well is your emotional boundary.
Boundaries welcome in what we want in our lives, and keep out what we don’t want. They are a tool of discernment. They are a strategy we use to keep ourselves safer, and to tend our emotional well-being. Boundaries help us be adults, as we care for our desires and needs, and create the lives and relationships that serve our highest potential.
There are many different types of boundaries: physical, energetic, time, space, emotional, and sexual, among others. In order to understand boundaries, it’s important to know the sensations of having them in our bodies. It’s hard to know what we have not felt.
For example, babies love the sensation of being bundled: it makes them feel safe and contained. Adult boundaries can do the same for us.
The most important boundary any of us have is our capacity for saying “No.”
If you grew up in a reasonably well family, you learned that you could say “no” and still be loved and feel like you belong.
If you grew up in a household where saying “no” got you in trouble, or was ignored, or you survived an abusive or traumatic childhood, your most basic boundary was violated. You may have learned that it’s not safe to say no, or it’s futile because it doesn’t get honored anyway.
In my somatic sex therapy practice, I frequently meet couples who are close to ending their relationships. What often comes to light is that one or both of them do not really believe that they get to say “no” to their partner. They don’t believe that they get to stand up for their needs, even if their partner is unwilling or unable to meet those needs.
Someone may feel obligated to meet their partner’s requests, or go along with their partner’s desires, even if they don’t want that thing at all.
(Here’s where consent as a clear binary “yes” or “no” system becomes confusing. Because if you ask me to do something, and I don’t want to but I say yes anyway, because I don’t believe I can say ‘no’ to you, am I consenting?)
When boundary violations happen over and over, blame and resentment eventually build up. And it is resentment that, over time, sucks the lifeblood out of relationships.
As an adult in consensual relationship, when I do not say ‘no’ to what I do not want, I become complicit in the violation of my own boundaries. I am allowing my protective barrier to be breached, by not clearly refusing that which does not serve me. I get it; It’s so easy to wish that my partner could read my mind and honor boundaries I haven’t verbalized. And it’s unfair to expect partners to do this.
Part of being an emotionally-responsible adult is learning where your boundaries are, and verbally communicating them. It is also about doing the work of honoring everybody’s boundaries; your own, and those of your lovers, friends, parents, children, partners, co-workers etc. It is frequently easier to respect other’s stated boundaries than it is to verbalize our own.
It is fair to expect that adults with whom we share consensual relationship honor the boundaries we verbally state.
Chances are, if I set a verbal boundary, and someone disregards it again and again, my person-hood is not being well-held within that relationship. It is then my responsibility to take action that supports my well-being. It might not be the most popular opinion, but here it is: In adult, egalitarian relationships, your boundaries are yours to uphold. If someone isn’t respecting a boundary you have stated, it’s your job to protect yourself.
I know it would be nice to say your boundary once, and then everyone respects it in perpetuity. And the thing about boundaries is that we don’t just get to set them, and be done. They have to continually be reinforced. We have to be willing to stand up for our boundaries. We have to be willing to reinforce the consequences of violating our boundary. For example, “If you continue to touch me in that way, I will not have sex with you anymore.”
Often once we set a boundary, folks will initially, or periodically, need to “check” and make sure it’s still there. This is especially true with folks who struggle with their own boundaries; if you are willing to compromise yours, it can be validating for them. Especially in the beginning, folks can react to our setting of personal boundaries as an affront. As we carefully tend our boundary, they tend to shift their freak out, once they realize our boundary is there to stay.
Just like a farmer who has to tend to their fences so the cows don’t get out, tending to our boundaries is part of our mental hygiene.
In my experience, the best part about learning boundaries has been the sense of personal agency I feel. If I don’t like something that’s happening in a relationship, I can name it and either it changes, or I move away from it. Learning to have boundaries has set me free.
If you’d like to learn more about boundaries, like how to know where yours are, how to articulate them to your partner, and how to stay connected while doing so, I’m teaching a 3-part class starting this month for lesbian and queer couples. You can participate in-person in San Francisco. You can also participate virtually from anywhere. We’ll learn and practice boundary skills for connection, so that your relationship can thrive.
Last week, I suggested to my partner that they take a shower because I wanted to have sex before we went to sleep. Ari was tired, had to get up early, and was a bit resistant to my suggestion. I sidled up to him, all rubby-rubby-kissy-breathy and said that I believed he could find his way into feeling erotic with a little help. I wanted sex, after all. After a few minutes of this, he finally got up to take a shower, and as I lay in bed waiting for him, I realized that maybe my gentle pressure which I was framing as seduction wasn’t actually acknowledging his “no.”
When he returned, I asked him verbally if I had his consent to continue, and he said an enthusiastic “yes.” When I thought about this encounter later, I realized that a few years ago, I would have accepted his getting up as a tacit yes, and not worried too much about issues of consent. But because he’s been working hard at finding “no” and I’m working hard at listening for it, things are different now.
However, it made me realize how easy it is to assume consent, especially in a primary long-term-relationship. How easy it would be to violate boundaries, if I wasn’t carefully seeking them. How often I have probably assumed consent in the past, in absence of a verbal “no.” If it’s not a hard ‘no’ then it must be a ‘yes,’ right? It’s not violation if I participated, right?
Throughout our lives, I imagine that most of us have encounters we may later question. Did I consent? Did I get full consent? Because we’re not always clear what we want or what we don’t want, sometimes defining what was sexual violation, both for survivors and for perpetrators, can be murky. Our bodies can register trauma, even if our brains do not.
Recently, I’ve been exploring ancestral connections as a source of embodied wisdom and support, in particular how ancestors can inform resiliency and healing from sexual trauma, in individuals and in communities.
My ancestral research is ultimately in service of my dissertation. I’ve researched my own genealogy, scouring old records for information about my queer ancestors. I’ve attended family constellation workshops, read tons of books, and have been working to develop relationships with particular queer and trans ancestors (trancestors) in the creation of my new endeavor, The Embodiment Arts Collective.
Outside my office there are framed pictures of nine people who have passed through the veil, who were queer and trans rights and/or sexual liberation activists during their lives: Harvey Milk, James Broughton, Sylvia Rivera, Lou Sullivan, Alice B. Toklas, Leslie Feinberg, Larry Mitchell, Del Martin, and Chester Mainard. Each day I sing, pray, light candles, burn incense and talk to these fierce renegades who committed their lives to their passions.
Through developing these relationships with these particular ancestors, my goal is to create a container for healing for my clients here at EAC, that is supported by the physical, (space) the professional (my training) and the energetic (the unseen realms.) Okay, before you think I’ve been living in California WAYYYY too long, hear me out.
What are ancestors? Many cultures and traditions hold relationship with the dead as a crucial source of wisdom and knowledge. These are not traditions that I have learned as I grew up a white person of European descent, although I am convinced that ancestor worship is indeed a lost body of knowledge that my blood ancestors did participate in. Because it is lost, I am instead having to seek out resources and learning from outside sources, as well as listening deeply to my own intuition.
In the ways I am coming to understand matters of spirits, not all dead become ancestors. In order to become an ancestor, that person must be properly mourned at their death. They must also wish to return as a helpful guide, and have cleaned up any messes they made in their lives that “stick” to their spirit. Having been sexually violent is one such thing that can stick.
As soon as one steps foot into queer community, the impact of invisible yet culturally-sanctioned sexual violence and the ramifications of sexual trauma on the fabric of relationships and communities are striking.
For example, I hear frequently from my clients about sex they have had in the past that they weren’t totally into, but going along with it was the easier thing to do in the moment, for a host of reasons. What about the other person in this situation, the one that they’ve had sex with, who assumed consent? Does this make them sexual perpetrators? I’m starting to believe that since we live in a sexually violent culture, we all internalize some degree of sex as violence.
Just as in dominant culture, the same systemic oppressions of sexuality show up in queer culture. Butch-Femme violence. Fag misogyny. Violations of non-verbal consent in gay male cruising culture. Femme phobia. Slut-shaming. Unwelcome touch or verbal comments in environments designed for sexual exploration. Coercive sexual encounters between folks of all genders and orientations. As in my example above with my partner, sometimes situations that seem innocuous can contain subtle variations of consent violations that surprise us.
Another rift in the fabric of connection that I witness in some of my clients is how hard it can be to actually have physical intimacy and emotional intimacy with another person. When we have sexual experiences that we don’t want (whether we consent or not) trauma can get caught in our bodies, and manifest months, years, decades later when we try to connect intimately.
Sex and intimacy can become divorced from each other. Triggers around sex can yank us out of the present moment, and hurl us willy-nilly into feeling unsafe, terrified, frozen, furious. We can forget that the person we are with currently is not the person with whom those past experiences happened, and turn our blame onto our new partner.
The “trigger warnings” that are popping up on Facebook messages, email lists, social media are indicators of how close to the surface trauma resides, and to what lengths we will go to avoid feeling the feelings of helplessness and despair it engenders. Collective trauma is an ever-present reality.
Moving through the trauma that we hold individually and in community requires resiliency skills. How can sexual wounds of the living and the dead in our communities be healed? What is the role of the dead in supporting the living as we do our healing work?
So many questions!
- How can I (we) turn to the dead as a source of support for my (our) life and work?
- How can those who have passed help heal the wounds of sexual violation and trauma?
- How can those who have passed, and who committed sexual violation during their lifetimes, atone for their actions in a way that beneficially serves the present and future?
- How can sex-radical queers who have become allied ancestors be called on to support sexual healing for living queers?
- What impact does healing ancestral trauma caused by sexual violation have on current and future generations?
Samhain is a traditional Pagan holiday (also called “Halloween”) when the beloved dead are honored and remembered. Witches say “What is remembered, lives.” This year, in observance of Samhain, I am hosting an erotic ritual. Attendees are in full consent about their participation. The intention of this ritual is to raise erotic energy, and gift it to our dead and to our ancestors, those who wish to heal, and those that offer their support. If you feel called to this, drop me an email and I’ll let you know more.
I’ll be writing more on ancestral sexual connections in the weeks that follow.
Can you welcome yourself home to your sweet body?
2015 has been an ass-kicking year, for me and for many folks I know. “Relentless” is the word a friend used recently. When life is hard, and every day is a struggle just to get through, sexuality often gets relegated to the back burner. Our attention is scattered; our desire is seemingly non-existent. We may not think we have the time, energy or emotional bandwidth for deep erotic connection, with ourselves or others.
During these times, sex may be the last thing we want to do. Our masturbation becomes purely functional, or doesn’t happen at all. Actually living and feeling inside our bodies when we are suffering may be unbearable. And so we leave: we disassociate, check out, numb out, distract ourselves. We pretend that our sexuality isn’t hugely important. We forget.
While all of these coping strategies offer us the ability to just get through whatever the hard thing is, there is also a hidden somatic cost associated with them. The more we are absent from our own felt sense, our own sensations, the less we actually feel. Our capacity TO feel becomes limited. And even once the hard time has passed (as they always do) we are then left with diminished feeling and sensation. Joy becomes something that others feel, not us. Pleasure is elusive.
I’m curious about a loving cultural reframe. What if we experienced our bodies as a refuge? What if our sense of safety was held within, and we could choose to find a sense of embrace inside? What if sexuality was a space of home, of welcome? If we could nourish our hearts through feeling pleasure? What if, when our hearts were bruised and tired, we brought loving touch to ourselves?
Trauma tells us that we are broken beyond repair. That we are unworthy of love and pleasure. That the only safety is somewhere else, never here, now. Trauma tells us that suffering is our due, that swimming and muddling through the quagmire of our brokenness is the ‘real’ work. We believe we just can’t get this body thing right. This is not the way things are supposed to be. We are not damaged goods.
Who or what is served by all of your struggles against embodiment?
Imagine for a moment if there was a small dial, behind your left ear. You could just reach up, and change that channel of loyal suffering. Instead, you could choose the channel “I live in this body. It is my home.” And when things get so fucked up and hurty, and you are overwhelmed with it all, you find your fingers, rising of their own accord to that tiny place. Suddenly, breath fills your lungs, your belly. Your awareness drops down through the tissues and organs of your body. You feel your sex, resting and open and alive.
Your hands move down your body and find the places you know well, or the places you are only now discovering. The secret places of joy, where your body belongs to you and you alone. And your touch is that of an old, familiar lover, bringing care and adoration.
Is sexual liberation possible in this lifetime? Yes. If I commit myself to its practice, each and every day. If, when I forget my true work of freeing myself from all of my internalized oppression, I remember to touch myself and whisper “I am worthy of my love” and “I am safe in here.”
What do you think? If you’re curious about these ideas, please leave a comment below.
“What are you flagging?” Sie asks.
I follow hir green eyes down to the matching green bandana hanging off my belt. I’ve been camping for days on the gentle land of southwest Washington state, without giving a thought to the queer hanky code that relies on colored bandanas in one’s back pocket to signify sexual availability.
“Um, flagging pee rag?” I try for a mix of affronting honesty with irreverent humor to cover up the shame I feel at being caught un-queerly unaware.
“Daddy.” Sie says confidently. “You’re flagging Daddy. And receiving.”
The amount of math I do in the next half second is staggering. I’m flagging “receiving daddy.” This incredibly hot sexy genderqueer person just opened a door called “daddy” that I’ve been wanting to walk through for quite some time. Sie is a longtime friend, and I trust hir. We’re at an ecosexual convergence, deep in the woods, sitting at a picnic table with a bunch of folks who are exploring the lover relationship between Earth and self. I have permission from my primary partner to explore my erotic edges. I want Daddy. I want hir to be my daddy. I want to get fucked, in the woods, with hir as my Daddy. And it’s all possible, if I can just ask for it.
“Yeah, well, that’s interesting, isn’t it?” I stumble through the sentence, aware that the other four picnic-table sitters have gone quiet and are looking at me curiously. “So, I was wondering if you’d be down to fuck me?”
I can tell that sie is surprised, didn’t quite expect that full-on of a reach-around. It’s hir turn to do the math. I wait.
“Well. Hmm. That’s a thought.”
Not exactly the enthusiastic response that would set my pounding heart at ease, but not a cool brush off either.
Another beat. I wait until sie speaks. “What did you have in mind?”
And it’s on. We negotiate a scene for the next afternoon. I tell hir that I’ve never truly bottomed before, and that I want to be opened.
Truth, I’ve never been in a space where I’m not in control. I’ve been stone more times than I can remember. I’ve opened many people, had many hot erotic moments that I’ve driven. I’ve even surrendered to receiving pleasure from others many times. But this is different. This is turning over the power to another, someone I don’t know at all in their erotic personhood, someone who is powerful, fierce, ferocious. And definitely sadistic.
The next twenty-four hours pass slowly. I find myself excited by the ‘what-will-happen’ feeling. The winged insects are having a field day all over my inner landscape… it’s beyond butterflies into full on plague of locusts. I’m not scared exactly, I trust hir. I trust hir capacity to handle me, to be my Daddy.
When the time comes I’m showered and ready for our forest date, (which in the aftermath of a forest-floor fucking turns out to be kind of ridiculous.) We meet at lunch, and walk out among the Douglas Firs together, the unbelievable vanilla scent of the trees perfuming the warm Summer Solstice air. It’s the longest day of the year, and Daddy and I are going out under the trees to play.
I’ve brought the only thing I have to lay on, my lavender towel, which will become a sap-filled souvenir of “the time sie fucked me so hard I bled.”
Sie asks me to sit down. Tells me to call hir “Doctor.” Then tells me to remove my wife-beater, my belt. Sie wants it to be sexy. I get the unspoken subtext: this is not a strip-tease. Just be really hot for me, please.
I take off the thick black leather belt, and upon hir request, open my mouth to embrace the silver pentacle belt buckle. I’m not from Texas, but I know the importance of an oversize buckle. However, I pay the price for my cocky audacity when sie doesn’t just want me to tongue it, but wants me to receive the whole damn thing. I let the spit and drool roll out of my mouth, wanting to make apparent my commitment to abandon and submission.
“I don’t like pain,” I’ve told hir, and instead I’ve been told to be available for ‘sensation’ which may become more intense over time. Surprisingly, I am available. When sie pulls the dripping buckle from my mouth, the feeling of absence is an unexpected grief. Sie takes off my pants, and takes a long look. Sie tells me that sie likes my dick.
Without ado, Daddy begins to fuck me. Sie spits on my junk, and I feel the hotness of hir spit drip down between my legs. This is a fucking that will change my life, and I know it as I have it.
I’m sobbing. It’s profound gratitude for the queer labor of love we are both engaged in: this is work we can only do with each other in community. At first, sie is concerned and checking in, but I reassure hir that everything is so good, beyond good. That it is perfect and welcome and I want it all. My body turns and rises to meet this fucking, wanting every bit of hir inside of me.
My hands reach out and grasp the dirt, duff and detritus of the forest floor, pulling it into my fists to hold the fuck onto something, anything.
I call out to this doctor of love and redemption to make sure it is okay to touch hir back. I grab fistfuls of Daddy, brutally pulling hir to me again and again. I crawl into hir neck, kissing and nuzzling. Our mouths, come together open and wet. This surprises me, all the kissing. I tell hir I love hir, and I mean it, which also surprises me.
I begin to notice the sensation of deep relief. Beyond the pain and the filth, something inside of me feels so calm. To be the Doctor’s boy, to give myself to hir completely. Hir hand, dipping inside of me again and again begins to touch my heart. I move towards, rather than away from, the splitting pain of hir fist, creeping its way inside my cunt.
When I feel the tearing of my tender bits, there is a moment when I choose to find pleasure over discomfort. I choose the bright sensation, the ecstatic pulling and pulsing that is building in my dripping cunt, over the ripping and burning. Later, I will bleed. I will feel the dull ache of an empty lonely space inside of me, about the size of a fist. But for now I have it, hir fist, holding me firmly from the inside.
I call out to the trees, to the land. “Io Pan! Keeper of the woods and the beast of my body! Wild Love! Wild Love! Wild Love!”
I pray, and sie moans, “Here I am with you, praying. Here I am with you, inside your body, with you.” It’s the sweetest thing I’ve heard maybe ever. I’m not alone in my body. Daddy is here. Sie is here. We are together, sharing creation and prayer and song and delight, and my body is the container that is holding us.
The trees call back: “If you want wild love, practice feral sex.” Hir fist pounds into my battered front hole, again and again. Sie tells me how good I am at taking it, tells me I’m a champion for getting fisted for the first time, and bottoming for the first time, in plain sight of passer-bys to boot. When shame rises up, I fuck even harder. But really it is the Doctor who is my champion, championing my queer desire, my desire to fuck the shame and trauma away so that I can feel free.
Soon, I squirt and squirt all over hir hand. I am fucking crying praying squirting surrendering and time just stops. We both notice that it is 2:30 for a really long time. I want it to be over and I want it never to end. The only things I know in this singular moment are the trees swaying above me and the exact edge where they meet the blue sky, and this beautiful lover’s embrace that holds me tight right up against my pleasure and my pain.
I know I don’t want to get fucked like this every day. I can’t. And yet I need this. This is me getting fucked queer. This is me saying yes and allowing someone to fuck me in the way that SIE wants to fuck me. This is me, finding Divinity and Self and Home and World. This is mine.
There is mounting rhythm and pleasure. The Doctor’s not-quite-human face looms above me, gorgeous and open and brutal. I feel my orgasm approaching, and my eyes open wide and pour into hir ocean green gaze. Through my eyes I give every bit of my pleasure to this Daddy, my Daddy. I scream and come and shake, all at the same time. It goes on and on. From my healing heart, deep, wrenching sobs of joy and freedom.
And when the paroxysm of agonizing pleasure is finally done, and the sobs are quiet, the world is irrevocably different. I am the trees, I am this lover, I am this Earth and this sky. I am this everything. Love is so present in this moment: rough, raw violent love, love that has fucked me free.
I’m lying on my bed, legs spread, my lover’s mouth on my junk. And I’m not doing anything.
Not tensing, not thrusting, not helping, not wiggling, not desiring. I am simply being, while my body is stimulated and pleasured. The sensation is exquisite. The pleasure builds and builds. As it builds, I feel each tiny movement towards increase. Meaning, as the pleasure increases, there are moments where I crave MORE pleasure. I move my hips a tiny bit, pushing my bits against my lover’s tongue. Or I tense my PC muscles ever so slightly, to increase the sensation.
All of my attention is focused on my receiving practice. Can I be still and receive? Can I just receive? Each time I notice my miniscule attempts to increase pressure or stimulation, I relax again, and remember my intention to just simply be and receive.
Recently, I learn that the name for someone who allows themselves to receive is disparaging; ‘turtle lesbian’ or ‘pillow princess.’ I’m grateful that I don’t have this framework, and that my practice of receiving can be free from judgment.
I practice and practice receiving. I practice Erotic Being, without Erotic Doing.
In my practice, there are moments of epiphany. For example, I realize the vast distinction between placing my attention ON something (like my genitals) and placing my attention IN my genitals. The difference is so subtle, and yet tremendous; it’s about living, feeling and being inside of my experience. My consciousness can dwell in tissues other than my brain tissue.
An old friend asked, apropos of nothing, “How do you make good decisions?” and I answered that I’ve been feeling into my junk, more and more. When I listen to the truth that is spoken between my legs, my decisions are good ones. My body does not lie.
In order to have more of what I want in my life, my capacity for RECEIVING more of what I want must be increased. I must build the muscle of having, of receiving without doing. Erotic practice is the perfect place to build this capacity. I ask my friends, “How are you good at receiving?” via text. Some respond, befuddled. Two write back that they receive when they get massages from their partners. One person responded that they pay attention to what’s going on in their body when something is being offered, and notices how their body feels different when they are open to receiving and when they are not.
In the spirit of celebrating of Erotic Being-ness, what follow are some thoughts on receiving. (And what I mean is the practice of receiving things we WANT from the world, not getting all the stuff we don’t want or need.)
- Receiving is an art. If you want to learn to receive, conduct an Indiegogo campaign. Make it count, make it meaningful. Put something you love out into the world, and ask your people to support it. This is a terrifying practice, not for the meek or inexperienced in receiving. This will shine the light on ALL of the shit you have about wanting, asking, and receiving. There’s pretty much no place to hide.
- Receiving can be cultivated. I can rest back in my body, pay attention to meeting the world from my back, choose to open my shoulder muscles. The more I receive, the better I get at receiving.
- Resistance to a thriving receiving practice can hide out behind egalitarian concepts like “mutuality” and “reciprocity.” Meaning, I am only available to receive if I believe the giver is also getting value from me. We are all so fucked up when it comes to gifting and gift economies, that we sometimes greet gifts with suspicion. We carry a lot of baggage around gifts that came with obligation, gifts that we gave out of obligation, gifts that mean more than just a gift. I can deflect receiving by not simply accepting the gift/compliment/pleasure/promotion/support… I can be overly grateful, or grovel. Not great receiving.
- Receiving is an elevated form of connection. Babies are held in “receiving blankets.” Offices have reception rooms, and receptionists whose job it is to receive you when you arrive. Shipping and receiving. Receiving dock. Receiving lines. And of course, the Hebrew Kabbalah, “receiving.”
- Receiving meets the offering with a full body presence, and an open-hearted welcome.
- We could choose to pay more attention to how we receive. How we receive others: their ideas, their words, their feedback, their gifts, their gestures. How we receive ourselves: our stories, our wounds, our faults, our gifts and talents and joys.
When all is said and done, here’s what I think. Receiving, that gorgeous practice of receptivity, is hard work. It’s a special kind of doing-not-doing. When I am receiving, I am BEING receptive. And that is the erotic self I’m striving towards, these days; the one that can fully receive the pleasure that is offered to me.
If you liked reading this, I’d love to RECEIVE a comment from you below.
I emailed this week with a young man living in Northern Europe. He was curious about his sexuality, and because of a physical disability, did not have much experience. Because of his location, he did not have much access to sexuality support. He had found me on the internet and reached out so bravely, across the many miles that separate us.
We exchanged several emails, and had set up an appointment time to meet via video conferencing. He was clear about what he wanted to work on. In a confirmation email, I reflected back to him what I heard him saying he wanted. He had asked me what my suggestions were, and I suggested a particular way we might work together.
The next email I received was him cancelling our appointment. He wrote that actually he was learning all that he needed via watching videos, and no longer required my services. “Hmmm.” I thought. Usually, when things are going well with new clients and we are moving towards our first session, it’s normal for them to have some fear that comes up. Sometimes they write to me and confess their worries. But rarely at this stage do folks cancel.
What was going on? My intuition said that fear, repression and shame were at work. That this young man got hit hard with some shame backlash when I reflected his desires back to him. I was invested in working with this person; his commitment to prioritizing his sexuality in spite of the tremendous obstacles he is facing had earned my respect.
I wrote back, and asked him if shame and fear were present for him, and if that was why he had changed his mind. I asked him to be in touch if he ever decided that he really couldn’t learn everything he needed to know about sex from watching videos. His response staggered me. He wrote that he had realized that his priority was to get his life in order. That he had spent enough time working on his sexuality for now, and it was going to take at least ten years to get his life situated, and at that time he might again focus on sexuality. And that he doubted very much he’d ever be in touch.
A strong belief I hold in this work is that we must live in the bodies that we have, right now. That sensation and feeling aren’t something that ‘someday’ are welcome, once the body we have is right, once the situation we have is right, once the partner we have is right. Sensation and feeling are the currency of being human; we must be diligent in our pursuit of the experience of actually living in our bodies.
There are so many reasons to not feel, to disassociate, to leave or forget or numb this experience of the human body. Choosing not to feel is always a viable choice. However, it is a choice that comes at a price, and one of which we want to be very aware. When we choose numbness over pain, or denial over reality, when we turn it down or push it down or drown it out or anesthetize, when we leave our bodies… the price we then pay is in how difficult it is to return, once we are ready. It is possible, of course, to return to sensation and feeling and pleasure. I am living proof. But oh the time it takes… and the effort. It can be quite daunting to return to embodied life when we’ve been away. And ten years???
Trauma is real. And for every step we’ve taken away from our deepest knowing and feeling of ourselves, that is one step we must take when we return. 10,000 steps going away = 10,000 steps coming home. (By step I mean energetic movement away from our core, and please forgive the ableist language.)
We don’t even know what we don’t know. We don’t know what we don’t feel. If we numbed out at a young age, the amount of sensation we feel is our ‘normal.’ We may not even consider that there is more to feel, more to know. We may conclude our sexual situation is “good enough.”
I feel so hurty-in-my-heart about shame and the ways it impacts our ability to feel and be close. I so wish I had a magick pill to send to that young man. I wish him all the best, and I send him the knowing that eventually, Eros DOES call us home. A thing is not cooked until it is, and no one’s process can be rushed. And yet. The quiet suffering of sexual repression on this planet is a constant dull roar in my ear. I cannot forget. I am in service to Eros emancipated. And this is a prayer, that the road be open and easy as we all move away from shame, and towards erotic wholeness.
If this resonates with you, please leave a comment below.
Here’s the video of my Mystery Box Story! Enjoy!
I meet my clients where they are in terms of their sexuality, and together we discover the blocks, traumas, and limiting beliefs that stand between them and the deeper erotic life that is possible for them. It’s a process. Along the way, there are unexpected twists and turns, as the body slowly begins to reveal its secrets and stories. Almost always we encounter the gatekeeper, Resistance. It’s how we know we are getting closer to the essential erotic self, which is quite powerful and can be frightening.
I have the capacity to make this journey with my clients because I’ve done it, am doing it, myself. My body knows trauma, resistance, and both welcomes and trembles at hope. I’ve had to wrestle sexuality back from fear, and reclaim my erotic life from the abyss of disassociation and sexual shut-down.
Being a coach and standing in witness of the journeys my clients make is a magnificent experience.
I watch, time and again, as the intuition and body knowledge someone has deep inside emerges to guide them home to Eros. I stand in awe of our power to know ourselves, ever more deeply.
I’ve come to know myself more deeply. Over the last year or so, I’ve experienced a growing desire to embrace my performer self. I’ve not had a lot of training in performance, and I’ve been seeking out venues to practice.
It’s good for me to be in spaces where I don’t yet have mastery; it keeps me in the space of beginner’s mind. But I also fucking hate not being good at something, not having things be easy and effortless. It reminds me of the vulnerability and courage it takes to enter into a process, not knowing who you’ll be on the other side, and what the price of admission will cost you.
Recently, I was given the opportunity to participate in a transformational coaching process for performance, with Eric Scheur and Reba Sparrow of Mystery Box Show.
Mystery Box is a story-telling show out of Portland that is real people, telling their real foibles with sexuality. It’s not porn stars, or people who have it all together in terms of sex. The stories are funny, tender, heartbreaking, and remind us that we’re human.
I worked with Eric and Reba for three months, developing my story for their San Francisco show.
The story they chose for me to tell is about the very first public masturbation ritual I ever led, when I had never even masturbated with another person before. Everything was working against my desire to explore communal masturbation. It was a pivotal moment in my life, one that ultimately led to me becoming a facilitator of sexual liberation for others.
The transformative story coaching process was supportive, and yet humbling.
Each time we would meet for our skype session, I would have to tell them the latest version of my story. They’d tell me how great it was coming along, and then they’d basically suggest restructuring many components, or eliminate elements that were non-essential to the story.
Throughout the process, I felt the story getting tighter and more cohesive. I also dreaded each and every coaching session. It is really fucking hard to show up, with your art, your tender, vulnerable story, and have someone, with the greatest compassion, hold you accountable to an even higher iteration of your ability.
I was a wreck in the days leading up to the performance. I fought with myself. I met with them one last time the day before the show, and they wanted me to change the beginning of the story that I’d been working on delivering just right for weeks! I wanted to punch Eric in the face. But I sucked it up, and kept working on the story, figuring out how to implement his suggestions.
They don’t tell you the order you will be presenting your story in during the show until that night. I was hoping that I would go first, and just get it over with. When I met I met the other story tellers, one of whom I’d recently seen perform, I was relieved because I assumed I would go first. Unfortunately, when they revealed the order, I was the last performance of the evening. Which meant I had to sit through all of the other stories, heart pounding and palms sweating.
Miraculously, once I heard “Please welcome to the stage Pavini Moray!” my fear dropped away.
I’d been worried that I’d forget key elements, or that my timing would suck. I was concerned that my gestures wouldn’t work, or that I’d fuck up with the mike. None of that happened. While I was telling my story, I felt the greatest sense of presence, and of pleasure. I couldn’t believe it when I realized I was getting to the end of the 17-minute piece.
I stepped off the stage, and knew that I had nailed it. The joy and celebration lasted for days.
Two weeks later, I’ve had time to reflect on the experience. Why was it so successful? Well, as I’ve already said, all the preparation. But even more than that, I realize it’s because Eric and Reba were there, expecting me to be brilliant. Their belief in me fueled my belief in myself.
I’m so grateful that I got to participate in a transformational coaching process, and that the results were so clearly demonstrated.
I’ll hold that moment of success as a trophy, a reminder of what happens when there is support, high standards, and accountability. I’ll use the experience to support processes that I move through, and sexual liberation processes that I help my clients move through.
Want to watch the video? Tune in Tomorrow!
Listen to a participant talk about the power of communal erotic learning.
By Marcus, a participant in the “Geography of Pleasure” workshop.
After the last day of the workshop, I was driving home meditatively, feeling the edges of my being. Not clicking from one radio station to the next, and blasting my senses with distracting stimuli. I wanted to allow myself to feel.
When I arrived at my place of residence, I thought, ‘I am home.’ I was feeling in my body and holding myself in a pleasant, nonjudgmental observation. My awareness of self was for once not about boundary patrol against shame, fear, or violation.
Two days before, I arrived at the workshop space in a daze, overwhelmed by the feeling of being around other people. I had become so used to the security of isolation and shutting down before I could be rejected. Alone, I could (unsuccessfully) pretend that I was all the things I wished I could be, and remove myself from reminders of failures and inadequacies.
I tried to relax into the comfortable seating, dim lamp lights, and the circle of anxious strangers, only to find myself comparing my body to others and listing off all the ways I lacked qualities that I admired in others and so wished for myself. The expression of trans masculinity became ever so in focus. I began to irrationally perceive my body to be physically smaller and smaller and uglier and uglier, as I unrealistically assumed perfection and invulnerability in others.
Though it was my intention to stay and not run or hide, my body sure wanted to run as we began to take turns speaking in the first of many circles. I was suddenly morbidly afraid of looking and sounding funny, and not being taken seriously. Amazingly, these divisive views between myself and others were gradually broken down, in a way I never thought was capable… I will now attempt to describe some of my most groundbreaking workshop moments.
This scared me a lot, as I have long experienced this as mutual invasion of private space. While it is a common expression of wanting to know and be known, sustained eye contact was something I only normally used within the following contexts: romantic interest, aggressive challenging, or conversations. I felt extremely exposed because it was as if I were ‘caught’ seeking an inappropriate level of closeness. There was little excuse for me to stop looking, because the activity did not allow for typical distractions. It was very unsettling to feel that emotional nakedness that I reserved for almost no one. By the end of the workshop, I no longer felt such reservations once I understood seeing and being seen to not be a threat. Instead, it can feel so loving and fulfilling!
When I allowed my body to observe and be observed, I was overcome by the emotions of others and the energy of the room. When I felt loving, gentle gazes caressing my body’s surfaces, I realized the toxicity of my self-directed gaze. I never extended to myself the same kind of understanding and acceptance I aspired to give others.
Moving to music felt awkward. I was confronted by my body’s lifelong reluctance to express itself. Interacting with space around me felt dangerous compared to stillness, which felt so safe and contained. My initial line of thinking was that I don’t know how best to move, so I might as well not.
Though I had a blindfold on, I still felt a critical gaze upon me, the kind that has long held my arms down, my torso stiff, and my legs frozen. Then I realized no one was laughing, and others were similarly focused on their own movements. I had nobody to apologize to for my movements, as no one could see. This activity allowed me to ponder the following questions. What am I holding back from, when there is no one to please but myself? What is possible of myself, when no consequence will arise from honoring my impulses?
It was difficult to surrender, and I don’t think I fully could yet, but I willed my mind to allow my body to interpret the music how it pleased. I allowed myself to enact my varying emotions: playfulness, exploration, loneliness, calm. To stand and shuffle and wave and swagger and sit the way the music called my body to do.
Healing another, watching the healing of others, and receiving my own healing all were magical moments. It was when shame, anger, and grief looked startlingly beautiful in all their ugliness. When I realized we needn’t harden against it all. We could all face and absorb the immense shame and trust that our existence would not be smashed to smithereens.
For me, the ritual felt like bones being reset, and being allowed to heal with alignment and clarity. I had to dig really deep, because I had buried so much of my shame. Entering the circle forced me to verbalize what was holding me back from the happiness and pleasure in life that I desire. I found, and released fears, inadequacies, and traumas that my body was holding despite my amnesia.
Eros field trip
(NOTE: Eros is a men’s bath house (very trans-inclusive) in San Francisco that generously donated admission for anyone in the class who wanted to go and check it out on Saturday night.)
I had reservations about going to a men’s sex space as a straight man with no prior inclinations towards having sex with men. But, I am really glad I went, as it was exciting to explore a new space with unfamiliar dynamics, all while feeling so safe because my amazing friends from the workshop were around!
I discovered I was actually physically desirable to some individuals, and the context of the men’s space really made me feel validated as a man. (Though I do worry about assumptions being made, based on my body type.) I also realized I still have some work to do about feeling ok and not guilty when enforcing my boundaries.
I did not discover any desire for sexual interaction with other men, but I now yearn for more access to intimate men’s spaces. This hasn’t really been open to me as a straight man, and I have, for a long time, adopted a normatively competitive gaze towards other men. For me this has fostered more feelings of isolation, inadequacy, and jealousy.
We were invited to sway to nautical music while imagining ourselves to be bull kelp. The idea of being rooted and just o.k. with my existence while swaying with the movement of the water was strangely profound. When we were invited to return to feeling the edges of our bodies, I could not help but weep from the sensation of viewing myself with non-judgment and comfort. It shook me to observe how long my body has been deprived of my love, and how long I have gone without noticing!
I appreciated both lessons on the chest and the genitals and the fact that they were presented in dysphoria-reducing language. I have had some bottom surgeries, and am eager to understand my genitals. Tissues have now been rearranged, rendering some parts more accessible, and others less or not at all.
Despite having pored through countless anatomy articles and diagrams, I learned a new term and site of pleasure: the perineal sponge! This knowledge has helped me gain a better understanding of how to best stimulate the nerves that I thought were no longer accessible.
I felt extremely soothed, and so grateful feeling the love and care of the two people working together to bring me the release from muscle tension I desired. They were eager to comply, and I grew in my comfort to be able to ask for how I wanted to be pleased. For once, I experienced the joy of trusting another’s desire to please me. It was liberating to not feel guilty or burdensome
My body felt extremely honored by their touch, and I had never known that comfort and love could accompany such vulnerability. Who knew that exposure doesn’t need to be just about shame and embarrassment and instead could feel so delicious and freeing? I didn’t.
The Circle Holds Us
We took turns in a circle being held and holding one another, before everyone stepped backwards together towards the center of the circle. How amazing it felt to be this stable entity of love, so unyielding in its solid hold of me, despite how fragile we may each feel in so many moments of our lives. In this moment I knew I was not the scared person I was on Friday who was eager to shut out the intrusive presence of others. Instead, I leaned into the warmth of our bodies, the life of our collective breaths, the energies of trans masculine brethren with whom I felt an unmatched closeness.
Culmination and Integration
This workshop was such a highlight of my life after so much anguish and pain. I have rarely cried so much and been so deeply moved. There was a ‘before workshop’ era of my life, and now the ‘after workshop’ time is only beginning. I left with the profound understanding that there are truly greater possibilities for really knowing others in a way that facilitates the closeness and healing that I so desire, yet have always been so afraid of.
After saying many goodbyes, I entered the elevator, alone. The loneliness was momentarily terrifying. I was so sad to leave the space, because the world outside will never be nearly so safe, with facilitators actively shaping healing vibes. But even as I return to my real life, where my physical and emotional boundaries are continually tested, I recharge and revive when I think of being in that circle of bodies, holding and being held. Even now, my heart is still overflowing with love for our capacity to heal so much pain. I revel in the memory of that circle.
(The following is a Guest Post by Roman Rimer, describing his experiences at the Geography of Pleasure: Embodiment for Trans Guys workshop. Enjoy! ~ Pavini)
After the Geography of Pleasure workshop I was able to talk about the experience ad nauseam, maybe even brag a little bit, to my inquiring cis-gender friends. Finally, a place where I felt at home.
When it came time to write about what feelings came up all the words I piece together seem slightly off, empty. Perhaps this goes back to the adage that writing is the loneliest profession. By contrast, participating in a workshop with family members you never knew you had, feels to be quite the opposite. Feeling part of a larger group is huge, especially if it doesn’t happen often.
Warm, safe spaces exist everywhere; they’re just not always open to everybody. My first impression when I entered the space was that I was welcome, and not just because I was helping other people sign in. Often I feel I have had to be on guard, even when I am in familiar places with people I know. Quite often those most “comfortable” elements in my life have at points turned threatening. When I find myself in a new space, I am safe. I do not have to worry about where I will go next and I can be fully present.
There are too many themes covered in the workshop to fully process, and I’m sure with time a few moments will pop up when I am least expecting it; perhaps they will provide guidance for that particular moment and it will make sense.
A concrete reminder for me was how important human touch can be. Well-meaning touch is not always easy to come by, consent is only occasionally addressed, and at moments in my life I have wanted to fully separate from my body. I imagine if we were taught at a young age to establish and respect boundaries, how the human race could start to heal itself. Even when in relationship(s) I constantly crave human touch and to receive it in such a loving way as it was in the workshop was a much-needed gift.
I enjoyed the exercises in which we were placed in smaller groups, either two or three of us. In one we allowed the other person to touch us, told them where, how much pressure to apply. In the groups of three we asked our partners to remove article(s) of clothing. It was something that on the surface so simple, yet while enacting it felt incredibly empowering.
The actions that many take for granted, are usually much more weighted with trans folks. Perhaps it was because we all knew what it was like, maybe the safety quashed all fears. From talking with other folks I identified that I, too, have felt my body at times was stolen from me, misidentified, physically harmed, attacked with words.
Us transfolks must love our bodies more than anyone could understand, we have held on to our bodies through everything. And what a better way to treat our bodies than to allow them the tenderness from others?
I’d forgotten how satisfying it was to be around ones brethren. While it wasn’t my first time with a group of solely trans-masculine folks, it was the first time in a while.
I’d imagine for many trans folks we’re constantly surrounded by cis people, often well-meaning, but still for lack of a better word, at times, horrible. I constantly find myself in a teaching role, as I find that tends to be one of the more hopeful ways to reach out to people. Being able to talk about my relationship with my body and not take on that role, is something I really value.
Though most of us were meeting one another for the very first time, I felt as though we’d known each other forever. Coming from different walks of life, different generations, family dynamics, occupations, we fit together like puzzle pieces, the individuals so strong yet together creating something even more magnificent than us all individually.
“The space was sacred there’s no doubt about it. I could feel the spirits of our transancestors and those who have yet to be born, all there with us. Those who have been silenced helped give me the strength to speak. It was as though as soon as we formed a circle a spark was lit, igniting an everlasting flame, warm enough for all of us.”
The workshop the previous three days was a mindfuck in the best way possible. Imagine, always feeling like an outsider, feeling misunderstood, always wary of how much to disclose (if at all), the idea that many people might not get it, or their reactions could be harmful, even dangerous. And suddenly I was in a place where not only was it safe to share, but it was encouraged, and others spoke their truths, let their fears out into the air. Suddenly, I felt less ashamed of my own struggles.
Often I feel as eager to cover up as I am to shed my layers. Growing up in the States, feeling ashamed of my body, nudity, sex. While it was never hard for me to find my voice, it was always hard for me to trust it. The workshop provided the trust, part from within the community and building it within ourselves.
The day after the workshop I had an improv class. I was still recovering, emotionally. Thoughts zoomed across my mind. How comfortable I’d felt, while battling through recurring memories of trauma over and over again. In class there were about fifteen of us and I looked around thought, holy fuck, I’m the only trans person here. Improv is known for “gender role reversal” if anything this drama therapy helped me figure out my identity. Though I’d known most of these folks for months, and was out as trans to maybe a third of them, I instantly missed my kin. Though it was only in my mind, I felt I stuck out as the lone trans thumb, and I instantly missed those bonds I’d just formed.
I like the idea that everyone is trans, only some of us have realized it. Perhaps this meeting was for those of us with the courage to move forward. After feeling shamed by the medical community, by family, friends, all these aspects of my life I could trace back to deciding to live openly and authentically. Once I came out I couldn’t quite go back. And as exhausting as I am by the constant teaching, It’s worth it. All the people about to have kids, for all the people who may not have given transphobia a second thought.
Nothing has made me happier than the friends who have since given birth acknowledging gender can very much be placed on children before they are ready to express who they are and they need to check their own beliefs before imposing them on their children. And to meet other trans folks at this workshop who were parents themselves gave me quite a lot of faith in the next generation.
And while it may take cis-gender people a while to catch on, I believe it’s possible. Once they get close enough to our fire, they will see the warmth, the camaraderie that elevates us all once we accept ourselves, and by proxy each other.
I mentioned the importance of a warm space and there is no way I could omit the hot food. It might not seem like much to some, but I am always grateful to have a hot meal in a warm space. I still feel quite privileged even with trauma I’ve endured. Since transitioning my housing situation has been more uncertain than not. It’s all connected.
And while I would never give it up, or change anything, it’s clear the price I’ve paid to live an authentic life. To not have basic needs met, or at least a given, I’ve put myself at risk. Knowing where I will be at a certain time, knowing I will be fed – is a huge thing. It shouldn’t be and everyone should always have these basics covered, but by seeing once more how “outsiders” or rather, folks who don’t subscribe to a certain, limited way of being, exist, my empathy has grown and flooded from me. It’s easy to see we’re not alone.
To know that although we went through this all alone, we were finally able to be there with each other. There’s something that only we can give each other. And that was remarkable. The scariest part is in thinking that we are all alone. The Geography of Pleasure workshop proved nothing could be further from the truth.
~ by Roman Rimer
I dip my pen into the blood of my heart, and begin to chronicle the myriad of thoughts, sensations, feelings, body epiphanies and erotic somatic learning that happened this past weekend.
It is only now, four days out, that I can bring myself to write of the beauty, the heartbreak, the joy, the community and the exquisite pain that was the first Geography of Pleasure: Embodiment for Trans Guys workshop.
Here’s what I notice: my heart aching mightily with the openness we created together. I find my heart expanding into love and joy, and contracting into fear and anxiety, in a regular pattern. I find I want the rawness and intensity of the workshop space in my everyday life. It is hard to return to dishes, kids, and regular life.
How can I describe how the electricity in the room as we smashed paradigm after paradigm? How to write of the power of claiming our rightful erotic space, as humans who live on a trans-masculine spectrum? How can I describe the utter suffering that the people in this circle have endured, that has impacted every aspect of their lives? And how can I describe the fierceness and righteousness of watching the erotic call each of us home to our bodies, just as they are in this moment?
Truly, I cannot.
But what I can describe is the feeling of success I have as a facilitator of a crucible that created demonstrable transformation for participants. People looked different when they left. They felt different. They felt like their context around pleasure, their bodies and their relationships had shifted so much that it was difficult to articulate. They spoke again and again of feeling a sense of safety that they had never in their lives felt.
I knew the workshop was going to be potent, but I really had absolutely no idea to what degree we would change everything.
One of my favorite reflections comes from workshop participant Jun C:
“I came in feeling like I had nothing to offer. I now feel like I have everything to give.
“I feel like I finally found the kind of community and connection with other trans-masculine people that I’ve been looking for that I couldn’t find for so long.
“I had initial reservations coming in (didn’t we all?) I thought there was a very likely possibility that it was going to be some hokey new age-y type thing that usually strikes me as being disingenuous, devoid of real substance, with a false type of enlightenment. I don’t know yet how to articulate the sparkle magic that happened, but I’m so glad I was there.”
This workshop arose from a vision I had of a room of trans-masculine people, working together to banish shame, craft community, and communally welcome into our bodies the pleasure that heals trauma, brings sensation to numbness, and replaces fear with joy. And this bold vision actually happened.
As a facilitator, my heart grew larger and larger with each story, each sharing, each time I sobbed with the hurt we have all borne. The scars I saw this weekend, (and I saw many,) denote a strength and a resilience, a determination to live in our bodies and to be truly ALIVE, without apology.
Perhaps I will write in greater depth about the specifics of what we did, but for now, I am basking in the delight of a heart full of passion for continuing and growing this work. We have already been invited to Portland, New Mexico, Toronto, Minneapolis and the UK. You’ll be able to track our progress at http://www.geographyofpleasure.com. I’ll be posting participant written reflections on my blog, as well as spoken reflections on our website and youtube. Stay tuned!
Our dream is for every trans-masculine person in the world has access to pleasure and embodiment, in the body they are in, RIGHT NOW!
I write to you from the garden of the home we share. The radiant oranges and yellows of the nasturtiums splashing their outrageous beauty everywhere remind me of you. I thought I’d write and tell you the truthful yearnings of my heart.
When I see you walking with your back straight, your chin raised toward the sky, rolling that big gorgeous ass, I think to myself, “You, YOU are a new paradigm of beauty.”
Your abundant beauty belongs to you. All those curves and rolls and solid flesh. That way you disregard all the ways you are supposed to be beautiful, and make your own rules instead stuns me with delight. It is a miracle to witness you, to watch your strength and determination, as you live so fatly and fiercely. I know they said you wouldn’t.
I watch you, out of the corner of my eye. I watch as you dance and spin, cutting crazy moves on the dance floor. I watch as you make raunchy love. I watch as you gather children, lovers, friends and enemies into your embracing arms. Sometimes, you are so exquisite that I lose my breath. My heart pounds like its gonna burst out of my chest with an explosion of love and glitter.
When I see you like that, I lose all of my fear. I feel full of confidence, knowing you are mine. You have been so patient, waiting as I’ve come to know this.
When you pull your tight black tee-shirt over your head, fasten your studded belt around your thick waist, I know you are not concerned about what anyone will say. Your flesh is molded into the shape of erotic luxury and perilous pleasure. I love the way you own your desire. You are subversive and dangerous, just by your lines and shape.
You are ripe and delicious, like some rare succulent fruit. When you let me cup your heavy breasts, stroke your skin with rose oil, and dip my fingers into your secret places that you only share with me, I know pleasure beyond any other. Can you feel the breath of my adoration humming along your skin?
You are my miracle of beauty and life. I desire to dive deeply into you, to utterly lose myself inside of your wild, free form. Inside of you, I will find home, I just know it.
P.S. May I suggest writing a Valentine’s Day love letter to your own body? Send them to me, and I’ll choose several to publish right here on this blog!
When they write the rejection letters, why can’t they just say “Thank you, we’ve chosen another proposal.”
There’s always the bit about how many awesome proposals they received, how it was excruciating painful to choose (as if I care) and how truly, truly amazing my proposal is. How they look forward to seeing my work out in the world. And in the really stellar rejection letters, they find a way to ask for my continued support for their project.
So far this year I’ve received ten rejection letters, for a variety of projects, including conference proposals, writing contests and performance proposals. Each proposal I’ve submitted has taken hours upon hours of work to conceive, articulate, edit, answer all of the questions, and gather submission materials. Each one has been a dream, a calling forth of something important into being, only to let that dream slip away, perhaps to be reborn in a different form, or perhaps not.
With each rejection, the sting has been less. I won’t say it’s stopped.
I really, really wanted to create that performance piece about the circus freak show: the fat lady, the bearded lady, the half-man, half-woman, and the sexuality of each. It would be a powerful reclaiming of the fetishized, for purposes of validating our own eroticism.
But. “When the Fat Bearded Lady Sings Subterfuge” is not to be, at least not this summer.
With every proposal, and also with every rejection, I feel I stand at a bifurcation point: one path leading one way, another leading to a completely different destination. Taking the path marked “Reject” leads somewhere, often to somewhere unexpected and enlivening.
Creating meaningful content is not a challenge for me. I have ideas all day, every day. The challenge is to curate the ideas, discern which ones will further not only my work, but the issues that I stand for. Faith seems to be the only means by which to understand the mystery of why this project, this idea, and why now. Or why not. I am choosing to engage with the various selection committees as a divinatory process. The Hand of God, tapping my creative efforts that best serve my people.
The generative force behind all of my ideas is erotic.
It is inarguably the tide of Eros, churning within the moving rivers of my body. Each idea is a desire born of an embodied longing, bubbling up. These things, they want to be born, they yearn to manifest. They crowd around, like impatient spirits waiting to reincarnate.
When I answer the call of a particular desire, the ebullient and effervescent delight which courses through my body is sublime. Merely putting the words onto paper is sometimes orgasmic. Letting them then go off into the world, to be petted and stroked and sometimes mauled by complete strangers is oddly liberating. They are not mine alone, anymore. They belong to us, to our species. What is our medicine today, this week, this decade? What beauty, what insight do we need to ensure our collective survival?
Sometimes the desires are resilient. Tough, with bouncy edges. Sometimes they are tender, and become easily cracked and disheartened.
Sometimes, when I send an especially beloved desire out into the world, it has the quality of reaching out to touch an achingly desired potential lover, for the very first time.
That moment when you don’t know if your touch will be welcomed. That fragile, heartbreaking pause between your gesture, and their acceptance when the entirety of your self-esteem is up for grabs.
I’m practicing trust in my creative process, when I send those ones out, that the rejection I face will not damage me. That the burn of Eros will be fed by the ashes of rejection, and honed into an ever-clearer flame of yearning and expression.
It is a terrible-wonderful thing, to put one’s heart on public display, time and time again, for critique and judgment. The not-good-enough trolls stand just at the edge of that autonomous zone, waiting for my transgressive heart to cross the border into the land called self-doubt.
But wait! Ding, you’ve got mail! What’s this? A call for submissions for a new zine on fat acceptance? A film contest exploring marginalized sexuality?
Sorry trolls, not today. I’ve got the work of desire, burning down the house.
P.S. Geography of Pleasure: Embodiment for Trans Guys is happening 2/21-23 in San Francisco.
Perhaps you thought, “OK, so then I’m going to increase my capacity for feeling pleasure and expand my sexuality.”
Indeed, how does one expand into feeling more pleasure, if one has already accepted that the limits of our pleasure capacity are inflexibly where they are?
Or worse yet, what if we have don’t realize that the limits to our capacity for feeling pleasure are ones that we ourselves have created?
Before we consider the question of how to increase our capacity for pleasure, let us first acknowledge our diminished capability to enjoy the fullness of our human sexuality. Let us ground into the historical contexts of how we have ended up here.
Throughout my blog, I have often written of my own experiments as I attempt to expand my erotic self and broaden my capacity for pleasure. I write of my own experiences for a number of reasons, mainly because I trust personally people who walk their talk. Therefore, my integrity compels me to be transparent about my process. Blogging keeps me accountable to my chosen course towards erotic wholeness. Importantly, transparently blogging about my sexuality helps hold my shame at bay.
Ironically, the shame of not being or having the sexual self we know or imagine is possible can actually be enough to block us from seeking that self. Therefore, it is crucial to the sexual wellbeing of the planet that we begin to break silence about our shame. That people with marginalized identities also claim sexuality. Through sharing our erotic journeys, we not only give ourselves permission, but also model and give each other permission to seek authentic sexual expression.
When I started exploring my erotic nature, I was optimistic, but guardedly so. Perhaps there was more to my sexuality than I was experiencing. I had a vague sense of missing out on something, but assumed (incorrectly) that the experience I was having was the extent of the experience I could have. I thought the sex that I had, though limited and at times non-existent, was good enough. Plainly put, I settled for the experience I had and tried to wrap my sexuality around it. I did not try to expand the experience to meet the edges of my sexuality.
After all, I had read enough about women’s sexuality to know a few things (or so I thought.) I knew that that many women didn’t masturbate. Many women didn’t orgasm during penis-vagina intercourse. Many women didn’t have more than one orgasm. Many women didn’t even orgasm at all. Since I was capable of coming a couple times when I had penis-vagina intercourse, and I masturbated, I was doing better than many women.
I set my own sexual bar super low.
What were some things I was missing from my sexuality?
- Play and Exploration and edge-pushing
- Desire and Fantasy
- Transcendent sexuality and sex magick
- Embodiment, sensate focus and being present during sex
- Freedom for fantasy during sex and Freedom for all kinds of fantasies
- Exploring different turn-ons
- Toys, different positions and mixing up the patterns of sexual encounters
- Gender play and different sexual partners
- Anal explorations
- Knowledge of my anatomy
- Squirting and Kegels
- Breath, movement and sound
- Ecstatic sexual encounters and meeting the Divine during sex
- Awareness of erotic energy, and ability to work with it
- Kink, BDSM and power exchange
- Communal erotic encounters
- Allowing sex to crack open my heart
- Full Body orgasms, G-spot orgasms and orgasmic spaces beyond the clittoral
- Acceptance for my kinks and turn-ons
Shit, that’s a whole lot of missing!
The most interesting thing is that I really believed I was doing good! I ACCEPTED that the limits of my sexuality were real.
Barnaby Barratt, a psychotherapist, sex therapist, sex educator and tantric facilitator, implores that, “Our sexuality encompasses everything about our embodiment. It is our sensual and erotic connectedness with all that is around us. It is the medium of our alignment or misalignment with the universe, the grounding of our being-in-the-world.”
Why do we accept for our sexuality something that is less than perfect alignment with the universe? How did it come to be that I accepted those limits?
While most of us probably feel some degree of shame about where we are in our sexual expression, it turns out there are actually a number of really excellent reasons why we are where we are.
Here’s the crux of it: Our sexuality is informed by a complete paradox. Ubiquitous in the United States are both blatant sexualization and blanket sexual repression. We all encounter examples of both of these hundreds of times each day.
Sexually Explicit or Implicit Advertising
Oh Hi, Sex-Sells Advertising! The earliest known use of sex in advertising was in 1871, by the Pearl Tobacco brand. The advertising featured a naked girl on the package. Since then, sex has been a powerful advertising tool used to sell almost everything. And it works, too, since we are hard- wired to respond to sexual connotations.
We actually even respond to messages that only imply sex, meaning advertisers merely have to access the part of our brain that recognizes sexual messaging. According to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, average American adults are exposed to approximately 650 advertising messages each day.
We live in a society that is completely sex obsessed,
and simultaneously completely sex-phobic.
Pervasive Sex Negativity
In juxtaposition to the images above, consider the following:
- Abstinence-only sex education is still going strong. Since 1998, over $1.5 billion in state and federal funds has been allocated for these abstinence-only and abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education programs.
- The wide acceptance of ‘sex-addiction,’ as a real disease, although sexual addiction was rejected for inclusion in the DSM-5 and it is widely disputed.
- Porn is often vilified. (While secretly consumed in epic proportions; 12% of all websites are porn-related)
- BDSM activity, even where clearly consensual, can be and frequently is prosecuted under state criminal laws dealing with assault, aggravated assault, sexual assault or sexual abuse.
- It was a mere ten years ago in 2003 that the U.S. Supreme Court (in a 6-3 decision in Lawrence v. Texas) struck down the Texas same-sex sodomy law, ruling that private sexual conduct is protected by the liberty rights implicit in the United States Constitution. (This decision finally invalidated all state sodomy laws and meant that same-sex sex couldn’t be prosecuted.)
Receiving these contradictory messages can be disastrous in our search for authentic erotic expression. On top of that, layer the traumas, stories, shame, abuse and bad sex many of us have had, and it’s a recipe for sexual shut-down. Seen through this lens, the fact that we can feel any pleasure at all is quite remarkable!
“Many of us tell ourselves that “sex is not all that important to me,” and then we immerse ourselves in substitutive activities. We plunge into all manner of heartless addictions, or we become preoccupied with policing the sex lives of others. We even lose our awareness of how disconnected we have become from our sensuality. We no longer recognizer our own inhibition, nor do we see its roots in our unconscious shame and guilt.” ~Barnaby B. Barratt
Those who do attempt to cultivate an authentic erotic experience often find themselves facing strong societal prohibitions. However, when we turn our attention to that quiet, internal voice that compels us towards wholeness, we know we must question the limits we currently accept as immutable.
Sometimes we are required to accept things on faith. Take leaps of thinking and believing that are unsubstantiated in our lived experience. Sometimes, we just have to believe there is more, and set off it search of it, hoping we will find it. I had to leap into the void of giving up my sexual limits, (without having any proof I would get something better,) before I was able to start consciously evolving my own erotic experience
I started this post with the thought “Okay, then I’m going to increase my capacity for feeling pleasure and expanding my sexuality.” That is indeed the topic. Stay tuned for further thoughts. And until next week, I invite you to do one thing: consider that perhaps the current limitations of your sexuality will be different in the future. Perhaps something deep inside hears the truth of this next statement:
Without a doubt, there is more for you to feel.
I spent the day at Orr hot springs, moving between the water, the woods and the bed. All day was magickal, from the tarot ritual in the afternoon to the devotional fire ritual in the early evening. I dwelt in Spirit all day, finding the territories of the body and heart that welcome in the numinous. I made love with Kali Maa, my Ishta Devi (which is like your deity BFF), and listened for the voices of the land, the water, the creatures.
I reflected on my year, on the 43 years of my life, and worked on honoring the life the resides in this body. We often focus our honoring of life on ‘life out there’ forgetting that we too harbor the spark. What is it to honor the life force within?
For a birthday gift, my lover gave me an NJOY, which is a really beautiful stainless steel dildo. It looks like a work of art, and it feels incredible. Best sex toy ever, and this is not a review. This post is a celebration of the unrealized pleasure and feeling potential of our bodies.
Scientific American debunks the myth that as humans, we are using a mere 10% of our potential brain power, but until this morning when I was fact checking, I believed it. What is true that is we are not using all of our brain at all times. What if the same is true of our sexuality? When I learn something new, my brain somehow codifies and stores that information that was not there before. I have more information now than I had before. I have learned.
I believe we all accept far less pleasure than we are capable of experiencing. It is possible for us to learn new things in our sexuality. It is possible for us to feel more. These are my lived experience.
While every sex toy promises the ultimate pleasure, the pleasure does not arise from the toy itself, but from how our bodies respond to a different kind of stimulation. When we are able to place our attention on subtle difference in sensation, we become able to feel more. We can attune our attention to be ever more nuanced.
One of my favorite questions to ask myself when I notice that my mind is wandering during sex is “Am I feeling all the pleasure I could be feeling at this moment?” In effect, asking that question both refocuses my attention on the pleasure I am feeling, and opens the door for my body to be able to feel more pleasure.
This same question can be extrapolated to our sexuality as a whole. Am I feeling as much/experiencing as much/exploring as much as possible? Or am I settling for 10% of my potential?
The intention of such a question is NOT to create shame, or “I should be doing more,” but rather to invite space for more to be present within our sexual experiences and our sexuality.
On my birthday, I felt sensations I have not felt before. My body responded in ways in has not responded before.
While we were soaking in the delicious hot water, my partner asked me if I thought that we would ever reach the end of the road with our explorations and our learnings about sexuality. He then answered his own question, saying “Actually, I’ve been enjoying sex since I first figured out masturbation when I was nine. It’s been getting better and better since then. I don’t think it will ever run out.”
It can be easy to settle. We get lulled to sleep, lured into complacency. We think it’s too much effort to change, that our sex is good enough. We can believe our demons are too scary, too difficult to face. We can stop exploring, and our sex can become routine, limited, rote. We can convince ourselves that sexuality isn’t that big a part of our human experience, that it’s a bunch of hype. I know this too because of lived experience.
When I honor and listen to the voice of the life force residing in my body, I hear a different message. I hear the word “Hope.” Heeding the call of this voice, quiet as it initially was, has saved my life again and again. So many times I have tried to settle. Tried to resist change, resist the hard work of intimacy, resist the call of my true animal nature.
This week, as many of my kind are setting resolutions for this next trip around the sun, I am instead honoring the life force that insists I pay attention to my sexuality, my creativity. I am honoring the fire within that quietly but firmly resists falling to sleep and missing my life. I am honoring the continued learning and evolution of my sexuality and my pleasure. I am honoring my commitment to showing up for the exquisite theatre of the body. And I am honoring the insistent voice of Hope, telling me that there is more to feel.
I moved to California in 2004, from a homestead in the backwoods of the North Carolina mountains where I literally baked my own bread each week. I could never have imagined all the ways San Francisco would infiltrate my skin, my soul, and my sex. It ended my marriage, and brought me into my true partnership. It turned me queerer than I’d ever dared to express before. It radicalized my life. San Francisco has been, and continues to be, my totally hot transformative lover, like no other.
Today I’ve been pondering what it is that my child self wants. Making room for the desires of that girl, and trying to give her space for play and trust. This afternoon, she has called out for dress up. Boots, in particular.
And although it feels incredibly vulnerable to share, here’s a little post-holiday gift for you. I wrote this poem in 2005 about the pair of Fluevogs I bought that eventually changed my life. When I wrote the poem, I didn’t know all that would happen, but you’ll notice that somewhere I had a strong inkling, or at least some forshadowing.
As it turns out, I’ve ridden those boots home to a sexuality that continuously expands and furthers my expression of my deep, animal nature.
Back in 2005, my then-partner told me I looked like a prostitute (he didn’t mean in a good way) the very first time I wore the boots. I was heartbroken. But something raw and powerful inside insisted I wear them anyway. Ultimately, that moment informed my decision to leave my marriage and reclaim myself. I felt a distinctive “fuck you” to those threatened by my sexuality. I continue to feel that way.
In the post-capitalist-frenzy of the holidays, may my humble offering remind you that we can always travel home again, and sometimes the ticket is even for sale.
Buying the Boots on Haight Street, 2005
These boots are San Francisco.
As the striding, heel-crushing totems work their black magic,
supple black leather, long lines, heels curving up like city streets,
I tell my companion I am not ready to ride these.
As the striding, heel-crushing totems work their black magic,
my fingers trace these routes.
I tell my companion I am not ready to ride these
She says I will not wear these boots until I wear these boots.
My fingers trace these routes
like streetcars of desire.
She says I will not wear these boots until I wear these boots,
and there is longing, coveting, desiring.
Like streetcars of desire
carrying a bad-ass passenger,
There is longing, coveting, desiring
to be the woman who owns these boots.
Carrying a bad-ass passenger
Up, up, up, up
Oh, to be the woman who owns these boots,
pouring my legs into the casings, making me taller, badder, readier.
Up, up, up, up,
supple black leather, long lines, heels curving up like city streets,
and pouring my legs into the casings, I am taller, badder, readier.
These boots are San Francisco.
Is desire at the root of everything human?
(We all come from desire.)
I wake up today (everyday,) and not a full minute goes by before I’m thinking about what I want. Coffee, return that phone call, text my crush…. and the list goes on. Every moment of every day, thinking and feeling into what I want. Sometimes getting what I want, sometimes not. Sometimes able to ask for it, sometimes, the desire smoldering inside. Doing all of these human dances, with desire as my constant partner.
It’s got me thinking, this desire thing.
What is it? It seems like every big religion’s got the word on Desire. Recognize this one? “And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and it was desirous for the eyes, and the tree was lovely to behold.”
Buddha teaches that attachment to desire is the root of suffering: The second noble truth the origin of suffering: Within the context of the four noble truths, suffering (dukha) is commonly explained as craving.
- Craving for sensory pleasure
- Craving for Union (togetherness)
- Craving to not feel painful feelings (not aloneness)
Shakta Tantra (the Hindu variety which I practice) resolves the fundamental dilemma presented by being human and having desires and those desires causing suffering by directing human desires towards liberation rather than repressing them. This philosophy argues that trying to deny certain desires only empowers them further. Rather than repress potentially harmful impulses, Tantra tries to harness them in service of setting ourselves free.
Of course, Christianity gives a narrow container for the expression of limited desires, and seeks to control through fear and punishment all desires that fall outside that purview.
Pagans seem to welcome desire and pleasure, and don’t fret too much (maybe not enough) about the impact on our spiritual development.
In my admittedly very limited knowledge of Islam, it seeks to provide a code for the expression of human desires, seeking balance between wanting and fulfillment of wanting.
Judaism prescribes a law-filled code for the fulfillment of desire as well, that at least includes pleasure.
None of these ways of engaging desire really work for me. They seem like how it could be, or should be, or an idea…. but not personal enough. My own experience of desire is so complex. It is often glorious, often painful. My desire ignores codes, rejects shoulds, and is often the antithesis of what is culturally conditioned. I wonder if this is not the experience of most of us?
Every person I have ever worked with or discussed sexuality with has expressed their desire in completely unique, and specific-unto-them terms. The only common thread is the liminal, and ever-changing nature of desire, and its insatiable quality.
I want permission for my desire. This process you are reading is about me giving myself permission, and hopefully giving you permission. Imagine, all of us, simply wanting what we want.
I desire things that I am not supposed to desire. I desire much that my socialization tells me are taboo, wrong, disempowered, disgusting, shameful, abhorrent, too far from common decency, too powerful, too violent. I notice my desire like hunger.
Last week, I noticed the gnawing in my belly. I tried to fill it with too much Halloween candy. I tried to fill it with socializing, with sex. I tried to fill it, and then I stopped.
Just noticing the hunger, noticing the emptiness, is so hard. It is so terribly hard to just sit with it. My mind clamors: Try a beer. Try some cuddling. Try a bath. Soothe it, dissipate it, quiet it. Somehow lessen the ravenous void of its immense gaping maw.
Wanting is terrifying. It is the rawest, most bloody form of nakedness that I know. Wanting without a tether, without something at the end of the desire, is what lies at the root of the hungers we try to feed through addictions.
This is what I want, right now.
I want her. I want her precious, big-eyed vulnerability. I want her tenderest tears and fragility. Her badass intellect. Her heartbreak. Her need. I want to make her come and cry, and then wipe her tears with my hair. I want her to want to give her orgasm to me. I want to cut her heart wide open, and take it from her chest, licking the dripping blood off of it (this is a metaphor.) Or maybe I just want her to text me.
I want him. I want his fierce submission. I want his most vroom vroom passionate passion to have room to express. I want him to have the flexibility to turn his crazy erotic energy up and turn it down, at will. I want to see him naked, dancing, feeling completely free within his bondage. I want the intensity of his James Dean eyes turned on me, his unfettered desire throbbing and thrumming as he awaits my instructions for the afternoon. I want him to serve me lunch.
I want to build a container (a world) in which you never again question if you are wanted or desirable.
I want to be able to name my desires freely. (Ironically, while writing this a dear one emails me. In that moment, I find I want him, too, and write and say so. Naming my desire is terrifying.)
I want reassurance that my desires are not too big, too disturbed, too insatiable.
I want to feel poignant, intense feeling. I want to not be separate, insecure, alone. I want erotic community. I want magick and synchronicity. I want clean underwear.
I. want. to. be. taken. care. of.
There are other desires, things named and unnamed, that I will probably never do or have. I name them (and ask you to know that there are others I am not naming here) because I don’t want to offer you a diluted version of the truth of my desire. I don’t want to give you lukewarm permission to be fully, completely in your base human desire. So here is what I also want: I want to sell my body, to make them pay for it. I want to tear and bite with my teeth, rip with my blade. I want to hurt. I want to humiliate and I want to worship. I want to lay my body down and open, prostrate myself in front of the Divine, and offer the service of my meager life.
And it never, ever completely goes away, no matter how close, how intimate, how much power exchange, how much energy, how many orgasms. The wanting remains.
I feel so humbled by the power of my desire. I have spent years trying to quiet it. Trying to feed it. I have this big, fat body to show for it, all my wanting. While there are certain standbys for bringing comfort and offering temporary satiation, I find that even they are growing old and cold and less effective, as I get closer to being able to express the heart of my desire.
What I am learning about desire, as I give myself full permission to want what I want, is that it almost never is what I expect it to be. It is continually surprising and an elegant mysterious process of uncovering what I want in each moment.
Internally, my experience of my desire is sweetly familiar and freshly distinctive and exceptional. I notice I can’t breathe deeply. The best I can do in that moment is to say, “Sitting here, next to you on this couch, touching your hair, I am feeling desire.”
Of course, the next logical question is “What is your desire?” and it is here the breakdown and the loss and the grief occur.
I can only express around the edges of my desire. It is not because I am shy, or inarticulate, or unable to tell you because of shame or repression. It is because when I try to put my desire into words, there is something essential I cannot capture. Using words, I cannot put my yearning into pure form. There is something lost in translation. And no matter how close I get to expressing what I truly want, when you give it to me, there is always another translation gap which I also grieve.
So many different, intricate dances with desire. What I’ve never done is just stay open to it. What is on the other side of this yearning? What is it to not know the answer? What is it to wait, hungrily waiting? What is it to acknowledge that the want in me is the want of the very universe, exploding itself into being? What is it to allow feeling that power, to feel the hunger that will never, no matter what, stop? And even as I contemplate, and practice, just sitting with the wanting, there is that within me that wants to want.
You ask me what I want.
But my dear, although I can never tell you, of course I want you. And I want you to want to be wanted by me. I can’t tell you in words. But my eyes, my eyes can tell you. My eyes can tell you, without losing the pure raw brutal power of my lusting want, my aching need, my unadulterated desire. I want you. Just look in my eyes.
Tell me what you Desire.
Last week, a client said to me “Well, I know you have always been free sexually, but I’m not like you, I’m stuck.” I smiled/cried because nothing could be further from the truth. I was sexually blocked for years. Right now, I’ve got an erotic energy block the size of a small city at my diaphragm that I’m working on. And, even being able to identify that stuckness is a profound indicator of how far I’ve come. (We are called home to Wholeness)
No, this sexual liberation that I’m always nattering on about is hard won, every single day.
Each day I traverse the challenging road back to the body, back to my breath, back to pleasure, back to trust and vulnerability and intimacy. Just as a path quickly becomes overgrown without traffic, this liberatory road of the body must consistently be tread and reinforced. I must continually reinforce the neural wiring I am consciously choosing for my sexual liberation.
It’s important to name that being sexually stuck is where my journey began. Stuck in a sexless marriage, stuck with a limited potential for pleasure, stuck. I was settling for a mediocre sexuality that I knew was problematic. I didn’t know how to get out of it. I had no support resources.
Around me, I saw those who were going further and deeper into their sexual potential. I felt tremendous guilt that my sexuality was so limited. Deep shame that I seemingly had no libido. When my then-partner would try to touch me, I felt fear and confusion at my arousal process, and no ability to talk about it or seek support.
In that ho-hum Eoyore way, I was accepting that this was as good as it was going to be for me in this lifetime. (We are called home to Wholeness.)
In therapy for food addiction, one day my therapist gently pointed out that as I was healing my relationship with food, I must also heal my relationship with my body. An important next step was to enter more consciously into my sexuality. When a client comes to me and expresses how stuck they feel, or how blocked their erotic expression is, I completely get it, on a body level. I KNOW intimately the aversion, the fear, the shut-down. And, I also know the desire and innate craving for erotic expression that led me out of that painful morass. Ultimately, it has led me to playfulness and joy in my sexual exploration.
We are called home to Wholeness. In each new relationship, we are giving ourselves opportunity anew to heal our wounds, both from our past and from our lineage. I was recently in a group and there was a man there in his mid-seventies who had just come out as gay. He had spent his entire life taking the “easier path” (his words) only to find that hiding one’s erotic identity is ultimately a denial of one’s very life. I am grateful to have learned this truth at an earlier age. But whenever we do decide that the pain of claiming who we truly are as erotic beings is LESS than the agony of trying to be someone we will never be, coming out allows us huge, instantaneous advances in our own liberatory process.
This morning, I was reading Susie Bright’s lovely little book called Full Exposure: Opening Up to your Sexual Creativity and Erotic Expression.
“Not many people are actually looking sexual liberation, at least not until they get to the end of a very weary road of dissatisfaction. That usually takes a decade or two. Liberation, per se, is not the sort of thing people count as tops on their to-do list.”
In my perfect world, we all feel and acknowledge the pull of liberation as an imperative of being human. I KNOW we feel it. I KNOW we deny it. And I know we get ourselves stuck, with the very purpose of later being able to set ourselves free.
One of the agreements made in order to attend Black Velvet, the erotic experiment in the dark that I hosted last week, was an agreement to reflect in writing on the experience. We asked participants several prompting questions, including “What were the rules you found, that you made for yourself?” Many people noted internally constructing rules that were not implicit in the structure of the event, or that didn’t necessarily benefit their erotic experience or freedom. Here is qualitative data about how we construct our own erotic limitations, our own sexual prison cells, often without realizing it.
One of my dear friends, a teacher of erotic education and sexual liberation, has said to me upon several occasions, “I don’t feel sexually liberated, most of the time.” Ironically, it was my observations of the erotic life of this person that led me to decide I was worthy of sexual liberation, and that I could have it in this lifetime. That person helped me to realize that the rules I had about arousal, desire, and lust were not mine: they were internalized cultural constructs, or internally created prohibitive rules, that were not expressive of my true erotic nature.
Sexual liberation is a process, not a goal. For the rest of my life, I will be freeing myself from all of the rules that I have swallowed, either those that culturally constructed or those that are self-imposed. For the rest of my days, I will be calling myself home to erotic wholeness.
How do we start that sexual liberation process? How do we free ourselves of the limiting beliefs, constructed and internalized rules and codes about eroticism, sensuality and sexuality? How do we take those first, scary steps into our own erotic authenticity? How do we call ourselves home to erotic wholeness?
One of my favorite sayings by teacher Liu Ming: “Resist as much as you possibly can. Only do that which you truly cannot resist.” Ironically, resisting the process is a crucial first step. (Read my blog post about Resistance) While we can live in denial for a long while, at some point, our own heart becomes our compass. The pull of the truth that resides in our hearts and our genitals may be a quiet truth, but it ultimately is undeniable.
There is no wrong way to step onto the sexual liberation path you are already on.
One of the most important things I learned as a Montessori teacher was that I never know more than my student about what they need. I don’t know when a student is ready to learn something, or if they even need to learn that thing. All I can do is watch carefully, and be present to offer support when readiness appears. It’s a philosophy I carry into this work. I stand in honor of your process, without judgement or agenda.
Whether you choose to put sexual liberation at the top of your list (as I have done, and you could too; it’s fun!) or whether you choose to ignore sexuality altogether, press your legs tightly together, and think of England, there is a biological programming inherent in your cells that compels you to move in exactly the right motions and rhythm for you. There is something inside that knows exactly what you need for erotic wholeness.
Here’s a final thought for today: you are already experiencing sexual liberation. Susie Bright again: “When you do finally get laid, and then it happens again and again and again, the confidence you acquire leads you to some new questions about the value of sex, about a lover’s companionship in your life, about your own sense of adventure and mystery in your erotic body.” Let us call ourselves home to Erotic Wholeness.