Risk Unlearning What Has Kept Us Alive

These words feel too small and not entirely accurate, but they’re the best I can find for something really important.

When Gabe and I started dating, in the fall of 2007, I had some decisions to make about personal, psychological tools and strategies. We had a lot of work to do quickly. Neither one of us had been in a polyamorous relationship before, and I had just recently become convinced that they could actually be healthy. We had 3 1/2 years of friendship and longing for one another driving us forward. And we had stressful triggery situations we were each emerging from. We had work to do.

I made a decision at the time that I am grateful for. I pushed myself out to my limits and stayed there. Every day, I stayed out at the perimeter and pushed it a little further out… or a LOT further out. I deferred to Gabe for a lot of the timing; it was his relational orientation that was the newest and most foreign, and the sooner he figured it out, the sooner I would know too. So, he set the pace and I determined that I would keep up until I just couldn’t move anymore (then I’d collapse, rest a while and push myself past the edge again). After we had decided to date but before we’d ever had sex with each other, he called to ask me how far he could go sexually with a friend. Before our long-distance romance was 4 months old, he was on a date with somebody I hadn’t met. In retrospect, with my experience of poly now, I can see how very quickly we were moving and adapting. I didn’t have the perspective to know that my feelings of rocketing forward at full throttle were fairly accurate.

And I’m glad we did that. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are now, and I think Us would be poorer for it. I may have deferred to him in a lot of choices, but that was still a choice of mine and I’m pleased with it. We have built a fantastic foundation, and learned so much so fast. The speed burned away extraneous obstacles and zeroed us in on what was most important. We have thrived.

I’ve been out at that periphery since… well, up until last week some time, lol! The daily demand to actually push, or to actively be pulled past my previous limits to find new ones, has faded each day for quite some time. There’s been rare need for it, especially the last six months or so. But I’ve been there, in place, waiting. I’ve been gauging daily life by whether I was pushed past my limit yet. When I named something in particular, it was usually because Gabe had presented an idea and I couldn’t conceive of managing it, so my observations were couched in the negative. It was difficult to bring my imagination to bear on planning of my own, it felt impossible to find balance, and I had growing resentment I couldn’t name… all because of this choice of location that had once been a survival skill allowing us to thrive. There were growing extra burdens on Gabe from what I was still deferring, and tension seemingly from several different places actually all originated from this strategy. It now fit more and more poorly each passing day. We’re not by ourselves forging an Us anymore. Us is established, as is another committed relationship of Gabe’s, and we’re a family of three.

So, I’ve focused a lot on my center now, the last five or six days since figuring this out. I have a great deal of experience and skill out on my growing edges; because of my family of origin and therapeutic history, I’ve spent a LOT of time there. And in most of my experience of my center, I’ve probably mistaken it as a passive, static place. It was usually where I rested for the briefest time possible before heading back out. It’s only now that I’m understanding how much space I have for movement at the center of me… how much imagination I have to pull from and build with… how very much I’m likely capable of with this better physical stance of balance. I’m certainly not starting from scratch, even if it does feel quite foreign here.

We did a scene Monday night that from the outside probably looked very characteristic of what we’ve often done before. But it felt so completely different from this inside place of centeredness that I’m still looking for words. I can’t name them yet, but there’s a lot of positive results, a lot of ease and a lot of freedom emanating from this one change.

(The title is an adaption of a phrase by Robin Morgan.)

Faith and Kink

Someone recently started a thread on FetLife title “reconciling faith and kink.” I thought my response was telling enough about what it is we do that it merited sharing here.

I can’t tell you how to find the wholeness you seek, but I can share parts of my own story.

I am a Christian, as are both of my girls. I don’t know how traditional most would consider us (Christianity is 2000 years old and contains within it a lot of traditions, yet most often when I see “traditional” used in the context of Christianity it’s in reference to modern Evangelical Christianity, which is just not all that old), but what we do works for us.

I believe that God was so in love with his creation that he became a part of it, that his Logos was one with a 1st century Palestinian Jewish man. In him is the most complete revelation of God. The Word is Jesus himself, and everything must be seen in his light. This includes the scriptures. As much as they tell us about Christ, Christ must tell us about them as well. This hinges, of course, on believing that God is still moving and communicating in the world today, that Christ is active and alive and a part of the world around us.

I don’t believe that Jesus gave us a sexual ethic to which we should adhere. He gave us an ethic of love and that ethic can be applied to our sexual lives. God has, time and again, shown us his value of these bodies. He created us not as souls inhabiting a shell, but as bodies filled with his own breath. Flesh was so beloved by the creator that he became flesh. Our bodies are beautiful, holy things. Our loves, our passions and our desires are gifts from the creator that blessed flesh in its creation. So then our bodies are not to be overcome, our desires not to be held as corrupt. Instead we look at how we can best listen to those desires and treat those bodies within the ethic of love given to us by God incarnate.

For me that starts with recognizing each person as a loved child and creation of God, as well as a reflection of God himself, and an equal to an inextricably linked to me. (“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” and “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”) From that, I honor the person as a unique creation and reflection of the Lord. As the voice said in Peter’s vision, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

So in any interaction I do not ask myself “Am I holding to the proper list of do’s and don’ts?” I ask, “Am I treating this body as sacred, blessed by the creator and of worth equal to or surpassing my own?” If I can answer that with an unqualified “Yes” then I am acting in the ethic given me by Christ.

Collars and Identity

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
(Paul in his letter to the Galatians, 5:13-14)

I was given my first collar in 2006, by a church in Texas. It signified a bond between us as members of the body of Christ, and their acknowledgment and support of a unique vocational call for me. I had been a hospital chaplain for a few years already, and continued that work in their name for a few more years. As with any symbol that’s been around that long, that collar means a lot of different things to different people. To me, it came to mark me as someone in a liminal space. There is a strong differentiation in mainstream Christianity between clergy and laity, that I have never fully accepted. I wore the collar as a sign of servanthood: the education of a leader without the authority over others, the grassroots positioning of a layperson with the devotion that I hoped to find in my fellow congregants. Continuing a long theme in my life, I was “both/and”, combining categories often kept separate. I still have the right to wear that collar… though on the rare occasions that I am fulfilling the duties of that role I tend to wear other signifiers, like the collar-like stole.

I didn’t anticipate ever receiving another collar, until Gabe gave me one on Sunday, July 18th. This collar is specifically a signifier of a relationship between Gabe and one of my age play personas. So, he has a slutty twelve-year old sub! This collar is first a signifier that Lucy is Daddy’s, as Daddy is Lucy’s. Lucy has what are perhaps the most impressionable elements of my personality. She has a purity of desire that other parts of me can access through her, but don’t embody themselves. When she feels, she feels with her whole self. She is completely centered, or completely swept away; entirely in her strength, or entirely vulnerable… sometimes all at the same time. There’s no prevarication, no adult-like tempering of feeling or holding back, no going half-assed. The collar has that purity of devotion to Daddy, and more, without being less full of devotion. The collar reverberates through the rest of me as well, as it does through Gabe. The love he wove into it, and the love I give it as I wear it casts its own spell, and carries its own larger meaning… through us and around us. Symbols are powerful, and carry their own reality… especially when they have their own color, and texture, and weight on a body.

With most labels in my life, it’s been easy for me to realize that they apply both to my whole self and to only a part of myself. I am fully bisexual, but that label best describes one specific thread of me. I am fully female, though there are individual parts of me for which that label doesn’t make sense. When my vocation was minister, all of me was a minister, though being a minister was not all that I was. For some reason, this dance of the parts and the whole gets frequently gummed up in BDSM. There’s a lot of essentialist categorization floating around in the air. For some folks, if you submit or dominate, one of those is all that you are and you are always that. Obviously, there are those who think otherwise. And I believe there are those who want to think otherwise but get a little of this communal gunk rubbed off on their brain. It’s difficult to avoid entirely. I think this essentialism is a key dynamic in the “there’s no such thing as a switch” meme. It’s an inability to hold the paradox of the whole and the parts of an identity. Hard as it is to believe, it’s a reality that eludes a Venn diagram. When I am one of my ageplay personas, I am fully them, and they are a deep and authentic part of me. But they are not all of me. When I am subbing to Gabe, I am subbing with my whole self, though my whole self is not submissive. It’s the same paradox of being a partner, a friend, a massage therapist, a daughter, an office manager, a Christian, an anarchist and more, all at the same time.

This reminds me of one of Gabe’s favorite statements, from Walt Whitman: Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes.

The Broadest Community Possible

It occurred to me after writing my last post that I have some intentions and attitudes I could clarify for you. I talk a lot about how the connections between the mono and poly communities are shaping up, particularly around counseling theory and technique. And I have a lot of opinions about it. Here’s a little explanation of where I’m coming from in that opining.

I look at conversation about polyamory and/or monoamory through two lenses. The first is as a counselor. How does what you are saying inform counselors across the board who want to serve various populations? How does your theorizing and defining contribute to the bank of information available to everyone? If you’re narrowly defining the needs you’re meeting, that’s fine with me. Detailed work is as important as broader picture theory, and both can’t be served simultaneously by an individual project. But build your work in a way that it can fit into a larger picture peaceably. Give your colleagues something useful to work with. Don’t allow biases and restrictions to choke your work off from being included in a larger perspective.

That’s where the second lens comes in. I’m a Christian in a multifaith world. There’s a reason why my ministry was in chaplaincy. By experience and inclination I deliberately place myself in a larger picture and demand of myself that I live peaceably in that larger picture. I choose very intentionally to focus on Christianity in my personal faith life. But if I build within myself a Christianity that cannot play well with other faiths, I am limiting myself, choking off the Holy, and fucking over the rest of the world. That’s not cool.

So, I’m going to keep being the one telling relationship authors of all stripes to be less biased and restrictive. Do the work you want to do, in whatever broad or narrow stripe you want, but allow it to inform as many other people as possible. Find your biases and eliminate them. Find the ways you’re choking off conversation and expansion and loosen them. Leave the door open to feeding others besides yourself.

And yes, I’ve got a book I’m working on myself, so there will be at least one done my way. It’s in what you might call pre-production.

My Anomalous Faith

My faith has come up several times recently in conversation, as out Christians are apparently rather thin on the ground in the kink world. Often I’m met with questions like “How does that work?”

To me, there’s nothing to work out, nothing to reconcile. I don’t believe there is a Christian sexual ethic. I believe there are Christian ethics, based on love of one another, that should be applied to the way we approach sex. In that context the question isn’t about promiscuity or power or good, old fashioned beatings. It’s about me asking “Am I recognizing the divine in this person? How can I best interact with them in love?”

And if I can answer the former with a “Yes,” then sometimes the answer to the latter is, “With a good, old fashioned beating.”

This passage from a recent article, Rethinking the Resurrection sums up well why reconciling my sexuality with my faith is so far from my radar.

As I walked through the week, I realized that Christianity was not based on a system with maxims, but a Person with a story, a story full of drama and humor and uncalled-for love. And this story could be a guide to me and to others, calling us out of our petty existences to love the world, not with our thoughts but with our actions.

Subbing and Following

This post may end up as a complete flop. While it’s an idea I’ve wanted to explore, finding any language at all for it has been difficult, and finding common language with Gabe, much less with an entire audience, may be near impossible. But I’ve enjoyed the contemplation of it, and I think it’s an important piece of self-understanding to tease out and watch grow. So, as always, if you have any insights as to how these dynamics play out in your life or what bubbles up in you as you read this, I’d love to hear about them.

The word sub has never quite felt right to me as an identity, even though many – perhaps a majority – of my sexual behaviors and activities with Gabe resemble what others are talking about when they use the word. It feels accurate, up to a point. In certain contexts, in certain moods, at certain times, it comes close to describing how I’m playing with him. I tried on the other common names for subbing/bottoming, and none really fit well either. There is sometimes a submissive dynamic in how I relate to Gabe. But at the heart of what we do, there’s some other separate dynamic going on for me that needs to be distinguished from submitting.

I’m going to borrow a term from my training in improvisational dance, and say that I am, at heart, a follower. One way of interacting while dancing is to be a leader or a follower (you can also switch from leader to follower and back quickly, or meld them together, but for the sake of this discussion let’s paint in broad strokes). We value leaders a lot in our culture… but without followers, leaders don’t exist. Followers, simply put, choose to join a leader in some sort of action. Without followers, you don’t have a chorus line. You only have one person kicking. Without followers, you don’t have ballroom dance. Without following energy, you don’t really have multiple people dancing in any connected way. It takes some level of cue-taking, some level of mirroring something about the first person’s dance for the second person to truly be dancing with them. There must be following going on for a duet to happen.

So, a few things about following that are important to me in sorting this out:

1) Following is a rhythm my body naturally, easily adopts. It is as second nature to me as breathing. It’s the same behavior that leads to me picking up others’ accents or mannerisms easily, or picking up others’ emotional states. It’s the same dynamic that leads me to get tired easily in groups, or to match someone else’s exuberance or quietude easily. It often leads to me working well with mentors, supervisors, or in groups at a workplace. Often Gabe might desire a certain kind of sexual interaction (that may or may not include power exchange), and I can easily meet him there in that mood and be ready. That’s following energy. I can turn it on or off; and after many years I’ve learned how to adjust it to some volume or another in between on and off. But it’s always there in me, active or dormant. One of the great nourishing comforts of our relationship is that it is safe for me to open up to that following energy when we are together. While following is a great gift, it can also be dangerous to indulge in this world. Following, as it exists as a rhythm in me, is rather simple in its nature. It can be highly versatile, but it is a pure thread of who I am. It is a constant presence.

2) This rhythm of following is not about being submissive. It’s not inherently about power exchange, though it can enhance power exchange greatly. I am not generally mimicking someone or adopting some part of them in order to give them control. I’m doing it because my body enjoys feeling that resonance, and because I learn about the world that way. When I was acting in a theatrical setting, I learned new facial expressions and vocal patterns that way. When I was a counselor, I saw more clearly how someone was feeling with this skill. I do not automatically give someone control when I use this part of my nature, though it does lend itself easily to crafting an experience of submission.

Now, about submission. Submitting in a power exchange context is, for me, what I refer to as a role. It’s a whole orchestra of actions, behaviors, decisions, and ways to interact with another person and the world around me. Like being a daughter, or a teacher, or a proofreader, or a babysitter… a role can reflect vitally important parts of ourselves, or be smaller in nature. But they include a level of decision-making in their very existence, and may or may not be a part of our identity. I am not, by identity, a submissive. But I have a relationship and a set of personality traits that open up submissive experiences for me as something that is frequently very satisfying and sacred. A role is what I make of it, what I shape it to be. My submission is a complex crafting of my skills, desires, hopes, fears, and willingness to hand myself over to an experience, together with Gabe’s gifts and direction. It’s a wonderful channel for some of my following energy.

I recently changed my kinkster orientation on Fetlife to ‘switch’. While it’s still not as accurate as I’d like, it’s the option on the list that feels most accurate to me. Those who have watched me in power exchange settings so far may be surprised to hear that some part of me connects strongly with the idea of topping. I was unsure myself at the accuracy of this self-observation, until I flashed on an old learning style inventory I took years ago, and remembered being told that I start the bulk of my learning with a long period of observation. I gather information on options and techniques, and eventually I find a relational way into something. Something clicked for me in remembering that. That’s how it has felt, observing various ways of domming and topping, and feeling this insistent thread of desire and self-expression grow very slowly inside me. I have, after all, used leading also as a rhythm in my life many times, with success. I expect that, since it took connecting with Gabe to really explore my bottoming side, that finding the right moment and the right relationship and environment might open up my topping side. Perhaps it will be a third person, or maybe there’s some bottoming in Gabe we haven’t found yet. Since I don’t know what my style is yet, and I don’t know what the future holds, I can’t begin to guess. I can only have faith that I am unfolding in beauty.

Making Room

I actually wrote this for my personal blog, as it deals with things like my faith and my politics, but I realize I can’t separate those things out from my sexuality. What I discuss here affects who and how we fuck. It informs the philosophy behind this site and why we think it’s important to put ourselves out there the way we do. So I offer this to you. I assume that most of our readers are neither Christians nor Anarchists, but I hope that you see where we’re coming from nonetheless.

I mentioned this on Twitter, but I think it bears further exploration. More and more my expression of my faith and my politics (Christianity and Anarchism) is in gracious hospitality. I’m not always good at it (either the grace, the hospitality or both), but making space for others seems to be the most true way that my beliefs take shape.

Even from the start of Jesus’ narrative, making space is important. No one made space for his parents just before his birth, so they made space for him where they could find it. I often seem to reference Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” when talking about my ideal of working in the world, and I’m going to do so again. In it he sings “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

We live in an inhospitable world. We live in a world of rigidity, of yours and mine, of control and institution. But in that world, there are always little places where the control is broken. Those are the cracks. When Mary and Joseph and whoever else may have been involved go and find a feed trough for the kid, they’re moving in those cracks. Maybe making new ones, holding old ones open or even making existing cracks bigger. They’re making space.

In my world making space means several things. One is the conventional idea of hospitality. I offer physical space to people. They have a place to stay, food to eat, etc. Even that, though, is bigger than it sounds. Making room for people means making sure that they have a place in which they feel comfortable being themselves. It’s only with actually doing that for people that it’s become so important for me. Being in my home is, I hope, a place where people can relax into themselves, not have to be on guard, and feel safe. Especially emotionally. I’ve done that more over the last year or so than I ever have before. I didn’t realize how nourishing it is to me until I started doing it. But whatever I may do to offer, I get back the joy of having real connections with other people, and knowing that I facilitated their connections with others. Hospitality is not a cross to bear. It’s a joy that I share with people. More of our political, ethical and religious practices need to come from joy.

But there’s something more than opening my home in making room for others. It means cultivating an openness to and grace when dealing with other points of view. This part is harder for me, but no less important. Making room for people in the conversation is as important as making physical space for them. Being open to receiving others is at the heart of hospitality. It is non-authoritarian at its root, as I’m not even imposing my reality on them. That’s a lot harder than cooking supper. But the source is still joy, as making room for others in the conversation is where you find those cracks that allow you to really commune with another.

When Jesus said “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” he wasn’t speaking in metaphor. The people we open ourselves to are not acting as substitutes for God. It’s in those real, true connections that are only found in gracious opening that you experience God directly. That’s how the light gets in.

Going beyond opening my home and being open to the other, even when there are significant differences, there is the creation of the space to do this work. The blogs, books and conferences of the emerging church are doing this. I think Kink for All is doing this. And what I’m trying to do right now in starting a poly meetup is doing this. I have a need, and I think others have a need as well, to find connections over this common point, to offer and receive support. In creating a space for this, I am acting out my hospitality.

So, other than the non-imposition of worldview, what has this to do with anarchism? Making space is direct action. It is not relying on any power structure or institution to meet people’s needs. It’s saying “I see this need. I will meet it.” It is also mutual aid. The more we make room for each other, the more we offer to each other, the more we thrive without the need for coercion and force.

I’ve been worrying lately about how on earth I can live my faith and live my politics in a world in which I have material wealth (comparatively) and am privileged by society because of my race, gender and education. And everywhere I looked I found joylessness and asceticism as the solution. I found anger and self-hate over being born into a sin filled world. Kate Bornstein wrote in the preface to Pomosexuals, “it’s too scary to look at without some promise of laughter at the end of the read, some playfulness as a reward to all the painful self-inquisition.” That’s how a felt as I looked for ways to bring my beliefs into practice. All I found were indictments of myself for being born in a fucked up world, and no one seemed to want to work from the joy of existence to fix it.

It came to being in church yesterday, hearing a sermon with so much focus on sin, and being confronted with the sheer absurdity of letting a 4000 year old moral code dictate my ethics. I wasn’t there to hear about adultery, I was there looking for God. And then it came time for communion, and I prayed, “Please, just give me something physical, something tangible in the body and blood.” At this church trays are passed with the bread and “wine” and as I reached to pull the small cup from the tray I found it stuck. This is the second time recently that this has happened. I felt frustrated and thwarted in my search for that tangible connection, but just as the woman with the tray started to whisper “Try another one,” I gave the cup a slight twist and it broke free. As I pulled it toward me Elizabeth whispered, “You always seem to find the stuck ones.”

I laughed. It made sense. I don’t have to break down an oppressive world. I just need to make sure I make enough cracks to keep people from getting stuck in that oppression and hopelessness. I tried not to laugh as the bread dissolved on my tongue. When I want a tangible reminder of God, I only have to make room for that of Her in the people around me. If God is the light, I just need to keep living in the cracks, and inviting others into them. That is disregard for authoritarianism. That is faith in Christ. That is hospitality.

Pray Without Ceasing

I am constantly amazed how many different ways something can feel prayerful, how many different ways sex can be a prayer.

Gabe and I had an experience Thursday night. As we began, I expected a quiet lovemaking session. Events slowly, organically turned. Energy shifted from caressing to pushing and pulling. Teeth and nails got involved and tears started, and I opened up and began to feel a special sacred space around me. I felt myself ripping open, being cleansed, being touched everywhere. I don’t know how he knew, but Gabe could tell where I was even when I couldn’t verbalize it, and he led me through multiple steps of an amazing, healing, creative journey. Through movement, and eye contact, and a few words, he told a whole story that rang through me like a bell. It was as though the whole thing was a guided meditation, building just what I needed inside me.

I felt something deep awaken. I felt strength – my unique strength – expanding within me. I felt my self expand and fill the space. I reclaimed my own fierceness. I remembered and reclaimed the fierceness in my spiritual role models – in Phedre, who fiercely submits. In Jesus, who fiercely submits.

In my pocket today, I have the prayer beads Gabe gave me years ago. The smooth blue beads lend a coolness to my hands as the heat continues to rise, in my heart and in my eyes. Days later, the effort lingers in my muscles. The push and pull is quieter, but still echoing. My voice was stretched sore from the touch of all that strength pouring through. For an instant, I had the name of God touch my flesh. It burns and enlivens.