Clothing optional

File:Paul Gauguin 001.jpgI extended my performing range on Saturday night: for the first time, I had a props bag. Since you ask, my props were a pot of moisturiser, three bras, a lipstick, a credit card and a bunch of keys. I mixed my physical comedy with observational comedy- moaning about stuff, with only the slightest exaggeration- and had a few laughs. I performed topless before sixteen people.

I had no clear idea of what HAI was before going three years ago, and the “clothing optional” bit would have been too much for me but that I had camped in community with several of the people a week before, and liked and trusted them; and I had committed myself to be positive, having realised how negative I was, in the middle of that camp. We caress each other, and do exercises which you might do in a Tantra workshop or personal growth event. Now I can declare myself “sex positive” though still with a moral sense around sexual matters, and I have a better understanding of myself, my responses and other people. We show each other respect, and do not penetrate or orgasm. The aim is consciousness around sexual matters.

Clothing optional means that it is the individual’s choice, in the moment, and we are in the “Room of Love” mostly naked, with some in underwear or loose clothing. This past weekend, I delighted in the beauty of bodies, and the muscular and skeletal structure under the skin.

File:Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) - Two Nudes on a Tahitian Beach.jpgIn one exercise, in groups of three, we took it in turns to ask one of the others if one could perform a particular action: may I hold your breasts? May I spank your bottom? May I kiss your lips? The other responded either yes, no, or “ask me something else”- if the response was “no”, the turn moved on. In another, one of a pair lay supine while the other approached to stroke or touch parts of the body: the one receiving could say yes, no, stop or please, to indicate boundaries: so we practised negotiating boundaries and asking, verbally and non-verbally. Previously, one response has been “maybe”- so we can also test the rules of the game. After, we shared how we felt: I strongly wanted to ask for something but forebore, because I did not want asking that to make me appear a certain way: I could state that in verbal sharing, but not while playing the game.

I have introduced HAI people to Quakers, who found each other lovely, open people, and would like to tell Quakers about HAI. I have told one or two, and not been judged for it, and I have met Quakers at HAI events. The problem is my residual belief in morality as a system of rules, rather than a mature human judgment moment to moment- one of those rules is something like nakedness in large groups must be strictly regulated. I want my judgment trusted, and fear it will not be. When I taste freedom, the benefits seem worth the risks.

Another exercise: having a choice of what to do, I affirmed myself- “I am highly intelligent”, “I am loving”- and after each affirmation three others said “Yes”. Which is a lovely experience. Try it.

It was lovely to spend time with old friends, and get to know people new to me.

Self-care

Gauguin wrestling with the angel 3

Wrestling with the angel 2Switching on the news, I heard a woman who had lost relatives in the Malaysian air crash, screaming. Then I heard of the North Korean restriction on men’s hair styles, which I found upsetting: it is devilish in its simplicity of enforcement, and total control of self-expression. I just about stopped listening to or watching the news. Putin invading Crimea, or NATO blustering: I don’t want to hear it. And then-

I identified this as the Heart of my Problem. Rather than overcoming or living with anything I don’t like, I avoid or flee it. So I skulk, a recluse in my living room. This is so much my natural response that I do it without immediately noticing, or realising there is an alternative.

Wrestling with the angel 1And- with emotional sensitivity, one can learn to control it, to feel the emotions fully but not act on them impulsively. So I should listen to the news, to practise this for half an hour every evening and the World Service for when I wake in the night.

I found myself scunnered and stymied, moving between badly misdirected self-care leading to stagnation, and panicked,¬†imperceptive and loveless challenges to myself so that I try to sprint a marathon, and immediately give up. I was frightened of it, with no clue how to proceed. Over breakfast, David said something which brought this up for me, and I thumped the table in distress (as I said, I was away at the weekend) and I had to explain: “You triggered something in me. No, that’s not it; you said something completely unobjectionable, which because of where I am at the moment I found reminded me of my overwhelming problem.”wrestling 4

So I took this into the HAI room of love, and over the next hour something shifted for me. In part, it is a question of perception. I can care for myself, either by withdrawing to heal, or by challenging myself to build strength. I have always self-cared: knowing the pleasure I got from helping others, I got a job doing that, which is looking after myself. I can make my self-care more conscious, less festooned with Shoulds. I can examine it. I can learn to do it better.

This is a new way of seeing myself, a growth moment, which is not a lesson learned but a skill to practise.

Wrestling 2Wrestling with the angel

D with his glasses on. I suppose a case could be made that they are striking, and if fashions move within a particular social circle I would not know, until they spread- but I would call them wrong for him, and for his face-shape, and when he comments on me looking at him, others agree. He said U chose them for him, which seemed fair as she had to look at them (though she need not any longer, now) and he only had to wear them.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/da/Gaugin_-_Poemes_Babares_-_1896.jpg

Heartbeat

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9f/Gauguin_-_R%C3%BCckenakt.jpgIn the changing room. S is a doctor. I feel hostility and defensiveness, marked by my wish to quote “Nurse Jackie”, the British woman doctor: “When you were young, you found a bird with a broken wing and nursed it back to health. When I was young, I found a frog, and cut it open to see how it worked.” We have desultory polite conversation, then I leave. Later, someone remarks how attractive he is. Mmm. Yes, I suppose so.

We were dancing in a beautiful location, The Bridge School, Islington. It is a state school for pupils with special needs, and we had use of a dance studio, lobby and a small room for changing. The building is imposing from outside, and we go in past the swimming pool. The dance studio has one part with a soft rubbery floor covering, and one part sprung wood- I thought it not sprung until I saw it vibrate. A mirror covers one wall, with a barre. Curtains cover it today- it would make us “self-conscious” in the usual sense, how we look, how (horrors) we might appear to others, and take us away from consciousness of self, and feelings. In front of the curtain, someone has made an altar.

I sense the feel of the room. That white shutter, opposite the barre, feels cold, and I do not want to approach it. Then I do, and find it is a serving hatch, though the shutter goes down to the floor. That is OK. Others are stretching, but there is too much of the numinous here for me, yet: I go into the lobby to decompress a bit. There is a huge papier mache skull and cactus. There are things to walk over or pass through or stand in, in the darkness, which make relaxing sounds.

Back inside, to stretch. Then I lie face down and have a wee cry: as often, it makes me more present. Sue invites me to stand, and we dance together for a bit, which she finds beautifully connected. After my intense cry that afternoon, she asks if I can participate in the next exercise. “When you are as spiritually advanced as I am, you will realise that I may only say that in the moment I come to participate”- and she giggles, and makes exaggerated obeisance movements. But, generally, we are wordless.

Sunday afternoon, we watched the film Sacred Monsters. Here is an excerpt. I thought it a bit of a swizz to have a spiritual weekend, and watch a video, but the dancing is beautiful. At her invitation, I shared S’s sheepskin and blanket, and when I lay down she took my head in her lap, which delighted and calmed me. I feel weak and fragile and foolish with these people, and it is good to be here.

Sue suggested we take the silence outside. So, Monday morning I was silent with J, who had put me up. Before we were silent together, I started to say “I think we should not touch, because that will make it a different experience”- but only managed the first two words. Let us not make rules for it. So we were silent together, and did not touch, which would just have become cuddling. We went for a walk, and played together on the roundabout in the swing park. It had a beautiful, smooth action.

Spiritual practices

Albert von Keller: BurgfräuleinI have done physical spiritual practices recently: healing, karate, biodanza, clowning, all involving body-consciousness and minimising the critical mind. And this morning I returned to the Quaker meeting, and our particular spiritual way.

I have borrowed “Living from the Center”, a Pendle Hill pamphlet by Valerie Brown, which I sat to read before meeting started, and I got to thinking how different this spiritual experience is: most of us have degrees, a lot of us are academics, we are good with words, and when we minister in meeting we produce well-constructed paragraphs. And I want to bring the physical, body spirituality here.

Then I realise I can. Here is that flower on the table- I always sit close to the table, where I may look at the flower(s), and even the grain on the bench is beautiful. And I am projecting onto Friends: I want to unite these aspects of spirituality in Me, not in the Religious Society. And I can unite my intellect in my body work too: making that karate move, or dancing, while it is inappropriate for the conscious mind to seek to control or judge it, my intellect may appreciate it.

So it was a joyous meeting for me, of appreciation, integration and unity. It felt like a Leading. I thought of speaking it in ministry: but I felt no leading to that, why should I preach at my friends? It was a message just for me. Also, I thought of two recent facebook shares:

For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.- Cynthia Occelli.
The truth will set you free- but first it will piss you off.

File:Gauguin - Betende Bretonin - 1894.jpgBeing broken in order to grow is such a common topic in spiritual writing, and a common spiritual experience. It is a way I have appreciated certain hurts, which have appeared strongly linked to my conscious growth moments- and I thought this morning that it is a way to accept and appreciate and value all my hurts, all my history. There was a light, joyous feeling in the room at the end of meeting, others noticed it too, not just me. We can come to feel together, though we sit in the same place, not touching, not speaking.

And- it was nice, sitting in the meeting room before meeting, when that couple walked in. All queers together- just, nice.

____________

I have two spiritual practices in my ritual space at the moment. I perform metta meditation:

May I be safe and protected

May I be peaceful and happy

May I be healthy and strong

May I have ease of wellbeing

Just for me, and not for others, at the moment. I am sufficiently socialised, perhaps being too socialised is part of the problem; and I am hurt, and need to value myself. The pther practice is to feel the flow of Qi in my chakras, to invoke it, perhaps to bring it to myself. I intend to consider other options for spiritual practices. So I am grateful for the words of others, leading me towards the centre.

Monday: I kneel in my ritual space, my bear beside me. My friend gave him to me to console me in hospital, so I received him in Love, and now he sits in my ritual space, holding the silence, meditating whether I am there or not. Also I have a timer, for fifteen minutes’ meditation. I will not look at the timer, I will rise refreshed after my fifteen minutes. So “Not looking at the timer” becomes an illustration of my ego’s inadequacy, in its inability to achieve an unnecessary aim. I hurt and I fear, and I struggle.

Saying nothing

Lots of debate goes on blogs about equal marriage and Christianity. I got involved here, and an oppressor commented:

Homosexuality is not the issue at hand… the issue is sin in ALL forms. As I follow Jesus I am learning more about taking the plank out of my own eye before the speck out of my brothers eye. To me I come to understand this as don’t be sure of your “rightness’ to the point that you hate, judge, or condemn others. But this also does not allow me to sit around and say nothing when Christ is being made into something He is not according to the Bible (Old and New Testament) so that we can continue in sin.

Here is someone who proclaims loudly and repeatedly that all gay sex, even between monogamous partners, is sinful. He does this, he would say, in Love, asserting the truth of Christ. According to him, he is not judging gay people, because all sin, and all are subject to judgment, and the sacrifice of Christ is available to all who believe- and believers continue to sin, though should try not to. All he is doing is stating the truth of Christianity, as some would deny it, and say gay sex is all right really. In a country with free speech, that should be permissible.

I do not think that position can be justified.

First, there is the question of how important it is. With some people, it seems their creed goes
Credo in unum Deum
Patrem Omnipotentem
qui damnat homosexuales
factorem caeli et terrae
Indeed for some, it is a shibboleth of the Faith: if you respect the Bible properly, you must condemn homosexual behaviour. However, we can debate what the Bible actually says, and whether we have to follow that. I say the homosexual acts which the Bible might condemn involve violence, and Christians should avoid violence in heterosexual relationships too. I say if the Bible does forbid homosexual activity, it forbids it in the context of idol worship, not in loving relationships, and so the rule has no more weight now than the other ritual purity rules, like not eating shellfish.¬†But I realise¬†that some people think that the Bible condemns all homosexual acts, and that matters more than “love your neighbour”.

Then, how important are they, as sins? Far less important than adultery. Adultery breaks relationships, while making love strengthens a relationship. It is not good for a lesbian to be alone, any more than a straight man. Perhaps the energy the Evangelicals put into fighting equal marriage should be put into preventing adultery instead.

 

Then, how important is the message that homosexual lovemaking is wrong, in the context of Christianity? I would say that “God is Love” is the central message, possibly “Jesus died for our sins” is pretty central too, but “God condemns homosexual sex” comes pretty low on the list. In the post linked to, Argylenerd comments that he is agnostic, but does not believe in God as defined by Evangelicals. And two of them weigh in and say that the Bible condemns homosexuality and therefore so does God. Is this the first winsome message to tell someone who is not yet Saved?

 

Finally, what does the right to proclaim the Faith have to do with preventing equal marriage? “Simple Theologian” may want to state his understanding of Christianity, but if he does anything further- such as campaigning for the North Carolina constitutional amendment- he is going beyond that, and his homophobic oppressive instincts stand revealed.

If an Evangelical states to someone outside his church that the Bible condemns homosexual love, he is an Oppressor.

 

Oh, I got a bit hot under the collar. I feel better after those pictures- and this Wikipedia article. The truth increasingly flourishes.

James Cantor

Last post on paraphilia for a while, I hope. The reason I bang on about it is that I have suffered from crippling shame, and I seek all ways: cognitive-behavioural, psychological, emotional, rational- to overcome it, without denying truth. 

I sought help from James Cantor, and am grateful for his generous and detailed response. He referred me to his article “Is homosexuality a paraphilia?” This title seems to¬†assume that it is helpful to lump together shoe fetishism and lesbian transsexuality as a single phenomenon, paraphilia, from which homosexuality, a characteristic of Dr. Cantor, may be distinguished, but the article includes this passage, which helps me in my task:

Other than by being sexual, the most salient feature on which male homosexuality and the paraphilias resemble each other is their lifelong nature‚ÄĒstarting in childhood and being immutable despite all efforts to convert them to conventional sexual interests. There have periodically been claims of successful conversion of homosexuality to heterosexuality or of paraphilia to euphilia, but such observations are perhaps better attributed to more mundane reasons, such as demand characteristics, suppression of only the overt expression of the undesired behavior(s), or a reduction of sexual desire in general, rather than in any change in actual focus of whichever sexual interest. Similarly, reports of adult-onset paraphilias might instead be attributed to (typically neuropathological or drug-induced) loss of the ability to suppress already-existing interests.

Unfortunately for me, academics usually have to charge for their work, but a search on that site for paraphilia produced this. Click on “Show summary” to see the abstract. It says that¬† researchers looking at Body integrity identity disorder (BIID) first classified it as a paraphilia. Rather than being impartial investigators assessing evidence, they reacted out of emotional revulsion, and linked BIID to things also conventionally found revolting.

I wondered if lesbian transsexuality may also be distinguished from paraphilias. A shoe fetishist will agree that there is no point in licking and kissing a Jimmy Choo apart from arousal, and if he ceased to be aroused, he would cease the fetishistic act. Whereas, there may be a reason for imagining myself expressing myself female separately from being aroused: gender dysphoria. The gender dysphoria may arise prior to the sexual arousal. There is no reason to assume otherwise. This is true whether or not gender dysphoria in people with testicles who are attracted to women, and those who are attracted to men, is more than one phenomenon. Indeed, I was more committed to transition after taking testosterone suppressants.

In his article in The Oxford Textbook of Psychopathology on “sexual disorders”¬†Dr Cantor¬†is careful to distinguish autogynephilia from gender identity disorder. They may co-exist, but he does not posit a causal link either way.

That is the crux for me. I am quite happy to admit that I was aroused by fantasies of me as female and pictures of me dressed female. I have no wish to distance myself from the shoe fetishist, who gets aroused by one thing other than a human partner, I by another. What hurts and shames me is the idea that that is all it is, that I am recognised as different by everyone I speak to and all it is is a sexual fantasy, rather than the Real Me.

The intellectual basis for freedom from shame is established.

Today, Gauguin, to cheer us all up: