Penance, Part 3

I’m exploring some concepts that I started to work through in my essay “BDSM is Not Repentance” through this experimental semi-fantasy flash erotica series. It is not intended to model realistic and healthy approaches to penance, sex work, or even BDSM, but to inspire thought about how we use BDSM and what role, if any, it can play in true repentance. For best results, read Part 1 and Part 2 first. This installment is a response to the Masturbation Monday blog meme. 

He’s not sure why he’s just sitting here, and not just because the stool is too small. The Dominant has barely touched their water, opting to scribble more notes with that scarlet ink. 

He’s not exactly fuming anymore, just sort of sputtering along while he waits, sometimes swirling the ice in his sweating glass. They ignore him. 

He settles in for a while and then gets annoyed again, gripping the glass in cycles of calm and baffled frustration. 

The ice has all but melted when they look up at last. Well? he thinks loudly at them. 

“I have a few questions,” they say. 

He straightens, some part of him still wanting to make a good impression. “Okay.” 

If his lack of formality bothers them, they don’t let on. “Why did you contact the Agency?” they ask. 

He blinks. “I want to be punished. You’re here to punish me, right?” he mutters.

The Dominant clicks their tongue, folding their papers away. The man thinks he catches a red flash of a tic-tac-toe puzzle in the corner of one page. 

“I am in charge of your penance.” 

“I know that,” he says, unconsciously grabbing at the loose fabric in his lap. He’s ready. 

“I don’t think you’re ready to be punished.”

“What!?” he blurts. “Of course I’m ready! Have been for, well…” He refuses to look down, instead gazing past the Dominant at the old cat clock on the kitchen wall, the only relic kept from his mother’s house. Its pendulum tail swings silently. 

The Dominant nods at the edge of his vision. “When you can finish that sentence, I will consider it.” Their words are grave and stern, but their face is softer than it has been all evening. 

He swallows, glancing around the space and its over-large windows. Damn them

“It doesn’t have to be today,” the Dominant says. 

“Okay,” he repeats automatically.

“Let’s talk through your form answers now,” they say. And they do. In excruciating detail. As it turns out, ‘erotic humiliation’ involves more than being called a ‘worthless worm’. Well, he’s starting to get an inkling of that. 

“I want to see the…implements,” he says, blushing again for some reason. 

The Dominant thinks about it for a moment. Then, they nod. “Pick up the stool, take five steps back, and sit back down.”

Oh. Maybe he’s finally getting a real order. He does as he’s told, heart beating faster as the Dominant unzips their black bag. He imagines clanking chains, bright red ball gags, wooden paddles and sleek fiberglass canes. 

Instead, they pull out…a spiral-bound notebook and pen. Expression neutral, they open the notebook. Empty, college ruled pages. 

“What?” he says again, too confused to muster any other emotion. 

The Dominant laughs. “The implements.” They look fondly down at their notebook. 

The man finds himself smiling at their glee. “I thought you were gonna break out the dragon-tail,” he says.

“I didn’t bring the corporal implements today.” 

“Well, will you use them on me…some time?” he asks. Strange, hopeful dread seethes in the pit of his stomach at the thought. 

The Dominant leans forward, eyes still dancing with mirth. “You’ll have to earn them.” 

-To be continued-

Masturbation Monday

Beatitudes PSA – The Rich don’t need your blessing.

[Image description: Photo is of the cover of The New Interpreter’s Bible.]

I led a discussion of the Beatitudes in Sunday School today. In the Bible, the Beatitudes are statements of blessing that Jesus gives to his disciples at the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. These are the Beatitudes as told in Matthew 5:3-12: 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The Beatitudes are tricky. In context, they are revolutionary; Jesus and his disciples were persecuted and eventually executed by legal authorities for threatening the established social, political, and religious order of the Roman Empire. When looking at the key words’ original meanings, I learned that underpinning the Beatitudes is a drive for justice. For example, as the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary noted, “righteousness” isn’t about being “personally pious.” In the original Greek, the word dikaiosyne, usually translated as “righteousness” in this passage, also means “justice.” 

The Beatitudes contradict typical social attitudes about wealth and power with shocking fierceness (see also “The Woes” in Matthew 23). They turn expectations upside down. When I read them, I get the impression that God loves and honors those whom society looks down on (like the poor). We don’t need to become rich or powerful to be worthy of love and justice, but God celebrates the difficult work of peacemaking; God understands the sorrow of those who cry out for justice and is on our side–that’s huge. Unfortunately, many people (myself included) have defanged the Beatitudes, making them all about personal piety. It’s hard not to; the powers that be don’t want justice for the poor and downtrodden, and that agenda shows up all the time in Christian communities. It’s difficult, especially in the United States, to push back against the notion that if you’re poor or suffering, you’ve done something to deserve it. Sunday school illustrated this problem. 

When we discussed the Beatitudes today, I noticed an interesting pattern: people defended the rich. Even though I tried to emphasize the importance of justice in the Beatitudes, the discussion kept cycling back to these three areas: defense of the wealthy, personal guilt, and individual piety. The class struggled with the language around wealth and poverty, asking “How can that be? Does that mean that you’re not blessed if you’re not poor?” 

I don’t actually know the answer to that question. I suppose it depends on how one defines wealth (and how that wealth was acquired, and what you do with it). In Jesus’ day, social mobility was limited. In general, the rich stayed rich, and the poor stayed poor. Resources were limited. In order to become ‘wealthy,’ you would have to take from someone else, in the way that a king collects tribute by force (see 1 Samuel 8 for more spicy commentary on that). In other words, if you became rich, there was a good chance you were also greedy

In our current culture, where we like to think that wealth is a meritocracy, that idea can be uncomfortable, even for people who aren’t wealthy. Here in the American South, it’s common to believe that financial benefits will accrue if you are faithful to God and that abstract benefits to the economy justify the runaway accumulation of wealth. The (often unrealistic) belief that you should be able to get out of poverty through hard work and dedication, the “bootstraps” narrative, is also common. 

Some folks turn to an explanation I call the “IN SPIRIT Loophole” to avoid acknowledging the blessing of the poor alongside the peacemakers and the merciful. We don’t know exactly what “poor in spirit” means; some think that it refers to humility, while others think it refers to a sense of ‘downtroddenness.’ Literal, physical poverty and blessedness just don’t seem to belong in the same sentence. The Gospel of Luke doesn’t leave room for that. Luke just says “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). Way to refute the Prosperity Gospel in one fell swoop.

It may not mean the rich aren’t blessed by God (though it probably did when first written), but it entails a countercultural worldview either way, one that lifts the lowly, sorrowful, and oppressed. It doesn’t tell them to change. It does challenge us all to do hard work (including acts of mercy, peacemaking, and things that make us unpopular with the powerful forces that govern our lives), secure in the knowledge that we are loved, respected, and valued. We don’t rely on the blessing of governments, corporations, or other powers for worth, even though we live under their influence. 

That idea was very hard for my class to accept (and I don’t blame them). We went around and around, raising defenses whenever I steered the conversation toward justice. It was a bit like trying to work the knots out of tight muscles; when a muscle is chronically tense, it forms a habit of tension. It may need regular massage and other caring work to stay relaxed for very long–and that can be painful. Reading challenging scriptures like the Beatitudes in unconventional ways is challenging. We can only get so far in thirty minutes of meandering group discussion, but I hope that it inspired feelings of compassion and courage alongside the frustration. 

Further reading: 

Some Modern Beatitudes – A Sermon for All Saints Sunday” – a different but beautiful take on the Beatitudes 

Rightwiseness and Justice: A Tale of Translation” – why dikaiosyne ends up getting translated as “righteousness” instead of “justice”

That Awkward Moment When Even Theoretically Discussing Punishment Makes You Cry…

[Image description: Photo is of an old bamboo rod, not recommended for heavy impact.]

Negotiations continue for #Subpocalypse2019. I’m currently negotiating a new D/s dynamic and making discoveries along the way. Today, we’ve been discussing the concepts of “bratting” and “punishment.” I asked my prospective Domme to give her thoughts. She explained the nuances of bratting well. Bratting is a slippery term that encompasses many complex ideas (including but not limited to playfulness, manipulation, flirtation, and acting out). Folks pursuing D/s, make sure you’re on the same page about bratting! But I’ll reserve thoughts on that for another post. The concept that really got to me today was Punishment. 

Now, I know I’m not the only kinkster who grew up dreading punishment, whose childhood school identity was “angel” rather than “brat.” I glowed under the praise of my teachers and rarely got in trouble. Of course, the other side of that coin was that on the rare occasions when I actually did get in trouble, I was a wreck. The punishments felt so public–through the fourth grade, most teachers used a tag-pulling system, cutesy laminated construction paper cut-outs labeled with our names. If you got into trouble, you had to “pull your tag/card/take down your airplane.” For me, having to go up and move my own name to lower level was embarrassing, even shaming. And yet, other students, whose identities were not rooted in their similarity to divine beings, got in trouble daily without a care. I’ve learned some of their habits over the years. I’m recovering from perfectionism and have grown a fiercer, more flexible approach to life–one can’t be an angel in justice ministries; only humans need apply. 

Today, however, I read this Domme’s descriptions of the scenarios that would warrant punishment (mostly outright disobedience or disrespect) on the brink of tears. It wasn’t just vulnerability related to giving someone the authority to punish. Apparently, the prospect of punishment–even entirely theoretical–was enough to put me right back into that third-grade “I disappointed the teacher!” mindset. 

So, you might wonder, why even make punishment part of the dynamic? Not all D/s dynamics incorporate real punishment (and most scenes use, at most, ‘funishment’). In vanilla life, I have limited faith in the utility of punishments to change behavior. But. I can’t imagine subbing to someone in a stable dynamic without giving them the power to punish. As a Dominant, I occasionally use punishment in my dynamic with my sub. To me, in a D/s context, punishment calls attention to a problem quickly and decisively, it reinforces the power exchange dynamic, and it helps both parties to reset and move forward. 

Does punishment itself modify behavior? Perhaps, but not necessarily. As I think back to my school days, I imagine that I would’ve made about the same number of mistakes with or without punishment. Disappointing people that I respected, on top of failing publicly, regardless of the reason, hurt.

As I think about it more, while I would hate to do something ‘punishment-worthy’ as a sub, I also realize that I’m not stuck in the ‘angel’ mindset anymore. This is a dynamic that I’m choosing as an adult. I’ll try my best, but I don’t have to be perfect. My identity isn’t built on that anymore. And when–not if–I get punished, I won’t be recoiling in defense of that identity. Punishment is not about ‘being bad’; it’s about using all the tools available in this consensual power exchange to learn and grow, even when it’s hard. I will need to be vigilant when that ‘angel’ mindset pops up, but I now have the resources (perhaps including punishment) to treat it as a way of thinking borne of perfectionism, not my core identity. 

For other takes on punishment, check out my new flash erotica series Penance and my essay “BDSM is Not Repentance.”

“How Should Christians Have Sex?” – A Belated Response to Katelyn Beaty

[Image description: Photo is an Escher-inspired painting of red and white birds.]

I’m late to the party on this. Katelyn Beaty’s New York Times opinion piece “How Should Christians Have Sex?” came out on June 15th, and I’ve just read it over a month later–I’m a miserly curmudgeon who won’t buy a subscription. (I did skim a couple of Twitter threads that I’m now unable to find, so I hope I’m not plagiarizing.) Here are my thoughts as a Christian who fortunately didn’t grow up in purity culture: 

In the piece, Beaty describes her negative experiences with Christian purity culture, acknowledging that purity culture has caused a lot of harm. Yet, according to Beaty, “its collapse has left a void for those of us looking for guidance in our intimate lives.” Beaty finds progressive Christianity’s looser guidelines to the question “How Should Christians Have Sex?” lacking. 

She does cover one progressive answer, citing Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Shameless (which I’ve also read). Beaty writes that Bolz-Weber “proposes a sexual ethic grounded in the goodness of bodies and of sexual expression based in consent, mutuality, and care.” My response when reading that was “There it is; there’s a sexual ethic that I can buy into.” 

Beaty felt differently, writing, “One would think that Pastor Bolz-Weber’s shame-free ethic would be a tall glass of water for a grace-parched soul. Instead, I find myself left with a sense of loss.” A bit later, Beaty says, “I yearn for guidance on how to integrate faith and sexuality in ways that honor more than my own desires in a given moment.” Throughout the article, Beaty searches for something more in a sexual ethic but somehow only skims the surface of the “progressive” ethics that she finds wanting. I wonder whether progressive Christianity’s acceptance of so many things that she was taught to condemn makes it difficult for her to take it seriously as a source of ethical wisdom. 

Please note, I don’t think progressive Christianity is beyond reproach, and Beaty may be responding to a ‘watered down’ quality that is apparent in some progressive settings. 

In that vein, Beaty says a couple of things that I agree with. For example, she states, “I long for more robust categories of right and wrong besides consent – a baseline, but only that – and more than a general reminder not to be a jerk.” She has a point; consensual is not a synonym for ‘good’ (I’ve heard that Joseph Fischel’s book Screw Consent provides a great critique of the treatment of consent as a satisfactory ethic in itself). 

But as Beaty says herself, the ethic that Nadia Bolz-Weber describes is about care and mutuality as well. Beaty says, “I also want to know what Jesus thinks.” For people who see Jesus as an exemplar or even a guide, that’s a good question.

But Jesus has almost nothing to say about sex in the Gospels. In fact, he may not share “the traditional Christian vision for married sex” that Beaty idolizes; in Jesus’ context, marriage was largely a matter of economic survival and control, not love.

Frankly, consent and mutuality were not on the radar of a society (the Roman Empire) in which over a third of the population was enslaved. I suspect that much of what Beaty associates with ‘traditional’ Christian sexuality and marriage come from Paul filtered through the commentary of Origen, Saint Augustine, and more recent evangelical thinkers who took up the ‘defense’ of heterosexual marriage as a political cause. 

Jesus does, however, say and show a lot about care. Beaty describes “married sex” as “a bodily expression that two people will be for each other, through all seasons.” Perhaps, for her and many others, (monogamous, sexually active) marriage is the best way to embody values of care and mutuality. It isn’t the most ethical path for everyone, though, and choosing a different path isn’t a sign of moral decay. 

Having ignored wholesale any part of Bolz-Weber’s ethic other than “consent,” Beaty concludes by declaring, “I find the traditional Christian vision for married sex radical, daunting, and extremely compelling – and one I want to uphold, even if I fumble along the way.” Far be it for me, a Christian connoisseur of the queer and kinky, to critique a person’s attraction to anything “daunting.” If she is compelled by this definition of marriage as “spiritual covenant,” it sounds like she has resolved her own problem; there is no void to fill because she has articulated a sexual ethic based on her experience; I’d also add that she likely finds consent, care, and mutuality in her vision of marriage. 

If that is the case, I wonder why she is concerned about the “lack of guidance” outside of purity culture. When I finished reading her opinion piece, I thought, “So what? Why this article?” I wonder whether it worries her that she might have reached a different understanding without the early guidance (and abuse, I daresay) of purity culture. I wonder whether she is searching for more boundaries because she still feels like she must be doing something shameful if she lets herself come to her own conclusions about ethical sexuality. I hear her saying “It can’t be that simple!” as she ignores the rich sexual ethics that Christians (especially queer ones) create every day outside the confines of purity culture. 

It saddens me that so many people think that rigidity is the mark of a good sexual ethic, that it honors God. Ultimately, we all get to craft our own ethics based on our needs and experiences. We needn’t worry that it’s ‘not difficult enough’ to follow; we get to explore for ourselves and find the ways that we can best promote justice and kindness through our actions. It’s not wishy-washy or empty of moral value; it’s courageous. I hope that someday, Katelyn Beaty will make peace with that and feel confident abandoning the pursuit of rules so that she can feel free to pursue a sexual ethic that reflects the love of God instead.

Postscript for clarity: I think that people can use the Bible to develop a sexual ethic. However, most of the sexual ethics on display in the Bible are either rubbish (ex: not caring about consent) or not applicable to our current sociopolitical circumstances. To find a biblical ethic that isn’t rubbish, we need to use interpretation filtered through the lens of experience in tandem with values like the consent and caring.

Further Reading: “Creating a Sexual Ethic After Coming Out” and “Inside the Scam of the Purity Movement

Listening: “No One is Alone” from Into the Woods

Penance, Part 2

Read the first series installment of this semi-fantasy flash erotica series here. I anticipate this’ll be a slow-burning series, gentle readers. 😉 This fiction explores some concepts that I started to work through in my essay “BDSM is Not Repentance.” It is not intended to model realistic and healthy approaches to penance, sex work, or even BDSM, but to inspire thought about how we use BDSM and what role, if any, it can play in true repentance. This installment is a response to the Wicked Wednesday blog memeFor some of my more realistic short erotica, see “Stay Like This.”

His mouth runs dry, stomach twisting. Penance. They? Vague memories of workplace sensitivity trainings ooze through his molasses mind. She–they–shake out their umbrella and sling a black messenger bag off their shoulder. 

He stutters “Are these–” 

Now, they grin outright, nodding. “The implements of correction.” Their voice is soft and low, cello-like. 

“Uh,” he replies eloquently, still stuck in place. So much for his plan to fall dramatically to his knees in greeting. That idea seemed so much more intuitive in theory. He looks down at her–their–shoes. No stilettos here, just chunky black boots like his teenage nieces wear. Or like the sisters in his parish growing up used to wear. Or army boots. What a weird overlap. 

“Look up, please,” they say. He does. 

“Let’s have a little chat. Let me get these wet things off, and we’ll sit at the island, alright?” 

“Alright…Miss?” He winces as it comes out. 

“Actually, I prefer Sir,” they reply, dark eyes gleaming. “But we don’t need to worry about that right now.” 

But I’m not attracted to… he thinks as he juggles their belongings to the closet. 

He turns back to them, already perched on a stool and unlacing their boots to reveal socks marked “Ineffable.” Their movements are purposeful and contained, not at all like the whip-slinger he expected. This Dominant wipes rain off their steel-rimmed glasses. 

What on Earth. He must have stood there a little too long, as the Dominant–or interrogator?–raps the island’s granite top with their glasses case. 

He feels himself step forward, blushing. It’s a move he’s used on subordinates before, summoning. Whatever, he thinks, in a fit of pride. His steps sound loud on the wooden floor, even louder when he arranges himself on the stool that’s really too small for him. 

They watch him quietly. Like a lightning rod that deflects noise. 

He tries for board room-level confidence, pasting a dime-toothed smile onto his face. “Well, you found me,” he says with a lame little chuckle.

They smile. “Yes, I did,” they say, pulling some papers out of their bag. Instead of passing them over to him, they adjust their glasses and start to read silently to themself, annotating with a red gel pen. 

For what feels like a long time, they leave him with nothing but the sound of the rain. He crosses his arms. What does this person expect from me? Shouldn’t I be tied up by now? Won’t this ‘Dominant’ do his-her-their job? He feels the words build up inside him, rushing to the surface like hot magma. 

“I’ll have a glass of water, please,” the Dominant says, oblivious. That knocks the wind right out of his sails. He gets up robotically to fill a glass with ice. And then he gets one for himself. 

-To Be Continued-

Told ya. Slow.

Wicked Wednesday... a place to be wickedly sexy or sexily wicked

My Spiritual Journey with Queerness and Home Church Drama

[Image description: Photo is of a set of New Interpreter’s Bible volumes.]

This is a speech I gave this evening at a local PFLAG meeting that overlaps a bit with my “Diversity is Chosen” Pride Sunday epistle. PFLAG is a support, education, and advocacy organization for LGBTQ people and our allies.

Most of the time, I count myself pretty lucky in the faith department. I grew up in a nurturing Christian community. It’s basically “the little brown church in the vale.” As a preacher’s kid (my mom is the pastor), I was fully integrated into the church family from infancy. For example, I was a baby shepherd in the Christmas pageant. When I was coming along, there was only one other child close to my age, and we both participated in Sunday School and worship. We sometimes took up the offering, lit the Advent candles, and sang songs. We both joined the choir in middle school, and guess what! We’re both still in the choir. 

I was fortunate. Unlike many of my LGBT peers in Divinity School, I didn’t feel like I had to ‘reconcile’ my faith with my queerness. I’ve never worried that I was going to hell because of my sexual orientation or gender identity. I thought for a while that I was going to hell for other reasons–I had a sort of crisis at age seven where I worried about not believing enough–after that, it was relatively smooth sailing. Nobody in the church ever told me that I couldn’t lead, nobody criticized me for not being feminine. 

The people in my church crossed the social and political spectrum. I watched women and men lead and nurture. When I started wearing suits and ties to church instead of dresses, nobody said anything negative. But growing up in that church, especially here in the rural South, was still complicated. We couldn’t talk about LGBTQ issues in the church for years. Everyone knew that some of the church folks had grown gay children, but nobody said much about it.

The church had a vocal fundamentalist faction that was kept in check by my mom’s declaration that they would not say anything hurtful to those parents. That declaration had a mixed impact. Conversation about the issue was almost nonexistent in her presence, so I didn’t hear much from the church about homosexuality either way. The only time I remember anyone saying something anti-gay was when she was away, when one member of that faction would substitute preach. 

And I loved those people too, and they loved me. One of them helped me to tie my paisley necktie the first time I wore a suit to Sunday school. But when the Presbyterian General Assembly decided to allow gay marriage in the church, they decided to leave. That tore our church apart. It was like losing aunts and uncles. At the time, I wasn’t ‘out’ to many people in the church. Only my parents, theatre colleagues, and college friends knew that I was bisexual. I had come to that understanding of myself around my junior year of high school. I wasn’t one of those people that ‘always knew’; I didn’t have a very strong sense of my sexuality in general until high school, when I started watching a whole bunch of movies in the “Gay and Lesbian” section of Netflix

I didn’t start dating until age twenty, but my first partner happened to be a woman. I really wanted to bring her to church, to meet my family, but I knew that wouldn’t be safe and would create a difficult situation for my parents. The church got a lot safer for me when people left. I waited for the dust to settle, and then I came out to my Sunday school class before the service one day. It was awkward, though the reaction was neutral-to-positive. I said “I have an announcement to make, which is that I am bisexual, and if you don’t like it, it’s okay, I love you anyway.” I rushed through an explanation, assuring them “It doesn’t mean I’m promiscuous” even though inwardly I thought “Promiscuity isn’t a bad thing either.”

I wanted them to understand fully who I was. I didn’t want to be judged but made room for them to disagree without withdrawing my love from them. 

I’m not sure whether that was ‘grace’ on my part or an offer of compromise driven by a desire for the community not to split further. Either way, I got confirmed in the church. After college, when I did my interfaith service year, which happened to coincide with Trump’s election, I encountered non-affirming people who were unwilling to revisit their understanding of biblical scriptures. One of my own housemates confessed that she didn’t want to advocate for me as a queer person. She wanted to live and let live.

And you know what? My service year taught me that that’s not enough. If you, as a Christian, claim to love me but aren’t willing to reflect on your beliefs enough to hear me, I have to keep my distance from you. 

People love to uphold diversity and tolerance as these magical concepts that cure all ills, but my time in the church and in interfaith settings showed me that diversity is chosen. When most of the fundamentalists left my church, it lost diversity, and it lost the gifts that those people had given, especially in terms of music. And yet, it’s nice, as a queer person, not to be considered expendable. I’m not pleading with my family to care about my basic rights, and I’m not hiding my sexuality to seem more palatable to people who don’t care to learn. That’s another thing I’ve learned over the past few years–it’s okay to make things awkward. 

Of course, I still have to compromise and choose my battles as I move through the world; I have to talk about the Clobber Passages and dialogue with non-affirming Christians. That’s part of survival. But in my ministry and in my personal life, I really want to move beyond the basic premise that “It’s okay to be gay.” I don’t want the conversation to be “It’s okay to be gay if you get married and have a white picket fence because of this specific passage in Genesis about how man shouldn’t be alone.” 

I want Christian love and respect for the queer people who don’t want or can’t access the white picket fence, and that includes nonmonogamous queer people, and queer people of color, and queer people who have casual sex, and trans people who don’t “pass,” and queer people who are struggling to survive because they can’t or won’t hide. 

I want straight cisgender Christians to see us as people they can learn from, not just the ‘diversity’ on the margins of the church, but people whose wisdom is worth protecting. I want church families to see divinity in the “chosen families” created by queer people, many of whom don’t go to church or even believe in God. 

Queer people don’t have to look or act a certain way to be worth our time and investment. And I feel like I’m able to say that because I’m cisgender, white, and middle-class. I’m not risking being thrown out of my communities if I demand that people listen. I’m not worried that if I lose my faith community, I won’t have a safety net.

So I want to conclude this talk with gratitude to PFLAG for the warmth of this community, what a haven it is for me even when church is a mixed experience. I admire the work that the PFLAG allies especially have done to move through discomfort about homosexuality so that they could step up to welcome queer people into our community. And I also want to invite us all to keep growing, listening, and learning, so that we can serve, protect, and love each other even more. Amen.

“Wow, you’re so domly!” – Negotiating from the Other Side of the Slash

[Image description: Photo is of red and purple flowers in a hanging basket.]

I’m already learning about myself through submission (even though I haven’t actually submitted yet). Having spent the past year exploring dominance (read my erotica “Stay Like This” to get a sense of my D/s dynamic with my sub), I decided recently, in abject terror, to start exploring submission. You can read about that here and here. As I browsed articles about D/s from my shiny new submissive perspective, I found one by Pearl O’Leslie called “Why a Special Protocol to Approach Dominant Women is a Bad Idea.” It made me think about the ways that men approached me on FetLife while I explored dominance. 

One pattern I noticed was that they sometimes perceived my frankness, my refusal to sugarcoat or soften my boundaries, as a sign of dominance. More than once, men I had been messaging with said they could sense my dominance. I think that happened for a few reasons: for some desperate souls, it was surely flattery. Others probably lacked experience with firm, direct women in their vanilla lives (which makes me sad). Still others were comforted by my ability to ask good questions; it inspired in them a desire to submit that made me feel authentically dominant. I’ve had the most fun with group three. 

I didn’t enter these conversations with the intent to be Ms. Domly Domme. I was interacting online as a woman, distrustful of men as a group and thinking that clarifying my boundaries quickly would shoo away the creeps. But it’s more complicated than that; in hindsight, I believe that part of what empowered me to set such clear boundaries was my dominant mindset. As Pearl O’Leslie writes, “Sure, it feels good to say ‘how can you hope to be a submissive for someone if you ignore my ‘no dick shots!’ request in my profile!’” 

And it did feel good. It felt powerful to be so firm. It felt comfortable. For a year, dominance has been a security blanket, reinforcing my sense that I can claim firm boundaries without guilt. But firm boundaries and dominance are not the same thing. Likewise, lacking firm boundaries is not submission. As I would tell any sub, everyone gets to have boundaries; no special approach required. That has been strangely hard for me to tell myself. Why? Because now that I’ve started exploring submission, I don’t have my security blanket. It’s made me feel awkward and prickly in a way that I rarely do as a Dominant, anxious and uncertain about whether I’m negotiating ‘correctly’ as an s-type. That’s been a challenge, and I couldn’t quite articulate why until I read that article and recognized my reliance on my dominance. 

Even without my security blanket, I need to have strong boundaries for my own safety and that of potential partners. With an ethical partner, I can expect them to be learned, acknowledged, and respected, no matter what role I choose. So when I put a “no dick pics” request in my profile or set any other boundary, in any role, I can let the boundary be without feeling either overly defensive in my vulnerability or guilty for the boundary’s existence. While understanding that doesn’t take away the fear of the unknown, it does reassure me to know that I don’t have to compromise my boundaries to negotiate as a submissive. 


Further reading: “Domism: Role Essentialism and Sexism Intersectionality in the BDSM Scene

Teaching from the Bottom” by blogger Kinky & Nerdy

Penance, Part 1

[Image description: Photo is of a pair of lace-up black leather boots.]

Hello, Readers! I’ve decided to explore some of the ideas I discussed in my recent essay “BDSM is Not Repentance” through fiction. This is the first part of an experimental semi-fantasy flash erotica series. It is not intended to model realistic or healthy approaches to penance, sex work, or even BDSM, but to inspire thought about how we use BDSM and what role, if any, it can play in true repentance. This first installment is part of the Masturbation Monday blog meme sponsored by Kayla Lords. 

He runs his hand through salt-and-pepper hair, drums fingers on his desk to drown out the feeble patter of rain. He grimaces at the cleaning he’s done. She might not show, he thinks. If this day turns out to be a waste of his time and money, he’s leaving a one-star Yelp review and jerking off to Brazzers. 

He was very clear in his inquiry letter to the Agency: he wants to suffer for his actions. He filled out their required spreadsheet of soft and hard limits in a bluster of clacking keys; yes to humiliation, yes to cock-and-ball torture, no to tickling, yes to single-tail, etc. 

He selected a generous three-day time window, signed off with his electronic signature, and procured his background check. Now, it’s just a question of when; it has to be some time today. He waits for her, whomever she is, to waltz into his spartan condo, order him to his knees and slap him around, make him feel powerless. That’s fine. More than fine. 

He chose the “mystery” option to let the Agency assign someone to him, but he’s poked around enough online to have a pretty good idea what she’ll be like: a goddess in stilettos, dark, streamlined slickness over icy pale skin. She’ll beat the devil right out of him…if she shows up. The thought shoots straight down to his cock, and he just catches his hand straying down his khakis. He groans, irritation rising in tandem with arousal.

Just as he’s about to unplug the air freshener and heat up the leftover buffalo wings, someone knocks at the door. He freezes. Somehow, his legs carry him over. He peers through the peep hole at a short, slight woman with asymmetrical hair and a rainbow umbrella. She must be lost, he thinks, wondering whether she’ll go away if he ignores her. But he opens the door. She smiles at him. Her eyes crinkle at the corners. Staticy heat skitters through him, the sensation of thawing after a trudge through the snow, as he realizes that this person isn’t lost at all. “Hello,” she says. “My pronouns are they/them/theirs, and I’m in charge of your penance today.” 

-To be continued-

*Yes, he accidentally misgenders them.

Masturbation Monday

Leadership is a Team Sport

[Image description: Photo is of two lounging cats. One looks at the camera, alert, while the other relaxes.]

Throughout high school, I never thought of myself as a leader. I was the quiet, nerdy artist who never could quite keep up with what was going on. I wasn’t often bullied, and I even experienced rare bursts of admiration when classmates watched me draw. But I didn’t think of myself as a leader, and I was not popular. (Cue “Popular” from Wicked.) 

During my ninth grade field trip, my teachers tried to push me into leadership by putting me in charge of the rest of the class for a team-building exercise. I stood on the ground while my classmates tried to shuffle their way across a low tightrope between two trees. My job was to tell them when to move, how, and where. 

The teachers kept adding restrictions. For example, I was the only one allowed to talk or move without direction. It did not go well. After tipping off the rope for the umpteenth time, my disgruntled classmates asked the teachers to replace me. The next attempt (with a different leader) went a little better, and the class eventually completed the challenge. Was a team built? Did I lead? Did we trust each other more after that? Not really. My teachers meant well in assigning me a directive role; they wanted me to rise to the occasion and gain confidence. Unfortunately, they didn’t set me up for success as a leader. As a ‘team,’ we were unequipped in several ways. 

First, the teachers ignored the dynamics of the class; we were all still hormonal, image-conscious teenagers. Some in the class, for better or for worse, had support and experience as leaders. I simply was not one of them. The teachers tried to impose a different dynamic without preparing us all to try it in good faith. 

Second, the teachers took away the tools I needed to communicate with the class and make good decisions. I could not read my classmates’ faces. Meanwhile, they were utterly dependent and unable to communicate with or support me. No wonder they got frustrated. 

Third, I lacked the desire to lead. Sure, that was related to shyness, perfectionism, and low self-esteem, but trying to force a shy perfectionist to lead confidently by putting them in a situation with no reason to feel confident tends to backfire. Ironically, as the only person allowed to move, I felt paralyzed. The resulting failure reinforced my belief that I wasn’t a leader. 

What could we have done differently in that situation? Any number of things might have helped. For example, we didn’t have to do that particular team-building exercise; we could’ve done the “human knot” game, where the team tries to untwist and very link does its part. 

The teachers could have asked for volunteers in the first place (I was not ready to be singled out for that particular activity). 

When we learned what the challenge was, we could have come up with a strategy or even divided leadership so that people on the ground and on the rope could observe what was happening and make recommendations. 

I could have paused the activity and asked for communication and suggestions, or I could have said “I’m not equipped for this; we need to let someone else have a turn.” 

My classmates could have handled their frustration better, perhaps stating their feelings and asking what I needed instead of just complaining to the teachers. 

The teachers could have made time for us to debrief after the activity, figure out why it was so hard, assure us that it was okay, and get input on what to try for next time. 

Shoulda coulda woulda. But thinking through what could have helped us then reminds me that ‘leadership’ is a team sport; no one ‘leads’ in a vacuum. 

I’ve had several less unpleasant opportunities to lead since that demoralizing experience. Joining Girl Scouts as a highschooler gave me opportunities to lead in a more conducive setting (yep, I joined Girl Scouts after most people drop out). 

I’ve learned about my strengths and weaknesses as a leader with help from friends and mentors; in my senior year of college, one of my college professors said I exemplified “leading from the middle.” With the benefit of experience, that ill-fated highschool exercise has provided a way for me to reflect on how I can set myself, my friends, my teammates, and my partners up for success.

In some cases, I am the designated leader and make firm decisions in that role. Even then, I need the support and input of others and the resilience to acknowledge when something doesn’t work. Most of the time, I share leadership with others on my team and support other leaders as we work to build the dynamics we want, protect our communities, and create spaces for growth and refuge. Leadership is not a one-person show. Instead, leadership is a matter of process and relationship, a team sport in which we all participate. 

My Experience with Pelvic Pain

[Image description: Photo is of dark purple flowers spilling from a white hanging basket.]

Content notice: In this post, I’ll talk about virginity, my journey with pelvic pain, and medical treatments that I’ve pursued. I hope that this epistle will help people to understand one kind of pelvic pain and get a better understanding of what to expect from treatment if they have that kind of pain. 

By some people’s standards, I’m a virgin. Why? Because I’ve never received vaginal penetration from a penis. Most of the time, I think that’s hilarious because I’ve had several sexual experiences and consider virginity a very silly social construct. I like to joke about how I could be sacrificed to the Kraken to save a kingdom. A knight would be pleased to rescue me from a dragon. Funny how those scenarios would involve me being imprisoned and subject to pain or death. 

In reality, I haven’t had “penis-in-vagina” sex because I have a chronic pelvic pain condition called vulvodynia. More specifically, my issue is called vulvar vestibulitis. That means that the vestibule, an area surrounding the vaginal opening, is inflamed and sensitive to pressure. This makes vaginal intercourse difficult and painful. I seem to have had it at least since puberty; I remember not being able to insert a tampon when I first started my period as a teenager. A little embarrassed but not aware that it might indicate an issue, I just thought “Well, I guess I can’t use tampons. *Shrug.*” 

As I developed sexually, I discovered my clitoris and learned how to have lovely external clitoral orgasms, but I never much bothered with trying to penetrate myself. In hindsight, that seems odd to me. I wonder whether I tried it once, felt like I was hitting a wall, and decided not to try again. At the time, any desire for penetrative sex wasn’t on my radar. Even when I became sexually active, I didn’t go to the gynecologist; I had heard horror stories of gynecologists in my hometown who didn’t care if their exams hurt their patients–when I mention that to people, they have their own stories to share. I hope to learn more about why that is soon.  

Fortunately, when I did finally see a gynecologist, referred through a routine STI testing appointment, I found one who was compassionate and understood pain. She also happened to have a divinity degree, a big plus for me as a divinity student. A female nurse and a male medical student also attended the exam. The student was nice but clearly didn’t expect to interview a queer, sexually active patient who couldn’t receive penetration. I had a bit of fun watching his reactions as I explained that I have a very fulfilling sex life sans PIV, swinging my bare legs as I sat there in my oversized cloth examination gown. I can be a little emotionally sadistic when it comes to teaching people new stuff. 

The gynecologist was very kind. She listened as I explained my inability to be penetrated and then attempted a vaginal exam, flanked by the other two. Oddly, I didn’t feel embarrassed by the three lab-coated figures looming like angels at the foot of a bed; I just thought it was nice to have a team of people who wanted to take care of me. When I said “Okay that hurts” and started to shrink back, she stopped. It had felt like sharp pressure. She said that my hymen was intact and referred me to a pelvic pain specialist. I left the appointment emotionally wrung out but relieved that I was finally taking a step to help myself feel better. 

When I visited the pelvic pain specialist a few weeks later, she also attempted an exam, briefly penetrating me with one finger. It burned. She explained that my vestibular inflammation and pelvic muscle tension had created a feedback loop: chronically tense muscles aggravated inflammation, which increased tension and pain, leading to a dread of penetration and more inflammation. Vestibulitis can have many possible causes, she explained. For some people, yeast infections (which I did have as a child) lead to greater pain sensitivity. Some people experience an unusual proliferation of nerve endings. Some have a history of sexual abuse; tensing and guarding is a protective response to the trauma. For others, contact dermatitis from irritating soaps, pads, or underwear materials is the main culprit. I would add that anxiety and socialization in a culture that teaches vulva-owners to expect pain with intercourse compounds those issues. 

I’ve become a lot more mindful of my feelings in the past few years, but I wonder how long I experienced chronic tension in my body before I had the language to explain it. I was a sensitive and anxious child who never got in trouble at school. Adults in that arena either didn’t notice my anxiety or didn’t see it as a major problem, as long as I was ‘mature’ and ‘well-behaved’. I wonder how much of the tension I experience was carried from childhood into adulthood without my awareness.

In any case, the specialist and I attacked the problem on multiple fronts; while I might choose never to have PIV sex, decreasing muscle tension and inflammation was a worthy goal in itself. 

She prescribed a hormone cream, recommended dilators and physical therapy, and suggested some lifestyle changes. I marched out of CVS that afternoon armed with Shea Moisture Soap, cotton period pads, and unbleached Seventh Generation toilet paper. Of course, before I did that, I had a very quiet crying fit in the Panera Bread–it had been hard to endure the searing pain of the exam, to feel betrayed by my body’s self-protective processes. 

As a cis woman, I didn’t feel inferior about not being able to have intercourse, but I did feel dysfunctional as a human being. In reality, people of every gender can’t have or don’t want to receive penetration for many reasons, and that’s okay. It’s not shameful. But I had to remind myself of that. 

The treatments are helping; I have been using a high-quality set of silicone dilators, and that process is gradually getting easier. Read this post to learn what I use and how. (Please note, dilation isn’t always a linear progression; some days are easier than others, and I do get frustrated with it sometimes or even skip it for weeks at a time.) 

At my follow-up appointment, the pain specialist* managed to do a full exam. As she pressed on different areas, I was able to focus and distinguish different sensations. For example, I could breathe and notice that one area didn’t hurt at all, while another, tenser area felt irritated or sharply painful. The pain hasn’t gone away, but I understand it. I know that I can make decisions about how to respond to pain without judging myself for feeling it. 

I might like receiving vaginal penetration some day. I might not. But fortunately, no matter what society thinks about the status of my body, I’m not actually a sacrificial maiden. I get to have as much or as little of whatever kind of sex I want, and I get to nurture my body. In a way, I’m grateful for the pain, as much angst and inconvenience as it has caused; it’s taught me how to find many avenues for pleasure and reminded me to treat my body with kindness when it’s hurting. That’s all for now, but I will continue to write about pelvic pain and share resources. 

*I swear, I’m going to have to write an erotica called “The Pain Specialist” now. 

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