Loving the Body in Ephesians 5

This is the manuscript of a sermon I preached a little while back for a class focused on the relationship between preaching and the human body.

“Loving the Body in Ephesians 5”

Today’s scripture is Ephesians 5:28-30 (NRSV). 

“In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body” 

Ephesians 5 is known as ‘the household code,’ setting out guidelines for some of the relationships found in ancient Christian communities. It contains now controversial statements such as “Wives, be subject to your husbands” and “slaves obey your masters” alongside “Husbands, love your wives.” I personally struggle with this text. When I read Ephesians 5, it often doesn’t feel like good news. Because I have seen the harm done by this text. I have seen the physical and emotional abuse of women that has been perpetrated under Ephesians 5, the way that control and power are twisted around love. The text also carries a bitter legacy of enslavement–my own ancestors most likely pointed to this text to justify enslaving Black people for generations. It’s okay to see this legacy and to object to the harmful use of this text in our history and experience. But when we look at this text with open eyes, we can see hopeful things that we may not have seen before. 

We know that Ephesians 5:21 is a call to mutuality–Paul writes, “Be subject to one another as to the Lord.” With these words, Paul signals something deeper in this text, something to challenge all of us, maybe even something that could be good news–a sense that we must honor and care for each other. That is the spirit in which I re-read the text. I invite us to look at a specific verse in this passage that, up until a few weeks ago, I had never even noticed. That verse is Ephesians 5:29-30: “For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body.” So let’s do a new thing with this text. 

When I first read “For no one ever hates his own body,” I thought “Yeah, right!” Because I can’t help but think of people who avoid being in pictures. I think of people, myself included, skipping meals and pulling all-nighters to get more work done. I think of extreme diets. I think of the resentment I feel of my own body when it manifests anxiety through migraines and nausea, how I sometimes try to push through and work harder even when I know that my body needs to rest. 

Considering my own experience and the success of multi-billion-dollar industries focused on weight loss and looking better, even in the midst of a global pandemic where our survival is at stake, I couldn’t believe Paul’s words; they just seemed so far from reality. But then I read the passage again: “For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church.” And  I started to see something revolutionary in what Paul was saying. 

What if we treated Paul’s words as aspirational? The truth is, in our current context, the evidence of body hatred abounds, and it’s only gotten worse since the pandemic began. It’s hard for many people to nourish and tenderly care for themselves, especially since we live in a society that does not consistently nourish or care for bodies, even in the most basic of ways–nutrition, healthcare, shelter, safety, autonomy…the list goes on. We fail to love or protect so many kinds of bodies. We discount and ignore the needs and value of poor bodies, sick bodies, ageing bodies, disabled bodies, treating them as disposable. We abuse black and brown bodies, women’s bodies, bodies we perceive as ‘female’. We reject fat bodies, queer and transgender bodies, bodies that don’t look or behave in ways that we find lovable…again, the list goes on. We starve, intimidate, and coerce bodies all the time. 

Bodies loved by Christ are unloved by people, abused, and treated as disposable, pushed to work harder and look better, no matter the cost. Even our language around ‘self-care’ and ‘wellness’ often reflects a need to project an outward image of wholeness and well-being that isn’t the reality for many people. It’s not nourishment. It’s not tender care for self or others.  

Thus, instead of seeing reality reflected, I hear a revolutionary call in the community of mutual subjection that Paul imagines: We are called to nourish and tenderly care for our own bodies and the bodies of others. This statement is not an admonishment toward ‘self-care’, though that’s part of it–I think we all know what it’s like to feel uncaring toward our own bodies, to choose not to nourish ourselves, and it causes suffering. We deserve care from ourselves. 

But we’re not just individuals; we live in community. We need mutual support, especially in times of crisis. Something that writer and community organizer Nakita Valerio wrote last year on this topic has come back to me many times over the past few months as we’ve dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic. Valerio wrote that “Shouting ‘self-care’ at people who actually need community care is how we fail people.” Care is a communal matter, a truth that feels clear and urgent in a time when we are asked to help slow the spread of a disease that is mild for some but disabling and even deadly for others. 

Paul’s letter shows that we cannot care for our bodies as individuals without caring for and nourishing the others to whom we are bound by God–Paul says “husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies.” Where bodies are unloved, we are called to love. This means that when bodies are threatened, we nourish those bodies, we fight for those bodies, and we love them fiercely. Sometimes, that’s our own bodies. We may not always feel connected to the sense of love that Paul describes, but we can intentionally nourish and tenderly care for ourselves and each other. Because we are all members of the body of Christ: holy, precious, and beloved. 

Amen.  

Works Consulted 

Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey. “Emancipative Elements in Ephesians 5:21-33: Why Feminist Scholarship has (Often) Left Them Unmentioned, and Why They Should Be Emphasized.” 

Feminist Companion to Paul. Amy-Jill Levine, Ed. Sheffield Academic Press, 2003. 

Johnson, E. Elizabeth. “Ephesians.” Women’s Bible Commentary, Third Edition. Carol A. Newsom, Ed. Westminster John Knox Press, 2012. 

The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume X – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 &2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude, Revelation. 

“Community Care Versus Self Care” https://mashable.com/article/community-care-versus-self-care/

Ephesians 5 commentary notes by Rodney Sadler Jr. http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=20

 “Scripture and Our Selves” by M. Shawn Copeland 

https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/213/scripture-and-our-selves

“The Body is Not an Apology” 

Intimate Imaginings Part One – By the Fire

Note: I’ve been pondering what I want and need in romantic relationships lately. Due to the ongoing pandemic, it’s not currently safe to meet new partners. Thus, I’ve been returning to my researcher roots, reading literature about different relationship structures, and feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all. I’m realizing that there is much I don’t know about my romantic self (Ex: I feel fairly romantically “monogamish,” but I’m not entirely how that may apply to future romantic relationships. In fact, my longest relationships so far have been non-monogamous and intimate but not specifically romantic). Thus, I’ve decided to write some brief fantasies that show situations (kinky, romantic, and loving) that I could picture myself possibly enjoying and finding fulfilling in the future. This is one such intimate imagining. [Content notes: erotic but not explicit; power exchange themes, queerness, domesticity, cuddling, communication, boot worship, and implied open relationship]

My partner and I lean into each other as we sit by the fire, watching a nature documentary and enjoying the light smell of spruce in the air. My left arm is around her shoulder. She’s caught my left hand in hers. It is happily captive. My right hand idly strokes the hair of the submissive sitting at our feet. He leans back heavily against our legs like a dog seeking pats. He only visits a couple of times a month, but when he’s here, he belongs to us. As he becomes one with the floor, his hands wander to brush against my combat boots. He pulls them away quickly but then looks up at me with a question.

Feeling my partner squeeze my hand affirmatively, I nod. Silent, my submissive shifts to his knees on the carpet and lowers his face to our feet. My partner pets him as I press between his shoulder blades with my other boot. I get a little lightheaded at the simultaneous sensation of my sub’s lips soft against my leather and my partner nestling against my side, brimming with affection as she drinks in my relaxation and unfurling wisps of arousal. The documentary plays on, the fire crackles, and my eyelids flutter closed. I feel warm, balanced, and at peace.

Holding Myself

I’ve been practicing mindfulness daily for the past three months, largely thanks to accountability provided by my domme. Sometimes, it’s a chore–my mind just whirs and buzzes while I sit there, and I finish the practice feeling frustrated by my lack of focus. Often, it’s a time for me to recognize and tend to my feelings, to remind myself that they’re okay. That’s uncomfortable but valuable, especially now, in the midst of a pandemic that has no clear end. Occasionally, my practice leads to unexpected catharsis and insight. Tuesday’s session was one of those times. It involved a heartfelt conversation with a pillow. That will make sense later. 

You see, I’ve been coping with the stirring of dormant anxieties recently, now that my dominant and I are doing a bit of sexual exploration (remotely). As a queer woman with chronic pelvic pain and perfectionism issues, sex can be a source of anxiety and overanalysis for me. (I’m not alone in that, and I’ll elaborate on it in a future post.) One thing I’m realizing, especially as I grudgingly share my anxieties with my partners, is that I have an old fear that confiding in my partners will ‘infect’ them with my anxiety. In other words, I fear that hearing my worries will make them worry, and then my worries will overwhelm them and become real as they pull away. And then, if they can’t handle my anxiety, it’s my fault for sharing or for not framing it in the [helpful] way possible. Frankly, that’s a lot of pressure. 

I think I know when these beliefs solidified in my psyche. I experienced a lot of anxiety in my first romantic relationship over six years ago, particularly wondering what I was ‘supposed’ to be feeling and not wanting to hurt my partner. As I explained to my therapist this week, I told her about what I was experiencing, and two weeks later, she broke up with me, citing similar anxieties to the ones that I had brought to her (which, incidentally, she had not disclosed until that point). Now, there’s no way of knowing how much I actually influenced her behavior. As my therapist pointed out, I’m not superhuman. I was only twenty, and she wasn’t much older. I’ve learned so much since I was twenty (I can verify that by rereading my old journal entries from that time–such overwrought prose!). But I think that part of me has carried the assumption for years that I somehow turned the breakup that I feared into reality by confiding my worries, that it’ll happen again. 

At times, I’ve assumed that my anxiety isn’t something that my partners can hold without taking it on. I’m learning that that’s an assumption based on incomplete (and frankly, outdated) information. I’ve grown in my ability to notice, understand, and communicate my feelings, and if my partners start to feel like they’re drowning in what I’m saying, they can tell me. I know this. 

But I still need to attend to the younger self who feels ashamed. This week, I did that through mindfulness. In the middle of a practice that invited me to openness, I found myself inspired to talk to and hold my twenty-year-old self, the one who blames herself for so much. So I laid a bed pillow across my lap and imagined that it was a younger version of me. I cradled her like the Virgin Mary cradles Jesus in Michelangelo’s Pietà. Mentally, I felt around for the most tender and wounded places, speaking aloud the affirmations that would be hard for her to hear (and hard for me to believe). 

I told her that she did the best she could. I told her that she was brave and kind. I told her that I had learned so much from her, that I admired her. The tears started when I said “I’m proud of you.” I held her, marveling at how young and small she seemed in my arms. “You are part of me, and I will always hold you,” I said to her. I whispered these things over and over, letting myself weep for that heartbroken twenty-year-old who just wanted to do the right thing. ‘We’ stayed like that for a while. I wasn’t sure how to wrap it up, but when my stomach started growling, I decided to rise and let her rest in my psyche. The pillow became just a pillow again, and I went about my day. 

I don’t know how this cathartic time will affect the way that I approach my behavior now, but it was much needed. As I move forward, other ‘past selves’ will visit–I’m sure my inner five-year-old will tug at my sleeve one of these days. I will learn from them, affirm them, and hold them.

*Note: Insight Timer is the [helpful] free meditation app.

*Image: Photograph of Michelangelo’s Pietà from Wikimedia Commons

Post linked to the Sex Bloggers for Mental Health blog meme.

Chosen Risk in the Time of Coronavirus (a.k.a. Why I’ve Decided to Send Nudes)

Coronavirus sucks. Social distancing sucks. I’m lucky to have a home with a yard, a stable internet connection, and an immune system that generally works well…and it still sucks. I hate not being able to visit my partners and family for an indefinite period of time–we assessed the transmission risks and decided that we can’t risk exposure while the coronavirus spreads so stealthily across the country. While we wait for more information, we have to protect ourselves and others who are more vulnerable, including those who can’t socially distance because they’re on the front lines. We’re struggling to compensate for a sluggish federal response and a broken healthcare system, doing the [helpful] we can–and we don’t know how long we’ll have to do it or what the eventual outcomes will be. That’s hard. 

The fear and uncertainty wear me down like a constant buzz of radio static. I can calculate some risks, but others are outside my control, and this situation is constantly evolving. That said, being voluntarily cooped up has reminded me that some risks can be chosen and that boundaries can evolve as we grow and change. What seemed too risky yesterday might feel perfectly reasonable with a more up-to-date risk assessment (and vice-versa). I’ve decided to use this time to re-evaluate my ‘risk profile’. By that I mean that I’m taking a second look at the things that I mentally packed away long ago as “not worth the risk,” dusting them off like provocative outfits, and trying them on for size. 

Logically, under the circumstances, this choice has manifested the most in my virtual life so far. My brain has been searching feverishly for technological solutions to a sudden dearth of physical contact, which now includes an ongoing list of screen-sharing apps that I have yet to try. But this revelation came to me fairly quickly: when my partners can’t physically touch me, the next [helpful] thing is to show them more of my skin.

Know this, gentle readers: before the COVID-19 crisis, I had never sent a nude image of myself to anyone. Over the past couple of weeks, I decided to investigate why. I’d sent teasing images, certainly–strategic pictures of my legs were a favorite (in my mind, ‘almost nudity’ was just fine) and posted them on FetLife. I had no problem receiving nude images, and in fact, I revel in the knowledge that my sub sends me nude pictures whenever I ask. But I never felt comfortable reciprocating. 

That might seem quite strange, and it is. I have no personal history of trauma with nudity or image exposure. I don’t recoil from the nude images of others. I trust my partners not to share anything without my permission. The most succinct explanation I have for the longstanding “no nudies” boundary is inertia–I came up with that boundary at a time when I was just starting to explore my sexuality, chatting casually with people I wasn’t sure I trusted, and it stuck.

Before that time of exploration, it barely occurred to me that sending a nude was an option–nearly all the information swimming around in my head about nude pictures warned of “revenge porn” and other possible dangers that ranged from embarrassing to traumatizing. I had definitely also internalized some black-and-white thinking from middle school guidance class: “Sexting – Don’t do it!” 

Early in my kinky exploration, having a universal “no nudes” policy was an easy way for me to avoid having to think about that baggage or to ask whether what I had been taught still made sense for me. I trusted myself, but I wasn’t sure I trusted others. I encountered a few pushy types. Saying that I just didn’t send nudes from the start of a correspondence allowed me to separate the wheat from the chaff–it was a litmus test that showed who would respect my boundaries. But I’ve learned that some of the arbitrary boundaries that once kept me safe aren’t suitable anymore. As an adult, I’ve learned that I can’t grow if I rely on others to choose them for me; I have to investigate the risks and choose boundaries for myself. 

As I thought and felt all of this through, I realized that I had no compelling reasons not to send nudes and no visceral feelings of distress at the idea–I felt nervous about trying something new but felt more excited about the prospect of sharing something meaningful with my partners than anything else.

I asked myself a lot of questions, like “What might I do if my pictures get leaked? What if the ones who look at the pictures don’t think they’re attractive? Which ‘risks’ are important to me, and can they be managed? Under what circumstances would I feel comfortable taking on these risks? Do I feel enthusiastic about changing this boundary?” (I think I’ll write another post about nude photo risk-assessment some time.) I decided that I didn’t need a “no nudes” boundary to feel respected and that I would send nudes consensually as a way to connect with my partners and my own sexuality during this time of distance. 

Long story short, I sent and posted my first nude photos a few days ago, a couple peekaboo shots of my chest, and it felt great. I felt cute, brave, vulnerable, attractive, handsome (yes, handsome), and powerful. I assessed the risks, I found boundaries that feel good to me, and I tried something new, understanding that I can change my boundaries again in the future if I need to. When my choices feel so overwhelming and yet so limited, finding opportunities for chosen bravery that brings me closer to others feels very healing. In those opportunities, at least, I find ways to be more hopeful than anxious. 

*Note: For the time-being, I won’t be posting any nudes on this blog. That’s not what this space is ‘for’. If you want to connect on FetLife, where some of the fabled nudes will reside, do send me an email.

Wicked Wednesday


Masturbation Monday

Let Me Walk the Labyrinth (On My Knees and Blindfolded)

Let me walk the labyrinth on my knees and blindfolded. 

I walked a labyrinth for the first time in years a few days ago. In modern usage, a labyrinth is a spiritual tool, a bit like a maze with no dead ends. It takes you down a winding path to the center and then back out. Just when you think you’ve made it, the labyrinth sends you far away from your destination. People will often enter a labyrinth with a question in mind and let that labyrinth carry them through as they contemplate it. That all sounds lovely and poetic in theory, but I’ve never really ‘gotten’ labyrinths. Like many spiritual practices, labyrinths frustrate me, and not in a way that feels spiritual.

I’m a bit like Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, who once said, “I get what can only be described as road rage when I’m stuck behind someone walking slowly in a prayer labyrinth.” I walk, and I try to feel something ‘spiritual,’ and then I get frustrated with myself for putting that kind of pressure on what is essentially a stroll. I crunched through the leaf litter of this outdoor labyrinth recently, struggling to let go long enough to feel the leaves–as it was, I experienced them intellectually, outside myself, as noisemakers that could interrupt other walkers. I wasn’t always like this. 

I danced through my first labyrinth, which was just a marked mat spread out in the church fellowship hall. I was a child skipping gleefully past all the adults, who took slow, careful steps, as if they were walking a tightrope. They stood for long minutes in the center like sleeping birds while I ran rings around them, giddy with the twists and turns. Now, I’m an adult, so caught up in doing it right, in making enough space for the other walkers, and trying to be remotely ‘spiritual’ on top of that. A spiritual practice that provokes that kind of excess thinking isn’t for me. 

Or maybe it just requires a little modification. What if I allowed myself to dance through the labyrinth again? That would require me to overcome that sixth sense I’ve developed over the years, the one that says “It simply isn’t done.” It sounds spirited–and spiritual–to me. Conversely, what if I gave up my accustomed sense of sight, reliant on the feel of the terrain to know I was following the path? I would have to crawl, grounded in a tactile sense. Would I fight my way through the darkness? Or would I roll around in the dirt, reveling in my sightlessness? I’m not sure I could even complete a labyrinth by myself in that state. I would need the help of other people, ones willing to see me fumble around in broad daylight, to keep watch.

I can think of nothing more spiritual. Maybe I would rage at God. Or puzzle over God’s absence. Or feel overwhelmed by love. Or just pretend to be a mole. Anything but this painfully grown-up labyrinth performance. So no more spiritual tightropes. Let me not know what to say during prayer. Let me cry through my chants. Let me laugh through my Lectio. Let me walk the labyrinth on my knees and blindfolded. 

Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth design

Stone labyrinth image source

Chartres Labyrinth image source

Healing Words

Today, I want to lift the work of two late women writers of color who understood that spirituality must be embodied. Their words are powerful, challenging, and healing.

First, today is the birthday of Gloria Anzaldúa, a lesbian Chicana feminist writer and scholar. Born in south Texas, she lived life on the border, literally and figuratively. As a child, she was punished for speaking English with a Spanish accent. As an adult, she chose to write in a mixture of English and Spanish. Her award-winning work bridges scholarship and activism, addressing the strife and marginalization imposed by her blended identity and the ways that she reclaimed and decolonized her experience. Her words are sensual, poetic, and fierce.

Here’s a word from her:
“Don’t give me your tenets and your laws. Don’t give me your lukewarm gods. What I want is an accounting with all three cultures–white, Mexican, Indian. I want the freedom to carve and chisel my own face, to staunch the bleeding with ashes, to fashion my own gods out of my entrails. And if going home is denied me then I will have to stand and claim my space, making a new culture–una cultura mestiza–with my own lumber, my own bricks and mortar and my own feminist architecture.”

You can read her most famous work, Borderlands, here. If you’re new to her work, I recommend “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” and “Entering into the Serpent.”

Second, we read a passage from womanist author and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s Beloved today in Bodies class. I have nothing to add, but I want to leave it here.
“When warm weather came, Baby Suggs, holy, followed by every black man, woman, and child who could make it through, took her great heart to the Clearing–a wide-open place cut deep in the woods nobody knew for what at the end of the path known only to deer and whoever cleared the land in the first place. In the heat of every Saturday afternoon, she sat in the clearing while the people waited among the trees. After situating herself on a huge flat-sided rock, Baby Suggs bowed her head and prayed silently. The company watched her from the trees. They knew she was ready when she put her stick down. Then she shouted, ‘Let the children come!’ and they ran from the trees toward her. Let your mothers hear you laugh,’ she told them, and the woods rang. The adults looked on and could not help smiling.

Then ‘Let the grown men come,’ she shouted. They stepped out one by one from among the ringing trees. Let your wives and your children see you dance,’ she told them, and groundlife shuddered under their feet. Finally she called the women to her. ‘Cry,’ she told them. ‘For the living and the dead. Just cry.’ And without covering their eyes the women let loose. It started that way: laughing children, dancing men, crying women and then it got mixed up. Women stopped crying and danced; men sat down and cried; children danced, women laughed, children cried until, exhausted and riven, all and each lay about the Clearing damp and gasping for breath. In the silence that followed, Baby Suggs, holy, offered up to them her great big heart. She did not tell them to clean up their lives or go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure. She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.

‘Here,’ she said, “In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it.

This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. and all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.’”

That’s all I have for today, Brave Ones. May it nourish you.

See a film version of that scene from Beloved here.

Fetish Foibles, Part 3 – Social Submission

Welcome to Fetish Foibles, the series where I recount my mistakes as a Dominant for our mutual edification. In the wise words of Queen Clarisse of Genovia, “Don’t make the same mistakes I did; make your own mistakes!” 

This one’s a twofer. Both of these situations relate to the tricky issues that can come up with ‘public’ acts of submission (in kink-oriented settings). The first one is someone else’s foible, but it made me remember one of mine. 

Tl;dr – When experimenting with D/s in a social setting, clarify expectations with your partner and the people with whom you’re socializing. 

I had a strange and mildly unpleasant social experience at the local fetish club recently, which I’ll pick apart now. A Dom and sub asked to sit next to me on the sofa, which was fine. Then, the Dom sat on the sofa, and the sub knelt on a cushion in front of him and began to massage his feet. Neither party spoke to me after settling in. Now, normally, that sort of thing is my jam. Power exchange with service and protocol is often more interesting to me than play without power exchange. And not talking to people? Great! But in this situation, I felt like I had been roped into a scene as an unwilling spectator. 

We were sitting close enough together that I could have made eye contact with the sub while looking straight ahead. I felt like I was sitting too close to something so intimate. I’ll freely admit that I’ve gotten a bit desensitized to sex. I can watch a sex scene and think “Huh. That’s nice; they’re using protection. Good technique…” without getting hot under the collar. D/s protocol scenes are a different matter. It’s the vulnerability! *bangs fist on table* And the intimacy! Ahem. Anyway. This couple could have chosen any other location in the dungeon, including various chairs. I got the sense that they wanted others to be close and to watch. That’s not a bad thing in itself, but I had two issues, which I didn’t fully understand in the moment:

  1. They didn’t tell me they wanted to do this dynamic interaction when they asked to sit down, so I didn’t get to consent to being so close to the scene (generally speaking, it is etiquette here to stay at least a few feet away from a scene in progress). 
  2. They didn’t talk to me or even introduce themselves before starting their scene. I then didn’t feel like I could talk to them or ask for clarification, as they were cultivating an interaction with each other. I just happened to be mere inches away. 

Combined, these issues made me feel like a prop. A very awkward prop. 

Here’s what would have helped:

  1. They could have scened elsewhere in the dungeon. Granted, this couple may not have thought of what they were doing as a scene, but the sofas are generally social spaces, and these two were cultivating something very specific and personal. It felt different from the kind of socializing that D/s couples sometimes do, where the s-type sits on the floor in front of the D-type while they watch others play. 
  2. They could have introduced themselves and clarified what they wanted to do. The Dom could have said “Hi, I’m So-and-so, and this is Such-and-such. I’m speaking for her right now because she’s under protocol this evening and is only talking to me. We’d like to do a little foot massage scene here because it’s right in the middle of the dungeon, but we don’t want to invade your space…” And then, I probably would’ve thought “Cool!,” introduced myself, asked a couple of clarifying questions (like whether the Dom was open to socializing or wanted to focus on his sub), and had a lovely time watching. 

If they’d taken one of those steps, I would not have felt used (fortunately, I was able to make a fairly quick exit, as my sub prepared a space elsewhere to give me a massage). 

Now, that situation reminded me of a mistake I made many months ago, when my sub and I were experimenting with ways to show our D/s dynamic in kink spaces. The first time I brought him to the dungeon, I had him sit on a cushion on the floor in front of me. What we didn’t realize was that when people see that configuration, they sometimes assume that the floor-sitter is under some sort of speaking restriction protocol. My poor sub, social butterfly that he is, found himself largely left out of conversations because people did not know how to interact with him. 

On top of being in a new space and trying to meet new people, he was trying to be a good sub in a public setting for the first time, and my expectations of him weren’t clear. I simply hadn’t considered the practical, social implications of our physical positioning. It left him feeling unstable–and even unwanted. As the D-type in that situation, I should have clarified my expectations for his behavior and checked in with him about how the new protocol felt throughout the evening. If I had realized that people thought they weren’t supposed to talk to him, I would have clarified with them too, or I would have had him sit beside me so that he could converse more easily with others. 

Moral of the story: when using a public protocol, don’t assume that everyone’s on the same page. Clarify expectations with your partners and others in the immediate area. And if you’re the D-type in a situation that renders your s-type more vulnerable than usual, remember that your duty of protection extends into the social arena. 

Perfectionism Rant

Hoooo boy. 

Classes (and new jobs) have started in earnest this week, and they’re going pretty well overall. That said, I’m a recovering perfectionist–my perfectionism is manageable, like a low staticy hum in my life most of the time, about a three out of ten. Today, it was dialed up to about a seven, sometimes blaring over the information I wanted to take in. I think that’s mainly because I’m trying so many new things this week. I know I won’t be immediately good at all of them, and they all require shifts between different modes of thinking throughout the day (from a more intellectual ‘class space,’ for example, to the practical and pastoral headspaces of my new jobs). 

Some of it’s the intimidation of the mundane. For example, I’ve never made coffee in my life (it’s just never been necessary to). I’m sure I’ll learn, but I have a feeling that I’ll do it wrong at least once–I already cringe thinking that I’ll forget to fit the lid properly. And I am writing this post in part because I don’t like the number of days that have gone by without writing anything non-academic. I don’t want to lose my commitment to this blog. Are queer, sexy, kinky things happening in my life? Yes. Do I have the energy to write about them right now? No. That will return when my schedule lulls. In the meantime, I’m going to attempt to adjust the dial by chatting with people about impractical things, sharing my anxiety here, and singing along with Steven Universe songs. Those are ways that I treat myself like a beloved friend. I don’t have any major nuggets of wisdom to offer, but I hope that anyone who feels perfectionism creeping up, like I do right now, can treat themselves with kindness (and when that’s hard, reach out to kind people). Be of good courage!

Being a Body

I had my first “Bodies and Theology” class today. It was great. Apropos of my last post, we started class with theatre-influenced movement exercises. At one point, the professor (who is wonderful) asked us to walk like dogs. While my classmates remained upright, I dropped to the floor and scurried around like a puppy. I got to be silly–and there is exhilarating bravery in silliness. We also created some body sculptures, an exercise borrowed from the Theatre of the Oppressed. Posing together without any foreplanning, we attempted to convey the concepts of “knowledge,” “theology,” and “God” through our bodies. 

“God” was the most challenging; our professor invited those who weren’t part of the sculpture to modify it. They joined our hands together until we formed a circle. As a result, the body sculpture that started as a vision of disconnected hierarchy (one person standing, others kneeling and cowering), became an image of connection and interdependence. A very different understanding of God. Rich discussion arose from the choices that we made to represent each idea, the beliefs and biases that they revealed. 

In this class, we are invited to discover God as people with physical bodies. Christianity isn’t traditionally good at that, so I’m excited about this opportunity. It also feels good to have a break from the intensely cerebral space of other classes. When we shared our reasons for taking the Bodies class, I said that I wanted to work on being ‘present’ as a body and to experience things without immediately intellectualizing them. For those who follow my kink journey, that’s also a goal I have for my current exploration of submission. My Dominant said early on that she wanted to see me “feeling without thinking.” What a terrifying thought!

Thinking and feeling are my bread and butter. My strong feelings are normally mediated through intellectual, critical thought, which is useful most of the time. It can, however, lead to a sense of distance from my body when I most want to be present, as if I’m more of a brain floating along than a full being. It sometimes means that sexual experiences feel ‘hotter in hindsight,’ more intensely erotic after I’m removed from the situation than in the moment. I hope that the movement and physicality that this class requires, my continued kink exploration, and the interplay between those two different realms will encourage me to enjoy my body and connect with the Divine in a new way–as an embodied person.