Simon Says

This thought was already rattling around in my brain before I saw that this week’s Wicked Wednesday prompt is “Authentic,” but reading that word clarified why the thought needles me. I will illustrate through anecdotes (note: some overthinking and self-deprecation here).

I have an unusual skill, which is that I’m very good at “Simon Says” (that childhood game where you have to follow “Simon’s” orders, but only if they specify “Simon says”–I could see this going in a smutty direction some time, but not today). I once won a Simon Says competition, beating over a hundred people (I knew not to stop spinning when the next command was given).

My skills had been honed by theatre camp. My first director was a champion Simon; she would call out commands at lightning speed, sometimes tacking “Simon says” onto the end to catch us off-guard or making the wrong motion. The only way one “Simon” was able to best me was by tricking me (“Simon says do this,” he said, while my eyes were closed; I opened my eyes, of course). I wasn’t just good at Simon Says; I also fared well as a statue when we played “Museum guard.” The object of that game was to be the last statue standing while the guards walked through, trying to get you to unfreeze (usually by making you laugh). 

As I look back on that time, I find it interesting that while I struggled with improv games, I was unusually good at games that required me to be focused, still, silent, and obedient, a blank slate. I didn’t even particularly like them, but I liked the simplicity they fostered and the success of winning. 

Very occasionally, I wonder, “Is that my authentic self?” It unsettles me. I don’t want to feel trapped in one mode, which those games required. I don’t want to be shamed by an inability to act decisively when I need to. I’m not clay waiting to be molded; I have my own base characteristics and agency (right?). I want to be authentic, but when I overthink, I worry that my authentic self isn’t someone that I want to be.  

What I believe to be true most of the time is that I actually have many authentic selves, and I don’t have to stick with just one. I can enjoy entering that flow state of obedience without worry, as long as I feel ethical (as when I devote hours playing techie, helping a friend to edit a musical piece to her exact specifications). I can greatly enjoy being a focused, vigilant presence–I carry basic first aid supplies around for a reason. Today, I gave two classmates Neosporin. One compared me to Mary Poppins. #Goals. I also like to be mischievous and silly. I drew enormous eyeballs on the common room white board this afternoon (and got others to join in drawing!) just for the amusing thought that someone will discover them later. I sing to myself when I can. Last night, it was some mixture of “Heaven on Their Minds” and “Elendil’s Oath.” 

For me, the key to true authenticity is a system of ethics that I choose to live by–love, justice, compassion, and curiosity, to name a few. I am allowed to express those values in obedient, fierce, dramatic, quiet, aggressive, wise, and silly ways, without jeopardizing the core of who I want to be. I am many things, but as long as I strive to live out my values, I am authentic. For the moment, that means I get to draw all the eyeballs, sing all the songs, and follow to my heart’s content, but I will not be roped into another game of Simon Says any time soon. 

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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.

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