wherein i write about sex. (5 tangible tools of a pleasure activist)

i started this blog the night beyonce’s album came out. i didn’t know her album was coming, and beyonce didn’t know she was unleashing a soundtrack to this moment of my life. that convergence was so special that i had to pause writing this and spend two months learning the flawless dance and wondering, among other things, exactly what kind of feminism i am interested in. i decided that i am interested in a sexual, complex, whole person, imperfect feminism, one full of mothers, single people, married people and poly people, sex workers. women who make quality work and create systems to liberate their creativity. women as powerful as tina turner and other survivors of domestic violence. women who like to submit, talk dirty, shock even themselves. women who like to dominate, operate outside of gender norms, women willing to disagree and sit in discomfort and hold their power and their ground, women willing to grow and learn in public. it is in that spirit that i return to this blog entry.

here goes:

i don’t talk about sex enough here!

anyone who knows me in real life knows that the sensual, sexual, erotic perspective is a primary lens through which i see the world. and yet i struggle with how to integrate that self with the one here who speaks about transformation, babies, grief, growth…

but the link is all in the body as a practice ground for transformation.

i had a dream the other night. i boarded a train for a cross country journey with my friend evans, which is important only because he is a sexy beast. i was quickly recruited for a burlesque show, and i auditioned in a clear plastic belt and little else. the person running the auditions said, ‘to do this job you have to l.o.v.e. love your body!’, and i responded, ‘oh I do. i do love my body. i love my body!’ i woke up murmuring this to myself. (note: can you see how the lyrics ‘i woke up like this: flawless’ struck me with joy?)

now that’s an awesome dream outside of any analysis. but it is particularly awesome when you understand that my focus for personal transformation for the last few years (roughly 30+ years or so) has been learning to love my body, or more precisely, falling in love with myself through the terrain of my body. this dream made me feel that my focus is restructuring and healing me at the level of my subconscious…if i understand anything about the mysterious realm of dreams.

it is still work, daily. thousands of choices, opposing values and longings, moments of slipping, days of feeling super active and strong, days of feeling lazy and slothlike. i sit at the crux of an apparent contradiction: wanting to debunk the mythology (with my middle finger held high) that skinny = good/healthy, AND wanting to reclaim agency from the national practices of emotional eating, oversized portions, sedentary lifestyles, fast non-food, pharmaceutical concoctions over cooking, and corporate success over nutrition. slowly, surely, i am changing habits that will liberate me from my socialization.

but here’s the key: it started with pleasure, not with dieting and exercise. i had to love what is before i could understand what transformations were wanted, needed. and i’ve been feeling so loving in my body lately that i want to be more explicit around my pleasure activist practices. lots of them fall under the umbrella of sex. really good sex.

are you ready for that? if not, skip to my last blog which is probably about transformation or sci fi. no judgment here.

for those still here…hi….:-)

here are five tangible tools which should work regardless or any aspect of your identity, or the current state of your pleasure activism. they are in a sort of chronological order:

1. self-love. since i was a kid i have had a penchant and passion for my touch on my body. this was sometimes shameful, sometimes wonderful, and deeply private from fairly early on, as i received messages from family and neighbors that it wasn’t ‘right’. it has only been as an adult, as i have witnessed every single child i have ever met come into pleasureful awareness of their bodies, that i have understood that it was a natural part of growing into my body. in my early twenties i learned about pleasure activism: acting from an analysis that pleasure should be a natural, safe and liberated part of life – and that we can offer each other tools and education to make sure sex and drugs and other pleasures aren’t life threatening, but life enriching. my self-touch took on a political power. i started saying ‘an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away’, and i was in joyful practice for my own health. toys? yay! but i also worked to ensure that my own touch was effective. i was mostly single during this period, with lovers as they came and went. i now know that i was mostly single because i needed to reach a certain level of healing from earlier experiences of sexual trauma in school. it also became clear to me that if more people were encouraged to masturbate early and often, to learn what feels good to them and that they have the right to communicate that, there would be less sexual trauma, assault, patriarchy, misogyny and general awkwardness.

2. orgasmic meditation. this was a more recent practice connected to self-love. i went to a meeting of an unrelated group in a space in san francisco that focused on orgasmic meditation, among other things. i remember being in the space and sort of on edge. it is not unusual to end up in a room in california where people are talking openly about sex and even having it with each other, but i felt young and flustered by the idea of a room full of people bringing each other to orgasm and very glad my meeting had nothing to do with that. but the idea stayed in my head and a couple years ago i came across it again in my random explorations of the entire internet. i watched a few videos where folks explained the method: stroking the upper left quadrant of the clitoris to bring a person to orgasm. the focus on just that one place, following the breath patterns and emotional process of the recipient, and the power of the orgasm as a form of meditation and spiritual practice – all of it was fairly titillating to me. by this time though, i was thousands of miles from san francisco, with no one around i felt comfortable asking to stroke me just so without, you know, making it a whole thing. so i decided to see what happened if i just did it for myself. i did a fifteen minute practice every morning before anything else in my day for a few months. what i experienced was that every one of my orgasms had a different emotional flavor, like an experiential snowflake. and that i didn’t always need to reach an orgasm in that fifteen minutes – sometimes not releasing yielded a more energized day. starting my day with this practice made everything else go better, feel lighter and healthier, and generally increased my personal and interpersonal joy. i have still never attended their classes or done it with a group…we’ll see. but as a solo practice i return to this one if ever i feel i am in a funk.

3. self-pornography. this is also an extension of the self-love practice, but has a lot of it’s own specifications. i don’t fit the standard for american pornography or american desire. i have traveled to other places where i have been celebrated immediately for my size and shape, my color. but not so in the u.s. most pornography here offers the choice of brunettes, redheads, or blondes, or the ‘exotic’ options of asian or black women, all having sex with white men, or for lesbian porn white women, or in really freaky stuff, black men. perhaps you can feel the yawn in that sentence, pardon me. but i realized that if i wanted to truly be radical in the world, truly see white and skinny as one way people are born as opposed to the physical supreme, which pours over into every other aspect of life, i had to decolonize my desire. i had to learn to desire myself, my body, my skin, my rhythms, my pleasure. i took pictures at first. the pictures weren’t necessarily explicit in the beginning. they were just selfies, before instagram. i started with my face – how did i look smiling? happy? turned on? shut down? laughing? i took photos of every part of myself until i felt i knew more about my body, could tolerate myself, even like what i saw. then it was time for short videos. i would create the videos during moments of self-love, and then use them the next time i felt like touching myself. these videos were not shared, they were not for anyone else’s eyes, opinions or desires. that was radically important. the energy of them was purely self adoration. i dated a woman once who told me she had done sexual healing work to get to a place of screaming out her own name when she orgasmed. i let that concept be a guide. how much could i love myself, literally?

the results were life changing. this practice changed the way i dressed, the way i walked, the way i flirted, the way i made love to others, the way i spoke…because i had seen, heard and felt my power. i mean both my physical, earthly power, and the divine power inside of this body, this light brown, big, queer, glasses-wearing body. it wasn’t ego, it was sitting with what is and finding beauty. and now no one could take that from me, however they might regard my body. i was a pleasure unto myself, i was a guaranteed delight in my own hands and my own eyes. it was, and continues to be, magnificent.

4. developing erotic awareness. this section could also be called staying curious. it can get rote. you learn the way to release whatever is building up in your body, alone or with others, and you return and walk that path over and over, because you know it will satisfy your need. this parallels with other aspects of life – you can learn what works and keep doing it and get by. but bringing curiosity into your sexual relationship with yourself and your lovers is related to the spiritual practice of cultivating a beginner’s mind. as often as possible, i approach the experience of sex as if it is my first time feeling my flesh, feeling myself awaken. in my 30s this has led me to discover a whole new landscape of pleasure in my body, and then be able to clearly let my lover know when it feels good, how it feels good, and what adjustments to make. i used to have lines in the sand, places of judgment. these would usually form in my mouth like, ‘oh i would never (insert activity i simply hadn’t tried yet here)’. but i have been opening up, learning that the realm of desire is actually one of the most honest territories that can exist in the relationship with myself or anyone else. ‘haven’t tried yet’ allows so much more eroticism than ‘never!’, believe me. having curiosity, wanting to know what i desire, and why, and what effect it has on me to follow the desire, has led to an erotic reimagining of my life. audre lorde has a brilliant piece of work called the uses of the erotic, which i have been reading and listening to over and over. she talks about how one taste of the truly erotic, the feeling of moving from a blank world to one full of color and sensation, makes it impossible to settle for suffering. it raises the bar on every aspect of life. this curiosity in my body and my pleasure has helped me to clarify what kind of life work i enjoy and don’t enjoy. just as obligation is not a great motivator for intimacy and pleasure, i find i can’t live my life doing work that feels like i am obligated to do it because of other people’s expectations. i thrive when the work has elements of pleasure, titllation, total presence. that work might itself appear mundane or tedious to others – it includes housework, exercise, cooking, shoveling my car out of snow, honest conversations, facilitation, family visits. as long as i can see the glimmer of life in it. sometimes the glimmer is so bright, and i feel utterly alive. i realize that in the present moment, i am free, i am a body of sensations and memories and dreams, energies and spirits and ancestors, totally complex and utterly free. erotic awareness, for me, is coming into an aliveness in your felt senses that is quite beyond the material world.

5. talk about sex. blush and fumble, ask questions, let the words fall out of my mouth. one of my favorite aspects of the beyonce album is how it has led to really beautiful, powerful, nuanced, honest sex conversations with people in my life of all different ages, backgrounds, politics and sexualities. sex is the most common behavior amongst humans after birth breathing sleeping and death, and too often we still feel shame or bite our tongues when it comes up. now some degree of secrecy increases the heat, for me at least, tho i don’t know if that is just the last whisp of some demure virgo dynamic. i won’t tell you of my lover then, the specific things she does with me. but i will say i am having the best sex of my life, and it isn’t an accident. it is because of years of practice and hard work. it is because of friends who saw me having the most unhealthy sex of my life in my 20s and said honey girl no. it is because i have been blessed with lovers who were tender and taught me things and let us explore together. it is because of periods of intentional celibacy (a whole other practice and blog post) in my life. and it is because of each practice above.

i think it is important that we hold space for each other to feel good, to be touched in whatever ways bring us pleasure. i notice the impact it has on people i care about when erotic healing, self-love, and the tender touch of a lover, or a few lovers, is needed. i think this is yet another place to apply the wisdom of grace lee boggs, ‘transform yourself to transform the world’. i believe that if everything else in the world stayed the same, but every single person deepened their physical and spiritual practices of self-love and great sex, the domino effect would be a revolution of our understanding of our purpose here. suffering is a massively important and absolutely true part of life, a spiritual reality. but i deeply believe we were not placed on this gorgeous sensational planet to suffer. it is not the point.

a coach recently told me, ‘what is easy is sustainable’. i have been thinking, what feels good is sustainable. when my body feels good, my life feels good, and i want to keep going, and fight for my right to exist and love and grow and evolve. this is true whether it is in the context of a meeting, or a relationship, or a night of love making. that doesn’t mean the absence of discomfort or awkwardness or hard conversations or learning. but the majority experience should be presence – being fully alive. and i think that comes from experiencing ease, pleasure, connection. as nina sang: ‘feelin’ good’.

so…go forth and ‘turn that cherry out’!

🙂

and yes, i am blushing.

inspiration chain mail abundance

several people recently sent me a chain email that had me send an inspirational quote to a stranger (mostly – i knew some of the people which was also a thrill), and add my name to a list to receive some inspiration. i then passed it on to others who passed it along and as a result have had a gorgeous inbox for the past week or so. i wanted to share here some of the quotes and poems that moved me.

quotes:

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi

“Chance favors the prepared mind.”

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

“Leap – and the net will appear.”

‘It is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender.’ – Jenny Holzer

“This is brain surgery so don’t go in there with an ax”

“I used to have an ego, but now I’m perfect.” – Geologic

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Geothe

“The only person standing in your way is you.”

“Let yourself be silently drawn toward the stronger pull of what you really love.” – Rumi

“Never try, never know.”

“Thrown away where? The world is round.” – Luciente from Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

“I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do. I’m going to go out like a fucking meteor!” ~ Audre Lorde

“The white fathers told us, I think therefore I am; and the black mothers in each of us-the poet-whispers in our dreams, I feel therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary awareness and demand, the implementation of that freedom. However, experience has taught us that the action in the now is also always necessary. Our children cannot dream unless they live, they cannot live unless they are nourished, and who else will feed them the real food without which their dreams will be no different from ours?” – Audre Lorde

“The process of finding the truth may not be a process by which we feel increasingly better and better. It may be a process by which we look at things honestly, sincerely, truthfully, and that may or may not be an easy thing to do.” – Adyashanti, Bliss is a By-Product

“There are certain emotions in your body that not even your best friend can sympathize with, but you will find the right film or the right book, and it will understand you.” ? Björk

“Today I will experience love of self, love of others, love of planet, and love of God in all of my actions.”

“Pleasure is the ultimate rebellion…”–Lydia Lunch

?”You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon ?

“You are not crazy. You are just ready to change.” –Nnedi Okorafor

“Compassion is the tender opening of our hearts to pain and suffering. When compassion arises in us, we see and acknowledge what we often push away – the parts of life that cause us sadness, anger, or outrage. The powerful awakening of our own compassion can tune us not just to the nurturing and sustaining forces of the world, but to the oppressive and destructive ones as well. When we open to these directly and become familiar with them, instead of avoiding them as we often do, we are more likely to hear ways to respond with love and support to relieve the suffering.” – Ram Dass

“I’ll not widow the world.
I’ll tell my human
tale, tell it against
the current of that vaster, that
inhuman telling.”
—Li-Young Lee

“I found god in myself and I loved her, I loved her fiercely.” ~ Ntozake Shange

poems:

    Kindness

Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing
inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

? Naomi Shihab Nye, Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

    Sonnet

Bill Knott

The way the world is not
astonished at you
it doesn’t blink a leaf
when we step from the house
leads me to think
that beauty is natural, unremarkable
and not to be spoken of
except in the course of things
the course of singing and worksharing
the course of squeezes and neighbors
the course of you, tying back your raving hair to go out
and the course, of course, of me
astonished at you
the way the world is not.

    Coal

by Audre Lorde

I
Is the total black, being spoken
From the earth’s inside.
There are many kinds of open.
How a diamond comes into a knot of flame
How a sound comes into a word, coloured
By who pays what for speaking.

Some words are open
Like a diamond on glass windows
Singing out within the crash of passing sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
In a perforated book—buy and sign and tear apart—
And come whatever wills all chances
The stub remains
An ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
Breeding like adders. Others know sun
Seeking like gypsies over my tongue
To explode through my lips
Like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
Bedevil me.

Love is a word another kind of open—
As a diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am black because I come from the earth’s inside
Take my word for jewel in your open light.

    Phenomenal Woman

BY MAYA ANGELOU

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

    On Love

Khalil Gibran
(note, two people sent this one to me)

But if in your fear you would seek only
love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover
your nakedness and pass out of love’s
threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you
shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,
and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes
naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say,
“God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am
in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course
of love, for love, if it finds you worthy,
directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfil
itself.
But if you love and must needs have
desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook
that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding
of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart
and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate
love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the
beloved in your heart and a song of praise
upon your lips.

    On Joy and Sorrow

Kahlil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

    Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott