Category Archives: Multiculturalism

Weaving Sexts: Tapestry Artist Threads an Honest Portrait of Female Sexuality

Since approximately 300 BC, tapestries have been revered for their places on walls around the world, but their ancient history and ability to last for centuries doesn’t intimidate Erin M. Riley. For the past few years, Riley has investigated internet culture through the historic art of weaving. Using her own nude selfies, fan-submitted images, and internet porn, Riley has created a series of tapestries that redefine the artform completely. In a world where Snapchat nudes disappear in seconds, Riley documents vulnerable modern moments with a medium that lasts.

In depicting her own body and sexuality, Riley has learned a lot about feminism, herself, and the internet. Her work is exceptionally honest in its portrayal of female sexuality and the cultural obsession with images of the self. Riley’s new series, 18/bi/f/ma, opened last week at Brilliant Champions Gallery.

The collection, her largest yet—some tapestries are as large as 8′ x 8’—depicts important and traumatic moments from Riley’s personal life and deals with the artist’s battle with trichotillomania, a compulsion for pulling out one’s own hair. The Creators Project talked to Riley about growing up on the internet, weaving fans’ selfies, and how her art helped her learn to embrace her own body.

4am Hookup Prep. 

The Creators Project: You basically grew up on the internet, but you work in a millenniums-old medium. Can you tell me about that tension, and how you found your process while growing up?

Erin M. Riley: I spent a lot of time in chat rooms, socializing, but I was pretty solitary and I was also a maker. I was sewing from around age eight and working with beading and collage. I found weaving in college, so, pretty late.

How did you decide to incorporate the internet in your work?

I started using images of my childhood—35 millimeter photographs, basically. But then I was observing how life unfolded online and I came across this video of this person dying in a car accident. I realized that all these onlookers [were] recording the scene and no one was actually engaging and helping. The screen created this barrier that made people forget that they were human. It started to fascinate me how we feel freer to say things or to show things on the internet that we aren’t as comfortable doing in real life.

Why did you choose tapestry and not, for example, photography?

I found myself obsessing over every image I ever sent and received. They were all very precious to me and I always treasured the power or the significance of being sent an image, either a nude or just a passing memory of someone, especially because I didn’t grow up with iPhones. I grew up [when] you couldn’t send pictures easily, so it was always cool to get a photo. Weaving is really slow, and I wanted to commemorate images that I felt connected to.

Black Toys

When fans send you images online, how do their stories inspire you?

They always have this level of like excitement and empowerment. I try to anonymize the image. I change the background, maybe the hair, to make them more universal. But they’re excited, maybe a little bit turned on or titillated by the idea. Sending an image to me turns it into art rather than sexual harassment. It’s awesome to be sent an image that someone wants to share.

How did your relationship to your work or to your body change when you started weaving your own nudes?

It’s definitely made it easier to look at my body because I’ve spent hundreds of hours weaving [it], my tattoos, and everything. It’s made it easier to accept it and to embrace it.

The Beginning

Can you tell me the story behind the piece 4am Hookup Prep?

I have always been, I don’t know if promiscuous is the right word, but constantly texting multiple people at a time, especially at that time. That particular night, I was texting and getting ready to leave, and had to shave my legs and cut myself really bad. I kind of came out of the frenzy of hormones and excitement and realizeed I’m a person and I have to be careful.

If you could have a dream guest on a discussion panel, who would you choose? Which artists have particularly influenced this show?

There was recently an article with Marilyn Minter and Betty Tompkins talking about working with the body and sex and the art world’s response to it. I think those would be dream people to have around. I’d also like the younger generation, people like Petra Collins. This younger generation is using their bodies so freely. [They] grew up really embracing themselves in a different way than I did. I’m curious if that has to do with the fact that they had the internet from the beginning.

What’s next for you?

Right now i’m working on more self-portraits. I’m trying to be more painterly with my work, like more gestural. Sometimes I use flat planes of color and I want to make it more juicy or messier, which is technically hard. And I’m continuing my porn series that I’ve been doing for a while.

 

By Francesca Caposella

5 Things Straight Girls Should Know Before Experimenting With Their Sexuality

It’s one of those days when you and your friends have gathered to catch up after all the adulting you’ve done over the past couple of weeks.

All of you are sipping, or modestly chugging, that glass of wine. These days are perfect for basking in each other’s gossip, talking about unnecessary shit and perhaps discussing the recklessness that has happened the past few days.

“Oh-my-god guys, I met this amazing guy on Tinder” one of my friends states excitedly as she inhales the remainder of her wine. “Please do tell and show me pictures!” I shrieked with intrigue consuming me. She continues telling us about her experience so far with this new guy and automatically we are all excited for the fresh meat in our friend’s life. “I swear, I’m going to start dating women if this one doesn’t work out,” my friend laughs innocently as she shares this with us. “I mean, Guisell seems to have so much fun, right?”

Of course, by this point, I pour half the bottle of wine into my glass to try to block out such a comment. However, my signature Latina glare shoots out into them and I reply, “No babes, it isn’t necessarily a better route.”

See, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard a straight girl say she will “go gay” if it doesn’t work out within her straight world. I actually hear it quite often. Now, I would like to give a heads up to my straight ladies before they dive into the wonderful world of the lezzies, so they know what they’re getting into.

Myth 1: Women always understand.

Err. False. My beautiful lady friends, women aren’t always as understanding. In fact, I’ve dealt with some top-of-the-line insensitive characters in my time. Just as in any regular relationship, effort and constant communication is also stressed in our world. Without such behaviors, we too will go into the emotional roller coaster everyone dislikes.

Myth 2: A woman knows what another woman likes.

As much as I love that we lezzies are put in such a pedestal that may be far from the truth. Okay, it is understood that good sex derives from many factors but I believe that one that is really important is actual shared sexual chemistry between both partners. It’s unrealistic to think that because I am a lesbian, I will have great sex with another woman. If only you all knew about the unpleasant sexual moments I’ve had with other women, you’d realize how far-fetched that thought is.

Look, just because we both have graduated into lady love-making, does not guarantee an experience that will be satisfied for both or any of the parties involved. So, my straight babies, the possibility that it won’t be mind-blowing sex exists.

Myth 3: Lesbianism is a hobby.

Lesbianism, or sexuality for that matter, is not something that you decide one day to take up. Consider thinking about the other woman, who presumably is  a lesbian who might fall for you. That lovely lez is willing to be your experiment, but at what price? Do not treat your fifth heartbreak of the month as an excuse to dismantle another person’s heart. You didn’t like your heart being juggled with, so why should our community take a hit for your questionable coping mechanism?

Are you ready to go down there?

Like, are you really? You can’t possibly believe that you “going gay” will mean it’s only a receiving situation. So yes, I know some women who prefer to please their ladies, but it isn’t necessarily that way all the time.

Are you ready to kiss the forbidden lips that haven’t been available to you up until this moment? Are you truly sure you want to participate in the giving and receiving of magical orgasms simultaneously? Darling, doesn’t that sound appetizing? If it doesn’t, is “going gay” after this boy possibly breaks your heart still an option?

Explore your sexuality because you actually want to.

I am all for the exploration of sexuality. In fact, most times I don’t believe we should limit ourselves to just one label just for the sake of easier categorization within our world.

Sure, I mainly identify as a lesbian but I am aware that sexuality, at the end of the day, is fluid. If you are feeling curious, please go try it. Do not feel ashamed of your urges or your desire to trample some unknown terrain. You never know, steering away from what you know might just be where your happiness lies. Just make sure to try to not hurt anyone along way intentionally. Also, please and I cannot stress this enough: BE SAFE!

My lovely people, we are living in a world where so much is readily available, including exploration of sexuality. Let’s just try to not use people for your cause and be honest with your intentions. So, tell me, should I be picking you up anytime soon?

Gender and sexuality in Asia today

The rapid economic change in Asia challenges the traditional division of labour between women working in the private, family domain and men in commerce and politics. Greater participation by women in politics, while uneven in different countries across the region, has reshaped agendas for social change. The dynamism that we observe in contemporary Asia, among other things, has a deep gender dimension.

 

But it’s not only the roles of men and women that are being redefined. The seemingly immutable images of masculinity and femininity are also in flux, accelerated by the commercialisation of popular culture and the new technologies that have made its spread unstoppable. Although the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is still struggling to gain wider acceptance in most countries, it too has made strides in challenging the hegemonic status of heterosexuality.

In the area of body politics, where state and religious groups still exert enormous influence, women have been resisting and even appropriating the debate to put forward their own agenda. The search for employment or new life opportunities has also driven thousands of women to migrate, legally or illegally, within Asia as brides, labourers, traders or sex workers, bringing about a cross-cultural exchange of gender role norms

In the midst of this change, there have been encouraging legal reforms that recognise the rights of women, exemplified in the abolition of various patriarchal laws such as South Korea’s family-head system,  the enactment of equal opportunity laws and the lifting of bans on women in the military. The recent amendment to Japan’s civil code, allowing women to remarry immediately after divorcing, marks another move from a major player in the region to ensure equal rights for women under the law. Yet old discriminatory norms and practices persist and are further complicated by regional political and economic developments.

The latest issue of East Asia Forum Quarterly, edited by Hyaeweol Choi and Tessa Morris-Suzuki, brings together prominent scholars of gender studies from various countries and disciplines to explore the diversity and complexity of issues of gender and sexuality in contemporary Asia. The essays touch on major developments that have caused shifts in gender relations. They illustrate the tensions between structural violence against women and women’s own agency in negotiating male-dominated social arrangements.

The main message is that gender politics do not merely reflect societal shifts. They drive the political, economic and cultural changes that are shaping the Asian region today.

Katharine Moon, in her lead essay on women and East Asian politics this week, reckons that there is no coherent pattern to boast or model to export. Economic development is not the silver bullet for women’s political empowerment.

‘East Asians are known for creating wealth nationally and personally but this does not necessarily produce women’s political empowerment or participation’, she observes. ‘One of the poorest countries in the world, Rwanda, sits atop the very wealthy Nordic states, the United States and newly rich Asia with the highest female representation in national politics worldwide’.

In East Asia, the Philippines has the highest representation of women in political institutions, she says. Nearly 30 per cent of the seats in Philippines’ lower house are held by women, with another 25 per cent held in the upper house. In local politics, women also fare well, with 17 out of 80 provinces having voted for female governors in 2013. Since 2010, women have also made up 40–45 per cent of the highest civil service positions.

Of all East Asian societies, the Philippines is also the most advanced in integrating women’s rights and development through legal codes and administrative practices. The Local Government Code of 1991 deepened democratisation by decentralising power and by requiring all local and provincial governments to include women, and other underrepresented groups, in governance.

By contrast, Japan, the wealthiest country in the region, falls far behind, with women holding only 11.5 per cent of nationally elected offices as of April 2016 and a mere 3 per cent of the senior-level positions in central government ministries and agencies as of early 2014, Moon reports. Yet in the last two national elections (2013 and 2014), women made up about 53 per cent of the voters.

It’s not that women aren’t choosing to pursue careers, sometimes at the expense of  family, in ever increasing numbers. The low fertility rate in Japan is primary evidence of that. But they are not choosing political careers and their position in the upper hierarchies of the workplace has not improved significantly despite the rhetoric onwomenomics.  While there is now a broad acceptance that Japan’s economy needs women in the workforce, institutional models and social norms still need to catch up.

There are enormous barriers to women’s making it to the top in Japan in any career, and especially in politics. Childcare remains a sticky issue  in a country in which social norms still dictate that women are the primary child carers. So does the ‘one -size-fits-all’ structure and entrenched culture of overtime and social networking in the Japanese workplace. Workplaces that accommodate the diverse needs of their female, and indeed their male, employers such as at Rakuten or Suntory, for example, are the refreshing rarity not yet the norm. This workplace culture is entrenched in the political world which is entered commonly only as a second career move. Academia and entertainment are perhaps the most likely apprenticeships to a political career given the weakness in institutional and cultural support for female participation in the workplace in other careers.

Quotas or targets for women in politics in Asia are rare, although South Korea, as Moon points out, does now have an electoral quota system which requires political parties to include at least 30 per cent of female candidates in their district nominations and 50 per cent of appointed proportional representatives. South Korea’s National Assembly election of April 2016 yielded 49 female members, or 17 per cent of available elected seats — a record high. In China, where the ideology has supported workplace and political participation, the record has become worse. Women form small minorities at all levels of the political system: 21 per cent of the Chinese Communist Party and 23 per cent of national civil service jobs.

As Moon concludes, ‘East Asia, with China at the centre, may be on the rise, [but] it still lags behind in terms of women’s rights and political representation’. And yet the forces for change are ever more powerful, in Japan, South Korea and perhaps soon in China, not because these countries have grown great and rich but because they have grown old and can no longer afford to throw away the untapped productive capacities of the female half of their working population to work through the demographic challenges they face.

A brief history of sex and sexuality in Ancient Greece

The sexual habits of people in Ancient Greece – from prostitution to pillow talk – are explored in a new book written by Paul Chrystal. Exploring the many layers of sex and sexuality in various Greek societies – from the Minoan civilisation through to Sparta and Hellenistic Greece – In Bed with the Ancient Greeks examines homosexuality, pederasty, mythological sex and sex in Greek philosophy and religion

Here, writing for History Extra, Chrystal briefly explores the history of sex in Ancient Greece…

Please note this article contains sexually explicit content

In the beginning was sex. To the ancient Greek mythologisers, sexuality, love and sex were inextricably connected with the creation of the earth, the heavens and the underworld. Greek myth was a theogony of incest, murder, polygamy and intermarriage in which eroticism and fertility were elemental; they were there right from the start, demonstrating woman’s essential reproductive role in securing the cosmos, extending the human race and ensuring the fecundity of nature.

Simultaneously, Zeus, the top god, wasted no time in asserting his dominance over the other gods (both male and female). His cavalier attitude towards female sexuality, as manifested in serial rape and seduction (Zeus raped Leda, daughter of the Aetolian king Thestius, in the guise of a swan; raped Danae, a princess of Argos, disguised as the rain, and raped Ganymede, a male mortal) set a precedent for centuries of mortal male domination and female subservience. The depiction of Hera [wife of Zeus and queen of the ancient Greek gods] as a distracting, duplicitous and deceptive woman opened the door for centuries of male insecurity about women, and misogyny.


Michelangelo’s ‘Leda and the Swan’. Found in the collection of Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Bergamo. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

The Minoans

Our earliest evidence for ancient Greek sexuality comes with the Minoans (approximately 3650 to 1400 BC). Women at this time were only partly dressed – the main items of clothing were short-sleeved robes that had layered, flounced skirts; these were open to the navel, leaving the breasts exposed. Women also wore a strapless fitted bodice, the first fitted garments known in history.

Women were typically depicted as having a tiny waist, full breasts, long hair and full hips: to our eyes and ears this is sexually charged and provocative, but to a Minoan probably not so. On the contrary, the voluptuous figure may have been a means by which women, and their artists, expressed their gender and status rather than male artists simply idealising female sexuality for their own delectation, satisfying a prurient male voyeurism. Women in Minoan Crete, it seems, were able to celebrate their femininity.

The body shape described above re-emerged during the mid-late 1800s, when women laced themselves into tight corsets to make their waists small and wore hoops under their skirts to exaggerate the proportions of their lower body.


Minoan civilization, 2nd millennium BC. Reconstruction of the fresco of the procession, found in the Palace of Knossos. Detail of young men carrying offerings to a goddess. (Photo by DEA/G DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini/Getty Images)

 

Pederasty

Pederasty in Greece probably originated with the Cretans. Cretan pederasty was an early form of paedophilia that involved the ritual kidnapping (harpagmos) of a boy from an elite background by an aristocratic adult male, with the consent of the boy’s father. This adult male was known as philetor, befriender; the boy was kleinos, glorious. The man took the boy out into the wilderness, where they spent two months hunting and feasting with friends learning life skills, respect and responsibility. It is generally assumed that the philetor would begin having sex with the boy soon after taking him out into the wilds.

If the boy was pleased with how this went he changed his status from kleinos toparastates, or comrade, signifying that he had metaphorically fought in battle alongside his philetor; he then went back to society and lived with him.

The philetor would shower the boy with expensive gifts, including an army uniform, an ox to be sacrificed to Zeus, and a drinking goblet – a symbol of spiritual accomplishment. At the same time, according to the geographer Strabo, the boy then had to choose between continuing with or putting an end to the relationship with his abductor, and whether to denounce the man if he had misbehaved in any way.

Satyrs and satyriasis

Satyrs, depicted in Greek mythology as beast-like men with a horse’s tail, donkey’s ears, upturned pug nose, receding hairline and erect penis, have a reputation for being inveterate masturbators with a penchant for rape, sodomy and necrophilia. A satyr was a true party animal with an insatiable passion for dancing, women and wine. Satyrs were experts on the aulos, a phallic-shaped double reed instrument; some vase paintings show satyrs ejaculating while playing, and one even shows a bee deftly avoiding the discharge in mid-flight. Another vase illustrates a hirsute satyr masturbating while shoving a dildo of sorts into his anus.

Apart from inspiring some wonderful depictions on ceramics, satyrs have left us the word satyriasis, which means hypersexuality – classified today in the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) as satyriasis in men and as nymphomania in women (in 1951 it was still listed as a “sexual deviation”). The wordsatyriasis appears frequently in the works of medical authors of the Roman empire who describe a condition no doubt prevalent for centuries previously. For example, Soranus contends that the “itching” felt in the genitals that makes women “touch themselves” increases their sexual urge and causes “mental derangement” and an immodest desire for a man. Greek physician Galen called it “uterine fury”, furor uterinus.

 

 

Achilles and Briseis

Epic [the Iliad] gives us one of our earliest surviving expressions of heterosexual love; it comes from a rather surprising source – from battle-hardened, Homeric war hero, alpha male Achilles.

Achilles uncharacteristically wears his heart on his sleeve when he reveals how much he loves Briseis in Book 9 of the Iliad, referring to her as if she were his wife. The beautiful and intelligent Briseis first encountered Achilles when he ruthlessly slaughtered her father, mother, three brothers and husband during a Greek assault on Troy, before taking her as war booty. Achilles wiped out Briseis’ family so that she was utterly bereft and had only him to focus on.

To Achilles it was simply the right and decent thing to do to love your woman – an attitude, of course, that may have been at odds with some of the male audience members of Homer’s epic over the years.

 

Masturbation

To the ancient Greeks masturbation was a normal and healthy substitute for other sexual pleasures – a handy ‘safety valve’ against destructive sexual frustration. This may explain why there are so few references to it in the literature: it was common practice and did not merit much attention. Nevertheless, it may well have been deemed, publicly at least, to be the preserve of slaves, lunatics and other people considered to be lower down the social pecking order. Elite opinion would have regarded it, literally, as a waste of time and semen, since it was one of the prime cultural responsibilities of the Greek male to further the family line and extend the oikos, the household.

One term for masturbation in ancient Greece was anaphlao, a verb that comic playwright Aristophanes disparagingly used to describe the Spartans, who were “wankers”, in his comedy Lysistrata. The decidedly odd Greek philosopher Diogenes the Cynic routinely masturbated in public and defended his actions by saying “If only it were as easy to banish hunger by rubbing my belly”. Interestingly, Diogenes attracted censure not just for masturbating in public but also for eating in the agora – indicating perhaps that masturbating in a public place was regarded as no more serious a crime than eating in a public place.

Other ancient civilisations celebrated masturbation too. For example, a clay figurine of the 4th millennium BC from Malta shows a woman masturbating. In ancient Sumer [the first ancient urban civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq] masturbation – either solitary or with a partner – was thought to enhance potency. In ancient Egypt male masturbation when performed by a god was considered a creative or magical act: Atum was said to have created the universe by masturbating, and the ebb and flow of the Nile was attributed to the frequency of his ejaculations. Egyptian Pharaohs were required to masturbate ceremonially into the Nile.

 

Effeminacy and cross-dressing

Effeminacy in men was considered beyond the pale – para phusin or “outside nature”. It implied passivity and receptiveness, epithumein paschein – both weaknesses contrary to the proper sexual conduct of the Greek male who ought to be virile, dominant, penetrating and thrusting.

Cross-dressing had some surprising advocates. The heroic alpha-male Hercules, according to the Roman poet Ovid, indulged in a bout of cross-dressing with Omphale [queen of Lydia to whom Hercules was enslaved] Hercules put on Omphale’s clothes and Omphale dressed up in typically Herculean lion skin and wealded his club, which was symbolic of manhood and power. Surprisingly, perhaps, “lion-hearted” Achilles too was not averse to a spot of dressing up in women’s clothes, if it saved him from the call-up for the Trojan war.


Hercules and Omphale. Hercules was sold as a slave to Omphale, queen of Lydia, to atone for the murder of Iphitos. Hercules was forced to wear Omphale’s clothes and jewellery. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)

Pseudo-Apollodorus, in the Bibliotheca [a compendium of Greek myths and heroic legends], tells us that to help her son dodge the draft Thetis [Achilles’ mother] concealed him at the court of Lycomedes, king of Skyros. Disguised as a girl Achilles lived among Lycomedes’ daughters under the pseudonym Pyrrha, the red-haired girl. Achilles raped one of the daughters, Deidamia, and with her fathered a son, Neoptolemus.

Odysseus was told by the prophet Calchas that the Greeks would not capture Troy without Achilles’ support, so he went to Skyros masquerading as a peddler selling women’s clothes and jewellery with a shield and spear secreted in his wares. Achilles instantly took up the spear; Odysseus saw through his disguise as Pyrrha and persuaded him to join the Greek forces.

Another famous alpha male, Julius Caesar, was also involved in cross-dressing: apparently, aged 20, he lived the life of a girl in the court of King Nicomedes IV and was later referred to behind his back as the ‘queen of Bithynia’, and “every woman’s man and every man’s woman”. Suetonius described his long-fringed sleeves and loose belt as a bit odd, prompting statesman and dictator Sulla to warn everyone to “beware of the boy with the loose belt”.

By Paul Chrystal 

Gay man sues Chinese psychiatric hospital over ‘sexuality correction’

A gay man from northern China is suing a psychiatric hospital he alleges attempted to “cure” him of homosexuality with drugs, confinement and beatings.

The 32-year-old, who uses the assumed name Yu Hu, claims he was held against his will at the Zhumadian No 2 People’s hospital in Henan province in October last year. There, he was forced to undergo what doctors called “sexuality correction therapy”.

“During his confinement, Yu received coerced treatment, including medication and needle injections, as well as physical and verbal abuse,” Chinese media reported on Tuesday after a local court agreed to hear the fruit seller’s case.

His 25-year-old partner, who asked to be named only as Yang, told the Guardian Yu had been forcibly admitted to the hospital on 8 October after family members, including his wife, discovered he was gay.

About two weeks later, Yang raised the alarm after Yu asked to be rescued. Yang said he eventually secured his partner’s release with the help of Ah Qiang, a prominent LGBT rights activist from Guangdong province.

Homosexuality was legalised in China in 1997 and the country is home to an increasingly vocal gay community. Shanghai’s annual gay pride celebrations, which begin on Friday and have the theme “I Am Me”, are now in their eighth year.

But activists say some hospitals and doctors continue to prescribe drugs and use electroshock therapy as a bogus form of “conversion therapy”.

Last year, Channel 4’s Unreported World broadcast undercover footage showing employees at one clinic in the city of Tianjin administering electric shocks to a gay rights activist.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Yu declined to be interviewed.

Yang said the hospital’s actions had left Yu feeling traumatised and afraid. “He even has nightmares about being forced to take drugs and being beaten and tied up in the hospital.”

Yang said he hoped a legal victory would put Chinese hospitals offering “conversion therapy” out of business.

“I want to make it clear that homosexuality is not a disease. It cannot be cured. I want this to be a warning to those hospitals [that claim it can be].”

An official who answered the telephone at the offices of the hospital’s Communist party committee on Tuesday afternoon said they were not aware of the case and had yet to receive a summons from the court.

 

By Christy Yao

When forbidden sexuality meets unchanging religious tradition

(RNS) Multiple reports are surfacing that Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen’s profile was found on gay dating apps, that he had tried to pick up men and that on prior occasions he had patronized the Orlando club in which he massacred so many on Sunday (June 12).

If this is true, it matters a very great deal.

It might move the motivation for Mateen’s horrific act to a very different and psychologically more complex place in which one man’s inability to reconcile himself with his sexuality cost 49 other people their lives — and then cost him his own life.

It might end up making the motivation of the horrifying Orlando massacre look more like: I want you. God says I can’t want you. So I must kill you.

And it opens up the broader issue of the severe mental health challenges facing young people who discover, against the stern teachings of their religious traditions, that they are attracted to members of the same sex.

This intersection of religious authority and forbidden sexuality is a very dangerous one, and it must be navigated by all who are raised in religions that reject same-sex attraction and relationships. It is a problem in multiple religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and leaders in all religious traditions face the urgent responsibility to address it.

As a privileged married heterosexual and an evangelical Christian ethicist, I finally came to terms a few years ago with how terrible this problem is for LGBT Christians and embarked on a reconsideration process. It led me to a posture of solidarity and moved me to open up my traditionalist lifetime-covenantal-marital sexual ethic to include gay and lesbian unions. This was seen as a grave error by some of my fellow believers. But many LGBT people and their families were desperately grateful. It offered at least one way out of the impasse between traditional religion and sexuality.

Look at it this way. When a young person from a strict religious upbringing discovers the powerful force of his own sexuality, it is scary enough. But if that sexual interest flows toward people of the approved sex, religious authorities have at least a marginally comforting answer: You and your sexuality are normal, but you need to wait till you are married to have sex. It’s difficult, but it can be done. Pat on the back, and out you go.

But for lesbian, gay and bisexual young people, the answer is very different: You are not normal. Your sexuality is uniquely sinful, a rejection of God himself. You must repent and change. You can never act on these sexual attractions. How long must you wait to have a sexual or romantic relationship with someone you actually desire? Forever. You can never, ever, do it, or you will incur God’s wrath.

These answers come from all recognized and trusted authorities in the young person’s world — first parents, then also religious teachers and leaders, and finally most friends from church, synagogue or mosque. Quite often the answers are accompanied by the sternest, sometimes the cruelest, verbal, emotional and even physical violence. Even the very tentative declaration that a young person may be feeling some same-sex attractions can send religious parents and pastors through the roof. At best, relationships survive, but the person’s sexuality is rejected by those whose approval matters most.

So when the irresistible force of a forbidden sexual orientation runs into the immovable object of an ancient religious tradition, what is the affected person supposed to do?

A large number of young adults ultimately abandon their religious traditions as hazardous to their health. Some are in gay nightclubs early Sunday morning because they are welcome there — and would not be welcome in church eight hours later.

Others spend years attempting to conform their desires and behaviors to the religiously prescribed options, such as celibate singleness or heterosexual marriage, remaining in their religion at the cost of cauterizing their sexual identity.

Some ping-pong back and forth between these options, both of which they find agonizing and neither of which they can sustain.

Others eventually find peace in creating, or discovering, a version of their faith that can accommodate the sexuality they have, rather than the sexuality that the tradition demands they have. They find a place where they no longer have to choose. This is usually a very long and difficult process.

And it may be that one particularly troubled young man “solved” his problem over the weekend through mass murder.

So, to America’s orthodox religious leaders, I again ask:

Is the consistent, acute, totally predictable psychological distress caused to these young adults by your understanding of God’s moral rules a relevant consideration for your teaching and pastoring?

In light of this suffering and what is now known about human sexuality, do you still believe that this is what the God you are trying to serve really requires?

Might it be that some aspects of your understanding of sexual ethics are revisable rather than the eternal will of God?

Which of you will take some risks to get a serious conversation going about these issues in your faith community, on behalf of your own most vulnerable young people?

 

By David Gushee

Hold the orgasm: welcome to a tantric sex workshop

I entered the Tantra is Love women’s workshop wearing comfortable clothes, as instructed, clutching my notebook and water bottle. I forgot my pillow. They said we might need a pillow. Why? Am I going to be napping? Thrusting? Dry humping? No. The pillow was for sitting on and I subsequently regretted not having it with me.

I was drawn to Emma Power and Belinda Totino’s workshop because the sex my partner and I had been having didn’t feel like it was doing justice to the depths of intimacy we’d reached in our two-year-long relationship. Sex was a mad sprint toward orgasm: exhaustion, impatience and frustration at every turn. Appreciating one another didn’t factor and there were no medals at the end. So I took off my shoes and walked into the candlelit room, lined with nutritious snacks, flowers, and a group of other women quietly sitting with their own questions, concerns and motivations.

It turns out a quest similar to my own is what led Emma and Belinda to Tantra. They were tired of what they called “straight up Aussie sex”: treating the body as an object, making love to an idea, not a human being, struggling to reach orgasm and feeling disconnected from themselves and their partners. They wanted more. But they quickly discovered that Tantric principles don’t just apply to sex. Qualities like mindfulness, gratitude and reverence enhance every aspect of how we live our lives.
In Tantra, the aim of physical intimacy isn’t orgasm.

In Tantra, the aim of physical intimacy isn’t orgasm. Respecting sexual energy and learning how to harness it can be healing for men and women alike. For instance, strengthening the pelvic floor muscles through Kegel exercises and the use of jade eggs (which you insert into your yoni, Tantric word for vagina) is important for women because it allow us to use sexual energy safely.

The pelvic floor can move the energy around the body to revitalize it and encourage orgasm to implode, rather than explode out of the body and deplete it. Belinda walked us through some Kegel exercises – pull up, hold, release, pull up, hold, release – and on the last repetition, she asked us to continue drawing the muscles upward. The power of that action, like cupid’s arrow, shot straight to my heart and into my head. I was sitting still and felt absolutely invigorated. “It’s a miracle,” I quickly scribbled in my notebook. Imagine what would happen if I did this during sex.

Then there were lingam (Tantric word for penis) massage techniques re-enacted with oil on some of the largest carrots I’d ever seen. But prior to the appearance of an organic carrot, the instructions were to set up the space, ensuring that it’s warm and comfortable for all parties concerned. There may be cushions and candles and your Tantra is Love instruction booklet hidden somewhere between the blankets. Then you give a full body massage, while checking in with the recipient about pressure and reminding everyone to breathe.

Once you start exploring different techniques like “Tickle and Scratch”, “Peace Loving”, “Wax On, Wax Off” and “Mortar and Pestle”, you can move the sexual energy around the body with your fingertips. This process can go on for hours if you want it to, because it isn’t about a hard lingam, nor is it about ejaculation. If either of those things happen it’s okay, but they aren’t the aim.

When I did this with my partner we had dinner roasting in the oven during the massage and ate it together afterwards. The overall experience was healing and nurturing for both of us. We shared something physically that matched how we feel about one another spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. Something sacred was exchanged.

Tantra is Love’s workshop introduced me to a part of myself, and my relationship, that I had been longing to meet. I learned the words “lingam” and “yoni” and they led me to the stars.

 

By Madeleine Ryan