Tag Archives: Amber Hollibaugh

3 Occult Tips for 2018 + How To Fight Occult Stigma

6 Jan

PODCAST VERSION: iTunesStitcherSoundcloud

First ep of 2018 features a charmingly jetlagged just-back-from-12-days-in-Vietnam me giving you all the occult tools you need to tackle the new year, and discussing occult stigma.

IN THIS EPISODE:

  • How we stigmatize our spiritual feelings as leftists/progressives: 2:00
  •  Secrets and vulnerability: 3:00
  • You don’t need a metaphysics to do occult exercises: 4:35
  • Sexual liberation is an constant unfolding, not a moment. Notes from Conner’s first porn shoot: 5:00
  • What’s stopping you? Notice the negative feeling you’re having, and proceed anyway. And also say thanks: 9:10
  • First practice – Manifesting. And Yes I know that word is an LA new age freak out word: 10:40
  • I want to do this manifesting stuff but it’s too hard for me to accept. Okay.: 16:00
  • Dismissing these techniques because others are suffering is exploitative luxuriating: 17:40
  • Becoming secure in your occult masculinity or whatever, bro: 20:10
  • Second practice – Judging your thoughts: 20:40
  • We are addresses where spiritual beings gather, and our thoughts are their movements: 22:45
  • Third practice – Diminishing Anxiety by Developing the Will: 25:05
  • This is how I do what I do: 30:25

Please support the show on patreon.

And as always, you can find the show notes on my patreon as well!

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#TheSexRadicals, Part 5: Amber Hollibaugh & Edward Carpenter on Letting Go of Sexual Shame

19 Aug
AH

Amber Hollibaugh

Each week this summer, I’ll be posting short essays on sexual thinkers (read the introduction to the series here) who have changed my perspective on sex, and who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. It will include some bits about my own life, some history, and some controversial claims. Last week was a tour through the sexual utopia of Charles Fourier.  The series also appears on RealitySandwich.com.

How To Fight Sexual Shame: Amber Hollibaugh, Edward Carpenter, and the Strength of Vulnerability

“Wherever you have a secret, that is where you are vulnerable.”

– Amber Hollibaugh (1946-present)

A story about shame.

My first two years of college were spent in a Western Pennsylvania town, huddled in the woods.  “It’s near Pittsburgh,” I’d say, though the truth was, it wasn’t near anything; Pittsburgh was an hour and a half drive away.  My sexuality had dawned on me just a few years before I got there, when I realized that I was attracted to men.  This was before the internet was cast, tangling everyone up, and there weren’t many options for us to find each other.  No apps, not much access to communicate with people like me, and the nearest gay bar was inaccessible, I was too young.

In Keith Hall on campus, there was a space for exception; a bathroom where men, students and townies and staff, would meet

for sex.  Our straight peers were engaging with sex openly; they were able to meet at bars, concerts, and through wanton looks across the green campus center.  Keith Hall was our only space.  Men would go into the stall together, or jerk off at the urinals.  When the door to the bathroom opened, everyone would stop; the secret world would rearrange itself and look like the one weT4A were supposed to be living in.  Who knows how these gathering places — and they exist everywhere, in mall bathrooms, at rest areas, in locker room saunas — take hold?  No one plans them; they show up out of the sheer force of need and will.

The gay and lesbian student group, which met once every few weeks, was like a negative image of Keith Hall.  It was sterile and still.  We sat on the thin industrial carpet of a dull room.  We were in a circle, talking to each other about gays in the military and marriage.  Keith Hall wasn’t an official topic at any meeting, but it was a constant source of anxiety and cause for ridicule.  Members would gossip about other members who they’d seen skulking around the bathroom for a blowjob, or about townie “trolls” who would linger on campus for sex.  Of course, I’d seen each and every one of the male members of the student group in Keith Hall at one point or another, and they no doubt had seen me.  No reason for why we shouldn’t meet there to have sex was given.  It was supposed to be self-evident.  I was silent. 

That is where shame comes from: it’s an agreement to silently betray yourself.

Where were we supposed to go?  In spite of the commonly held image of gay promiscuity, there wasn’t (and isn’t) easy access to sex for gay men for much of their lives.  In cities, sure, but not in the woods, not in the vast middle of the country, only at the edges.  Being a sexual minority, a still demonized sexual minority, a demonized sexual minority in a culture that demonizes sex itself, cut off access. 

If you need sex and don’t have access to it, too bad, we’re told. Our culture, and by extension the on-campus gay and lesbian group, shamed everyone who was defying that by having sex in a “non-sexual” space .  Suck it up.  Suffer.  If you do find it somewhere (anywhere), feel bad about it.  Don’t admit it.  Make others feel bad about it.

There was no way out of the trap.

Then I discovered Amber Hollibaugh.  She spoke at my school and I consumed her writing and perspective. 

MDDShe was a sex worker who grew up so poor that as a child, she slept in a dresser drawer.  Now she was a published author, a labor rights activist, a lecturer.  In her talk, she shared stories about waiting for her clients to fall asleep, and then looking through and committing to memory the titles and passages from the books on their shelves.  Her intellectualism and sexuality and labor politics were all tied together.  She is one of the most complete human beings I have ever encountered.

Whereas the gay and lesbian group I was part of was invested in notions of equality in terms of identity and discrimination, it couldn’t quite bring itself to talk about sex.  It severed, as the contemporary “gay rights” and “equality” movements continue to sever, sex and pleasure from identity.

“I come from a moment in time and a radical vision,” Hollibaugh said, “that never made marriage or the military my criteria of success.  I didn’t want us to have wars, I didn’t want us to have armies, and I didn’t want to register my relationship with the state.”  In other words, the queer movement that Hollibaugh came from was not concerned with equality by emulating the dominant state-supported culture.  Instead, it was concerned with the liberation of desire and pleasure (and so, her life-changing book of essays is aptly titled My Dangerous Desires), and in seeing the powerful radiating potential of that liberation.

“I don’t want a day,” she said, in reference to gay pride. “I want a revolution.”  At her lecture, in my heart, one had begun to occur.

She said, echoing Fourier, that access to consensual pleasure was a right, not a luxury.  In the most electrifying moment, she said, “Wherever you have a secret, that is where you are vulnerable.”

If you try to keep a secret, then someone exposing that secret could damage you. And you live in a state of fear and anxiety, and powerlessness.  In other words, a state of shame. It’s not the content of the secret so much, but the hiding of it that is so damaging.

I was holding on to so many secrets.  Every time I had sex, every time I found a place among the silence of where I lived to experience pleasure, I hid it away.  I didn’t tell anyone.  I was terrified of being exposed and ridiculed.  So I shamed myself.  I knew that almost everyone I had seen in the Keith Hall bathroom must feel the same way.

My interest in Hollibaugh led me to the radical queer underground which traced its roots back to, among others, Edward Carpenter. 

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Edward Carpenter

Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), a handsome man with pointed features, a student and lover of Walt Whitman’s, a poet and a philosopher.  Carpenter was a profoundly influential thinker in his time, but is largely unknown today.  His erasure is a familiar one: blot out from history the people that help us understand sex. Carpenter knew that sex was tied to power and tied to the sacred.  More importantly, he knew that how we greeted sex with our thinking and emotions was of more importance than the kind of sex we had, specifically, since sex was part of nature (and nature was part of divine creation). 

Religious thinkers and philosophers of his day (and ours) were popularizing the notion of shame as a guiding force: If you feel shame, it’s indicating that the action you’re taking is wrong.  For Carpenter and the movements that traced their way back to him, shame was a shadow.  It can’t actually guide you anywhere, it’s tacked to your heel, it’s the place the light hasn’t yet reached. To undo sexual shame, Carpenter advised, understand it’s not indicating a course of action.  Understand, also, that it’s not bonded to the sex act so much as the frantic cultural impulses surrounding the sex act.  It’s usually a feeling misdirected from somewhere else. Letting going of shame allows space for sex and pleasure themselves to guide you to your perspective on sex and pleasure.  When you do that, sex has a different feel. 

“The dissatisfaction which at times follows (sex),” Carpenter wrote, “is the same as follows on all pleasure which is sought, and which does not come unsought. The dissatisfaction is not in the nature of pleasure itself but in the nature of seeking.”

This good to keep in mind when you or someone you know says, “hook-ups feel shallow,” or “I want more than just sex.”  If you’re seeking something in a casual sexual encounter, you may find yourself still seeking after it’s done.  If, instead, you are open to seeing what the encounter can teach you, or even if you’re just willing to not dismiss the dissatisfaction as a negative feeling, something profound can happen each and every time. The experience of sex is never in and of itself shallow, a person’s perspective on their sexual experience, however, is a different matter.

My transformation was quick.  I stopped being silently ashamed about my experiences, and I started talking about them.

The UMASS Student Union Building

The UMASS Student Union Building

When I transferred to the University of Massachusetts, there was a Keith Hall equivalent, the Student Union Building.  There’s one on every campus.  Different school, same stigma.  Amherst was much more open to gay and lesbian sexuality than small-town Pennsylvania, but mostly because of the large lesbian population in the surrounding area.  There still weren’t many gay men, and there was a still tense hush amongst gay students about the cruising spots, including a rest area on the nearby highway and a bike path at night. I’d stop at the Student Union bathroom often, between classes, looking for sex. 

And I started telling my friends, gay and straight, about it. 

The straight men expressed an astonished envy: “You can get laid between classes?”  A butch lesbian friend exclaimed, “You’d be stupid if you didn’t go there!”  The gay men, though, were still sheepish.  But their sheepishness didn’t add any shame on my account, and because I was open about it, no one shamed the practice around me.  Reorganizing my thoughts about privacy and secrecy freed me. 

My sex, any aspect of it, is private.  Privacy means I can have whatever thoughts and feelings I want about it, and I can explore those on my own. 

But my sex life was no longer secret:  I wasn’t trying to hide it, and the value of it didn’t come from it being concealed.

I began to understand my own shame as a vestigial organ, something that developed in me but that wasn’t needed anymore.  So many different parts of my life were touched by this preexisting shame: shame in discovering I was attracted to men, shame around expressing sexual feelings, shame that I wasn’t pursuing the societally approved intimacy-within-a-monogamous-relationship.  It was impossible to avoid the shame by simply stopping one or another sexual behavior, it would show up somewhere else.  I’d have to deal with my inner world directly.

Wherever you have a secret, that is where you are vulnerable.  I learned instead, to move toward the vulnerability, instead of retreating from it.  By becoming vulnerable intentionally, through the effort of honesty and openness, we become strong.

*

Next Up: The Russian Mystic in Love with Lust

*
Sources

Hollibaugh, Amber. My Dangerous Desires: A Queer Girl Dreaming Her Way HomeDurham: Duke University Press, 2000.

Amber L. Hollibaugh: The LGBTQ Movement’s Radical Vision (web): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqNrCMG4tjI

Rowbotham, Sheila.  Edward Carpenter: A Life of Liberty and Love.  Brooklyn: Verso, 2009.

#TheSexRadicals – A new blog series about sexual thinkers who can change our world.

20 Jul

IMG_1301 (1)Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting short essays on sexual thinkers who have changed my perspective on sex, who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. It will include some bits about my own life, some history, and some controversial claims. The series also appears on RealitySandwich.com

The idea here is to cultivate new growth in our thinking about sex, by looking to people who have laid down some of the groundwork.  This first entry explains some of of current sexual climate, as well as my rationale for creating such an incomplete list, why names like Michel Foucault or Dr. Ruth don’t appear while others do. It explains why I stick primarily to Western thinkers, even though I draw heavily on non-Western thinkers for my perspectives as well.  Please comment with your own favorite Sex Radicals, I’d love to hear more.

**

The Sex Radicals: Seven Thinkers Who Can Revolutionize Sex in Our Culture

Introduction:  Who Should We Invite to the Orgy?

Sex is everyone’s own creation story, everyone’s personal Big Bang.

Before you looked at this website, before you got up this morning or the day or year before, before you read or said your first word, two people you’d never met — couldn’t have met, since you weren’t a you yet —went through a series of intimate or strained or casual or confused or loving series of movements and gestures that created you.

That means that your being, along with everyone else’s, is literally composed of sexual motion and desire, because the cells that split and aggregated to make your body were set into motion by sex.  When people have sex, the laws of biology and form pay attention.  Sex weaves itself in and out of our daily thoughts, the art we encounter, the feelings we have for each other.  Is it any surprise that we think about sex so often? 

But if sex is a fact of life, the fact of life that life springs from, why is our culture so screwed up about it?  Why is sex so legislated, one might say legislated against, misunderstood, and confusing, culturally?  There are hundreds of laws set up by the state, regulating sexual content, sexual behavior, sexual freedom.  And there are the unspoken laws, often just as constricting, in every relationship we have.  Sex shame in our lives and sex shaming in our cultural sphere are intimately tangled.  Instead of telling you the right way to put a condom on or how to please your lover, this series will examine the lives and theories of thinkers who were interested in pushing sex forward in some cultural way, in bringing what they’d learned from the mystery of sex to the cultural sphere to transform both.

The good news: 

Brilliant people have been working on improving our sexual culture for a long time.  If we want to have a more thoughtful sexual culture, a healthier one that respects sex and sexuality in its infinite forms, we have some powerful, radical thinkers to choose from.  These are people who have led the way, pushed the boundaries, cared enough about the darkened realm of sex to illuminate it for us.

The bad news:

You probably haven’t heard of many of these thinkers.  And you probably haven’t heard of many of them because the powers that be discredited them or provided them with unpleasant ends.

The other bad news:

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Wilhelm Reich

Everyone, even the radical researchers and thinkers in this series, absorbs the sexual prejudices, shames, and confusions of their time and place.  They might deftly avoid one bias and passionately speak out against it, all the while carrying around a whole host of others that they’re totally blind to.  Of course, I’m guilty of this too.  Since the current conception of sex is contaminated, getting new seeds requires, at first, growing crooked plants from polluted ground.  It’s going to take some time.

The other other bad news:

Some of the most important thinkers are kind of crazy.

This, in fact, is a large part of what makes them important. To come up with new possibilities for the world, you have to hang out in the impossible and the imagined quite a bit.  You have to say outlandish things to see if they’re true.  To stand outside the depressing weight of our reality requires deep and intense encounters with your own imagination and seeing things that others don’t see.

But who to invite to this orgy of sexual/cultural renewal?

To explain why I’ve chosen these thinkers and stuck mostly to our culture, a digression:

Christine Helliwell, anthropologist, lived in Borneo with the native people of the region, the Dayak.  One morning, she heard a group of elderly women laughing outside of her apartment.  She found them reenacting a scene from the night before: A man had snuck into a woman’s bedroom through the window, and the woman woke to find him gripping her shoulder. 

“Be quiet,” he said to her. 

The woman sat up in bed and pushed him away.  He fell back and when she started to yelling at him, he escaped back through the window with his sarong falling down.

But why were the Dayak women laughing about it, Helliwell wondered; the woman had almost been raped!  This community of Dayak had no word for “rape,” so Helliwell tried to explain, “He was trying to hurt you.” 

The woman’s reply stunned the anthropologist. 

“It’s only a penis,” she said.  “How can a penis hurt anyone?”

Indigenous people, as well as anthropologists like Christine Helliwell have been reporting deep cultural differences like this to us for years.  In the case of the Dayak community, sexual assault was so far removed from the understanding of sex and gender roles that it was inconceivable, laughable.

In central Africa, the Aka and Ngandu people have sex two to five times every night, and view sex as work, not recreation.  There’s also no known homosexuality among the Aka, belying the commonly held Western truth that homosexuality is universal and inborn.  There’s simply no word or concept for it.

In Tibet, some villagers practice fraternal polyandry – brothers will share the same wife.

Many Native American nations have traditions of Two Spirited people who express cultural gender fluidity, living with the other members of the community in one form, but understood as another.

But a list of indigenous sexual practices, or people from non-Western cultures who uproot the foundations of our understanding does not figure into the selection here. There are blog posts, books, internet videos and TV shows that highlight modern-day sexual differences between Western and indigenous cultures.  Usually, they have a check-out-these-wacky-natives feeling.  Instead of helping us question our own sexual ideas, these news-of-the-weird soundbytes reinforce our prejudices at the expense of indigenous people.  It’s cultural appropriation, because it ignores that the entire cultural context of that practice is different.

For example, it’s not uncommon to find non-indigenous LGBT activists evoking Two Spirit people as poster children for LGBT political/cultural messages, since same sex relationships and gender change are not (at least traditionally) frowned upon in cultures with Two Spirit people.  But while there are similarities, the differences are deep.  It’s not about “gay” or “straight” or “gender fluidity” as we understand it, since the multiple roles — such as iskwehkhan (“fake woman”), ayahkwew (“man dressed/living/accepted as a woman”), and more — are varied, nuanced and more complex than that.  They’re embedded in a different understanding of spirituality, cause and effect, communal connection, and more.  What’s more, these roles are often chosen for members of the community by elders.

Usually, at best, indigenous sex and relationship traditions are appropriated by well-meaning activists.  At worst, they’re dismissed as oddities or demonized as backwards. 

There’s a lot to learn from other cultures’ approaches to sex. In fact, some of the thinkers mentioned in this

Amber Hollibaugh

Amber Hollibaugh

series have learned quite a bit from other cultures…or have made the mistakes I’ve just outlined.  But learning can’t take the form of cultural cherry-picking.  Both brilliant individuals from Western culture and indigenous practices can be inspirational for us, but the former allows for a presumed understanding that the latter does not.  The list of who we can learn from and listen to when it comes to sex and culture cannot be complete without the voices of people from other cultures.  But this series is in no way meant to be complete. So to avoid appropriation and to create a reasonably understood framework of thinking, I’ve chosen Western thinkers.

So who should we turn to?  It can’t be just anyone.  The Marquis de Sade, for example, will have to stay in his Chateau; for all the sexual spelunking he did, he came up with too much grime to be desirable.  Recognizable faces like Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault or pop culture reformers like Gloria Steinem aren’t adequate for our current situation precisely because they’ve had their ideas permeate our culture in a such profound way, but we’re still here, needing more.

So the strategy: Seek out thinkers on the margins of Western cultural consciousness (particularly US, since that is my vantage point, which explains Jacques Lacan’s inclusion, even though he is popular in select Western countries) who are leaning all their intellectual weight against our boundaries.  Express their radical ideas in an unfortunately incomplete but hopefully useful and understandable form.  Recognize that these they all have flaws.  Think about how they could intersect with our lives, including my own, so that they’re not just distant or academic.

Edward Carpenter

Edward Carpenter

And most importantly, perhaps, consider their work not as dogma, not as something we cannot be critical of or question,but rather, as a challenge.  What happens to our sexual consciousness and culture if we confront these thinkers with our intellect but also sit with a listening ear and open mind?

Next up:  The sexologist who married an angel and defended women’s right to pleasure.

Sources

Helliwell, Christine.  “‘It’s Only a Penis’: Rape, Feminism, and Difference.”  Signs 25:3

(2000):  789-816.

Wade, Lisa.  “Is the Penis Dangerous?”  Jezebel.  October 9, 2013.  Web.

Zevallos, Zuleyka.  “Rethinking Gender and Sexuality: Case Study of the Native

American ‘Two Spirit’ People.”  The Other Sociologist.  September 9, 2013.  Web.