Why Sex, Gender, and Sexuality Matter

kisses

Besides this blog, I have a couple of other projects going, and they all have to do with either queerness, sex, faith or some combination. I’m committing to all of them in the midst of a violent summer and a scary election. Violence is happening to black bodies for being black, queer bodies for being queer, trans bodies for being trans, Muslim bodies for being Muslim.

I find myself questioning each project or the angle I’m taking in them because, frankly, I don’t want to be another white American Christian who doesn’t get what’s important.

Take my summer project of telling my coming out story on this blog: figuring out how to love who I want to love and how I want to love them while maintaining my relationship with God has been extremely important to my growth as a person, but I also recognize that my story is built on privilege. I’ve been able to explore my queerness and kinkiness in open relationships because I’ve had disposable income and free evenings. And I’m not nearly as at risk as others to suffer violence for my choices.

See, I think sex is important: being able to sleep with who you want to sleep with and in whatever way you choose to sleep with them. I think gender expression is important. I think body image and self-care and finding self-worth are all important. But sometimes my Facebook feed is filled with these types of posts: “new ways to be your slutty self!” and “how to find time to meditate while still enjoying healthy meals and cuddle time with your partners!” and it feels like something is missing.

You know what it feels like? The critiques of modern Pride festivals: the problem of celebration without recognition of what suffering has allowed us to get here, what suffering is still happening and the huge amount of work that still needs done.

I keep asking myself: why is any of this important when people are dying?

Let’s be clear, I don’t want to have a safe and cozy answer because we should all feel unease about the injustice that’s never going to completely go away. But embracing unease isn’t the entire answer either.

I recently interviewed Amy Rose Spiegel about her book Action: A Book about Sex. I’ll let you all know when the interview gets published, and in the meantime you should read her amazing book. Action explores way more than just sex. It’s a book about gender and consent and being an authentic human. It’s totally my kind of book. It’s also about pleasure and communication and connections with others.

I had these ideas floating through my head during our conversation: like why does pleasure and sex matter right now? I asked her specifically why she thought her book was important at this particularly moment in time and this was her sage answer:

“This book was important to me because I think that no matter how hard things are to digest socio-politically, every person has a real responsibility to themselves to try and enjoy their lives while they’re here regardless of the constrictions and constraints placed on them. Given the world we live in, that will be inherently easier for some people, and that is why it’s important to continue to pay attention to what’s going on in the world as you pursue your own enjoyment and happiness. But, I think that especially if you disagree with the harnesses that are placed on certain parts of the population, especially if you’re involved in the identities that are being policed, you deserve it all the more to make yourself happy and be kind to the people you love in any way you can. I think that it is so affirming and almost medicinal to feel connectivity with other people outside of the looming dread imposed on you by the state or people in your life who are fuckheads or whatever. Having relationships with people that you like or love or even enjoy in a minute way . . . every time you do that, that’s thrashing against what other people wish that you had, which is often less than that.

When it becomes clear to you in certain situations that people don’t want you to be free or happy, you have to make freedom and happiness for yourself however you can, and you have to share it, and that’s I think why the book matters to me.”

I find comfort in her answer. I also find comfort in another book I’ve been reading, Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective (published in 1999 but still exceptionally relevant). In her book, author and religious professor Kelly Brown Douglas expresses her agreement with Foucault that sexuality is one of “the most effective mediums through which power is exercised.” She argues that sexual behavior is one way that Western societies have controlled others, particularly people of color.

She quotes Patricia Hill Collins, a professor of sociology, who said:

“Privileged groups define their alleged sexual practices as the mythical norm and label practices and groups who diverge from this norm as deviant and threatening. Maintaining the norm of the financially independent, white middle-class family organized around a monogamous heterosexual couple requires stigmatizing African-American families as being deviant, and a primary source of this assumed deviancy stems from allegations about Black sexuality . . . Differences in sexuality thus take on more meaning than just benign sexual variation. Each individual becomes a powerful conduit for social relations of domination whereby individual anxieties, fears and doubts about sexuality can be annexed by larger systems of oppression.”

So I’m left believing that the more I express my own version of authenticity that deviates from the monogamous heterosexual norm, the more I help shift the distribution of power in a small but meaningful way. It gives me faith that what I’m writing about is important, so I’m re-owning my commitment to continue spreading these messages.

But, I also find it important to recognize that sharing my story as a white middle class woman in the US, having multiple partners and using floggers and playing with my gender, and even embracing the love of God through all of it . . . is not enough. It’s still MOST important for me to shout the injustices of black trans women being beaten on the streets, people of color being shot with their hands in the air, people being raped and asked what they did to instigate it.

Fighting these injustices is the most important thing. But my pleasure, my relationships, my faith are important, and thank you Amy for helping me remember it’s a political act to embrace it all.

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