Misfit Magic, World Sexual Health Day

Eyes and heart wide open at the Second Annual World Sexual Health Day

In the wee hours of Friday morning, September 5th, I arrived home from an inspiring and liberating trip to New York City for the Second Annual World Sexual Health Day celebration.  The day, in all its components, was bigger than one blog post, and the telling of it will take much reflection. I discovered a refreshing look at sexual health and well-being; an event full of laughter, support, and an emphasis on the health/well-being/psychological side of the picture which was surprising, liberating, and comforting beyond words.

Wrapped around the celebration were good food and good friends in an almost medieval celebration of travel in company. I enjoy the vibrancy and speed of New York City, reveling in the rush of humanity, the eddies at narrow points that remind me of rivers going under bridges, splashing at the pillars that block their path. I prize eavesdropping on the languages I know, trying to identify those I don’t, and catching up on the latest fashions which will never grace my form.  My love of the city is somewhat new, as a recent transplant to upstate, which gave showing my finds to my companions an extra elation. The venue for the celebration, The Cutting Room, was a comfortable red, bronze, and wood room with a matching ambience, a new discovery filed in my memory.

In total disclosure, I had no idea what the evening was going to be.  I’d signed up to go for utterly selfish reasons: to meet August McLaughlin of #GirlBoner fame, whom I’ve known online for a couple of years now, to see New York, and slightly less selfishly, to accompany Shan Jeniah as tour guide to the big city. What I found was altering in some deep ways I have not completely processed yet.

In her opening statement, Dr. Sara Nasserzadeh did not discount the disease or dysfunction side of things, but added the missing celebratory piece, pointing out a Google search for sexual health would provide more than enough information about dysfunction and disease.  Her statement turned my historical focus on that aspect of sexuality on its head. Dysfunction and disease, or fear thereof, has punctuated my adult life from the beginning. From August’s introductory meditation on the color of our sexuality–deepest, royal purple, thank you–to Dr. Sara’s final compassionate plea for understanding those in differing cultures and beliefs, I felt such lightness of heart.

All the artistic pieces, from the stunningly beautiful photography in the bar to the acroyoga to the lovely tangos played by a cello and bandoneon duet found crannies in my heart, and I plan to post about them as well.  Right now, however, I’d like to detail the theatre pieces punctuating the evening and striking a harmonic resonance in my inner misfit.  Jeffrey Solomon and Emily Joy Weiner played the roles in Houses on the Moon, three vignettes, touching, gentle statements about the difficulties faced by those not on the exact center of the sexual spectrum.   The first, an allegorical piece about anchovy pizza, displayed the insensitive and invasive questions posed to humans on the left or right of center in that spectrum.  The transgendered roommate snafu portrayed further the quest for understanding and acceptance. The final piece, the teenage best friends confronted with the differing sexes of their heartthrobs, crystallized that need for understanding from those closest as well as the passing stranger. The pieces touched me, making me evaluate whether I was as sensitive in real life as I had imagined.

I encourage all of you to enjoy the streaming video, and celebrate sexuality in some small way.  Sign up on the World Sexual Health Day Facebook page, and follow the hashtag #WSHD on Twitter, so you can join us next year, or, if the trip is not feasible, to stay apprised of next year’s event and join us virtually.

EM

 

 

Renegade Reflections

2nd Annual World Sexual Health Day

The  2nd Annual World Sexual Health Day is happening tomorrow evening (yes, September 4, 2014) in New York City. Not anywhere near New York City?  No worries!  You can follow the streaming video at the link above.

Shan Jeniah and I are going to the city to meet August McLaughlin, whom we met through WANA (the brainchild of Kristen Lamb) in a recreation of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse that should prove a growth experience for each of us. Why in heaven’s name, you ask, would I take a day of precious annual leave to go to New York for World Sexual Health Day? Well, I’ve already named two reasons in Shan and August.

I met Shan in person soon after I moved to upstate New York a little over two years ago,  We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to meet up, but I enjoy each time we manage to do so. August is someone I got to know online, to the point that I find it hard to imagine I’ve never met her in the flesh.  When my brother passed away last December, August was one of the first of my “online” friends to offer a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. I was honored to participate in her Beauty of a Woman Blogfest last spring.

That is the friendship/personal side of things.  I have other personal reasons to be interested in this event.  Many of them echo Shan’s in her post about this event.  I was raised Irish Catholic in a time when the schools felt besieged by the changes in the world around them.  Skirts were shorter, so we had to kneel on the floor to show the modesty of our uniforms before we could enter the school.  The Pill had arrived, heralding sexual freedom, so we were terrorized with the fickle nature of men, who “wouldn’t buy the cow when they got the milk for free.”

On a more individual note, I had found my freedom and my passion in the life of the mind.  The body was secondary, whimsical and illogical, prone to flash judgements that promised only decades of regret. “Marry in haste, repent at leisure,” might have been emblazoned on the family crest, had poor shanty Irish had one.  I was at war with my body, confused and betrayed by physical desires I little understood and tried to put in their subterranean place.  As luck would have it, most of the young men at my high school saw me as the brain with whom they did homework and confessed their secret desires for the cheerleaders, popular girls, and the beauties.  Thus, without an outlet, the desires dimmed and guttered out.

In my mid-twenties, a divorcée, I reluctantly put myself back in the dating pool. On one of my first dates, a man asked to come into my apartment for a glass of water. He drank the water, shattered the glass, and threatened me with the shards while he raped me. At the time, AIDS was in the headlines, with people dying by the day, yet it was too early for date rape to be a concept.  The police sympathized with my cuts and bruises, but could not prosecute given that I had gone out with the man and let him into my apartment.

Long story short, I have a deeply personal connection with sexual health, both physical and mental.  I sweated through the weeks of waiting for my test results; I worked through months of therapy. I am not the common story, but I am more common than one might think. Because of my scars, I rejoice in the physical, the sexual, the freedom, because I have fought harder for that freedom than most people (until now, I suppose) know.

So, join us.  If not in the flesh, in the spirit; if not through the streaming, give a thought, a wish, a dream, to a freedom that should come naturally but often does not.

EM

Guest Post

Guest Post — Shan Jeniah on Kinship

Today I am happy to present a guest post from Shan Jeniah, whom I met through ROW80, and had the pleasure of meeting IRL.  

Image from the University of Manitoba Anthropology website

Pondering Kinship


When I first accepted Elizabeth’s invitation to write a guest post, I  had no idea what I wanted to write.

A week or three later,  while I was driving somewhere, alone as I seldom am, the wordfeelingconcept flashed across my mind, with a vivid visualemotional awareness of Elizabeth, and I knew what I wanted to write about…

( I know that those invented words above aren’t real, and that they might even be gibberish, to some. But I’ve spent the last few years learning to distinguish the unique ways in which I and others experience life, thought, feelings, and the like, and, for me, this was an inspiration that flashed across a wide band of perceptions and awarenesses, all at once. Hence the words that describe what happened in my mind at that instant).

What was the word with all the diverse plumage?

Kinship.

Kinship, and a memory of the only time I physically met Elizabeth – sitting with her at the same table I sometimes share with my oldest, deepest friend.

Kinship, and the way the words she writes fall with soft power into my mind and my heart.

Kinship, and how we arrived at the cafe from different directions and at the same time.

Kinship, and the loveliness of her smile; kinship, and the way her eyes met mine, directly, but comfortably. Only an honest person can meet a virtual stranger’s gaze with openness and warmth.

It strikes me that I share that type of connection with most of the people in my life these days. We have conversations that range from the political to personal, erotic to profound. Sometimes, it’s nonsense chatter – but chatter that builds connection, and soothes spirits worn from too much depth.

Too often, kinship gets tangled up in the definition and connections of DNA – as though our kin are those to whom we are blood-related. And, maybe, then, people are wondering, as I did for many years, why they don’t feel a deep connection with their kin, why they seem to have so little in common that every meeting and interaction leaves them empty and cold – or worse, enraged or as though they had been attacked, perhaps shredded to their core.

When I think of kinship, I think not of those who share my genetic legacy, but those with whom I share connection based upon a mutually held belief that the relationship is beneficial, and who will accept that we are each as we are.

This interpretation of kinship was largely missing in my own upbringing, at least amongst my family of origin. There is a tendency there to look at life from the outside in – new acquisitions; rules and punishments; homes and cars; and outside accomplishments. The surfaces of things must look good, evoke a sense of success, hard work, and pride, and, hopefully, envy in others.

My own tendency to look at life from the inside out never quite fit, at the best of times, and, ultimately, it has led to the dissolution of several of these relationships. I tend to favor poetry, philosophy, and the pursuit of passion – the depths and breadths of life – rather than the surface. I love spelunking and scuba diving, mountains and canyons and forests and oceans and deserts, and pondering questions to which I will never learn the answers in this life.

Something about me led my mother, when I was 9, to refer to me as her “closet philosopher”. But I was closeted for a reason.  Often, there were harsh consequences imposed on me simply for being who I was.

Sometimes, when people learn that I am estranged from most members of my immediate family, they express sadness or a suggestion that we seek family counseling to heal the relationships.

These people mean well, but they don’t understand.

My growth has been a lifelong deepening and widening, usually below the surface, where it is not  easily seen. My perspective has shifted, and I will no longer hide the fact that I am not as I was, with them, or that my inclinations are very different than theirs.

We drive old cars, live in a humble home, shop more often at thrift stores and yard sales and on eBay than in department stores. We’ve chosen to allow our children to grow and learn in a natural way that focuses on autonomy and partnership rather than parental authority.

And, somewhere along the way, I  have become a vital threat to these family members, because, despite living very differently, we are a happy family.

The surfaces they value obscure the wide and the deep of my life. I have become poison to them, and there can be no reconciliation, because to accept me as I am would force them to question their own choices in a way they are unwilling to do.

I have many kinships, all of them with people who have room in their worldview to accept that mine works for me, and consciousness enough not to assume that living a fulfilling life based on my own needs and desires equates to demeaning those who choose differently.

True kinship must come with mutual, unforced respect of the integrity of the other self; and its undeniable right to be just as it is.

I am fortunate to have so many souls in my life with whom I can relate in this way, and to be able to learn and grow from my kinship with them.

And I am thrilled to remember the ease, warmth, and honesty that I felt, that day with Elizabeth, and to have the promise of other meetings and interactions in the future.

May you all find your kindred, and treasure them as they treasure you…

Please feel free to comment here or on Shan’s blog here.  For more about what you will find there, here is an excerpt from Shan’s About page:

I am myself.  Like most other selves, I don’t condense well into a few simple lines of text.  Like a schoolbook, these words can only trace the shape of me, hint at the light and shadows within.

There is far more to me than you will see here, on this page.

There are words that apply to me, although they don’t define me: writer, mother, lover, adventurer, wife, reader, seeker, learner, mentor, partner, intuitive, delver, playful spirit, ambassador, advocate, talker, listener. strewer of joy into the lives of others, singer, sensualist, awakening, passionate, faithful, spontaneous, strong, daring, caring, sharing, wide-eyed wanderer.

Read more here.

Awards

The Sunshine Award

Shan Jeniah awarded me the Sunshine Award.  Thank you, Shan, for the honor!  As soon as I wrestle the image onto the blog, I will display it proudly. Beyond the fact that Shan is one of the sunniest people I’ve met, she referred to a thought-provoking post by PurposeFairy , called 15 things you should give up to be happy.

There are many good points in the post, and I will come back to them in later reflections, but there were several about giving up criticism and negative thinking.  I immediately thought of my mother, who among all her good qualities, taught me by negative example as well. My mother grew up with incredibly difficult circumstances, but managed to rise above them for at least a few years. There is a picture of her on her 21st birthday, which ended up being her engagement picture, as she married my father less than three months later. She is looking to the upper left of the frame, with a flowing fall of dark auburn hair, wavy, thick and lush, covering the bare shoulder above the black strapless drape so often seen in formal portraits of the time. Although she is not smiling, she has humor in her eyes, but it does not detract from the strength and optimism there as well. I look at her, a woman whom I never knew, and wonder where all that positive energy went. By the time I was born, she had only a shadow of that strength, having given it up to live in her obsessive negative thoughts, her regrets, and disappointments. When I was younger, my sister and I would play a game: we would try to predict my mother’s negative answers to something we would say. It quickly became sad that she could somehow say something even more negative than either of us could imagine.

It became clear to me that one’s perspective is under one’s control. I always try to look at the half-full glass rather than the half-empty one. I would prefer to laugh about something than to cry.  I have made my mistakes, and sometimes fall into regret, but I prefer to look at what I learned from those mistakes. I have my negative self-talk, and my brutal internal editor that so many of us writers carry around, but I am far more comfortable with myself than I have been in a long time. I hate to talk about myself, so the “About” pages on blogs are torture, but I no longer twist myself into what I hope are pleasing shapes for a particular audience. I’m not waiting to be a crazy wild woman in my old age, but am there now.

I am still mulling over the bloggers to whom I will pass on this award.  Stay tuned!