Thursday, April 17, 2014

Some Experiences with a Culture of Consent and Radical Inclusion

In the midst of the renewed coverage of sexual predators in religious and spiritual communities, I want to talk about what it's like to experience a culture of consent -- how a culture of consent can be about expansion rather than contraction, how it can embody radical love and radical inclusion.  

My starting point is a piece Christine Hoff Kraemer recently wrote at Patheos Pagan's Sermons from the Mound, "Erotic Ethics and Pagan Consent Culture."  I highly recommend it.  Go ahead and read it; I'll wait.

One of the things Christine talks about, among her many excellent points, is creating a culture of consent around non-sexual touch, and about how this can affirm the sacredness of touch between people:

Rather than focusing purely on sexual touch, let’s focus on touch in general. If we create a culture of consent around touch, and learn to treat touch as an opportunity for a sacramental moment between two people, we will have clear standards for what constitutes appropriate touch in all cases. Not only will it be easier to identify boundary-violating warning signs from potential predators, but well-meaning people will find it easier to offer and accept touch only when it’s wanted, not out of a sense of social obligation.

It was to this point in particular I responded in a conversation I was part of on social media, with Christine and some other friends of hers and mine.  I found myself sharing a little bit about my experience with consent culture in FLGBTQC (Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns).  Yvonne Aburrow, Christine's co-blogger and another friend and colleague of mine, asked me if I'd write a blog post about it.

I can share only about my own experience within FLGBTQC.  Other Friends' experience might be quite different, and the conclusions they draw from their experience might be different, as well.  

What is FLGBTQC?

Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns is a North American Quaker faith community that affirms that of God in all people. Gathering twice yearly for worship and play, we draw sustenance from each other and from the Spirit for our work and life in the world. We are learning that radical inclusion and radical love bring further light to Quaker testimony and life.  

Read more here: http://flgbtqc.quaker.org/whatis.html

I've been part of FLGBTQC since the early aughts.  It's in many ways a diverse community, in other ways a homogeneous one.  We're not perfect, but we do try to attend to each others' needs, particularly around safety.  So many of us come from, and spend time in, communities and places that aren't safe for us -- spiritually, yes, but also emotionally, psychologically, and even physically. 

For as long as I've participated in FLGBTQC, our Ministry and Counsel committee has given what we refer to as "The Boundaries Talk" at the start of each gathering, and repeated it at different times throughout.

The Boundaries Talk, is, among other things, a reminder to ask before touching people.  A reminder not to make assumptions about people's boundaries when it comes to physical touch, but to find out if something even as seemingly simple as a hug is okay.

It's a reminder that although we're joyful to be together and happy to see each other, different people have different boundaries around physical touch; that while many of us enjoy being touched or hugged (or kissed or cuddled or...), not everyone does, nor is it safe for all of us; that these things can change over time, even with the same people; and that we need to ask before touching other people, rather than assuming even an arm around their shoulders works for them.  That while it may have been wonderful for both of you that you  swept this person up in a bear hug the last time you saw them, it might not be okay this time.  That it's very easy, especially when some of us have known each other a long time, and especially in a community as exuberantly affectionate as ours, to forget that not everyone wants or can tolerate physical affection.  So, check first.

That's basically it: don't assume; check first, no matter how well you think you know it's all right; "No" is a perfectly acceptable answer.

By Lazy_Lightning (http://www.flickr.com/photos/drienne/273467543/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Here are some cute cats cuddling after asking first. 
Photo By Lazy_Lightning (http://www.flickr.com/photos/drienne/273467543/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I remember how for many years, The Boundaries Talk was this... icky necessity.  Many of us groaned.  Many times the member of M&C giving the talk groaned.  But it was helpful. 

But something started to shift over time.

At first I noticed how my perception of The Boundaries Talk and asking about touch changed.  Then I noticed that the feeling overall about The Boundaries Talk and asking about touch and consent seemed to be changing, too.

A number of things contributed to this shift.

One thing was in our conversations about gender-designated bathrooms and safety.  Transgender and genderqueer people spoke openly about what they need in order to have safe bathrooms.  Cisgender people who are members of other minorities spoke openly about what they need in order to have safe bathrooms.  Sexual assault survivors of different genders spoke openly about what they need in order to have safe bathrooms.  Many people in our community spoke about safety, boundaries, and their needs and experiences, not just with bathrooms, but in other circumstances, such as queer-focused Quaker space, and still more.

Because this larger conversation sprang from the initial question of gender-neutral and gender-designated bathrooms, this meant we really looked at some of our assumptions about what good boundaries and safety actually are.  This was a real gift.  I think we learned a lot as a community. 

I listened.  I learned.  I grew.  I changed. 

A second thing was a wider conversation, a wider opening, around accessibility overall: 

Bathrooms had become clear as an issue of the accessibility of our community for transgender and genderqueer people, something people within our community need in order to participate fully in our community.  Friends General Conference Gathering, which FLGBTQC participates in, became fragrance-free so as to be more accessible to people with fragrance and chemical sensitivities, and to a wider range of people with chronic illness.  FLGBTQC Mid-Winter Gathering also went fragrance-free.  We started to talk more about hidden disabilities, the kind you can't tell are there when you look at someone, about how those affect our ability to participate fully in our community and our events, about the things we as a community can do to increase accessibility.

People with chronic illness and chronic pain started speaking up more about how their ability to participate in and to tolerate different kinds of physical touch varies over time -- and how other people can't tell, so it's essential to ask.  Clasping someone's arms, or hugging them, or putting your arm around their shoulder, could cause them intense pain for the rest of the day, or prevent them from from carrying their own tray at dinner or from sleeping that night, or be a wonderful experience.  A kiss on the cheek might be lovely, or it might make someone really dizzy.

It became clear that asking about touch is an accessibility issue for many people with disabilities in our community.

Yet another thing was how people with different neurological issues started speaking up about touch and consent.  Some neuro-atypical people, including some people with autism, can't tolerate hugs; some just don't like them; some like them some of the time; some love them.  Some people with migraine love physical touch some of the time and can't tolerate it other times.  Someone's balance might be fine if you hug them one day, or one part of the day, but a hug might knock them over another time.

Again, it became clear that not automatically hugging or otherwise touching people makes the community more accessible for many of us, makes it more possible for more of us to participate fully in community.

To me, it seemed that consent was expanding our community life, not constricting it as so many of us had often assumed. 

People started living and modeling consent. 

The first time a dear F/friend with whom I've shared many hugs asked me, with an incredible grin, "I'd love to give you a hug; is that all right with you, or shall we do something else?," I was floored.  But it was actually super-helpful: my balance wasn't great that day, so I was able to tell her what I needed, and we were able to have a really lovely hug and I stayed upright on my feet.  It was awesome.  It was also a much better hug than it otherwise would have been. 

While our Gatherings might be fragrance-free, we often have to travel through fragranced spaces to get there.  "I'd love to hug you, but I had to use the fragranced soap at the rest stop, so I'm going to stand here and wave enthusiastically," another F/friend said to me once.  I waved and grinned and blew kisses back.  I felt loved.  They felt loved.  We were delighted to see each other.  I didn't get sick, and I didn't make anyone else sick later, either.  It was a wonderful, dear, tender experience. 

And yet another thing was how people who were simply not comfortable with obligatory social touch started saying things like, "No, thanks, I don't like hugs, but I'd love to blow you a kiss."  I can't tell you how much more warm and fuzzy I feel when someone and I can do this, instead of feeling all socially awkward and like I've just violated a boundary I didn't even know was there, or like I've made someone uncomfortable when all I wanted to do was tell them how glad I am to see them.  It's also been really nice for me not to have to hug someone I'm not comfortable hugging, and clasp their hand warmly and with affection, instead. 

There's been less Obligatory Social Touch, and more room for genuine warmth. 

Through this process, the possibilities for our exuberant affection within our community have expanded

It has become clearer and clearer that things like consent for non-sexual touch, and The Boundaries Talk, are things that help our community be more accessible for all of us, that help more of us participate fully in our community.  That checking in is an accessibility tool.

Somewhere in there, things like The Boundaries Talk and asking before touching -- consent -- stopped being about constriction, and instead became about expansion.

Expansion of accessibility.  

Expansion of our radical inclusion.

An expression of our radical inclusion.

It's a joyful way to be in community with each other.  I highly recommend it to others.

-----------------

Some further reading:

Protecting Our Children, Protecting Ourselves
http://www.naturenurtured.com/2014/04/02/protecting-our-children-protecting-ourselves/

Respecting Others' Boundaries
sue-still-i-am-one.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/respecting-others-boundaries.html

Erotic Ethics and Pagan Consent Culture
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2014/03/erotic-ethics/

Silence equals complicity: making Pagan groups safe for everyone
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/sermonsfromthemound/2014/03/silence-equals-death/

Community Statement on Religious Sexual Abuse
http://www.brendanmyers.net/wickedrabbit/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33%3Afinished-the-community-statement-on-religious-sexual-abuse&catid=11%3Anewscategory&limitstart=3

Whatever happened to the pagan community statement on religious sexual abuse?
http://www.brendanmyers.net/blog/2014/03/whatever-happened-to-the-pagan-community-statement-on-religious-sexual-abuse/

Growing Faith in Blessed Community
http://www.friendsjournal.org/growing-faith-blessed-community/

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Epistle from the Polyamorous and/or Kinky Friends Retreat

Sharing.  - sm

Dear Friends,

During the weekend of March 21, 2014, a small group of Friends who identify as polyamorous and/or kinky met together in retreat for fellowship and discernment, with a focus on the intersection of spirituality and sexuality. We enjoyed good food and warm fires as we shared stories and got to know each other better.

We are part of a larger group of Friends who have been meeting during FGC Gatherings and FLGBTQC Midwinter Gatherings over the last few years, and this was our first opportunity for such an extended time together. We continue to wrestle worshipfully with questions of how we might be more integrated into the wider community of the Religious Society of Friends. We long to have our relationships recognized and respected, but we also hope to share our gifts, talents, and ministry.  We are abundantly blessed with gifts for open-hearted loving, and experienced with the radical honesty that our relationships call us to. We hold ourselves to high standards of integrity, truth, and faithfulness, and it pains us that we are limited in the expression of our gifts by common misunderstandings of who we are and what we do.

We wonder why the Divine has brought us together, and what our faithful work might be. We are on a path that is not clear to us, but despite our fears and uncertainties, we strive to be faithful, and to use the relative privilege and safety we enjoy to begin work that we hope will increase understanding, grace, and love. Sending this epistle in the tradition of Friends is our next step. We welcome your prayers as our work continues and our path slowly unfolds before us.

In love and faithfulness,

SH, Daniel C. Hall, David, Vonn New, Adlai, Su Penn, Ann, SW, CL, and Judy

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Queries, and happy Spring Equinox!

Happy Spring Equinox! 

Today we focus on breaking the bonds of Winter and emerging into Spring. 
  • From which bonds are you freeing yourself?  
  • Who can you call on to help you?  
  • What, or who, meets you when you emerge?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Friend of the Court Brief in Kitchen v. Herbert

I am very pleased and happy to share that Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns has joined many other faith groups on a friend of the court brief filed today by Kramer Levin in Kitchen v. Herbert, the Utah marriage equality case before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

I'll write a more detailed blog post about it tomorrow, with a link to the brief and all. 

The Utah court cited the prior briefs from Kramer Levin in the Windsor and Perry cases, to which we were also signatories, which was hugely significant. 

Yay!  And congratulations to all the signatories!

And thank you all, everyone who helped me with marriage minute information and contacts for faith communities in the area of the 10th Circuit who support same-sex marriage.  It helped. 

Blessed be!

Friday, February 28, 2014

"An Open Letter to the General Secretary of Friends United Meeting"

An Open Letter to the General Secretary of Friends United Meeting
by Helen Marie Staab

Good evening Colin,

My name is Helen and I was present for the discussion at Beacon Hill Friends House this past Sunday. I wanted to write to thank you for coming all this way to speak with us, and to take a moment to speak to my concerns on this issue.

I want to be clear that while this is a deeply personal issue for me, it is also deeply spiritual. Neither my personal stake in rights for LGBTQ Friends nor the current cultural climate make my feelings on this any less Spirit-led. I too have labored with, prayed over, and sought truth on this subject. My struggle has not been to discern the morality or sinfulness of my sexuality, but whether I can be part of a religion that uses theology as an excuse for bigotry. I have struggled with whether, as a youth worker, I can encourage youth to be Quaker when I know that not all circles of Friends will welcome them. I have questioned whether I can faithfully live my ministry as a youth worker in a broader community that would have me hide who I am in order to be allowed to work with youth.

I am honored to spend time with Quaker youth, Queer youth, and broader populations of underprivileged youth, and I can tell you that this is a life or death situation. The risk that Quakers take when we cannot unite against prejudice is not that some straight Friends are going to feel uncomfortable, it's that people will keep on dying, and we will be complicit in our inaction.  There are children sleeping on the street, being murdered, and killing themselves because they do not have a community that is willing to take a stand for them. I myself am not willing to prioritize the discomfort of overcoming prejudice over their lives. To be asked to do so is an insult to me, to the youth, and to the truth that I believe to be at the core of our faith.

Additionally insulting to my faith is the implication that a community can be welcoming without being affirming. When we welcome only the parts of a person that do not challenge us to grow, we invalidate their existence as a whole person. No person can feel truly welcome in a place where they are not affirmed, and to suggest that we ought to settle for that implies that we are not worthy of the full love of the community and of God. Communities that do not seek to affirm all members are stunting themselves spiritually and cutting themselves off from the possibility for wholeness. Quakerism teaches us that we must be ready to be transformed by our faith, and the principles of radical love and inclusivity require readiness for total transformation as well. To settle for anything less is to sell ourselves short.

I'm not going to address the theological basis for homophobia. I am hoping that you know as well as I that there is no possible justification that can outweigh our call to see the Light of God in every person and affirm each other's ability to love & grow in whatever form that comes. The time for Quakers to unify on this issue and come out in full support of LGBTQ rights has come and gone; we are behind. We have watched people die while we discern how uncomfortable it might make some of us to let go of our prejudices. My position on this may sound extreme, and I do empathize with the nuances and complexities that exist in our community, but it is as simple as this: We are here to witness and be transformed by the radical love of God and to bring that love to others. There is no room for discrimination there, and there is no justification for allowing suffering and death to continue while we pick and choose what manifestations of love we affirm.

I hope that you will take the words that you heard on Sunday back with you to others in FUM. I felt that discussion to be very powerful and spirit led, and I am endlessly grateful to be part of a community that speaks the truth so clearly and without hesitation. I hope too that you can hear my words and know that they are fueled both by a deep love for the Quaker community and a steadfast conviction that we can, and must, do better.  


(c) 2014 Helen Marie Staab.  Reprinted with permission.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Self-care reminders

Child sexual abuse is very much in the news and commentary just now. 
 
A reminder for survivors of violence against women, child abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence:

You can take a break from the coverage and the discussions. You don't have to follow it all. You don't have to participate in all your friends' conversations about it. You don't have to read anything you don't want to or be part of any conversations you don't want to.

What still remains most important is self-care. We can't help other victims and survivors, and we can't change rape culture, by doing things that jeopardize our own recovery.

Wear your own oxygen mask. Help other survivors get theirs on.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Faith communities and individuals supporting marriage equality in Utah and surrounding areas?

Dear friends,

I am looking for faith/religious groups and individuals who support same-sex marriage / marriage equality, in the following areas in the US:  

  • Utah
  • Oklahoma
  • additionally, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, and Wyoming

I am particularly looking for Quaker, Unitarian Universalist, and Jewish groups and individuals, but individuals and groups from ANY faith tradition/religion would also be helpful.  

(This is a request related to some work I'm doing with a third-party group in that area.)

Please let me know of any groups or individuals in that area. I need to turn this around in about a week. 

Thanks so much!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Brigid Poetry Festival: IMBOLC

Snow on trees and birdbath.  (c) 2014 Mari Elm
Snow on trees and birdbath.  (c) 2014 Mari Elm
A belated post for the 2014 Brigid Poetry Festival.  - sm

IMBOLC

Stillness.
Once-sleeping seeds
Nourished
Under a blanket of snow
And hard, cold Earth
Now stir,
Sending tendrils yet unseen
Of fragile life
Upward, outward.
The Sun grows longer, stronger,
Fueling, coaxing
Potential withal warm light.
The Cycle begins again
And we rejoice,
Bless-ed.

(C) Rev. Mari Elm
February 2014
reprinted with permission

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Urgent: final vote for the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill (Scotland)

The final vote for the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill (Scotland) is on 4 February.

If you live in Scotland, please (please, please) contact MSPs and ask them:
1) to vote for Scotland's Equal Marriage bill and
2) to reject any negative amendments.

You can do so through this link:
http://www.equalmarriage.org.uk/itstime

As you may know, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, and many Jewish groups in Scotland have supported this campaign for equal marriage as a matter of religious liberty.

This bill will also make a tremendous difference in the lives of people you know -- including me and Beloved Wife.

So as a personal favor, I ask you to contact MSPs. Thank you.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What shall I tell you about Winter Solstice?

Shall I tell you about the holiness of every day, of the sacredness of each of the four seasons? Shall I tell you about how tracking the seasons helps me understand, in a deeply...  Read more