Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Spiritual practice peer support group

Would you like support from other people in bringing a spiritual practice into your life, or in maintaining a practice you already have? 

We have one spot left in the 12-week spiritual practice peer support group that starts this week and runs through early December.

The group is on-line, virtual, text-based -- participants check in once a week, but there's no fixed meeting time.

Cost is $24 / £15 for the 12 weeks.

Please let me know asap if you're interested!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Thanking the Goddess for tea

Yesterday, I posted to Facebook:  "TEA. Thank You, Goddess."

Today, while making my tea, it occurred to me to ask myself: Can I thank the Goddess for tea when I don't believe in the Goddess? 

I have said many times that I don't believe in the Goddess; I experience the Goddess.  And I do. 

I live on this planet, so I experience the Goddess -- the Air, Fire, Water, and Earth that are Her breath, energy, blood, and body.  That are literally and metaphorically these things. 

Air, Fire, Water, Earth in my everyday experience:  I breathe air.  I listen for the wind in the trees, down our chimney, against the walls of our house, against the sides of the bus.  I feel the wind against my face, against my body, as I walk; it blows my hair in my face these days.  I love sunny days; I depend on sunlight even on cloudy days, for the food I eat, for my mental health, for vitamin D, for so much else.  I revel in how our cats luxuriate in the sun shining through our living room windows.  I love how our back patio is a little sun-trap.  My neurons fire, a near-infinite number of tiny points of tremendous energy.  I love the moon.  I drink water.  I drink TEA.  I am, myself, more than half water.  My blood pumps.  Making my tea, I had a clumsy moment which reminded me that I definitely experience gravity, and if that's not an Earth power, what is.  I have a body.  I walk on the ground.  There are trees in our communal back garden, and flowers, shrubs, and other plants in both front and back gardens, and so many of our neighbors' gardens.  I can walk down to the end of the block I live on, look east, and see Arthur's Seat, one of the "mountains" in town.  Another few steps, and I can see Salisbury Crags.  I can go climb them.  I can walk across the green at the end of my block.  I can go sit on our back patio and listen to the birds and the wind in the trees, and feel the sunlight on my face. 

These days, I feel very estranged from that fifth element, that something more, the Spirit which binds all the elements, all life, together. 

But I can experience the Air, Fire, Water, and Earth in the everyday. 

I can thank the Air, Fire, Water, and Earth -- including humans -- responsible for my tea. 

Thank You, Goddess.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Reprint: But WHAT CAN BE DONE: Dos and Don’ts To Combat Online Sexism

But WHAT CAN BE DONE: Dos and Don’ts To Combat Online Sexism 

by Leigh Alexander

You may notice that a lot of things happen to do with sexism on the internet. Sometimes someone has done a sexist thing and people are talking about it. Sometimes someone has written an article about the time they experienced sexism and other people are having feelings about it.  Sometimes a particular woman or women is being harassed on Twitter and you are witnessing it.

As you know, sexism is bad, and when bad things happen, you might have feelings about it too. But how can you help? What should be done? Here is a guide:

DON’T: Tweet at women asking them “what should be done”. When someone is venting about systemic injustice, commandeering their attention with the question, “but what solutions would you recommend” is akin to walking up to a person who is on fire and asking them to bring you a bucket of water so that you can “help.”  

DON’T: Make the person who is clearly suffering from the effects of an unfair system do free work for you. If you need more information to understand what you see happening, you have ways of obtaining it: Look at someone’s profile and read their feed or their conversations. Look at links that have been posted. Google. Ask your own friends. You can find a Game of Thrones torrent from anywhere in the world, and you can find out what has happened or is being discussed without making people who are obviously upset or occupied explain it to you. Some people may have high public profiles and busy feeds; some people may even be experiencing stressful interactions, even threats. You are not helping by butting in with “link please” or “did I miss something.”

DON’T: Feel like you have to give a response. Sometimes people simply want to be heard and understood, and you do not need to prove you are a good person by offering a pithy reply or insincerely fist-shaking along. One component of sexism is that men tend to inherently expect that what they say is valuable, and that a statement from a woman cannot possibly stand alone without their contributions. It is totally and entirely possible that you might have nothing to add, and you could benefit from the conversations of those who do.

DON’T: Try to explain things. Understand that even if the person you are addressing is not an authority in her field (though she often may be, as sexism targets prominent women) you ought not automatically assume she needs you to let her know how things go in her field, unless she has asked. Experiment with the idea that her experience is not whatsoever about you and it’s not the time for you to attention-seek or offer an ‘alternative perspective’.

And absolutely don’t try to explain to a woman writer or speaker what sexism is or what is happening to her. She knows.

DON’T: Tone-police. Does she sound enraged, impatient, and bitter? Is she not being especially nice to all the people who have Tweeted at her to explain sexism, ask her how to solve sexism, or otherwise undermine the things she is saying? Too bad. You wouldn’t be nice either if you lived in a system which consistently conspired to remove your authority and devalue your work. No matter what happens, you are not the victim in the situation — do not re-center conversations on yourself and your needs and emotions by pestering angry women to talk more nicely to you.
Did she hurt your feelings? You’ll live. Ditch the passive aggressive “fair enough” and “I was merely trying to” and “as you wish” and all of this, leave her alone, and consider your obligation to be part of the solution to a system that has harmed her and made her angry. If you think women, particularly women who are public figures, should feel an equally-important sense of obligation to make you feel good about yourself while they are under stress, congratulations: You are part of the problem.

DON’T: Make stupid jokes. You might be one of tons of people Tweeting at her, tone is hard to read online, and you shouldn’t be putting anyone, especially someone who does not actually know you, in charge of figuring out your sense of humor when they are under stress. You might just be trying to lighten things up or cheer the situation, but let people be angry, let them have heated discussions if they want and need to. Imagine this: Your dog dies, and a stranger walking past thinks you should cheer up, or take it less seriously, and decides to joke about your dead dog. What would you think of them?

You aren’t the mood police, and joking when someone is upset just sends the message that you don’t want to take her feelings or challenges seriously.

DO: Express your feelings of support. When you see something unjust happen, say that you condemn it. When someone’s the victim of destructive sexist behavior, defend them– not in a brownie points-seeking way, directing your comments at the victim herself or copying women into your Tweets so that they know you’re a good guy — but in your own channels. When you see friends and colleagues passing on destructive opinions, challenge them. By engaging the issue yourself, you take responsibility.

DO: Consider the well-being of others. When a woman or group of women becomes the victim of sexist harassment in public, spotlighting them isn’t always helpful, even if it’s well-intentioned. Tweeting “Everyone currently spewing hateful bullshit @thisperson is a jerk” expresses a noble and true sentiment, but it also does two things:  puts the spotlight on @thisperson and the volume of hate speech circulating around her, and also risks attracting more jerks. Good intentions aren’t quite enough: Think about the impact your statement may have, and make sure you’re not just creating more social media noise for someone. You do not improve someone’s level of stress or overstimulation with a wall of five replies from you about how bad you feel for her.

DO: Boost the individual and her work, not her victimhood. No woman who experiences sexism in her profession wants to be known primarily for “being a woman who experiences sexism.” It is right to defend and support women, and it is right to condemn sexism, but sometimes the best way to do that is by supporting their work. Hundreds of hair-tearing tweets protesting all the terrible sexist things that are happening to so-and-so can actually have the same ultimate effect as sexism: In both cases, the woman is reduced simply to “victim of sexism”.

Instead of Tweeting “it sucks what’s happening to @thisperson, why are people so evil and why is this industry so terrible,” consider something more like “I support @thisperson, author of this impactful paper [link]” or “I respect @thisperson, one of the best speakers on [topic] that I’ve ever seen.” Be sincere and not flowery or excessive — sometimes when people are trying to diminish someone because of their gender, talking about their achievements instead is the best countermeasure. Keep the individual at the center of the story, not the people harassing her nor the fact of her harassment. Don’t say “it’s so brave, what you do.” Say “I like something you created.”

And remember, women are individuals who all do different kinds of work, not a hive mind of “women writers” “women programmers” or “harassment victims” for you to group together.

DO: Take on some of the battles. When you see someone attacking a woman — or even just asking the kind of obtuse “but why is this a problem” questions we’ve already discussed in point one, here — explain and correct. Provide resources. Injustice and inequality of all kinds happen because people don’t recognize or realize the myriad way society has written different, deeply-ingrained rules for some people versus others, and information and empathy are keys to solving that problem. It should not only be women and minorities who are in charge of disseminating this information and heading up this fight.

Offer to moderate your friend’s Twitter feed or her website comments at stressful times (if it’s someone you know personally, who would trust you with her login information). Empower yourself to do better than just watching things happen with angst and concern, feeling bad about yourself and wondering “what can be done”. Take the lead sometimes, especially when you see someone being assailed, and share the load.

DO: Be aware of your own power and how you can use it to help others. It’s tough for women when they speak or write about sexism, or become victims of public harassment, to see strangers on Twitter care about what is happening to them — but their male peers, the organization they work for, their colleagues and coworkers remain silent in public. Don’t just send her a nice note in private about how bad it looks like things are sucking and how you “have her back.” Actually have her back. Stand up in public and say that yours is not a professional infrastructure that allows women to be abused or treated unfairly. Say that so-and-so is a talented, valued asset you’re proud to work with or for.

The silence of our friends is so much more painful than the noise of our enemies, and when our bosses, important figures in our field, or colleagues do not come out to condemn sexism or acts of abuse against us it can be very lonesome — we get the message that sexism is our own problem, an inconvenient issue that no one wants to get their hands dirty with.

when men condemn sexism the response is universally approving — good man, brave man. When women talk about sexism, we get death threats. Men should use this advantage to the fullest: The essays guys often write about how sexism is wrong or how they came to understand their own sexism may set examples for other men, and that’s not unimportant, but it’s basically just patting their own backs if those men are not also signal-boosting and supporting the work of women colleagues, hiring women, and bringing attention to the accomplishments of the women in their field.

DO: Care about feminist issues all the time, not just when someone you like on Twitter seems to be being abused. Share and RT the stories and articles that have educated you so that others can learn from them. Regardless of gender, all of us have been sexist before and will probably be again, as sexism, like racism, is unconscious and related to the values we internalize in our societies growing up. If someone tells you you are being sexist or racist, it is not a slur against your character, but an opportunity to learn more about yourself and others. We should all be interested in continuing to read, learn and share with those around us. 

[Any site or outlet has express permission to reprint this article if a. link back to my site is provided b. the article is not edited or altered in any way]


Friday, August 8, 2014

Quakers urge recognition of Palestine

Quakers in Britain urge the UK Government to recognise Palestine as a nation state; they call for a comprehensive arms embargo on all sides in the conflict and for an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of Palestine.


News Release

08 August 2014

Quakers urge recognition of Palestine

Amid faltering ceasefires and talks, Quakers in Britain are calling for urgent action on Gaza. They urge the UK Government to recognise Palestine as a nation state; they call for a comprehensive arms embargo on all sides in the conflict and for an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of Palestine.

The calls for action come in a statement made by the decision making body of Quakers in Britain, the Yearly Meeting, attended by 2,000 Quakers in Bath.  As part of their commitment to peacemaking, Quakers continue to challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

The Yearly Meeting heard essential steps towards full and fair negotiations:

  •     Palestine to be recognised as a nation state
  •     An end to indiscriminate fire by all sides
  •     A comprehensive arms embargo
  •     An end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and blockade of Gaza
  •     Freeing elected Palestinian leaders now held as political prisoners
  •     The use of international law to hold all parties to account for their actions.

The Yearly Meeting heard that this week that Quakers were invited to meet Foreign Office ministers on the crisis. Teresa Parker, programme manager for Israel and Palestine for Quakers in Britain, was among representatives from faith and secular agencies who went to share views and experience of the region.

A key motivation for Yearly Meeting is valuing all life. The Yearly Meeting statement says:

“As we among other Nobel Peace Laureates have said, ‘The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis will only be resolved when Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory is ended and the inherent equality, worth, and dignity of all is realised.’  Peacebuilding is a long and demanding path to take… We long for – and will work for – a time when the fear experienced on all sides is replaced by a sense of security.”

The Yearly Meeting statement in full reads:

A statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict made by Quakers in Britain at their Yearly Meeting in Bath, 8 August 2014

“At this time of sombre anniversaries, as we observe the centenary of the outbreak of World War I and the anniversaries of nuclear bombs dropped on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki we find our Quaker testimonies to peace and equality again compel us to speak out.

“The hostilities in Gaza are the latest eruption of the deep and long-running conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Root causes of this conflict, including the structural violence of occupation, must be addressed. Such violence damages all the people of the region. The present time, with its faltering ceasefires and talks, is a time of both crisis and opportunity. 

“From our long-standing Quaker experience of working on this issue in Palestine, Israel and Britain, and from listening to the testimony of Quakers in Ramallah, we are convinced that the UK Government has a real role to play.  A starting place would be for the UK to recognise Palestine as a nation state on the same basis as it recognises Israel.  We note that 134 states have already recognised the State of Palestine. The UK Government should also play its part in creating a real opportunity for peace by drawing groups such as Hamas into the political process and thus away from violent resistance to the occupation. We have seen around the world how those once labelled as terrorists can come to be recognised for their statesmanship.   It is our view that freeing elected Palestinian leaders now held as political prisoners would help Palestine to develop as a flourishing economic, political and civil society.

“The international community remains complicit in the conflict for as long as it fails to make full use of the mechanisms provided by international law, to hold all parties to account for their actions.  Under international law, at all times, all parties should distinguish between civilians and combatants, though as Quakers we place equal value on every human life. The Israeli Government's ongoing blockade of Gaza and its apparent collective punishment of the people must end, as must indiscriminate fire by all sides.

“Amid the present crisis, we are reminded that the people of the West Bank, living under Israeli occupation face restrictions on movement; loss of land and water; demolitions; the continuing building of settlements; detention without trial and violence by settlers and the Israeli military. Such suffering often sows seeds of future violence.

“The anniversary of World War I reminds us how easily militarised societies can slide into armed conflict and become blind to the alternatives to war. At such times, the international community has a responsibility to avoid fuelling the conflict. We join others in asking for a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and armed Palestinian groups. Quakers in Britain ask the UK Government to take a lead on this by halting arms exports to Israel.

“As we, among other Nobel Peace Laureates, have said, 'The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis will only be resolved when Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory is ended and the inherent equality, worth, and dignity of all is realised’. Peacebuilding is a long and demanding path to take, but an essential one.

“Quakers in Britain feel called to act alongside others to address the roots of violence. We continue to uphold Quakers in the region and those working nonviolently for peace and human rights within Israel and Palestine. Quakers will continue to challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, as we oppose all forms of prejudice. We long for – and will work for – a time when the deep fear experienced on all sides is replaced by security and a just peace.


Chris Skidmore

Clerk of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain

Quakers in Britain send human rights monitors to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, but not Gaza. On behalf of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and other Christian agencies Quakers in Britain runs the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Ecumenical accompaniers focus global attention on Israeli and Palestinian peace and human rights groups. EAPPI uses the standards of human rights and international law to work for an end to the occupation and for a just peace with security and dignity for all.


Notes to editors

  •     134 nations have already recognised the State of Palestine (source: Palestinian Mission UK).
  •     The Nobel Peace Laureates’ statement is here http://www.quaker.org.uk/news/nobel-peace-laureates-call-real-peace-between-israelis-and-palestinians
  •     The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) is a World Council of Churches (WCC) initiative which was established in 2002 in response to a call made by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, and Palestinian and Israeli NGOs. Since August 2002, about 1,000 ecumenical accompaniers from more than 20 countries have served in Israel and Palestinian territories. More than 160 of these EAs were from Britain and Ireland. See www.quaker.org.uk/eappi
  •     Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends.
  •     Around 23,000 people attend 478 Quaker meetings in Britain. Their commitment to equality, justice, peace, simplicity and truth challenges them to seek positive social and legislative change.
  •     At the Yearly Meeting Gathering, 2,000 Quakers, including 300 young people, have been at the University of Bath campus for a mixture of worship, business, interest groups, and significant lectures, exploring ‘What it means to be a Quaker today’. Junior Yearly Meeting, for 14 to 18 year olds, has run alongside YMG.

Media Information

Anne van Staveren

0207 663 1048

07958 009703



Thursday, August 7, 2014

Friend of the Court Brief in Baskin v Zoeller

I am pleased and happy to announce that Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC) (http://flgbtqc.quaker.org/) has joined many other faith groups on a friend of the court brief filed yesterday by Kramer Levin in Baskin v Zoeller, the Indiana marriage equality case before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.  (More info here: http://www.freedomtomarry.org/litigation/entry/indiana.)

As with the other Kramer-Levin briefs we've signed on to, I highly recommend reading this.  It's easy to read, and brilliant.  And super-encouraging for people of faith, and people in faith communities, who support marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Here's a link to the brief:

Yay!  And congratulations to all the signatories!

Blessed be.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Who is remembered, lives: Margot Adler

I learned today that Margot Adler has died. 

Amazing grace, how sweet the earth
That formed a witch like me
I once was burned, but now I thrive
Was hanged but now I sing

'Twas grace that drew down the moon
And grace that raised the sea
The magick of the people's will
Will set our Mother free!

Rest in peace, Margot. Who is remembered, lives. May your memory always be a blessing.


Related post: Margot Adler's "Amazing Grace," without shame

Friday, July 25, 2014

Donations for humanitarian relief in Israel and Gaza

According to the NY Times, the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation for Israel and the Occupied Territories is the only humanitarian agency currently on the ground in Beit Hanoun, Gaza.

Here is more information.

If you'd like to support humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza, please consider a donation to the ICRC specifically for this relief work.
The ICRC started work in Israel and the occupied territories in 1948, following the first Israeli-Arab conflict. Its presence became permanent in the aftermath of the 1967 war. The ICRC repeatedly reminds Israel of its obligations under IHL towards the population living under occupation, through bilateral and confidential dialogue. The organization focuses on the protection of civilians and the welfare of detainees held in Israeli and Palestinian places of detention, and helps the most needy. The ICRC supports the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Magen David Adom (the Israeli National Society). (http://www.icrc.org/eng/where-we-work/middle-east/israel-occupied-territories/overview-israel.htm)

To donate, see http://www.icrc.org/eng/donations/index.jsp

Thursday, July 24, 2014

What do these numbers tell you about Gaza?

What do these numbers tell you?

In the current Gaza emergency:
* 95% of the total fatalities have been Palestinian.
* 5% total fatalities have been Israeli.
* 76% of the Palestinian fatalities have been civilians.
* 25% of the Palestinian fatalities have been children.
* 7% of the Israeli fatalities have been civilians.
* 0% of the Israeli fatalities have been children.

Feel free to check my arithmetic:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Israel-Palestine: the Gaza emergency, reliable information sources, and peace workers

Here are some sources of reliable information about the on-going situation in Israel-Palestine, and in particular about the current emergency in Gaza.  Here's also some information about people and groups doing active peacemaking.  There are a lot of them.  Spreading the word about their work is one way to remind the world about the truth on the ground, which is very different from what most of us hear from the news reports. 

First: information

A good place to get reliable information about the daily situation in Gaza is the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Occupied Palestinian Territories, or UN OCHA OPT.  They publish a situation report every day with highlights, quick facts and figures, and brief analysis. 

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Occupied Palestinian Territories

Daily Situation Reports

The groups listed under the next section are also excellent sources of information. 

Second: Peacemakers

There are a LOT of individuals and groups within Israel-Palestine doing peace work, especially non-violent peace work. Here are some, just off the top of my head.  If I spent some time looking things up, I could list more. 

Please see what they have to say about the current situation, but also about their work and the overall longer-term situation.  I can pretty much promise you will learn something you didn't already know. 

The International Solidarity Movement

Christian Peacemaker Teams - Palestine

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)

Rabbis for Human Rights

EAPPI / Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel

B'Tselem בצלם

Oasis of Peace / Neve Shalom / Wahat al-Salam

Breaking the Silence

You can click on any of those for more information, both about their work, and also about the current situation.

And there are more. (Feel free to post links in comments.)


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

Respecting Others' Boundaries

Erotic Ethics and Pagan Consent Culture

Silence equals complicity: making Pagan groups safe for everyone

Community Statement on Religious Sexual Abuse

Whatever happened to the pagan community statement on religious sexual abuse?

Growing Faith in Blessed Community