Sex Work

YOLO in the Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch

Yesterday my partner and I were talking about ideas for starting our own business. The idea that rocketed to the top of the list was a consultation business for sexual acceptance of self. Whatever one’s gender preference, whatever one’s orientation, whatever one’s kink, or darkest, strangest, trippiest, or even vanilla sexual desires or no desires at all, it’s all alright. We’re all wired the way we’re wired. And there are safe, sane and consensual outlets for those desires to be met.  We can help!

While we were brainstorming, I realized that I started to recoil a bit. I was immediately worried that by getting into a sex-based business, I was somehow short-changing myself. That there were more important things for me to do in this life, why would I do that?

But then I thought, WAIT A MINUTE! What’s wrong with it? Why am I falling into the same trap of the very people we want to help?

Paris Hilton, hamburger eating übermensch, handing down the moral decree that size matters.

The strange truth about our culture in America is, we are sent mixed, confusing messages daily about sex daily. If you’re a woman, you’re suppose to be both liberated and modest. If you’re a man, you’re suppose to be both aggressive and sensitive. The media bombards us with flashes of objectified humans and psychologically ambushes us with products to make us all sexier, sharper, hyper-aggressive, übermensches. But you’re not supposed to act on those airs you purchased; you’re just suppose to look the part.  

With no national dialogue on sex. We’re all a bundle of neurotic wrecks on the subject, including me. My mother was so hung up on sex that I never thought I could talk to her about it. I group up terminally embarrassed about the subject so there was so much I didn’t know until I got to college. But if I’m honest with myself, I learned most of what I know about sex through the internet like most people today.

 I’ve met women who so identified with sexual purity due to their Christian fundamentalist upbringing, that they were unable to shed that identity when they got married. They were just suddenly expected to let go what was drilled into their minds since they were young children.  They didn’t know who they were if not a virgin!

BDSM symbol

And that is why we need more people out there helping communities to gain a healthier understanding of sex, sexual orientation and gender in this country. Too many people think there is something wrong with themselves because they like something “deviant” or “immoral.” Often times what they are into is rather normal, they just don’t know it because people rarely open up and talk about it. People worry if they like sex too much, they worry if they don’t like it enough.  God help then if they find they like having pain inflicted on them, or they like to inflict it on others. They bury these fears because they’re not supposed to like it by the standards of social norms.

It’s when these things are buried and unacknowledged that they become misshapen and grow into deviant monsters that hurt others. When we are aware of the shadow and start to integrate it, we can find constructive outlets for our desires and partners who are more aligned and eagerly willing to participate in our sexual needs.

A literal blackhole shadow! So dense it will bench press your soul.

So much ends up in that shadow, it’s got to be made of the most super dense material on the entire planet! I believe that to be the case. I think Americans are really good at super packing their shadows with dark treats just waiting to bite us all on the ass one day. It’s okay if you like that sort of thing, I don’t judge.

It’s healthy to talk about sex. What is not healthy is to not talk about it. So, my own shadow work this week will be to uncover why I recoiled when I really thought about a business that centered on sexual acceptance. Is it my Catholic background rearing its head, a fear of being rejected by my family, or something deeper?  

The Devil Inside

“Gods suppressed become devils, and often it is these devils whom we first encounter when we turn inward.”

Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor
The Devil, from Aleister Crowley’s Thoth deck

Today for my daily tarot card I pulled The Devil. I’ve learned to love this card because it’s a great reminder that we’re not just all connected through love and light, but also through shadow and darkness. One of my great lessons last year was that all the things that really irk and irritate me with others, are the things I do myself. I project my shadow all over others when I see the things, I hate in myself in their actions. It allows me to Otherize the shit out of it and distance myself from all the nasty cognitive dissonance I push deep down in my psyche. I don’t do that, they do that! They may or may not do that, but so do I. It’s how I’m able to recognize it outside of myself.

But that’s okay. We’re not creatures of pure love and light. We human beings are complex buggers. We’ve got a whole array of traits that range between delights and horrors. Sure, we all have angel light waiting to burst out of our hearts, but there’s a little demon in all of us too which also unites us. And I think therein lies the key for us to truly understand each other.

I this happens to you, see a doctor immediately

We’re all hung up on the light, but fail to understand the shadow. But lo and behold, that’s where all the shit flinging is located. The devil in me sees the devil in you. Because we refuse to acknowledge that it’s the devil inside of each of us that sees the devil in others, we persecute each other. In our own minds it’s, the superior Godbeing in me condemns the devil in you! The condemnation begins when we are divorced from our shadow, because we see ourselves as morally superior. The reality is, we’re being hypocrites.

When we are aware of our own shadow, we become aware of the shadow of others and how it came into being. We understand that the same pain, hardships and environmental forces that shaped us, shaped everyone one else. We all take on a different shape, but we all still have the bruises and scares made by those forces. Knowledge of this leads us to compassion and empathy, rather than condemnation.

We cannot embrace our Divine selves unless we embrace all opposites. A divine being is a whole being and contains both light and dark elements. Refusing to acknowledge the shadow and work with it, makes devils of us all.

“He’s going to lead you down the path of righteousness. I’m going to lead you down the path that rocks!”

Alchemical Love

I was listening to a video from Carolyn Elliott the other day regarding the topic of love. In it she talks about how many of us miss the love around us because we are seeking to find ourselves worthy of it. Am I worthy of love? What must I do to be worthy of love?

But this is the wrong way of looking at love. It’s not about making the grade or getting to the final cut where we’ll finally grasp the golden ring and be found worthy!

Nope.

The most humbling aspect of love, she says, is that worthiness has nothing to do with it. Alas, love just is for no reason at all.

This is the truth about love. It’s unconditional or it’s not love at all. One loves everything; the ugly, scary, awkward, weird bits alongside of the ordinary, milquetoast, mediocre bits, and the beautiful, fabulous, glorious bits.

When it comes to ourselves, I think it’s difficult and often even terrifying to love the whole of ourselves. I know it is for me. I can be mean, nasty and petty sometimes.  I can also be quite awesome and a cool person to be around too. I’m both of these people. It’s been hard for me to love my dark side. But I’ve learned to over the last few years. My shadow is part of me and she’s gotten me through some tough spots. I’ve learned to stop shunning her so that we can become better partners and work through the rough patches with greater ease and less drama.

The one I still have trouble with is Awkward-me. The one who has ADD, poor coordination, brain fog, and freezes at the thought of small talk. She’s the introvert that trips me up and makes my life extraordinarily difficult. She’s why I suck at job interviews and have such a hard time in front of cameras. She’s a big reason why Shadow-me can be such a monster. I feel like I’m always paying a huge price for Awkward-me, so loving her has been so very difficult. It’s a hell of a lot easier for me to love my shadow!

This awkward part of me is why I’ve had worthiness issues in the past. When I get frustrated with myself, I still scream, “Why can’t I do this?! What’s wrong with me?!” But the simple answer is, this is the body I have. These are the chemicals in my brain. I have these challenges and they shape me into who I am. I would likely not be on my current path had it not been for these challenges. As frustrating as my challenges can be – I love my path, I love how I think.  What I really don’t like are the bumps in the road. Welcome to the human condition.

I’m may be the fire breathing unicorn, but she’s the gun toting cat!

Love is not about being worthy. Love is about embracing the whole, even the stuff you hate. Maybe especially the stuff you hate. That’s the stuff that carves us into the magical creatures we become.

I know I’m a unicorn. My beloved told me I was this morning and she never lies.

Got Guilt?

I was prompted by a friend to read the book, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism by Pascal Brunckner, which reflects on the problem the West finds itself in as it wallows in the sins of its past to the point of becoming ineffectual against the problems of the present and the future.  Bruckner argues that guilt has become a pathology, and indeed, it seems in many respects he is correct. As the West battles internally with its demons – one side refusing to acknowledge them at all and the other side consumed with guilt over it – out there lay other evils and challenges that are not going to wait for us to get our collective shit together.

We have monumental mistakes in our past; slavery, the holocaust, genocide, economic injustices, wars, subjugation of women, homophobia. The list goes on and much of it is still going on in our times. There’s lots to feel guilty about if we’re so inclined to it. Bruckner makes the case that this is counterproductive. Guilt makes us silent and less likely to step in when we see other cultures making the same mistakes we did. We call it moral relativism (not to be confused with cultural relativism), but really, it’s our own guilt over these past sins that keeps us from interfering.  When I taught Ethics, I would have students ardently defending the practice of female genital mutilation because it was the practice of a particular culture and “who am I to judge?” My response was often, “You are a rational, thinking, human being, tell me what you think of this practice.” They had a hard time with it. They found it abhorrent and knew it harmed girls and women, but they couldn’t bring themselves to say it was wrong for another culture. “Let’s try this again,” I would say. “Would it have been okay for the Nazis in Germany to only kills the German Jews? Did it only become a problem when they invaded other nations and killed those Jews too?” Sometimes the light would go on then that there was a problem in their relativism. Sometimes not.

I am finding more and more that there is a cultural guilt in Western society that keeps it from acting on great problems. “Who are we to make those decisions?” seems to be the motif among a growing contingent. And as a backlash in the opposite direction, we have the growing shadow of those refusing to even acknowledge the past. The “I’m not responsible for what happened a century ago!” crowd.  On the other side of guilt breeds the Shadow. These are those people disgusted by the acquiescence and silence of those who have succumb to the guilt. In their plight not to be associated with the weak ineffectiveness of their counterparts, they cause all sorts of chaos.  These are the two sides of the malignant guilt coin.

According to John Lamb Nash in Not in His Image, the Gnostics saw embracing the redemptive aspect of suffering as a sign of madness in early Christianity (p. 20)

Perhaps we are witnessing the legacy of a culture built on the redemptive aspect of suffering. Christianity as it is practiced today, is built on the idea that suffering is good for us. We find in our suffering that there is salvation at the end of the tunnel. In this sense, there is a self-serving aspect of it. We can cleanse ourselves of our sins – not by correcting our mistakes and growing from them – but rather through suffering in-and-of-itself. Atonement via flagellation.

Guilt, then, is inherently selfish. I don’t know many groups who have suffered under White European oppression that want our guilt in response to their own suffering. Our guilt leads to worse things, like our projections of what we think oppressed groups want us to do to fix the world rather than actually doing anything to fix the world. Say for instance, by truly inviting these oppressed people to the table to make changes together, rather than us making the changes we think they want on their behalf. No matter how much we say we want to help Black people and indigenous cultures, people of color, and women, a ridiculous disproportionate amount of all political power and commerce is still controlled by White men of European descent.

Our precious guilt redirects the suffering back onto ourselves, rather than the harmed Other. It is the roundabout racism of liberalism found in white European culture that we don’t want to address. Freedom for all! But not in our backyard! Let us lament the struggle and our failures, and all the work ahead of us! This is our great burden! This is the proverbial black mirror that is all too terrible to look into. Suffering for the greater glory, even in a secular context, is a special kind of narcissistic evil.

If we want to build a better world, it’s time to exorcise the guilt and integrate that shadow before we consign ourselves to a worse fate. How do we do that? We face our past mistakes, not with guilt but with action. We stop tolerating those behaviors that are wrong in ourselves and in others. We stop hemming and hawing and get on with it. We dare to grow from the past and stop wallowing in it. We stop making the victims of our atrocities and mistakes, the victims of our guilt also. We opt for true diversity of opinions on how to move forward in our world by embracing what helps us all, rather than the disingenuous apology after the plundering of resources.

There are other evils out there and wallowing in guilt will not allow us to defeat those. The West is not the only problematic culture and there’s plenty of shitty behavior to go around. We are facing monumental problems in our future, not the least of those is climate change which is bound to change the political, social and spiritual landscape radically. To meet the challenges, we will need to grow up, face reality and meet it head on.

Shadow Wrangling

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept…”

John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962

Just this week I’ve been bombarded by well-meaning relatives and friends sending me pro-Trump ad and other various propaganda videos. I’ve also overheard co-workers speaking about their new pro-Trump paraphernalia to put out on their lawns and how they hope he can get this country back on the right track and… I really don’t want to hear it. I do not like this man and I certainly do not relish the idea of four more years of him. I’m not sure America can survive four more years of him.

But if you happen to live in America, hear about him you must as we all do. Every. Single. Day. I imagined this election cycle would be exhausting back in 2016 if Trump managed to remain in office. But on top of out-of-control coronavirus, mask wars, well-justified Black Lives Matters protests, DHS goons being sent into our cities, and Trump at the center of all of it like some mad conductor leading a group of hyenas on kazoos playing All Hail the Conquering Hero – I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.

But with little choice in the matter, I’ve chosen to focus on a positive aspect of the Trump administration. What could that possibly be? He’s introduced America to its shadow side.

All of the hate, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the religious hatred, is hanging out for everyone to see. All of the problems plaguing America; the cracks in the system, the loop-holes in our democracy, the institutional blindness towards people in need, the gerrymandering in the voting system, the theft from the social safety networks are now exposed to us. It was always there. Trump didn’t cause it, he just shined a large enough light on it for all of us to see the rot that was growing there. Our history is both great and terrible. Where we have excelled, we must remember that this nation accomplished its great deeds on the backs of slaves and through the genocide of the indigenous culture. This is a time for our nation to sit with these realities and actually work through them rather than ignore them. If we are to ever heal these wounds, we need to stop pretending that we have nothing to do with our own past. As Antonio tells Sebastian in The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue.” Everything in our history has led us to this point. But how we choose to act right now at this moment, can change things for the better or the worse.

There is no recovery from some mistakes.

When I was studying archaeology as an undergrad, my professor gave me an old iron artifact covered in rust from the 19th century to clean with a sandblaster. To this day, I don’t know what it was. It was mostly rust by the late 20th century when I got my hands on it. As I used the sandblaster to remove the rust, it gradually became apparent that whatever it was, the rust was all that was holding it together. My heart sank as the object split into four pieces. They were shiny though! If we melted it down, we could have used the pieces to make it into something else. Alas it was not a metal recycling class, it was archaeology. My job was to preserve the useless thing. When my professor saw it he simply replied, “Ah, shit.”  

I sometimes get the feeling that America is now being hit by a giant karmic sandblaster. It’s a grueling process, but we’re slowly stripping the rust and rot away. Maybe beneath it there are some shiny nuggets for us to recover and make into something new. Rather than being archaeologists and preserving the old, decaying, rusted, rotting legacy that we’ve held onto so tightly for so long, we need to instead become the alchemists who burn away the dross, refine what is left and make alchemical gold.

Solve et Coagula

My work this election year is shadow work. It is not easy. It is why it is called The Great Work.

To everyone who is reading this, stay healthy and stay safe.