2017 is happening... like it or not. For the first time I can remember I have received more New Year’s messages expressing helplessness and hopelessness than hopefulness and anticipation. Wow.
Welcome to the land of Endarkenment. A couple of years ago I began exploring the nature of endarkenment. Embracing endarkenment means accepting that necessary transformation will happen through radical disruption if we haven’t been able to find it through the more peaceful process of Enlightenment. Remember, enlightenment and endarkenment are not goals—they are processes... paths. Transformation is the outcome of both. Sometimes it takes the collective head-bashing of a period of endarkenment to get us to the transformation our higher selves want and deserve.
The practice of Tantra has taught me that love is always a disturbing presence. Love and Endarkenment are perfectly compatible—they have a wonderful relationship. Now, in these times, it’s up to us to find that same relationship within ourselves. How much self-love and world-love can we bring to our periods of endarkenment?
How are you going to embrace, embody and express Love this year?
That’s a question I’ll be asking and answering—in my writing, my online events and my in-person workshops. The answer to this question will only come with the participation of all of us in the international Urban Tantra community. Please join us.
Below is my schedule for the next few months. I'll be teaching on 3 continents, bringing collaboration, inclusion, accessibility, and gratitude to each of these events. Join me for magic, healing, connection, playfulness, and transformation.
10 - 12 February 2017
18 February 2017
28 - 30 April 2017
This workshop is for couples, singles, and other relationship configurations. All genders and sexual preferences are welcome. For partner practices, singles will be partnered, with consent. To be assured of working with the partner of your choice, come with a friend.
20 - 25 June 2017
I hope to see you in 2017.
On 14 November I received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sexual Freedom Awards in London. Here's my acceptance speech: https://youtu.be/9UNC-T-CAEM
Congratulations to all the nominees and winners, especially family members Joseph Kramer, Rowan Bombadil, Jason Tantra, Deej Juventin, and Laura-Doe Harris.
The Handsomest Man in New York
By Patrick Mulcahey
Richard was the handsomest man in New York. Anyone who knew him would tell you the same thing. The few snapshots I have of him aren’t compelling evidence. He had the kind of beauty an amateur’s camera can’t capture. And he was already sick when they were taken, although nobody knew, not even Richard.
We were both writers, had both gone to the same college, were both thirty and fearless and original and poised to do something great in the world, we thought. Like everyone else, I had a big crush on Richard. To know him was to want things with him: private jokes, correspondence, leather vests, lumberjack shirts that would never look as good on you. But Richard was impressively taken. He lived in a Soho loft with a tall millionaire, striking, older, masculine, distant — a figure of fantasy very much in keeping with Richard’s improbable personal gifts. I rarely saw the boyfriend. He didn’t have a job, he had investments and a place on Fire Island. Evenings he was always going somewhere in a tuxedo or leather while Richard and I went off to William Burroughs readings.
The summer before I moved to San Francisco, Richard became distant, edgy. Work wasn’t going well, he said. And some people can’t deal with separation, so they separate from it, I said. Asshole, said Richard, hugging me good-bye.
A letter came just after I’d found a job and a studio apartment in the Mission. He’d waited till I was gone to tell me he had — well, whatever he called it, it wasn’t “AIDS.” The acronym was so new it felt fake and forced and silly, like when the kid next-door says to call her Esmeralda. What he had was KS, the gay cancer. Half of the people diagnosed with it had already died.
I called right away, annoying Richard. Was I just going to panic like everyone else? He’d had a respiratory tract problem but antibiotics cleared it up. One little spot in his mouth wasn’t going to hurt him. He was fine, he repeated before we hung up. He didn’t sound any different. One little spot in his mouth. Maybe he would be one of the other half.
I called every week and started getting the answering machine and no call back. But then distance notoriously unravels the friendships of men, which so depend on hockey games or camping trips or sex parties, where you focus on something that is not each other. Women know how to have phone friendships. Men need a reason to call, a topic.
One day my phone rang, someone named Paul, a voice I didn’t know, formal and strained. He was returning my calls to Richard ______, did he have the right person? I ran a quick mental scan: Paul… tall, rich, Fire Island, ah yes, the lover/daddy. Was everything all right? No, Richard wasn’t well. It’s hard to get bad news from a stranger; you don’t know what you can ask. Was he in the hospital? Not anymore. Could he come to the phone? No. And if I wanted to see him, I’d better come now, Paul said.
Richard spoke his last sentence the first day I was there. I could see something had changed — I don’t mean what the disease had done to him. Yes, physically he was unrecognizable. But in his eyes, beneath all that, there he was: the old Richard, the loving, unguarded man he’d been a year ago. The worry and the tension, the hiding, were gone. He was enjoying his life again. Somehow his Paul had done that for him.
• By bringing him home. Moonsuits, meals left outside the door, nurses refusing to touch much less bathe him — a hospital was the worst place to be in those days. What could they do for you anyway? So I stayed on, not really competent at anything that might help but unwilling to leave Paul alone with this catastrophe erupting in his life and living room.
• By being Richard’s family. When Richard told his parents what he had and that he was gay, a double coming-out common enough then, they moved to Miami. His sister came to visit twice, but would come no further than the door. We would rotate the sofa so Richard could see her and smile in her direction. She stood in tears by the door calling inanities like “How are you feeling?” across the room, which Richard couldn’t answer anyway. Her love for him was overmatched by her fear of him.
• By being unafraid — which may sound unremarkable now, but ran counter to every instinct, was almost insane. There was no HIV yet, no test, no idea how anyone got AIDS, only the horrific twin deductions any logical child could come to: that it was, A, contagious, and B, fatal. For the first two days I washed my hands whenever I touched Richard or anything he touched. Paul offered no judgment; he offered gloves. Meanwhile he held Richard, kissed Richard, slept in the same bed with him, and by the third day had shamed the fear out of me. Loved it out of me, really.
One night I talked Paul into getting out. He needed a break, and Richard would be fine with me. He wouldn’t go till he’d given Richard his bedtime pills. It was late by then, but this was the city that never sleeps. There’s always the Mineshaft, Paul said, as he left with his big black toybag. Richard nodded off, and so did I, over my book.
I woke up to a low ghastly rattle that rolled through the loft like fugitive hooves. Richard lay staring and rigid, shaking violently head to toe. The awful clacking and shuddering from the bed where he lay made the blood knot up in my veins. I saw something in him that hadn’t been there before — terror — and I realized all this had only seemed possible, his dying I mean, because he had made it so easy, by keeping his own dread at bay for our sakes. Death is fearsome; you can think yourself into a cold sweat contemplating your own; but no sight in this world is so terrifying as the face of a creature Death has in its jaws. Richard protected us from that for as long as he could, and now that he’d shown me that face I wanted to bail and run.
I dialed all the numbers Paul had left me. I don’t think I found him, he just came home, called maybe by something else. He stood and watched Richard a moment, taking off his coat. I saw Richard’s eyes turn on him, just his eyes; those were all that were still in his power to move. It was winter and a long wind screamed down Broome Street, licking the tall windows like there was something inside it wanted.
Paul said nothing to me but climbed up on top of the covers, straddling Richard with his knees till their faces were level and he could look into his eyes. “It’s my fault,” Paul said, in a clear strong voice. “You’re all right. I gave you two white pills instead of one because I was going out. This will go away. It’s my fault. Don’t be afraid.”
How did he know to say that? How did he know it was true? I could see Richard believed him. His jaw relaxed and his hands unclenched and that horrible look ebbed away. An hour or so and his quaking stopped. Paul said Richard was hungry and thirsty so we spooned some water and jello between his lips. If Paul had told me to eat glass or go join a monastery, I would have, that night. I had seen him come home from the Mineshaft and a god enter into him and speak with his voice.
February has the fewest days but is the longest month of a New York winter. The heat went out in the building one night and stuttered on and off unpredictably.
Richard’s last night came soon. People died quickly then. Horrifically, and you didn’t have time to catch your breath. But it might’ve been easier on them than what we did to keep them around five, ten, fifteen years later.
I was awakened in the dead of night, abruptly, by I didn’t know what. An awareness, not that something was wrong, but a sense something was fixed, corrected, was working again. Maybe the furnace had kicked back on.
Then I knew what had changed. Richard’s breathing, grown so labored that it clattered like hail on the roof, had stopped. The bedroom had no door. I went in. Paul sat in bed beside him, wakened like me not by a noise but an absence.
He called the doctor and got an answering service. He called Richard’s sister. We didn’t decide it, we just both had the instinct that Richard needed to be washed, so we bathed and dressed him. I don’t think you’re supposed to do that for thirty-year-old corpses. The coroner’s men who came in the morning said nothing about it, if that’s who they were. Later I learned Richard’s parents had the body transported for a funeral Paul wasn’t told about. But Richard’s teary sister told him and he was allowed to stand quietly in the back of the church.
We changed the sheets and remade the bed, but it was still the bed Richard died in. I went for a walk so I could cry, big heaving sobs I hadn’t dared to release before. Nobody minds if you sob on the street in New York. People look like they’re deciding whether to sob themselves or hold off till another day.
I brought food back and we ate in silence. The dog wanted to know if we could spare some attention for him now. I made up my cot. I didn’t know where Paul would want to sleep. In that bed? “Can you sleep with me?” he said. I wondered if it was wrong. I agonized a long moment. But grief can be like an arranged marriage. We were rough with each other. Safety was our last consideration. Then we kissed and slept like dead men.
How could I go back to my silly soap-opera-writing life? I composed an understated little notice for Paul to send to Richard’s friends. He admired it and was thankful and we both got choked up. He gave me some names and phone numbers, good people he knew in San Francisco who would show me around the city. I called the first name on the list and he took me to Hamburger Mary’s, which I’d never heard of. It took a year, might’ve been two, before I moved in with him. We were together for twenty years.
In short, I came back to a much larger, clearer life than the one I had left. Leather had changed, along with its place in my life. For me, the bar vests, the chaps, the contests, the hanky codes and dress codes and time-honored prohibitions were like antique remnants of another life. There were only two sexual identities now: alive and not. My way of being a leatherman for almost the next ten years was to be an AIDS activist, and an intermittent five-hour demon with dick and rope.
Paul never went back to his dashing millionaire’s life either. Bad things happened; loss likes to follow loss. Bad investments, false friends. Cocaine. Bankruptcy. The beautiful loft was sold to pay off debts. I can’t remember where I was or whether it was a call or a letter that came telling me Paul was moving west. He’d decided to go back to school. He was going to be a nurse.
His friends were dumbfounded, incredulous. Rich, useless, tennis-playing Paul — a nurse? I might have been the only one who knew his calling had found him long before, and he was just deciding to answer it. Paul has had a distinguished career in nursing. He’s still at it today, just the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge.
What changed Paul and me changed us all. AIDS is an immune disease: your body forgets to protect you from things it used to keep out. We were all a little bit that way, those of us not crippled by fear. The walls came down and anybody’s life was our business — man, woman, trans, black, brown, white. We marched with little old ladies, professors, sorrowing mothers from the projects. We smuggled drugs in from Mexico and Japan. None of them worked and we knew they might not, but we also knew that doing something was better than doing nothing. Everything that didn’t work brought us closer to the day when something would work for somebody, somewhere.
Daily you hear the bitter complaints of people terrified of sex because of AIDS, HIV, sundry other diseases. What I’m trying to tell you is that for some of us, it worked the other way. Because of AIDS we became unafraid of sex, of each other, of dying. There was no hiding and no defense from the things you thought you could never do: you had to do them anyway. It made a serious people of us.
Paul gave me one of Richard’s sweaters to keep. It never fit me the way it fit Richard. It was a magic thing when he wore it. I kept it many years, then finally donated it to a program for homeless youth in the Castro where I was volunteering. I saw it twice on the street after that — it had to be the same one, so unstylish and plain and old-fashioned — on a crazy young meth addict trying to get his act together.
Paying it forward can mean a sweater, a hand in need, an alliance, a story. We can take better care of each other than we do. We did it before. All it takes is believing your life is my business and mine is yours, and that we belong to each other beneath our names.
April 3, 2014
Acknowledging Our Shadow
Okay, now that we have had a weekend to rest and regroup, it's time to get to work. Both spiritually and psychologically, individually and nationally, we need to do some shadow work around this nightmare. I had prepared a post on this topic, but then David Harrison sent me this by spiritual teacher and author Patricia Pearce. I think it's a great way to kick off this topic.
"So if this were my dream (and of course it is), rather than a villain, Donald Trump would be playing the role of a gifted spiritual teacher. I’ll explain what I mean by that. By depicting the ego in such an unbridled fashion, Donald Trump is giving me the tools I need to detect these same ego tendencies within myself, even when they show up in subtler forms."
Please read this: Donald Trump: Spiritual Teacher in Disguise (It's really fascinating and clever!) Let me know what you think.
Really bad and unjust stuff has happened before. The Vietnam War. Assassinations of great people. Pearl Harbor. 9/11. Stock market crashes. Recessions. Segregation. Lynchings. Mass shootings. AIDS. Hurricanes. Floods. Fires. Earthquakes. And—Really Bad Presidents. You survived. Perhaps you can even say that out of some great tragedy came some gift or opportunity—either personally or socially. It’s Sunday (here in the U.S.) The perfect day to call a friend (I said call—not text tweet, email or Snapchat) and talk a bit about how you both got through some hideously awful time. What strength did you draw on? Where did you find support? Were there occasional “miracles” along the way? Several of them perhaps?
You’ve done it before. You can do it again. The only thing you have to do today is remember how strong and resilient you really are.
12 November 2016
Turn off the news.
Put down your phone.
Get off social media.
(I think perhaps this should have been Coping Strategy #1)
I began posting ways I found to cope with the emotions of living in the United States this week on Facebook. (I live in New York, which isn't really the U.S., but it's close enough, especially this week.) Today is Day #3 Post-The-Unthinkable and I am going to post my strategies here in hopes they might help soothe or empower you.
9 November 2016
Coping Strategy #1
It's 11/9 (in American date format.) It feels like 9/11. People are walking around like zombies, unable to speak. The city is blanketed in fear, horror and sadness. Unlike 9/11, this agent of destruction will continue to wreck it's damage upon us for 4 long horrible years. Tomorrow we can start figuring out how to survive and fight back. We can remember that we are all connected, all one. Today? We need to treat ourselves very gently as we nurse ourselves out of physical, emotional and spiritual shock.
Conscious breathing can help you feel less fearful. Big, slow, deep, belly breaths. Breathe in gently through your nose. Let your belly get really big. Then exhale slowly, also through your nose. This will help soothe your nervous system. Breathe like this when you are alone. Breathe like this around others. Share the peace.
10 November 2016
Coping Strategy #2
I'm feeling a bit less numb today. I can feel my chest. The shock must be lifting a bit. Today I intend to find my connection back to love. As I said yesterday, for me Love is an action verb, not an air freshener. I want to be able to feel it and put it into positive action, not just spray around a love facsimile to cover up the smell of the election. Today I am going to feel and share love for the people in my queer, sexy, sparkly, brave, resilient communities. When I feel sad or angry or hopeless today, dear Tribe, I will connect with You and feel the Love.
11 November 2016
Coping Strategy #3
Get on Your Bird. (This one is borrowed wholly and completely from Colette Baron-Reid. Thanks, Colette.) Climb on an imaginary winged creature of your choice and soar above it all. Fly above the screaming and shouting, above the angry shaking fists, the trembling fear and the abject despair. Take a few breaths. Get comfortable. Look down. Notice that from here, the earth is still spinning. People are still going to work and kids are still going to school. The natural world is still beautiful. Notice that the incidences of hate and violence—while more than last week—are still fewer than the millions of random acts of kindness that people perform for each other every day. Say to yourself, “I am safe.” Because anytime you can say “I am safe,” you are. Rest here for a while. #JustForToday
American culture can turn a well-intentioned holiday into a painful knife twist to the soul for anyone who doesn’t fit within the idealized demographic of a perfect family. Nowhere is this more pervasive and obvious than in the ritual observances of Mother’s Day.
Have you ever stood in front of a long rack of Mother’s Day cards and wondered how you could possibly find a card that could say something truthful about your relationship with your mother? Have you ever felt resentful that you felt obligated to send a card at all? Have you desperately searched for a card that says nothing more than “Thinking of you on Mothers Day”—without a hint of what you’re actually thinking? If you answered yes to any of these, read on. This is for you.
I know that my mother loved me. (I’m only able to say that since a recent dinner with my childhood best friend, Donna, who was so certain of it that she was able to help me believe it.) My mother had untreated emotional and psychological problems that made her unstable and ill-equipped to be my mom. Growing up with her was like living in a house filled with land mines on which I would inevitably step whenever I let my guard down. As an adult, I had to learn how to love and nurture myself in ways that I did not learn at home. In honor of Mother’s Day, I’ve condensed many years of healing into a simple ceremony for all of us who had less than ideal relationships with our mothers. It’s an antidote to feeling guilty, angry, resentful and left out when some well meaning stranger wishes us “Happy Mother’s Day” without a clue as to how impossible that is for us.
This ceremony is for those of us who have/had mothers who:
- abandoned us
- deserted us
- are missing-in-in action, either physically or mentally
- abused us physically or emotionally
- manipulated us
- were violent or cruel
- were wholly unsuited to the job of motherhood
- you have had to break up with
- have broken up with you
- have—for whatever reason—been unable to fulfill the role of motherhood
- or, [your situation here:__________________________________]
Take a few big, cleansing, centering breaths.
Choose to believe (if only for the length of this ritual) that your mother was doing the best she could—even if that best was dreadful—with the knowledge, resources, and abilities she had at the time. (If this feels difficult or even impossible, fake it. Ask yourself what it would feel like if you could believe that your mother was doing the best she could at the time, and go with that.)
Now, write down one thing you are grateful to your mother for—just one thing—even if that one thing is very small or kind of weird. (Of course, you can list more if you like.)
Next, write down one thing (more if you like) that you can forgive your mother for. Remember, forgiveness does not mean forgetting or excusing or justifying. It means releasing yourself from the past so you can move forward. If you can’t forgive her for anything today, write down something you might be able to forgive her for in the future.
If your mother was incapable of mothering you properly, you had to become your own best mom. It’s time to honor you for the great mothering job that you did for you. Write down some of the ways you have been a great mom to yourself—ways you have supported, loved, encouraged, cared for, and protected yourself. Take your time with this one. Write down at least ten ways.
Many of us have coped by finding surrogate mothers—other people who could be there for us when we needed the kind of mom we did not grow up with. Write down the name(s) of these people and three things you are grateful to them for. If it feels right, contact them and tell them. Or send them a card. If that doesn’t feel appropriate, or if they are no longer alive, just send them a little prayer of gratitude.
Now, one last step: go to the store and find a perfect Mother’s Day card for you to send to you. Sign it. Mail it to yourself. Be excited when it arrives.
Happy Mother’s Day.
I was invited by the cast and producers of Caitlyn Jenner’s GLAAD-Award-winning reality series I Am Cait to join them in New Orleans to teach them all how to have Gender-Free Orgasms—full-body ecstatic, orgasmic experiences that can be achieved with only breath and imagination. In the process of getting from taping to broadcast, I learned a valuable reality TV lesson: Never appear in the same episode as Kris Jenner (with 6.84 million Twitter followers at last count) if you want your segment to make it to final cut! Ha! Seriously, she deserved the air time. She and Caitlyn had a touching and important conversation that was definitely worth the airtime devoted to it.
But what about my segment? Well, Caitlyn and the producers liked it so much that they wanted to make sure that you could still see it. So they have featured it on the official I Am Cait site and here it is. (Sorry about the intro ad you may have to watch first. It’s from the E! Network.)
So now you can see all the fun we had having Gender-Free Orgasms.
There is a serious point to all of this. Our intention in exploring Gender-Free Orgasms so publicly was to show trans and non-binary gendered folks that orgasmic, ecstatic experiences need not be any more related to your genitals than your gender is. Cast member Chandi Moore—who works with at-risk queer and trans youth—and I hope to create a program using Tantra-based techniques like Gender-Free Orgasms to help young people make healthier choices about sex.
My sincere thanks to Caitlyn, Kate, Candis, Chandi, Jenny, Ella, and producers Andrea Metz and Melissa Bidwell for helping to get out the message that pleasure is an integral part of the trans experience.
I read two great articles recently. They both bust myths about what sex “should” be and what it “shouldn’t.” In doing so, they throw open the doors for all the things sex could be.
One of the main reasons I wrote my book Ecstasy is Necessary was to help people understand they they weren’t broken or weird just because their desire(s) didn’t match the standard that was being help up as normal in the media that week. In this post—The Desire Myth—noted sexologist Cyndi Darnell writes: