As a child, the church taught me that my body was not mine. It was a temple for Christ. I was to take care of it, but not for me. I, and my body, were vessels to be used by God. I wasn’t supposed to have any autonomy. Thankfully in my case, the message of ownership and usage didn’t extend to God’s representative, the pastor/minister/priest/deacon. Others over the centuries have not been as fortunate. Clergy who abuse their position are still a horrific reality.
I was supposed to be always listening for divine directives, to consecrate and dedicate every act to the Trinity. Music making, dancing, even sex… especially sex… were to be acts of holy supplication, offerings of praise and worship not just to cull favor, but as fulfillment of my purpose. I was created to give God glory. If I didn't, I was unworthy.
As a child, my culture taught me that my body had no value. I could be seen, but not heard or believed. I could be in the room, but my thoughts and feelings and opinions had no value. I couldn’t express my emotions. Don’t talk back. What you crying for? Hush you don’t know anything. So I learned to suppress and ignore, making myself as small and as invisible as possible.
As a teenager, patriarchy and toxic masculinity convinced me that I was not attractive enough because girls did not seek me as they sought others; that because of my soft rotundness I deserved ridicule; that my penis was probably too small to provide pleasure, even though I was being a good Christian by remaining chaste. Religion told me that natural hormone-driven sexual desires meant my faith was flawed; that they were a precursor to sin; that any sexual thought or expression (even masturbation) was tantamount to the sin itself and displeased God and I was bad. I signed purity pledges, feeling racked with guilt for my sexual awakening, berating myself for being weak.
For the first twenty-one years of my life, my body and my faith existed in conflict with each other, ultimately both losing. Or at least what I understood to be a loss, but what would eventually become the first steps on a path of liberation as I progressively discovered spiritual beliefs that fostered inner alignment, not conflict. But even as my mind and heart opened, the practice of ignoring the body was too well ingrained. I didn’t know how to understand what my body was saying. I didn’t even know I should be listening. Meditation practices that focused on stillness subtly and inadvertently reinforced suppression of my body’s cries for attention.
I was spiritual, but I was not in harmony with myself, because I was still not loving all of myself. To not be in touch with all parts of me was to deny love to all parts of me. I loved my mind, my heart, even my soul. But not my body. I didn’t hate it, I simply did not acknowledge it as anything other than a physical entity to be kept out of harm’s way.
And then grief made itself known. Since 2015 its immense weight bore down on me as someone in my orbit died almost every year: spouse, family, friends. Trauma is not what happens to us. It’s how our body responds to what happens to us. My body, to which I was still more of a stranger than a friend, took the pain of the losses, held on to it, and reminded me that I just couldn’t think and talk my way out of the shock and suffering and sadness.
Lifting brought me back to my body. Running brought me back to my breath. Kink brought me back to my sexuality.
To lift without intention and attention on the body is a recipe for injury. As I pushed and pulled, the pain was pressed to the surface to be unabashedly released in racking sobs as I leaned against the weight rack between sets. I made more than a few folks uncomfortable at more than a few Planet fitness gyms. Lifting became my meditation and my medication, a body-centering practice that allowed the grief to work its way through me.
I hated running before the losses started to pile up. I still hate running. I rarely run these days, but for a handful of years, until my knee reminded me that some injuries never entirely recede, I found the bottom of my lungs, a stillness of mind, and a zone wherein nothing resided but the Breath and Oneness with my body.
Kink was the unexpected safe space that provided the container for me to fully accept, love, and reclaim my sexual body. With each act, every deeply embedded line of code that would elicit shame and doubt and self-loathing and unworthiness around my body and sexual self began to be rewritten. In kink spaces I found more acceptance and belonging among bodies of all shapes and sizes and genders and ages and ethnicities… more than I ever experienced in spiritual communities. In kink spaces there was no shame, no judgment, no ridicule, no comparisons, only a desire for empowering consensual and sensual connection.
My body, it turns out, is as much a source of my truth as any other part of me. It is my Early Warning System. It is my final arbiter. It is my everything in between. It knows my feelings before I can articulate them. It lets me know which choice is the right one for that moment. It is the place and the process of self-regulation. It is not mere flesh and bone, but its own beingness, alive, sentient, fully integrated with mind and soul. It is not a temple for an imagined deity, but the home of all I Am. It is me, and I am it. It is wisdom. It is history. It is ancestry. It is who I am yet to be.
The ongoing invitation from my body: listen to me, believe me, love me.
My RSVP: Yes, always.