Gratefulness Project: Post IV

I’ve really been trying to keep up with this project, but this week was pretty damn craptastic for me. I could post about how I was grateful for AAA when my car broke down in a turn lane, or thankful that the doctors found two scary things on my tests, but to be brutally honest I’m not really grateful for them. I wrote some earlier in the week, so I’ll post those, but I’d rather just chalk the rest of the week up to “Crap” and try again next week.

August 23: I am so eternally grateful that Alex is as understanding a partner as he is. He shouldered the whole expense of coming to visit at a time where I very much needed it; our original arrangement was that I would help defray some of that cost since it is much harder for me to travel to MA than it is for him to come to MD. He came and visited with me while I was a guest in someone else’s home, and put up with sleeping on an air mattress and having to be up every morning at 8am (the room I’m staying in is someone’s home office, and they work from home every weekday, so I have to move out to the living room so they can work). He sat with me and watched streaming video because I physically and emotionally can’t handle much more than that. He is a blessing in my life, and I am very grateful for that.

August 24: Today is one of the first days that I’ve been here without someone staying with me (the hosts have been here, but up until now Rave or Alex has been here as a companion), and I just curled up on the couch and watched a lot of video. (I did a little work, too, but mostly just vegged.) I realized how comforted I felt, having a sweet dog curled up next to me desperate for some pettins, and Odin the cat on my hip purring away. It’s as if they could tell that I was having a trying emotional day, and they just wanted to remind me that there is always someone, somewhere, who is willing to sit with me quietly and let me cope with my overwhelming emotions. I am grateful for all the living things in this house – the snake, the hedgehog, the cats, and the dogs, as well as the humans – for giving me a lot of emotional support.

Talkin’ About Safer Sex

I was at a fairly small sacred BDSM event and I saw that one of the classes they were offering was on safer sex techniques. I admit, my prejudice came over me – I thought to myself, “If someone is at the point that they’re at this event, they probably don’t need to know about condoms and gloves.”

I attend the lecture, and there was an air of “you probably know this already, but a review couldn’t hurt.” And there was a lot of nodding and such. But I got this memory-vision stuck in my head, of all the times I’ve heard someone go on about something I didn’t know about but I chose to nod because I didn’t want to admit I had no idea what they were talking about. With that thought, I looked around again, and wondered to myself how many people are nodding and smiling, while at the same time hearing for the first time that condoms don’t protect you from herpes?

That’s right, kids. There are STIs that condoms can’t protect you from. I happen to know quite a bit about Herpes Simplex 1 and 2 (HSV1, HSV2) because I am in a small minority of adults who is HSV1 negative. That’s right – I’ve never had a cold sore. Scientists say somewhere between 60-90% of adults are HSV1 positive, and a good number of them don’t know that you can have HSV1 in your genitals – that is, if seropositive oral contact is made with someone’s seronegative genitals, and some of the virus sheds, voila! It’s not like the virus knows the difference between a mouth and a genital. You can, therefore, also contract HSV2 orally. (Heck, doctors recently announced that you can also get Human Papillomavirus in your throat, too.)

Also, because of my compromised immune system, catching HSV1 may be more detrimental to me than most people. It’s not just cold sores.

From the linked article:The common myth is that HSV-1 causes a mild infection that is occasionally bothersome, but never dangerous. The reality? HSV-1 is usually mild, especially when it infects the lips, face, or genitals. However, in some cases type 1 can recur spontaneously in the eye, causing ocular herpes, a potentially serious infection which can lead to blindness. In very rare cases HSV- 1 can spread spontaneously to the brain, causing herpes encephalitis, a dangerous infection that can lead to death. HSV-1 is also the usual cause of herpes whitlow, an infection on the finger, and “wrestler’s herpes,” (herpes gladiatorum) a herpes infection on the chest or face.

The range and potential severity of HSV-1 infections lead some experts to view the virus as more risky than usually perceived. “This is heresy, but I think type 1 is a more significant infection than type 2,” says Spotswood Spruance, MD, an oral HSV specialist at the University of Utah. “Type 1, and the morbidity associated with it, are underestimated.”

Yes, I’m aware that the options for me are basically stay celibate, wrap all my partners in saran wrap or body condoms before having fun, or resign myself to the fact that I am probably going to seroconvert before I die. This does not mean that I do not ask about status, or that I reject partners who test seropositive. For me, it’s about risk awareness, and making the conscious decision about how much risk to take.

And as it turns out, sometimes it doesn’t matter. As I’ve written here before, my spouse cheated on me, thus exposing me to unknown risk. Off I went to the doctors to get tested. And I told my partners, too, about the fact that I had a big question mark in my potential risk column. With some, we choose to limit our activity to things that held lesser risk until I get my results. Others, we chose to take a breather entirely.

How do you talk about STIs? When is the right time to talk about it? Are you aware of the risks you take with the various stuff you get up to? (You know that Hep C is the bigger risk in blood play than HIV, right?)

Reid Mihlako has a great article on how to write your STI ‘elevator speech’ that encourages you to get the conversation out early, make it a little sexy, and also check for other potential pitfalls (like being the unwitting partner in someone else’s cheating, or finding out someone is not sexually oriented towards your gender, or even something as mild as learning that your favorite position is their no-go).

I get this conversation out pretty early if I think things are going in a sexual direction. Sometimes even before I think they are. I figure it can’t hurt, and it might even be a good gauge as to whether or not they are.

If you have questions about safer sex, testing, talking about it, how they are transmitted, what the symptoms are, please feel free to ask in the comments. I know quite a lot about this subject, and have some great colleagues who can chime in if I don’t know the answer.

Shedding Another Skin

(This is a cross-post from my FetLife writings. After I wrote it, I realized it belonged here as well.)

I’m not really into snakes. I mean, I’m not phobic or anything, but they’ve just never really held any fascination for me. But I’ve found myself co-habitating with one for a little while, and I got the honor of watching it shed a complete skin.

I’ve been doing a lot of heavy thinking about rebirth and renewal symbology. As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t really identify with the phoenix – I think it’s so overused as to become a little trite (for me, not for others) – and my changes aren’t big and flashy and all in one moment like the phoenix, either.

I’ve thought about onions with layers, but the more layers you pull away from the onion, the smaller and less useful it becomes.

I came to accept and really like the concept of humus – the fertile soil that is created by the death of green things (like leaves and grass) – the end result of a long breaking down process. How winter snow creates the perfect condition for spring renewal.

I know a snake shedding its skin is also a little overused, symbology wise, but what I loved about what I witnessed is that the snake is still basically the same – it is the same size, shape, color, and exhibits the same behavior – but something is different. I can’t tell what it is, and so each night I watch it a little closer.

You might know that I’ve submitted paperwork to legally change both my first and last names. This was something I desperately wanted to do for a very, very long time, but I put other things over it in priority. So once those other things removed themselves from the hierarchy, off to the courthouse I went.

I’ve been Told by one of my Gods that I have to ritualize this change in some way. That it’s more important, more earth-shattering than getting a little piece of paper to take to the DMV. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make that ritual happen, and I have some concepts I’ve been tossing around.

I’d love to hear your ideas, your thoughts, your reactions, about how to ritualize taking on a new identity, a new name, a new phase, a new skin. I don’t want this to feel like the flash of a phoenix, but the reward after a long process of breaking down and finding the good deep within all the fertilizer.

Gratitude Project: Post III

I know I’m a little late publishing this, but things have been a little crazy over here in Del-land. But here it is.

August 15, redux: I know I posted a gratitude thing for today already, but this occurred to me as I was getting ready for bed and I wanted to document it. Also, we’ve established that I’m a rule breaker.

So after I made the post, I got a distressing phone call. A minor medical test has come up with some scary results, and I have to go get more scans ASAP. This test was something I didn’t put a lot of import behind, and considering everything else going on, I considered canceling it. We weren’t sure I could find somewhere local to where I was living to do it, and we didn’t feel like driving all the way back to Rockville to get it done. But something small but strong in my gut told me to keep moving forward, to get it done, and not let all this other life crap get in the way. And now I’m glad I did – it shows that I might need another surgery, possibly right away, and I wouldn’t have known that if I put it off.

Tonight, I’m also grateful for my intuition. For that small voice inside that always tells me the truth, and lets me make good decisions, and leads in the right direction. It’s taken me a long time to trust it, but when I do I always seem to end up doing the right thing.

August 16: Today I am grateful for Johns Hopkins. This doesn’t happen every day, as I’ve had some hellacious experiences with them, but today I can be a little grateful without forgetting the past. I needed a STAT test and they were able to fit me in, and the process was nice and swift. I showed up, I got processed, I got scanned, and I was out. It took longer to get there than it did to have the test!

August 17: I am so, so grateful for time alone. It’s going to be few and far between for a while, but tonight I was able to get a few hours of being in my temporary room all by myself. For all my gregariousness, I am actually an introvert, and I desperately need downtime all by myself to feel recharged. It’s much harder to get when you’re a guest in someone else’s home, and also since I’ve been having some scary health stuff people don’t want to leave me alone for long stretches of time. I totally understand that, but it was still nice to get some of that anyway. (Also, I’m grateful for 1000 pages – not here, but with my Threadspouses.)

August 18: Today I am grateful for “fun life”. After all the stress and work of the last week, Rave and I have decided that today is for fun. We’re going out and doing some fun things in hopes of helping bring my stress level down, and make me feel slightly more human.

August 19: The last few days have been very stressful, very fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants kinda days, where we’re not sure what we’re doing until we wake up in the morning and sometimes not even then. Today’s thankfulness is to my gracious hosts, Spark and Fuego, for allowing me to have guests on their floors and couch, without even batting an eye. They have made this transition just a little bit easier.

August 20: There are these small, quiet moments between two people who are in love, when they are beyond the need to show it every single moment. When they can sit, side by side, in peace, sharing the same air and sometimes bobbing up with a comment or two. Real companionship, especially for two introverts. I’m grateful that Alex thinks sitting on the couch watching TV is as romantic as a four course meal.

August 21: Today I am grateful for having my own car back! The ability to go when and where one pleases is a powerful source of independence. Even though I choose not to drive, it’s good to know that I could, in an emergency. It feels so much more comfortable knowing that I have at least one thing I can count on as I go through this transitory phase, living in different places, having belongings all over the state, and not really knowing where I’m going to land, at least I know I’ll have the Duckbus with me.

August 22: I am looking inward for my gratefulness today. There’s so much going on around me, through me, inside of me and about me, and here I am. I’m getting up every morning, I’m doing what I have to get done (to the best of my ability), I’m moving forward. There are moments when I turn it all off and just allow the immensity of the emotional impact wash over me, but then I dry my eyes, square my shoulders, and get moving onto the next thing. I am so grateful for that inner strength, and the strength that others lend me when I feel weak.

I’m saddenedly not terribly surprised by this. When I have spoken up about the lack of diversity in the communities that I am a part of, everyone answers me with blank stares, or points me to the (usually) lone POC in attendance. And as someone who has dealings with the lwa, it embarasses me to think there are Pagans out there who feel they have the right to judge which spirits are “good” and which ones aren’t, especially if they aren’t schooled in that tradition.

Winter Tashlin dot Com

This heartbreaking post about one person’s experience as a woman of color in the pagan community is a must read. I know it’s temping to assume that this sort of thing is rare or represents an outlier experience, but the reality is I’ve heard too many similar tales over the last several years for that to be a convincing self delusion. 

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This is a very timely post for me. Those who know me and my current situation will understand.

Gods and Mirrors

After Sex and Power – Part One, a good friend of mine emailed me an excellent question about power vs. strength, and which of those I’m really talking about when I say power of versus power over. I’ve been thinking ever since about how to explain my view on that, and the perfect example occurred to me last night, in the form of a childhood memory.

When I was young, my sister and I used to love watching Nick at Nite. At the time they would show classic television, like Dick Van Dyke and I Love Lucy. Our favorite shows were, of course, I Dream of Jeannie, and Bewitched. At one point they ran a sort of contest between those two shows. Viewers were invited to vote for the character they thought was more powerful: Samantha or Jeannie. The winner would get a weekend…

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Gratitude Project: Post II

It’s been a extremely long, very trying week for me. I’ve had to leave my home and face the finality of the end of my relationship with my spouse. (We have to stay married for another year in order to get an amicable divorce.) But I’ve done my best to keep up with the project unabated. So here is this week’s gratitude:

August 8: Today was a really hard day for me, and as I sit with this and try to come up with something to be grateful for, I am kinda at a loss. So it may seem small and insignficant to most people, today I’m going to be grateful for the fact that Netflix has finally added an auto-advance when you’re watching television shows. Those who know me intimately know that I use Hulu/Netflix as background noise to sleep, and with Netflix it meant that I would wake up every so often and have to be coordinated enough to push “next” in order to go back to sleep. Netflix’s new auto-advance isn’t perfect, as it stops at random to make sure you’re actually still watching, but it means the difference between waking up 6 times and waking up twice.

August 9: I am grateful for patience. Not just patience from others, but the patience I have cultivated towards myself. I have started a new drug, and it is playing havoc on me as I adjust. It will hopefully be helpful in the long run, but for now I have to sit with the side effects and do my best not to snap at people or be generally unfit for human consumption.

August 10
: In the aftermath of my spouse’s indiscretion, I’ve seen the full gamut of responses from friends and acquaintences. Some side completely with him (which I don’t understand, but I’m not meant to), and some are trying very hard to stay neutral. Today I am grateful for those who see that what he did to me was unfathomable, and that at least in the short term they’re brave enough to stand up for me by openly supporting me, doing nice things for me, and in general making me feel a little less crazy and alone. Tonight I’m specifically thankful for my friends Rebecca and John, who made it clear to me that they understand what I’m going through and think it makes perfect sense to stand up to a friend and tell them when they’ve done something bad or wrong. I know it’s hard; I’ve been in those shoes before, when my friend S found out his wife was cheating on him – but I stood up for S, and did what it took so that everyone knew I supported him and saw that he was wronged.

I’m aware that because there is hope for reconciliation that many people are taking the “wait and see”, no-sides stance; I totally understand why someone would choose that. What I don’t understand are those who are unable or unwilling to say or do anything that might be interpreted as actually taking a stand and saying, “You did something bad to Del, and for that there are consequences.” It’s possible to do that and still hold out hope for a friendship with him – it’s not like he himself doesn’t know that what he did was hurtful and wrong. I get that he has a right to friendship and support too, but if you’re choosing sides, at least be up front about it.

August 11: So, it’s funny that I wrote all that yesterday, because today my spouse ended our marriage permanently, and left me. I have to move to a new location before I am ready to, and a slew of other physical and emotional changes I’m not really prepared for. But tonight, I am grateful for the love of my Deities, who stand by me through thick and thin, and remind me that all endings are beginnings, and that fire may burn, but it burns clean in the end.

August 12: As I sit in the house that has been my home for the last eight years, I take a deep breath in through my nose and am sadly grateful for all the little things that comfort us in times of trouble. It makes me very sad tonight that the smell of this house is comforting to me, because unless the Universe sends me a radical curveball, I will likely never be here again in my life, and if I am, it won’t be “my” house, or “our” house, but “his” house. And maybe that’s what it should have been all along. But I’m grateful for what this house has provided me, and those who have sought refuge here, over the years. All the rituals, the roommates, the parties, and the quiet times. It may not have been the best house, or the cleanest house, but it was always home to me. I will miss it very much.

August 13/14: These two days were some of the most stressful and hectic of my life; therefore, writing what I was grateful for was very far down on my list of priorities. But looking back from the other side of them, the only thing that comes to me is to be thankful for those who have facilitated this part of my transitional process: Spark and Fuego, who graciously opened their home to me on very little notice, and have gone out of their way to make things as easy and comfortable on me as possible. And although I’ve already sung her praises, I cannot be honest and not mention the superhero Rave has been. Driving all over creation, helping with paperwork, finding ways to keep my life moving in the right direction and maintain some semblance of sanity.

August 15: It’s funny, because as I sit and contemplate what I am thankful for today, I’m afraid to write about it because they both are going to cause me to be thankful in the future, and according to the “rules” I can’t be re-grateful to the same person for the same thing. But I’m a monster, so I make my own rules. I am thankful for Shane and Rebecca, who have been stalwart in their support of me, going above and beyond the call of duty. Shane is working on making arrangements so Rave and I can squat in his now-empty house until we can find a place closer to where Rave works; Rebecca has volunteered to help facilitate me getting the surgery I need with as little disruption as possible.

Possession – A Rant on a Rant

This entry is mostly adding my own experience to a rant Elizabeth posted yesterday to Twilight and Fire about possesory work. You should read that first: Possession: A Rant.

This is something that I struggle with often. As someone who has been rewired energetically to make it easier for me to carry Deity, I do not feel that it has made me more special or unique. I do not feel like it gives me more or less authority to speak on behalf of the Gods – if anything, I feel I have to be more judicious when giving spiritual advice, and make a marked difference between my own thoughts and feelings and messages from the Gods. And if I’m not sure which is in play, I would rather err on the side of taking responsibility for what comes out of my mouth, rather than duck it by claiming Someone Else said or did it.

In fact, I take is as a moral imperative that I never excuse behavior that my body does, or words that my mouth utters, by passing the blame onto the Deity in question, even if that’s really what happened. I feel strongly that I am the gatekeeper here – I gave the Deity in question permission to use my body, I am the one who negotiated limits and boundaries, and if the Deity does something hurtful, or even worse, illegal, while wearing my skin, it’s ultimately me who has to pay the piper. I mean, would you actually consider telling a police officer, “Sorry I was running naked with a knife dripping in blood, but it wasn’t me, Sir. It was Kali Ma, who had possessed my body”? I didn’t think so.

The behavior that seems to anger Elizabeth the most is when someone uses the framework of possession in order to have their words or actions carry more weight than when it’s just Joe the Spirit Worker. It’s definitely on my check-list of how to spot a faker, when the God spends some or all of its time telling people what a great person the horse is, or that you should take them more seriously, or do nicer things to them. In a similar fashion, it greatly upsets me when someone asks for tangible or financial contributions because they have a close relationship to a Deity, making someone feel as though buying Joe a new tablet is the same as making an offering to Kali Ma.

I see any form of possessory work, from shadowing (the God is more audible to the horse than usual, and the horse follows instructions from the God and does what the God tells them to do) to aspecting (the God is present as a separate entity in the body, but does not take over the body or mind or the horse entirely) to full possession (where the horse has no control over what the Deity says or does, and frequently has no memory of the event), as sacred Work. And I really mean the work part – when I go to a ritual or a fete intending to be an open head, I prepare for it like I was about to do a great deal of physical and emotional labor. I make sure I’ve eaten well and am fully hydrated; I wear comfortable clothes and sturdy shoes. I do not see this as a fun way to spend an afternoon, or a cool trick I can show people – this is hard on my body, and harder on my mind. After a ritual where I’ve been carrying for quite some time, I am basically a quivering mound of Del-flavored jello. I don’t enjoy how it makes me feel, and I really don’t enjoy having hours of my life wiped from my memory.

I agree with Elizabeth whole-heartedly that although most people have the ability to experience some level of God-touched-ness, experiences closer to full-on possession require astral body modifications or a great deal of physical preparedness. For example, if you were to look at my astral form, I have a very obvious hole on the top of my head. I have had to learn, over years of practice, how to stretch that hole open enough so a God can slip their way in with the least amount of resistance. On top of that, I do other forms of devotional work to prepare my body for the experience – I will typically eat food the God would eat, or if I’m unsure as to whom I am preparing for, I will eat simple foods and drink water for at least a day or two, sometimes as long as a month, depending on the nature of the ritual.

I don’t always get to choose when it happens. This cuts both ways, in my life; sometimes Gods just show up unannounced, no plan in place, and start pushing on my port. If I’m lucky, I can strike a quick deal with them that I accept that this is something that They want, but if They could just give me a little time to be better prepared, to honor them the way they deserve, then I would be happy to oblige. Sometimes this works, and sometimes they don’t care or the need is too present. On the other hand, sometimes I’m asked to provide a body for a Deity at a specific time and place (like, for an ordeal), and no amount of training, tricks, and sheer will will force it to happen. I’ve walked out into a ritual more than once and announced, “I am speaking on behalf of Loki, who is watching from afar” or some other key phrase that makes it clear that I can still perform in the ritual, but that the possession isn’t going to happen.

So yes, even I, who have been doing this possessory thing for more than a decade, am not always successful. I find someone who claims they can always horse on the drop of a hat suspicious. After all, like Elizabeth said, it’s not about us and our desires, but about the Gods. And no matter how much you may want Loki to bear witness to your rite, if he’s not interested or is engaged elsewhere, there’s nothing I can do to change that.

Also, because I’ve heard a few cases of this, I would hold suspicion against anyone who claims they can channel a God for you via the Internet. I mean, I could see someone passing on messages they get from a Deity via email or IM, but I can’t imagine even the most tech-savvy Gods sitting down and typing on a keyboard when they could just go to your house and give you the message themselves.

That leads to another point: Possession is not the only, or the best, way to communicate directly with a Deity. People like it because it feels immediate, and the communication is usually less difficult to interpret. However, a big part of all of this is faith – and unless you live with someone who is wired to horse, who has a close relationship with that Deity, and has the mental and physical wherewithal to do it on a whim, at some point you’re going to have to learn how to communicate with your Deity without an intercessory. I’ve had several clients who have solicited me for possessory work, but in the end, they were doing it merely because they doubted the communications the Gods were sending to them directly, and all they really wanted was for the God to verify that what they heard/felt/experienced was really true. I’m sorry, but that’s just not how faith works. And anyway, in the one case where I acquiesced and the God spoke to their devotee, all the God did was berate them for not listening to Him on their own!

To sum up: I believe the ability to engage in possessory work is not egalitarian – that is, just because you want to learn how, that someone should or can teach you, and that you will be able to reproduce the ability on demand. I believe aspects of possessory work can be taught, and if you have the innate ability you can be trained on how to wield it as you most want.

I do not believe lending your body as a horse somehow makes you cooler, better, more important, more worthy of listening to, or closer to your Deity than someone who cannot or chooses not to.

It is a sacred Work that should be viewed with respect, and treated as a holy wonder, not a parlor trick to prove how more spirit-workery you are.

Everyone remembers Paul Revere, and very few people know the name of his horse. That’s the way it should be in possessory work, too.

Gratitude Project: Post I

I enjoyed the Month-for-Loki project enough that I decided to jump right into another thing that will encourage me to post on a semi-regular basis. Most people doing the GP are doing daily posts; I’ve decided not to flood your feeds by saving them up and posting them once a week. I’ve been writing them before I go to bed at night, after reflecting on the day.

Before I begin, here’s a little background on the Graditude Project:

The Gratitude Project (started by Julie McCord) runs from Lammas/Lughnasadh to Mabon. It entails you being mindful of whatever brings you joy and you journal “the something” you are grateful for each day between those Sabbats. No repeats – you can be grateful for your spouse/kids/job/friends, but the reason for the gratitude needs to be different for each entry. It can BIG or not, your journal/blog entry can be long or short. It can be on paper or in pixels and public or private.

That being said, here’s what I was grateful for this week.

  • August 1: I am grateful for my sturdy, loving, committed circle of friends and lovers. Whether it’s a quick reply to a challenging Facebook post, a timely email that renews my faith in humans, a phone call to remind me that people are thinking about me, righteous anger towards those who have harmed or hurt me, whatever it is that they offer, that they offer it. They do it without any expectations, without keeping a secret list that one day they’ll throw in my face to remind me of all the “good things” they’ve done for me (which has happened), without hesitation. I recognize that they choose to do these things – that their love and devotion for me is what drives them, not a sense of obligation or some need to fulfill a public image of being “nice” or “helpful”. Over the years, I’ve tried very hard to cultivate a very specific kind of tribe, and I think I’m much closer to that vision. I love all of you very much, and am very grateful for your presence in my life.
  • August 2: I am beyond grateful for the wonderful gift I have in Rave. I am so blessed to have her presence in my life. Her service to me is invaluable, and she has yet to say no to me or shirk her duties in any way. If anything, she serves to a fault, putting my needs before her own. Something not everyone knows is that she wore her trial collar – the color of Pepto Bismol – for a year, without question, every moment she was with me, even though she violently hated the color; she did this to prove how much she wanted this relationship, how much I meant to her. She has made my life a much more meaningful act, and given me the ability to do things and go places I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. She may not be perfect – who is? – but I love her imperfectness as much as I love anything else about her. I get the awesome experience of watching her spirituality bloom in new and different ways every day through her “daily fire” blog entries. I am honored to see her at her most vulnerable, and at her strongest. I would be a lucky Master indeed if she chooses to be at my side for the rest of my life.
  • August 3: I am grateful for my Leather family. We may not be a traditional Leather family, as not all of us even identify as “Leather”, but it’s the “family” part that counts. I may not always agree or endorse what they do or say, but when the chips are down, I know I will never be alone.

    Papa Bear is a ferocious protector and warrior, and even though he says and does things that drive me crazy, I am thankful for his allegiance and his honesty, even when it hurts.

    Cougar Bear is a beautiful seductress, although she’s blushing to read that! She may seem shy and withdrawn, but catch her in the right moment and she’s pour out wisdom. I also love that she is constantly exploring life, even in her cougar years.

    Bratty Bear is a peacemaker at heart, who has a pervasive calm but also a cheery disposition that melts me even at my most curmudgeon.

    Builda Bear and I have a complicated history, but she continues to live her truth, and to stick by the family even when it would be easier to walk away.

    Baby Bear has a special place in my heart; we’ve shared some hard truths, some moving moments, and some important conversations. She may not be as geographically close, but if she showed up on my doorstep, she’d have a place to sleep.

    Burning Bear is joy incarnate; even when he’s frustrated or overwhelmed, he will stop to smile at you and give you his full attention if he can. He goes to great lengths to let every person he touches know that they’re loved.

    Guardian Bear has lived up to the family ethic of volunteerism, sometimes literally giving until it hurts. Don’t fuck with a Bear; we will go to great lengths to protect the ones we love.

  • August 4: I am grateful that I have, as Spark would put it, “done all the things”. In particular, I am grateful that I have had a life full of experiences; that when given the choice between something that might be edgy or risky or scary, but make a great story, or staying home and feeling comfortable, I have always tried to chose the story. In my current emotional situation, in an odd way, I am very grateful that I have had to negotiate the end of emotionally-challenging relationships before. I know that I can survive this, that there will be life on the other side, and that it’s all just a temporary state of being. I can find those shards of me that remain from previous life-explosions and let them remind me that I am a force of nature that will be not destroyed by some little human-level problem.
  • August 5: I am grateful for my magical clan and the Lady we serve. In the past few months, things between She and I have been a little rocky, to say the least; but as soon as things got much less stable around here, She made it abundantly clear to me that I am cared for and protected, and that I can rely on my clan for strength. I love that I know they will always tell me exactly what they are thinking, even when it isn’t the nicest or most politically/diplomatically correct thing to say. I was hesitant to join the Clan for my own reasons, but I think this will bear out as one of the best decisions I’ve made.
  • August 6: Today I am grateful for my Threadspouses. That is, the members of a certain thread on the Regretsy forum that I participate in – and I’m pretty much thread-monogamous, as I don’t post in any other thread on the forum. We’ve grown from talking about one specific subject to so much more, and over time we’ve shared personal stories, given each other emotional and financial succor, and made each other laugh. These days, when I go to an event and lack reliable internet access, it’s The Thread I miss the most. Thankfully, many of them are now my friends on Facebook, so I can keep up with them outside of Regretsy.
  • August 7: I am grateful for all the trans* people in my life, notably Raven, from whom I caught the “tranny cooties”, but there have been so many over the last ten years who have inspired me and given me strength and courage to seek out my own truth. Today I finally asked my endocrinologist about testosterone, and although that didn’t work out so well (she was very nice and super professional about it, but it’s just not her specialty), it gave me the impetus to call the Whitman Walker clinic, which is a LGBTQ health center in DC, and make an appointment to talk to an informed-consent doctor about hormone therapy. But it was scary as all get out; what held me together was imagining all the trans* people before me, screwing up their courage to speak their truth to someone with the power to help them achieve it. Thousands, hundreds of thousands over the years, down to the very first trans* person who convinced some doctor somewhere that giving them estrogen/testosterone would be beneficial and not insane. All of their spirits were with me today, to allow those words to come out of my mouth and not be afraid. Now, I am so much closer to being the Del I want to be, and I am tearfully joyful.

Rock Star vs. Diva

One of the reasons I named this blog “Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars” is because in the last few years, several people have started accusing me, both positively and negatively, of being a “rock star”. I think the first was my girlfriend Ruth, and she definitely meant it as a positive thing. For some reason, though, it has always bothered me. So one of the things I want to explore here is the archetype of the rock star, how it applies to myself as a shaman and a kink/spirituality educator as well as just a general citizen, and what it means in a more grander sense.

I was explaining this last night to Rave, my slave, as I was getting ready for a sleep study. I was telling her that when I think of a “rock star”, my mind immediately brings up images of hair metal kings of the 80’s, like Sammy Hagar and Bret Michaels. One of the reasons the title bothers me is because these people, outside of being musicians, are mostly famous for being irresponsible. They abused drugs and/or alcohol, had indiscriminate sex, had wild parties that caused property damage, and rarely had a fixed address. None of these things apply to me at all – I rarely drink, and even more rarely get drunk or high; although I engage in BDSM play with strangers, I am very selective about whom I engage in sex with; and my idea of a wild party these days is getting my friends in a room together to play board games and have conversations about philosophy. I leave housekeeping tips when I leave too much trash behind in a hotel room. And I’ve lived in the same house for almost eight years.

I have a tattoo that says “diva” on my upper left shoulder/arm. I got it during a different time of transition, a testament to the idea that I am a person worthy of being treated with respect, deference, and maybe a little extra something. When I was more active in theater/opera, I very much identified with the diva archetype – someone with talent, ability, and experience, who expected special treatment and deference in exchange for exposure/use of that talent and experience. Yes, divas are a little more difficult to deal with, but most of the time the temper tantrums and odd requests are worth it, because when the lights go up and the music starts they deliver a performance that moves your soul.

I wonder if some of my resistance to “rock star” is a remnant of my own musical snobbery. When I was in high school, and studying and competing in voice, there was a kid named Jordan in our “advanced chorus”. He was in a garage band called “Manifest Destiny”. I admit, I didn’t understand why he had been accepted into the chorus. He didn’t read music, didn’t know how to sight-sing, and frequently we had to stop rehearsals so the director could give him a quick mini-voice lesson so he could keep up. He frequently came to concerts in clothing that just barely met the requirements for our uniform – usually an unkempt white dress shirt and black jeans – while I, a kid on welfare, had gone to great lengths to have a formal-looking dress shirt and long black skirt. It wasn’t a class thing, at least to me; it was more a matter of respect. I took these performances seriously – a little silly, looking back on it, as it was merely a high school concert – but to me, they were the building blocks of my future in performance.

I never saw Manifest Destiny play, even though Jordan advertised the shows during class. What’s strange to me, and something I never fully processed, is that I was likely listening to music not all that dissimilar to Manifest Destiny’s – the Ramones, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Dead Milkmen – in the privacy of my home. I couldn’t afford to go to big name shows, but I likely could have scraped together entrance to a garage band show if I had tried.

I know for certain that part of the reason I didn’t try hard is that no one saw me as one of those kind of kids. I didn’t wear trendy clothes or bond with my friends over The Velvet Underground. Most of my peers who listened to that sort of music had edgy haircuts and leather jackets. They smoked cigarettes on the wall in the parking lot – I smoked mine hidden in the woods behind my house. They acted out in class and were frequently in detention or suspension; I was only given in-house suspension once, and the teacher in charge of babysitting us was positive it had been in error and forced me to go back to class. (It was *not* in error – I had, in fact, skipped the last half of a class after returning from a school trip by opting to go home rather than back to class.)

Even now, with my blue hair and labret piercing, my leathers and my stretched earlobes, I still don’t feel like I could go to a punk show and fit in. It probably doesn’t help that I don’t have many friends in Maryland who listen to that sort of music and still go to live shows. I think my issue now is more of an energetic thing; I feel once you get to know me, any image of me in a mosh pit kicking ass and boot stomping goes right out of your head. I’m much more the diva, lounging on a chaise lounge holding forth on whatever subject I find interesting.

Yet, there’s an undeniable grittiness to the kind of magic I practice; I’m much more likely to draw a circle with a swiss army knife than some elaborate medieval recreation dagger. I’ll use electrical tape in a binding way before I’ll spin my own thread or yarn. I use sex and BDSM to raise energy, rather than dancing a spiral or silently focusing my Will. I wear denim and leathers as my formal ritual clothes (or, if I’m feeling particularly fancy, plain white cotton clothes), rather than looking like an extra from Lord of the Rings.

My shamanism is also modern and urban; I trance easier to Nine Inch Nails than some CD of “shamanic drumming”. I work with pop culture spirits and Deities right alongside ancient ones. My local land vaettir are more concerned about green technology and recycling than groups of people chanting and leaving offerings. I depend on my computer to communicate with my clients, making mp3s of readings, meeting over Skype, emailing advice. I use Googlemancy (typing in my question and then hitting “I feel lucky”) as often as I use my cards or bones.

There’s something to the rock star in this. When I think of a diva, I think of someone upper class, refined, speaking with a pretentious English accent. In contrast, the rock star wears sunglasses and ripped jeans, comes from a working class family in NJ, and hides in dark corners of smoky clubs both hoping and not hoping to be recognized. When I visit a BDSM club or event outside of my region, that’s me in the corner; watching people play, and enjoying the company of my friends, but also flattered as all get-out when someone comes up and tells me they took a class of mine that changed their life, or at least their sex life. There’s a humbleness to the rock star that is absent in the diva; the rock star can go home when the tour is over and play with the dogs in the backyard; the diva expects everyone to cow-tow to them, even the doorman of her apartment building. The diva needs that constant recognition or the facade cracks. The rock star is confident in who they are.

Before I go further, I want to be clear that I don’t think I’m as famous as Dave Navarro, or as talented as Eddie Van Halen. I’m Jordan, playing in a garage band, getting recognized at the Denny’s by the server who went to the show with his girlfriend. If that. But in a way, Jordan is more of the rock star than Navarro, because he still had that dignity, that humbleness, that dreams-still-in-transition look in his eye.

Who are your “rock stars”, in the most literal sense? Who do you think of from the musical (and maybe acting) arts that you think embody the archetype? I seriously want your comments – here, not on the social media what brought you here.