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What straight couples can learn from gay couples

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When I embarked on the seven-year journey that would result in a trilogy of comedy shows and my first book, I had no idea what a huge part sexual orientation would play.

Yes, I’m a lesbian and that has influenced much of how I’ve socialised and dated for the 20 years or so since I came out. Yet, as I talked to more and more LGBT people – particularly those a little older than me who had experienced way more discrimination – I realised that being forced to think ‘outside the box’ around the concepts of love and family had resulted in some very self-aware, savvy and compassionate strategies for coping with the complexities of human relationships.

While I welcome the progressive legal changes that have seen a huge rise in acceptance for LGBT people, I worry that a blanket assumption that we all aspire to marry, have children and be ‘normal’ means that we might lose sight of some of the very best of these pioneering ideas.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin used the term ‘consciously uncoupling’

Open relationships can be incredibly successful. Gay men fairly typically negotiate sexually open partnerships and have done for many decades. However, what is less widely-reported is just how good they are at remaining emotionally faithful to a primary partner. Their separation rates are the lowest of any section of society. Figures from 2013, from the Office of National Statistics, showed that civil partnership dissolution rates were twice as high for female couples as they were for male. While early divorce statistics in the UK evidence that ratio increasing further still.

So what are the relationships lessons straight couples can learn from the gay community?

1. An ex can be a best friend

Long before American author and family therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas devised the phrase ‘conscious uncoupling’ and Gwyneth Paltrow made it famous, lesbians were the godmothers of the concept of compassionate endings.

Recently, Dr Jane Traies conducted the first comprehensive study of older lesbians in the UK. She told me, “It’s not uncommon for a lesbian’s ex-partner to be her best friend.” She described one couple, now in their seventies, one of who had previously been in a straight marriage. The other had always been openly gay and had many more significant exes, who they would regularly spend time with. The central relationship seemed to be richly rewarded by having this framework of other ongoing connections supporting it.

2. ‘Living Apart Together’ can be great

Although the idea of ‘LAT’ couples is now more widely discussed, it was the LGBT community who originally piloted this idea. As my friend, the gay poet Dominic Berry, points out, “Perhaps if people are doing something widely viewed as deviant, making another deviance from the norm isn’t too big a jump.”

A lot of the automatic assumptions that are made about relationships – that you must get married, be monogamous, have children, move in together – have been cheerfully dispensed with. In many cases, an alternative romantic framework suited the individuals in the relationship much better.

Some straight couples can be reluctant to talk openly about sexuality

3. Talking about love, desire and sex is good

When I conducted a survey for my comedy show, I asked respondents if they actually  discussed sex and fidelity with a partner. One straight woman wrote, ‘Good lord no! It’s one thing to do the deed but we’re too uptight to actually talk about it. Thank goodness.’

My gay friends, by contrast, tend to have spent so many years agonising about their sexual identity that discussion of it with friends and families has been essential as part of the ‘coming out’ process. In many cases, this had lead to a readiness to air other really important questions around desires, boundaries and consent once they were in an adult relationship.

4. ‘Family’ doesn’t have to mean blood

When I arrived in London as a young student in the Nineties, the LGBT community provided me with the strongest sense of belonging I have ever experienced.

In the face of prejudice and discrimination, gay people historically partied hard together and took more care of one another within the bubble of separatism. They cultivated a concept of ‘friends as family’, something the writer Armistead Maupin refers to as ‘logical family’.

5. Love isn’t like it is in the movies

Because films depicting same-sex relationships have generally been far-removed from the sugary rom-com ideal, gay people are more pragmatic and realistic about the extreme challenges of falling in and out of love and staying together.

In 2017, we may not be facing quite as much adversity as the characters depicted in Carol or Brokeback Mountain, but we know that the ‘fairy tale’ romance is a load of old hokum.

6. Rules are made to be broken

When the activism group Gay Liberation Front formed in the early Seventies, they gleefully celebrated their difference from the oppressive, beige ‘norms’ that most of society were having to follow. This resulted in an inclusive, embracing atmosphere and a sense of fun and freedom for anyone who wanted to reinvent and rethink traditional relationships and try out different models of being together.

Complete Article HERE!

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A new way to love: in praise of polyamory

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Polyamory isn’t monogamy and it isn’t swinging, it’s being open to having loving relationships with different people of different sexes at the same time, and in that way learning to love yourself, too

‘It’s like any normal relationship, except with more time management’: Elf Lyons.

By Elf Lyons

I have never enjoyed typical monogamy. It makes me think of dowries and possessive prairie voles who mate for life, and historically all monogamous relationship models have owned women in some way, with marriage there for financial purposes and the ownership of property.

For the last few years I’ve defined myself as a polyamorist. Friends before defined me as a “friendly philanderer”. I love to kiss people. Friends usually, or women who wear polo-necks. Polyamory is consensual non- monogamy. It’s a philosophy. Rather than the active pursuing of multiple partners in a lascivious way, it’s the embracing and understanding that it’s possible to fall in love, and have relationships, with more than one person at the same time.

Alongside developing CEO-worthy skills in multitasking, polyamory is the most empowering way of loving that I have encountered. It gives women more autonomy than other relationship models ever have. Although monogamous relationship models work for many, they’re not the only way to have relationships in society. In non-monogamous relationships, their success relies on everything being on the table from the start. I believe that it could be the huge relationship revolution that the feminist movement needs.

Many think it’s about sex – it’s not. It’s not swinging. It’s not Pokémon Go, you don’t have to catch them all. It’s about the freedom to be honest about the evolving ways you feel. It opens up the boundaries between friend and lover in a safe and transparent way.

‘As a teen I questioned what it was to be adulterous. I saw infidelities on a different level to other friends’: Elf Lyons.

As a teen I questioned what it was to be adulterous. I saw infidelities on a different level to other friends. When partners mentioned they found other people attractive, I never minded. It made sense. “Why wouldn’t you want to kiss Stephanie? She’s a legend!” Apparently that was not considered a normal way to react.

If I had known as a teenager it was possible to love more than one person, it would have saved so much anxiety, guilt and time spent writing awful poetry. I spent years beating myself up about it. It often caused me to end relationships rashly, giving excuses like “I’m not ready to be in a relationship,” or “I have commitment issues,” or “I’m not into Warhammer as much as you think.” I didn’t want to end the relationships, but admitting how I felt seemed a worse betrayal, so I would lie, breaking friendships in the process.

I discovered polyamory when I was 23. I met a parliament of poly performers at the Adelaide Festival who were hippyish, liberal and kind. These performers spoke about their partners, children, poly-families. There were ex-couples who were working together on shows while their other poly families toured elsewhere, married couples who had live-in partners, triumvirates where they all balanced an equal partnership. I was entranced by their openness. It seemed symbolic of our changing global world, and most peoples developing nomadic lifestyles where we travel for work and find love with others on the way.

So when I went to study at theatre school in Paris (fresh out of a relationship with a 45-year-old French father of three), I decided to embrace my inner Barbarella. And the reality? Non-monogamy is rather ordinary and occasionally dull. Stereotypes of weird Eyes Wide Shut sex parties and Sartre/de Beauvoir/Olga ménages à trois aside, it’s like any normal relationship, except with more time- management, more conversations about “feelings” and more awkward encounters with acquaintances at parties who try to use you as their “Sexual Awakening Friend Bicycle”, ie that shy girl from book club will get drunk and put her hand on your leg, before leaning in to kiss you, hiccuping: “I really loved Orange Is the New Black…”

‘Sexual awakenings do not mean the absence of consent’: Elf Lyons.

There are misconceptions – a date once grabbed me for a kiss unexpectedly despite the fact I had made it clear I was in no way interested (my words were exactly: “This is not going to work. We have entirely different opinions on the EU and you have just told me I am ‘very funny for a woman’.”) When I pushed him away he was shocked. He believed because I was “sexually awakened” he could do what he liked. Luckily my experiences have meant that I am more vocal and confident, and able to stand up for myself. Yes I am open about my relationships and desires, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s allowed to touch me without my permission. Sexual awakenings do not mean the absence of consent.

I must admit, when I first dipped my toes into polyamory I misunderstood, went overboard with Tinder. The experience was stressful and would involve me asking awkward questions like: “Do you think crabs think fish can fly?” while wandering around the National Gallery for the third time that month. (There is no denying that polyamory suits the self-employed schedule). I learned that when people don’t know what polyamory is, they misunderstand it as another term for “hook up”, which it’s not. So previous partners have usually been friends I trust.

People often ask: “How can you truly love someone if you want to be with someone else?” and “Don’t you get jealous?” I think these statements enforce unhealthy relationship ideals. I feel it’s dangerous to think that you’re the only person that can complete someone else’s life, and be their confidant, their friend, their support network and their sexual partner. It’s too much pressure! When you take a step back, drop your ego and realise you’re one unique component of someone’s life, it’s liberating and freeing. Jealousy ebbs away and you realise that, of course, they may find another person attractive, because we’re all different pieces of a puzzle. This has made me more comfortable about myself – I am not holding myself up to standards about traditional female beauty, because I can experience it in a hundred different ways.

Of course, there have been tears, heartbreaks, existential crises and moments when I felt left out. I’ve wondered if it was actually making me more free, or more insecure, with jealousy popping up at the most inconvenient times. I’ve dated people who have lied and I’ve had relationships that have ended because they didn’t trust or believe in polyamory.

But, despite the downs, non-monogamy has revolutionised the way I view love. First, it made me less ashamed of my sexuality. I fancied girls way before I fancied boys. But as a teenager at house parties I remember being made to think that female sexual relationships were purely to turn men on. We’d all seen that scene in Cruel Intentions. I remember girls kissing at parties and the guys cheering. It was performative. Except, I wanted to kiss girls because I liked girls.

When I started getting to know people in the poly community it was as liberating as taking off an underwired bra. I have had partners of both genders. I didn’t have to “choose”: the people I met understood that it was possible to give infinite, equal love to both sexes. My confidence soared. I wasn’t hiding. Men and women had equal place in my life. I no longer felt like a pendulum, swinging from one to another. This refreshing awakening did result in many awkward conversations with my mum and dad though, which would go something like this:

Elf: “Mum and Dad, I am queer.” [Mum puts the hummus down.]

Mum: “What does that mean?”

Elf: “It means I have relationships with men and women”. [Mum picks the hummus up.]

Mum: “Oh! Well, I’m queer. Your father’s queer, your grandmother’s queer, we’re all queer darling!”

Elf: “No you don’t understand. I mean I have sex with men and women.” [Mum drops the hummus.]

Mum: “Oh Elfy… No wonder you’re so tired.”

Although I love sex, because of past unpleasant experiences I’m also mildly afraid of it. So when I started experimenting with non-monogamy the idea of being intimate emotionally as well as physically with more than one person was a challenge. But, the choice gave me a power and ownership over my wants which I felt I had lost and been made to feel ashamed about. I’m not saying I jumped in the sack with everyone I met. God no. I’m too busy. But through being less judgemental on myself, I relaxed, opened up to the people I trusted and started loving myself again. It forces you to be really honest, to live life with an undefended heart.

It’s not been plain sailing. But to quote RuPaul: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell can you love anyone else” – this is integral to non-monogamy. You can’t use multiple relationships to fill the void and give you the gratification that you should be able to give yourself. More love doesn’t mean better love. If you are dating multiple people in order to enhance your self-worth, you end up feeling like out-of-date hummus, feeling jealous anytime anyone chooses to spend time with anyone else, resulting in you treating your partners badly and without respect.

We shouldn’t feel ashamed about being socially and sexually confident. Women have been made to feel embarrassed for their desires for too long. It’s about having the trust to speak our minds and behave the way we want to. The moment you start to crumble you need to stop and ask exactly what it is you want and if it makes you happy. Being loved and loving multiple people should make you feel stronger, not weaker.

In a time of censorship on women, increases in assault and constant critiques on how we should behave, polyamory and its manifesto of embracing our evolving feelings, sharing responsibility and communicating and working effectively with people from all around the world could help revolutionise the way we tackle privilege, inequality and control of women’s rights.

I have an authority and a voice that I didn’t feel I had before. My friendships are better, my health is better. Through being polyamorous and being a part of the community I have been made aware of issues, both personal and political, that need to be uncovered and addressed.

The world would be a better place if everybody was more open to polyamory. As well as that traditional idea, that it takes a village to raise a child, it would mean we’d all love more, and love better. Loving different people at the same time is like learning a different language. There are different rules every time and it’s always open for discussion. You start to realise that love is infinite. Every time you say “I love you” to someone it takes on a new meaning. It’s retranslated, and it’s wonderful.

Complete Article HERE!

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What gay trans guys wish their doctors knew

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Vancouver study peers into the lives and troubles of trans MSM

Sam Larkham organizes sexual health clinics across Metro Vancouver with the Health Initiative for Men (HIM). He says he was once referred by his doctor to a trans health care clinic that had been closed for years.

By Niko Bell

Speaking to gay and bisexual trans men, the word “invisibility” comes up a lot. Invisibility in the bathhouse and on dating apps, invisibility among cisgender people, straight people, trans people and gay people. And, too often, invisibility in the doctor’s office.

“I have tried just going to walk-in clinics and stuff like that to ask questions or request tests,” one trans man recently told researchers in Vancouver. “And I just found the doctors were generally confused about me and my body. And I had to go into great detail. That made me not so comfortable talking to them about it because they were just kind of sitting there confused.”

“People have tried to talk me out of testing . . . saying I was low-risk behaviour,” another man told the researchers. “They didn’t understand my behaviour really. . . I’ve had practitioners as well say they don’t know what to do; they don’t know what to look for.”

Both men were speaking to researchers for a new study on the sexual health of trans men who have sex with men — a group social scientists know remarkably little about. Many of the men spoke about being on the margins of mainstream culture, gay culture and of the healthcare system.

It should be no surprise, then, that the study happened almost by accident. When PhD student Ashleigh Rich started work with the Momentum Health Study — a five-year, in-depth research project on the sexual health of men who have sex with men (MSM) conducted out of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS — she never intended to write a paper about trans MSM.

But a small group of trans men volunteered for the study, some pointing out ways the Momentum researchers could change their surveys to be more inclusive.

There were too few for quantitative research — only 14 — but Rich asked if they would sit down for an hour and talk about their experiences. Eleven agreed.

The result is a slim, 11-page paper that hints at a world of things we don’t yet know about transgender gay and bisexual men. We do know they form a large part of the trans population; nearly two thirds of trans men say they are not straight. We also know trans MSM participate in the same rich world of sexuality as other men who have sex with men — from dating apps to anonymous sex to sex work and a broad range of sexual behaviour.

We don’t know much about trans MSM risk for HIV; estimates range from much less than cisgender gay and bi men to somewhat more. We also don’t know much about how a combination of stigma, invisibility and limited healthcare options may be affecting trans men’s health.

Rich is cautious about drawing any broad conclusions from her study. Not only is it a tiny sample, but the men she spoke to are also mostly urban, white and educated. This study was less about answering questions, and more about figuring out which questions to ask.

A few themes, though, emerge clearly. One is that trans MSM often find themselves falling through the cracks when it comes to sexual health. Doctors are increasingly aware of how to talk to gay men, but don’t always see trans gay men as “real” MSM. They assume trans men are heterosexual, or fail to bring up sexual health altogether.

Some doctors give trans men information on PrEP — a preventative anti-HIV medication that can drastically reduce the risk of contracting HIV if taken every day — based on studies on cisgender men, without checking to see if different anatomy requires different doses. When trans men come in for HIV tests, they are sometimes urged to get pap smears instead.

“We come in with specific issues we want to talk about in a health care consult, and sometimes once people discover we’re trans they’ll want to do a pregnancy test or something,” says Kai Scott, a trans inclusivity consultant who collaborated on the study with Rich. “And we’re not there for that. They’re giving us things we don’t want, and not telling us the things we do need to know.”

Sam Larkham, a trans man who organizes sexual health clinics across Metro Vancouver with the Health Initiative for Men (HIM), says he was once referred by his doctor to a trans health care clinic that had been closed for years. Experiences like that make him think the best path for trans MSM is to rely on queer-focused health care providers like HIM.

“It would be ideal if it were the whole medical system, but that’s impossible,” Larkham says. “I think we have to look at what we can do, and that’s have specific places where we have nurses who are well trained to handle trans MSM. I think that’s the more doable thing. I would love to have every clinic be culturally competent, but that’s not the reality and never will be.”

Scott is more sanguine. He points to Trans Care BC, a provincial health program that has pushed for more education for doctors. Education needs to happen on both fronts, Scott says, among MSM organizations and in the health care system at large.

Lauren Goldman is a nurse educator for Trans Care BC. Since she was hired last fall, she’s been giving workshops to healthcare providers on how to treat trans patients. For now, though, the workshops are aimed at small groups of sexual health professionals, such as at the BC Centre for Disease Control or HIM. Goldman wants the program to expand to include everyone.

“We know trans patients are accessing care through a number of places all across the province,” she says. “We want everyone to have access to this information as soon as possible.”

Goldman says Trans Care is designing an online course that could bring trans cultural competency to primary care doctors everywhere as part of mandatory continuing education. Trans Care has also designed a primary care “toolkit” for doctors, and is in talks with UBC’s medical school about including trans-focused sexual health education for doctors in training.

Without specialized knowledge, Goldman says, there’s a lot doctors can miss. Testosterone can make vaginal tissue more sensitive and inflexible, for example, meaning trans men might have special difficulties with genital sex. Bacterial vaginosis is more common, and the usual antibiotics given to cis women may not solve the problem. Vaginal and rectal tissue may need different doses of PrEP to be effective.

And, most importantly, doctors need trans patients to know they will be heard.

“We need to be providing really obvious cues that show people that our services are trans inclusive,” Goldman says. “Including how we design our services, how we market our services, how we educate our clinicians, what signs we hang up, letting people know that our clinicians have a greater understanding of gender diversity.”

While Goldman is educating doctors, the trans men Rich studied were already very well educated about their own sexual health. They told Rich about careful risk assessments they make around sex, sharing information with other men, and advocating for STI screening to their reluctant doctors.

One man described slipping in HIV tests while getting regular testosterone-level screening: “Yeah, oh, I’m already getting blood drawn. I probably need to get tested, let’s just draw two more vials for HIV and syphilis.”

It’s not surprising that many trans men are so health-conscious, Scott says. “We’ve had to be champions of our own bodies for a while, and so that ethos carries through when it comes to health information.”

But it would be a mistake to overstate how safe trans MSM are, he adds. For one, the urban, white and well-educated men in Rich’s study may be more likely to have access to resources and care than less wealthy or more rural trans people. Also, the very reason trans MSM seem so safe might be because they aren’t getting the opportunities for sex they want.

“To some extent, we’re still on the sidelines,” Scott says. “I don’t think that systemic rejection should be the means of HIV prevention for trans and nonbinary people. We’re dealing with a lot of rejection, and so I don’t think we’ve really had the opportunity to be exposed to that risk.”

The theme of rejection is echoed frequently by the study subjects.

“I remember meeting this one guy at a friend’s party and we were flirting the whole time,” one participant recounted. “He was like, ‘Oh we should totally go for a beer’ and so we connected and then I told him I was trans and he was like, ‘Oh I’m not looking for anything.’”

“Cis men often shut down immediately, out of a sort of fear of the unknown, and being unaware of what can and can’t happen,” Scott says. “They can assume all trans guys are bottoms, which isn’t true.”

Constant rejection can wear trans men down, Larkham says. Not only does it damage mental health, but constant rejection can weaken trans men’s resolve to negotiate sexual safety.

Many trans men, the study notes, rely on online hookup sites, where they can be upfront about being trans, and avoid rejection by anyone who isn’t interested.

The burden of rejection is one reason trans MSM need better mental health services too, Larkham says. Too many men show up to sexual health clinics after being exposed to sexual risks. Mental health support, he thinks, could reach people earlier.

But again, Scott strikes a positive note. “It’s a source of celebration to me that despite huge barriers we’re still having the sex that we want,” he says.

In the end, the clearest message to emerge from Rich’s study is that there’s a lot more to learn. She hopes to get more answers from the next stage of the Momentum study, which will recruit a larger sample of MSM from across Canada. That study, she hopes, will be large enough to deliver the kind of precise, quantitative answers that this one couldn’t.

Scott is also eager to move forward.

“There’s so much you want to pack in and so much you want to report on,” he says. “There’s such a dire need to research these issues. People are really hurting, and I really feel that. But you’ve got to take it one step at a time.”

Complete Article HERE!

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6 things a sex therapist wishes you knew

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It’s not always just about sex

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Communication is essential in almost every aspect of our lives. But these days it can seem as though we’re more interested in social media than connecting with those we’re most intimate with. The 2014 British Sex Survey showed a shocking 61% of respondents said that it’s possible to maintain a happy relationship or marriage without sex. Whether you believe this or not, new research has emerged that shows just how important sex is for a relationship. According to lead author, Lindsey L. Hicks, more sex is associated with a happier marriage, regardless of what people say:

“We found that the frequency with which couples have sex has no influence on whether or not they report being happy with their relationship, but their sexual frequency does influence their more spontaneous, automatic, gut-level feelings about their partners,”

We spoke to Stefan Walters, Psychological Therapist at Harley Therapy London, to find out the role sex can play within a relationship and the attitude we should all be taking towards it. Here’s what he wishes we all knew:

1. It’s good to talk about sex!

Lots of clients still feel like opening up about their sex lives is a real taboo, and that sexual thoughts should be kept private and hidden away. But the truth is that sex is a huge part of who we are – it plays a vital role in determining our identities, and in shaping the relationships we choose throughout our lives – so it’s good to talk about it, and there’s nothing shameful or degrading about doing so. You might not think that your sexual thoughts are relevant to certain other issues in your life, but sometimes sharing these inner desires can really shine a light on something else that’s seemingly unconnected.

2. …but don’t JUST talk about sex

Sex is often the symptom, not the cause. Lots of people come to therapy looking to resolve a sexual issue, and often there’s a temptation to focus on that issue and not talk about anything else. But as you explore around the problem, you tend to find that what’s being played out in the bedroom is often related to other thoughts and feelings. Even something as innocuous as moving house or changing job can have an unexpected impact on libido, as attention and energy levels are focused elsewhere. So it’s really important to get the full picture of what’s going on.

3. There’s nothing you could say that would surprise your therapist

People go to therapy for all kinds of sexual issues. This might be a question of their own orientation, making sense of a certain fetish, or exploring some kind of dysfunction which they feel is preventing them from having the sex life they truly desire. No matter how embarrassed you might feel about a certain sex-related issue, your therapist won’t judge you for it, and will remain calm and impartial as you explore the problem. Sexual issues are very common reasons for people to seek therapy, so your therapist has most likely heard it all before; and however filthy or unusual you might think your kink is, someone else has probably already shared it.

4. The biggest sexual organ is the brain

People spend so much time focusing on genitals, but often forget about the brain. Sex is a deeply psychological process, and one person’s turn ons can be another’s turn offs. This is because we all get aroused by different sensory stimuli, and have a different set of positive and negative associations for all kinds of situations and events; often relating back to previous experiences. You can have a lot of fun with your body, but truly great sex needs to involve the brain as well. After all, it’s the brain that gets flooded with a magical cocktail of chemicals – dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins – at the point of orgasm, to produce an almost trance-like experience

There’s no single definition of a good sex life

5. Sex means different things to different people, at different times

There’s no single definition of a good sex life. Sexuality is fluid, and needs and desires can change drastically from person to person, and even day to day. For example, at the start of a relationship sex is usually about pleasure and passion, but over time it can become more about intimacy and connection, and then if a couple decide to have children it can suddenly become quite outcome-focused. Sometimes people struggle to cope with these transitions, or may find that their own needs don’t match with their partners’, and this is why talking about sex is so important in relationships.

6. Don’t put it off

If you do have a sex-related worry or concern, it’s best to talk about it as soon as possible. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing it with a family member or a friend or partner, then seek out a good therapist to explore the issue with you. The longer you wait, the more it becomes likely that you build the issue up in your head, or start to complicate it even further. It’s always best to tackle issues, rather than to let them fester or be ignored. More than ever, people are talking openly about their sexual orientations and desires, so there’s no need to deal with your worries alone. Everyone deserves to feel sexually fulfilled, and that includes you.

Complete Article HERE!

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Trans Writer E. Parker Phillips Finds Poetry in He/r Fluid Identity

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E. Parker Phillips conveys a message of nonviolence.

By Liz Tracy

At a Yale writing workshop in 2003, one of E. Parker Phillips’ college classmates said Phillips’ erotic poem reminded them of a Calvin Klein ad. Phillips, who identifies as genderqueer and uses “s/he” and “he/r” pronouns, doesn’t remember the poem itself, only one line from the work about a lesbian sexual awakening: “Love is where we stay in bed and go shopping for hats.” The classmate was trying to humiliate Phillips. But s/he treasures the memory.

“The connection between sex, power, and writing felt undeveloped at a place like Yale,” Phillips recalls. “It made me feel like things weren’t set up for me to have a voice.

“Well, now I fight for that voice.”

At the time, Phillips was studying for a degree in Chinese. These days, s/he’s one of the busiest people in Miami, juggling writing, teaching, performing, BDSM and fetish work, and activism. Phillips cannot be explained simply in a line from a poem or exemplified in a single memory. But though Phillips defies labels, he/r uniquely intersectional message and example has made he/r one of South Florida’s most prominent voices in the queer and literary realms.

Phillips was a queer kid raised by strict parents near the Adirondack Mountains in Glens Falls, New York, a largely white, Republican, rural town. There was a lot of pressure at home to go to a good school. Phillips found sanctuary and joy in playing sports. “I was an athlete before anything else in my life,” s/he remembers.

After graduating from college, s/he lived “on the fringes of literary cultures at Yale and in New York City.” The red state of Florida might not seem like the most welcoming place for a queer writer, but Florida International University’s creative writing program offered Phillips the chance to study with renowned poets Campbell McGrath and Denise Duhamel. There, s/he recalls, “I could learn to embrace how I write from my groin and my heart while also exploring ideas and politics. Miami, and FIU, helped me turn my position as an outsider, once a source of shame, into a place of empowerment.”

Phillips taught at FIU and Broward College while publishing poems in journals such as Voluble (a LARB channel), The Sensations Feelings Journal, Jai-Alai Magazine, and Hinchas de Poesia. Along the way, s/he developed a unique literary style to express he/r layered experiences. “I am happiest at the nexus of language, performance, and physicality,” Phillips notes. “Writing poems is a trans-like state where I am thinking about my body both physically and emotionally, processing my experience in language — consciousness tethered to a sensual world.”

From 2014-’16, the instructor found a less conventional avenue for expressing he/r identity by opening a 1,500-square-foot BDSM commercial dungeon. “Both [kink and poetry] feel like arts of consciousness,” s/he explains. “BDSM, kink, for me brings together making money and art; it is how I have made a living in the past four years.”

S/he now operates out of a private fetish studio in Hollywood, Florida — and not just to pay the bills. “I try to work outside academia so I can deepen my engagement with the world, which affects my voice in poetry. It is not always easy. I probably do too much,” Phillips admits.

In addition to hosting BDSM play parties and a meetup for kinky people titled Miami Munch, for the past six months, Phillips has cohosted the weekly Queer and Trans Yoga class at Agni Miami.

“Poems, BDSM, yoga — these are my lifelines. Sharing these practices with other people amplifies their meaning and helps me push the boundaries of the various forms,” Phillips explains. “When I try to live up to the expectations of what I perceive as the mainstream poetry world, I end up not writing.”

In joining all of these varied pursuits, s/he explains, “If I can focus on bearing witness to my feelings and my body, bearing witness to politics and injustice, I can engage poetry as a vehicle through which I traverse the known into the not-yet-known… Imagining a different, more equitable world is particularly important to me as a nonbinary, genderfluid person.”

Part of imagining that world is changing the words used to describe it. “Language is an ontological problem — a world of ‘he’ and ‘she,’ a binary world,” Phillips continues. “How can we take that apart and build something more livable?… What happens when I share my queer, feminist consciousness with a reader? A change in hearts and minds can happen there.”

The Queer and Trans Yoga class s/he cofounded is another converging of these realities for Phillips. In a hatha class, the teacher focuses on yin — “practicing being versus doing” — according to one instructor. Students hold poses for three to five minutes, and class leaders discuss topics such as self-acceptance, self-love, and coping with rejection. During the class, a reiki practitioner attends to individuals. The class also begins or ends with a poem by a queer or trans author, or a talk by a community member.

“The message we convey is one of nonviolence toward self and others. There is a lot of emphasis on the self and falling in love with the self,” Phillips says.

Those themes will carry into he/r course at this week’s TransArt, an annual event that advances equity for the Latinx and LGBT communities through education. Titled I Talk to My Body, Phillips’ workshop will “look at the topic of the self addressing the body, which we will explore within the context of a queer and trans lived experience,” s/he says. Using works by poets Lucille Clifton, Anna Swir, and Joy Ladin, Phillips hopes to teach students to “make sense of, or even celebrate, a discontinuity between self and body.”

Phillips recalls a recent moment at Queer and Trans Yoga when a practitioner spoke about being queer-bashed by a trusted yoga instructor. The reflection evoked a related yoga practice. Class members were told to lie on their backs with legs in the air, “so we could feel the disorientation the person experienced. It felt like falling backwards,” Phillips remembers. “I really wanted to get up and leave — it was challenging both emotionally and physically.”

But the meaning of the action made it bearable for Phillips. Inversion poses like that lift energy to the throat, s/he explains, renewing one’s voice.

“Learning how to work through discomfort is a hugely valuable lesson for me as a queer person, given the discomfort I face in the adult entertainment industry, in my family, and as a poet,” Phillips describes. “Doing yoga in community and turning the raw, painful stuff of lived experience into something inspiring and shared — that is another act of poem-making too.”

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