Archive for the 'food for the joybody' Category

FOOD FOR THE JOYBODY: The Gift of Desire

May 20, 2013

Last month I gave a talk at Living Soulfully, the monthly gathering the Center in New York City for friends and associates of Easton Mountain Retreat Center, where I’ve taught for many years. I adapted the talk into an article which has been published by the online gay newspaper EDGE. The gist of the article is this:

As a gay sex therapist, I spend a lot of my working hours listening to people talk about the nitty-gritty details of their sex lives. I meet a lot of smart, soulful, intelligent men frustrated at their inability to find love and connection. One of the themes that comes up again and again has to do with asking for what you want.

“Ask for what you want” is advice that’s easy to give but often strangely difficult to practice. What gets in the way of identifying our desires and sharing them with others? Growing up gay, we probably learned early on to view our deepest desires as shameful, socially unacceptable, or at the very least subject to other people’s negative judgments. No wonder we’re a little gun-shy when it comes to letting others know what we want, especially in the realm of love and erotic play.

You can read the whole article online here. Check it out and let me know what you think.

gift of desire

FOOD FOR THE JOYBODY: Margaret Talbot on transgender teens in the New Yorker

March 19, 2013

In the March 18, 2013, issue of The New Yorker, staff writer Margaret Talbot takes a careful look at the phenomenon of transgender teenagers – ambivalently gendered individuals choosing hormone treatments and surgical interventions at ever-earlier ages. In the late seventies, drugs were developed to forestall puberty, aimed at children who suffered from extremely precocious puberty. Then, starting in 2000, doctors began administering puberty blockers to kids struggling with gender identity. The advantage for those who go on to transition is that these drugs prevent the development of breasts and menstrual periods for FTMs and facial hair, Adam’s apples, and masculine facial structures for MTFs: “Puberty suppression and early surgery made for more convincing-looking men and women.” Because of exposure in the media, more kids with gender-identity issues identify themselves earlier.


As a longtime feminist, I’m happy to observe how the emergence of transgender identity has liberated people of all ages to embrace the gender expression that feels intuitively right for them. Gay identity has morphed from lesbian and gay to LGBTQ, and in more sophisticated circles (the West Coast, especially the Bay Area, and in certain college enclaves), the stream of gender rebellion has acquired many tributaries and gender-queer sobriquets. The farther you deviate from recognizable social norms, though, the more courage it takes to walk your own path – much easier said than done. Schoolkids are notoriously cruel when confronted with difference; many pockets of adulthood are no less welcoming to non-conformist gender behavior.

One sensitive area that Talbot tackles carefully yet directly is the overlap between transgender individuals and those who simply decline to conform to heteronormative expectations.

There are people who are sympathetic to families with kids like Jazz [who was born a boy and socially transitioned while still a toddler and appeared on “20/20” at age 6] but worry about the rush to adopt the trans identity. They point out that long-term studies of young children with gender dysphoria have found that only about fifteen per cent continue to have this feeling as adolescents and adults. (And these studies, which relied on data from Dutch and Canadian research teams, looked only at children who were referred to a clinic for gender issues – presumably, many more kids experience gender dysphoria in some measure.) The long-term studies have also found that, when such kids grow up, they are significantly more likely to be gay or bisexual. In other words, many young kids claiming to be stuck in the wrong body may simply be trying to process their emerging homosexual desires.

Walter Myers, a child psychiatrist and pediatric endocrinologist in Galveston, Texas, has prescribed puberty blockers and considers them worthwhile as a way to buy time for some kids. But, in an editorial that ran in Pediatrics last March, Meyer urged families not to jump to the conclusion that their fierce little tomboy of a daughter, or doll-loving son, must be transgender. “Many of the presentations in the public media…give the impression that a child with cross-gender behavior needs to change to the new gender or at least should be evaluated for such a change,” he wrote. “Very little information in the public domain talks about the normality of gender questioning and gender role exploration, and the rarity of an actual change.” When I called Meyer, he said, “What if people learn from the media and think, Hey, I have a five-year-old boy who wants to play with dolls, and I saw this program on TV last night. Now I see: my boy wants to be a girl! So I wanted to say in that article that, with kids, gender variance is an important issue, but it’s also a common issue. I’m saying to parents, ‘It may be hard to live with the ambiguity, but just watch and wait. Most of the time, they’re not going to want to change their gender.’”

Eli Coleman, a psychologist who heads the human-sexuality program at the University of Minnesota Medical School, chaired the committee that, in November, 2011, drafted the latest guidelines of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the leading organization of doctors and other health-care workers who assist trans patients. The committee endorsed the use of puberty blockers for some children, but Coleman told me that caution was warranted. “We still don’t know the subtle or potential long-term effects on brain function or bone development. Many people recognize it’s not a benign treatment.”

Alice Dreger, the bioethicist, said, of cross-gender hormones and surgery, “These are not trivial medical interventions. You’re taking away fertility, in most cases. And how do you really know who you are before you’re sexual? No child, with gender dysphoria or not, should have to decide who they are that early in life.” She continued, “I don’t mean to offend people who are truly transgender, but maybe a kid expresses a sense of being the opposite gender because cultural signals say girls don’t shoot arrows, or play rough, or wear boxers, or whatever. I’m concerned that we’re creating feedback loops in an attempt to be sympathetic. There was a child at my son’s preschool who, at the age of three, believed he was a train. Not that he liked trains – he was a train. None of us said, ‘Yes, you’re a train.’ We’d play along, but it was clear we were humoring him. After a couple of years, he decided that what he wanted to be was an engineer.”

I was grateful to Talbot for laying out these factual and ethical considerations because I’ve wrestled with them a lot, trying to understand them myself. In my teens and twenties, I spent a lot of time and energy and study investigating my own masculinity and femininity and forging a healthy gay identity at odds with the mainstream world and the family that I grew up in. Much as I support the right to do with your own body what you will, I’ve worried sometimes that the practice of surgically altering your body so that you look like “the boy/girl that you feel like inside” might wind up reinforcing the rigid gender-role stereotypes that oppress everyone. Who says what a man or a woman is supposed to look or feel like? Why can’t a butch girl be a butch girl or a femme-y boy be a femme-y boy? When Cher’s lesbian daughter Chastity transitioned to become Chaz Bono, to me it felt like a defeat in some way, as if Chastity couldn’t tolerate being publicly gay. My wise boyfriend pointed out to me, “She went from an identity you understand to one you don’t understand.”

Mostly, I’m aware that whatever advances we’ve made in terms of freedom of choice in sexual practice and gender expression, the pressure to conform to traditional gender-role expectations continues to wound and scar people. In my practice I hear these stories every day. The gay 28-year-old South Asian student for whom completing his graduate degree means he must go home and get married or risk losing his family. The thirtysomething Italian professional emotionally traumatized by his father’s saying to him, “Are you a fag? Because if you’re a fag, I’m going to get a gun and I’m going to kill you first and then myself.” The 70-year-old bisexual executive still at the mercy of childhood religious teaching that the only permissible way to ejaculate is during intercourse with your wife. It takes a huge amount of courage, support, and self-compassion to work through these issues one step at a time.

The full text of Talbot’s article is available online only for subscribers to The New Yorker but her blog post accompanying the article includes links to a number of videos in which transgender adolescents share their individualized journeys on the road to personal freedom.

Food for the Joybody: what does a session of sex coaching look like?

February 21, 2013

Have you ever checked out my Body and Soul Work website and wondered what a session of sex coaching might look like? If so, you might want to have a look at this column that my friend Brian Moylan wrote for the online version of Vice magazine called “How to Quit Porn and Not Entirely Ruin Your Life.”

Brian spent a few years blogging about what is euphemistically called “adult video” for Fleshbot and recently decided, as an experiment, to take a break from masturbating to porn. To his consternation, he found that his libido evaporated without the high-intensity video stimulation he was used to. So he came in for a session with me to consult about this situation, and then he wrote about it in some detail.
brian moylan
Brian is a good writer who’s also hilariously matter-of-fact about sexual matters (“filthy” is a term of high praise for him). Describing our session, he says:

“After talking to him about my past habits and current predicament, he told me that my mind was so used to the excess stimulation of bodies rutting on screen that it was having trouble remembering how to enjoy a good old fashioned stroke like my grandparents used to. He suggested breaking all of my usual habits during “gentleman’s time.” He told me to experiment with a new time of day, new positions, new lube, and maybe even some new hand movements to shock myself out of complacency. We did some “body awareness” exercises, where I explored parts of myself other than the organs surrounding the taint to see what else gave me an erotic charge. He also taught me some new strokes—taking your dick and rubbing it with both hands like you’re trying to start a fire sounds ridiculous until you give it a whirl.

“All of those things helped, but the most important thing he told me was to not worry about squirting. I should enjoy playing with myself just for how good it made me feel, he said. With that advice, I started self-molestation all the time: in the morning, at work, in an empty row at the movies, while watching Real Housewives of New York… just about everywhere. Well, at least everywhere that wouldn’t put me in legal danger.”

He took away from our session a few useful principles that he was able to apply on his own at home. He describes finding some old sexy magazines, getting turned on by them, but choosing to stick by his determination to take a break from porn as an aid to self-pleasuring. “I decided to try everything that Don had told me: a new room in the house (bathroom), a new position (sitting perilously on the edge of the tub), some different lube (something called Stroke 29)… everything out of my comfort zone. … As I had done for the past few weeks, I enjoyed it for just what it was, but after a couple of minutes I knew I was finally going to cross the finish line (and after a week, what a finish line that was). While cleaning up I felt triumphant, albeit in a sort of Lance Armstrong-y way. Yes, porn had given me the initial, um, courage, but I relied on all my other senses and training to get the job done. Maybe this was a way of weaning myself off? I decided this meant I wasn’t 100 percent cured, but I was definitely on the way to becoming porn-free.”

Have you ever found yourself consumed with looking at porn in a way that felt excessive to you? Ever tried taking a break? I’d love to hear how that turned out for you.

food for the joybody: the myth of “New Year, New You” and theories of change

January 22, 2013

new you
Thanks to my friend Ben Seaman, I started exploring the prolific writing of Oliver Burkeman and came upon his column for Newsweek/The Daily Beast on failed New Year’s resolutions, which has some smart things to say. One passage stood out for me:

[A]s the Buddhist-influenced Japanese psychologist Shoma Morita liked to point out, it’s perfectly possible to do what you know needs doing—to propel yourself to the gym, to open the laptop to work, to reach for the kale instead of the doughnuts—without “feeling motivated” to do it. People “think that they should always like what they do and that their lives should be trouble-free,” Morita wrote. “Consequently, their mental energy is wasted by their impossible attempts to avoid feelings of displeasure or boredom.” Morita advised his readers and patients to “give up” on themselves—to “begin taking action now, while being neurotic or imperfect or a procrastinator or unhealthy or lazy or any other label by which you inaccurately describe yourself.”

The column also talks about the alluring fantasy of creating change by “making a fresh start,” throwing everything out and building a new structure from scratch — a task so daunting that it’s rarely successful. I tend to subscribe to the ideas laid out by Arnold Beisser in his essay “The Paradoxical Theory of Change,” one of the pillars of contemporary gestalt therapy. Beisser’s perception is that we don’t change by willing ourselves to do something different but by examining carefully what it is we are actually doing right now, which paradoxically arms us with more information and more options that we often skip when we’re trying to motivate ourselves by envisioning that “fresh start.”

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