When I started working for one of Australia’s biggest providers of sexuality workshops, Curious Creatures, I was still suspicious of men. Well, not all men—more the ‘creepy dudes’, the ones who reek of desperation and stare at women with sad and lonely eyes.
I thought I was validated in this attitude. I was scared of them because they were ‘dangerous’, and if one spoke to me I tried to politely disengage as quickly as possible.
I also wasn’t fully aware of my attitude. I liked to think of myself as a compassionate and loving person (as many females do, and are socialized to do). I also liked to see myself as open-minded, and non-discriminatory.
After all, as a queer and non-binary person of female sex, I’m not your average woman (but then again, which of us is?). Having experienced a lot of discrimination in my life, I didn’t want to discriminate against others, including men.
However, it was hard not to: I was raised by a mother who hates and fears men (and who likely suffered extreme abuse at their hands). I spent many years as part of a fundamentalist religion where men were given privileges over women (and everybody thought this was normal and good). Identifying as a lesbian, I personally had few and shallow relationships with men, so not much chance to be exposed to them deeply.
But working for Curious Creatures, I attended many of their sexuality workshops. This was a revelation! I still remember the day I stood in the intro line at ‘The Forest: Touch & Embodiment Ritual’. There were two lines of people, one male, one female (it was a male/female pairings workshop – there are also versions where all genders are paired together).
I looked across at the line of males. They were all ages and body types. I noticed that they all looked scared and unsure of themselves… even the ones who were attempting to look cocky and confident. They looked like little boys to me, disguised in the bodies of grown males. I saw hope in their eyes as they looked at the women. They were longing to connect. They wanted to be wanted.
When I looked at the women in my line, I saw the same fear and desire on their faces. At that moment it hit me: We were the same!
What I would have previously seen as a group of ‘creepy guys’ transformed into ‘humans longing for connection’. Sure, some of them were less good at hiding their longing (and that could set off my alarm bells, as I didn’t feel capable of meeting such strong need, and didn’t want to). But I’ve felt that way around other women too, at times, who showed me similar intense longing.
And although it’s hard to admit about myself, I’ve also experienced that intense longing inside of me, and sometimes put that onto my partners. They’ve probably found me ‘creepy’ too.
By the end of the evening, the participants at The Forest were at ease, laughing and enjoying each other. The room vibrated with satisfaction, and a sense of comradery. This was a far cry from the nerves at the beginning.
What came in between? A beautiful ritual where we offered each other sensual touch experiences, focusing on the pleasure of the person who was being touched (who was blindfolded and didn’t know who was touching them). When we were being touched we paid special attention to our body’s signals and used a system of ‘safe words’ to give voice to our boundaries. This let the toucher know what we wanted and didn’t want with a high level of precision.
My mind said I wouldn’t enjoy touch from males ‘because I’m a lesbian’. But my personal experience was that I felt scared when I was being touched by males and found it hard to feel safe enough to relax. When I got stronger in knowing and calling my boundaries, I started to feel safe.
I experienced that when I said no, my no was immediately respected. That seemed to make all the difference. And I experienced that when others said no to me, sometimes it really stung my ego. It was unexpectedly hard to receive another person’s no graciously, and that taught me what it might be like in the other pair of shoes.
I developed more empathy for people who initiate sex and intimate relating (which is so often men, perhaps because of socialization). I found it hard to receive a no, and repeated nos felt dispiriting. It took a lot of courage and self-compassion for me to keep making offers, and to learn what I might be doing that led to a no (sometimes it was something I could change. Sometimes it was just the other person’s personal no, and that became fine).
When I felt safe and strong in my ability to call my boundaries, I opened up to pleasurable experiences with others. I welcomed more intense forms of touch and more people. I didn’t force this … it’s naturally what happened for me when my boundaries firmed up. I was also able to confidently guide those who were touching me in not quite the right way for my taste to touch me differently, without shaming them.
This led to some amazing sharing with men, women, non-binary people, younger and older people, many body types, many sexual orientations, and many ethnicities. I was shocked (and delighted) that when it came to my body experiencing pleasure, I didn’t seem to have a ‘type’. It sure opened up my possibilities for enjoying sex, play and intimacy with other people!
The next time you see a creepy guy, I recommend daringly looking deeper. Just in case underneath his poor socialization or desperate longing … he’s a lot like you.
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