MEDIA: “James Broughton Gave Me a Pearl Necklace”

The latest issue of RFD, the reader-written journal of the Radical Faerie community, is devoted to the late great poet and filmmaker James Broughton, the subject of recent documentary film by Stephen Silha and Eric Slade called BIG JOY. When I was younger and had a lot more hair, I had the pleasure of meeting Broughton in 1991 at the Gay Spirit Visions conference in North Carolina, and my brief remembrance of that occasion appears in RFD and below:

Joel Silver, James Broughton, and Don Shewey

Joel Silver, James Broughton, and Don Shewey

JAMES BROUGHTON GAVE ME A PEARL NECKLACE

I met James Broughton in September, 1991, when he graced the second annual Gay Spirit Visions conference in North Carolina as keynote speaker. Before that event, I knew he was a poet – his pithy, often humorous, often lightweight verses led some to consider him the contemporary gay incarnation of Rumi – and somehow I had absorbed the information that he had been married once upon a time to the legendary film critic Pauline Kael, of all people. But only in person did the full force of Broughton emerge.

He was elderly then, 77 and snowy-haired, a little frail but in pretty good health and attended by his loving companion Joel Silver. He was friendly and approachable, though of course he was also a showman. He knew how to attract and hold an audience, not so much by being loud and ostentatious but by radiating an amused intimacy and the elfin twinkle of someone who has marinated his epiphanies in joy rather than solemnity. He wore the mask of an airy-fairy gentle sprite, but when he opened his mouth to speak the hardcore metaphysical prankster revealed himself. Joseph Kramer, the visionary founder of the Body Electric School, also attended the conference as a guest speaker, and I vividly recall his rapturous attention as Broughton held forth on what he called “The Holy Trinity” – the phallus, the anus, and the perineum. Raven Wolfdancer, a beloved Atlanta faerie (later murdered on his doorstep by an unknown intruder, but that’s another story), introduced Broughton to the conference as “my bliss mentor, my ecstasy mentor. He taught me to parade my peculiar.”

For his keynote address, Broughton delivered a talk he had apparently given more than once, alternately titled “The Sexual Holiness of Men” and “The Sexuality of Spirit.” It was a kind of sermon, a dharma talk, a benediction dense with the distilled wisdom of a lifetime. You can find the verbatim text online, but in my diary I took notes, and looking at them now they contain one jewel after another. I realize that in the hour he was speaking I became a disciple, because the sentences that leapt out at me have stuck with me ever since.

Since this is a spiritual conference, I begin with a blessing: Hail Mary, quite contrary…

I’m a poet – do not expect reasoned argument.

I take my text from Novalis: “There is only one temple in the world, and that is the human body.” And the only proper activity in a temple is worship.

Churches exist to make you feel miserable.

Buddha is down on desire. Broughton is very up on desire.

Your brains have been washed with the detergent of guilt too long.

The penis is the exposed tip of the heart, the wand of the soul.

I was born to love my own kind, not compete with or acquire them.

Most communication is made of sneers and complaints. One of my mottoes is “Reach, touch, connect.”

At the baths, each cock was a bead in my rosary. Sexual loving is the true practice of religion. Put lovemaking before moneymaking and troublemaking. Teach it in schools. Holding hands, okay. Hug, yes, but with your whole body. I would add kissing. Practice this lifesaving on your neighbors. Love the living as much as the dying.

Stop thinking of yourselves as outcasts. You are meridians, raising consciousness, not babies. You can be and not beget. You may be outside of society’s mainstream but in the mainstream of wisdom.

I’d rather be kissed than stamped with approval.

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MEDIA: “An Eye for an Eye”

I frequently bemoan the dearth of images of explicit physical affection that doesn’t resemble commercial pornography, so I’m delighted to call attention to this beautiful short film by Polish visual artist Artur Żmijewski.

As the website for his gallery explains, “The film features people with disabilities, who suffer from severe difficulties in their everyday lives as a result of amputations. A temporary relief in their struggle with daily activities is brought by healthy people, who lend them parts of their own bodies. In order to make up for the deficiencies of the body with disability, they lock with it in an uncanny embrace. However, offering a healthy limb requires breaking the barriers of intimacy, i.e. touching the scar – the most sensitive part of the body after amputation. Thus, Żmijewski’s film becomes a story of intimacy and ways of overcoming the mechanisms of exclusion.”

Artur Zmijewski – An Eye for An Eye, 1998 from Hurford Center on Vimeo.

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LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX: Learning from porn

8-13 learning from porn
At the Rowe Labor Day retreat in Massachusetts for gay, bisexual, and questioning men, I conducted a workshop called “Learning from Porn.” I felt ever-so-slightly scandalous broaching this topic while attending a conference at a Unitarian Universalist retreat center. At the same time, like my teacher and mentor Joseph Kramer I’m committed to healing the split between sexuality and spirituality in our culture. We all have bodies, and it is our spiritual invitation to inhabit them fully and mindfully. And reading a poster in the Rowe library enumerating the core values of Unitarian Universalism, I resonated with its championing “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”

As a number of participants in the workshop immediately acknowledged, almost every male adult has some kind of love/hate relationship with pornography, that ubiquitous form of entertainment that heavily influences the norms by which we judge our bodies, our desires, and our sexual partners — but we hardly ever talk about it to anyone. I wanted to create a safe, non-judgmental context in which to consider a few pertinent questions: What is hot about porn? What myths about sex does porn perpetuate, for better or for worse? What aspects of pleasurable sexuality never show up in porn? I quickly learned that men have plenty to say on all these topics.

Most public discussions about pornography tend to focus on addiction, abuse, exploitation of women, and so on. Those problems clearly exist, but I believe that as human beings we always have a positive reason for doing what we do. And as a sex therapist, especially one who works with a lot of gay men, I’m acutely aware of the paradox of porn — that however much it contributes to shame, compulsiveness, and distorted ideas about sexuality, looking at pornography is for many men an important doorway into erotic existence. So I purposely wanted to open the discussion by asking what’s valuable about porn…. Read more

SEX IN THE CINEMA: Christina Voros’s documentary KINK

Jessie-Colter blindfold

Christina Voros‘s documentary Kink, which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last January, had one screening this month in the New Fest, the LGBT film festival that has entertained New York’s gay cinemaphiles for the last 25 years. Produced by that unpredictable enterprising Energizer Bunny James Franco, the film provides an extremely illuminating tour of the San Francisco studios of Kink.com. That’s the empire that creates the BDSM porn that shows up on websites like Bound Gods and Naked Kombat familiar to kinky gay guys, as well as non-gay sites such as FuckingMachines.com, WhippedAss.com, and Bound Gang Bangs.

Need I say that this is not a film for the faint of heart?

The documentary incorporates talking-head interviews with directors, producers, technicians, and performers as well as scenes of them going about their daily business. There are lots of hardcore scenes, some of which turned me on, some of which made me cringe. But what makes this a compelling and admirable film is the high quality conversation it models about sex, kink, BDSM, boundaries, consent, violence, abuse, why people make porn, and what people get out of watching it.

sf armory

Many of the producers interviewed are very smart, attractive women — such as Princess Donna and Maitresse Madeline — who not only speak with great intelligence and nuance about BDSM and porn but who operate on the set with fascinating flexibility, compassion, humor, and sophistication. Same goes for transman TomCat.

The Kink site I’m most familiar with is Bound Gods, whose creator, Van Darkholme, is a major figure in the documentary, representing the gay male fetish fiefdom within Kink.com. Although I’ve been curious to check out the bondage and fetish sites he produces, I’ve always been put off by his personality and his manner. He’s extremely brusque and lacking in the qualities of caring that I would want in a kinky top. And he doesn’t come off any differently in the documentary. Considering how coldly he treats his performers, especially the way he berates and corrects the tops in scenes he’s filming, it’s hard for me to understand how he gets so many guys to do the things they do for him.

And it’s not just that the women are nurturing and the men are brutal — we get to watch a male top conducting a very intense scene with a woman who’s bound, suspended, and being worked over by an ingenious vibrating machine, and he exhibits a beautiful mixture of authority and attunement. Another male producer makes it very clear that he doesn’t like to have anyone on the set who isn’t really really into what’s going on.

John-Magnum-gag
This is not a film that’s going to be a hit in theaters or get an Academy Award nomination. It will most likely find its following on DVD. But I hope a lot of people will watch it. Just as the feature film The Sessions gave moviegoers an avenue to understand the world of sexual surrogacy, Kink succeeds in its intention to avoid sleazy sensationalism and to enlighten curious viewers.

LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX: The Gift of Desire

“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.

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.

gift of desire

Many gay men live with the nagging feeling that they missed that day in school when everybody else learned to identify their desires, to inhabit them, and to express them to others. Mostly, as gay kids, we were shamed for our erotic desires. We absorbed the message that our hunger for touch and affection, wanting to see and hold other guys’ bodies (or, let’s be honest, their penises) were bad or wrong and we should keep them hidden away. Sometimes we learned that lesson overtly by being punished, harassed, or bullied for showing our desires. But sometimes we picked them up indirectly from the absence of positive expressions of same-sex desire. Either way, we developed a hyperawareness as a defense mechanism. Any hint of desire can feel like a threat to survival: am I going to be okay, or am I going to be rejected, or beat up?

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