QUOTE OF THE DAY: Grief

GRIEF

The playwright asked for the floor… But when McCraney talked, he didn’t talk about the play [Choir Boy] or the dialogue. Instead, he talked about grief. Casually, as though it were something that just came to his mind. He explained what it felt like to lose his mother at 22. He did not talk about how she died, and he hinted only a little at the complexity of their relationship; this address was not autobiographical. It was to do with emotions. McCraney described how grief lives in a person’s body, how it settles there. He explained its half-life, the unreliable nature of its decay. He talked about the phenomenon, when grieving a loved one, in which you begin to have memories of times after their death that you think they must have been present for. Remember when I won an Academy Award for my movie, and you were so proud? And then he talked about how things like that make you grieve their absence all over again, and how that grief catches you unawares, taking over your body when you least expect it. It sits in a small reservoir beneath your heart. It whispers to you at odd hours and yells at you in quiet ones.

–Carvell Wallace writing about Tarell Alvin McCraney in the New York Times

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SEX IN THE CINEMA: “Touch Me Not”

Romanian filmmaker Adina Pintilie’s debut feature Touch Me Not provides a beautiful, powerful, intense look into the world of sacred intimacy and sexual healing. Slowly and tenderly, the semi-documentary introduces us to a handful of characters bravely exploring their relationships with their bodies, seeking community and guidance to transcend the limitations of inhibition, physical disability, grief, trauma, and fear. A stony-faced middle-aged woman (Laura Benson) engages a series of sex workers in an effort to understand and perhaps emulate their manifest comfort with their bodies and their sexuality. She spends a fair amount of time at a hospital, looking in on her elderly invalid father, who we eventually come to understand harmed her physically early in life. She also stumbles across a touch workshop for people with disabilities and becomes fixated on a tall bald fellow (Tómas Lemarquis) whose relationship with another workshop participant (Christian Bayerlein, a quadriplegic — he refers to himself as “a wheeler with SMA [spinal muscular atrophy]” — with remarkable self-awareness and body-positivity) is central to the film. The filmmaker herself and the camera equipment appear prominently in the film, highlighting the delicacy and the vulnerability of everyone participating in one of the most extraordinary films about bodies and sex I’ve ever seen. The scenes with sex workers — a handsome tattooed call boy, a transgender prostitute, and an extremely gifted London-based sacred intimate named Seani Love — as well as a scene in a BDSM sex club could all have been handled sensationalistically or mockingly, but they’re not.  I love films that take seriously and respectfully the quest for sexual healing, and I equally admire films that don’t overexplain everything that’s happening. Touch Me Not, which won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival last February, has a few more showings at the Museum of Modern Art through January 17. You can read the New York Times review (and watch the trailer) here.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Masturbation

MASTURBATION

The truth is that you never know what’s going to happen in your head when you start to masturbate. iI’s like that challenge in Masterchef where the chefs lift the lid on a mystery box and find they have to make dinner from a tub of gherkins, some glacé cherries, a jar of peanut butter and a couple of crayfish. Who knows what will come out in the end? The only certainty is that whatever does emerge in the privacy of your head shouldn’t be thrown in the bin. It might not win a TV show, but you should look on it as your own personal masterpiece.

–Stephanie Theobald, Sex Drive

EVENTS: 2018 Horizons Conference in New York City

Psychedelic science and exploration, which is currently undergoing a renaissance (chronicled in Michael Pollan’s best-selling How To Change Your Mind), has long been dominated – like the rest of the world – by straight white men. Horizons, the annual “Perspectives on Psychedelics” conference held in New York City every October for the last 12 years, is no exception. This year, things changed, as the conference dealt with its own #MeToo situation. Neal Goldsmith, a key organizer and frequently MC for the conference, was removed from the board of Horizons Media in response to multiple reports of sexual misconduct. Founder and director Kevin Balktick really stepped up not only by putting in place a lengthy and explicit “Code of Conduct and Safer Space Policy” but also by exponentially increasing the presence of authorities in the field who were women and people of color, which made for a terrific conference (October 5-7 at Cooper Union), best of the three I’ve attended.

Saturday’s program, focusing on science and medicine, was hosted by Dr. Julie Holland, author of many books, including Ecstasy: The Complete Guide. Highlights of the first day, which culminated in the rock-star appearance of Michael Pollan, included Sophia Korb’s report on the latest research results on microdosing (based on 8000 people from 59 countries using 18 different substances) and Monnica Williams’s incisive talk “Race-Based Trauma: The Challenge and Promise of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy.” Also useful: Peter Hendricks and Sara Lappan reporting on psilocybin to treat cocaine dependence and “New Findings on the Therapeutic Potential of Ayahuasca” by Brazilian neuroscientist Dráulio Barros de Araújo (below), who memorably proclaimed, “The placebo effect is a beautiful thing!”

Brazilian plant medicine specialist Bia Labate MC’d Sunday’s events, which centered on culture and philosophy. I had to leave early but got to hear two terrific presentations. Besides reading entertaining excerpts from The Wild Kindness: Between Sacred and Secular in the New Mushroom Underground, her queer psychedelic memoir, Bett Williams paid tribute to Kai Wingo, charismatic leader of a high-dose psilocybin Afro-futurist community in Cleveland, who sadly died in 2016 at the age of 43.

Event producer and human rights activist Annie Oak delivered a talk on “Building Risk Reduction and Community Safety Systems in Festival Environments” that was so clear, so sensible, and so visionary that one of the first questions from the audience was “Have you considered running for the Senate?” Oak, a member of the Women’s Visionary Council and founder of the Full Circle Teahouse, an alcohol-free chill space at Burning Man, tossed out one plain-spoken truth after another. “The majority of people who use these [psychedelic] substances will not use them in controlled settings… but rather (will be engaged in) ‘unsupervised self-experimentation’…Having women as leaders is automatically risk reduction…If you want to change the world, throw a better party.” Not a huge fan of social media, she pointed out that “Facebook is an insecure platform that sells your data.” And she shared, point by point, a list of “Safety Tips for Participating in Ceremonies that Use Psychoactive Substances” that the WVC created in 2014. You can find it online here – I encourage you to check it out and let me know what you think.

 

EVENTS: book launch for THE PARADOX OF PORN in New York City September 22

One big event of the summer season for me was the publication of my new book, THE PARADOX OF PORN: Notes on Gay Male Sexual Culture.

Based on my twenty years of experience as a sex therapist/educator and pleasure activist, this book-length essay explores the topic of pornography from a unique, specifically gay male perspective, surveying in depth what’s valuable and what’s problematic about the ubiquitous forms of erotic imagery we encounter on a daily basis.

My intention in writing the book is the same one that drives my professional practice: to encourage and support gay men in having more pleasurable and more satisfying sex. I would like to share more widely the questions, discoveries, curiosities, and wisdom that I encounter every day of my working life.

The book has been receiving some gratifying positive attention. Kirkus Reviews, which is aimed primarily at libraries and booksellers, called it “A relatable, timely analysis of pornography’s history and its effect on the mindset of the gay community.” The Bay Area Reporter said, “Given how pervasive porn is in the gay male world, it’s encouraging to read a thoughtful and clear-eyed analysis of how it impacts and shapes our sexual lives.” The Advocate published an excerpt from the book, and Edge Media interviewed me, calling the book “an enlightening and useful meditation on pornography.”

Some writers I admire have offered words of praise. Michael Bronski, author of A Queer History of the United States, said “The Paradox of Porn is the best book about pornography, the lives and imaginations of gay men, and state of erotic gay culture written to date.” Novelist Andrew Holleran called it “sane, helpful, and fascinating.” Journalist and commentator Jay Michaelson said, “Don Shewey’s book is wise, informed, and fearless. The Paradox of Porn busts through several closet doors and explodes taboos. A rich and rewarding read.”

I hope you’ll check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

If you’re in New York on Saturday September 22, I invite you to join me in celebrating the publication of The Paradox of Porn at a book launch event called “Written on the Body/Queer*Sex*Life” at the Bureau of General Services Queer Division, the bookstore located in Room 210 at the LGBTQ Community Center, 208 W. 13th Street.

I will be appearing with my friend Ishmael Houston-Jones (above), the super-talented dancer-choreographer who has just published his terrific first book, FAT and other stories: some writing about sex. We will be reading from our work, answering deeply personal questions, and selling and signing copies of our books. I’ll also have a big box of vintage porn to give away. The event starts at 6:00 pm with an informal reception. The reading will begin at 6:30, and we will be done by 8:00. Please come!

If you can’t join us for the book launch, you always order my book online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble, though if you prefer to patronize independent booksellers, you can find one here and ask them to order the book for you if they don’t already stock it.