DID YOU SEE: gay critique of mainstream tantra classes

Tantra is an ancient spiritual practice that seeks to channel divine energy through human experience. In our time, the word “tantra” is tossed around very lightly, and its meaning shifts wildly depending on the context. In its classic definition, tantra is a school of meditation that envisions universal consciousness as an intricate erotic dance between Shiva and Shakti, form and flow. In the West, the sexual metaphor has gotten literalized so that the most familiar manifestations of tantra are tantric sex and tantric massage, which invite participants to experience sex as energy. People are often drawn to study tantra by the invitation to deepen the connection between sexuality and spiritual practice that other religious traditions tend to keep strictly apart. There are many different ways to study tantra in schools, classes, and workshops, and like any educational process the quality of teachers and teachings can vary wildly. The original tantric teachings rely super-specifically on the dance of male and female energies, which complicates matters for queer people undertaking the study of tantra, as Lisa Luxx discusses in great detail in her article “Why is Gay Tantra So Taboo?” which appears on Ruby Warrington’s website The Numinous (subtitled “material girl, mystical world”). Her description of attending a tantra training and being pressured into ridiculously literal-minded tantric exercises that reinforce hoary old gender-role stereotypes matches my own experience when I first started exploring the world of tantra in the early 1990s, when most tantra workshops derived from the teachings of Margot Anand (best-known for her book The Art of Sexual Ecstasy).

concha on behance
credit: Concha on Behance

Luckily, there are tantra teachers that speak to the experience of queer people. The Body Electric School, founded in 1984 by Joseph Kramer, incorporated tantric and Taoist teachings into a series of workshops starting with “Celebrating the Body Erotic” that taught erotic massage as a healing practice combining breath and touch to connect the dots between the physical, the erotic, the emotional, and the spiritual. While the Body Electric School originally emerged from and spoke to the population of gay men struggling to preserve sexual health and vitality in the midst of the AIDS crisis, it expanded its offerings to include trainings for men, women, and those who decline the gender binary. Other trainings have evolved that address tantra specifically from a queer female perspective, such as Barbara Carrellas’s Urban Tantra program. One of the coolest things about Lisa Luxx’s article is that the comments thread provides information and links to other tantric explorations for women all over the world that transcend simplistic gender stereotypes.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

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RESOURCES: John Ballew on anal touch

john ballew
John Ballew (above) is a therapist, bodyworker, and educator who lives in Atlanta and teaches workshops for the Body Electric School. (He and I for many years co-facilitated a program in Italy for gay men called “Come to Your Senses.”) He’s got a workshop coming up that focuses on anal pleasure for men, and the mini-essay he circulated is such a good introduction to this topic that I wanted to share it here.

What is it about anal sensuality that is taboo for some people, unknown for folks, and such a delight for still others?  We’re talking about a part of our body that commands our attention – yet some of us prefer not to think about.  We can’t really see this part of our body directly, though many of us have certainly tried!  While we are in touch with this part of ourselves every day of our lives, it retains a certain mystery, doesn’t it?

Our buttocks are rich in meaning as well as nerve endings.  Psychoanalysts say that as children, mastering control of the anal muscle is the earliest experience humans have of asserting mastery in the world.  (It certainly makes parents happy when they do.)  That’s the start of a lifetime of emotional associations associated with anal experiences.

Celebrating the Body Erotic is in many ways a class that cultivates male yang energy.  Anal sex and anal sensuality are ways of exploring the counterpart: male yin.  While male yin may be cultivated by being the receptive partner in intercourse, that isn’t the only way.  Sensual touch and erotic exploration can also nurture yin.

The Body Electric School brings important values to anal bodywork.  Anal touch is about sensuality, not performance; penetration is a possibility, not a goal.  Safety and hygiene are important concerns.  And because buttocks and buttholes are best treated with great tender loving care, we learn to love ourselves and our bodies more fully when we receive, and to develop great skill in what I call “listening touch” when we give.  This is no small thing.  Indeed, we can’t love our whole bodies unless we love everything about our butts as well.

The Body Electric School is happy to offer In the Valley of Delight, a wide-ranging exploration of anal touch that welcomes both “beginners” and those who already enjoy anal sensuality.  The next Into the Valley of Delight program will be offered at Easton Mountain April 18-21.

For more information or questions, contact John by clicking here.