Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Sex, Lies, and Videotape

You do not have to be good, (Saint) Mary Oliver reassures us in her iconic poem, Wild Geese. You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
You only—that single word carries the weight of our lives, our life work, our love. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
As if it were an easy task, a simple thing to merely choose to be real, to be vulnerable, to let your soft animal self seek that which brings comfort, love, joy, holiness. This world in which we live, however, does not let us only love what we love; it creates barriers of shame, barbed wire fences of conformity, so that in order to love what we love freely, in order to be shameless in how our bodies come together with others, we must first dismantle all of the barriers society, culture, and the church puts up to keep us in our place, to weigh us down with guilt, to make us behave. There are so many layers to tear off of our bodies in order to find out who we really are.
First, of course, there’s the layer of compulsory heterosexuality. Often, for those of us who are queer, we get immediately re-routed onto the gay or straight track. This completely ignores the wonderful and beautiful reality that our sexuality does not run on a single track but rather there is a diversity of who and how we love. Very few of us fall into the narrowly defined three main categories of straight, gay, lesbian. For most of us, myself included, sexual attraction and desire, even, perhaps, romantic love, are not projected on to one gender; rather all sorts of things come into play: energy, intelligence, humor, kindness, compassion. I like to say I am a sapiosexual—someone who is attracted to smart people. J
Even beyond the gender of who we desire, our sexuality becomes more complex: a straight man who likes to “cross dress,” a married heterosexual couple who invites a third person into their relationship, a woman who is a ”top” in the BDSM community, a man who is submissive. Just think of the glorious diversity of our bodies, our sexualities, our ways of expressing the holy through our sexual activities!  And just think what particular flavor you bring to the arena of safe, sane sex between consenting adults!
And have you ever felt shame for what you desire? Have you ever thought you were the only one? Have you ever shared your sexual fantasies with your lover or were you afraid they would reject you, or worse, laugh? Most of us have been taught very well society’s lesson that there is a proscribed way to be sexual and to do otherwise is to be deviant, perverted, just plain weird. In fact you do have to crawl across the desert 100 miles repenting and telling the soft animal of your body to ignore what it loves.
That’s why I’m always so grateful to see what’s hidden in our common humanity suddenly brought out into the open in glorious Technicolor on the big screen. The title of this post, Sex, Lies and Videotape, is an early attempt to show the vulnerabilities and particularities of the lives we live when no one’s looking, but there are three more recent films, that I like to lift up as exposing our humanities, celebrating our sexualities, reveling in our quirkiness, and finding the holy in our embodied lives.
The first one is Secretary, (2002) starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal. In this movie, Gyllenhaal plays an awkward young woman (Lee Holloway) who struggles to find her power. Recently released from an inpatient facility after she was discovered cutting herself, she lands her first job as secretary to the lawyer, (ironically named Mr. Grey) played by James Spader. Grey is hiding a secret, he finds pleasure, the sacred, connection in being a dominant man in sex. He has slipped up and then hates himself and tries to go back to the straight and narrow. Holloway has never been in a relationship, is meek, and naturally submissive. Ultimately, the relationship between the two crosses the line from employer/employee to a dominant/submissive sexual relationship. Ironically, it is Maggie’s character, Lee, who has the strength and courage to acknowledge this is real and it is good; indeed, being submissive is how she finds her power. It’s an R rated movie, no nudity, but definitely shows some sexual scenes that are about dominant/submissive relationships.
The second movie is Shortbus (2006) and is about  a group of New Yorkers who go to a sexual salon to try to find love, meaning, connection. All flavors—or many, anyway—are represented here, from gay men to lesbians to a married straight woman who has never had an orgasm, to the drag queen host, Justin Bond, who hosts the sexual salon nightly in his home. This movie is EXTREMELY SEXUALLY GRAPHIC. I mean VERY, VERY SEXUALLY GRAPHIC. It is unrated and the sex is real, not simulated, and nothing is left to the imagination. And it is not pornographic--at least, not in my mind. There is a very poignant plot in this film that follows the lives of people we see on the street everyday, as they seek to find ways to meaningfully connect with others, to know themselves truly, and to just find grace. In case you didn’t catch this point, SHORTBUS IS VERY, VERY SEXUALLY GRAPHIC.  The opening montage is the most intense scene, if you can make it through that, you’ll be fine. The story is the important thing, and the fact that it is shared from a naked, vulnerable point of view.

And finally, the one I love most: Lars and the Real Girl (2007.) In this charming movie, Ryan Gosling plays Lars, a young man who has severe social anxiety. He and his older brother were raised by their dad after their mom died giving birth to Lars.  The older brother left as soon as he could, and got married, leaving Lars to be raised by his very sad, very grief-stricken father. Now the father has died, the brother and his pregnant wife move back and Lars moves to the garage. He is shy, awkward, and isolates himself, going only to church. But that all changes when he orders a life-size, life-like (and anatomically correct) doll on the internet. She arrives in a box, he tells his brother and sister-in-law he has a friend and then brings in Bianca. The doctor (who is also a psychologist in this small town) tells the brother that Lars is delusional; that Bianca is a real girl to him and suggests they go along with it, that clearly he needed to work something out. The film revolves around the way his brother and sister-in-law come to terms with this odd relationship, how they rally the whole town, including Lars’ church to accept Bianca into the life of the town. They do so spectacularly! Soon Bianca has a job, volunteers at the library and sports a new hair cut. What I love about this film is that it just exposes our humanity. Lars’ brother’s first impulse was to say that Lars should be institutionalized. He wanted this aberration hidden away, he was afraid people would laugh at Lars—and him. But they went along with it, they all went along with it. They celebrated Lars unique relationship and welcomed Bianca into the community and in letting Bianca be a real girl, they let Lars be real, too.

You do not have to be good.(Saint) Mary soothes us with these words. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. She goes on to say, Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
What would happen if we could be real—if only with ourselves at first. If we could stop rejecting or ridiculing someone’s sexual desires merely because they aren’t ours, or we don’t understand. If we could allow the soft animal of our bodies love what they love without judgment, fear, or shame. We are so wonderfully diverse. That’s something to celebrate, not hide. That’s coming home to our own unique place in this world.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
(Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver)


Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful post. I LOVE Shortbus so glad to be reminded of it. But the Lars movie... had not been drawn to it before, but now I totally want to see it. Thanks!

Rev. Dr. Nori J. Rost said...

Lars is WONDERFUL!!!!!!