Let me begin this post with an apology. If I sound angry, frustrated, or just plain fed up, it has nothing to do with you personally. I’ve been trying to comfort the afflicted for quite some time; now I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to afflict the comfortable. If you feel you don’t deserve the harshness of this message, please remember that there are those who do, or who fail to grasp how harsh silence can be. So, with that in mind, here goes …
As I went through the process of formally joining my congregation, I made it clear to the senior minister that I am openly kinky, and that part of my reason for joining was to help build a bridge between the two communities. And I asked her if she and the congregation were ready for that – to see more kinky folks come into the church, even reach out to the BDSM community, so that people on both sides might share their spiritual gifts with one another, and work together for justice and understanding.
She said that she believed that was possible, and that she could see me in that role of bridge builder. It was encouraging and empowering.
And now, I’m beginning to wonder.
Yes, I’ve come a long way. I’ve never hidden being kinky or polyamorous to anyone in the congregation, and they’ve been great about it. I’ve had others come out to me, even thank me for being as out as I am. Others have shown their appreciation for helping them understand sexuality issues better, whether at a Sacred Eros meeting or in private.
Yet there are others who simply do not want to talk about it. I’ve heard of at least one person who left the congregation over it, even though I had offered to answer any questions or concerns they had. And there are plenty of kinky and poly folks who have come to worship services or other events, found it a warm and inviting place, perhaps even a spiritual home, yet remain wary of going any further than “just visiting.”
I’ve heard from other UU kinksters in other congregations, and the news isn’t always pleasant. Many feel they must remain in the closet, because it’s clear that others are not comfortable with their presence. One woman told how she was hauled before a committee, questioned at length, then told to sign a one-sided covenant which would have barred her from so much as mentioning BDSM with anyone else, while the committee could selectively out her to others. Another told me that, after coming out to the new minister in private (as he had done when he joined years before) he was told it “would be for the best” if he simply left.
Granted, there will always be some who refuse to listen or understand. Even when the bridge is clearly before them, they will not walk across it, or welcome any who come from the other side. The real problem, however, is that there’s no bridge to speak of. Those of us who are kinky UUs often feel as though we have to swim back and forth between the shores, while the folks on either side expect us to build the bridge all by ourselves.
So, let me make it plain. Swimming from shore to shore is exhausting. And it takes more than one or a few hardy souls to build that bridge, and certainly not from one side alone. It takes both sides to build a bridge.
Unitarian Universalists cannot simply wait for BDSM folks to swim over. We’re already in your congregations, worshiping and serving alongside you. Many are silent, because they’ve already heard ignorant and fearful things said about them from others in the pews, or even from the pulpit. And the very reason I chose to come out to the members of my congregation is that I know from those silent kinfolk how soul-scarring that is.
That has to end. And, frankly, I can’t do it all by myself, nor can other kinky UUs be expected to do what I do all by themselves. We need ministers, educators, staff and lay leaders to join in. We need you to learn who we really are and what we’re really about. We need you to speak the truth in love whenever someone maligns us out of ignorance and fear. We need to welcome us as our whole selves, to see that the experience of our sexuality carries spiritual gifts worth sharing, and to encourage other UUs to do the same.
The same goes for those in the kink community. I have heard you talk for so long about changing laws and attitudes. Well, to do so will require allies, and you can’t just wait for them to come to you. You need to reach out to UU congregations, leaders and social justice organization. You need to help them understand what we kinksters have to go through. And yes, at the risk of sounding evangelical, you need to go to church, to understand who we are and what gifts we have to offer you.
Our two communities already have much in common, and much to offer one another – but that alone is not enough. The fact that so many UUs are so wary of us kinksters, and so many kinksters are so wary about church, tells me that we need more. We need to devote the time, resources and hard work to building that bridge, rather than assume that it’s already there. We need to realize that those of us with kinfolk on either side of the shore cannot afford to keep swimming from shore to shore. We need the experience of others who have built bridges, or who have enjoyed what has come over them, to lend a hand.