On America’s Independence Day, I’m reflecting on the idea of being a beacon: of optimism and hope and good will, but also of sex positivity and social justice.
Among my other pursuits, I help run a local chapter of a Sex Geekdom discussion group. We bear that name because the idea of being a sex geek or sex nerd – being curious and enthusiastic about sex – resonates with a lot of people. As a sex educator like the group’s founder, Kate Kenfield (formerly McCombs), I agree that it’s not great when people call you a “Sexpert” because that term implies that you can or should know everything about human sexuality, which I don’t think is possible.
In Sex Geekdom, we have the concept of being a Beacon of Permission: making it known that you’re open to having nonjudgmental and non-coercive (a.k.a. it won’t turn into a hook-up situation) conversations about sex, sexuality, gender, relationships, and so on.
As sex geeks, we have the unique desire, knowledge, and skills to become what I call “beacons of permission” in the world. By “permission” I mean permission to have honest, educational, and even healing conversations about sex.
Does the following sound familiar? When I tell new acquaintances what I do for a living, I subsequently become the sounding board for a host of sex questions and (occasionally) whispered confessions. Nearly all of the sex educators I know describe having similar experiences.
This concept is vital to what I do in the college classroom, in the Sex Geekdom meetups I help run, in my social spaces even when I’m technically off the clock, and here on this blog.
Simply making space to talk about sexuality topics is a revolutionary act. And that’s why I’m talking about it on a day commemorating the American Revolution and its success.
Because, quite frankly, America is not doing okay. Rolling back civil rights protections, putting children in cages – whether we’re the ones cheering on and carrying out these actions, or standing by and watching them happen, we’re complicit in all this. The situation is worse than one year ago, when my 4th of July post was titled Insert Patriotic-Sounding Sentiment Here. I don’t ever want to trivialize the negative things by focusing on the positive things we can do, nor do I want it to seem trivial that I’m still making spaces to talk about sex and sexuality.
As Audre Lorde has written in “The Uses of the Erotic,” sensual and sexual experiences are deeply powerful, to the point of becoming important tools for self-affirmation in the face of oppression. In other words, the erotic is a resource:
In touch with the erotic, I become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.
The erotic exists on a continuum with the other aspects of life; being a beacon of permission and talking about sex as a form of activism doesn’t mean we’re abdicating responsibility for the rest of the world. It’s just one way of engaging. I’m going to close with the words of my friend Cooper S. Beckett, also a sex writer, blogger, and activist, from his blog post Be a Beacon:
Not all of us can stand on the front lines, not all of us can be visibly who we truly are. But we can love. We can demonstrate love, affection, compassion, sex. We can live.
There is nothing the right, the straights, want more than to keep us, the aberrants, the perverts, the libertines, the dirty ones fighting. Because as we fight, they fight too, and they are all against us. We stand together or we die alone.
And the best way we can start standing together is to light that beacon of hope and joy and love. Because when the beacons start to light, we will push back the darkness.
Always remember, the difference between us and them, is we want everybody who is not bringing harm to anyone else, to experience whatever their joy is. That not bringing harm part is the key.
They will ask, “if you can discriminate against me for my feelings about you, why can’t I discriminate against you?” The argument falls apart for the simple reason that intolerance of intolerance is not intolerance. We are the side that wants people to have more, not less.
So take your moment. Share your love. With anybody and everybody. Because love is not only for romantic relationships. Love is for all those you share your life with, be it friendly, romantic, sexual, playful, or the simplest interactions in your daily life. […]
Be a beacon.
Go be a beacon, in whichever way you can serve best. For me it’s as an educator and conversation facilitator. For you it might be something else.
Read Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” while you’re at it. And substitute immigrant for slave and pass it on. Any and all education and empathy is worthwhile in this context.