Discovering the Divine Humility of Language: A Weekend Workshop with the Divine Center of Queer Renewal

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THE DIVINE CENTER FOR QUEER RENEWAL IS AN OMNIFAITH MINISTRY AND SEMINARY, EMBODYING THE MAGIC OF QUEER RECONCILIATION TO OFFER OUR COMMUNITY HEALING, EDUCATION, AND WORSHIP.

This weekend I had of the pleasure of attending a spiritual writing retreat hosted by the Divine Center of Queer Renewal. I needed a little break from the city feeling the downs after coming back from my trip to California, so I signed up, packed the car, secured my dog in the passenger’s seat and headed upstate. Board Advisor, Padre Tony Amato, edited the first draft of my novel The Liberation of The Black Unicorn and I had never met him face to face. When I arrived, I was greeted by him at the front door at Executive Director Susan Corso’s home (so appropriately named Cupcake Manor) and the magic of the weekend began.

The retreat brought my such calm, creativity and spiritual grounding. I consider writing a spiritual act but I am only just beginning to write about my connection to my ancestors, my practice and the divine. The weekend was an opportunity for me to explore how I communicate my understanding of an inner light that challenges, heals and grows. The workshops led by both Tony and Susan guided me through two new chapters in my first draft and their encouragement helped me see myself as a lifelong novelist. Over cupcakes, home cooked meals, intentions and writing exercises, we opened ourselves up to share the progress of writing ourselves into spiritual growth.

I would recommend this workshop to anyone who is beginning to experience themselves as a vessel for the diverse meaning to spirituality and for those who are looking to bring that experience into their writing.

Here is one of the pieces I wrote based on a quotation prompt:

                                                  The Appointment

           We are on a journey to keep an appointment with who we are.
                                               – Gene Roddenberry

She was always on time, if not early. It was because her mother brought her to every appointment late. The attendance office even had a pre-signed notepad for her daily tardiness so she was not suspended from school.

Maybe she truly thought if she were late again, she would be suspended from life.

She woke early to decide what to wear. First the yellow dress she wore to graduation, then the pink pants suit she wore to her first double butch wedding, then finally the purple lace maxi dress, the one her grandmother gifted her that she always hated but on her passing, had learned to love.

It was a 10am appointment at an office downtown and the day was hot with a temperamental breeze. Her bag was a comfortable heavy on the train, always with a journal and pens, a book and cosmetics, candy and stones, always filled to the brim. She walked the half mile to the office, having never been before, and hoped she knew where it was. She had always given herself plenty of time to get lost and she always needed it because she was always getting lost.

But she found it.

It was an old brownstone with a tree in a tiny yard beyond the front gate. The stairs were lined with plants, some blooming, some dead and the welcome mat read, ‘You were always already home.’ She had forgotten which office and which floor but the door was already open. Still she wondered where to go. Something kept her feet moving down the hall to the back of the house to the office glass door shining warm with light. That door was open too and she cautiously entered.

“Oh child,” a woman said before she could open her mouth, “I’m not ready for you yet. My flowers are the only ones I’m up for this early in the morning.”

The woman was tall and glowing with wild grey hair and a Kente patterned gown. She was the kind of women who looked as if she were born one without an age or beginning or end. And she was singing out for the flowers to grow, singing a song she made up that morning just like every morning.

“I’m sorry. I thought we had an appointment at 10.”

“What appointment? If you woke up to see me, you came here on your own without that funny grown folks calendar time and you’re here now. And I’m sure both you and I will be thankful after I finish with the flowers. Now sit.”

She looked around as she took her place in a sofa chair. The bookshelves were floor to ceiling, paintings of trees and landscapes, statues of the same female figure in different poses over and over.

“It’s beautiful. Do you live here?”

“I live where ever I am. Now you’ll have to be quiet or the flowers won’t hear me.”

She sat mouth-less while the woman tilted her metal water can and hummed to her petunias. The woman swayed on steady feet, as if she were courting them to grow, asking them to stretch as wide as they could until they decided it was as far as they could go. When the women sat down across from her in the matching sofa chair, she placed her can beside herself, pressed out her gown on her lap and looked in the eyes of the women before her.

“What brings you to me?”

“Someone sent me.”

“Who sent you?”

“I can’t remember now. Someone gave me your card and told me I should come.”

“Oh child, I don’t have a card. I’m a story no one writes down. Are you sure you’ve come to the right woman?”

“I think so. Yes, I think I have.”

“Well then it doesn’t matter who sent you if you knew this was exactly where you needed to be. Now enough of the how, let’s get to the why. Why are you here?”

“I wasn’t sure what to do next. I’m trying to get a job and I’m not sure where to move and my relationship is ending and I think I’m just afraid to decide because I don’t want to be alone.”  

“No child. Why are you here?”

“Today?”

“Right now.”

“Because someone sent me.”

“No, no, now we are back to where we began. If you don’t remember who sent you, then no one sent you. You came because you were called to. So why are you here?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let me ask it in a different way. What do you love?”

She sat quietly for a moment, as if she had to think twice.

“I love to write.”

“And what is given to you when you write?”

“Escape. Peace. Freedom.”

“And what do you learn about yourself when you write?”

“That I’m more alive than I’ve remembered or at times knew.”

“And I can tell you there is more. That your words are your ministry. That you open something divine in the humility of language. That you heal others who’ve forgotten they could heal when you give it away.”

“I do?”

“I’m nothing wise. They’ve been telling you this all along. You just came with the open door of your ears and gave me the blessing of allowing me in.”

“So my purpose?”

“No child. Purpose is about doing. This is about being.”

She sat for a moment slowing the machine of her listening to take it in past her throat and heart down to her gut into her feet. The women knew what she was watching and when she felt it reach her souls, she spoke.

“Now do you understand what I’m asking?”

“I think so.”

“Why are you here?”

“To write.”

“So write and all the answers will come when you do.”

The women stood and went to the window. She grabbed the figure of a women standing tall, pulled down candles from her shelves and began to light them. This was always the way she started her day. By then, the women thought she had left but noticed her still sitting in the chair.

“Oh, you’re still here.”

“Yes, I didn’t know we were through.”   

“Of course we are. The day has only begun and I promise you, you have somewhere to be.”

She rose and began to say ‘thank you’ when the women interrupted.

“Don’t thank me. Thank why you came.”

She bowed her head as she said it inside and walked out the door.  

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At retreat, I asked Oya to guide me to write with the presence of my ancestors and to bring truth to everything I create. Blessings.

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International Ms Leather 2017

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International Ms Leather and Bootblack 2017 contest winners: IMsL2017 Aisia (Girl Complex), IMsL first runner up Stela, IMBb Elisa, IMBb runner up, Mickey

My experience at this year’s International Ms Leather (IMsL) was so amazing, it is hard to capture into words (but I’m a writer so I’ll give it a try). If you are not familiar with IMsL, it is a contest, conference and sex positive play space for people of all genders that encourages sexual freedom and alternative sex practices. The contest awards a leather person and bootblack the privilege of  touring the country as a representative of the leather and kink community. This year’s theme of the conference was consent, exploring how our community voices the action of permission. And the sex positive play space provides a safe dungeon to fuck and practice some of the sexiest kink scenes I have ever witnessed.

So basically, IMsL is the shit. I look forward to it every year, seeing old friends, meeting hot queers and dressing up in my sexiest leather wear. After six years of attendance, I feel at home as my leather identity evolves from leather girl to leather woman, female identified to genderqueer and a growing exploration of what it may mean or not mean for me to be femme-ish.

Here are some highlights from the weekend:

Consent

I had the honor of sitting on a panel with three highly intelligent human beings to talk about consent in the context of identity, law and kink. As you can imagine, it is very hard to cover the full conversation of consent in 90 minutes but we touched on some very vital things that directly effect our community. I spoke about sexual consent in the context of being a person living with mental illness, what it was like to enter into a psych ward thinking that sex toys in my bag would label me a prostitute (a word I do not use daily as it criminalizes sex work, which is a whole other conversation) and how my experience as a person of color dictates my definition of consent and non-consent. I was delighted to discuss these topics with my peers and continue the conversation in my community.

Recovery In The Lifestyle

I hosted two recovery meetings this year and it was such an honor to be asked to do service as I approach two years of sobriety. Talking about recovery in the context of the kinky lifestyle is not only something that is much needed for my leather heart but engages me in looking a how the experience of sex has changed for me in sobriety. There is a huge sober community in the scene and I’m blessed to realize that they were always there waiting for me to heal alongside them.

Learning How to be a Trans Ally

From the consent panel I learned what it means to ask consent of someone who you consider yourself to be an ally to. As a POC who has the privilege of being surrounded by white allies, I am seeing the work I need to do to become a better trans ally. There is no such thing as “best ally of the year” – it’s not a contest you should ever expect to be rewarded for. It is simply our duty to straight up not be assholes to marginalized people and ask them/us what we need to have our voices elevated even when we are not in the room. I want to do that work and if anyone who is reading this is trans identified, I ask you – if you have the energy and emotional space – to please call me out when I need to be called out. I am more then willing to do the work, whatever that may be.

Negotiating Play

The beauty of the kinky, leather community is our learned ability to communicate what we want from each other in both sex and play. Some players practice higher risk sex behaviors so it is imperative that we communicate to those we play with what is physically and emotionally safe. During the weekend I had a kink scene that was not only super hot but a reminder of how empowered I feel when I thoroughly communicate how I would like someone to receive my body. Pre-play, we talked about what we wanted and where we were emotionally. During play, we continued to negotiate what was working and what was not. After, we processed any feelings or thoughts that we left the scene with. Learning how to negotiate has not only helped me in my active sex life but in my everyday relationships.

Landmarks in Leather History

I want to congratulate the new International Ms Leather Aisia (Girl Complex) for her win and am so excited and touched that she is the 6th Black women to receive the title. She is a badass individual who has so much to bring to the title when it comes to talking about the intersectionality of POC identity. And she’s fun! We ofcourse want a title holder who can have hard conversations but we also want a title holder who can bring the party! I can’t wait to witness her title year.

These are just a few of the highlights for the weekend. I am so grateful to have a safe space where I can experience the fullness of my sexual identity and be with my peoples on the West Coast. If you are a leather person or exploring and have not yet been to IMsL, just go! I promise you won’t regret it.

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Feeling hella fly in my leather jacket, corset, skirt combo the night of the contest 

Writerly Updates: Articles and Event Highlights

This month has been busy, busy, busy as Lady Sara Vibes and I are starting to wind down from IMsL and prepare for our next adventure.  I wanted to take a moment to highlight a few articles and interviews I’ve had published since the beginning of the year and an event coming up where I will be reading dirty poems and book excerpts!

Rvkery Winter Issue, Vol X, No 1; cover image by Marilyn Sears Bourbon

Rvkery Winter Issue, Vol X, No 1; cover image by Marilyn Sears Bourbon

Interview with Anais Surkin on Rkvry Quarterly Literary Journal

http://www.rkvryquarterly.com/?p=3815

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by dear friend and fellow activist Anais Surkin on my piece “The Light Keeper (for Sonya)” published with Rvkry Quarterly’s Winter Issue.  Anais asked all the hard questions that  helped me dive deeper into the themes of my novel, touching on issues of race, class, storytelling and healing.  Check out the interview and read my piece The Light Keeper for an excerpt of my novel.

Autostraddle Article - Race, Class and White People's Beach Houses: On Talking to Privileged People About Privilege

Autostraddle Article – Race, Class and White People’s Beach Houses: On Talking to Privileged People About Privilege

Autostraddle Article: If It Takes Comparing Beach Houses – A Message to White Feminists on Acknowledging Class to Talk about Race

http://www.autostraddle.com/race-class-and-white-peoples-beachhouses-on-talking-to-privileged-people-about-privilege-172637/

I was inspired to write this article after witnessing a talk back conversation following a staged reading of Sarah Schulman’s Roe V Wade.  This piece had actually been “cooking”  – in the words of Audre Lorde – since before Black history month/after Women’s history month, but it did not pour out of me until I was in a conversation with white folks about class.  Check out it and continue the race and class conversation.

Butch Fest presents “Dirty Panties – A Queer Erotica Reading”

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I am delighted to be reading as a special guest  at the Dirty Panties, queer erotica reading, sponsored by Butch Fest, a weekend-long celebration of lesbians and queers who identify as tomboys, butches, studs, machas, aggressives, bois, genderqueers, transmen, two-spirits, and all other identities masculine of center (MoC*).

The Dirty Panties Reading will be held at Resource Center Dallas, Saturday, May 4th at 6pm!  I am excited to share the stage with such fabulous performers such as Joe LeBlanc, founder and board chair of Butch Voices and spend the weekend attending Butchfest Events including the Unicorn Party!  Check out the site for more event details: www.butchfest.com

Stay tuned for a future post ImsL 27, Service and Self-Care and two self-published book reviews, Sassafras Lowrey’s “Roving Pack” and Allison Moon’s new novel “Hungry Ghost”.

International Ms Leather and International Ms Bootblack 2013

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The 27th International Ms Leather and the 15th Annual International Ms Bootblack

April 18 – 21, 2013

Come act out all your kink-tastic fantasies at International Ms. Leather 2013!! IMsL is the biggest women’s leather event in the US and welcomes folks of all sexual and gender orientations. Check out the highlights for this year’s event:

Friday Intensives

Three hour intensive learning experiences taught by the best educators in kink, including a Sex Intensive with Lamalani, IMsL 2009, and an Writing Intensive with Laura Antinou, author of the Marketplace Series.

The Contest

The IMsL contest is possibly the most fun competition you will attend all year and it just keeps getting better and better! From the speeches to the hot wear and the pulsating performances of the contestant fantasy, you will not be disappointed. Come out to see who will win International Ms Leather and Ms Bootblack 2013! Interested in competing? Visit this link for a contestant form: http://www.imsl.org/newsite2010/mainpages/compete.html

Help support the Bootblack’s 15th annual contest by purchasing an IMsBB XV Celebration Charm.

15th Annual Bootblack Charm

15th Annual Bootblack Charm

Bootblack Sole

Bootblack Sole

To order, please email your request to glenda@imsl.org or text Glenda directly at 410-963-0567. Each charm is $15.00 US plus shipping and handling.

Special Events

Seduction After Party, Queer Leather Happy Hour, Uniform Party, Bawdy Storytelling, a Make Play Happen exploratorium, Sunday brunch with keynote speaker Lolita Wolf and more!

Open Play Space

The best thing about IMsL are the 24-hour play spaces open from Thursday to Sunday. There are woman’s, man’s and mixed play spaces equipped with all kink necessities for hot play.

Register Now!

Early bird registration ends January 3 – get an all inclusive package for $189.00.

NEW ALL INCLUSIVE PACKAGE!!  Includes all 4 days…Access to all Education Classes, Ballroom Events, Guaranteed Seating, Play Space, Hospitality Suite Parties, Bootblack Salon and Leather Care Lounge, Brunch Ticket ($50 value), T-shirt ($20 value, T-shirt available until March 25th), Pin ($5 value)

The first 100 people to register can purchase in all inclusive weekend package for $179.00. Visit the website to register: http://www.imsl.org/newsite2010/mainpages/registration.html

Fat Girls Read: A Hot and Heavy Reading at Bluestockings NYC

Myself, Substansia Jones, and Golda Poretsky.*

Emceeing the Hot and Heavy reading at Bluestockings last week was a blast!  It was amazing to hear some of my favorite pieces read live by the woman who wrote them and to talk publicly about the experience of being a fat woman in a society that values the thinnest of the skinny.

Reading “Women With Big Bellies”

Talking about fat bodies can be awkward, mostly because we are taught it’s supposed to be.  It was empowering to sit in front of an anxious, quiet crowd and speak openly about the messy, complicated feelings we have about our plus size frames and body image in general.  It was a delight to see lovely, big beauties in the audience showing support.  Even a petite girl selling books behind the corner praised us for our confidence.  She acknowledged her thin privilege while recognizing that many woman confront body issues, no matter what their size.  It’s lovely to know that book is reaching people of all sizes and bringing to light the fact that it’s about time we think differently about our bodies.

I am still astonished to be published in this amazing anthology.  This is the first time my writing has ever appeared in a book and I am so glad it is a story of struggle and self-love.  All the stories in the book struck a chord with me in one way or another and I hear that’s the case for other readers.  Editor, Virgie Tovar, has gathered together a pack of extraordinary plus size woman and this book is taking the world by storm, one story at a time.

Thank you to everyone who came out to support, to Bluestockings for hosting, and to everyone who is reading Hot and Heavy. Keep the big girl revolution alive!

Me and my Lady, Sara Vibes

*All photos courtesy of Taino Photography

Join the revolution!  Click on this link and order the book here on Amazon:  Hot and Heavy – Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion.