By Joe Perez
...Continued from Part 1
Of course, I'm not really a virgin. But there are certain traditional notions about virginity that I have learned to appreciate in a new way: purity and worth. Looking at these two notions will help to establish the context for the conclusion to my new coming out story.
Purity. I must say that as I've begun to notice and accept a greater fluidity and flexibility to my erotic constitution, I am able to look at my sexuality with more curiosity and less robotic reactivity to "my eros as I've known it." Child-like playfulness accompanies a sort of unexpected innocence, a willingness to approach desire with "beginner's mind" (Shoshin, meaning openness and lack of preconceptions).
Worth. There are layers and layers of self-acceptance and self-esteem which can be accreted to the self. For sexual minorities, the "coming out" process often progresses in stages of gradually increasing comfort in expressing more of one's self in wider contexts. And yet the question remains at every stage, "What am I coming out into?" Without deeply rooted self-esteem, the suffering associated with coming out can seem more trouble than it's worth.
With these notions of purity and worth in mind, consider the idea I want to present today: that sexuality is the force of Eros, the guiding principle of evolution, a sacred movement which is rooted in the embodied self and which unfolds differently at different stages of the self. And at later stages of development, the sexual self busts out of conventional and post-conventional identities into new emergent forms.
Eros and Evolutionary Emergence
To approach sexuality from a state which is simultaneously lacking in preconceptions and deeply affirming of worth is a peculiar way of being a sexual being. It is a constant moment-to-moment innocence, a sensual opening to novelty and joy and wonder. It requires greater tolerance for paradox and spontaneity than other approaches. But for many people this simply isn't an evolutionary possibility alive for them at their station of life. It is, I think, a peculiarly late post-conventional style of relating.
Contra late conventional styles (i.e., orange altitude), it is not merely a rejection of obedience to traditional strictures and negative attitudes towards having sex. It appreciates that traditional guidelines can help preserve the integrity of societal institutions yet it also makes room for acknowledging that individuals in certain post-conventional situations can transgress traditional models responsibly.
While much remains to be discovered about post-conventional sexual styles, clearly these styles share an understanding that the sexual self is not merely a function of biology, childhood conditioning, and socio-cultural contexts; rather, it is an embodiment of the subtle energies of evolution. In Soulfully Gay, I sketched a map of human sexual energies inclusive of sexual minorities (see image at right).
In my Integral model of sexuality, all is Love. Love flows in two directions: outward from the self to the telos of evolution, Eros; and inward from that telos -- God or Spirit -- to the self, Agape. The faces of our sexual identities reflect our particular form of embodying the fundamental sexual energy of the cosmos (for example, heterosexual female sexual energy is outward-directed yin energy; lesbian sexual energy is inward-directed yin energy).
There are other Integral models of sexuality, and they have their uses in different contexts. But they probably share some things in common with the Soulfully Gay model: they insist that there are fundamental underlying patterns and polarities which enact themselves through a diverse array of sexual and gender identities.
At a certain point in the development of one's sexual identity, identifying the particularity of one's own configuration of sexual energy and learning to navigate polarities with compatible partners becomes crucially important. The books by David Deida that I've read focus a lot of attention in this area, guiding people with a "masculine essence" or a "feminine essence" or a "balanced essence" into greater aliveness.
But all of these approaches to understanding sexuality -- even the Soulfully Gay model -- can disappoint the sexual being whose rootedness in gender and sexual identities becomes more expansive than any model.
An Emergent Sexual Identity: Fluid
Today I propose to sketch the definition of a label which may provide a tool for managing the complexity of some post-conventional sexual styles: Fluid.
In 2008, Jonah Leher wrote of sexual fluidity within the context of sexual orientation:
[W]omen, at least, are more "sexually fluid" than we normally assume. That seems perfectly logical to me. Given the fact that there is no single homosexuality switch, no distinctive network of genes or neural anatomy that makes somebody gay or straight, it seems much more likely that sexuality is a biological continuum. I wonder, though, if this "sexual fluidity" is really limited to women. My guess is that men are capable of being just as sexually fluid, but that our culture gets in the way. In general, I think we are much more accepting of bi-sexual women (as Howard Stern notes, everybody likes lesbians) than bi-sexual men, who are automatically parceled into the homosexual category.
I think that's about right. But fluidity is not merely a quality of how some people experience sexual orientation; and the experience of fluid sexual orientation is probably not an indicator of any sort of post-conventional development of sexual identity.
Rather, I would define fluidity like so:
Fluid: A sexual/affectional identity characterized by radical openness to uniqueness rather than fixed attractions; a sexual demeanor that is authentic, vivid, playful, and raw; consciously constructing and reconstituting forms and styles of relationship; a realization of knowledge through sexual relations; and occasionally, a self-identification with the fluidity of all cosmic processes of evolution and involution.
(Hat tip to Marc Gafni's Your Unique Self, which I am currently reading, for highlighting the spiritual importance of uniqueness.)
Fluidity is not merely about the gender of one's sexual partner. It's about appreciating the nuances and complexities of attraction, a willingness to follow one's attention into spontaneous enjoyment of whatever arises, without preconceptions. It's about purity insofar as it insists on a moment-to-moment innocence and friendliness to discovery. It's about worth insofar as it is grounded in the source of all worth, the sacred force of all life in the cosmos.
As a practical matter, the use of Fluid as a label for sexual identity may face obstacles. Unlike, say, "Bisexual" "Poly," or even "Pansexual," the term is a new use of an old word, a usage not recognized in the culture today; and if the term is used in connection with sexuality, as I have noted it is generally thought to refer to the ability of some women and men to be attracted to different genders at different times in their lives (an aspect of the Fluid identity which is not the most important thing).
However, the lack of general awareness of a Fluid identity could be beneficial. The label could be taken up as a moniker especially well suited for post-conventional sexual identities, a way of describing sexual identity not in gross terms (i.e., by the genitalia of one's object of desire), not merely in subtle terms (i.e., the masculine essence or feminine essence of one's partner), but in causal terms (i.e., identification with the ground of Being) and nondual terms (i.e., the indistinct force of Eros itself expressing itself through the uniqueness of one's object of desire). Why suggest a label at all for some forms of post-conventional sexuality? The ability to ground one's identity. The ability to express one's identity. The ability to attract others resonant with one's identity. The ability to inspire the world to imagine sexuality in a different, more complex way. Sure, as with anything expressible with language, it has its illusions and limitations. But still, why not?
Today, I am coming out of the closet. Sure, I may continue to think of myself and talk about myself as gay-identified or bisexual on occasion, particularly until a more expansive identity takes root. But when I think of my sexual orientation as Fluid, new territories of erotic discovery await on the adventure of being human.
Spiritual mentor, author, poet, and scholar. Joe is best known for his 2007 book Soulfully Gay. one of the first memoirs in the tradition of World Spirituality based on Integral principles. Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for World Spirituality, where he works with Director Marc Gafni in providing leadership to the think tank. He also blogs at Gay Spirituality. Arctophile and ailurophile. A little bit country and a little bit "part and whole." Follow Joe Perez Facebook and Joe Perez Twitter.