You know, back in the day, I thought that Sex and the City was called “Sex in the City.” Chalk it up to my dyslexia, my bad hearing, or whatever else you like, but I was rather disappointed initially when I realized that it was in fact “and” rather than “in.”
Now, I’m not so sure about that…
I suspect you all know why I’m writing this post now, and I’ll come back to the differences between “in” and “and” in a few moments, especially where the Ekklesía Antínoou is concerned. If any of you read things in the pagan blogosphere at all, you know the situation I’m referring to at this point in time. (I’m not giving links–you don’t need them, you just need to put a fist out there and you’ll get a handful of sleaze…and I don’t mean that the people writing about this are sleazy, but instead that the situation that lead to this is pretty sleazy…but sleaze increases page views, so there you go.) The individual who is at the heart of this need not be named, and has never been named before on this blog, so there’s no reason to start now.
I will say the following things of him: I didn’t know him, and never met him personally. I certainly knew of him, and it seemed to me that in the last year, I’ve read and heard more about him than I had previously, for whatever reason. The only time I certainly saw him in person was on an Immanion/Megalithica panel at PantheaCon on Friday the 13th of February, 2009, at 9:00 PM, on which Lupa, Taylor Ellwood, Brandy Williams, Erynn Rowan Laurie, Tony Mierzwicki, Frater Barrabas, and this individual who has been in the news of late were presenters and moderators. He sounded interesting on the panel to some degree, but when I looked further into his book (I never bought it, but did research and read a bit about it when I considered buying it), it seemed like it would be doing a great deal of the usual gender-essentialism stuff that I had (and still have) such a distaste for in mainstream paganism and Wicca, and it seemed further not-of-interest to me because it made itself sound so “necessary” to achieving one’s full “masculine” potential as a pagan…and, quite frankly, anything that in any fashion claims to be “more authentically masculine” than anything else is tilting at windmills that are ultimately shadows, I think. I have never listened to his music, nor really read or heard anything else by him, but seemed to be encountering his name a lot more often in the last year in passing. Huh. So, I have no stories about him (for good or ill), no great thoughts of loss about him, and no character observations about him–I didn’t know him.
I find what he has done reprehensible, though, and thus all of the above doesn’t feel like any kind of loss to me. (It doesn’t feel like any kind of “gain” either, though, and I don’t really think that doing anything other than strongly condemning his actions seems very appropriate to my position in this situation.)
At PantheaCon 2012, I began my “The Ekklesía Antínoou and Queer Youth Spirituality” session by saying that anyone who was present thinking that they could use the story of Antinous to justify pedophilia or ephebophilia would be disavowed and turned over to the legal authorities, and I further added “Hopefully your gods will forgive you for that sort of thing; mine won’t.” That is still my position, and I see no reason to change it.
The larger conversations about the danger to children and teenagers in paganism, though, is a conversation that I think needs to be had; and, further to that, and a major aspect and/or consequence of that, a conversation about the position of sex in paganism also seems really useful at this stage.
Hence my title, “Sex and the Ekklesía Antínoou,” being as it is rather than “Sex in the Ekklesía Antínoou.” Why the difference of particles (a preposition not being preferred to a positive conjunction)? Because “and” emphasizes that these are two different things that may, but don’t necessarily have to, go together; I perceive “in” as suggesting that one is a part of the other, or is somehow inherently connected to or necessary for it.
In the “Ekklesía Antínoou 101” type sessions that I’ve given on several occasions at PantheaCon and elsewhere, I have one slide in my PowerPoint presentation that says “Sacred Sex? Yes…But remember: don’t use sex for ritual, or ritual for sex.” What do I mean by this? Let’s take it as three different points:
1) “Sacred Sex? Yes!” In Erotic Rites, Dr. Loraine Hutchins discusses the fact that the very term “sacred sex” indicates that the assumption in our overculture is that sex is not sacred, and therefore those things which get called “sacred sex” are defined as somehow better or more pure, and certainly “more spiritual,” than “regular sex.” In indigenous cultures, and especially non-Christian and non-monotheist cultures (including Judaism), sex is often just “normal,” and isn’t “good” or “bad,” “impure” or “holy,” it simply is. So, the very use of the term indicates that our society itself is kind of broken in regards to sexuality…
That having been said, it’s what we’ve been given to work with, and thus the attempt to make sexuality sacred again is an important and holy thing, especially if one serves deities who are connected to love, devotion, and sexuality, as Antinous is. There is, therefore, a place for sacred sexuality in one’s devotions to Antinous.
2) But, that having been said, firstly, don’t use–nor mistake–sex for ritual. Just because you want to have your sexuality be sacred doesn’t mean that every sexual act you do or think about automatically is sacred, and therefore is ritual, just because you want it to be. Looking at porn isn’t automatically sacred, jerking off isn’t automatically sacred, dressing up in your favorite fetish-y outfits isn’t automatically sacred…and, it doesn’t have to be to be enjoyed or to be a worthwhile activity to do. By all means, do all of those things (as long as it isn’t child pornography, jerking off in public places, or doing things that might get you in trouble with the law in any fashion!), and enjoy them, and have fun with them, but realize–not unlike all of the charity work that pagans do, the social activism they do, and any number of other things that they do–that there is no “one-stop shopping” when it comes to any of these matters. Be honest with yourself, and do the things you enjoy or think are important, but just because some of the deities you honor might be connected to them, don’t mistake doing any of those things as an offering or a sacrifice or an act of service to them. If they are, and the deities have asked you to do them, that’s one thing; if you have dedicated your actions in those regards to specific deities, that’s also another thing, and perfectly fine; but just tracking down an interesting trick, having sex in a back room somewhere, and in the middle of it thinking “Huh, his profile from this angle looks like Antinous” is not an act of sacred sexuality. Not all sex is ritual, and furthermore, it doesn’t have to be to be worthwhile.
3) And further, don’t use–nor mistake–ritual for sex. This is the matter that is a bit more specific to situations of abuse that can and do often happen between pagans. I’ve heard recently from some newer pagans that the main reason they’re interested in it is because of the “sex rituals,” and I have also heard of many prominent pagans who started in paganism in the 1960s and 1970s, like so many things taking place during that time, did it mostly for the sex and drugs and folk rock, with the latter two often ranking a distant second and third to the first matter. Part of me thinks, “Well, that’s a relic of its time,” but another part of me thinks that to use religion as an excuse to have any kind of sex is an abuse. Sexual and erotic imagery in rituals is one thing; sexual and erotic acts between consenting social equals in a ritual context is entirely another; sexual and erotic activities between people who are co-religionists outside of ritual is yet another thing; but sexual acts, nudity, and other matters being stated as a “requirement” for certain rituals, particularly for people in a subordinate position, is an abuse of the position. If you really want to have sex with someone who is a co-religionist, ask them; if you really want to see a co-religionist naked, tell them that you’d like to see them naked, or take them to your local naturist social, or what-have-you; but if you simply use participation in a particular ritual activity that “has to” include nudity or sex to exploit someone else, then may Eros piss in your mouth and use your eyelashes as arrow-fletchings, and may Aphrodite give you piles, because you deserve none of their favors ever again.
And, while I should not have to include the following caveat, I had better do so because otherwise people might think that omission equals permission:
All sexual acts should always be consensual, not involve drug or alcohol intoxication, coercion or intimidation, or exploitation of altered states of consciousness or other spiritual-specific situations; further, they should abide by all state, federal, and local laws in your area, including AND ESPECIALLY laws regarding the legal age of consent.
[I’ve often said that there are people well above the legal age of consent in their jurisdiction that cannot give meaningful consent, and I still think that’s true, unfortunately, for all kinds of reasons that are sad, unpleasant, and not to be taken lightly…]
And, because some people really do need to have such things spelled out even more, I shall go further.
The story of Antinous and Hadrian involves what the Greeks would have understood as pederasty. We don’t know for sure when they met, but if my theories on the Thespiae inscription of Hadrian are correct, that could have been around 123 or 124 CE. Depending on what date he was born (anywhere from 110 to 112 CE), that would have made Antinous as old as 14 or as young as 11 when they met. What the nature of their relationship was at that point is impossible to say, and contrary to what you’ve been told or might have thought from elsewhere (including Royston Lambert’s book, which far too many people take seriously as a kind of biography rather than being full of theory and conjecture, as it actually is), we actually don’t have a clue about it. Different authors of fiction have written many different things for decades and even centuries about this, but the bottom line is: we don’t know for sure.
However, if Antinous was born in 110 to 112, that meant that at his death in 130 CE, he would have been as old as nearly-twenty, or as young as nearly-eighteen. (I tend to go for the higher number myself…but again, there’s no certain way to know.) At that time, it is very likely that Hadrian and Antinous’ relationship was sexual, as well as deeply emotional; the latter is certain given the existence of the cultus, but the exact details on the former are entirely conjectural as well, and we can’t know for certain.
No matter what the case is, though, that was a different time, place, and culture. Children would have routinely seen their parents and other people having sex for their entire lives, and it wouldn’t have been considered something strange or shameful. But, rather than idealize this time and wish that everyone could go back to that sort of situation, as is so often the case in certain forms of queer (meaning mostly gay) spirituality, theory, and activism, I think we do need to realize, confront, and if necessary lament (in the sense of being sad at how fucked up we are, rather than being sad that such customs are no longer in effect), the fact that our situation is different, and no matter how much we might wish on the spiritual front to return to the religious and even some social mores of our ancient indigenous polytheistic ancestors, on certain things we can’t go back easily–nor should we want to, and I think this particular matter is one of those latter types most definitely.
Our culture is way too neurotic, ill-prepared, and dysfunctional to simply decide that the way to no longer be erotophobic is to be erotophilic, and just throw caution to the wind and do anything and everything sexually transgressive that can be done, just to show ’em. No matter how mentally or emotionally prepared one might become in order to actualize such a “return to the old ways,” there is absolutely no guarantee that anyone else one might encounter is in a similar position. This goes especially for children and teenagers these days, who are simultaneously becoming more and more over-sexualized in terms of how they are presented to society and what role models they are given, but likewise are becoming more and more ill-prepared for actually assuming any informed and responsible roles in relation to a great many issues–sex amongst them–than any generation before, and are being kept in a state of perpetual adolescence well into their twenties in many cases. To assume that anything other than this is the case and proceed from such an assumption into any actions is not only reckless and irresponsible, I’d argue it is exploitative and potentially abusive.
In paganism, there has been a great deal of assumptions that just because it is a “fertility religion” that therefore sex is in some way necessary, healthy, and thus blessed, and the phrase “all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals” has thus been taken in many manners that are not healthy for anyone, I don’t think. Sometimes, the healthiest option is to not have sex, and even to not want sex, and the ways in which the asexual crowd in particular (and I am finding more and more that some of their stances align with my own in a variety of ways, which I’m going to have to explore more in the future) gets marginalized, pathologized, and made to feel somehow dysfunctional or unwelcome amongst pagans, or that their situation is a result of being erotophobic or abused or what-have-you and thus “healing” is needed (in the form of exposure to sex) is absolutely and utterly reprehensible, and I think anyone who suggests that to a declared asexual should choke on the cock of their horned god of choice, because wouldn’t that too be sacred in their view? (Okay, maybe I’m being hyperbolic there, but only a little.) There are more matters there that I might return to in the future…
Let me say a bit more now about my own drives to do the queer youth spirituality panel a few years ago at PantheaCon, as well as the youth blessing ritual this year. The impetus for the latter was the work I’ve been doing with Polydeukion and his family, who have presented–in essence–a model for family that is both unconventional and yet also conventional, with all of its good aspects and its dysfunctions, that I think could be an entry point into some of what we’re doing for people with families, with children, and who are not-traditionally-queer in their outlook. (One of the queerest things about the Ekklesía Antínoou, in my opinion, is how absolutely inclusive we are!) It was also an experiment to see how younger people might react to large or small amounts of Latin or Greek in a ritual, and while the crowd on that occasion was younger than I expected, they reacted to it really well, I thought! The impetus for the former was the large number of queer youth suicides that have occurred over history (but particularly in 2010), and the role of “not having a place” that plays into such situations a lot of the time, which I think religions in general are failing young people (and especially young queer people) on, and which I think the Ekklesía Antínoou can do some useful work within.
What would the role, therefore, be of the Ekklesía Antínoou in discussing sexual matters with young people? It would be to discuss them in ways that emphasize safety and responsibility, and sacredness. Let’s face it, abstinence education is doomed from the start, as young people always have and always will sexually experiment with one another, whether adults approve of it or not, and no matter what anyone says about it. So, the best that can be done is to prepare them for the results of such situations, and give them as many options as possible in terms of how to do so responsibly…and then leave them to do or not do as they see fit. If they get older than eighteen, and are involved in Ekklesía Antínoou activities, and want to discuss sex and sexuality and sacred sex practices, then we can talk in more depth, but until that threshold is reached, it’s simply not appropriate, and shouldn’t be broached. There are so many other things that need to be emphasized, especially to queer youth, when it comes to those difficult teenage years, and I expect we will (and should!) have our hands full with those matters for any members of our group that are teenagers, no matter what gender identity or sexual orientation they might happen to be. Treating teenagers especially as if they are full subjects with agency as soon and as sensibly as possible is a good thing, and just doing that could make worlds of difference when it comes to making better choices about sex while they are still teenagers, as well as later in their lives as well.
Now, there’s an inevitable question that I’m sure comes up in some people’s minds, and which really kind of irks me in a variety of ways: what if someone is 19, and they want to have sex with a 17-year-old? What if the younger person is, say, 16, but really conveys that they know what they’re getting into and is comfortable with the consequences and so forth. Is it “okay” in those situations to have sex with them? FUCK NO! The law is the law, and that’s that; part of one’s responsibility as an adult who is law-abiding is to be adult enough to say, “No, sorry, this isn’t appropriate,” and leave it at that. (No caveats or promises of “maybe when you’re older” or anything that indicates there is any possibility for the future should be given, either–“later” can always be moved up to “now” via wheedling and other things, and this particular door shouldn’t be left open under any circumstances for someone who is under the legal age of consent.)
In the gay communities that I’ve interacted with over the years, these kinds of stories are rampant, of mid-teens having sex with people in their twenties, and so forth. They’re so common (or, at least, they were ten or more years ago) as to be almost expectable. In Ireland, in a presentation I once heard on the gay community’s modern historical development in Ireland, something was presented as a fact that I was kind of shocked to hear the presenter (an older gay man) saying: young people often have sex with older people, and are “initiated” into the gay community by it, and that older person often becomes their “patron” for the rest of their life. What-the-fuck?!? How in the world is this okay, and how is it okay to present this as the “expected norm” to young people of college age? Sure, if one is over the age of consent, that’s one thing; but presenting situations where younger teenagers are expected to have sex with older people in order to “come of age,” so to speak, and become a part of the gay community is exploitative, to say the least. I remember up to the age of 24, I was treated as if it was somehow my “obligation” to have sex with a number of older men (and by “older,” I mean “over 50”), and it made me feel absolutely disgusted every time, not because the people involved were disgusting, but because the notion that it was somehow their “civic duty” to “educate” me and it was my “civil obligation” to “comply” was, and still is, reprehensible to me. It ended up in several situations that could be considered sexual assault from some angles, which I still feel very bad about having occurred and putting myself in those situations, and not being strong enough in my “no” responses (and, remember how tall I am; but then also understand how absolutely worn down and small I felt around these predatory guys), and so forth…but, what happened to me was nowhere near as bad as what has happened to far too many other people, including many good friends of mine. But, what most upsets me about this situation is the way in which it is accepted as a kind of de rigeur matter for gay men in particular…
I would be ill-advised to give out the above caveats and directives without demonstrating that I know of what I speak and that I have some experiential background in these matters. Thus, I have been prompted by Antinous in the strongest terms understood by me at present to tell you the following story, which I’ve never told anyone ever in my life before now, since it happened. It’s not exactly a comfortable thing for me to do, but it needs to be said, and it’s a “teaching moment,” so to speak, or at least I hope it is accepted as such. I’m also inspired to do so via T. Thorn Coyle’s post earlier today. Get comfy, folks.
Back in 1998 to about 2002, I used to frequent gay chat rooms on the internet. It was a “new” thing, at least to me, at that age, and it was, in fact, how I met the first guy that I ever had sex with in late 1998. (He was the same age as I was at the time: 22.) I was home from university in Ireland one summer, and was at a friend of mine’s house in Seattle, who was going out to do some internet-based hooking-up of his own when I was visiting him, and thus I was alone at his apartment, and he had a good internet connection…so, why not see who I might be able to find in the Seattle area? I used a popular gay chatroom of that time…but I’m embarrassed to say I can’t now remember what it was called–oh well. After a bit of looking around, I got this guy online, and we were chatting in private, and he said he was a UW student. Okay, so that meant he was in the 18-22 range–gotchya. Then, he said he was an aspiring UW student, and hadn’t been admitted yet. Okay, so that means he’s…what age? I didn’t know, and didn’t ask, because all we were doing was chatting at that stage. Then he asks me if I want to have sex with him, and I said no, and he asked why. I said because I hadn’t seen a photo of him, he’d not seen one of me and thus didn’t know if he’d like me, and I further said that I didn’t know if we’d have any chemistry in person. This chatroom denizen then asked if we could meet and then I could see that we’d have chemistry and then we could have sex. I told him that if we met, that wasn’t a guarantee that we’d have sex, and it would probably take a few times meeting him before I got to that point, and that’s if things went really well. He was kind of upset at that, and I felt very sorry for him, because he lived in a town even smaller than the one I grew up in, and one that was near it, in fact.
I asked him if he was home for the summer or on break from some other college, and then he said, “Can I be honest with you?” I said of course he could, and then he said, “I’m only 16, I do want to go to UW eventually, but I’m still in high school.” I said “What grade are you in?” He said “I’m in 10th.” !!!???!!! Needless to say, I was extremely surprised that he had lied about his age to get into this chatroom. (Now, of course, I know that people have been faking their ages to get into things since the beginning of time, but you must also remember: I’ve always been a bit of a hayseed and very naïve about a number of matters, and this was one of them, i.e. that people would actually lie about such things on the internet!) I said, “Oh, that’s nice. What’s your favorite subject?” He said “I’d still like to meet and have sex.” I said “No, that isn’t going to happen.” I was tempted to just shut down the chat and be done with him, but I felt a real desperation there–not even to have sex, but just to be treated like an adult, to be taken seriously, to be seen, and to get out of some of the small-town nonsense and drama and conservatism that is inevitably in the life of a young queer person who has no community, peers, or role models to speak of–remember, this was 2002, and things weren’t nearly as “great” (such as it is) as they are now in these regards. This need to be taken seriously and thus to “act like an adult,” for this individual, seemed to be to take some very bad examples he’d seen of how adults act and approve of and emulate them…this was extremely sad for me to contemplate. I felt bad for him, and wanted to be there for him in a kind of supportive fashion, and a friendly fashion, but not in an “I’d like to say I’m your friend but actually have sex with you” kind of fashion. (Nearly everyone I’ve had that sort of friendship with, incidentally, is still my friend, and we’ve never had sex…and I think there’s perhaps only one exception to that in all my life thus far.)
He then said, “Can we meet and you can decide if we can have sex later?” I said I’d be happy to meet with him socially at some neutral location, like a coffee shop or something, and we could have a chat, but that sex was off the table, and that if he kept bringing it up, I’d have to leave. He agreed that that sounded good, and then he sent me a picture of himself–probably the only one he had, as digital cameras were still expensive then, and phone selfies didn’t exist–which was his school picture. The main thing that stuck out to me from his picture was how very young indeed he was; yet, here he was, saying all of the things that he’d learned were “mature” and “adult” things to be saying to someone when you were trying to get them to have sex with you. (And, note, how often the words “mature” and “adult” get used to mean “sex,” and often with an illicit connotation.)
As it happened, I was going to be back in my hometown soon after that, and so I agreed I’d stay in touch with him via e-mail, and we’d set up a time to meet, and I’d take the bus down to meet him. We then talked on the phone, and his voice in person sounded even younger than I’d have expected. What made me the most upset about this was that he had sex with a number of people much older than him several times before this, and thus he not only expected that I’d want to, but in some ways he was kind of dejected that I told him I wouldn’t. (How messed up is that? And how much more messed up is that in that it’s expected in the gay community, or at least has been in the past? Have any of you seen Get Real? The fact that the underage sex thing that takes place earlier in the film never gets commented upon is rather upsetting, to say the least.)
I was getting ready to get on the bus and go meet him for coffee, and he said to call him. So, I called, and he answered, and then he said “Wait a second,” and then he was talking to someone else for quite a while, and got back on the phone with me and said, “I’m not going to come up on the bus: my friends are going for ice cream.” I said, “Okay, have fun with that, and if you ever want to talk again, feel free to e-mail.” He never did.
I sometimes wonder what happened to him…and all these years later, I don’t even remember his name. I really hope that he has a good life, that he got to go to UW, and that he didn’t have any predatory bastards trying to have sex with him after that. I also hoped that he learned to talk with older people in a way that conveyed maturity without having to do so by indicating that “maturity” means “having sex.”
That incident was in June of 2002. Later that month, I met Antinous. I have been devoted to him passionately ever since. I have never thought of these two events as being in any way connected before (and, in fact, I had not thought about this particular incident for years), but now I think they are…it was almost as if that situation was a test, of sorts. Personally, I think I passed it. But, I don’t know…
I give thanks to Antinous for the ways in which he prompts me to be better than I thought I could be, and in all of the myriad ways that he teaches me by his continued presence in my life, and in my continued re-evaluations of the things in my own past. I hope that he blesses all of your lives and enriches them in the same ways far into the future!