When I was a child, I went to the movies with my parents. I was at the age where I knew who I liked because my insides felt like they’d melted when I saw them, but I had no desire to actually do anything with them. That would be gross. But that day as I watched the screen mesmerized, a scene came on, and I felt sensations I’d never felt before. Desire stormed in and it shook me to the core. I had seen all sorts of sexy scenes before, but they had always been awkward and uncomfortable for me. This was transcendent. I thought about commenting on how sexy the scene was, but it seemed too private, so I kept it to myself. Instead I settled back contentedly, glad to feel completely normal, if a bit more grown up, and knowing that I could do relationships and someday the adulthood of family and a white picket fence would be mine.
Many years later I had stopped thinking about that future, because it never materialized. Movies and music videos, even erotic stories could not stir me. There were people I liked, but touching them left me cold. Occasionally there was the erotic dream I could not quite remember or intense frustrated desire. But even when touching myself, hoping to relieve the ache, all I could summon was visions of fireworks or abstract paintings and I would half want to go to sleep. Forming a life long relationship was out of the question.
I like gentle people and enjoy tranquil relationships. I find drama upsetting and frequently unnecessary. People should treat each other with care and consideration. Tenderness is what makes a relationship work for me. But it began to dawn on me that my erotic imagination does not work that way, despite decades of earnest effort. I remembered the scene that made me come alive when I was little. I remembered the scorching heat and eroticism, and that what it showed was a beating. Even now, knowing the scene was intentionally suffused with homoerotic subtext and may have been a phantasm of the author’s longings, imagining people’s reaction to those words, “a beating” causes me to squirm with shame. I never wanted to hurt anyone and I still don’t. Domestic abuse, rape, and other acts horrify me. I have spent years supporting survivors and I will continue to do so as long as I live.
What I want is something else; a mutually agreed upon, mutually pleasurable, temporary power exchange involving intense physical sensation, which either party has a right to call a halt to at any moment if they are uncomfortable. In other words, my sexuality hinges upon BDSM (Bondage, Discipline/Dominance, Submission/Sadism, Masochism). Only that type and level of activity creates for me a physical connection of the sort necessary to sustain a relationship. It is why I could not understand my sexuality for so long. I had read erotic descriptions of BDSM and they involved a violent lack of consent and other such things that I could not accept. I liked gentle caring and this did not fit. It took me years to work through that BDSM was no more those depictions than regular sex was a porn video. Real life could involve love, consent, and mutuality.
BDSM is not for most people and what they know of it comes from works like 50 Shades of Gray, which depicts BDSM about as well as romance novels of the seventies depicted normal, consenting adult relationships. But instead of the reality, people react to this boogeyman, which they are convinced no healthy, mentally whole person without a history of trauma could enjoy. Of course, in the face of such judgment, those who do are unlikely to come forward.
When I discovered that BDSM was a real thing and that my sexuality was intact, I was overjoyed. That life I dreamed about when I was little could be mine. Visions of happy relationships danced in my head.
After that brief time of happiness, I discovered the ELCA’s message on Commercial Sexual Exploitation. It was a document I had never looked at. Why would I? Some things were obviously wrong. But I read it, and discovered on the second page, a listing of “sexual addictions and aberrations (child pornography, pedophilia, bestiality, sadomasochism, orgies, and so forth).” I sat there stock still and then the tears slipped out. Somehow my wanting a life-long relationship of consenting adults was an aberration, and viewed with the same disgust as child pornography, pedophilia and bestiality in the eyes of the church that I loved. And this wasn’t a stain they somehow thought marriage would wipe clean, unlike premarital sex. There could be wedded bliss and mutual love, and I’d still be listed with the pedophiles, because my physical expression of attraction and romantic love was an aberration in the church’s eyes. It didn’t matter how many other rules I followed, I would still be unacceptable. I had always believed God had formed who I was and God had formed me to be a pastor. But the church was saying no, that was impossible. I could not be myself and be a pastor. I had to give up what God called me to do or I had to give up my sexuality.
I have never broken my ordination vows. But sometimes I mourn what was lost. There is no one to come home to and no children. It is a small, quiet life.