Monday, July 30, 2012

My Vagina Testimony!!

This is the presentation I gave for the "Vagina Testimonies" -- a Mormon version of "The Vagina Monologues" -- at the 2012 Sunstone Symposium.

I'd like to bear my testimony that I don't believe in chewed gum and licked cupcakes. And I never did, not even at my most Mormon.

Mormon kids learn some very interesting lessons about sex. For one thing, they learn that doing it is a sin next to murder, and that even thinking about it -- even wanting to do it and imagining it -- is almost as bad as actually doing it.

Girls get the additional message that sex somehow uses them up. That the act of sexual intercourse somehow transforms them from being a pristine, fresh-out-of-the-wrapper stick of gum to being a wad of chewed-up gum, or from being a pretty, fresh cupcake to being a slobbery, disgusting cupcake with all of the delicious frosting licked off.

I totally believed and internalized the first message, that feeling lust means you're an unspeakably shameful sinner. I spent many years as a kid cowering in the closet of shame for the crime of entertaining the occasional sexual fantasy -- and enjoying it -- instead of putting up other actors on my mental stage, as we're taught that righteous and holy people are supposed to be able to do.

I never bought into the other message, though. I'm not a cupcake at all, licked or otherwise, I'm a person. Any guy who would seriously consider the hermetic seal on my vagina -- and the ignorance that seal implies -- to be an important part of what makes me a good partner for love or marriage...? Screw him. He's an idiot. That's great that he doesn't want to marry me because the feeling is very mutual.

I know a lot of women consider an invitation into that sacred space to be one of the greatest gifts they can give. Allowing another flesh to enter your body is, for some, an almost life-altering big deal. And as I've listened to other women's stories, I've come to understand that that feeling isn't entirely the result of bad lessons about chewed gum and licked cupcakes. We all have our different perspectives and experiences.

However, for myself, I have always felt empowered by my natural inclination that it's not that big a deal. Sexual intercourse (and here I mean traditional vaginal penetration) can be a wonderful pleasure. It can be an expression of love. In some circumstances it can be something bad. But it doesn't represent handing over some essential part of myself to another person -- any more that a man is permanently diminished by giving me his essence, or whatever the metaphor would be if our social prejudices were reversed.

By the time I entered Brigham Young University at age 17, I was convinced that the church's teachings on sexuality were totally wrong. I saw sex as something playful and fun; something that might be part of a relationship, but not necessarily.

One of my freshman dorm-mates from Budge Hall told me about a game she'd played in her naughtier days called "I never." Basically, a group of people sit in a circle and take turns saying "I never did X," and everyone who has done "X" has to take a drink. It sounded amusing, and since most of the X's were obviously about sex, it kind of inspired me to make my own game of having sex in unusual places.

In particular, I had sex with a boyfriend in the bathroom of the BYU library and with another in the annex of a BYU chemistry lab. (I know I'm admitting to having broken the honor code -- and I've discussed that decision on my blog here.) Later locations included a cave, a boat, a stairwell, a bank vault (to have "safe sex"), a convent, and probably some other places I don't remember. And yet, after all that, I never got around to playing "I never"!

That's your cue to take a drink.

When dating, after I finished with BYU, I always made a point to have sex as early in a relationship as possible, generally on the first date. On my blog I wrote a number of semi-serious reasons for this: for fun, for efficiency, for the element of surprise, and to weed out guys who disrespect "sluts" and/or who don't actually want to have sex with me, for whatever reason.

It was also because I didn't like the dynamic I'd observed in chaste dating relationships, where sex is this giant elephant in the room; a relentlessly ever-present objective/anti-objective that places all other activities in the shadow of thinking about what you're not doing. I felt like it was better just to do it, and have a clear head to relate to each other as humans while deciding whether the relationship is one you want to pursue.

Today my attitude hasn't substantially changed, even if my behavior looks quite different. I've been happily, monogamously married for more than eleven years. I choose to be monogamous -- not because extramarital sex is a sin -- but out of love and respect for my husband. Even if sex doesn't transform me, it's not totally devoid of emotional consequences that could affect our relationship, and my adorable sweetie is now the only one I want to be with.

I hope that my example shows that a girl -- regardless of what sexual experiences she may or may not have had -- is not a cupcake or a stick of gum.

I say these things in the name of all that is good and chooses not to be holy, amen.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Fun at Camp Quest Minnesota!!

It's time for Summer camp, and I just got a chance to visit Camp Quest Minnesota!!

Camp Quest is a week-long secular camp for kids, full of friendship, fun, and learning -- this year's Minnesota theme is the ocean, especially the deep sea! The Chaplain wrote a good post explaining what Camp Quest is all about, so to avoid repeating what she wrote, I'll mention a few points I learned on the tour I got from the director Jeannette (who, BTW, was kind enough to mention that she read and liked my book):

Camp Quest Minnesota is one of the first Camp Quest locations. They get campers from all over North America, but lately a higher proportion are local since more camps have been opening. Nonetheless, the Minnesota chapter just keeps expanding -- this year they had more than 50 campers, essentially filling the camp to capacity.

I asked if they'd perhaps move to a bigger location, but they're happy with the current facility, the Voyageur Environmental Center (which runs its own camp for kids for the rest of the Summer). Instead, they'll probably expand to offer two separate weeks of camp.

Now, you may have heard that "Camp Quest was specifically designed for children of Unitarians, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, humanists, or whatever terms might be applied to those who maintain a naturalistic, not supernaturalistic, world view." Jeannette mentioned her pet peeve is that the press constantly labels it an "atheist camp" (which probably causes some people to imagine it is some sort of indoctrination camp, parallel to Jesus Camp).

However, it is not an atheist camp, it is a secular camp -- which means the kids are encouraged to choose their own labels or choose not to label themselves as they see fit. They are encouraged to develop critical thinking skills and also develop respect and friendship for people they may not entirely agree with. The bottom line is curiosity -- encouraging young minds to explore!!

OK, so I'm wearing an atheist T-shirt in this one -- but I'm on vacation, and it was the only clean shirt I had left!

My kids liked it too -- I may be sending them here in a couple of years.

Though I hope the bear is not representative of what they'll run into here...

Opening up these sorts of camps around the country (plus some international) isn't free -- there are big start-up costs in addition to the standard operating costs. That's why we're having a fund-raising competition again this year -- PZ Myers vs. the horde!!

Last year the horde won -- and as part of the bet, I was supposed to get my Mormon relatives to sing some select tunes from The Book of Mormon (the musical) during our big family reunion.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out because we didn't have the community center rented long enough to do a sing-along after the talent show. So, my apologies for not following through -- and I hope to make up for it by helping raise some more money for Camp Quest this year. Please consider making a donation!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My great big Mormon family reunion!!!

For the sake of having a fun story to blog, we should have had an embarrassing disaster or at least some awkward discussions of religion. But for the sake of the family, I'm glad the whole thing went smoothly -- more than smoothly, even -- fantastically!!

This isn't even everybody.

It's all the more astonishing because we had 67 people in attendance (out of the 98 descendants + S.O.s of my Mormon grandparents). It may not sound like much, but 67 is a lot of people. And these folks are normally spread all across North America and the whole world -- and most hadn't seen each other since the last reunion, 10 years ago. Some were new, and were meeting the extended family for the first time.

As for religion, about half of the adults in my generation (my siblings and first cousins) are former-Mormon or never-Mormon, and about half are believing/practicing Mormons. But as far as I could tell, neither side was judgmentally looking down on the other or trying to impose one set of beliefs and practices on the whole group. Our family absolutely came first -- before any kind of ideology -- because we genuinely wanted to see each other and reaffirm and reestablish our family relationshps.

Personally, I wanted to facilitate building memories for all the kids who are too young to have attended the last reunion so that the cousins wouldn't just be "some people my mom and dad know" to them. And I think this goal was passed with flying colors.

The religion question never took center stage. The time and address of the services of the CoJCoL-dS were listed on the schedule, as well as an alternate gathering at the amusement park of the Mall of America (some of the faithful opted for the latter). There were also some (pretty tame) evening drinking parties -- including one at my parents' house! And there was a huge, fun talent show in which all the kids really hammed it up!

My "talent" was designing this fab reunion T-shirt

The day after the extended family left (and we were down to my own parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews), we had a big family meal that began -- in traditional Mormon style -- with a prayer. It was at that moment that it hit me that we hadn't had a single whole-group prayer for the entire reunion. This is kind of unusual for a Mormon family gathering: normally some meal would have a prayer or some event would open or close with a group prayer, even if some of the members of the group are not believers.

Yellow team rules!!

This is partially because my nevermo sister-in-law did all of the leg-work to organize all of the venues, all the food, all the financial accounting, etc., and made sure (through delegation or, if necessary, doing it herself) that everything that needed to get done got done. And she didn't have any particular reason to schedule in any group prayers.

It's also partially because there were so many people (including so many little kids) that it is hard to get everyone to quiet down and be reverent for a prayer. Some big Mormon families would manage it, but you have to really want it in order to manage it, and this group was more focused on making everyone feel welcome and comfortable.

This is everybody.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Save the humans!!

"Save the Planet" -- as a rallying cry for environmentalism -- has got to be one of the most tragic cases of mis-branding I know of.

When there's a choice between things you want or need now vs. "the planet" or "the environment", it's too easy to say "I don't care that much whether this or that species goes extinct," or "the planet can fend for itself."

The thing is, though that "the planet" isn't really in danger. It's going to keep revolving around the Sun regardless of what we do. "Life on Earth" will too. Even in the worst-case scenarios, we humans almost certainly won't manage to wipe out all life.

All human life -- all of the planet's potential to support human life -- well, that's a different story.

One of the most amazing and wonderful things about the human species is our capacity to think about the future, and to make decisions based on their consequences.

But are we good enough at it to save ourselves?