Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Semana Santa

Photos by Hoppergrass

Sunday, April 7, 2019

A Springtime Reunion and Heart Circle in Toronto

For thirty-five years, the Body Electric School has offered a respectful, heart-centered approach to deep erotic exploration. The School's work has helped thousands of people toward a bigger, freer, juicier experience of their lives.

On Sunday, May 5, beginning at 4 p.m., come take part in a Toronto-area heart circle on the theme of erotic/spiritual community. If you've done one of more of the School's workshops, you can reconnect with fellow alumni in the Toronto area and speak from the heart about your experience. 

If you haven't done Body Electric work, but you've heard of the School and want a better idea of what it offers--or if you're just looking for ways to better ingtegrate your emotional, erotic, and spiritual energies--come share your values and aspirations, and bond with new comrades.

After the heart circle, we'll share a potluck supper and the chance for more informal conversation.

There's no charge--just bring something for the potluck supper. The west Toronto location will be sent a week in advance to those who confirm for the event.

You can RSVP by e-mail to, or by going to the Queer Men Building Spiritual Practice Together group on Meetup. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Midway Through Lent

When I was twenty-one, with one foot out of the closet, there was one lean, mostly naked man that no one could fault me for gazing on in adoration.

The German crucifix I wanted as a birthday present--yes, I was that fucked up--offered me a very male, and very dead, Jesus. I can only imagine what friends thought of it, hanging on the wall of my first apartment.

Fifteen years later, I wanted nothing more to do with Christianity.

Twenty-five years later, I was ready to return, but on my own terms. I hung this artifact of who I'd once been over the Korean rice chest that I'd bought as my altar.

Thirty years later, it freaked my Jewish boyfriend right out, and I tried to give it away. In any case, the glorification of suffering it represented had become completely foreign to me. 

Forty years later, it lies inside the rice chest, a relic I still respect of who I once was, and what I once needed. 

Gracias a la Vida.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

At Equinox

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven,
the glorious sun's life-giving ray, 
the brightness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free, 
the whirling wind's tempestuous shocks, 
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
about the old eternal rocks.

(From The Breastplate of St. Patrick)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

At the Corner of Fourth and Walnut

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . .

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Sense of an Ending

I spent just over half an hour yesterday watching a stunningly sexy video on XTube: a beautiful man tied to a door frame, and later to a bed, edged by a friendly, playful expert, babbling all the while, eventually exploding into a prolonged, shattering orgasm, then emerging back into the world of ordinary time and space in the last two minutes of the clip. 

I'm all for voyeurism and exhibitionism. I'm unhappy about the bad rap they often get. Witnessing the helpless, undefended pleasure of another, allowing oneself to be witnessed: if the heart is opened, these are potentially acts of erotic generosity and transpersonal love. As such, they're sacred, not profane. Miraculously, a streaming service for homemade erotica can become a vehicle to invite the viewer into those luminous depths. 

In the clip, we don't see the beginning of this ritual--for in my book, it's clearly a ritual. We do see the ending. Both men move from total immersion in the erotic energy flowing between them, gradually detaching from the experience. They exchange comments that begin to distance them from the experience even as they rehearse it:

"I've never seen you orgasm like that on film," the dom says playfully.  

"Yeah, that was intense." 

"I love what I do." They both laugh.

The dom wipes his hands on a towel, attentively wipes his boy's belly, undoes the restraints on his wrists. Boy lays his freed hands on Dom's forearms. There's more laughter, a little more banter. It's over. Boy rises off the mattress onto his elbows, looks briefly toward the camera, says again, "That was intense," and then, "Good stuff." End of clip.

Why was I so drawn in (aside, duh, from my own arousal)? I loved watching the two of them interact. The video stood out from a gazillion other bondage/masturbation scenes because of what passed between them emotionally. Fetishized body parts and money shots, on their own, don't measure up. (In fact, given the lighting, you only know for sure after the fact that Boy has ejaculated, when Dom holds his semen-slicked hand up to the camera.) I felt invited in as a witness, not only to the man in restraints, but to their shared experience--both the rapport between them throughout the scene, and the beginning of their transition back into Life As We Know It. 

And yet, I found myself in the last seconds longing for something subtly different. I wanted  them to emerge from sacred time and space back into the ordinary while still acknowledging the profundity of what had just happened between them. I wanted them to affirm together that what they'd created was way beyond "good stuff." It was pure sexual alchemy. I wanted an erotic equivalent of "The Mass has ended. Go in peace." 

In a sense, that's exactly what they were doing. But I've experienced my share of powerful sexual encounters that end with one or both (or all) of us feeling nervous that maybe we've been changed a little too much for comfort, so we'd better stuff the magic back in the bottle, label it mere fun, and put it back on the shelf. "Wow, that was hot" can be a way of reassuring ourselves, and stressing to each other, that it was No Big Deal.

How might we transform our erotic experience of ourselves, others, and the world, if our encounters could end with a shared recognition of the depths we've just plumbed? How much of what gets dismissed as "just sex" could we recognize as something deeper, more integrated into the wholeness of our lives, by mindful shared attention to the way we end the encounter?

Judith Butler says in the opening pages of Undoing Gender, "Face it, we're undone by each other. And if we're not, what's the point?" Transformative erotic experiences, like any sacred acts, have to be fenced off from the ordinary, or we might run the danger of never going back to our daily lives. We have to give them the sense of an ending. But an ending, ideally, that still gives us access to their power.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The New Body Electric School

Seventeen years ago, a Body Electric workshop changed my life for good.

One April weekend in 2002, "Celebrating the Body Erotic" worked its indelible magic on my body, heart, and soul. Twenty-two men met one another as nervous strangers at 8:45 on Saturday morning. By 7 Sunday night, we were a band united and transformed in "the dear love of comrades."

I learned to breathe as though making friends with my lungs for the first time. I leaned to touch myself with a level of pleasure and unashamed abandon that I wish had been availalble to me--as it should have been--at my adolescent awakening over thirty years earlier. I learned to share those gifts with the men who'd embarked with me on this two-day adventure. With astonishing speed and ease, we built for each other  a space of safety and unconditional acceptance where we could all flourish. We reached out to each other with delight and respect. I experienced, with a shattering intensity, the presence of the Sacred in my own body, and in the bodies of the other men who bared their souls and flesh. It left me weeping tears of joy, at the oddest and most upredictable moments, for weeks afterwards.

For thirty-five years, the Body Electric School has offered a precious, life-giving vessel of deep erotic wisdom, a source of healing and growth, self-discovery and community. Its mission began amidst the physical, psychological, and spiritual trauma of the AIDS crisis. In the mid-1980's, founder Joseph Kramer extended a lifeline to men struggling to affirm the wholeness of their erotic selves in the face of that threat. Over the years, its programming has widened in scope to include workshops open to mulltiple genders and orientations--while continuing to offer single-gender workshops that provide safe space for men who need to do the work of erotic, emotional, and spiritual self-realization with one another.

And in 2019, the School takes a courageous new step, as it transitions to a model of non-profit, community-based operation that opens a wealth of fresh possibilities. The cost of workshops has already been lowered. The School's new leadership is committed to reaching younger, more diverse, and more marginalzied populations. 

As the transitional management team observed a few weeks ago, when it announced the move to non-profit operation, "Body Electric has always belonged more to the people who love and appreciate it than to any one individual.  What's different now is that it is also up to us to do the hard work of sustaining and running it, with our own energy and our own finances.   

"For those of us who know first-hand the exceptional, unique value of what we do... for those who have healed and matured from Body Electric in our own lives... for those for whom BE unites spirit and embodied healing with conscious erotic celebration -- we are the ones now entrusted with keeping this work alive.  We carry this mantle forward because BE has helped us become healthier and happier people.  Together, we can keep this precious offering available now and for generations to come. "

If you've taken workshops with the School in the past, it's a wonderful moment to renew your connection with this extraordinary, visionary community. If you've heard of the School and always wondered what its work is like, now is a great time to dive in, to grow more fully into your capacity for deep joy, to be some of the change in the world that you'd like to see.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Naked Art

Fluffy is a regular member of an all-nude men's life drawing group in New York City. Sincere thanks to him for kindly sharing a little of his work here.

Asked for an artist's statement, he offers the following.

What words would I attach? Hm-m-m. 

1) That these drawings have no reason to exist other than my own mental explorations of the process of drawing and desire for socialization. 

2) That part of my brain still exists which wants recognition but another part rejects those considerations. 
     a) I don't need the money.
     b) I don't enjoy excess attention.

3) I don't feel like I've done any that "help." 
     a) I use cheap materials.
     b) I am aware of the waste of time/effort/money spent ENTIRELY for my own benefit/pleasure.
     c) Everything ends up in the trash someday.

(Much of the time, I am consciously trying to suppress a fussy, finicky, concerned with correctness part of my brain. I have a big bag of loose, dollar store crayons and will just scoop up several and THOSE are the one's I "have to use." I also have made a big, multi-colored crayon block from my crayon scraps and will use that on occasion. 

And magic markers...which are sort of "unforgiving.")

4) Nothing that I've written above is true.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

On Watching Boy Erased

Some weeks after its commercial release in November, I saw 
Boy Erased, the film based on Garrard Conley's memoir of a mercifully short brush with the ex-gay movement and "conversion therapy." Mercifully short, because Conley (whose character is given a different name in the film) manages to extricate himself partway through the two-week intake program that for some participants is the initial gateway to months if not years of more of the same.

I was glad I saw the film, but I found it incredibly painful to watch. Conley's story of the spiritual abuse he suffered at the hands of others--his pious fundamentalist parents, the repressed and constricted souls who staffed the program, the unqualified charlatan who led it (and who later himself came out in real life)--is markedly different from my own experience. But it left me feeling utterly identified with him, and viscerally wanting to rip a page out of a Bible every day, wad it up, and set it on fire as a YouTube clip, from Genesis through to the last page of Revelation.

Reenforcing my reaction to the film the following week was the New York Times' story about a gay Roman Catholic layman who brought his San Diego parish back from the brink of shutdown, and who has now resigned his position as its lay leader after a campaign of homophobic slurs from within the congregation he rescued.

I'm heartily weary of feeling an all-consuming, reactive rage around such bullshit. I'm tired of bigots hijacking a religious tradition I know from my own experience also contains life-giving treasures of all-inclusive, self-transcending love. I'm utterly exhausted by trying, as best I can, to see such people as misguided rather than as malicious, to remember that they're capable of change, no matter how oblivious they remain to the suffering they inflict. I feel like I've been on this treadmill since I embraced my queer identity over forty years ago. 

Fifteen years of nearly total alienation from Christianity didn't really fix the problem. Nor did reclaiming my Christian roots twenty years ago, on my own terms, with a healthy, skeptical detachment from many aspects of the tradition.

If I look deeply at my own experience of homophobia, both as inflicted on me over the years, and the deeply internalized shame and repression I suffered as an adolescent and young adult, I begin to get why neither walking away from Christianity, nor returning to it, has entirely freed me from the defensive rage I still feel, after all these years. 

The fact is, I don't think Christianity itself is the source of most of this crap. If it were, adherents of other religions wouldn't be so readily capable of equally bloody-minded homophobia. If religion per se were the root of the problem, atheists and agnostics would be uniformly queer-positive. Christianity offers a convenient rationalization for fears and hostiiities around sexuality, and around sexual diversity, that are disturbingly close to universal. 

But if Christianity weren't there, in this culture, to provide a powerful, transcendent rationalization, then Judaism or Islam or Vedic Hinduism or much of Buddhism would be waiting right around the corner to take up the slack. Or if it came to that, older and more reductionst strains of Freudian psychoanalysis, or classical Marxist-Leninism, could serve very nicely. Or some versions of evolutionary theory, or genetics.

It is an absolute truth that absolute truth claims suck. But absolute truth claims aren't what mature, authentic spirituality is about. Deep Christianity, like deep Buddhism, deep Judaism, deep Islam, deep Hinduism, come down to this: that the richness of our life is an unfathomable Mystery, to which the appropriate response is gratitude, wonder, and a willingness to be endlessly surprised. That the only appropriate use of sacred writings is one that finds in them an incentive to love more fully, more profoundly, more indiscriminately. Homophobia that wraps itself in the cloak of faith is just unregenerate hatred in very bad drag.

All that said--I suspect that as long as I live, there will still be days I want to crumple up a fucking Bible, page by page.

A wise man saying wise things about a very problematic book:

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Claiming Wholeness of Body and Spirit

July 10-14, 2019, take your place in a fellowship of erotically awakened, spiritually aware, open-hearted men. Together we'll celebrate the presence of the Sacred in our bodies and honor the desires that spring from the depths of our souls. We'll affirm our place in Creation amidst the natural beauty of western Maryland's rolling hills.

Awaken your body and spirit every morning with gentle movement and meditation. Speak and listen from the heart as we gather in sharing circles. Work together for an hour every afternoon caring for the forested land on which we gather. Find joy, generosity, and healing in mindful, respectfully structured erotic experiences with your fellow travellers. 

Play with abandon. Touch with wonder and delight. Practice generosity. Heal your soul. Repair the world. Come home to the deep truths of your nature.

StoneSong Nature and Awareness Center is situated outside Flintstone, Maryland, about two hours west of the District of Columbia. 

You can find everything you'll want to know about these five days of embodied freedom and inner discovery here.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Queer Men's Spirituality 101: A Five-Part Series

What is Queer Men's Spirituality? It's pretty simple. If you're reading this, you probably already believe that what happens in your body happens in your soul. Your sexuality and your spirit are an indivisible whole. It's about going deeper and claiming a bigger, freer, juicier life.

Tune up your inner life as a gay/bi/trans/queer man with this series of five 90-minute sessions, Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m., in midtown Toronto. Take stock of where you're at. Increase clarity about where you need to go. Build the personal practices that are right for you. Draw on your own inner resources for healing, liberation, and growth, in community with kindred spirits. All spiritual paths and traditions are equally welcome here.

January 27 Claiming Your Sacred Ground

Guided meditation, inventory exercises, and group conversation will help you clarify what brings you the deepest fulfilment and joy in life, and how you can invite more of it into your daily experience.

February 10 Building Your Sacred Space

Bring objects that are important to you for a "show and tell" session. Share ways to keep reminders of what really matters to you present in your everyday environment. Explore possibilities for creating and maintaining a simple home altar or shrine.

February 24 Creating Your Sacred Practices

Experiment with simple mindful routines that can help ground you in daily life. Learn more about how you can create well-designed, uncomplicated, authentic rituals for yourself that speak to your deep hopes and longings. Explore practies that can help you drop down out of your head into your heart-centered intuition.

March 10 Finding Spiritual Community

We aren't built to be happy in isolation.  Explore the potentials and challenges of creating spiritually engaged queer men's community that supports and nourishes your soul.

March 24 Cultivating Erotic Spirituality

Share a safe, supportive exploration of what it means to integrate our spiritual longings with our erotic energies and sexual experiences. (Much of this session is clothing-optional.)

As leader and facilitator of this series, I bring decades of experience as a teacher, a gift for listening from the heart, a deep knowledge of spiritual resources drawn from many world traditions, and a passionate commitment to the integrity of gay, bi, and otherwise queer men's spiritual journeys.

Men have offered these appreciations of work I've shared with them:

"David Townsend is smart, articulate, and genuine, a terrific teacher, thinker and facilitator. Warm, with a good sense of humour, accessible and engaging, he is a sweet asset to our community."-Richard, San Francisco
"David is a gifted ritual leader. He combines his exquisite and unique artistic talents with a deep reverence for nature and a rich connection to spirit."-Michael, New York City
"David has a gift for creating potent, content-rich experiences. He had us diving right in, and doing so with joy."-Paul, Boston
"David brings together the varied strengths of artist, scholar, and teacher, all permeated with a deep queer spirituality. He has the rare ability to both immerse himself fully in an experience and reflect intelligently and articulately afterwards."-Robert, Rochester, NY
"David was excellent at keeping us balanced between head and heart; he addressed intellectual questions and challenges clearly and openly, kept things moving, and brought us deeper into our bodies and souls." Lee, New York City

Register by sending me an e-mail ( I'll respond with the location of the sessions and explain how to make full payment of CN $100 for all five sessions by January 21. Pay by January 7 for a 20% discount on registration. You can also RSVP on the Meetup group Queer Men Building Spiritual Practice Together