Why is gay tantra so taboo? It’s time to call an end to the dogma of patriarchy and traditional gender roles, says Lisa Luxx…
Here we are at a mountain top tantric yoga retreat on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. The love of all my lives is trembling in zen beside me. Class is about to adjourn after our first day and it’s been enlightening; a breath of fresh mountain air into the depth of my ‘yoni’ after a year of undiagnosed vulva pain and gender delusions.
Then the goddess leading the workshop goes and says something that brings the screeching banshee of psychosexual trauma right back. “Your homework is to think about having sex with the opposite sex.” A fellow dyke raises her hand and asks, “Why has it got to be the opposite sex?” The goddess, unmoving, diverts her eye line from the gays and announces stoically, “Because tantra is for man and woman.”
Oh. I wonder why no one ever told me that before. I’d e-mailed the school ahead to tell them, “My girlfriend and I would like to do the practical tantra retreat,” and they opened their pockets wide for us to dispense our money. But they never said, “Tantra is for man and woman.”
On our walk home my girlfriend expresses how uncomfortable she is to have been given these instructions, I argue that it’s probably okay, trying to diffuse the upset. And start to think about having sex with men. It plays out like a Kung Fu fight in my head until some element gets thrown through the stain glass windows of my eyes and I see in front of me that it’s way too 2016 for this kind of disheartening heteronormativity.
It seems, this super straight approach to tantra comes from the misled belief that Shiva and Shakti literally represent man and woman. However, I got mulling this over with my friend Stephanie (who’s written a book called Sex Drive on liberating her orgasm) and she introduced me to the cult icon Barbara Carrellas who wrote the first ever book on queer tantra: Urban Tantra.
“Shiva and Shakti, in Hindu tantric philosophy, are actually huge entities representing consciousness (Shiva) and energy (Shakti). When Shakti and Shiva had sexual intercourse it gave birth to the world. How this got confused with vagina and penis, I do not know,” Barbara explains on the phone to me, after I’ve returned to England.
Back at Hridaya in Mexico, Antoaneta’s teaching became more cracked and twisted as we went on. By the second day she had termed, and continued to refer to, the clit as the “little penis.” An offensive that landed like the shells of warfare in the trenches of my creed.
I’ve toured spoken word performances that educate women on the facts that may empower their clit and one facet of this is that the clit is not small; it can extend up to 9 inches within us. The clits of many straight women will be bigger than their partner’s dick.
The course leader – who began the retreat glowing in light and by now had morphed into this disheveled, haggered devil of a being – proceeded to laugh off lesbian sex as something that only happens in yoni therapy, not a real manifestation of love on this earth. We walked out. My girlfriend cried all the way back to our cabana.
The next day we bumped into another lady from the course who was quite distressed. She told us she too was gay and what we’d missed in the final day was a ceremony whereby many unknown men had entered the space. Men who had not been on the course but who were marched in to save any woman having to pair up with another woman during the sensual massage.
This lady we spoke to, who we’ll call Kirsty, had left in floods of tears, “I feel stupid because I don’t know why I came back to tantra. I thought it was worth giving another chance but discrimination is all I’ve ever experienced at tantra schools.”
When I spoke to my queer friends about my experiences in Mexico, they had all nodded solemnly and said, “Yeah, homophobia is a real problem in mainstream tantra.” And, that was the key lesson for me to learn; there is a mainstream tantra, which doesn’t have the social awareness that some of us expect.
For anyone who has ever experienced ‘energy genitals’ they’ll know that the line between owning a dick and a pussy can be smudged. I’ve had a dick before. Insomuch as I’ve felt the erection rise from my pelvis and enter my girlfriend, and she’s felt it inside her. I wouldn’t have had the linguistics to explain this before speaking to Barbara, who coined the term ‘energy genitals’.
“There is a position called Yab Yum where the person on the bottom could have a physical possession of a vagina and the person on top could have a physical penis. But the person with the vagina experiences a penis. Once they start rocking and holding eye contact the man feels he’s being penetrated by the woman.”
This is a genderless phenomenon. And for someone who exists in the grey area between genders and doesn’t always feel wholly assigned to the physical sexual design given unto me, tantra appealed because it focuses on energy rather than physicality. And tantra does exist as beautifully open as that. Barbara Carrellas runs her own courses which allows for magic to happen off-script.
For example, “One guy came to a women’s class because he couldn’t make it to another. So he was doing the breathing technique for women and he was flying just as far and as fast as any women in the room. To which I realised, there’s a lot to this I don’t understand and I think I’m being fed a lot of myths and lies.”
The Radical Faeries, once a gay male counter-culture network in the US is now opening up to all gender and sexual identities. Within their discourse is tantric teachings. The network has now spread globally too.
When one embarks upon a tantra course they lay themselves open and become ultra vulnerable, any teacher who is insensitive or who makes you feel invisible can emboss serious damage within you.
It’s important to find a workshop leader that is emotionally equipped to the complexities of sexual identity. When humans come together and open themselves up in a small space it’s bound to get messy and as my friend Jessie says “you just have to hope for a great facilitator”.
Jessie is part of women’s only tantric program called Shakti Tantra which she tells me is a great place to heal. But the divide should not be a must for us to feel safe. For any tantric workshop to serve its purpose it needs to be free of patriarchal dogmas. That doesn’t mean being free of men.
Ask lots of questions before you book your space on a course: will I get split up from my partner, will I have to be paired up with anyone I don’t want to, will I have to reveal details about my sexual past, and so on. If you don’t get the answers you’re looking for then keep searching for the right tantra course. There are retreats friendly to all persuasions, genders and sexualities (including polyamorous types).
Tantra began as a deliberately transgressive art form. It was the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll of its day. It was a political movement. So take these homogenous tantra fundamentalists with a pinch of salt and reclaim the art form. As Barbara says: If you want to practise the semen retention that’s fine but, don’t tell the rest of us that’s the only way to do it!