Lay Sermons: Essays and Chapters on Modern American Sexuality

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L A Y   S E R M O N S:


Essays and Chapters on Modern American Sexuality


By William A. Henkin, Ph.D.


copyright (c) 2009 by William A. Henkin




I'm no longer quite sure what the question is, but I do know that the answer is Yes.

-- Leonard Bernstein, 1973 Norton lecture, "The Unanswered Question"


In 19th century America, “lay sermons” were formal religious talks about moral and spiritual subjects, generally written by lay people who, for one reason or another, were so disturbed about how some issue had become secularized that they took up their pens in passion.


The essays and chapters that follow, concerned with late 20th and early 21st century American sexuality at what are generally supposed to be the margins of our civilization, are lay sermons fired by my troubled awareness of our society’s increasing piety. They were composed over the course of 20 years, but their salient themes are consistent and offer a coherent view of sexual America that just exactly straddles the millennial divide.


I write as a psychotherapist and a sex therapist. One important aspect of the work I do is that two people are equals in an ongoing conversation focused on the interests and concerns of only one. In that context it is not what I “do” that matters most, or what “techniques” I bring to our partnership, or what “homework” I propose, or what “school” I belong to, although these are all important aspects of my art. But what matters most in the consulting room is that I be fully present, here and now, with You.


The situation with reader and writer is similar but not identical: we are two equals in an ongoing conversation, but focused now on interests and concerns we share. As author of these sermons I took a sacred pleasure from the challenging tasks of composition; I pray that you may take as much from the no less challenging task of reading.




San Francisco, January 2009






Am I a Sexual Minority?


I seek to reclaim the word “straight” as others have reclaimed words like “queer,” including in my eager embrace my participation in the leather, gender, and bisexual paracultures. This essay was originally prepared as a contribution to a panel discussion presented at Sexual Diversity, the Western Regional Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex [now “Sexuality”], 1 May 1992, in Palo Alto, CA. In 1999 it was published as part of a special issue of Growing Pains, the newsletter of the Society of Janus, devoted to my writing.



A Walk with Love and Death


A brief meditation on mortality, occasioned by the death of one leather activist. This essay, solicited by the editors, appeared in Prometheus, No. 31, May, 1999.



Pagan Faerie Piercing Rituals: An Editorial on Body Play


How I came to get pierced the first time. Fakir Musafar invited my contribution to his magazine Body Play and Modern Primitives Quarterly, and first published this essay under my faerie name by-line of Princess Cruise in that magazine’s Vol. 2, No. 3, 1993. It was reprinted in Spiritual Transformation through BDSM, edited by Sensuous Sadie, published in 2006 by Ephemera Bound Publishing.



Body Modification for Its Own Good Reasons


S.F. was a graduate student in social work who solicited research subjects for her doctoral dissertation by writing to Piercing Fans International Quarterly, the magazine published in the early 1990s by the pioneering piercing master Jim Ward of Gauntlet Studios. Because the attitudes S.F. expressed in her solicitation seemed to associate piercing with bulimia and self-inflicted violence, I.K., then General Manager of Gauntlet, felt S.F. did not understand the practice of piercing the way he and other devotées of body modification did. Consequently, he wrote to several psychotherapists who were familiar with piercing, asking for our responses. He published those responses and one by PFIQ columnist Bear, along with S.F.’s letter, in PFIQ #41, 1993. This was my response.



The Passing Revolution


This essay about coming out and passing in the world transgendered persons inhabit was written at the request of Dallas Denny, then editor of Transgender Tapestry, as a response to articles on passing by Holly Boswell and Jessica Xavier. It first appeared in Transgender Tapestry, #96, Winter, 2001.



The Myth of Sexual Addiction


I did not read Patrick Carnes’s book Out of the Shadows until Layne Winklebleck, then editor of Spectator, asked me to write about it, but I was unable to contain my remarks to a simple book review. This essay appeared originally in Spectator, in 1989; it was subsequently reprinted in the Journal of Gender Studies and elsewhere, and I used it as part of a reply to a question in “Ask the Therapist,” my advice column published in Growing Pains, newsletter of the Society of Janus.



Terms of Art


In 1997 San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics celebrated their 30th anniversary with a conference called Caring for the Community. At that conference I presented the first version of this essay concerning psychotherapy with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered – and heterosexual – clients. I presented the final version as part of a panel discussion, “Out of the Closet and Onto the Couch: Clinical Practice with Sexual Minorities,” at Unstudied, Understudied, and Underserved Sexual Communities, the Western Regional Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, 8 May 2005, San Francisco, CA.. This paper was originally published in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 8, May 24, 2005,



Erotic Power Play (with Sybil Holiday, CCHT)


This explanation of what we used to call “SM” or “leathersex,” developed originally for an audience of psychotherapists, physicians, sex therapists, and sex educators, is a revised version of a paper presented at the 31st Annual Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex [now Sexuality], Friday 11 November 1988, at the Cathedral Hill Hotel, San Francisco, California. With some emendations for a leather-oriented audience it was published serially in Sandmutopia Guardian, issues 9 & 10, winter 1991 and spring 1992. In the intervening decades the entire world of radical sexuality has changed, and contemporary BDSM players may view our topic very differently than we could have imagined when Ronald Reagan was still president. But observations and reflections about how things were become increasingly important to any subculture as its real history slips, inevitably, away. Though Sybil and I prepared both the presentation and the original essay jointly, we spoke in tandem in the former. For this revision I retained the tandem format, but in the absence of visual clues I identified us with our initials at the beginning of each section.



BDSM and Bisexuality


There are relationships between these two ways of being sexual. This essay was originally solicited by Beth Firestein for her textbook Becoming Visible: Counseling Bisexuals Across the Lifespan, New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.



Coming Out Trans


As the subtitles say, this essay presents “Questions of Identity for Therapists Working with Transgendered Individuals,” or it is about “Trans Identity from the Queer Perspective.” This paper was originally delivered as a presentation at the In the Family conference, San Francisco, CA, June 2001. At that time I was a member of the Ethics Committee of the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (now the World Professional Association for Transgender Health), past-president of the San Francisco Chapter of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, a member of the International Foundation for Gender Education, FTM International, and TGSF (Transgender San Francisco), and had been, since 1989, a participant in Bay Area Gender Associates (BAGA), the longest-running therapists’ peer consultation group in the world devoted exclusively to transgender identity issues.



Multiple Personality Order


MPO is an alternate paradigm for understanding cross‑gender – and other – experience, based on ordinary forms of dissociation we all encounter. I presented this essay in its original form at the First International Congress on Cross‑Dressing, Gender, and Sex, in Northridge, CA, February, 1995, and again at the National Convention of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, San Francisco, CA, November, 1995. A slightly earlier version of the paper was published as “Multiple Personality Order: A Response to Trauma and the Development of the Cross‑Gender Experience,” in Gender Blending, edited by Bonnie Bullough, Ph.D., Vern Bullough, Ph.D., and James Elias, Ph.D.; Buffalo (1997): Prometheus Books. An edited version of the paper I presented was published as “Multiple Personality Order: An Alternate Paradigm for Understanding Cross‑Gender Behavior” in New Concepts in Cross‑Gender Identity: An Interdisciplinary Approach, edited by Dallas Denny; Philadelphia (1997): Garland Publishers.



Infantilism: Clinical Diagnosis and Practical Explication


Infantilism is among the most abjured and least understood of sexual fetishes, even when it is neither sexual nor a fetish. This essay was first published by CliniScope as Clinical Monograph #4, for the American Academy of Clinical Sexologists, 1997.



It’s Never Too Late to Have a Happy Childhood (with Sybil Holiday, CCHT)


Whereas the previous essay was written specifically for clinicians, this article was composed for the alternate, or radical, sex community. An earlier version appeared originally in Sandmutopia Guardian #s 16 & 17, Summer and Fall, 1994.



Katherine’s Beach


Not every erotic moment is sexual. An abbreviated version of this essay appeared in the Full Circle section of Parabola: Myth, Tradition, and the Search for Meaning, Summer, 2001, called “Light.”



A Union of Love


An experience of ecstasy based in erotics reflects sex as a technique of meditation and a path toward enlightenment that has a long history in transcendental philosophies. This paper was originally presented at a Plenary session of the Western Regional Conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, 13 June 1998, Honolulu, HI. A somewhat revised version was published in The Sandmutopian Guardian: A Journal of BDSM Realities, Issue #36, 2000.



Off the Beaten Track


The Pain Game, produced and directed by Cléo Dubois, is simply the best SM education video I’ve ever seen. In this essay-review, which appeared originally in Spectator and was later reprinted in Libido, I explain why.



Some Beneficial Aspects of Exploring Personas and Role Play in the BDSM Context


A great deal of BDSM is based in or fueled by role-playing fantasies, and that can be a very good thing. An earlier version of this essay was the basis for a presentation at a conference of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), San Francisco, California, 4 Feb 2006. In that presentation I was joined by Sybil Holiday, CCHT, who did not participate in writing this paper but who contributed substantially to its development, and whose remarks form part of its narrative. In an abbreviated form the essay appeared in Safe, Sane, and Consensual: Contemporary Perspectives on Sadomasochism, edited by Darren Langdridge and Meg Barker, published in 2007 in England and New York by Palgrave MacMillan.



An Interview with William Henkin, by Sensuous Sadie


How did your gentle author get to be what he became, at least in the world of alternate sexualities? This interview was commissioned by Sensuous Sadie for her book Spiritual Transformation through BDSM, Fargo, ND: Ephemera Bound Publishing, 2006, Several paragraphs are taken with only slight emendation from my essay, “Body Modification for Its Own Good Reasons: A Letter to PFIQ.”



Entropic of Cancer


What could I do as a highly sexualized man whose personal and professional lives were centered on sexuality, when the only hopeful treatment for a potentially fatal disease took my sexuality from me?



                        1.         The Mother and Child Reunion


This first of two essays was originally solicited from my alter ego, James Williams, by the late Nicholas Harnack, aka Alexander Renault, for a book he was compiling. To James’s observation that he was bi, not gay, Nick replied that for James he’d make an exception. James responded with this piece, written literally from bed, on his back, while he and I recovered from radical surgery. It was first published in 2004, in Renault’s anthology Walking Higher: Gay Men Write About the Deaths of Their Mothers.



                        2.         Remembrance


A brush with death can indeed be a life-changing event, but what happens that makes it important for the life to change is easily forgotten or neglected in the subsequent hurly-burly of actually being alive.



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