Del Tashlin is presenting “The Body Spiritual: Sacred Sex Basics for Educators, Sexuality Professionals, and More”. Check out Del’s bio here.
1. How do you see yourself as a catalyst for change?
As a priest and shaman dedicated to Gods of Productive Destruction, change mostly follows me around like Pig Pen’s cloud of dirt. “Harbinger of Change” is one of my sacred titles, in fact. But all that woo-woo stuff aside, I make myself available to many, spiritual and not, who feel stuck in life and need something to jar them from their daily rut and remember why they do what they do…or remember that it’s time to mix things up to keep life interesting and fulfilling.
On a more personal note, I am always looking for the small changes spaces and events can make in order to be just a little more comfortable for people. Whether it turns out to be unisex bathrooms or wheelchair accessibility or even just inclusive language or imagery in their advertising, I push through the cautious hesitation that change causes in most, and hold hands until the change proves to be the good thing I always believed it could be.
Another thing that helps me bring positive and/or needed change is that I still daydream. When was the last time you took an untimed stretch and just let your mind imagine? Or even just dump all the little ideas and reminders and other things that get crowded out between podcasts, streaming media, commuting, ebooks, television, mp3 players, etc? So many of my meditation students complain their brains won’t shut up, but that’s because we rarely take the time to listen! Even five minutes of intentional breathing a day can reawaken your child-like ability to see things that need your personal , powerful touch.
2. Who or what was a catalyst for you?
Admitting I was sick. That happened twice, actually. The first time was when I found myself in a psychiatric facility because my untreated and much-denied mental illness had overrun my life. I found myself stripped of all of my facades and underneath that, a much different and more powerfully focused person had been waiting all along to come forth. It took me a very long time to bring that person forward, and in some ways I will always be engaged in that act.
The second time was when a doctor made it clear to me that I was chronically (physically) ill and that it was very likely never to “get better”. I had been forced onto an incredibly unhealthy diet that caused a great deal of malnutrition; and the deprivation of necessary minerals and vitamins caused irreversible nerve, metabolic, muscular, and neurological damage. (And before you ask, yes, this was prescribed and overseen by a doctor who thought weight loss was more important than general health.) I grieved the loss of the functional body that I had when I entered into this chrysalis; and then I built a new existence that celebrates the body I have today, and appreciates what I can accomplish today but never takes tomorrow for granted.
There have been a great deal of Guides, alive and not, human and not, aware and not, who stood steadfast with me while I rebuilt myself over and over again. Some names you might recognize include my “Elder Sibling” Kate Bornstein, Transsexual Emperor Raven Kaldera, fellow wheelie Nancy Mairs, queerly disabled Eli Clare, gentlebutch author S. Bear Bergman, and fellow needle-shaman Wintersong Tashlin. I haven’t met all of them (and when I met Bear I totally embarrassed myself!), but they were all incredibly influential in times when I needed solace and inspiration.
My mother, Bette Laughlin, passed away in December of 2013. She was one of the most inspirational and spiritually engaged people I have ever or will ever know. I am in her forever debt for the way she encouraged me simply by living her life the way she did. She really motivated me from an early age to build my life on a spiritual foundation, and to use that to undertake social justice issues that needed that kind of strength. She also suffered from a chronic illness, and gave me an infinite amount of knowledge and support when I had to change the way I moved in the world – including in the bedroom.
3. What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges or concerns facing us in the field of sexuality right now?
Everybody has sex, and that’s okay.
It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But it has been my experience, many times over, that it is not as simple as it may seem. Because “everyone” inevitably includes some sect of the human race whose sexual practices bothers the hell out of you. Think I’m being hyperbolic? I’ve worked for developmentally disabled adults who show awareness of the meaning and consequences of sexual activity in gaining the simple right of touching another consenting adult’s genitals. Standing up for couples who chose not to engage in any sexual activity before marriage when they ask for information and are teased or ridiculed for not knowing it at their age. Encouraging virgins over the age of 25 to stick to their beliefs, rather than give in because it feels hopeless. Advocating for a child’s right to factual information about sex and procreation without using cooing nicknames or confusing them with the mating habits of other species; including listening to them nonjudgementally when they share their sexual experiences with me. Or asking “forward thinking” sex publications to include physically different bodies in their work without their difference being the “point” of the inclusion. Just, a sexy amputee posing here, a rounded body caressed there, a non-binarily gendered hole getting reamed over there. No big hunter-orange arrows or magenta headlines blaring “Even Fat Guys Like Blow Jobs, See?”
4. What do you feel are some of the most important/valuable positive changes that have been made in the world of sexuality in the past year?
I am excited that trans* and queer identified people of leather are finding and creating spaces that meet their needs as well as challenge and educate cisgender and traditionally gay/lesbian leather communities to be more inclusive. The incredible show of support when an international leather contest tried to ban trans* contestants and was blasted with criticism and shame for it lead to the contest owners quickly changing their minds in a matter of weeks.
There have been some quality coverage in mainstream media about how the problematic depiction “50 Shades of Gray” gives of BDSM should not be used either as a handbook to power dynamics, nor should people who aren’t involved in kink judge those who are by the standards in a piece of fanfiction. There is a legitimate place for fantasy-based erotica that goes places real world relationships and bodies cannot, as long as it is clear that what is being described is a “fantasy”, and not representative of lived reality.
Lastly, I have been seeing a steady growth of sex and/or kink spaces actively welcoming and creating space for those who may want to explore the intersection of kink and spirituality. It’s not a new concept, but it has gone from being mostly a niche subject to equal ubiquitousness with Flogging 101 at regional and national events. I have also witnessed a much wider range of workshops and rituals that stretch beyond a focus on catharsis and ordeal, and include newer topics like spiritual celibacy, sexual energy or orgasm as a devotional offering, and sexual congress with Deity. This new horizon goes far beyond eastern practices like Tantra, and speaks to a wide range of religious/spiritual traditions including the Abrahamic faiths, British-inspired dualistic witchcraft, modern shamanism, and reconstructionist polytheisms. It really is an exciting time for exploring sacred sexuality in ways that speak personally to seekers, allowing them to visualize this kind of practice without having to change their frame of reference for the Divine (or lack thereof).
5. Why do you feel it is important to bring this topic “The Body Spiritual: Sacred Sex Basics for Educators, Sexuality Professionals, and More” to CatalystCon East?
I mean it when I say in the description of the session that I am networking with a wide range of sexuality professionals who are being asked about sacred sexuality. From couples’ counselors whose clients wish to explore sex magic together, to professional dominants who are asked to represent a specific God or Goddess in a session, to kink educators being asked how the skillsets they teach can be applied in a spiritual manner, I get no end of fascinating emails and phone calls looking for my input. As a Pagan priest, I have had to learn a wide variety of different religious practices, because contrary to popular belief the word “Pagan” is an umbrella-like classification rather than describing a single theology. Pagans can, in turn, believe there is no God at all, or that God is in nature, that there is a force we call “God” that takes on masks or archetypes so we can better understand it, that the Gods from one specific pantheon (such as the Greek, Egyptian, Canaanite, African, or Irish) are the only “real” Gods, or that every God that has ever been recorded by man (and some who may not have been) are all separate and unique entities worthy of respect and worship.
What that all means is that my role as a Pagan priest who writes and speaks about sacred sex and kink has lead me to study not one, but myriad world religions and how they view the body, gender, sex and sexuality, sexual orientation, and all kinds of sexual practices. And in my work as a shaman, I must seamlessly make mental leaps between contrary worldviews in the course of a single day. I’ve been doing this work for almost 20 years now, and there are some foundational ideologies that can assist newcomers (and even old timers) understand the hows and whys of combining the sexual and the sacred. I’m eager to not only share what I know, but to hear from other attendees how they may integrate their spiritual and sexual lives as well!
6. Share one unknown (or little known) fact about yourself.
There’s very little about me that’s truly secret, but I bet a lot of people who know me would still be surprised to learn that when I was a young child, I was a model and an actor. Tons of Sears catalogs, a cough syrup ad, and I was even in a few national television ads (do you remember Dolly Pops? Or Holly Hobby?) I’d even made it through several callbacks for the lead role in the Broadway production of Annie. (I was called to audition because of the red hair, but in the end they cast a brunette in a wig instead! How dare they!) I did go back to theater in my late teens/early 20’s, and toured with productions of “The Wiz”, “Godspell”, “Les Miserables”, and “The Secret Garden”. I have only recently started singing again after a long hiatus, and fantasize about putting together a leather barbershop quartet!