Yesterday marked the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live. Ramadan is the month of fasting, of abstinence and self-control so that a Muslim can get closer to Allah.
While the pious were probably preparing to break their fast, as Iftar time approached, I, as a sinner of the highest order, was co-moderating a discussion called “Secular Sexual Transcendence” at San Francisco’s premier kink cafe: Wicked Grounds.
Much to my happiness (or, perhaps, the blessedness of Ramadan), I met a man just before the discussion started. He was a Bengali ex-Muslim, a proud atheist and had come to attend our discussion. He believed in religious tolerance and, like myself, was deeply saddened and equally disgusted with the rise of religious fanaticism particularly in the Indian subcontinent.
Bangladesh, like Pakistan, suffers from the poison of religious extremism. Atheist blogger, Avijit Roy’s horrific murder is classic example. I will not go into the details of this matter in this post but will hopefully talk more about it in future posts.
Anyway, getting back to the discussion at hand, we started off with a check-in question, which was very straightforward:
What does the word ‘transcendent’ mean to you?
Different people said different things but a common theme was that transcendent is something extra-ordinary, beyond our everyday, mundane experiences. Obviously, as non-believers, no one attributed the word transcendent to something ‘divine’ or ‘mystical’. In fact, a few people believed that the word transcendence does carry with it religious connotations that are hard to completely dispense.
Talking about the transcendence of sexual experiences, one of the dykes said that for her, physical boundaries with the partner seem to melt in moments of intense sex. She doesn’t know where her clit ends and where her partner’s tongue begins. She also said that there is a telepathy of sorts, a union of mental states with her partner. One of the heterosexual females found this to be a very interesting experience and said that she can never imagine such a feeling as she’s never been with a woman.
For one person, sexual experiences seem to alter the perception of time, which was a fact that some others seemed to have experienced as well. People talked about other experiences that alter one’s perception of time, such a being shot or having a terrible accident or dropping acid.
Lots of other points were discussed but my memory fails me miserably and I took no notes either. Anyway, the first part of the meeting ended around 8 o clock and we took a 10 minutes break before resuming the session again.
The question that kicked off the second half of the meetup was the following:
Given that sexual experiences have a lot in common with what people describe as religious experiences, how can we as secular, non-believers speak about these experiences without thinking about supernatural?
Extending this question more, I asked:
Is there secular language about sexual transcendence that you don’t like to use? If so, why?
This question required a bit of clarification and elaboration primarily because a few people pointed out that sexual experiences are difficult to define in words properly, so any word used to describe these experiences will be inadequate.
Greta Christina explained by saying that she hates the word spiritual with the intensity of a ‘thousand burning suns’ because it’s a vague, slippery term that the theists can well use to describe the super-natural. So, words like spiritual and mystical should best be avoided when characterizing one’s sexual experiences as secular atheists. People chipped in with more words such as holy, sacred, God and infinite that they believe should not be used to describe sexual experiences of the secular folks.
The final question of the evening was about our experiences, if any, of sharing sexual spaces and experiences with believers and the need to communicate with the theists about such experiences.
Interestingly, people of two different religious backgrounds, Christianity and Islam, spoke about how their respective partners were believers and the how difficult it has been at times to communicate with them. The Bengali ex-Muslim, in particular, said that his wife often refused to share the bed with him, just because of his atheistic views. He said the only recourse left for him is to engage in solo sex. This was indeed appalling and went on to show how religiosity can strain one’s marital relations.
Towards the end of the discussion, I also made a comment that even though it’s a tough challenge, it is our responsibility of sorts to communicate with theists. If we do not do so, then who will do it? Worst case scenario, atheists and theists would end up as being two separate species of human beings, with nothing in common.
I guess this a great challenge for non-believers. Modern skeptics and atheists are the supposed torch-bearers of reason. The onus of developing effective methodologies to counter superstition and irrationality, therefore, lies on the their shoulders. Skeptics, atheists and other such non-believers must need to address this issue in order to create a caring and tolerant world.