I found tantra when I wasn't looking for it. I wasn't seeking a philosophy, spiritual community, or sex with lots of new partners. I simply wanted to heal, to feel healthier and more connected to my sexuality, and I found myself oddly without any tools to do so despite having many other resources and a great degree of social and cultural privilege. The mention of sex, and the demand for sexiness, are ubiquitous, but genuinely useful sex education and healing practitioners who are skilled in addressing sexual wellness are few and far between.
I was in my early twenties, living in New York City and, in my whole life, I'd experienced only one orgasm. I felt really stressed out about that fact. I also, unfortunately, held a lot of self-judgment (based in ignorance of how common that actually is, since it's rarely talked about) and feared I was "broken" or that something was wrong with me. I was not in a place of especially great love and acceptance for myself, so that ambivalence extended to my attitude toward my sexual nature. I didn't want to talk about my sexual struggles with anyone I knew, fearing I'd be perceived as a failed feminist or disempowered woman (and, deep down, knowing I was neither).
I began looking online for some kind of magical sex expert who could help me. I knew I was a sexual being (I actually loved sex), and my desire was to experience more pleasure and freedom in my body and my life. All it took was a quick Google search to reveal the tantric healers and practitioners that had apparently been accessible to me all along.
The initial challenge I met after contacting them — they're called dakinis or tantrikas — was the commonly accepted idea that tantra can only be practiced between a man and a woman. The concept, of course, also relies upon a firm belief in the gender binary, in which there exist only two genders: a man (defined strictly as someone with a penis, identified male at birth) and a woman (defined strictly as someone with a vagina, identified female at birth). On this first round of exploration, each of the dakinis I contacted replied with a similar message: they admired my courage in seeking healing, but they worked exclusively with male clients and were unable to help me. They each suggested I find a male practitioner, known as a daka (which I was not interested in doing at that time).
Then, finally, there was one exception. A woman-identified dakini wrote me back and said that, while she worked primarily with men, she would be able to meet me and see if we could work together. I was anxious and unsure, but my desperation to find a solution, any solution, to healing my relationship with my body far outweighed my fear. So, I scheduled a time and visited her in her office uptown.
Upon entering her apartment, I was seated in a chair with a large, elegant bowl on the floor before me, which she then used to gently wash my feet with warm water and rose petals. She told me how "juicy" and vibrant and beautiful I was. She matter-of-factly referred to me a goddess. I saw that her desire was to have me experience the goddess in myself, and I was awed that something so simple could give me the sense of coming home to my true nature. She was a lovely, compassionate and deeply spiritual woman who treated me with great respect and honor.
She did, however, also reiterate what the other dakinis had expressed: that it would be impossible for me to experience proper movement of my kundalini (meaning life force or sexual energy) with her. I would need a tantric man for that. She explained that the activation, movement, and embrace of kundalini upon which tantric practice is based requires a masculine energy and a feminine energy. Shiva and Shakti. Yin and Yang. Man and Woman.
I didn't speak up at the time, but these statements were hurtful to me. As a woman who is predominantly attracted to other woman, only recently having come into embrace of my sexuality, I felt embarrassed to share the truth of who I was. Would she no longer be willing to work with me if she knew I was gay? Would she see me differently? I really wasn't sure. Here I was, sitting naked in front of this woman I had met just a few hours earlier, feeling vulnerable and wanting to avoid the risk of disapproval.
Not surprisingly, that one session didn't bring me the answers or breakthrough I was looking for, but I also definitely did not regret it. I found the breathwork, movement, and energy work she had begun to teach me really interesting, and my curiosity was piqued. I wanted to keep going. I heard of another well-known teacher and went to see her a few months later.
This time, I told her directly that my sexual partners were women, and that was with whom (in addition to myself) I was desiring to have greater intimacy. She shared the same teaching with me, stated as irrefutable fact: two women cannot have tantric sex together. Period. This woman is very well-known in the tantric world and perceived as a pioneer of sexual liberation, and this is what she had to tell me? I was angry and confused. How was it possible that so many who had gone against the grain by devoting their lives to sexual liberation, in spite of our misogynist and sexually repressed national culture, continued to share homophobic and ignorant teachings? It was hard to wrap my mind around it.
This last experience inspired me to stay away from tantric practice and community for a number of years following this initial discovery period.
My response to the claims above is simple. Each person and all beings on earth contain both a masculine and a feminine. Tantric philosophy itself does not dispute this. The energetic polarities are the source of our existence, and they dance within us, finding their comfort zones of our own personal balance of what is referred to as "the divine masculine" and "the divine feminine." In the context of tantra, these are Shiva and Shakti, the dual cosmic principles represented in the Hindu story of divine union. If we all contain the expression of both, why can't any two humans who spark up chemistry have hot, transcendent sex?
I would argue, and know from experience, that we queers most definitely can and do experience the healthy, vital, and natural movement of our kundalini energy during partner or solo sex to which tantric practitioners are referring. The idea that we can't is simply a myth. Yes, people are often sexually attracted to beings whose balance of feminine and masculine is somehow complementary to ours, but I also have observed that the manner in which it's complementary isn't a one-size fits all. It's specific to who we are and what we desire. We are discussing, primarily, an energetic alchemy which is not dependent on any particular body shape or parts. The notion that the truest expression of the masculine or feminine resides only within a person deemed male or female, respectively, at birth is just plain incorrect.
Gender and sexuality exist on spectrum, a very wide and deep spectrum with much room for delightful variation. By erasing the myriad manifestations of gender and sexual expression that don't fit into the binary, we are also erasing the people who identify with those expressions, people who are much more than just their sexual expression, as are all of us. (It feels important to also say here that tantra itself is about much more than sex alone. There are a multiplicity of tantric lineages, and when the term "tantra" is used in this country, especially by white people, it often has been quite far removed from its cultural and spiritual context. A topic, perhaps, for another article.)
About seven years after these initial experiences, I returned to tantric teachings to find my own home in them. While I have not yet experienced the queer tantric community of my dreams, I was blessed to find a more open-minded teacher with whom I could study, allowing me to become the holder of a lineage.
Today, I am myself a tantrika. I channel a powerful energetic frequency and spiritual wisdom that can be shared through deep presence, energy work, sound, speech, dance, and touch. The interesting thing is that much of the tantric practice I explore would not even be considered sexual by standard definition. I utilize breathwork, movement, sound healing, intention, exploration of relationship to self and other, and numerous other components that can be practiced, if desired, without even ever acting out the extremely limiting standard definitions of sexual intercourse. The practices and techniques can, of course, also be incorporated in sexual and romantic connection between beings.
My primary role as a priestess and healer is to hold space for the liberation of all beings, including myself. To connect with the ancestors and guides while calling in the future time of greater wisdom. I have been shown that the belief we can get spiritually free while ignoring systemic oppression was never viable. Closing our eyes to systemic oppression and its impact creates further cultural and personal trauma. The liberation many of us are seeking through spiritual practice and intimacy is, in part, freedom from those traumas. Healing practices and spaces that reinforce them are counterproductive. If our whole truth is not welcome, these spaces offer us, at best, a very conditional freedom.
This makes it our responsibility as carriers of these teachings and practices to look deep within ourselves and explore where we are holding bias, ignorance, or untrue beliefs. This can be done with love and gentleness. There exists deep societal, cultural, and personal wounding for many of us around sexuality, and I have chosen as part of my personal path and life's purpose to work directly with this wounding. This means that I must honor the truths and lived realities of other beings and hold space for them, even if those truths do not mirror my own experience. I must demonstrate willingness to evolve my language, practices, and beliefs should it be revealed to me they are oppressive to others in my community.
When asked the question, "What is Tantra?", many tantrikas respond, "Tantra is everything." The answer attempts to communicate that tantra embraces all. Nothing is outside of tantra because tantra does not reject any part of human experience. If that level of integration is what we wish to embody and share, it seems important to acknowledge the "everything" all around and within us, the everything that includes genuine engagement around race, gender, and sexuality.
I am honored to continue growing and connecting with others, and myself, in such a deep and transformative way. My path as a queer tantrika is my own and I share my personal experience with the hope that others feel less alone, or moved to speak your personal truth.