Please note that, while I am a therapist, my “Ask Me Anything” forums are not therapy, but are intended for your education and enjoyment.You can view this AMA on Reddit.
Please note that, while I am a therapist, my “Ask Me Anything” forums are not therapy, but are intended for your education and enjoyment.You can view this AMA on Reddit.
Remember the interview I did with Leandra Vane, the Unlaced Librarian? Remember how it ended with her letting us know that she had a book coming out? We all thought, “Damn, I bet that’ll be awesome.” Well it’s even better than that.
If any parts of who you are lie dormant, they will surely stir at the sound of Vane’s writing. Her experience living with a visible disability has made her extraordinarily clear on social lenses, narratives, and that disparity between how you feel and how you are perceived.
Her stories are relatable regardless of your experience with a disability, because she speaks to the interpersonal and intrapersonal experience of self-understanding and expression. Disability itself simply becomes a symbol of that thing in each of us that we’ve been told not to show, that thing we fear expressing, that thing we struggle to integrate into our healthy sense of self.
One of my very favorite aspects of this book is the heavy somatic component. Vane has become a master of embodiment through her journey of extreme intimacy with her body, which has at times included the experience of checking out from her body. It strikes me that, as a person with unavoidable pain, she does not avoid pain in general. This is paramount to being in your body. You will experience pain as well as pleasure and neutrality. That’s not a reason to run. As Vane demonstrates with incredible clarity and humor, it is a reason to get really, really good at knowing what your body likes.
Here are just a few of my favorite verses from her about embodiment:
“I’ve been in many places and out of body has been by far the most excruciating and unbearable.”
“…my sexuality was crucial to having a whole, finished experience in my body.”
“I learned pleasure would not abandon me.”
Other vital topics that she covers include kink, passing, porn, non-monogamy, and shit.
Enjoy Leandra Vane’s super smart and sex-positive articles, book reviews, and resources on her blog.
Buy the book here.
“He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter…. In winter the stars seem to have rekindled their fires, the moon achieves a fuller triumph, and the heavens wear a look of a more exalted simplicity.” -John Burroughs
Hello lovely readers, and happy winter! Many of you have asked why I’ve been quieter here and on social media lately, and it means a great deal to me that you wondered and reached out. As I’ve shared with a few of you, I’ve been amidst a winter rest.
Particularly because I’m a therapist, I tend to steer away from speaking heavily about my current personal process. But over the last few months, what’s been happening in my personal life has been a clear and, I hope, relatable example of a somatic process, and so I hope that you will find value in my sharing it.
I’ve finally come to understand that winter is about rest and renewal. As a hardcore sun worshiper, in the past I’ve treated winter with indifference at best- a time where you just sort of hold out for the warm weather to return. But a few years ago, I began to celebrate the holidays in a more earth-based way. This began with small things like cooking with seasonal produce more often, and putting local plants and flowers in vases around my home. I recall the latter being a fiscally-inspired decision during a spring season wherein I found myself on a major fresh flower kick. One day I decided that I may as well use the flowers outside of my front door. This started a new habit of noticing more closely than before the subtler changes in the plantlife around my home and city.
Last winter, I read something by Henry David Thoreau that landed and stayed with me: “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” I’m especially crazy for that last bit. A huge part of somatic work is about resigning yourself to and embracing the reality of the present.
I’ve realized that in the same way that our consciousness is affected by our bodies, our bodies are affected by the seasons. It sounds terribly obvious to me now, especially since I’ve been clear on other environmental influences. But only during this last autumn was I able to feel the seasonal change in my body. This, by the way, is something that us somaticists absofuckinglutely live for: clear, wise messages straight from the body. I felt my body slowing down, I noticed that I was focused more internally than externally, and on days when I didn’t need to set an alarm, I’d begun to sleep significantly longer. When I happened to read something about the ways in which plants and trees, like animals, hibernate during winter, this new awareness really fell into place. It couldn’t possibly be that plants and animals need to hibernate during winter, but that human animals do not.
So this year, I intentionally made very few plans. And that meant saying no to a lot of activities, of which there is no shortage in Los Angeles. I must have said some version of, “Perhaps next month. I’m in winter rest mode,” at least a dozen times during the month of December. It was in itself an interesting experiment with setting boundaries. And not all the boundaries were external. I have a tendency to become a knitting machine over the winter, and this year I took on fewer, less results-focused projects. Most of us think of cozy indoor activities when we think of winter and the winter holidays, but somehow that often translates to being busier and broker than ever. I simply decided not to do that this year, and while it has felt really good, it has also meant facing certain old beliefs.
Working your ass off and making as much money as possible are values pushed on us from multiple angles. Even most western therapeutic models don’t have a name for over-working. It’s culturally sanctioned. So even in the absence of criticism about taking a long winter holiday at home, I noticed that I would, on occasion, question my choice. Shouldn’t I at least offer a workshop? Or work on my book? Or at least, I don’t know, get some new pillows for the office? Once I got clear on the decision to not even look at email, the suggestions from that voice in my head got a little sneakier… Ok, so don’t work. But produce something. Maybe just throw a small holiday party? But, as one learns to do in therapy and is sometimes able to execute real-time, I was watching my internal process unfold and got wise to this sneaky voice and its overworky intentions.
So most everything that I did was internally-focused, and I believe this to be the essence of winter. Reflection, assimilation, and release. We work hard for months, putting plans and intentions into action, being creative in as many arenas of our lives as we can. Winter is for enjoying all the work we’ve done while our bodies and minds are renewed by the rest. Through reflection we can become clear on what has worked and what hasn’t. Through resting we renew our energies to begin the cycle again.
“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” -William Blake
If I hadn’t rested, I wouldn’t have heard from my readers who wondered about my absence. That was in itself a gathering of the fruits of my labor: a time to use a bit of distance to reflect on what I’d produced in the last few months, and to hear how it affected others.
Amongst the other lovely effects of this process has been a deepening of my appreciation for nighttime. And this is something I thought impossible. I am very much a night owl. It is when I have the most energy and creativity, and also when I feel the most peace and wonder. That the nights are longer during winter is not something that I was able to appreciate or enjoy back when I was tensing my body against the weather until springtime. This year, and especially on the solstice, I have been reveling in the nighttime hours. I have done far more stargazing than ever before, and have even begun to dream about space.
I’ve also begun to dream lucidly on occasion, which I also attribute to this slowed-down time of reflection. It’s given me a chance to get more intimately and intricately in touch with my internal world, which feels really, really good.
It’s still winter. If you didn’t rest over the holidays, you have many weeks left in which to do so. I’m very aware that taking time off from work is a privilege that isn’t available to everyone, and by no means is that the only way to rest or enjoy winter. For me it was only one of many ways I’ve done so this season. And while I’m back in my office, and here writing this for you now, I am continuing my winter revels. Rest can and should be integrated into each day of your life.
Find or create quiet moments, however brief. Refuse to take on anything besides the simplest and most necessary of tasks. Walk outside with your morning coffee and see what’s happening in the plantlife. Notice what you can smell. If you live somewhere quite cold, enjoy the stillness. Listen to how well sound travels through the cold, dry air. Soak up the particular magic of snow. When you walk from your car to your home, look up at the sky. What do you feel when you gaze at the moon. My own therapist said something beautiful when I told her how quickly I was able to get grounded and present one night when I walked outside to look at the stars. She said that it’s very easy for us to let the sky be the sky.
If you can work less, do so. But do not call it a luxury or indulgence. It is a bodily necessity, and it is never indulgent to take care of yourself. Slowing and letting go is necessary in order for new things to emerge. Rest is not a stagnant process. Understanding and caring for ourselves is both discovery and creation.
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” -Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
I love this little exchange. It holds such deep wisdom. I particularly love that line: “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
Our sensations, emotions, and thoughts are what make up our aliveness. It’s a lovely little trinity that brings a lot of richness when all three parts are working together. You get a whiff of something lovely (sensation), and instantly feel a little joy (emotion), because it reminds you of something pleasant from long ago (thought). Those moments are some of the best that aliveness has to offer. They’re what keep us willing to tolerate pain. What makes it tough is when the pain begins to outweigh the pleasure. Then we start to shut off, and that natural, flowing cycle instead becomes a pattern of tension.
Whether you’ve experienced trauma or the more everyday hardships, there’s some work to do to in order to awaken and turn back on. Loss or reduction of connection to your body is something to wage war against the moment you notice it occurring. Because as we turn off to sensation after experiencing too much unpleasantness, we also turn off to the good stuff. Numbness/ shutting off/ dissociation is a brilliant mechanism when it’s needed, but we often overuse it. Sometimes we turn off to just a few avenues of experience, but sometimes we chronically turn off to the body. And then we turn off to living. Worse, turning off is too often reinforced. “You’re just being sensitive.” “That’s just the way it is.” “Those are just feelings.” “Men don’t cry.” “Be rational.” That kind of thing doesn’t exactly invite us back into feeling. But your body doesn’t go away just because you’ve begun to ignore it. Your body is with you all of the time. Let yourself be with it by getting really good at knowing how.
This trinity must be supported by two very important things: safety and groundedness. You must be present and alert, and what you are present for must be adequately safe. Our natural state is to be open to experiencing things. But after we’ve had so many painful experiences that we’ve shut off, it takes active effort to open back up. And opening back up to what you feel can be very scary. Not only because heretofore unfelt sensations were only ever waiting for your gaze to fall back upon them, but because much of what one might consider “good” sensations are themselves a little unpleasant. Even anticipation, which many think of as a pleasant state, is pretty uncomfortable- a sort of pleasing agony.
So to begin, get damn good at getting grounded. Groundedness means being able to feel your body really well- the points of contact, your heart rate, your breathing, your muscle tension. When I feel grounded, I feel slower and very aware of my legs. A lot of clients have described it as light but weighted, or pleasantly anchored.
Next is being present, which comes pretty darn naturally once you’re grounded. Presence means being able to notice what’s happening around you- the scents, sounds, tastes, sights and sensations. As I’m writing, I can hear the clickity clack of the keyboard, the crickets outside, the whir of my server. I can taste the chocolate I was eating a bit ago. The laptop seems very bright to me now that I’m really paying attention, and I’m also aware of my peripheral view- the lamp and its light reflecting on the table, an orchid, my red pillows. I feel the laptop on my thighs, my fingernails tapping the keys, the table against my calves where I’m resting my legs, my chest expanding and contracting with my breath, and my stomach beginning to tingle.
You’ll notice that everything I’ve named is fairly neutral or even pleasant. This is a huge part of the safety that I named. If what I had to open up to was largely unpleasant, you’d have a hard time convincing me to stay open.
Even feeling extreme joy and happiness can be tough. When something moves me, my chest swells. I have to breathe deeply to expand- not because my chest contracted, but because I have to make room for this new powerful experience. It’s a little uncomfortable. But it’s great. I believe that this may be the sensation of growth itself. Again, not necessarily pleasant, but very alive.
Also notice that I didn’t interpret any of my sensations for you, though I was tempted to when I noticed my stomach beginning to tingle. A huge part of re-awakening to your body is not making interpretations about what you feel. Let it be simple, because it is simple. Your body will tell you your truth if you get out of its way. We get too used to our own lens, and bring in interpretations too quickly. This will be difficult. We are so adept at deciding things. But if you want to make a shift, get really curious about how you perceive things.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
It’s this reception of an experience that is key. We are constantly presented with opportunities to feel, but we don’t always take them in. Reception of an experience is a muscle to exercise repeatedly so that you can get even a short ways down the path to mastery, which I’ve come to suspect isn’t attainable (something I consider a very good problem). You need only make a little room to start, and the sensation will begin to flow in. The harder work is letting what feels good have as much of your attention as the rest. This is the chief reason to surround yourself, not with drama (which can be confused for aliveness), but with what you love and what brings you joy. You should be awakening to plenty of your favorite colors, music, art, and foods. Walk outside, and you will find plenty to feel and taste and see and hear. If your particular patch of nature is thin on beauty, there is always the sky. Author Karen Connelly writes, “When I let this body outside for a walk, it awakens.”
Again, opening back up does mean risking pain. And there are so many types of it! Physical, emotional, mental. Intentional and unintentional. Direct and indirect. And then there’s the particular pain of not knowing or of believing that you’ll never know. But even pain can bring access to the Self. Yet before one can even consider such a thing, pleasure must loom larger. But by its very nature, pleasure will not force itself upon us. It wants an explicit invitation, which means that we must have a particular object of desire. Surround yourself with the things you know you love. And be open to finding plenty more. These are often blessedly easy to spot, but terrifying to seek. Extend your openness to learning new ways of seeking. Stay reasonably open to the unknown.
Fortunately, the unknown pulls at us, even if we try to ignore it. Some of us even go searching for it, because it holds tremendous power. Venturing into the unknown we can find exactly what we need- if at first only by projecting into it. We are marvelous at projecting our unknown needs through our fears. Get curious about how you think. Know your go-to lenses. Find your blindspots, and know that there are always more. Consider your stories about what you do not yet fully understand, or what you fear. The concept of the sterile or fertile void is a particular potent thing to ponder. When you stare up into the night sky, imagining all of the black space expanding into the absolute unknown, what do you think about? What sensations are attached to those thoughts? What emotions?
We often refuse the very thing we need by denying its existence. It didn’t exist before, so why should we believe that it does now? This is why us therapists pester you with that damn question, “What would it be like if…” The intent is to make room, to open, to let in. Practice. Practice on the fun stuff. And then keep practicing.
I’ve been delighted to find, through my own practice as well as through supporting clients, that as the body is more thoroughly inhabited, it only continues to expand in ability to contain and enjoy. It is a grand hotel, which grows in size and richness with its constant stream of enthusiastic guests.
One of my very favorite descriptions of therapy is that it’s about being with a person in such a way that they can be exactly who they are. This is also a fundamental part of the feminist movement, and all equal rights movements- differences are to be honored through equal rights and equal treatment. It’s a very simple concept, but it’s difficult to put into practice when you’re dealing with unconscious beliefs and motivations. These things guide as like a trance. And it is the realm of the unconscious where change must be exacted if we are to see it on a global scale. The practice of knowing yourself well enough to understand when you’re being guided by these unconscious forces is tremendously helping for staying mindful and present. Through the observation of present behavior, we are able to understand what the past meant to us.
When it comes to feminism, understanding the past occurs on a very grand scale. We must look at the thousands of years of cultural perspectives on gender to understand history and what led us to this point. This is why good education is paramount. It’s why it drives us feminists crazy that history lessons have such a heavily heteronormative, cisnormative and masculine bent. Worse, we too often fail to educate our children about how beliefs systems shape behavior and social constructions. Because it’s not just having information that exacts change.
This shows up in the therapeutic process all the time, and it’s why one can fairly quickly exhaust the benefits of the talk therapy modality. Insight does not always exact change. It gives us the why, but not the how. It is in the mastering of mindfulness and presence through much practice that we are able to really get our needs met. Only with this skill can we effect larger scale changes.
Institutional sexism (or any -ism) is a macro scale version of this unconscious process. The continue inequality of pay, for instance. is less of a malicious phenomenon than an unconscious one. For many historical cultural reasons, women are still often seen as inferior. So when it comes time to decide where a woman ought to fall on a pay scale range compared to a male counterpart. it’s the underlying beliefs that play the role that ends in bias. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock capture this beautifully with their comedic genius in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt when Carol Kane’s character Lillian says, “Ah change the channel; I can’t get the news from a woman.” This strikes us as absurd, because it is! As a viewer, you can feel that this isn’t something she’s though through. It’s unintentional. It’s unconscious. It’s a spot on example of internalized sexism.
Internalized oppression is when a person has negative beliefs about oneself which result from the experience of oppression. This can pop up all over the place, because it’s inadvertent. And this is where we must explore ourselves and encourage others to do the same. Because activism, as with therapy, is impossible if we focus on patching up all the symptoms of the problem. If Lillian is to change this belief about a woman’s ability to provide the news, it will be necessary for her to explore her beliefs about the female gender. If we over-focus on the news issue, her beliefs will pop up somewhere else, perhaps even somewhere very similar. But through a therapeutic process she would be able to look at her own personal history to understand the influences leading to this belief, to process when she’s been a victim of it herself, and to be mindful of when and how she’s unnecessarily limited herself and others through the behavior resulting from this belief.
Institutional -isms are macrocosms of internalized -isms.
The skills one learns through psychotherapy can then be extended to others. Fostering the process of therapy as a society would cause a whole lotta healing on both the personal and, eventually, the societal level. I’m lucky enough to live in a city where most people welcome a reference to therapy. I can say, “I’ve been exploring that with my therapist,” and get an, “Oh, that’s great,” instead of a, “What do you need therapy for?” I love when people say to me, “I don’t need therapy, but…” because no matter how they finish their sentence, I get to say, “Actually, it sounds like you’d really like therapy!” Those sorts of negative reactions are indicative of underlying negative beliefs about therapy. And lemme tell ya, negative beliefs about therapy are misunderstandings of what it actually is. Negative experiences as a client certainly happen, but that doesn’t mean that all of therapy is painful or unhelpful. We can change these misconceptions by inspiring others through self-disclosure, normalizing, and through demonstrating what we’ve learned. The more people who are skillful at understanding, accepting, and expressing themselves will mean way less baloney interactions, personal and macro scale.
Mental health is a social contagion. Just look at powerhouse of openness and insight Amy Poehler. Her message “good for her, not for me,” encourages people to disengage from comparing and making assumptions, and it is a fabulous example of this. This one simple sentence demonstrates self-knowledge as well as openness to and acceptance of others’ differences. This is what comes from the therapy process. You learn how to reach understanding, so you can practice with yourself as well as with others. Engaging in the work of psychotherapy is a revolutionary act.
Big ol’ shout outs to the likes of HeForShe, Jade Rivera, Jenipher Lyn, and SmartGirls for engaging in this kind of micro-level activism. I triple dog dare you to watch one of Poehler’s Ask Amy videos and not feel better about yourself, others, and the future of our world.
Originally posted on www.neurocosmopolitanism.com on 2 May 2015 by my amazing friend and colleague, Nick Walker. Nick is an Autistic educator, author, speaker, transdisciplinary scholar, and martial arts master, and has been at the forefront of the neurodiversity awareness movement for many years. It’s my pleasure to present his latest work.
“The term neuroqueer was coined independently and more or less simultaneously by Elizabeth J. (Ibby) Grace, Michael Scott Monje Jr., and myself. Having coined it, all three of us managed to spend a few years not getting around to using it in any published work, even though the set of concepts and practices represented by the term came to heavily inform our thinking. I almost used Neuroqueer as the title for my blog, but decided to go with the title Neurocosmopolitanism instead. Michael almost used Neuroqueer as the title for a novel, but decided to go with the title Defiant instead.
It wasn’t until Michael mentioned this last fact, in an online conversation in which he and Ibby and I were all involved, that we discovered that all three of us had been playing around with the same term. Happily, though we were all approaching it from different angles, our various interpretations of neuroqueer (or neuroqueerness, or neuroqueering) were in no way incompatible. In the same conversation, we learned that another friend and colleague of ours, Melanie Yergeau, while she hadn’t yet stumbled upon the word neuroqueer, had been thinking along quite similar and compatible lines in playing with the concept of neurological queerness; Melanie’s contributions have been extensive enough that even if she didn’t come up with the actual word, I consider her – along with Ibby, Michael, and myself – to be one of originators of the concept of neuroqueer (or neuroqueerness, or neuroqueering).
All four of us – Ibby, Michael, Melanie, and I – emerged from that conversation freshly inspired to begin introducing the term, and the set of concepts and practices it describes, into our public work and into our communities and the broader culture. Since then, we’ve been following through on that intention in various exciting ways. Ibby, Michael, and I, along with Bridget Allen and Corbett O’Toole, founded the independent publishing house Autonomous Press, to publish books in which neuroqueerness of one sort or another tends to play a prominent role (starting in 2016, Autonomous Press will also have an imprint called NeuroQueer Books). Ibby founded the NeuroQueer blog, with Michael and Dani Alexis Ryskamp and I later joining as co-editors. Melanie is working on a book that I can’t tell you about yet, but it’s going to be extraordinary and most definitely relevant. We’ve all started talking about neuroqueerness and neuroqueering in our academic conference presentations and public speaking engagements. Ibby and I are now co-editing the NeuroQueer Handbook, which will be published by Autonomous Press in 2016.
Meanwhile, the term is catching on in various circles and communities, taking on a life of its own, as terms and concepts tend to do when the time is right for them. It’s showing up in academic papers and conference presentations, creative projects, Facebook communities, blogs and Tumblr accounts and all manner of social media platforms. It’s been adopted by a whole lot of people I don’t know – and when a new term/concept spreads beyond the social circles of its originators, that’s generally a sign that it’s “got legs,” as they say. In other words, it’s a term that you’re likely to be hearing a lot more of in the years to come.
(The day before I wrote this piece, I was at California Institute of Integral Studies for the first meeting of a course I teach called Critical Perspectives on Autism and Neurodiversity. I was introducing my students to basic neurodiversity-related terminology like neurotypical and neurodivergent, when a young undergraduate excitedly asked me, “Have you heard of the term neuroqueer?”)
I’ve already seen a lot of interpretations of neuroqueer and attempts at definition from folks who’ve adopted the term. Some of those interpretations miss the point, sometimes in ways that are truly facepalm-worthy. Other interpretations are more on-point but overly narrow, such that Ibby, Michael, Melanie, and I look at them and say, “Yeah, that’s part of what we were getting at… but only part of it…”
So what were we getting at? What is neuroqueer (or neuroqueerness, or neuroqueering)?
I should first of all acknowledge that any effort to establish an “authoritative” definition of neuroqueer is in some sense inherently doomed and ridiculous, simply because the sort of people who identify as neuroqueer and engage in neuroqueering tend to be the sort of people who delight in subverting definitions, concepts, and anything “authoritative.”
That said, the definition that follows is as close to an “authoritative” definition of neuroqueer (and neuroqueerness, and neuroqueering) as is ever likely to exist. I wrote it with the input and approval of the other three originators of the concept. So it’s the one definition out there that all four of the originators of neuroqueer have agreed is not only accurate, but also inclusive of all of the various practices and ways-of-being that any of the four of us ever intended neuroqueer to encompass.
Neuroqueer is both a verb and an adjective. As a verb, it refers to a broad range of interrelated practices. As an adjective it describes things that are associated with those practices or that result from those practices: neuroqueer theory, neuroqueer perspectives, neuroqueer narratives, neuroqueer literature, neuroqueer art, neuroqueer culture, neuroqueer community. And as an adjective, neuroqueer can also serve as a label of social identity, just like such labels as queer, gay, lesbian, straight, black, white, hapa, Deaf, or Autistic (to name just a small sampling).
A neuroqueer individual is an individual whose identity has in some way been shaped by their engagement in practices of neuroqueering. Or, to put it more concisely (but perhaps more confusingly): you’re neuroqueer if you neuroqueer.
So what does it mean to neuroqueer, as a verb? What are the various practices that fall within the definition of neuroqueering?
So there you have it, from the people who brought you the term. This definition is, again, not an authoritative “last word” on the subject, because that would be a silly thing to attempt. Rather, I hope this will be taken as a “first word” – a broad “working definition” from which further theory, practice, and play will proceed.
Reposted with permission from Nick Walker. Source: http://neurocosmopolitanism.com/neuroqueer-an-introduction/
I had the pleasure of being interviewed by one of my favorite sexual wellness companies, Peekay Inc., whose line of female-centric boutique shops are all about sex-positivity, education, and fun. Together we’d like to share with you about the beautiful world of sex therapy.
Originally published as “The Life of a Sex Therapist: Heather Brewer” by LoversPackage.com on 3 April 2015.
“We met Heather Brewer at the Sexual Health Expo in L.A. this January. She stopped by our A Touch of Romance booth, where we talked briefly about her work. With a focus on listening to our bodies, she is a great resource for sex and gender exploration.
Heather Brewer is a registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern; Therapist internships can be likened to a doctor’s residency status. After seven years of face-to-face client work, Heather is close to completing her required 3,000 internship hours. She works under the supervision of Mindy Fox, a Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Monica, California. As for her education and training, she attended the somatic psychotherapy program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.
Without further ado, here’s our in-depth interview with Heather Brewer.
“Sex therapist” is a bit of an umbrella term for slightly different types of healers who make sexuality a central focus of their psychotherapy practice. While sex is the topic of exploration, the modalities differ amongst us. I work somatically, which means that I have extensive knowledge of the body, and that I use it as a diagnostic tool as well as a vehicle for healing. Because the body speaks very clearly, what goes on for a person in their sexual life is both an excellent source of information about how they move through the world, as well as a wonderful place for growth and healing to occur. What I do in session depends on the wants and needs of my clients, but it always includes tracking of sensations and gestures.
My specialization in sex and gender definitely sets me apart from many other therapists. Sometimes this is simply due to my knowledge base, but clients often seek me out for my willingness to explore these realms without judgment. Sex can be so evocative that people sometimes won’t engage in a process with it, or fail to see it as symbolic of a larger dynamic.
Most sex therapists are very familiar with the inner workings of the body, especially the nervous system, but not all of us work somatically. For instance, let’s say a couple comes to me because neither one of the partners is adept at initiating sex. This dynamic will inevitably play out in our sessions (they might both experience discomfort with starting to talk when the session begins, etc.), and they will be gently and safely guided through becoming conscious of it, and practicing better ways of relating. Somatic work is really effective and long-lasting, because it’s systemic. You can’t hide from sensation.
Also, I often quote Seinfeld or refer to Star Wars for analogies. And actually, that brings an important point to mind. I’m very big on being myself in the room. It’s the relationship between therapist and client that is the most important in therapy, so it matters that my clients and I like each other. Therefore, I have to show some of myself and my emotions. So our particular ways of being will inherently differ from each other.
Beautiful, intense, and complex. These are the things that come up for me the most often both in my own explorations, and in my work with my clients. I think they kind of speak for themselves, and they’re necessarily subjective anyway. It’s such a vast landscape.
I truly cannot imagine anyone not being able to benefit from exploring their sexuality, because everyone has one. It is simply part of our being. And it is my belief that all therapists ought to be comfortable making this a part of their practice, and I hope that “sex therapist” will eventually be a redundant term. But perhaps this is a good time to clarify that sex therapists don’t always or only focus on sexuality. There are many realms I explore with my clients. Letting people know that I’m a sex therapist is more of way of saying, “We can talk about that, too,” because it’s not yet a given. That said, sometimes a person isn’t yet ready to talk about sex directly, or they desire to focus on it too narrowly. But as long as a person is willing to invest themselves, there is always a way to do therapy that’s right for them.
I find that I have slightly different answers for this each time I’m asked, so there are probably a great many reasons. But what often comes to mind is this conversation I had in high school with some of my friends. I can never remember how it started, but the topic of masturbation was being skirted around, and I decided to just disclose that I did indeed masturbate. Each of our reactions was this fascinating mix of astonishment, relief, and excitement. I also had a really potent desire to discuss it more. And to get other people to discuss it. The desire to do so had obviously been getting squelched for all of us, and it was so easy to just name it and get things rolling. I guess that sums up a lot: it’s really important to most people, yet most people don’t talk about it. I really wanted that to change, and it’s been an honor be on that crusade since.
I guess I’d just like to add that the point of this work is to uncover who you already are, and to maintain an environment that nourishes you. That can look so many different ways, and I really want people to understand that. Find the people, places, art, books, music, and explorations that feed you. In some ways it’s a very simple path.”
Interview conducted by Aleesha Alston. Aleesha and I share a passion for sexual education and healing, and Peekay is lucky to have her! Check out the company’s own killer mission and browse their website for all kinds of sexy time resources.
Making sexuality a part of your clinical work is absolutely essential. Let’s start by looking at why this is so.
Sexuality is where the body and psychology come together without trying. Our sexual dynamics in partner sex, as well as in masturbation, are a stripped-down version of our m.o. The body speaks in clear and simple terms. What happens when someone is using her body so directly for experience and communication is the clearest possible message about what it’s like for her to relate to herself and to others. It is for this very reason that the sexual self is a primary interest in a client’s self-exploration in therapy. But do not expect your clients to be the one to broach the subject. More importantly, do not confuse a client’s reticence with a lack of desire, or even a lack of willingness, to explore their sexual life.
When I was 17, I was at a pool party with my friends and I brought up the topic of masturbation. I was aware that it was taboo, but when it came up organically in a discussion, it suddenly seemed silly to me to hold back from commenting. So I didn’t. And the response was pretty intense! Everyone there exclaimed some version of surprise, relief and excitement about the unfolding conversation. “You do that, too? Oh my god! I thought I was the only one!” I was happy and relieved that bringing it up went well, and amused at how little it took to get the discussing going. I was also a little angry. Why had we been so secretive? Something needed to change. For me this moment solidified my understanding of the need for an invitation.
Sexuality is sacred, but that does not mean it has to be secretive. We tend to like to keep it private, but secretive can breed misunderstanding and shame. Sexuality is a thing to be explored and understood and wondered at. And we could all use a little help with exploration of such a powerful force. Many clients simply don’t realize that it’s ok to talk about sex. Follow their pace, but let them know that it’s a welcome and important topic.
If you’d like to make this part of your practice, here’s how to successfully navigate this territory, especially if you feel hesitant:
1. Know your own sexual self. This is no different than the ongoing work of being a therapist: You must know yourself well, and know how to continue to do so, before you can assist others.
2. Know your facts and/or where to find them. Learn all of the basic facts you can, and develop go-to resources for yourself as well as your clients. As with any topic that arises in the room, be mindful of your blindspots, and be sure that your self-education includes the following:
While being informed is important, do not be held back by the feeling of not knowing enough facts. Your training and experience as a therapist will guide you here, as it would with any other topic that arises in the room. As always, it is ideal for you to be a little ahead of the game, but your willingness to engage in the exploration is often enough for you to be of service to the client. This does not apply to trauma awareness.
3. Cultivate a matter-of-fact tone. One of the main qualities shared by my favorite sexologists is that they all speak matter-of-factly. Sex is a big deal, but it also just isn’t that big of a deal. You will help to normalize the discussion by speaking about it with confidence and directness. I strongly encourage you to practice speaking aloud about sex. You will encounter any stuck places very quickly! Penis! Cunt! Fucking! Dildos! This leads me to my next point.
4. Have a sense of humor. Be willing to laugh. This also helps with normalization, and it can bring a little relief into the room. As is often the case with laughter in therapy, there may be a need for you to clarify what you’re laughing at and why. It is very important not to perpetuate any shame for your client, which is rampant when it comes to sex. But laughter can be healing when it comes to shame. And sex is just funny sometimes! Sometimes your cat watches you, sometimes you run out of lube at an inopportune time, sometimes the body makes funny noises, and sometimes things just get a little awkward. Your client will benefit enormously from being able to laugh about sex. Show them how.
When you feel ready, make sure that clients and prospective clients know that sexual exploration is part of your skill set. Check that box for “sexual issues” on those therapist search engines. And make use of me! I offer one on one coaching for psychotherapists, as well as case consultation.
When I first met these guys, I was instantly struck by their magnetism. They were cheerful, handsome, and they both make great eye contact- a trifecta of appeal. I felt at once welcome in their presence, and energized to be on my game, for these two beckon to really see you. They are on a select list of people to whom I reacted with, “ohmygod I wanna be friends with you.”
As we became friends, I thought for a while that they might be a couple. When I realized that they weren’t, I was blown away in a thoroughly delightful way. If their epic level of closeness wasn’t due to romance, this meant that I had before me an astounding example of healthy male friendship. These guys adore each other, and they aren’t afraid to show it.
Because of them, I hold the capabilities of all friendships to a much higher standard. And believe me when I say that I always thought deep intimacy was possible between male friends. I’d just never really seen it until I met Jordan Huxley and Nick Westbrook.
Nearly all of my male clients, regardless of orientation, have expressed to me a desire to have more fulfilling friendships with other men. Often what is sited as the barrier is all the other men. Way too many of them believe that they are practically alone in wanting this. And the insistence of their female therapist that this isn’t the case makes only so big a dent in this belief. So Nick and Jordan graciously agreed to shed some light on how and why they have gotten so close, and how the other menfolk can do the same.
So tell us about how you met. What did you each think of the other?
Jordan: This is a story we love to tell, mainly because it seems so iconic that we’re the best of friends and initially didn’t like each other. I was going to school in New York and living in a dorm in Brooklyn. I liked to hang out by the side of the building, chatting with friends, sometimes playing music. I had made a lot of friends that way, simply being around and meeting new people. A mutual friend of ours, whom Nick had grown up with, introduced him to me one day, when I was outside playing a little music. The way he likes to tell it, I was this hip socialite, completely surrounded by adoring friends, but for me, it was more akin to enjoying a crowd. He, on the other hand, looked like the epitome of cool. A spitting image of James Dean you might say, with his collar popped up and a cigarette and earrings and this look on his face like he didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. So again, we both thought that the other person thought they were hot shit, but it turns out that we were both just attracted to the energy of the other person.
Nick: Haha! We love telling this story. The last time we told it we were a little tipsy—maybe a lot tipsy— and we acted it out with an exaggerated performance of when we first met. The extra drama of us telling the story together is that we both have completely different perspectives on it. I thought Jordan was too cool for school and it made me anxious, and he felt the same way about me… It was a fall afternoon at the Brooklyn dorms for the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts (or something like that), where Jordan was going to school. A former friend of mine from Georgia had just started there, too, and he was showing me around the neighborhood. My first impression of Jordan was of seeing him sitting up against the exterior wall of the dorms with a half circle of college students around him, and I swear I’m not exaggerating here, the dude was basically glowing. He was pretty clearly the center of attention, and he was pretty clearly settled into the role. He was smiling and he seemed very charming and confident, two things that I tried to embody, myself, but when I saw them in other people I could easily distrust or feel threatened by — at least in those days. I was only twenty. Anyway, I thought he looked like a really cool guy and in my young silly way I immediately took that to mean that he was probably a stuck up jerk, like the other popular guys I’d met during my one, mostly unpleasant semester in college. Sometime that day or that week I heard he was screening one of my favorite movies, Jaws, on a… ahem… projector in his dorm room for his … ahem… many adoring friends. What a jerk! Of course, I just saw him as an alternate reality version of myself… the one who had prospered in college and even ended up with a projector and a bunch of friends… and I guess I just couldn’t deal with it! Honestly, I’ve never even realized that much about it until now. We usually stop the story short with “I thought he was too cool! I thought he was too, cool, too!” and then fast forward to the important part… the fateful second meeting. I’ll just put that part below, since it goes with the next question.
When did it become clear to you that your friendship was on an epic level of awesomeness?
J: I would have to say that it was clear to me that our friendship was something genuinely special and interesting when we had our first legendary Tuesday. We had already been hanging out for some time, since we had decided to write a screenplay together. But as we got to know each other and our enthusiasm began to grow mutually, we could tell that we were going somewhere. And one day, a Tuesday, Nick invited me out to a place called Fabulous Fannys. It’s a vintage and antique eye and headwear boutique and I was immediately enamored. I love classic style, and he knew. There was a classic fedora he had his eye on, a brown Stetson, and he looked at me and told me that we needed to get matching ones. It was expensive, one of the more expensive articles of clothing I’ve ever bought, but I knew that it was worth it. Sometimes you gotta take the leap. We walked out with our new hats and new confidence. It called for a special occasion, so we caught a 2-for-1 martini happy hour and proceeded to laugh and talk about everything. The city faded into the background and I felt very much at home. But what was more amazing was that the people passing by kept commenting on our hats and how great we looked! Even a cabbie rolled down his window to let us know how stylish we were! It seemed like the world was proverbially our oyster. I just had never really felt so adult, and confident, and at home with a single other person like I did that day.
N: Like, immediately. Not even kidding. It was in the air. The stars and planets were aligned. We knew we had stumbled into something grand and life changing. We had seen each other a couple of times after that first meeting and gotten along fine, but following a falling out with our mutual friend at Jordan’s school, I stopped coming around and we didn’t see each other for a year or so. Then, one fateful fall evening, when I had little to do but put on my long coat and walk around rolling cigarettes and hoping to look cool, I took the train over to Brooklyn heights for a nostalgic kick and went in for a drink at the Pub where all the underage kids from the dorms used to drink every night. The bartender might remember me, at least. I didn’t really expect to see anyone I knew, and I especially didn’t hope to run into my former friend from Georgia, but I was surprisingly, pleasantly, surprised (read it again, it works!) to see Jordan sitting at a booth in the back. Something about his energy that night just put me in a great mood, and this was the first time we realized how contagious and exponentially self-perpetuating our energies could be together, because we started drinking together with his other friends and we were telling stories and talking about movies and more or less hanging on each other’s every word. And we had a couple whiskeys and went for a couple smokes and by the end of the night we were out there by ourselves and I felt compelled to go out on a mighty limb, but I wasn’t scared and I know it wasn’t the whiskey that gave me the courage, it was something deeper and more substantial.
Our beliefs are such a guiding force in how we live our lives. What did you learn growing up about male friendship?
J: I think initially, from school at least, I learned how male friendship is very much about the things you are both interested in. And discussing, debating, and detailing the differences in your opinions about those things. I observed as well, that many other male friendships were very rough, kind of braggartly, a lot about showing the other one up. I never felt comfortable with that, and I knew that there was a fundamental part missing. As a consequence, I had maybe two or three good male friends, but lots of female friends. My female friends seemed to want to talk about more things, like emotions for instance, that my male friends never seemed to want to get into. In my family I also felt a kind of resistance to discussing any feelings that weren’t in the norm. A kind of unflappable personality was recommended. But I knew there had to be someone with whom you can discuss and share all these things. It just seemed as if close male friendships were innately hostile and unforgiving.
N: Everything I feel about male friendship starts with my dad. He and my mom divorced when I was too young to remember much, so all of my early memories of he and I are of a very close, affectionate, and exclusive dynamic. We would spend time with my grandparents and aunts and uncles and his friends, too, but many of my most vivid and favorite memories are of us by ourselves in this house in north Georgia, out in a very rural part of the county, where we lived on five acres of forest and field. There was about six months where my mom was living in South Carolina and she was also recovering from a bad wreck so it was just me and dad at home, and he was single then, too. We did everything together, and everything we did was fun and intimate— we built campfires in the woods several nights a week, we went on long night rides on his Harley Davidson, we took the ford bronco four-wheeling off roads, through creeks and large pools of mud, we took a vacation to Florida in the mustang with the top down, we went to biker bars and went across state lines for fireworks. He treated me like we were best friends and father and son at the same time. And that’s what we were. My grandmother died when I was only five, after which I spent a lot of time with grandfather at his house, and it would be just the two of us while my dad was at work. So I was spending a lot of quality time with the two most important male figures in my life and they both made me feel that way, like a great companion. I slept in my grandfather’s bed with him after my grandmother passed, and we were never lonely. I remember my mom’s third husband being really strict and telling me to call him sir. I got in the habit of it and the first time I called my dad “sir” he looked at me like I’d said a bad word! He knelt down to me and he said, “You don’t have to call me, sir. We’re friends. Buddies don’t call each other “sir”.” I look back and I think it’s miraculous, now, because he had a very bad relationship with his dad, but he was going to break the chain at all costs. He was going to make sure that we had a great relationship, one of mutual respect and trust and love. And he never forgot to be stern when he needed to be, and I wanted to be good because I loved him so much, instead of because I was scared of making him mad. Sorry, I’m getting a lot out, here. But I know that having the concepts of friendship and close love between men fused together… of being each other’s world entire, even if briefly… is what eventually allowed me to recognize and believe in the potential of my friendship with Jordan. It’s hard enough to embrace something and not be scared about it… but the next step, the one I think that’s the hardest to find, is to go past that and just know it. Jordan and I have always just known that we were destined to be friends indefinitely, and to try to do great things together. I’m lucky that I got to know that kind of certain love at such an early age.
Are you breaking any of these “rules?”
J: Absolutely. I’ve learned through being friends with Nick that although it’s okay to keep a confident positive air, you need to be willing to discuss what’s actually going on with you. The more you keep under the surface, the more you bottle it up, the more it will express itself negatively. I also know now that it’s okay to be inquisitive about how someone is feeling. And that you need someone to talk to about the deeper questions of your existence. And that aggression and hostility are never the correct answer to any frustrations you may have. And that the more you cut under the bravado, the more you know yourself and your friends.
N: No, I don’t think so. Jordan and I are pretty much operating at what I see as the full potential of friendship, at least with this number of years under our belt.
What is it like for you when people mistake you for a couple? How often does it happen? How do you react to them?
J: Oh I don’t care if people mistake us for a couple. It happens occasionally, to be sure, but I for one, am flattered that we are close enough that people either think we are a couple or, more often, brothers. It doesn’t occur to them that people can be as close as we are without being one of the two. I also genuinely love surprising people and breaking down their expectations. When people find that their assumptions are wrong, that is usually a positive thing, in whatever small way.
N: It doesn’t bother us at all. We sort of welcome it in a very self aware and comical way. It might be hard to believe but I think it makes us proud. Again, that’s possible because we have the confidence of absolute knowledge. We don’t think we’re great friends. We know it. When you know something completely it doesn’t matter what anyone else perceives, and I think it’s the nature of our combined spirit to not only not let it bother us, but to let it be something fun and a source of pride for us. If people can see us interacting and only assume that we’re something different than incredibly close friends, then that makes me feel like our friendship is progressive. I don’t know if I’d say it’s cynical to dismiss it as rare or not normal, but I’d say that’s selling it short, and it’s selling all friendship short! To say that ours is weird is selling short the potential that’s actually there that no one’s thinking about or choosing to see. Does that make sense? I guess that’s why I see it as progressive instead, because I like to believe that in the future more friendships could be like ours. For now, it just makes me proud!
Have you ever been discouraged from being so close or showing each other so much affection?
J: Yeah, but really only out of the jealousy of others. I won’t get specific, but there has been a time or two when another person grew resentful or jealous of our closeness and tried to cause dissent between us. It didn’t work, to say the least.
N: Um… Not really directly. We’ve encountered negative reactions to it, but those always seem to be projections of insecurities that arise from within people outside looking in at us. No one’s ever tried to discourage us in a direct way, like telling us we’re being impertinent or making people uncomfortable. But people have felt jealous of our friendship before and we’ve seen it bum people out. We’ve also seen people view it as an unfair advantage in social situations, like where a group discussion is happening, because we tend to agree on most things, not all things, by any means, but most things. And so we can each present an opinion in a group with the confidence of knowing that we won’t be left to fend for ourselves if there’s opposition. That’s great for us, and it comes from a place of love and support but sometimes, you know, people are again threatened by it. It doesn’t happen often though.
What are your fights like? How do you resolve disagreements?
J: I would say, of the few fights we’ve had, the root was a genuine misunderstanding (aren’t almost all fights?). Situations arise where one of us might think we knew what the other felt about something, only to be surprised by the answer. And as soon as you can take a step back and realize that the other person, whom you know so well and hold dear, isn’t purposefully trying to make you feel bad, then you can talk about why you felt a certain way and make peace.
N: Our fights are always very sudden, very intense and emotional, and resolved relatively quickly. If we are fighting the reason is almost always that one or both of us is compromised by something external or internal, but separate from our dynamic. Sometimes it is too much whiskey. Sometimes it is tequila. Sometimes we are stressed, and we take on extra guilt from not being able to immediately make the other one feel better, and that guilt becomes more stress, and that leads to tension. So when that happens it’s still stemming from the seed of love and support, but we’re both human and we need to feel our emotions in our own way. And sometimes we can cheer each other up and sometimes we need to work through our stuff but this expectation to cheer each other up is still hanging in the room and it deflates and feels awkward and heavy and that can be a sort of tension. Sometimes a tension builds up because one or both of us isn’t willing or ready to talk about what is going on inside. Like a pebble in your shoe, something tiny can become something very upsetting. Sometimes I am not being honest with myself about how I’m really feeling and I’ll have myself convinced that i’m feeling great and then Jordan sees me and I know he knows I’m not alright and part of me resents him for breaking down my illusion. But he just knows me that well. That goes both ways sometimes and it’s very hard to be in that situation. In that situation, someone asks you if you’re alright and it sounds like an accusation when it’s really not. But we both have the tell tale response that shows we’re hiding something and usually we talk it out and feel better. We always talk things out after we’ve gotten mad at each other in a very sweet and constructive way, because we both really want to rush back to that feeling of harmony and oneness. Now that i think about it, it’s really when I’m not feeling harmonious with my inner self that i start to feel the disconnect with the people around me, even Jordan. It’s like I have to go through the thing I’m feeling with myself with him too in order to reset everything and work on feeling better. He helps me in ways he doesn’t even know, I swear.
What was one of your favorite moments together?
J: Wow, I have no idea where to start. Okay, actually I’d have to say that the most memorable and amazing experiences I’ve ever had at any time, was a road trip we took from his home in Georgia to my home in Idaho and then down here to LA. It was a long journey, but it proved to me not only the kind of deep friends we are, but that life can be simply amazing. The simplicity of how we lived on the trip and the vastness of the land we were traveling across gave me a glowing feeling inside that I still yearn for again. And I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to feel that way again, in the same way as I did on that road trip. But there’s been so many! I’m just gonna name off a whole bunch: When we used to sit in his car and record our late-night drinking conversations; when we go up north to the hot springs and talk about life; when we ran an under-ground restaurant out of our apartment; when we used to sit in his apartment stairwell eating pizza and reading each other our original writings; the epic Tuesdays.
N: Man, that is tough. There was that famous Tuesday in New York… but thinking of where we’ve been at these last couple years, the moment I’m thinking of was one night when we decided to drive up state for the night, just to get out of the city for a day and a half, and we did a few wine tastings in Solvang and got a good little buzz on, then we had a cocktail at a little Chinese restaurant and met some nice people- maybe they thought we were a couple now that I think about it, who knows- but we had to make it to this spa hotel by 11pm so we get an outdoor mineral spring jacuzzi tub and a bottle of wine (we actually called it our “gay-cation, so I guess we’re okay with it!). anyway, driving north up the windy road from Solvang with a buzz on and rushing toward our jacuzzi we started talking about how good it felt to get out of town together and to be free to just be ourselves and just be our pure, complete selves, like we only are when we’re together, and we got so excited about how good it was and how lucky we are that we just started shouting things in the car. It was cathartic and funny at the same time and it felt amazing to just have someone i knew and cared about that much just shouting in a car with me about how good life felt at that moment. My throat was sore the next day but it was worth it. And we had a nice time in the jacuzzi. We smoked a joint in the car and wandered around the grounds and gardens waxing existential about space and history and aliens and creatures and everything else.
A lot of hetero men tend to make their romantic partner their sole source of emotional support. Does your friendship change when one or both of you are coupled?
J: We certainly have less time to spend together. But not much changes in way of our relationship, simply that when we do see each other, we have more to talk about and feel the need to make that time count a little bit more. And frankly, I don’t feel as if I can have complete 100% emotional support if Nick isn’t there. It’s about balance; I don’t think one person should be your entire support structure.
N: No, as a matter of fact I think if anything it’s changed for the better, because when we’re in relationships we appreciate the others support more than ever. And we get more distance and sometimes that’s a good thing, because we’re prone to missing each other and that’s very lucky when you live and work with someone, isn’t it?
I’d call you both very comfortable with expressing emotions. Will you speak to the topic of crying?
J: Well, crying is damn good for you every once and a while. Obviously, because of societal norms, we both felt self-conscious about the fact that, say, if we went to see a powerful movie and it effected us, we would cry. But I think that freedom, and seeing that we both loved self-expression and storytelling to such a degree that we could allow ourselves to fully feel those emotions, made us closer friends anyway. And if you are friends with someone long enough, eventually you will go through a rough time, and it feels good to let it out. If you don’t feel that support, or feel judged, then something is being held back.
N: Sure, Jordan and I have cried around each other several times. I can’t count how many, but each has been treated as a something significant, and yet not out of place. We always treat it as something natural and easy but we also don’t gloss over it or ignore it. We’re completely comfortable crying around each other. Jordan was my main source of support when my dad passed away, and he saw me cry many times during that period.
A lot of close friends don’t do so well living together. What has that been like for you? How do you manage it?
J: It’s been great! I honestly cant see myself living with someone else in the immediate future. With anyone, there’s a learning curve when you live with them as to what their routines are, what they like to keep clean, how to manage your personal space and public spaces. It just happens that we have a lot of the same aesthetic so we both agree on how the spaces should be utilized. As long as you communicate, and in a way that is meant to be productive, then things usually go swimmingly. And now we’ve lived together, all told, for 5 years.
N: It has literally been a dream come true. I mean we used to day dream and talk about it all the time in New York, where we got to live together only very briefly and under haphazard circumstances, really. But here we’ve really got what we always wanted. A space that feels like home and has so many great memories of having fun and being productive. We’ve had the occasional point of contention regarding basic room mate stuff, but it’s very rare. We have a very hard time doing our own thing when we’re both home. We always end up just doing whatever we’re doing together. It’s funny because at this very moment we are both at home and we are both in our own space doing our own thing, but we’re both doing the same thing because we’re both answering these questions. So even though this separateness seems like a rare exception, it isn’t because we’re still sort of doing it together. Anyway, we don’t get that tension from interrupting the other persons mojo or vibe, because we’re always wanting to do things together. We also have different work schedules which seems to work out in at least that aspect, we can rely on having the space to ourselves sometimes.
You do so many projects together. Your short videos, for instance, destroy me- they are so endearing. What makes it possible to work together?
J: Our minds are very much in the same places most of the time. We’ve talked so much about what interests us, what influenced us as kids, and what our artistic temperaments are like, that it’s very easy for us to talk on a topic or an idea and immediately see what the other person is talking about and where they’re coming from. But we don’t back down from each other’s critiques either. We don’t always agree artistically, but thats how you learn and get better. We are both sensitive to each other’s emotions, especially when working on a project, so sometimes, especially when it comes to me, I can get hyper-sensitive about something, but as long as we talk through it, it always gets resolved. And sometimes that means walking away from the idea for a while and then coming back at it with fresh ideas.
N: It doesn’t even seem possible. It seems absolutely inevitable. That’s just our dynamic— it’s very spontaneously creative. When we’re together we’re always on the verge of creating a little fantasy or a little story based on whatever’s nearest, like what’s on tv or what we’re talking about. We like building stories together and our brains sync up very easily so as soon as one of us has an idea the other is already building on it or going with it. There’s rarely the anticipation of waiting to see if the other person likes the idea. One of has an idea and immediately it’s our idea and we’re trying to rock it as best we can. If that freedom comes from anything in particular it is probably the lack of judgment between us. We can come up things so freely because there is absolutely no fear of judgment.
Do you ever get sick of each other?
J: Nope! I feel like there is always something that can be shared or talked about. Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t also crave time to myself. I need a sense of solitude once in a while, but that hasn’t anything to do with Nick. I’d just as much rather go do something fun with him if the opportunity arises.
N: We’ve gotten a little cabin fever before. And like i said before, we let tension get the best of us sometimes, but no i don’t think it would be accurate to say that we ever get sick of each other. We can drive each other a little bonkers sometimes, but that’s not the same as feeling like we are sick of each other. I’m not being satirical when I say this: I can’t imagine ever feeling like I’ve gotten too much Jordan. Maybe I need time to myself sometimes but we’ve never been in that place where we don’t want to be together and in a good mood.
What do you recommend for other men who want to have deeper intimacy in their male friendships? How do you suggest that men like you find each other?
J: I would have to say that you need find someone whom you can relate to. Similar interests, upbringings, aesthetics. Then you need to be able to open up to them and trust them. And get yourselves into situations where you have to rely on each other. And then talk about everything. No holds barred. Even then, sometimes it can be difficult to become close friends. But if you both want that kind of friendship, I can’t imagine why it couldn’t work. Just remember that you are both probably meant for great things, especially if you work together.
N: I think the first thing would be to remove negative reinforcement. It’s okay for friends to jeer at each other in a playful way if you both really know where you stand, and that you stand in a place of love and support, but the biggest hurdle I see is men being very judgmental towards each other, probably because they’re afraid of being judged, and it all gets hidden and poorly disguised as humor. But in my experience the best humor is the good humor that comes when you’re comfortable and feeling safe. I think men being too hard on each other and not being honest with each other about how they feel is part of a different kind of self-perpetuating cycle — where guys are preemptively judgmental or defensive because they really don’t want to be judged or maybe they have been and they didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. I think you really have to just do the thing from the old PSA— be the kid who makes saying no to drugs cool. You know how that kid makes saying no cool? He owns it. He’s not scared. He’s confident and that really is cool. I want guys to start talking about how they feel like it’s not even a big deal… It can be simple, it can be colloquial… just “man, we are awesome friends. cheers to that,” other guys start doing it, one day it’s totally cool to just talk about how you feel. And when you feel safe being honest maybe you start feeling safe in who you really are… and then maybe sarcasm starts to take a hike. I would really love that. I think sarcasm is really damaging when it’s not in a safe place, and I think it’s really great and really important to have that safe place be as rock solid and indefinite as a friendship.
Where can we cyberstalk you?
N: Well, all of our fun videos together are on our Vine and Instagram accounts. I’m on Vine as Nick Westbrook and Instagram as Jabbathemuttonchops; Jordan is on both Vine and Instagram as Huxglyph. I also have a website with my poetry at Tinythingsforyou.com, an. a channel on YouTube called Honey Butter Culinaire, which is a cooking show I shoot at home.
Because I was so moved by this interview and because answering my questions left Nick and Jordan with even more to say, we did a second interview together. So keep an eye out for my follow-up article, which will include further discussion of the implications of this epic friendship as well as tips for how to really get cracking on creating this for yourself.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” -Rumi
If you want to learn how to better yourself in order to be healthy for your next relationship, you may find that you’re more likely to learn while you’re in a relationship. In order to truly master something, you must embody it through practice.
When someone says that they need to be single for a while, I get curious about what that means for them. It’s often said right after a break-up, especially by the serially monogamous. And I very often hear it spoken in tandem with the existence of a budding relationship. So let’s dive a little deeper into this.
Our society is pretty big on dating. “You’re young!” “Live a little!” “If I were in my 20′s again….!” “You have to find out what you like!” Dating is a really important way to learn about yourself and others. And it’s fun! And awful! It’s the best! And it’s definitely the worst! I love when a client comes in after a first date. There is so darn much to explore, and it’s really fertile ground for insight into beliefs about oneself and others. First dates are also a killer place to practice somatic techniques, because you need ‘em in those nerve-wracking first moments!
What our society pushes on you less frequently is exploring where you may be blocked when it comes to intimacy. Can we please make the following into catchphrases?: “You should explore that!” “Try journaling!” “What role do you think you play in that dynamic?” “Bring that up in therapy!” “What is your intuition about this?” The messages we get the most often ought to be about enriching your life through self-exploration and learning how to get the closeness and connection that we desire. Shopping around for what you like can be a tough battle without understanding your needs and their motivations.
Knowing yourself comes via many different roads. For some, it is far easier to travel new paths with another person alongside them. While I absolutely advocate for learning to do things alone, I believe that that can be done within a relationship, and I also believe that you have to honor your natural tendencies. Some people do better when they’re partnered. If you’re trying to be single, but find yourself quickly falling in love with someone new, then I’m talking to you, chum.
Often the challenge is not being alone, but in bringing your whole self into any relationship.
When we fall in love with someone, we have all kinds of glorious ideas about the relationship to come. Some of those things turn out to be reality, and some of them do not. A lot of couples break up when one or both parties discover that it won’t be exactly as they fantasized. This makes it really important to understand what you like and why you like it, as well as to uncover what prevents you from expressing your full self.
So how the hell do you do that?!
The short answer is that you have to keep yourself conscious of your process as you move through it. The best way to do that is to work with a therapist with whom you jive. You can also read some of the kick-ass relationship books that are out there (a few of my favorites are listed below), and revisit them each time you are struggling with a new part. The counsel of a person in a relationship you admire can also be tremendously powerful. But I really encourage you to be in therapy. It rocks.
The therapy room is a fabulous place to explore both how you got here, and how to move past your stuck place. We get to explore what you’ve learned about relationships, and how those lessons are helping or hindering you. And we also get to explore the therapeutic relationship as a microcosm of what happens in your life outside of therapy. This is one of the primary ways that therapy is successful in exacting change: when we encounter those stuck places in our therapeutic relationship, the process is made conscious and you get to practice how to do something different. And then you get to go apply what you’ve learned in your current or future relationships!
Loving someone completely means letting your heart swing on a trapeze with theirs. It’s absolutely terrifying, especially the first time. But the more you do it, the more comfortable you will feel- the more aware you will become of each minute shift in your movement. After a while, you won’t think about it anymore. And then occasionally, you’ll grab a bit of awareness and think, “My god, what am I doing?!” But then you’ll feel your hands gripped by theirs and you’ll realize that you’re safe. The likelihood that it will go well again increases. But it wouldn’t have had the chance to if you hadn’t risked it in the first place.
Everyone deserves a crazy awesome relationship, and that includes you.