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Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Besides the usual things that get in the way of good sex — kids and busy lives — Victoria and I also have to worry about lesbian bed death.
Lesbian bed death is a common affliction caused by the lack of testosterone in lesbian relationships. Some people think homosexuality is the gateway drug to freaky sex. Like once you’ve tried same-sex sex, you’ll try anything and often. But for most lesbians I know, that’s not true. We’re pretty conventional. Even less sexual than straight people, probably, because when there’s no man forcing sex — no one’s forcing sex.
So as a preventive measure, I took my wife, Victoria, to a weekend retreat called Tantra and the Art of Intimate Relationship.
I’d been to a tantric yoga class years ago. I was single then and the teacher paired me up with a man who smelled like hummus. In one pose, we sat, face-to-face, with our legs crossed. If we were lovers, like many of the couples in the room, I would have sat on his lap with my legs wrapped around his waist. We were instructed to breathe: I inhaled, imagining my breath moving down into my first chakra (the crotch) and out to his. He inhaled, imagining his breath moving from his first chakra to his third eye (the forehead). Then he exhaled out from his third eye and into my eyes.
Except for the hummus, the exercise was kind of sexy. But I left feeling lonely. And since then, I’ve had this fantasy that maybe one day I would have a lover to wrap my legs around.
On the first evening of the tantric workshop, all the participants sat in a circle on cushions in the living room of Diana and Richard Daffner’s house — eight straight couples, Victoria and me. Diana and Richard sat in front of a brass plate, like a gong, lying flat on the floor. The plate had three candles, a brown feathery thing, colored stones, and a ceramic figurine of a man and a woman. The ceramic woman had her legs wrapped around the man in the position I fantasized about, which I learned was a common tantric pose called Yab-yum.
Diana started the workshop by passing around the brown feathery thing, which is actually a talking stick — a Native American ceremonial object giving the person holding the stick everyone else’s attention, like the conch in “Lord of the Flies.” We were asked to say what we expected from the weekend. Before passing the stick, each person said, “I am here.” The group said, “Ho.”
The attendees looked normal: There was a 30-something couple from New Jersey. This was the wife’s surprise to her husband for their eighth anniversary. The husband wore a New York Yankees cap. There was a couple, married 25 years, with two lawyer sons, and a Puerto Rican couple, engaged after six months. Most of the women had initiated the weekend. As the stick was passed, each man said, “Don’t know what we’re getting into.” When Victoria had the stick, she said, “Don’t know what we’re getting into. I am here.”
The group said, “Ho.”
Before signing up, I called the number on the website and asked Richard if lesbian couples were welcome. He said intimacy was the same regardless of sexual orientation. He warned me, though, that there would be talk about male genitalia. He said there’d be no nudity, except in the privacy of our hotel rooms.
The first exercises were tai-chi moves: slow, rhythmic pelvic tilts forward and back, hands out to the sides, palms facing our partners. Next we added hand movements: in front of our crotches, up to our hearts, over our heads. Then we added words to the movements: sex, heart, bindi. Sex is the term Diane and Richard use for the genital region. Later we added a little squeeze to the sex, from the inside, with each pelvic tilt. Even the men were instructed to do their Kegels. Diana said these movements were meant to help focus our attention on ourselves and on our beloved.
That night we were given a homework assignment. “Homeplay,” Diana called it. The tai chi moves, naked.
I added jazz hands.
On the second morning we were asked to sit in Yab-yum. I sat on Victoria’s lap with my legs wrapped around her waist. We were told to look deeply into each other’s eyes. Eye contact is key to intimacy. “Into me see,” Diana called it. I’d never thought of it that way. She said, “If your beloved’s eyes stray, gently ask for them back. Just say ‘eyes.’” Then she pressed play on her boombox and asked us to sing to each other when we learned the words.
“Listen, listen, listen, to my heart song. Listen, listen, listen to my heart song. I will never forget you. I will never forsake you. I will never forget you. I will never forsake you.”
I had a hard time with the song. I couldn’t look at Victoria. Every time I did, I laughed. I tried not to. No one else seemed to be laughing, and I wanted to take this seriously. I wanted to see Victoria for the woman I love. I thought about how she lets me be myself, how she doesn’t mind when I want to change seats at a restaurant, or when I talk in a movie or when I flirt with strangers. But every time Victoria said “eyes,” I laughed. I laughed so hard, I cried.
What was my problem? Why was I such a clown? I thought, maybe I haven’t had a chakra-to-chakra lover until now because I’m incapable of intimacy!
When the song ended, Diana crawled over and popped her head between us. Diana looks like a puppy. She has giant brown eyes and curly hair, cut like a Poodle. She smiled so big, I knew she’d seen people laughing before.
Before the group broke for the afternoon, Richard explained our homeplay assignment. For at least one hour, the men would honor the women, starting with a full body massage. For our benefit, Diana interrupted: “If your partnership doesn’t follow the male/female model, then you decide who will give and who will receive.”
Richard continued, “After massaging the whole body, ask for permission and then spend no less than 15 minutes massaging the yoni.”
Yoni is Sanskrit for vagina.
Richard demonstrated with his middle finger and a football-sized stuffed model, like a yoni pillow. The pillow’s labia were light pink and velvety. The vaginal entrance was hot pink and satin. He said, “Start at the top and explore all 360 degrees. Locate the sacred spot, which can be found on the front wall of the yoni, ½ inch to two inches in toward the stomach.”
Victoria leaned over and whispered, “I’m massaging you.”
In our hotel room Victoria took charge. I let her.
An hour into my massage, Victoria started speaking to me in Spanish, her native language. I didn’t understand everything, but that didn’t matter. I saw into Victoria. I saw her unencumbered by work and kids. I saw her unafraid. I saw her stripped of a language she learned mostly as an adult.
I didn’t laugh, and my eyes didn’t stray.
After break, the group reconvened. It was time to honor the giving partner with a sensations ceremony. Victoria was blindfolded, lying flat on her back. We were instructed to start slowly with physical titillations, work our way through sound, smell and finally taste. Diana and Richard laid out an impressive spread: feathers, essential oils, jingle bells and food.
I started with hot breath on Victoria’s face. Then I went right for the cookies. It was late and I was exhausted and hungry from the yoni massage. And also, I know my woman. I piled a plate with strawberries and cookies and covered them in chocolate. One strawberry for me, one for Victoria. Two cookies for me, one for Victoria. The chocolate got messy, and I was stuffing her mouth too quickly. She sat up and pulled off her blindfold and we both laughed. Hard.
The last morning was meant for homeplay. A lingam massage. Lingam is Sanskrit for penis.
The group got together midday. The talking stick went around. A man cried. A woman said the weekend saved her marriage. A man said the yoni massage made him realize how little he knew about what he wife liked or didn’t like. He didn’t even know her favorite color.
I was feeling so much love, not only for Victoria, but for everyone in the room for helping me see that we’re really all the same and for helping me see that I am capable of intimacy. I wanted to express my feelings.
The talking stick came to me. I said, “We didn’t do the lingam massage.”
The group said, “Ho.”
Andrea Askowitz is the author of the memoir My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy. She co-produces the true-stories reading series, Lip Service, www.lipservicestories.com. More Andrea Askowitz.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)
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