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Monday, February 27, 2012

The Sweet Spot: Dykes, Divination, and Devotion

Posted By on Mon, Feb 27, 2012 at 9:30 AM


She has "tomboy" tattooed on her knee in a delicious shade of bubblegum pink. The tattoo rests along side all the scars still evident from her days as a scrapper. These days, Brynn Gelbard is still challenging the forces that be, but now she does it through a queer activist website, writing, and shamanism.


Say the word "shaman" and many people will conjure up a gaunt, gray-haired indigenous figure with wild eyes, greasy clothes, and the blood of some sacrificial animal on his/her gnarled hands.

click to enlarge Siberian Shaman
  • Siberian Shaman

Shamanism is loosely defined as a belief that shamans act as messengers between the human world and the spirit worlds. Shamans are said to treat ailments, illness and trauma by mending the soul. It's a venerated and still active tradition in many cultures, but in a new twist, right here in San Francisco, a movement of shamanism has helped to heal the disconnection, trauma, and confusion experienced by many LGBT people.

"Almost five years ago," says Brynn, " I had this horrible summer starting with the death of my grandmother, my nana, with whom I was really close -- she herself was a big tomboy. I didn't realize it then but I was carrying a lot of shame for being gay. I felt and acted out on the notion that I'd disappointed my family and that society was disgusted by me. I was barely writing, which has always been my creative outlet. Luckily, I had a partner who loved me unconditionally and friends who never failed to remind me of my dreams and talents. My friend Dara, recognizing that I was at rock bottom, bought me a session with her Reiki/shamanism practitioner, the marvelous Margaretta Von Recklinghausen. My life was never the same after that."

click to enlarge Brynn Gelbard
  • Brynn Gelbard

Since that time, Brynn has come to know a circle of people who regularly use shamanism as part of their exploration. I asked her why they are drawn to this particular form of understanding.

"There's so much shame around sex due in large part to religion. But then there are these ancient alchemies and movements that remind us of the power of sex to expand consciousness, access source energy, and experience enlightenment. I'm a huge proponent of anything that feels good and inspires joy and fulfillment. I think most people in Western society who seek out Shamanism do so because they come to the realization that life should be about living your great truth and connecting with the universe we're all a part of, but they don't know where to begin. Maybe when people already see themselves as outside the mainstream, they're more willing to explore alternative therapies or practices that empower them to live from the heart."

And outside the mainstream Brynn has been, from the very beginning.

  • Margaretta Von Recklinghausen

"Growing up, I was called Joey, a nickname based on my first name, which is Joanna. I was a voracious athlete. My dad had a wood shop in the basement, and I loved using his tools to make things. Birdhouses were my specialty. I loved going to car shows and watching sports. I loved my Cabbage Patch kids, all of which I gave gender-neutral names, but I also obsessed over my transformers. I felt uncomfortable in clothes I deemed too girly."

While labels can do more to generalize identity than celebrate individuality, so often when I meet self-proclaimed tomboys now, they are those people who kind of can't help but follow their hearts even if it means standing out in a crowd.

Following her heart and wanting to help others, Brynn became the director and executive producer of, which is a site dedicated to, "the conviction that the LGBT community will acquire equal rights if we stand together and share our true stories of love, courage, and triumph."

click to enlarge Brynn Gelbard
  • Brynn Gelbard

As to why she started this particular campaign Brynn says, "back in September 2008, my girlfriend and I went to our friend's wedding on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. From our hotel, you could follow this cliff-side path to the mystical ruins of a 12th century Viking castle overlooking the North Atlantic. On one of our ventures there, we were so inspired by the beauty of it all we looked into each other's eyes and decided to get married. At that time, same-sex marriage was legal in California and it really didn't look like Prop 8 was going to pass, so we planned on tying the knot in 2009. But when Prop 8 did pass, rather than simply postpone our wedding, we came up with the idea for Devote and started collecting stories from people from all walks of life about what inspired them to take a stand for equality. "

Brynn says that unlike, "Dan Savage's It Gets Better Campaign, an amazing project that he started in response to the rash of teenage suicides committed toward the end of 2010, these videos speak directly to LGBT youth enduring harassment and bullying, offering them hope that after the unforgiving teenage years, life gets better, so hold on. Devote segments instead, feature people from all walks of life -- LGBTQ [the "Q" stands for either "questioning" or "queer," depending who you ask] and straight -- addressing same-sex marriage, don't ask don't tell, gender identity, HIV/AIDS, activism, immigration, having gay parents, bullying, and homophobia in sports, to name a few. We shoot and edit them ourselves and post them on our website and YouTube channel so they can be vehicles for positive change right now. Ultimately, our goal is to create an archive for future generations, ensuring the stories from this chapter of the civil rights movement and their inherent lessons are not forgotten."

click to enlarge

For her, this project has been extremely fulfilling.

"As an individual with big dreams, the best gift I can give myself is love and the belief that my hard work will pay off. We all have an internal voice that can drive us or deter us. Most negative advice and criticism people give is rooted in their fears. As an emotional artist/writer, I can be my own worst critic, in effect silencing myself. But I can ignore those fears and insults, see them as a test, pass that test, and be more creative and expressive than ever."

I congratulate Brynn for saying it loud, and saying it proud! And I (one who has been known to curl a lip in disdain at tantra sex goddess parties), am intrigued enough by this whole sexy shamanism business to check it out and perhaps grease myself up and rattle my proverbial bones.

The Sweet Spot is a blog column about alternative sexuality by Ginger Murray who is also the editor of Whore! magazine. Check back next week for more.

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Ginger Murray


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