29 May How We Practice w/ Captain
Recently I had a wonderfully fresh and exciting conversation with Dr Liam ‘Captain’ Snowdon about the history and the evolution of Somatic Sex Education.
Tracy: What brought you to Somatic Sex Education?
Captain: My first reaction is to answer ‘everything’, you know how a life just leads you somewhere. The first thing is my learning disabilities and finally finding a place where learning through the body was respected. As a kid who had trouble reading and writing and math, all the ‘important things’, finally finding a place where kinesthetic learning and embodied empathy was not just noticed but celebrated was a big piece.
Career wise, working in a variety of forms of healing to do with talk, working on the front lines with homeless and marginalized youth, queer youth, and pregnant and mothering teenagers, I started to see the limitations of talk by itself. I realized that no matter how many times we tell the story, the traumas we have experienced in our bodies can still be stuck and need to be moved before we can bring more pleasure in.
At one point I was feeling burnt out and was trying to figure out what is going to keep my attention for the next two decades and sexuality and spirituality came up. So I went to the institute in California and did my doctorate and just as I was finishing that, people were talking about the sexological bodywork course, and telling me I needed to take it, so I gave it to myself as a present for graduating. I immediately thought, “Oh, yes! This is what I am looking for.”
And then of course my own healing journey and gender journey and sexuality and trauma healing brought me there too.
Tracy: So your first instinctual answer, ‘everything’ was correct- everything is about sex and spirituality. It’s so about who we are and how we show up in the world. When we figure out our connection to our sexuality, the world opens up.
Captain: Yes, exactly.
Tracy: Thank you for sharing a bit about your personal journey that led you to somatic sex education. I’m curious about how your own SSE practice has evolved, and then how you have seen SSE evolve, and where you would like to see it go?
Captain: I think that as far as how my own practice has evolved, I’d like to say that I put a lot of pressure on myself in the beginning to work with individuals, even though I knew in my own body that wasn’t the piece that gave me the most joy. Working with groups big and small, trainings and pieces like that are where it’s at for me. I’d like folks to know that you don’t have to work with individuals in order to do the work.
I’ve been involved with sexological bodywork and somatic sex education since 2008 and the work is always evolving. There was the model that came out of the already willingness of gay men, and the language and comfort they already had about touching each other’s bodies, that started sexological bodywork out.
One of the things that has evolved is the question of what do other folks need before they can jump on the table, in terms of safety and voice and choice. As cultures have become more aware of trauma, both ancestral and individual, we’ve evolved along with that and have come a long way with our trauma-informed touch pieces. Somatic Sex Education, having come out of queerness, it’s always been social justice informed, but it is even more so now. Certainly in our own trainings it’s become important to not only look at our own trauma, pleasure and nervous systems but looking at it in terms of the cultural nervous systems that need healing, and the ways that we are with each other in the world; how we learn to regulate our own nervous systems so we show up for each other in accountability and justice.
Tracy: I’m hearing that it’s important to you that these bigger cultural pieces continue to evolve. Are there other places you’d like to see SSE expand into?
Captain: Yes, I have imaginings, but I think the imaginings of the students are even more important. There are as many ways for the work to go as there are people who get involved in it. Maybe there’s all of us doing whatever the mashup of ourselves and our histories and our passions and the work are.
Tracy: So there’s this container for everyone to bring their stuff, and it speaks to what we as somatic sex educators want to bring to people, which is the space for folks to be themselves. When you say there’s room for the students to bring their imaginings, that opens up to what we need collectively. As we support individuals we build and support the culture.
Captain: Yes, thank you for articulating it in that way.
Tracy: So that brings us to your work in the present. What is really juicy for you in your practice right now? What are you passionate about?
Captain: There’s a few things. I’ve revitalized my own mindful erotic practice by launching Convive, facilitating communal erotic practice 3 mornings a week. There’s about 15 of us who are showing up in a variety of ways. It’s like you said, it’s proving a container for my own erotic practice which is so communally oriented. It’s bringing joy and creativity and all the sticky harder stuff too, which is great. The honeymoon is over, but I’m super-excited about being in my own container of holding the parts of myself that are hard to hold. Convive started as a 3 month experiment and there’s no doubt in my mind that I want to continue.
I’m also excited about the new ISSS training. We’ve just come around and finished our first year and now we can evaluate how we did and add things in and read all the student feedback. I’m excited about supporting the students and hearing about who they are and what they are doing in the world, and what’s hard for them.
Tracy: The students that I have gotten to know, wow, there are such amazing people being drawn to this work. How cool that folks are being called together to build this amazing community and then taking what they learn back to their own individual communities.
Captain: Yep, it’s blowing my mind.
I’m also feeling myself at the edge of this 7 year cycle that I have, where I am asking myself, ‘what’s next? I’m not losing interest in this work, I’m even more dedicated to it, but I’m also thinking, what about death? Sex and death? Eroticism and death, pleasure and death, embodiment and death? I’m starting to investigate that. Hopefully I’m not saying that what’s next for me is death, but I’m really investigating what this work could bring to us in our end of days.
Tracy: There’s a little shiver is going through me and I’m reminded of the choirs who are coming to people’s deathbeds to sing them away. Why can’t we be embodied in death and maybe be okay with being where we are for ourselves and our loved ones who will be in their bodies for a while yet? I’m excited to see how that unfolds for you.
I’m also curious to know what you are most proud of in your career as an SSE.
Captain: I’m absolutely most proud of collaborations and co-creating things; all the amazing folks that I’ve had the opportunity to work with and continue to have the opportunity to work with. I have absolutely no desire to do this work alone.
Tracy: Can I invite you to brag just a little? What do you think that you bring to the collaborations?
Captain: I have a lot of experience in facilitating groups and I don’t ever like to stop learning about that, so I think I have a feverish desire to create containers that feel safe enough for folks to learn about the work and do the work. People tell me I bring humour and playfulness. When I think about the co-creation of things I can feel into the lineage of the work and everybody’s contributions to the work that we’re all doing together, and I think there is a confidence and creativity.
I think I bring a pretty big toolbox and a willingness to try something new. I also bring a big strong belief in the ‘don’t gotta’-I think I always believed it but didn’t always act it out. I used to think willingness was pretty sexy but I’m not sure I believe that any more. I just know in my body that our resistance to things is as important as our willingness – even more important sometimes. I bring a deep commitment to finding ways to love each other across differences and how can we be joyfully accountable to each other.
Tracy: I’m thinking about the willing and the wanting as I’m fresh from a Wheel of Consent workshop. The willingness is beautiful but not as sexy as the No or the wanting Yes. It’s just not. I’m really grateful for the willingness of the people in my life who support me where they might not want to, but are willing, but that feels more like work somehow, rather than the joyfulness or lightness of a wanting Yes or a firm no.
I’m also thinking this: you’re bringing this big toolbox to the work and curiosity and playfulness but there is so much space for what everyone else is bringing. It’s this opening, not like ”Here I am, I have all the tools and the answers,” but rather, “Here I am with this stuff and lets play and see what comes.”
Captain: Heh, that’s a pretty good visual of me walking around with my bag full of toys.
Tracy: Maybe that can be one of the pictures that accompanies this interview.
Before we close, what would you like folks who are considering a career in Somatic Sex Education to know?
Captain: If you are interested in this work, if you are hearing the call, it’s probably not going to go away. It might feel like “I’ve been thinking about this for a long time”, or “I’ve always been the one people talk to about sex”, or “I just know somewhere in my lineage that this is the work I am supposed to do” or “I’ve always been comfortable in my body”. The phone will probably keep ringing. Find some way to answer the call. It does not have to be SSE, we need all kinds of sexuality and erotic supporters.
It’s still somewhat edge walking, and considering our various countries and governments, it’s likely to continue to be. There’s not a system to plug into and then you get a job, we’re all just making our own way, but damn it’s a great group of people to be moving ahead with. There is a community to support folks doing the work.
The other thing is that now, with the way the training is set up, you can dip your toe in. You can sign up for Core Course 1, see who we are and what our values are and see if it feels good in your body to do the work with us.
Tracy: You say it’s edge walking, but you’ve been involved in SSE since 2008, does it still feel edgy to you?
Captain: No, I’m steeped in it so I don’t see the edginess anymore, it’s just what I do, but when I talk to people outside of the community it’s still edge walking definitely.
Tracy: For me, sometimes I feel like it’s normal, it’s just this thing I do, and I forget that it’s still a bit ‘out there’ and that not everyone wants to talk about this or be involved in it. And then like you said, I start talking to folks and realize I am out on the edge. I think it’s good for prospective students to know that this can become your new normal.
Captain: It can depend on what other kinds of work folks have been doing. If they’ve been doing more traditional sex work or working with marginalized communities, or doing other work that is edgy, this won’t be a big stretch, but if they come from more traditional backgrounds it can feel very edgy like ”Oh you’re the sex person…”.
Tracy: It’s kinda fun to be the sex person
Captain: Most of the time it is pretty great.
Tracy: Is there anything else you want to say about the state of somatic sex education, or you, or the Institute? Is there anything showing up in your body that wants to be said?
Captain: Yes, one of the other areas of real interest for me is figuring out and playing with this idea of how can we practice and learn how to regulate our own nervous systems around getting feedback from others in our lives, so that we can work towards a culture of joyful accountability where folks can receive it in a more positive way. I know there is a place that we can get to where can get to that feels like “Oh, this person cares enough about me to tell me that”.
It’s about understanding the impact of our own behavior on others. It’s still about what we’ve done and not just about the other person. I don’t have it figured out .. but have been doing some collective learning about it.
Tracy: For me it’s about, if we feel okay enough about ourselves, we can understand, “Oh, I hurt that person, I’m not a terrible person, I just made a mistake, and how can I fix that.”
Captain: Having that inner resources, outer resources in community, not shame spiraling and asking how we can repair.
Tracy: Mmhmm. This work really offers this space. We’re showing up and talking about joyful accountability and messiness and we’re holding space for people to be where they are. And through this folks are learning that they are okay, and taking that back to their communities, and then, no matter who they are in relationship with- their lover, children or boss, they are operating from this new place of okayness.
Captain: We certainly hear that on our community of practice calls. Folks say, “Yea, these skills are about sex, and they are so transferable to life.” I think they could change the world.
Captain is one of the founding members of the ISSS. Poet, Anti-violence worker, pleasure activist, ocean lover. They live on Songhees and Esquimalt Territories. www.captainsnowdon.ca
Tracy is a lover, dreamer, student, teacher, Somatic Sex Educator, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and the Creative Admin for the ISSS. She lives and plays along the Ottawa River on the traditional lands of the Algonquin, Anishinabek and Huron-Wendat peoples. www.tracymontgomery.ca