In conversation with Naomi Elisha, a dance artist born in Tel Aviv and living in Berlin. Naomi and I talk about the foundations of her identity as an AFAB, nonbinary, trans performance artist. We also talk about sex positive community, positive vs. negative freedom, micro aggressions and tantric bodywork.
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Above still from Malleable Substance choreographed by Naomi Elisha and filmed by Liv Phoinix
Keywords discourse, sexuality, nonbinary, trans, AFAB, gender, tantra, berlin, touch, curious, sexual, sex, space
Transcript Naomi Elisha on gender, sex positive community and tantric bodywork:
LP I met today's guest a few years back while working in a studio for sensual tantra massage. At the time, the studio work was all consuming. My life was entirely about the body. It was a complete 180 from the cerebral world of academia I'd been in for nearly a decade and completely broken from. Avant garde as our conceptual foundations had been, the question of how to enable different social relations through performative structures was explored, yet wholly unanswered, before I shifted from academia to bodywork. For some time now, I've been thinking about how to bring some of these experiences out into the world, how to combine high theory, esoteric knowledge, and be in dialogue with more humans too. Because I want to push through the divisions between thinking and doing, between art and life. And into a more chaotic realm of knowing and unknowing with you, my fellow outsiders. So here's my podcast, Not Your Narrative. A space where I'll be sharing conversations, realizations, and ultimately learning more about individualities and collectivities. Looking at truly other ways for creating the new. As a first step in the Not Your Narrative serie, I'm sharing a conversational interview with my old colleague in tantra, Naomi. I remember our first encounter in the studio foyer. Their smile, eyes shining at me and wondering, who is this person? What is her makeup? I admit, I first identified them as a woman, something they still patiently correct me on. I remember the first four-hand session we gave together, Naomi's way of tuning in and moving. So here we go. Naomi and I talking about her identity as an AFAB trans non binary dance artist born in Israel, living in Berlin. And as a professional tantric bodywork with hundreds of sessions behind her giving between Barcelona, and Berlin.
NE Hi, my name is Naomi, Elisha. I was born Naomi. I wasn't born with the Elisha. Naomi in Hebrew, it's a biblical name. And it means pleasant or my pleasant. I mean, there's also a whole story about Naomi, Naomi and Ruth from the book of Ruth, and Elisha... Well, Naomi is a female name or, or a woman's name. And Elisha is the name of a male-man prophet and also biblical. And I come from Israel.
LP Who gave you this name?
NE Actually, it's kind of a funny story. Till I was 15 I was only named Naomi. This was my given name. This is the the name that my parents gave me. Around the time that I was 15 and I went to issue my first Israeli identity card, I started feeling like I also wanted to have a male name. It definitely had to do with some questions that I had around my gender, where I started, I think it was the first steps and the first moments that I started defining myself as non binary and opposed to a cis woman.
LP Okay, let's stop and think about this for a sec. Inevitably, hopefully, there will come times in life when we start seeing through a new lens. And when that happens, what else does one need to recalibrate? The need for a new name is something I've witnessed in many people, myself included. I often think about how it materializes, and that it's usually from a state of physicality. An embodied state from which a person articulates themself out into the world. Eventually becoming a specific act of word and sound. And this act produces affect. I remember a fiery article written by Jaan Whitehead for American theater magazine, discussing the words people choose to describe themselves, suggesting that the words we use mirror our sense of self, and worth, and that we often become the victims of the weak words we unconsciously assimilate to. Ultimately, Whitehead implores us to establish new words with our peers, for new ways of seeing and being seen.
NE The name Elisha was also given to me by my mother, she came up with it, and I really, really liked it. And then I also looked up the story and you know, the prophecies of Elisha and the miracles that Elisha made. I just went for it.
LP It seems like for a long time, you've been questioning and working through your identity, your different sides. How would you identify yourself now?
NE I am an AFAB. So I'm an assigned-female-at-birth for sure. I mean, this is the bio... the physiological sex that I was assigned to when I was born. But my gender identity is non-binary trans though I am, I would say, that I am somewhere and nowhere on the spectrum between in the world of possible constellations, big gender configurations were the most basic ones that are known to us, or that we mark are woman and man.
LP Yeah, yeah, the myth of the cis narrative, right?
NE The myth of the cis narrative, exactly.
LP How is it with people who might not have the same questions for themselves that you come into contact with? Do people have a difficult time grasping these different aspects of yourself? These concepts you just laid out? Non binary, trans, AFAB?
NE Yes, I would say that people who are not in the discourse definitely have some questions like, if not to say, you know, that they completely erase these identities. And there are really a lot of cases. But I think the most common that I experience quite often from new people that I get is the question, well, how does it feel to not be a woman? Or why is there even a need to define myself as a non woman? This question is, surprisingly, comes often from people who are in the gender discourse from the LGBTIQ community.
LP It comes from within the discourse?
NE Yeah. I mean, I can say also that most of the people I'm in contact with are somehow in the discourse. These comments often come from people who are already on, in some level into I don't know if the gender discourse, but definitely the discourse around secular, sexual orientation and the big variety of sexual orientations. Yeah, this is a bit surprising. But but this is how, this is how it is.
LP Yeah, I wonder why that is. It's like maybe when it's already so so much engagements around these topics, you're used to talking about it, you want to know what it is for each one around? I don't know, if it's potentially for the people who aren't in the discourse, fear not wanting to offend? Not really, maybe thinking that they would be able to understand anyway? Yeah, I'm curious to hear. Why does it come from within the discourse, as opposed to from the outside?
NE Honestly, I just think that people are people. No, yeah, I mean, it's, it's that simple. And I will also explain, and so let's say that throughout history, different gender perceptions, or gender performances, and also alternative, like sexual orientations that are alternative to the to the heteronormative and the heterosexual narrative definitely were hated and excluded, because they are, because they intimidate the existing order. And I think that if you don't, if you're not really forced to dealing with these questions, because you have these questions about yourself, it is more comfortable to set it aside. And to let it kind of disappear and blend in, you know, this whole, like the whole, very, very big concept of things that are not me. And I think this tendency is not necessarily a conservative tendency, but it is more, it is more human tendency to say okay, things that are not me, I don't really have to deal with them. And maybe they can also intimidate who I am. Yeah. And so for LGBT people, or for, let's say that people who are mono sexuals, and the bisexuality or the pansexuality, can be very intimidating, because it intimidates the identity. And also, you know, I mean, there's this history and like the narrative and the actual history of so much struggle in order to get recognition, and then maybe there's something new that is coming, that is even more radical to heteronormative society, you don't really want to deal with it, it's more complex, and to cis people, I mean, being non binary or not relating to gender, not feeling gender, finding yourself in, in a constellation of gender, which is not, which is not this binarity of what we already know. Yeah, it just intimidates the existence of men and woman. And that's actually something that I hear from a lot of people in many fields on more practical levels, for example, in professional sports. So the discourse... the discourse around sexual and gender identity in professional sports, in competitive sports, is that they are kind of starting mostly in Canada and in Northern Europe now to open up the gender binary, and to let people who are trans compete, not with peers from their biological sex, assigned sex but with people from their gender. And there are a lot of people who are opposed to that. And what they say is that it can intimidate it's, you know, it creates inequality on on a hormonal basis, for example, that trans women would have an advantage a hormonal physical advantage over sis women. Nobody ever talks about trans men because they obviously are not obviously but the I mean, the assumption is that they will have a great disadvantage, like in relation to sis men or not that I hear on the people talk about it. I'm also not an expert in that. But yeah, which are things that are I mean, scientifically proven to be not true, by the way, but this is definitely one very specific case of how the gender non binary can intimidate the existing gender order.
LP It's kind of funny when the power structures get shaken up. And then we start to question it really from like, okay, a naturalist perspective. You know, nature says In the end, hormones tell us in the end and the hormones, the hormones have the answer, right?
NE Hormones have the answer? Yeah. I mean, hormones. I mean, they are they are in the end, kind of part of the picture. No, but kind of a big part of the picture, but not necessarily in this sense. Or at least that's not how I see it.
LP Do you find yourself having to encounter a lot of conflict or different opinions from people who have a more naturalist order, and the way they look at? Well, maybe gender, but life outside and beyond gender as well, in relation to how you go about your life?
NE How I go about my life in which sense?
LP So you are a person who is very much in your body, your body is your tool, your medium, you are a dancer with a strong acrobatic background, and have also done a lot of body work, professional body work. With this very embodied way of being you in your life, I'm curious about how the reaction from people who are not so much in the body is and if you find yourself... what that's like for you, and being so embodied in a world that's on the whole, much less, so?
NE You mean now on a gender level, or in general, my experience?
NE Hmm. Ehm, so I'm not really sure if this addresses your question, but like, to, to gender and the reactions on on my gender and the separation between the separation, but also the synchronization between gender and sex, I can say that I mean, I have mostly when this topic has been like is being addressed this, this really has been most of my experience now that I think of it. I mean, there's a very brutal erasing of this, of this thing, you know, altogether, both from people who are embodied and from people who are not embodied. And But yeah, I mean, I've made very often the experience of not only being categorized from the beginning as a woman, but also being told that I mean, it's not relevant how I feel, I mean, how I feel about my gender, and how I see myself is not relevant because of the because of the fact that I was born a woman and I have a very feminine energy, allegedly, and the other people would also not treat me as a non binary person, and would refer to me and my preferred pronouns, and which are they/hthm as a non binary person, but at the same time, I was born a woman, and they don't see my gender kind of this really, really weird duality that actually comes from people who are supposed to be embodied or who do work with the body very often. And people who are kind of closer to to the fields that I am in, but they are well, not all of them, but most of them are scis men, and to try to answer or to try to address the second part of your question. Well, you know, on the on the very basic level, there is just with people who are not embodied, there's just something you know, there's a, there's a level of the discourse, who is a bit missing. But I wouldn't even say I wouldn't even make the distinction like this dichotomy between people who are embodied and people who are not embodied, but would rather say people who are embodied in a similar way to the way that I am embodied, which is through dance and expression, even fitness on a kind of, you know, on the very muscular tissue level, but then also when a more energetic and deep level or through sexuality, sexuality also as a case of, you know, as an as an energetic expression, but also as an expression of gender and sexual orientation. And these topics, I think there's just a little bit less in common, I would say.
LP I remember not too long ago, when you returned from a residency period dance, and you were saying how bizarre it was for you to be around people who are so so much in their body, but without a sort of sex positivity aspect. You remember that?
NE I remember that very well. Yeah.
LP I'd love to hear about it.
NE Oh, wow. Well, that was that was an interesting experience. So I went to live in a community out in the countryside here in Germany, or I think I was there in total for six or seven weeks I'm of it was a part of a residency and some of it was just a way to in a way to make the winter lock down in Berlin a little bit more pleasant for me and to be surrounded, of course, by dancers and to live a community life. And I remember arriving there and this is, I mean, my experience there. on a on a gender visibility level was very, very good. I mean, the moment that I that I expressed how I wish to be addressed, everybody respected it completely the gender discourse was very, very, very developed. I felt very seen and accepted unconditionally. That was great. And on the other hand, I really couldn't sense I mean, as a person who is kind of used to, I mean, for me, my creativity and my sexuality, my, my artistic expression is very much connected with my sexuality and backed up with kind of a few 1000s of years of tantra, where, you know, the pelvic chakra is responsible for creativity, but also for sexuality, but it is also like this for me, I mean, this juiciness, and this feeling of of life, just really pure life when I dance. And of course, when I live out my sexuality, I just remember not feeling that it's all from I like as a vibe as a general vibe of a place, which is understandable in some ways, you know, I mean, the the world of dance or the world of Yeah, the world of dance. Also, the word of circus. Physicality doesn't have to be necessarily connected with sexuality. I think, also at that time, I mean, let's face it, like Corona is a.... Corona is a pretty, pretty big turnoff. I think now that I look back at it, I think that it had something to do. I'm not even sure that I felt so like, directly sexual. And, you know, when I was in the when the numbers really started to rise, and then and then with all physical conduct being actually a little bit I mean, another little bit being very, very dangerous. It's done something really different to this whole sex positive scene, no?
LP For sure. I mean, there's no sex positivity now. Or no, let's just say it's not not what it was last year, the year before. You know, I've sometimes had this realization or this whim of nostalgia, like a the summer of 2019, like the summer of 69. You know, the Summer of Love.
NE The Summer of Love. For sure. What do you what do you have in mind? What do you you want to share a little bit?
LP Yeah, that was actually when you gave me a ticket to go to a sex positive festival that was taking place in Spain, outside of Barcelona on a mountainside in a castle and around a castle. Yeah, you gave me this ticket. I didn't know if I wanted to go and thinking, I really need a break. So I'm gonna go and I didn't even really check out what it was about. It's just like, you know, I've got a place to stay. I've got food, Naomi, and I we're cool. I'm curious. Even if I wasn't... okay, I wasn't sure it was going to be great. But I thought, you know what I go to check it out. And I take what works and I leave what doesn't? Yeah, I remember the first night that I got there, I decided to join a workshop sex positive workshop. Things that can be everything from very physical to quite philosophical, to pretty hard and intense to really soft, but all of these different ways that people have found to ritualize or to bring a choreography to sensuality and sexuality. Anyway, so that first workshop I went to was a philosophical one. I think that was a great starter. Called Positive and Negative Freedom. And basically the presenter there, what he was doing was asking us to think of our positions in terms of social power, in terms of rank, to reflect on what we as individuals possess a social power, which ones we don't have, but we wish we did have and to come into conversation with a few other people. Like I remember, there were two other people in my group and to talk about that. And we were three very different people. And that was fascinating to listen to. There was me who is a white female, there was an Asian-British young man, and there was a Colombian man who had been living in Spain for quite some time. Very large stature. Yeah, it was fascinating, especially to talk on the race issue of how we experience our race, and how that affects us in our daily life. So we started from that, basically, he's talking about this whole concept based on Issiah Berlin, the Philosopher's name, he's talking about positive and negative freedom in the sense that there's no such thing as freedom, just as it is. And this being a sex positive event, of course, the nature of freedom is there, or the question of it, from the very beginning in the sense that you're coming into sexual contact, potentially, with many different people. So basically, this whole workshop was there to kind of unpack well, okay, what's freedom? Look at the social powers within that. You know, even saying just to be here at this festival, every single one of us had to have access to quite a few freedoms and privileges. We need to have the money to buy the ticket. We need to have a passport that allows us to travel we need to have the time to be able to take off we need to be involved in the sort of communities that would bring to the knowledge that spaces places like this exist and to be curious and open enough to just come into them. Yeah, the sex positive community is already a very privileged one in a certain sense.
NE When I speak of this relation between sex positivity and social power, living a conscious sex life and creating conscious relationships settings, I think that maybe I would have to disclaim myself before I start talking about anything and say that when I speak of the sex positive community I speak of the very specific sexual community that I am part of, or was part of before Corona anyway changed, changed our lives. Yeah, I mean, I do I just looked at the, you know, the general profile of the people. And I see kind of exactly what you described people who not only that they have questions, because I think there are a lot more people who actually have these questions rising about what do I like sexually? Who do I like? How do I want to live my life, but it takes a certain ground and a certain level of privilege and also a certain type of privilege to actually make the decision to go after these questions and try to find answers.
LP Yeah, that workshop brought up a lot of questions on the nature of communication, especially when you get into these constellations of polyamorous non monogamous constructs and how you communicate across and through that. Yeah, I think for me, that was one of the biggest opening revelations, a lot of roleplay. And I remember coming out of that session and bumping into you. You remember that? and you looked at me... what is this? What's happened to you? You're glowing!
NE Oh, wow, can you can you tell us a bit more about about what happened there? Sounds super interesting. I'm not sure if I've heard about it before.
LP Alright, so before sharing a bit more about my experience of the positive vs. negative freedom workshop I'd like to leave an imprint here - the text published for potential participants to consider:
“Have you ever felt that one of your relationships was not respecting your freedom to explore your feelings, or sexuality, or that your needs were not being tended to fairly? Have you ever been told to just go with the flow or to own your own shit? In this workshop, we're going to explore some of the most common conflicts and struggles that populate non monogamous relationships. approaching them from the theoretical framework of positive versus negative freedom. We'll borrow this general approach from the political theorist Issiah Berlin, but we will apply it directly to romantic sexual relationships. through both theoretical expository and practical guided group conversations, we'll explore our own relationship hardships to approach solving them in a kinder, healthier and more efficient way. To do so, we will examine the dual ideas of social power, and how it is unfairly distributed from a gender standpoint, and emotional labor, and how it is unfairly expected from some while ignored, and even mocked by others. This workshop is relevant to people across the non monogamous spectrum from folks new to open relationships who may still be doing Don't Ask Don't Tell, to see as in relationship, anarchists, who still struggle with expressing their desires, while respecting the limits of others. Recommended for singles, couples, triads, or polycues who want to improve their communication dynamics and put caring at the center of their romantic connections, as we all should.”
Yeah, so after going through a lot of the talk of social power and talking with others about the social powers that we embody, and the ones that we don't, that we wish we did, we broke up into other groups. If we didn't come with a partner or somebody we were already seeing, or some ones that we were already seeing, the leader, he put us into groups. I didn't know anyone there. So I was assigned with two other people who were also there as individuals. Yeah. So he just looked at us and gave us three roles. He said, okay, you're the two of you, pointing to me and another female, are in a relationship, a lesbian relationship for a long time. You have as many years relationship and now you point it to me, I have begun to awaken a desire to be with a man and you have met somebody and now the three of you and then pointed to this other person in the group who was the man coming into our construct. Now the three of you need to have a conversation on this and like, go work it out, go talk to each other. You know, it was pretty amazing to have that kind of conversation without having any of the risk of it being about your real life without any of the actual emotional bonds because after we spoke through it, and it was really intense actually was up I felt like this was very much my relationship and the woman in dialogue with me, she also felt very much that this was her her relationship. And we were also channeling moments in in our lives when we had been in similar situations or perhaps potentially identical situations. And we could somehow speak the words that we couldn't speak at the time, or that we didn't speak the way we wish we would have at the time. We were both in tears. And it was very, very intense and emotional for all of us. Yeah, for me, it felt also like speaking to a previous construct that had kind of broken apart on the way of not being able to communicate about these sorts of things that become so much smaller than they have to once you have communicated about them. So that was that was that. And it's fascinating. It was at the sex positive festival, it was, you know, just purely in terms of thinking and being with your fellow humans in a way of using words. And that's how the weekend started for me.
NE Wow. I mean, I was with you. They're in the festival. And I think this is the first time that I hear of this story.
LP God, I tell this story all the time.
NE Okay, that I hope that I didn't hear. forgot it. But anyway. It sounds, it sounds like a very strong experience. And it also sounds like a wonderful safe space to to see what's in there. I wish I could have been there.
LP Yeah, you were running around busy with other things.
MP Oh, right. I was working on this festival all the time. It's true, right.
LP How did you come to working for this festival? Or other sex positive festivals if this wasn't your first one.
NE No, this was not my first one. I was also working for the production of that festival in the year before. And I think I just kind of rolled into this community. This is a festival that in the years before Corona was running parallely in different cities in Europe, and I was back then living between Berlin and Barcelona. So a friend brought me into this community or this like specific, specific community. And this was a friend from Berlin. And then I think I kind of just got to know the people through events. And there was a very good connection, I was very interested in working for them, and to be able to go to the festival on a low cost. And this is what they offered me the previous year, kind of a similar job to what I was doing there. And then the following year, it just continued. This is how I got to work for them. And what some of the people who are involved in the festival are I mean, our friends until this day, in contact with them. They're precious people to me.
LP Yeah, it's a really... when you haven't had that before. And then you do have it. It's like a paradigm shift in life, at least it was for me.
NE I can say the same. For sure. It isn't, it is an eye opener, on levels that are hard to describe, if you haven't experienced it yourself, yeah, just to just to become aware of all of the other possibilities that there are to make relationships and to live your sexuality, the type of the type of sexual engagement that you can have.
Yeah, you know, everybody who comes in there has their sorts of baggage to unpack in terms of their sexuality and their attractions and their desires and their taboos. And in those spaces, I found it so healing the way that you know, you have this space being held for you to do that. And that you could also watch and look at other people who are doing the same thing. I learned so much. Also, just from the observing I oftentimes I felt like a an anthropologist like lying back and observing. So for me, it's also the experiences are as much kind of step taking a step back from it and looking at it from the outside and just have been allowed to do that. And encouraged to do that as much as any kind of and all of the kinds of being active. So I'm trying to think of what is it that's so much a paradigm shifter in there. And when I think about what it is, for me, it's like all of these people who come there, they have all these aside from their social powers, they also have so many social vulnerabilities. Everybody comes there with something to unpack in terms of what makes up their, their psyche, with their identity, and their relationship to desire and to things that they want. But they are not able to go into or things that they should go into, in a sense of like they need to go through them to get get past them. And in this way, for me, it's been a really, I look at this as very much a healing a healing kind of thing. As much as it is a place for play and for encounter. And for fun. I haven't actually really yet gone into humiliation play workshops. And I'm very curious to try that next time if this stuff ever comes back. But you know, there it's really about going into places where you want to keep safe more than anything else. And I find that like when you can get past and through these places where you hold so safe, that you're kind of free of this fear that was holding you in there. So yeah, I'm curious to hear if you've had similar their experiences of this is purely my, my interpretation of what shifts the paradigm here.
NE I mean, the paradigm shift, I would say that it begins with the discourse and with a space that is being created because of the discourse. So the way that I see it, or at least my experience in life so far, has been that the discourse around sexuality and sexual interaction... (and I mean, sexuality is a bit is a bit of a big word, sexual preferences, let's say) and the spaces that we would like, to like, things that we would like to experiment with, what we like, literally what and how we prefer it in bed, with whom, with how many people, there's so much shame and secrecy around it. This is really something that you would not, I mean, we would definitely not bring this topic up in a normal dinner, let's say - unless you are with very sex positive people. But this is a discourse that doesn't really I mean, the discourse around sexuality and in the preferences, it is so much involved in shame, it is so much informed by mainstream porn. And there's a very specific time if it goes in a kinky direction in a way that is not completely revolved around the genital and around the body and around the sexual body in a traditional way, there are very specific ways to to live it and to experiment, sis men were dominant, sis women who are submissive, penis in vagina, that's usually the discourse. I mean, this is usually the level of discourse. And there's very little freedom and very few possibilities from what I've experienced. And from what I hear also from a lot of people, I think that once you get into a space or into a community where the standard around the discourse is that you just express what you like. And you can experiment also with the agreement that once something is not 100%, right, you talk about it, you stop. There's a very like awakened discourse around sexual trauma, which is something that I think 99% of the people go through in their lives in one way or another, in a more hands on way, let's say or in a more verbal way. And it is just great to be in a space with all of these aspects of the sexualities are allowed, it is healing, to understand where your sexual preferences come from what they are, and to also find people who feel the same. Or even if they don't feel the same, they share the level of discourse, and they hold the space for you and with you. So that these things have space, and having space and shedding light or putting things out in the air, things that used to be really in the dark and surrounded by layers and decades of shame and input that is meant to keep it in the dark. And in the shame. This is very healing.
LP What about your shame and trauma? I'm curious actually, if you've had issues with very dominant people?
NE In a sexual way?
LP In the making of your being in the making of my being. Because I think this is so fascinating from everybody like where their earliest relationships to power and power abuse come from and vulnerability and how they experience their intimacy is as adult with and through that. I was taking this as a tangent to get into talking about intimacy.
NE I'm just trying to think like, what kind of information I can give, of course, I can relate to it. And of course, I have had experiences like bad experiences with power relations with very, very dominant peoples or specific experiences. These are my traumas. And I would also like to protect myself and I'd like feel like I'm exposing things that could be harmful for me.
LP Alright, so here we began to touch on topics of non consensual power struggles, and pulled off the topic for the sake of depersonalization. But I want to slide in here to touch on sadistic and masochistic compulsion more broadly, as a dimension of collectively internalized behavior. I wonder about sadism and masochism. Because unprocessed trauma and narcissism seem to guide so much of the collective unconscious. And because we, as individuals reenact so much of what we've absorbed without consent. This isn't to condemn sadism, nor masochism, nor seek for their approval, but to wonder about their many forms, social moral erogenous to think about the ways that sadomasochistic drives are mobilized and just about everything groups of humans get up to, can be so painful to admit this, to sit with the shame of how we've become conditioned to behave the containers, backdrops and context of these archetypical phenomenon.
LP I remember when you and I first met met in a space for tantric bodywork where people come to to experience their entire body being touched for extended periods of time, up to hours, yes, here, I'm really curious to hear about your approach to the work in general, but more specifically, how you engage your words and your bodily expression that comes, after your words.
My approach to this type of work, although this is kind of on the border of sex work, the tantra right? I think my main focus there is on acceptance, and containing and holding the space for just whatever comes up in this setting. It can be it can be sexual, and it does usually turn and sexual on some level in my sessions. But my focus there is really to put myself in a setting where the space where every type of expression that is not, that is not harmful to me, or that does not try to engage me in a way that is outside of the agreement, let's say, is allowed exactly because of these reasons that sexuality is often related less to freedom and more to shame and less to letting things be as they are. How I engage my words, lately, I just don't really say that much. I mean, I explain about the process on a physical level, what we are going to do, and I asked about people's preferences, of course, about people's boundaries, some people have very specific physical boundaries are also very general, more general, or more common physical boundaries that have to do with the with amounts of oil, where people would or wouldn't like to be touched. And then after this conversation, I just I start working, I let it happen I try not to not to bring people into my point of view, I think part of the setting or part of what allows it to actually be this type of space where you know, I mean, saying unconditional love and acceptance. Unconditional is a very big word. And it's, I mean, it's a very strong word, and I use it carefully. But there is an aspect of it in the work. And I think a part of that part of what allows it is not to declare it so much.
LP You mentioned the sort of wound you encounter with...I think what you called it was a kind of pornography kind of wound. And I'm curious, what other kinds of wounds have you encountered in the session? Or what are the most common kinds of wounds?
NE That is a good question, I think there is a lot of conditioning that has to do with sexual arousal. And I used to see it as a wound, but I don't really... I'm not really sure that I would use this word anymore, because I think in the end, we are all conditioned like to like our sexual arousal and our orgasms or like our access to our orgasms or access to our bodies, they're all influenced by so many things. And the word wound gives me the feeling that there is something there is one way that is the healthy way that you know only this ideal this tantric ideal of you are just breathing in and out energy spreads in your body, somebody is touching you want at some point you are having this full body orgasm or multiple orgasms that energize you for weeks, and then no energy gets lost into space. But you are maintaining and you're sustaining this this energetic level and openness and connection with everything in the world. This is a very specific idea of what of what actually Tantra or what the work that I do, let's say, goes for in general. I think what I experience is that people and especially I mean, more my men clients than my women clients -and I'm I am dividing it into women and men because the constellation where I work in is mostly cisgender- I think I can really count on one or maybe two hands, the clients that I've had that have some kind or that expressed to me some kind of an alternative gender constellation or sexual orientation. This is also none of my business as a practitioner, of course. So the connection to the body is very, very limited. The sensitivity is not being nurtured of just what it is plain touch. Different qualities of touch different types of pressure or gliding on the skin. I think this is kind of... this sensitivity is something that you need to develop like like your taste buds. The first time you go to a wine tasting, everybody says just words that have to do with with nature's different flowers, fruits, Earth these kinds of terms and you don't necessarily understand what's going what's going on but but if you really go into it, and we're really present, then then this type of sensibility can definitely like it definitely develops. And apart from that I think what is more like something that really has more to do with pornography directly is the way that people react to stimulating touch of their genitalia and what people need in order to to maintain sexual arousal or an erection. Whether clitoral or, or of the penis. And yeah, you know, a lot of people I mean, this is this is also, of course, something that is I mean, there is also a research that is specifically around that, but people who are conditioned to have... I mean, I think this is this is kind of a joke in the in the space no, people that really need a lot of pressure around their genitals in order to feel anything. The visual field very, very strong people who cannot who cannot relax into things, and people are very much in their heads. Very, very common.
LP How do you take people there?
NE Into their bodies? I cannot take people into their bodies, people have to go into their own bodies, the only thing that I can do is to continue being present and to allow the space but the work is done by the person themselves, not by me.
NE How do you?
LP I do use a certain kind of hypnosis. However, there have been some instances where it does not work, there are some people who are very, very resistant to letting them drift into a trance state. But it starts from the very beginning, from the top to the first physical contact, the selection of words, the way that I carry myself that I conduct myself that I sit in my chair, these are all small ingredients that go into kind of making the composition of a space where there can be a letting go. So usually by the time I find myself being on the mat during a session, by then I feel like it's already largely my work has already largely been done. And then I continue through this meditation and movement for the remainder of the session. Usually, with some very resistant types, I can maybe be on the mat for half an hour before they've reached a place of being able to just let go and get into it. Yeah, it's really like you speak of the conditioning can be so strong to to resist. But some of my most powerful experiences have been with people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder in a very physically embodied sense, like they gotten into can't call it a seizure, but something that almost resembles an exorcism from the outside and being quite unconscious at the same time in the sense of themselves not being aware of where their body had taken them. I'm remembering one session in particular, as I was working on the head, this person rather early into the session, no more than halfway, this person just started convulsing involuntary convulsions, and there was phlegm flying out of this person's mouth out of their throat. It came from so deep within their chest, it was just sent out at projectile speeds straight up into the air and landing on their chest, I was naturally quite concerned that this person might choke. So I was doing my best to kind of keep keep the neck in a position where I had control over that. And there was part of me that has having never had experienced that before a bit. Yeah, a bit scared, but at the same time, not at all scared. Like, wow, this is really working. This is really doing something now. So the way I approached it was just to kind of keep going but you know, maintain heightened state of awareness for any potential real issues that could happen, like choking, for example. Yeah, that was a very transformative experience in the sense that after I gave that session, I was just wanting to go and study neurology and to really work with to work with these kinds of traumas from a let's call it more neurological perspective, like really wanting to understand what is happening there. What, what is being released, how is this going? I don't know if you've heard of him. There's Dr. Peter Levine. He's got a couple books on the somatic experiencing by the how the body keeps the score.
NE I haven't heard of it. Sounds fascinating, but I'm just listening to you.
LP So he's got a lot of work behind trauma from an embodied sense.
NE I'll definitely check it out. Sounds, sounds fascinating. And it sounds also like a very, very strong experience that makes me think back of of our training, because I think you and I both went through the same time for training and you are describing here an experience that is on a physical level for the person who are treating very, very extreme. And I'm just wondering, I mean, I don't think we were trained for that.
LP No, we were’nt trained for that.
NE It just makes me think back of all of the cases of people going into session and and the end of the practitioner, you just have to deal with it.
LP There's a lot of those.
NE There's a lot of those.
LP But you know, I think the training is basically just giving you like a basic framework and then the rest you learn by doing this. Yeah, I'm curious to hear how you first got into doing tantric bodywork like was there a certain One thing that happened in your life, I mean, I know a lot of people who get into doing this sort of work because they really need to change. Could you speak about what brought you to to Tantra?
NE Maybe the change needed me? No, I'm kidding. That was actually a very interesting moment in my life. When I started my tantra training, it was more or less after I finished my circus education. And before I got into dance, I, my original education was actually in circus arts. And I was trying to make it work. And then at some point, a very close friend of mine, when I think you know, it told me that, that I should come to Berlin, I was living in Barcelona at the time, and I had already lived in Berlin before and I went to work, I'd gone to Barcelona to study and my friend told me, well, you should just come to Berlin, and we're already we will find you something to do, you can continue training and in doing circus here, and things will will just arrive. And it was actually literally like that friend of this very close friend who, who was giving Tantra training workshops, professional transit training workshops, was looking for another person to fill in for the group that she was starting a few weeks after I arrived, and I just jumped from there, everything started. So I think I needed to shift in my life. But I got it in a way that I really, really wouldn't expected. There wasn't expecting, yeah, this is how I got to it. But I think before that, I mean, it was kind of a natural, gliding or slipping into it, let's say because I had always been a very sexual being. And I was always very engaged with my own sexuality, and also with the sexuality of the people who are around me sometimes. And yeah, and it just felt very, very organic. And you?
LP I had no idea that this was a thing, even before I started doing it. Really. I had just come out of a period of my life where I was working at a university very intensively. This is all very intellectually-driven work. When that period came to an end, largely because I was just feeling sick with power structures within that the way that academia but especially now more and more and more than ever, it's like a race to the bottom, in the sense of resources, and in the sense of fighting for positions, competition. It's a very, very highly pressurized environment. But at the time, when I was working there, one of the last things that I was getting really theoretically engaged with was this notion of heterotopia. From Michel Foucault, the notion of heterotopia. It's basically about spaces that are somehow other different or disturbing than those that are the norm, mainstream places could say. So he developed this concept back in 1967, of course, the world was very different than the Internet has completely changed the way that we relate to space and so many levels. So he's ta- but he's talking about this even well before the internet. So the kind of places he's describing are places that operate under their very specific rules, or if it's not rules, then it's more about procedures or conditions, circumstances. Some examples that he spoke of back when he catalyzed this concept were prisons, brothels, graveyards, airports, these places that are very coded in terms of permissible behavior. And because they're so coded, they also allow for the kind of experiences that wouldn't be possible in places that didn't have that coding, or that lacked that coding. So fully into researching heterotopias at this time, this is actually how I came across the studio, where you and I came to know each other. For me, the studio was very much a heterotopia, this concept was my starting point, actually, to get in there, combined with the very strong need to make a change and get out of the academic system that I had been such a part of for such a long time, and that I was putting PhD work in towards. Somehow this heterotopia concept for the studio, it was kind of like a bridge between ordinary reality and other worlds. Because the conditions for what we do what we offer there are so clear, we're fully empowered to set them and to enforce them. The word enforce sounds so harsh, but you know, I just say it because there are certain moments when it does come down to that. But it's more like in the sense that there's a giver, and there's a receiver and there's a certain amount of time, and we have this time in the space. And it's about touch, not about words. It's not about performance. It's not about proving anything. It's it's about being. This is where the truly exceptional things could happen. Because when and where else in daily life, do you have these sort of special places that allow other ways of, of experiencing what's inside of you? And I know there are other places for sure of, but I mentioned the studio is one of them for a very particular kind of experience.
NE Yes, for sure. Yes, I think if heterotopia... I totally agree with you. I think if heterotopia is a place where in very simple words there is space for a specific type of behavior or exposure, then the studio in this sense is, is definitely heterotopia. And if I'm trying to break it down to what actually makes it heterotopia, except for, you know, like the very specific business concept of the founders of the studio, I think there is something about the anonymity or the possible anonymity. And the limited amount of time that you spend there that makes it it actually makes it you know, you come to experience, you come to taste a little bit what it what it is, or what it could be this intimacy, this really this unconditional being this kind of exposing truths about yourselves consciously or unconsciously.
LP Yeah, it's so interesting on that, like how much you can tell so quickly, and yet discover along the way, I don't know about you. But I found that the longer I did the work, the more experience I had, you know, just opening the door, you can already do a very quick reading over a person and which isn't to say, you know, everything or that there won't be surprises, but in the sense that there are forms, and they tend to follow certain patterns. Of course, surprises always come up along the way. But it's just so interesting how much how much you can find out in a very quick reading of a person through this, I can say that, before I did this kind of work, I absolutely was not able to read people in nearly as a deep or nuanced way that I am right now. So much of what is being said, without even opening the mouth to the other word, you know?
NE Yeah, I know exactly.
LP So I'm curious to ask you on this note, it's gonna get a little edgy now. But like how it is with people from different places, you know, we are located in Germany, we see a lot of people who are Germans, I can find that I get really a lot of different kinds of micro aggressions from people of different places. And it's part of this type reading, too, which has become so sensitive towards I kind of almost brace myself for it, even before I've had to actually feel its impact on me. And I'm curious if you've got that too, for sure. I actually have quite a lot to say about that encountering micro aggressions.
NE So first of all, I have to say that this work and in working in the fields of energetic sexual work with, with people from different countries, and also working in different countries, because I also have worked outside of Germany in the same fields really made me see things. See the relations between men and women or the expectations that are there, in a way that wasn't that clear before. Do you want me to go into like division of areas in the world nationalities is that?
LP I mean, I think honestly, I think we've all got some racism in us to begin with, I'll just say that flat out, I don't want to be a racist person, I actively strive to be anti racist. And for me speaking it out as part of being anti racist, but to not... I mean, I think you've said this, I've heard you say this before, and it resonates with me. So Well, I've taken it up as my, as something I said to like, wow, if I would have heard the stuff that I'm saying, now, a couple of years ago, you know, after a really intense session, I would just been horrified and shocked at myself in the sense of a certain kind of racialism there. And I'm not saying let's hunt them down or anything like this. But it's to say that there is something that happens in your mind and in your reactions, when you have a certain kind of pattern of interactions over and over. And I'll say, first of all, that we're also in a very particular set up there, it is a heterotopia. But it's also like a place where people come for an exchange of sexual energy, where there's also money involved. So that already, you know, sets up our entire parameter of who we encounter, the criteria is already very defined there. So it's also not to say that because somebody of a certain race that we come to predict this as being standard behavior, that they're all they are all that everybody of the shared race is like this, but in a sense of who comes for tantric bodywork, we can say that, for sure. And I can also say this about Germans just as much as I could about people from certain parts of the Middle East. I mean, everybody carries their own their own assumptions about what it is, but it's not not assumption about what it is, but who I am in the setup.
NE And I would also say that it is not only about us, but it is also about the way that sexuality is seen and allowed in specific cultures. And so in that sense, I mean, there's something a little bit bigger in play there, there are bigger like the cultural differences are deeper than like, how they relate to us. I mean, how we predict and the assumptions that we already make in order to protect ourselves from people from certain allegedly you know, from people from, from different origin, this is the part of it where I really think about myself and where I think, okay, I've made this experience already with a person, with people, and from a similar background, and then now I'm a little bit more suspicious, or I'm a little bit more careful, or my boundaries are a little bit more firm at the beginning, because I need to see what is in there in order to then not get hurt in a way that maybe I already got hurt before. But if we take it out from the very immediate potential dangerous potential, like the aspect of the potential danger in it, then you can also see that the patterns of the of people from different places with their own bodies, how they move their bodies, how they live their bodies, how they relate to themselves, in the sense into their own sexuality, this is different, and they're there, then the gaps are I think this is what is really interesting in the end for me.
And yes, I mean, for sure you see patterns, people who come from countries where traditionally more religious or more or more conservative relate to themselves in that in a different way. And maybe in general, a little bit less than people who come from places where there was a little bit or like from backgrounds, not necessarily from places where there's a little bit more error that is brought into what is the body? What is sexuality? What is this specific setting, I am now going to pay for some sort of exchange? Who is in control? Who is the... who has the authority? Is there an authority? What does it mean that I am actually paying for a service? am I paying for the person? Or am I paying only for like, how negotiable is the service once money comes into the picture, maybe more money?
LP In or current time, we have more sexual permission, more spaces to explore our bodies for their sexual range, our appetites, but less in the way of behavioral scripts. This is a good thing, I'm convinced. But sexuality continues to be something to be worked out, perhaps more so now than ever before. Because sex is unlike any other area of human life. And all too often the most private mark of the human animal. It tends to live in its own world of speculation, speaks largely in the language of projection introjection and fantasy.
LP I'm curious to turn it back to you now. So you're from Israel, and you're in Germany. How is that for you? I'm curious about how you find integration, what your thoughts on that are, and what kind of encounters you've made in being here in Germany?
NE Well, I've been in Germany, I originally arrived in Berlin in 2011, which was more or less after high school for me, I was 19. I took another year before I came here after I finished when my a levels, and I arrived, and I landed straight into intensive like an intensive German course. So every day, for a few hours, sometimes even six or seven hours of classes for a year, a little bit more than a year. That's what I did before I started University here. And my memory for me is that there's definitely this intention. I mean, there is also a course that is called integration course, like literally, that is supposed to make you blend in and understand better the not only the language, but also the culture and the habits and the norms of the German society. And to respect them. Also, with kind of a clear note that this is how people should live. This is how interactions should function. This is how this is how it is. Even if there are like the diversity and the multicultural reality, especially in the center in the city center in Berlin is mentioned. And I think that in my experience in the last decade in Germany with of course, a break of over a couple of years in a different country and with different with a different approach to what I'm to what I'm saying right now, I think that the expectation like I experienced that there is a lot of expectation to integrate to speak the language. Now it is starting to change. I think in the last four or five years, or maybe a little bit, maybe a little bit more even, there are just so many people here who don't really I mean, it's not in their highest priority to learn the language and integrate into society. So now this has to shift a little bit. I mean, there cannot be this expectation anymore. But I remember that when I arrived here 10 years ago, it was a problem not to speak German, I mean, it was very, very difficult to get any type of service, any type of service official, I mean, in terms of bureaucracy and bureaucracy is is of course we are still in a kind of a similar place in most cases, but also but also just at stores. People would look at you I'm kind of kind of funny. If you didn't speak German.
LP I'm curious, like as a as a thing itself. Integration. What are your thoughts on that?
I believe it's toxic and racist, basically, and it's bound to fail. I don't think it is a... I don't think it's appropriate. I don't think it's contemporary, I don't think it's right to expect from people who come from very, very different cultures to make an attempt into like to make an attempt to become more German in their ways, and the volume that they speak in the way that they asked for things, the ways that that we communicate. And as a person who's coming from the Middle East, I mean, Middle East intersection Mediterranean, this is, this is a pretty big part of my daily life. I mean, I speak loud I am, or at least this is what I think of myself. And this is also feedback that I that I received from from my environment, I am a loud speaker, I am physical were the people that I like, were the people who are close to me, I am very direct, I come from a culture that doesn't put so much emphasis on politeness. And this is the way that I would usually communicate with other people. And of course, I mean, there is this negotiation, when you come from one place to another, there has to be a level of wanting to get to know the place where you're where you're currently at. I mean, I think there was there would be way too big of a conflict for a person who arrived in a new place and doesn't want to learn about the culture. But I would also really, really appreciate a more of a notion of my culture and my origins, and and I've experienced not that many, but I've had some experience where I was criticized, in my ways of going of going about in society were criticized based on the fact that I am Israeli, what do people say? What do people say, hey, well, the most common and I think this doesn't have to do with me personally, at all, or with my origin is we're in Germany speak German, we are in Germany. So you have to act in a specific way. Also, not on a language level. But I remember what I can recall that is very specific. And that was, I think that was the worst. I mean, yeah, that was a pretty pretty directly an anti semitic and anti semitic or racist comment from a landlord of mine, where I was trying to apply to a flat and I actually also got offered a contract, which then in the end, for reasons that I couldn't really understand and weren't explained in any way this proposal was, was withdrawn, my landlord came to visit one day, and she saw that the flat was not, I don't know, organized or tidy up in the way that she was expected. And she just told me, Hey, listen, this is not the market in Tel Aviv here, you should, you should clean up, I know what it's like in the market in Tel Aviv. Or people who blame me and very actively want to get into the political discourse about Israel's policy in Palestine.
LP How do you handle that?
NE this is a discussion that I do not get into anymore. I just walk away from it, especially as I'm a radical, I see myself as a radical leftist in the at least in the Israeli political context. And I was also a political activist in Israel for many, many years. And when a person approaches to me and starts blaming me for what the country I was born in does to the Palestinian people, and in the in the occupied territories in Palestine, this is really not something that I can start explaining. I can't explain what is happening and why the situation is so complex if the other person is open to hear that, but if the approach is that, you know, we are all murderers, and we are all to blame, then I don't really have. This is not a conversation for me.
Over the past year of relative confinement, I've picked up quite a few books. One of the books that has really stuck with me is entitled, Sitting in The Fire, by Arnold Mendell. Here Mindell writes on fire, the anger in which we sit. He doesn't tell us to put out the fire or to fear it. Mindel l firmly believes that conflict can be dealt with constructively and in a way that heals. That is not something we can ever get out of prevent or stop. He writes in the foreword. If we don't permit hostilities and legitimate outlet, they are bound to take illegitimate routes. He speaks about outright and subtle forms such as passive aggressive obstruction. Non cooperation, gossip, backbiting and cliquishness. Mindel's book is written from a perspective of facilitating more group and individual awareness, including everything hidden, repressed, marginalized, and subconscious. Differences are as essential as they are troublesome. Where there no differences at all between people, when faced with a problem, every single person would arrive at the same solution. And the first wrong solution would be the Doom of the species. We have not survived in spite of our differences, but rather because of them. Therefore, they are to be prized, studied and understood. But we also tend to use our differences to create hierarchies. Gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status, and even behavioral norms. We create in groups and out groups, mainstream culture, counterculture, better, worse, good, bad, rich poor. Our wood, pent up suppressions of humiliation and anger, that fuel fire of the destructive sort, is to be burned.
LP I'm curious if you've heard of this concept called burning your wood it's from I first encountered it in a book. And that has to deal with dealing with group conflict. It was a woman from Tel Aviv who brought it to the author's attention for the first time, the meaning of the concept burning your word is to like, yeah, I guess I'm curious if you've heard of it before, first of all. So yeah, it's about taking care of your pent up shit, your shit in the sense like the stuff that accumulates on you, and you just take it and take it and take it or like you just put it somewhere to not deal with it. And you know, people who will have like, a lot of a lot of issues they haven't burned enough of their wood is how the saying would go. And the people who do burn their wood, they kind of can approach each situation anew. So to say from a place of an internal loci that isn't trauma bred and fed.
LP So yeah, I just bring it up now, because of hearing about it came from a woman from Tel Aviv and also with what you were describing with the kind of obviously incredibly intense passions that flare up around the Palestine, Israel...way of relating to each other, put it that way, that there's probably a shitload of wood that everybody has to burn.
NE I'm guessing yes. And I think also that since we are, I mean, this is not something that is specific, you know, it doesn't like this approach to like this way of approaching Israelis as murderers is definitely not something that I've only experienced from Germans and in Germany, but I think you're because of the because of the history of Germany and Israel, or Germany and the Jews, if I can be more a little bit more explicit on that it does have kind of an extra dimension of an ever a little bit of extra sensitivity. This is a sensitive topic.
LP Do you find that you can you can or that you want to go into that here? Or is that something...?
NE No, no, I actually think this would go off topic a bit.
LP Yeah, I didn't mean that here as like in this conversation, I meant in in Berlin, in the space that you live in.
NE I actually think that I am going there, but I am going there nowadays. I mean, it is it's not that I even have to go there actively. I mean, it is here inevitably, for me all the time. My family history is from Berlin, my grandfather was born in Berlin and the family my I mean, his family has to flee Germany before World War Two and after the crystal after the Crosstown off because their businesses were shattered, I know where they used to live. This is something that is present in my daily life, whether I wanted or not as, as an Israel as a Jewish Israeli, with German heritage in Berlin. And this part of my identity and of my history is also something that I plan to explore more in my art in the next years, and it's there, it's present. It's just there, maybe there is more, maybe there is a little bit of wood to burn there that I'm not that I'm not super aware of or that I haven't dealt with yet directly.
LP Art has such a powerful way of releasing and letting us work through real hell that we've been through. Would you like to say a few parting words on how you'd like to go about your art in the time to come?
NE I work in the field of performance. And since Corona shut us down, basically I have moved to work in video. And a lot of gigs were cancelled. A lot of projects were cancelled, things still keep on getting cancelled. So it's kind of hard for me to talk about concrete things that will happen in the future. I am in the process of applying to different master's program in choreography. Yeah, just checking possibilities for collaboration with local artists.
LP That was Naomi Elisha, and you've been listening to Not Your Narrative. I'm your host, Liv Phoinix. And this is a space where I'll continue to explore the movement and change of people. Identity through counter normative conversations on gender, origin and sexuality. You can subscribe to this podcast on your preferred major podcast catcher. Heartfelt thanks to Habib William Kherbek. For the music, the track entitled Fail Up. And the track entitled, Horrible Freedom. And to Ayoto Ataraxia, for the art direction.
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