Body Electric offers expertly guided educational experiences grounded in the erotic and its integration with the sacred, fostering transformative personal, relational, and communal healing. The school welcomes people of all ages, body types, cultures, genders, gender expressions, sexual orientations, races, and religions. The work of the Body Electric School, founded in response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, continues to inspire personal transformation through erotic education.
Bear World Magazine contributor Jeffrey James Keyes recently interviewed Don Shine, a facilitator at Body Electric, to gain insights into his work and upcoming workshops. Shine is a healer, sacred intimate, bodyworker, and coach, who is dedicated to assisting individuals in connecting with the abundant and infinite healing energy within themselves.
Bear World Magazine: This is the fortieth anniversary of the Body Electric school. For those who aren’t familiar, what should we know?
Don Shine (DS): You can ask a hundred different people what Body Electric is and what it means to them and you’re gonna get a hundred different responses. When I talk about Body Electric, this is coming from my own heart as it has fundamentally transformed who I am.
Body Electric offers workshops and retreats centered around erotic education, liberation, energy, and healing. Body Electric began in 1984 in the San Francisco area in the height of the AIDS crisis, and predominantly served gay people who had experienced emotional trauma, social dislocation, shame, and fear. There was a lot of disconnection in the community, and this work was meant to bring people together in a safe, loving, compassionate and educational space, particularly around reclaiming who we are as authentic erotic beings, and removing the shame, fear, and the guilt that so many people associated with themselves at that time.
We’re now more inclusive to everyone, and offer workshops for people of all genders. The origins are still there, and it’s largely the same: we combine elements of connection, intimacy, breath, touch movement in a safe, confidential space for people to really redefine their relationship to their erotic self.
BWM: Tell me about your journey to and with Body Electric?
DS: Body Electric came to me through sort of a message from the universe. My massage therapist had a postcard sitting next to his table and he recommended it. It was an investment to go. I didn’t have money for it at the time. I wasn’t even employed, and I told my husband that I wanted to go, he paid, and it changed everything.
I came out at twenty-one, I grew up in a conservative family and Kentucky and was in the closet for a long time. When I found my husband, we lived a fairly heteronormative experience. We certainly had sex but it was very quiet sex, I felt a lot of shame in my sex and my body. I would pray “Hail Marys” every time I would orgasm. I was experiencing my life as a gay man, but not really celebrating it in any way. I’ve always been a sexual person and felt like there was something wrong with me, that I was perverted and hoped that something would cure me. I know that sounds really strange…but I genuinely felt that it was illegal to take off my shirt in public. That was genuinely like the most horrifying thing I could ever be asked to do. In school they would have skins and shirts games in basketball, and you’re just expected to go with it. It was the deepest shame. I was horrified about taking my shirt off in public, going to a gym, a swimming pool, or the beach. When I was in my thirties even going into a department store dressing room to change my shirt was one of the most horrifying things I could do.
Going into these workshops, we tell people that there’s an opportunity to be clothing free.I looked around the room when I was naked for the first time and it was like, Oh my God, I am naked and not afraid. I looked like these people and I’m attracted to these people. My God, I realized that I’m fucking gorgeous, you know? And to know that for the first time in my life at forty years old. It changed everything for me. I’m turning fifty this year and when I see old pictures of me I see that I was a different person.
When I teach this workshop my goal is to help people find that sense of that sense of love in themselves: the sense of connection and authenticity. I’m glad Bear World Magazine is interested in learning more, because there’s a lot of people who are ashamed of how they look. I go to bear events and gay campgrounds and spread the good news to help people gain access to that place of love and connection.
BWM: Why would you say this type of work is so important for the bear community?
DS: I learned how to love my body. As a bigger guy, I’m worthy of pleasure. I’m somebody who’s eaten a cheeseburger in the last week, but I’m also deserving of pleasure. I was just in Fort Lauderdale last week, and it was full of chiseled bodies. In the past I would withdraw and feel like I’m not worthy to be in this space. I used to hide my body, and that’s bullshit.
In every workshop we have people who never dreamed they could ever stand in front of a group of people naked, and be loved, honored and to honor their body. You know, there’s a connection from the erotic self to the heart, and to the Divine. When I experience pleasure, that’s the closest I feel to some sort of divine spirit. Body Electric is really all about reexamining our relationship to all of that, to our patterns around pleasure and recognizing that this energetic connection is something to be proud of. I’m worthy of connecting with another human being.
BWM:How does one prepare for one of your workshops?
DS: It’s best to come without a lot of expectations. Bring all of your energy, all of your nervousness, excitement, the thrill, the ideas. Bring it in, bring that energy, just don’t try to squelch it and try not to like dig and dig and dig and find out what actually goes on. Coming in with an open heart and an open mind is really what I recommend people do. Our space is a container of safety and agreements before we begin. No alcohol, no drugs. Everything is done with consent. Come in with a clear head, heart, and mind.
BWM: Could you share a little about what a first workshop is like?
DS: We are purposely vague because we want you to be in the moment and not anticipating anything. What I notice is that when people feel safe, people are willing to be vulnerable, but they have to feel safe first. And so safety and consent are paramount. We let everyone know nudity is not required, but there’s an opportunity for that. I do recommend that first workshop called “Celebrating the Body Erotic,” it’s the same workshop that’s been taught for years. It was put together by a man named Joseph Kramer. He’s awesome. He’s not our guru, but he’s the guy who started this and put together elements of Taoist tradition, tantra traditions, Native American traditions, and wove them together. It’s important to stress that it’s not a free-for-all, workshops are carefully led by a facilitator. And the beginning is really just icebreakers, getting to know yourself, getting to know other people in a really structured format. So it kind of takes away some of the anxiety in the beginning. It is really intended to sort of move out some of that anxiety and to sort of shift where you are emotionally, physically, spiritually, in those first few moments. Then as it progresses we begin to sort of build blocks throughout the weekend and there will be some movement, some nudity, some touch, some self-pleasure, and opportunity to practice some of the things in a communal setting.
BWM: I’m curious if friends or even couples sometimes come together.
DS: Yes, we have both. My recommendation is that if this is new to you, or something that makes you nervous, then come alone so you can kind of be in your own experience, and not project what your partner is experiencing across the room. We have a lot of couples who are very open and understanding of these kinds of things, and they do really well in the workshop. So it’s really a conversation with the couple to chat with both of them together and individually to know where they are. How are you really wanting to be here? If it’s because you’re doing this because your partner made you come to this, then that can be a challenge. There is a pre-workshop conversation that we have with folks to get a sense of where they are in the journey if they’re doing this willingly or because they’re being forced into it. We also offer workshops designed for couples. It really depends on the couple, but I tend to lean toward recommending doing it alone, just so you can just be in your own experience. But again, there are lots of people who have done this successfully together.
BWM:Of all the places you travel to for your work, are there any that you’re especially fond of?
DS:Camp Buckwood in Morgantown, Indiana. It’s really where I began my erotic liberation journey. It’s where I first began to take my shirt off in public and began to feel like, you know, gay sex isn’t dirty or bad or wrong or somehow, something to be ashamed of. It’s where I found people who were like me, who looked like me, and who loved me. That land feels sacred to me. Having the opportunity to bring this work to that space is always an honor. Their season ends on Halloween and we’re there the week after, so the campground is closed. We have the whole place to ourselves. The owner cooks meals and I love our time there. That’s the one I look forward to over and over. Teaching this work is the honor of a lifetime, anytime I get an opportunity to show up in a room full of brave people who’ve taken the risk and trust me to lead this thing is an honor. I get chills and teary thinking about it. When I got asked to join the facilitator training track, it was like Harry Potter getting invited to Hogwarts. And it still feels that way. It’s not easy, but the work is important. And in some ways it’s out of my hands. I’m just sort of a channel from something else and to deliver this work and watch people have their process.
BWM:What do you have coming up?
DS: I’m teaching several of our introductory “Celebrating the Body Erotic” workshops as well as a few of our ‘intensive’ workshops. I’ll be teaching a week-long workshop at Easton Mountain this summer called “Dear Love of Comrades,” which is sort of like the gay adult summer camp of your dreams. We offer workshops in discovering anal intimacy and pleasure. One workshop I’m learning to teach is called “Power, Surrender, and Intimacy,” which offers an intro to BDSM culture and practice. Later in the year we’re having a 40th anniversary, sort of our capstone where all faculty are going to come together in Palm Springs to have this sort of experience in November, and alumni and participants are welcome to join us for it.