The Tongues of Teaching Stories

I make my living as a storyteller. A teller of stories, of information and ideas, of passions, aspirations and histories. To quote Graydancer, I curate. My voice carries, it whistles, it winds and winds its way into ears and hearts, embeds in brains.

The things that come off my tongue don’t end there. They end up carrying over to the tongues of others. Therein arises my emotional upheaval of recent days.

When you look at my hiking boots, you might say “oh, nice hiking boots.” But I see not just hiking boots. I see the first pair of hiking boots in a decade. I see my stress at REI. I see story saying “I will not be that Alaska dude who wears hiking boots year round,” the dude I have since become. I see quick on and off boots that let me run outside and take out the recycling, a sign of love in the middle of Alaska winter. I see my history of Camp Fire kids, my days on Vashon Island, my blue vest, selling candies outside of an REI, life coming full circle.

IMG_3343You tell the words “Lee’s Hiking Boots,” but my heart carries the story of “Lee’s hiking boots.” This is neither good nor bad, but it is not the same experience.

When I go into a space as a teacher, I let the stories that are meant to come off my tongue do just that. Some of them are ones I have told thousands of times before, personal secrets that have been crafted into anecdotes by the constant exposure to the neon light of analysis. Some of them have been carried in the handbasket of my mind from faraway lands – touching tales from Mississippi brought to Maryland, Alberta whispers brought to hungry hearts in Austin.

Some however are from my vaults. The pieces I keep under lock and key that manage to slip out as teaching stories or musings that will ease the soul before me. That afterwards I go “how did you escape, secret of my soul, pain of my journey, bliss I kept hidden just for me?” They sneak out and away, into the words of others… and by their tongues they carry them to the ears of others.

The casual listener has no way of knowing which story I am telling, of the ones from my vaults. They cannot tell the Pissaro from the Manet. Nor should it be their responsibility. And yet when these stories appear second or third-hand, it comes like a jolt to the system. Who are you to tell my story? Who are you to speak my truths? How dare you?

But they are telling of “Lee’s Hiking Boots” and what those boots mean to them. My boots become an allegory for their journey, and are no about my journey at all. They are not meaning to infringe upon my REI memories, and have no interest in stealing beyond them to my gendered revelations hidden therein. They are talking about Lee’s Hiking Boots because it is an example, an allegory, a jumping off point.

It does not help that on the deepest pieces of pain, I layer pieces of sweetness, humor or examples of what I learned from it all. Or I take on my storyteller mantle fully, pull up the emotion, then bottle it back up, ready for the next show. How should someone know that those ones are likely the more tender ones? Ones where I talk about rape, or ordeal, or spirit work turned dark. Or true love.

A secret is only a secret if no one else knows it… but with my spiritual contract as a tool for divinity, even that is not certain unless my word is given or vow is in place. But my stories of my own journey? The goddess who owns my ass owns those too. And for this I struggle against the bonds of my vow, because my stories are on the tongues of others.

And they should be! Do not stop, please. Let the stories that help fly free and teach. Let them take flight and build nests of inspiration. I am not some be all great inspiration source that should have my stories mean more than others. I just have been entrusted with many stories, names scrubbed off in some cases or preserved in amber for others. I have been blessed, and my tongue oftentimes knows which to share.

But I still shake inside when I hear some of them. It is easier for me to hear the stories from my tongue than off the tongues of others. Because when you say “Lee’s Hiking Boots,” I hear time traveling and unbuttoned shirts, I hear love, pride and shame. It is a reminder for me – your story may have become a teaching story, but you lived it. Your boots are an allegory to me, a lived experience for you.

Let the stories be told. But remember that every history book was someone’s life. Every story is someone’s soul.


Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.

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