Fifty years since it began, surrogate partner work is being embraced again as a cutting-edge somatic therapeutic modality, one more people are choosing as a career.
Recurring guest Brandon Hunter-Haydon talks about his own journey and what it takes to do the work successfully.
Wild & Sublime Podcast Transcript
S4E7 | Becoming a Surrogate Partner
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: In a surrogate partner relationship, because we’re cultivating emotional and physical intimacy within an arc to build a relationship, to give someone lived experience and skill in navigating intimate relationship, something that they’re going to be able to take out across their life, I have to be available to that through my own vulnerability, which is different than me showing up as therapist.
Karen Yates: Welcome to Wild & Sublime a sexy spin on infotainment, no matter your preferences, orientation, or relationship style. Based on the popular live Chicago show, I chat about sex and relationships with citizens from the world of sex positivity. You’ll hear meaningful conversations, dialogues that go deeper, and information that can help you become more free in your sexual expression. I’m sex educator and intimacy coach Karen Yates. This week, I speak with a recurring guest about his transition from therapist to becoming a surrogate partner, and how this is as much a journey of intimacy for him as well as his clients. Keep listening.
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Hey, folks, I am really happy to be able to present this conversation today I’ll be talking with Brandon Hunter-Haydon, who has been a guest on Wild & Sublime since the second live episode back in 2018, about his recent switch from being a therapist to becoming an intimacy coach, and also–what we’ll be focusing on today–a surrogate partner practitioner. What is surrogate partner therapy? Typically, it’s when a client, usually single, seeks help in addressing emotional or physical intimacy issues that could be inhibiting them from having healthy sexual relationships with themselves or others. The client then meets with a therapist, also known as a general clinician, and a surrogate partner practitioner to create a therapy plan. What makes surrogate partner therapy different from regular talk therapy is that this 50-year-old therapeutic method can incorporate hands-on work, ranging from touch exercises to sexual contact, in order to mirror as close as possible what an intimate relationship out in the world will look like. Now, we have talked about surrogate partner work before in a great conversation with Brian Gibney and River Roaring, which we have linked to in the show notes. But this extemporaneous discussion with Brandon, which was part of our Patreon members’ program, looks at the dynamic of the surrogate partner and the client in depth, as well as how ideas of intimacy, consent, and touch become greatly expanded and nuanced in this therapeutic container. Also, just for your information, we talk a lot about somatic work. And somatic basically means understanding the body from the inside. It’s having a felt awareness of the body. So regardless of whether you’re interested in this modality or not, there is a lot of fantastic information about how to conduct an intimate relationship in our discussion today. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Brandon is one of my favorite people to talk to. Our conversations are always rich, deep, and complex. And this conversation today is no different. Enjoy.
[to Brandon] Welcome Brandon Hunter-Haydon.
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: Thank you.
Karen Yates: I am very excited to have you on our Patreon conversation, our extemporaneous Patreon conversation. Before we begin, Brandon, what indigenous lands are you on right now?
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: So in what we call in Boston, Massachusetts, I’m on the land of the Massachusett, Wampanoag, Pocumtuc, and Nipmuc people.
Karen Yates: And I am on the lands of the Potawatomi, Ojibwe and Adawa nations, the Council of Three Fires colonially known as Chicago. Brandon, it’s always exciting to talk with you because I always feel like I go super deep, super quick in our conversations. So I wanted to have you on tonight just to chat –Chat. That’s kind of a really superficial word for a place where I think we’re going to be going. I’m going to have a discussion about your work as a surrogate partner and intimacy coach, and what is it looking like now, but before we begin that, you were a therapist here in Illinois, and then you moved out east, currently not a therapist, maybe a therapist again, but informed… your your world is informed by your life as a former therapist.
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: Forevermore.
Karen Yates: Forevermore. And one of the things I wanted to ask you because it’s very interesting to me, because I went through a transition into the world of like, somatic sexuality. And it’s like, it’s a process of getting yourself into this zone of like, oh, wow, not only my learning about sexuality, but I’m learning at a very deep hands-on kind of level. And for you, what was that process like, of going from this life as a not hands-on therapist into the zone of surrogate partner?
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: For me, it felt like stepping into like my final form. It kind of felt like the fifth element. I worked for many years, and I saw how impactful it could be to be a talk therapist, and also the limitations of it. I mean the limitations of my own expertise, right, my own ability as a therapist, certainly, but also in terms of how integral touch is to the relational human experience, and to our nervous systems, the development of our nervous systems, the cultivation of more adaptable neural pathways to the effective processing and recovery from certain kinds of trauma. That touch is a relational… it’s a sensory experience. And it’s also a powerful relational tool. It’s one of the first ones that we experience, and it’s necessary for development. It’s necessary for survival for human beings. We require touch just in order to develop our brains and our bodies. So for me, it felt like taking everything that I had come to, and I was feeling restless, because in so many of the cases and stories that I was experiencing, I kept noticing ones that they had come to sort of a limit in terms of the work that can be done, talkwise. And of course, it’s never appropriate for a talk therapist to engage in touch with the client. But I realized I was there to learn about somatic modalities. And I’d heard about surrogate partner therapy. And to me, it was the convergence of bringing a relational two-way touch dynamic with a psychotherapeutic framework and backing into a therapy modality, a cohesive arc of treatment. And I was like, “I want to do that.” And and at first, I wanted to be the therapist in that model and I may yet still, that may be something I step into, you know, in the future, is supervising cases. But I wanted to undergo the training to be a surrogate partner, and I wanted to get in there and apply myself and see if see if it tool to me. I wasn’t sure how I would feel doing it. But so far, it feels right.
Karen Yates: And what were some of the early highs, or “I didn’t anticipate this,” you know. What were some of the new awarenesses? Because you were coming from this non-touch place, into this fully touch place. What were like some of the things that were striking you?
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: Well, to clarify, there’s a lot of work that happens before the touch and around the touch, right? So just to be clear, just for folks who are new to the concept of partner therapy, we don’t… we don’t jump right in to touch work. That’s… that’s usually not the case. It’s a very slow, titrated process, where we focus on communication, relaxation, and mindfulness. Those are some of the core themes that we focus on. And we do a lot of talking, we do a lot of negotiation. We talk about boundaries; we talk about desires and limitations. And we do that in a way that tries to situate it in terms of what’s it like to talk to a partner? How do we normalize the conversations that we want to have in order to live more authentic relational lives, right? to have our needs met, to feel more seen, right? and also to gather information effectively from a prospective partner about what their experience is and what they like. So we do spend a lot of time talking.
Karen Yates: Can I make it clear for anyone who’s listening that the therapist is not present? It’s like you are basically and correct me if I’m wrong, you’re usually going to that person’s home. Is that what happens? And so you’re having a more cordial, quote-unquote natural interaction?
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: Yeah, generally speaking. So there’s always a first meeting with all three people at the same time, called a triadic meeting. And those will happen periodically throughout the course of the treatment, right? but they always happen first, before the treatment is greenlit, then I would meet with the client one on one. We have our session, and then I meet with the therapist, and the client meets with a therapist and then I meet with my supervisor or my mentor. So there’s there’s multiple levels of oversight, right? There’s a lot of holding in this modality of checks and balances, which is part of what I like about it. The structure is very supportive.
Yeah, but the meetings with the cliants are one on one. The therapist is not in the room. We’re meeting in the home. I had a client who every time we meet they make me a cup of tea. First thing we do is sit down at the table, and we have a cup of tea together. And we talk about how things have been just in our lives, like, relating as two whole human beings. Right? It’s not like we have to get right into what the issue is right away. We’re just two nervous systems in the same room. attuning, right? relaxing, relating, sharing space, and I’m paying attention to all of that, even though I’m just being a person, I’m still paying attention to all of that. And then when appropriate, noticing out loud, or inviting the client to notice things about how we’re sitting? are we sitting a little bit closer? are we facing each other? Would it be more comfortable if you move to a different area, right? So bringing awareness to our bodies in relational space, what it’s like to share a conversation, to share the moment together. And then we can then we have other activities, right? specific activities that help us build relationship–even have fun, right? I had a dance party, you know, just me and a client, a dance party and we we took turns picking songs, to find energies that made us feel that we want to feel in our bodies and inviting each other to like, listen to music that the other person had never heard. It was important to, you know, to understanding something about how we felt in our bodies. You know?
Karen Yates: That’s great. So as you began the work, kind of this much more relaxed, but held space, it almost sounds as if you begin developing a heightened sense, through the somatic work, of your body in space with a client. Am I correct in saying it may not have been as heightened when you were in an office setting sitting across?
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: I think, I think in my case, I’m not speaking for any other therapist, because I think there are therapists who have like almost preternatural awarenesses, about things, you know, bodies in space. But for me, I think I did sense that it was there. But because I was in the talk therapist role, it never came fully online. For me, what I felt was appropriate for me, you know, in the space and just managing the ethical boundaries around that. I feel like it was never fully online until I finally went to the training and decided to actually make that a part of how I how I’m engaging with the client, right? My own physical awareness, my own sensory experience, and my body becoming part of the instrument for the first time and when I’m using. It is a transition, you know, and it has a different energetic cost.
Karen Yates: What do you mean by that?
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: I think because I’m… I am really sensitive and selective about the type of touch I engage in my life, and who I allow access to my body, and what it takes for me to feel comfortable having access to other people’s bodies. Because I’m so particular about that, it actually… I feel like I have an awareness that helps me to move at the pace that is appropriate for surrogate partner therapy, which is pretty slow. And I can also, like, I’m in no rush to get anywhere, which is a good quality to have as a surrogate partner. And it’s probably one of the things that we also try to encourage, finding clients, is that know your goals, right? Have those in mind. But let’s focus on how…what’s everything that might live in that space between your goal and where you are now, right? And make sure that we actually take our time to walk that path. So I’m pretty sensitive about that.
And it actually gave me hesitation. At first, I was like, “Oh, does this makes sense for me then? Because I feel so particular about how and when I’m touched, right? and who who does that. But to me, that’s one of the reasons why I felt like I was really well equipped, is because I have the ability through my experience as a sexuality professional, as a relationship specialist, a sex educator, and a kinkster too about talking about… naming my boundaries, talking about limitations, having good consent practices, and being able to say what’s going on with my body in the moment, or what I do or I don’t want in a way that is that doesn’t overexplain, it’s not I don’t feel like I have to apologize for it. But I can invite someone into what’s happening with my body. I can invite someone into, like, what’s my process, where we’re at with something, and what I might need from them, or just in the moment, right? to feel a little bit more at ease. I have language for that. And so to me, that coupled with, you know, a sense of like physical sensitivity, I think actually helps me pretty well, to talk about it.
Karen Yates: One of the things that’s sort of coming in as, as you’re talking is that, you know, when you have, say, two bodies in space, acclimating without an agenda, and with a sense of, at least on your side, a sense of, you know, heightened awareness or sensitivity to your own beingness, that intimacy is allowed to, depending on where the other person is, it’s allowed to sort of bud and then flourish. It’s a it’s a space that I think most– okay, I’m not gonna say most people–a lot of people don’t have, you know, especially when you’re given something like sexuality, which has so many cultural assumptions built into it that create layer upon layer of shielding and assumptions and patterning that have to be undone to get to intimacy and sort of this free-flow quality of openness and vulnerability. Am I correct in that, in saying that this, this kind of space that you’re developing with the client is kind of an optimal place for building intimacy?
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: I certainly feel that way. Which is part of the reason why I pivoted into doing this work, because it creates, some people call it like a laboratory. Some people call it like a dojo, right, an intimacy dojo, as it were. And that’s something I can relate to, like using that frame of reference. But it’s a relationship and I’m showing up in that relationship authentically. I’m wearing multiple hats, because I’m, I’m also a professional, who is keeping in mind, who is tracking, what are the client’s goals? What are the clinical indications of this modality? What would it purposes and intentions from the outset? So I am holding that, but I’m keeping my activities choices tethered right to those client goals and needs, right, as outlined by the therapist and the client themselves. So I’m trying to keep us tethered to the purpose, to the intention, while also making room and inviting the client to help discover and open up what are the further areas of discovery like and when we, when we zoom in to the intimacy, we want to zoom into the small moments of the interactions between the client and I, again, like how we’re sitting, how we shift our bodies, right? What happens when we’re doing our touch practices, and paying attention to our sensory input, and all the noise that comes up in our head once we start touching, right?
Once our bodies are getting closer to closing distance, we learn a lot more. And I like the client to feel a lot of agency on their own adventure and discovery. And I like to feel like I’m a witness to that. Just like I do in my own personal relationships. I want to feel like I’m co witnessing with somebody how I’m manifesting myself in that relationship. I want to feel like they’re invested in seeing what’s going to emerge. And I like feeling that in mutuality. And so one of the tricks– and by tricks, I mean, “is this something that clients can get stuck up on?” –is how to see us. How to see a surrogate partner. Are we a service provider? Are we closer to like a massage therapist? Or are we closer to a therapist? Right? Like, how do they view how we’re showing up in the space? That can be a tricky thing to navigate. Because there’s nothing else quite like surrogate therapy. I mean, sex workers do it all the time. There’s other sorts of professionals who kind of straddle these different roles. Right?
Karen Yates: Yeah.
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: And so that’s one of the tricks is constantly re-clarifying. What are we doing here? And why are we doing this? So I do bring that back quite a bit to keep the client committed to, to their purpose. But I’m also giving of myself, too, I talk about my personal life to a degree. I talk about my own history when we do sexual history taking, which I do with every client just like a would as a sex therapist, but I share a lot of my own experiences, too. Because the mutuality in this is part of the transformative element.
Karen Yates: Right? Yeah, it’s very interesting you’re bringing up this “what are we as a relationship? How are you viewing me?” That’s very interesting to me of like, you’re as transparent as you can be. But there’s also another… there’s an observer, like in another part of your brain. But yeah, it’s funny, because we all have an observer, I think. There is an observer, right? And so like, I don’t know, if you have two observers, yourself observing yourself as the partner, the surrogate partner, and as, you know, you. Not to get too heady, or does this therapy observer person… Is that the you?
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: Right.
Karen Yates: I don’t know. I don’t know…Pass the bong. [they both laugh]
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: I mean, that reminds me of when Alan Watts says, “Find out who your watcher is.” Who’s the watcher, right, the observer? And then who’s watching the watcher? You know, if and how many more behind them are there? Right? There’s a multiplicity of observers to a degree that’s happening in this work. I think that part of what is the most powerful part of this is the co-regulation. nervous systems…
Karen Yates: Yeah, let’s talk about that.
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: …which happens in any relationship. That happens in talk therapy as well. You’re in a room with someone or on zoom with someone: they’re still co- regulating. That’s happening, but in a surrogate partner relationship, because we’re cultivating emotional and physical intimacy within an arc to build a relationship, to give someone lived experience and skill in navigating intimate relationship, something that they’re going to be able to take out and generalize across their life, I have to be available to that through my own vulnerability, which is different than me showing up as a therapist. As a therapist, I’m holding much more on to my expertise, my humanity too! I think my therapeutic style is pretty warm, and I lead more with humanity than I do with expertise. But as a surrogate partner, the element of touch closes that gap even more because it’s two-way touch that really brings it home. It’s not even like I’m teaching touch techniques and it’s one way, right? Or I’m teaching them just on themselves or on something else. I’m also going to be in passive roles or receptive roles too. Because that’s the other side of it is to develop the kind of semantic empathy and somatic attunement to someone. It’s so vital that a client also knows what it’s like for them to be the active touching participant, and to get feedback from someone else to get feedback from me and their clients who have never touched anybody before in their lives…
Karen Yates: Right.
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: …who’ve never had not even a sexual debut. Some folks haven’t even held hands with a person before. So think about that. Think about how how world-altering it is. To just begin with a hand caress with someone who has never had their hand held before, much less engaged in any kind of intercourse, right? That’s like continents away, right? And I want to say as a surrogate partner, like the notion that it inevitably leads to any kind of like, to sex, especially in terms of like penetrative, like intercourse-based sex, certainly, that’s a part of, that’s a part of one of the things that’s on the table in surrogate partner therapy, but it’s not what everybody needs. And it’s also not the goal. Like it’s not the agenda in some escalator of like, of intimate health that everybody’s got to arrive at. There’s not a script in terms of like, before you can be normal and let loose on the world, you have to, you have to unlock this achievement, right? And make sure that this is right for you, because it’s not even going to be right for everybody.
Karen Yates: Yeah, I mean, what’s so interesting to me is I’m listening, I’m like, you’re basically undoing since, as I understand it, surrogate therapy is with folks that either, like you said, have no sexual experience, or have been traumatized. And, and so there’s a reworking, but in essence you are, you’re operating already off the typical sexual script, you’re out of that zone, which is inherently toxic, that we are going to be an on an escalator either in the relationship or in the sexual interaction that’s always leading up and to it is evolving toward. That’s what screws us up, right. And so you’re not even… you’re not even in that zone with someone which is marvelous.
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: And thank you for saying that. Because it also it also de-centers the idea of sexual functioning, or sexual connection, right, or intimate connection. Because no matter what’s happening, the point is how connected are you to yourself, your own somatic experience, and how connected are you to the other person or people who are involved. And that’s the emphasis. I also say some people do come to SPT for a very specific function because a lot of erectile dysfunction clients or vaginismis clients, people who are really working on one specific area of genital pain or sexual function. That’s also totally valid. Right, and SPT is really great for working with those too. In my experience so far, though, it’s really focusing on folks who have underdeveloped capacities for intimacy for actually relating with another person and vulnerable in authentic ways. And thereby their own experience of pleasure and ecstasy and connection has been constricted. Right. And so that’s what I really focus on. And I’m super honest about how I’m feeling along the way in that process around how comfortable I feel around being touched.
Karen Yates: Well, it builds the container of intimacy.
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: It does. And I think what’s important about that is because there’s no guarantee how well-liked I’m going to be by a client or client is going to be by me, right? Especially when like this is work for folks who typically struggle immensely around relationship. So a lot of folks have have qualities about them, or attributes or behaviors or habits that might be a little challenging, right, for a prospective partner to deal with.
Karen Yates: And then do you talk to that, like, if you’re with someone, let’s say someone that you don’t particularly like, how does that work? If you’re being open and vulnerable and sensitive to the moment if you’re with someone that–I don’t know–for whatever reason does not strike you like, you don’t necessarily want to engage with this person. You’re engaging as a professional. What does that look like?
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We now return to the second half of the episode where Brandon and I discuss rigorous honesty as a way to deepen intimacy, working with trauma, and what happens when a client gets triggered and wants to leave the relationship. Enjoy.
[to Brandon] If you’re with someone that, I don’t know, for whatever reason, you don’t necessarily want to engage with this person, you’re engaging as a professional, what does that look like?
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: I have to hold on to the directive that it’s more important for me to be trustworthy than to be liked. Because that’s the, that’s the essence of the container, right. And that’s the essence of the relationship is, if I can still be kind, but also clear, and trustworthy around behaviors or actions or anything–expressions that make it hard for me to feel comfortable or make it hard for me to feel connected to a client, I’m going to say that. It’s actually my, it’s my obligation to do that. Right, I see that as part of the corrective or rehabilitative element. And that’s everything from like when we talk about things, like everything from, from communication styles, to hygiene, right, to what this space is like that I’m being invited into. Because these are important elements that have impacts on relationships. Yeah, this is real life stuff that’s going to impact like their personal relationships moving forward. So I have I have a duty to speak to those things and know if there’s things that bother me, will put me off, or distress me, or make me feel ill at ease, that is absolutely within my obligation to name that. Where the skill and expertise comes in is being able to name that in a way that is oriented to the client’s goals. So it’s not just me reacting, I’m not just reacting out of my own preferences, right? I’m building in my authentic response, and tying it to that client’s goals and the purpose of them hiring in the first place. If I’m unwilling to do that, why are they paying me to just pantomime, like to just be like a gesture of relationship, just pantomime liking them? That’s a disservice.
Karen Yates: It’s striking me how powerful this modality is, in that you are a mirror, like, you know, for a person that can’t, say, be in relationship for there to be someone, number one, that is consistent and trustworthy professionally in a way that is maybe more than a civilian would be. And then also someone that is then reflecting back some of the things that that are impacting them about why this is untenable, you know, that to me is just like, wow, what happens is you engage with a client and reflect back to them some things that they might not know.
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: It’s like you said, it’s a mirror, it’s a mirror of a type that they might not have anywhere else in their lives. And what’s important about this, is that it does go both ways. There are things that I learned about how I communicate, right, or just when it comes to preferences, you know, if I’m wearing a fragrance or something that was really off putting, and a client is able to say, “You know, that particular scent, or whatever, really bothers me,” or “I find it noxious,” or whatever. “So it really doesn’t work for me. And it makes it hard for me to focus on when we’re trying to talk or it makes me not want to feel like I want to be close,” or “it makes it hard for me to focus on my sensation when we’re doing touch stuff,” that is so valuable. And for them to cultivate the ability to notice that’s happening for themselves, bring it to my attention, do it in a way that invites more intimacy, right, isn’t just based in reaction, but does it in a way that actually leans in towards intimacy, which is basically saying, hey, I want to feel connected to you, this thing makes it hard for me to feel connected to you. So I want to bring it to your attention. And maybe we can do something about it. That’s so much of relationships is being able to do that! And to name that the point, the point of the… of the friction, right, the point of the intentional friction is to avoid further conflict, and to preserve connection. And so I really, anytime a client is able to do that, that makes me feel like I can trust them more.
And I say that back. That gives me an opportunity to say, “I’m so glad that you brought that to my attention.” That can be a hard thing to say right? Because you don’t want to offend somebody or you don’t want want me to withhold, you know, the touch or the connection or relationship can be a lot of reasons why we’re afraid to bring stuff up. But that makes it feel like actually trust you more because now you are more focused on being comfortable and being able to stay present. Whatever we’re doing, and that’s been important enough for you to bring that up to me. And now we can make a change and move with greater awareness towards that I’m not going to wear that fragrance anymore.
So what changes? Have you seen happen with folks as you’ve worked with them over time? And I know you can’t speak about individual cases, per se, but like, what do you see occurring.
I’m still pretty new in my own practice. I’m in what we call the intern phase, which is the practice phase right? After you finish the intensive training, the pedagogy in the intensive in-person training, and then you… you’re basically doing practicum for a couple of years. And it’s kind of like when you’re a new therapist, and you have to gain clinical hours before you get your full license. I’m in that phase, right? So I’m in the intern phase where I’m building my case experience, and I have a lot of oversight, which is great. So I don’t have anywhere near the rich stories that a few of my other colleagues like Brian Gibney, and Michelle Renee have, but some of the things that I have seen so far is how mind-blowing it is for some people to make a discernment between sex and intimacy. That alone has been such a huge piece of like discernment for so many clients, because for many people, sex becomes the sort of monolith of all intimacy, to a degree, certainly in like this heteronormative context, right, even affection, even nurturing touch, right, gets all absorbed into a sort of monolithic, whoever you’re having sex with, type of deal. And how some clients, even clients, with a lot of sexual experience, have never experienced intimacy, feeling of attunement and closeness. And real-time connection and emotional connection. They’ve had a lot of sex, but very little intimacy. And for them to acknowledge that to themselves has been huge. And to say, “intimacy is what I want. And I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know if I don’t know if I’ve ever had it. Or if I had it, maybe I’ve forgotten how to do it. It’s been so long.” So that’s been one huge thing. And then we get to find out what that means. Then we get to explore what do you feel most intimate?
I had a client tell me the other day that the most the most intimacy they have felt in years has been–when we we were working well along into touch spaces–but they’re saying “The most intimacy I felt in years, is when we’re talking at the beginning and the end, when you come in and and we talk about how our week has been. And I’m getting a glimpse into your life, and you’re asking me questions about my life, you’re telling you about my interest and telling you about my hardships. And at the end when we’re talking about what we did and also just decompressing right after the work. That’s when I feel so close. And I don’t have that in my life. Nobody talks to me about nobody asked me about my experience, just my mundane day to day things that there was a loneliness in that it was really was really touching to me.” Yeah. Yeah, that’s when that really hit me. Like the touch work we were doing was very important, and impactful. And we had some really important moments during that. But I didn’t even realize that what was really, really nurturing them, what was really feeding them was just the face to face attention. And they have a therapist, right, they have a well established, you know, therapist that they’re working with. But there’s something about that, about how we were just relating, right? And in almost casual way. Yeah, that was really was really important to me, because sometimes we can even almost overemphasize how, how the touch work might be the most impactful. But you never know. And you never know what a person really, really needs. Whether one’s really lie. That’s right.
Karen Yates: I really do appreciate this talking about intimacy and sex and how a lot of times they get conflated. I mean, a lot of times they get conflated, and how it doesn’t even have to be deep conversation, but it just relating and interest, and curiosity can do so much for people. I want to start talking a little bit about trauma. And it’s so funny because I thought trauma was exploding like last year, but man now it is really exploding like all over the social media feeds. And the word “somatic” is like everywhere now. And like when I first started somatic work it was like, what what what are you talking about? What are you talking about? You know, before we started the interview, we were talking for a couple minutes, and we were talking about you know how trauma is everywhere. And I know as I get deeper into my own trauma work, of course, and as well as with my training, I do see trauma everywhere. It’s like “I see dead people.” I see trauma. It’s in the way people hold themselves and their physicality and the way they communicate and the perennial issues that don’t get resolved which are so clearly based in in a traumatic origin. You know, I know for myself that talk therapy has been immensely helpful in moving me along as well as you know, working in 12 Step Program, which is like what I call the drip method, learning different behavior. But for me, a lot of the resolution in the past two years has been through somatic work, and bringing my nervous system back in regulation and undoing the loops and moving them to be able to be processed and, and filed away and done.
And I’m not gonna say done done. Because we all know that when trauma has been suffered, it really becomes about knowing that the triggers are always going to happen, you become better at managing them, you know, for the most part. So for you, you know, in this relationship you have with a client, how, how many layers–I mean, that this kind of an odd question–but like, do you see it as a really, extremely slow, gradual process? Or do you see immense breakthroughs of people like moving like leapfrogging into zones? How do you see the resolution of trauma occurring?
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: A lot of it happens through, like, I have a pretty rockstar consent game. And I have it in my personal life. And I also employ that that in my surrogate work. And that whole process alone of learning what consent actually is like, including what yeses and noes really are already on it. That consent is actually a dynamic relational piece. It’s part of the atmosphere that you build with somebody. It’s not just what is said. It’s everything. It’s a whole dynamic. That alone brings often brings up so much, so much, in terms of a person’s sense of agency, in terms of where their protectors lie, in terms of how they’ve learned to trust other bodies or their intentions, how they’ve learned to trust their own words, right to get themselves safe, or to get needs met. Sometimes there’s a breakthrough simply in doing a lot like I do I do real consent stuff too, and sometimes a lot of the breakthroughs, it can be as simple as somebody telling me, No, it can really be that like that can be such a resounding like a like a church belt, like just something that just has immense peal through their whole body is the experience of having them tell me no to something that I’ve stated I would be interested in doing. And have me acknowledge it, thank them for it and then honor it in that moment, and there’s no rupture in the relationship. There’s no retaliation that’s coming.
Because no, I’m not stepping back from it. I’mstaying present with them. Right. It’s such a breakthrough that countermands traumatic scripts, sometimes from family from like family of origin stuff of like parents who weren’t able to do that. Right? to like, outright, you know, sexual trauma, things that were not even honored, but like railroaded, through at times. So it can be as profound as like having that happen. And having it honored, and having a resolution of something that was never really fully acknowledged before by someone and have truly honored in that moment. And sometimes it’s much, much slower. And sometimes it’s actually it’s not linear. So sometimes there’ll be a little bit of a breakthrough. And then kind of a pullback.
Karen Yates: Sure, sure.
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: Which also makes sense, right, we get vulnerability hangovers. And sometimes that looks like after a really important breakthrough moment with a client recently, the session after that, they were having feelings of wanting to pause, or even maybe step out of the work, because what they were telling me was, “you know, I’m having second thoughts about this, because everything that we’ve done has been really meaningful to me, and I really enjoy the work that we’re doing. And I’m learning a lot about what intimacy means to me. And I just feel like makes me really sad to feel like I have to pay for it. Like I have to pay for this connection.” And that’s real. I’ve also had clients as a therapist tell me that after breakthroughs, so I’ve had that happen to where therapy clients have also stopped, or no-showed or like taken breaks after really breakthrough moments or moments where they felt a lot of intimacy with me, or some kind of a resolution or a new insight. Part of that is the rawness of that–it can feel like a lot. And sometimes people need to step out for a bit to do that, or they need to like, really gather themselves and step away, and I don’t judge that. I try to see if that’s what’s happening. And say that I’m here for it. Like, if there’s a way that we can do that together and feel through those feelings together. And how, how excruciating sometimes it can be to have that vulnerability with someone, even when it’s the thing that you want the most. How like raw and searing it can be to actually lean into it. Maybe that’s why we’re doing this. I try not to use terms like resistance. I think that’s a really problematic term like resistance to the treatment. You know, someone is like wanting to step out earlier than we plan to whatever. I want to find where in their agency economic that and when we think about trauma, we think about resolution, right? We think about finishing a cycle that was never finished, like a response and a body that was has been locked up because it never got the chance to resolve. Maybe there’s something important in them honoring the animal part of themselves that needs to go away for a bit that needs to go and burrow, you know, or walk a different path for a little while.
Karen Yates: it can be a type of integration. That’s right, you know, and that integration can be a week, a month, a year of letting it settle in.
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: I’ve had therapy clients come back to me two years after seeing them, right, they know where to find me. Sure. So I think my job is if I can say, Yes, this is real, what you’re feeling is totally valid, right? Let’s stay, let’s stay in it together, I’m here for that. That’s gonna be the first offer that I have. The second offer is that they need to go home and honor their agency and say, Well, you know where to find me. Right? Right. Because that’s, that’s also me still sending the message of if you do what you need to do, as long as you treat me with respect about it, do whatever you need to do. And the connection will still be here. I’m not going to punish you for it, I’m not going to cut you off. Right? Think about the message of that. Think about what it would have been like for us to be able to say, I don’t think I can do this right now. Or this is a whole lot for me, even though it’s gotten me closer to something that I know that I want. But I know that it’s just too much for me right now. And I need to take care of myself, and to have someone say, You know what, if you can’t do this with me right here, right now, just know that I would, I would do it with you. I’ll stay with you through it. But do what you have to do. And you know where to find me when? And if the time is right. Yeah. I mean, I think if somebody can do that, and still honor the boundaries of treating you with respect, that’s still the work, it’s still the work. It’s not even leaving the work really. It’s still the work. That’s a relational experience we’ve navigated that even in the suspension of the modality.
Karen Yates: Absolutely. And that’s powerful. I want to get back to you were talking earlier about your consent game, and how it’s more than yes, and no, and this is, you know, it’s funny, because not that I’m always looking at social media, but I find it very interesting watching, like the ebb and flow of ideas and things that are starting to take prominence, and then things that sort of dropped back. And I for a time after the yes means yes, no means no conversation about consent, you know, post #metoo, eventually there started to be this idea of like consent is more than yes or no, right. But that is a subtle, that is subtle for public consumption. That is a subtle idea. And I always feel like especially in the realm of sexuality, that because of our age of distraction that we are in right now, we can only like, grasp, you know, large ideas, which are fairly black and white. But that subtlety is extremely difficult and usually not able to be conveyed through avenues like social media, or even in, you know, maybe even long-form digital platform articles. Talk to me a little bit about how we embody consent, how you work with consent.
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: I think the first part of it is being process-oriented versus outcome-oriented. And that’s something that I say I say it outright when I’m negotiating consent, is that yes, there are there are things that I definitely know that I like and that I’m interested in. And I, I’m open to talking about that and also in terms of when we’re together, I have a mind for whatever goals we we’ve established, but it’s not really the outcome. That’s the most important thing is how connected you and I are the entire time. Because it doesn’t matter to me if we get to A, B or C, if we’re not connected along the way we don’t feel attuned, to me there’s not a point of getting there. We can hang out at A. We can hang out at the point before A the entire time. But as long as that’s where we’re at, in a connected attuned way? Then we’ve done our work, right? Yeah, more than having a good time. Right.
Karen Yates: Amen. Amen. Wow–hallelujah here. [laughs]
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: Exactly,exactly. I’d rather stay in place and just build sandcastles in this one spot, right? And dig that deep and just go really deep in that place of just hanging out there, then to feel like we’re not together, like I’ve either left you behind, or you’ve left me behind. You know, that’s part of the pleasure for me, that’s part of it. Honestly, that’s part of what’s going to give me the kind of ease to be in my own pleasure as well. To really let go regardless of what what my role is, if I want to be at ease and allow my natural erotic responses, my sensuality to emerge. I need to feel connected. I need to trust that I know where you are. I need to know where you are. And that and so learning how to trust here in someone’s no and yes. And knowing that they have heard mine, too. That’s part of it. That’s a big part of it. And I love playing consent games. I play them in my personal and professional life all the time. Play “Will you, may I? with everyone, everyone. It’s a fun game. I mean, it’s a great way to really exercise what it’s like to say yes and no and everything surrounding that. But consent is part of a dynamic. It’s having a sense of, I’m confident inknowing what I am interested in. And, and learning how to communicate with you about those things. And and learning how you want to communicate and what works for you. I think one of the confusions around consent is that it gets confused just with permission. And I think permission is kind of like a tricky thing, because I don’t I don’t know about you, but like permission gives me the feeling that, that there’s an inherent power dynamic, and somebody grants permission downward, you know. So I think it’s kind of sticking to think about it just in terms of permission.
Karen Yates: Yeah, I 100%. Agree. It’s about holding power. It’s a power thing. For sure.
[to audience] One of our Patreon members then asked a question that says, “This has been such a fascinating conversation. Thank you both. Brandon, I know you spent much time and effort in martial arts training, I would love to hear how you believe that training has impacted or informed your surrogate work?” Great question.
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: That’s a great question. Yeah. That’s where the mingling of passion and discipline is, one of the sayings in the martial arts practice that I have is that once you’ve done something 10,000 times, you’ve begun to do it. Or another one is if you want to train in this style, train for 30 years, and then train for 30 years more. And you’ll start to understand what it’s about. Not that I would work with a client for 30 years. But I think that there is something about showing up to a space, like in the way that I referenced the dojo earlier. And what I do think is important. And this has to do with consent, in space making, a lot of what we’re doing in the work that we’re doing is creating a container of a space and a container of a relational space. Even if we’re in a different setting, different times that we meet or relational space, that when we are together, we’re entering this place that has an element of respect, has an element of honoring ourselves and one another, of showing up with an intention in mind and showing up with a willingness to work. A willingness to do something hard, because we know it’s getting at something else that we need. It’s it’s helping us cultivate the strength that we want in our lives. So in that way, it is very much like a martial art. And some days, it’s going to be hard. some days, the same technique I’ve done hundreds of times, I feel like I utterly fail at it. But I still have to show up and do it. Right, I still have to know that it’s not going to be perfect every time. But every time that I do it, I learn a little something about it. It’s a gift that gives myself every time I show up the dojo, and we’re doing like body scans and surrogate partner therapy or body mapping sensate focus work.
Part of what we’re doing is we’re taking a gross action, right? That can seem really when we start at it’s at its initial, what are we doing here? What’s going on? If we’re doing a hand caress? Right? We’re doing a back caress, right? If we’re doing a face caress, of starting with what the clients awareness of what what’s happening there, what are they feeling, what kind of textures temperature, pressure of a feeling. And then we do it a couple more times. It’s just like learning how to. I train in swordsmanship. And learning how to use a sword, they always teach: here’s the basic technique, motion over the whole first technique, and I’ll do it. And then the next time I do it, they’ll say Now notice what your hands are doing when you do that. So do the same technique, but just focus on your hands. Now I learned when my hands are actually doing in that technique, and out of the gross framework of just the mechanics. And I’m thinking that oh, it’s so interesting, where my hands actually are in this. And then the next one, they say, Well notice what your feet are doing. Now do the same technique again. And notice what your feet are doing now it’s like okay, well, I wasn’t even paying attention to my feet, but they’re doing something part of its automatic and part of its unaware. But what happens when I start paying attention to them, oh, it actually has a huge impact on how my body is oriented. Same thing. Then notice where your gaze goes. Notice where your breath is, notice how your spine is aligned. And so on and so on. And so on. Same technique over and over again, we do the same thing as search apartment therapy with the same seemingly mundane action, how can we pay more and more attention to that? And that’s just paying attention to themselves. Now pay attention to me. And what are you noticing an email in the same exercise? Right? So it’s peeling back a layer of layer of awareness?
Karen Yates: Yeah. Whew, Brandon. What a deep conversation. What a deep conversation. Thank you so much. It’s great to talk to you once again, and I’m looking forward to having you back on.
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: Likewise.
Karen Yates: [to audience] To learn more about Brandon Hunter-Haydon and his work, go to the shownotes Are you interested in gaining better intimate communication skills? Go to my website, Karen-yates.com to download my free guide “. And a bittersweet announcement. Julia Williams, our associate producer who has been with the show since the very beginning, is now moving on. I am super appreciative for all she has done in these past four and a half years and I will miss her. Thank you Julia. Wild & Sublime is supported in part by our sublime supporter of full color life therapy– therapy for all of you at full color life. therapy.com Well, that’s it folks have a very pleasurable week. Thank you for listening. You can follow us on social media @WildandSublime and sign up for newsletters at Wildand sublime.com. Got feedback or an inquiry, contact us at info at Wild & sublime.com I’d like to thank our design guru Jean-François Gervais and the Creative Imposter studios, our editing company. Music by David Ben-Porat. Our media sponsor is rebellious magazine, feminist media and rebellious magazine.com
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- Brandon Hunter-Haydon – surrogate partner and intimacy coach
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