Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Staying Connected to Erotic Power while Grieving

PolyDallasMillennium Friday Evening Keynote 2017
Power & Equality: Unapologetic
Staying Connected to Erotic Power while Grieving

Trigger Warning: death, suicide,

I’ll be guided by Audre Lorde’s “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” I’m going to be sharing some deeply erotic and personal experiences of my connecting to the power of my erotic. I do this in the spirit of sharing the power of the chaos of our deepest feelings. And as a reminder that the power of the erotic is with us even as we grieve and heal from various sorts of trauma. I will be sharing the ways I’ve stayed connected to my erotic power over the past year as I grieve.  Before I begin I’d like to share a video of Audre Lorde so we may all hear her voice and call our ancestors into this space with us tonight. I am listening in that fine space between desire and always the grave stillness before choice. Here she reads “Today is not the day” about her own mortality.

Lorde states “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction … when I speak on the erotic, then, i speak of it as an assertion of the life force of women; of that creative energy empowered.”

March 1, 2017 marked the one year anniversary of my mother’s death. The person who birthed me on this planet.

I’ve spent the majority of my adult life wanting nothing of what my mother had: One lover her entire life, two children, three grandchildren, a good union job with a livable pension, spending her last 8 years alone with limited to no friends visiting, and no companions beyond her homecare attendants.

It was Tuesday March 1, 2016 6am I received a call from my sister that our mother had died in Puerto Rico. She was being bathed by her nurse who was holding her in the shower to position her to continue with her bath. She felt my mother get stiff and then relax. My mother passed in the arms of someone who loved her and was loving her in that moment. I’ve never realized how much of the erotic is still with us even in death until that moment even though Lorde has written “[t]hat self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes within the knowledge that self satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife.” (emphasis Lorde's)

 By 4am the next morning I was in Puerto Rico. I had booked a hotel on the beach for two nights. I did not want to be with or stay with family, who have historically been anti-Black, fatphobic, and elitist.  I wanted and needed to be in the ocean. I slept for a few hours and at sunrise made my way to the ocean.

I spent hours there talking to my mother. The waves welcomed my entire body after the sun had browned my skin. And it was then I decided the ocean is my lover. I like to imagine the ocean being overjoyed that I had finally chosen them. To be honest, I’ve resisted “ecosexuality” because of white people. And still do in many ways! Yet choosing my body as an offering to the sun and ocean did not start with me and it will not end with me either. And it is my practice. No other lover has made me feel weightless, tests my boundaries, helps guide me through fear, helps me learn to trust myself, and reminds me my worries are not as large as they feel.

This new lover was a great choice because it was the ocean that kept holding me in Puerto Rico. “and when I'm gone someone will find you coiled on the warm sand beached treasure and love you” as Lorde just told us. I imagined myself available on the beach ready to be loved. When my sister and I showed up at the hospice my mother was at I was greeted by my mother's nurse who looked at me and the first thing she said to me in Spanish was: “you’ve gotten fatter.” This was the first and last time she ever spoke to me. I know she loved my mother and was grieving too.

Grief is a shape shifter. We experience it in so many different ways.

As I began to and continued to mourn I isolated quickly, which is easy to do in NYC.

I Smoked to get to sleep,

I smoked to get to work

I smoked to get to and on the subway

I smoked to get home,

I smoked to eat,

I accepted flower and herb as offerings to cope with my mourning. When I was not working I was curled up in bed numb. Only exiting the bed to use the bathroom, accept food that had been delivered, or to open the door for a lover a decade my junior.

When I was writing a list of all the ways I tried to stay connected to my erotic power during mourning to prepare for this talk, I wrote “being thotty” twice without realizing. Yet it was not the type of “thotty” some may think of. It was “thotty” for me. See as someone who was diagnosed with and had treatment for cervical cancer about 5 years ago, my ideas of “thotty” have shifted a bit to include giving myself permission to fantasize more, request touch, continuing my energy healing and connecting it to pleasure and being unapologetic and open about the entire process.

Being thotty also allowed me to reimagine the epigenetic theories that trauma is passed down through our DNA; so why can't pleasure be passed down too?! How do I tap into my ancestors pleasure and gain pleasure by doing so?! It reminds me of Studio Be in New Orleans and the work of artist Mike B.

“I am my ancestors wildest dreams.”

fotograph by @lizlefrere on Studio Be Facebook page January 4, 2017 

I’m not only my ancestors wildest dreams I’m probably some of their fantasies too!

I reached a new level of insatiable while mourning. Insatiable talk, sensation, visual pleasure, taste, rest, art, all of it all the time! Lorde says: “the erotic offers a well of replenishing and provocative force to the woman who does not fear its revelation, nor succumb to the belief that sensation is enough.”

Sensation was never enough for me during grieving. It was vital but not enough. I needed attention, and planning, and dates, and things to look forward to for helping to stay alive and remind me what being alive felt like. I love the anxiety that may come along with excitement. I also love the ritual of preparing for a date, lover, or some other experience. Deciding what to wear, how to adorn my body, assessing if i have all I need to have the outcome I want. It’s the preparation that gives me erotic power too. I’m in control of the gaze. My power is also in how I express my gender and desires. I was reminded of Sandra Cisneros poem “Full Moon and You’re Not Here” ends: “You're in love with my mind but Sometimes sweetheart a woman needs someone who loves her ass.”

Sensation was not enough for me or for my archive. I had to archive what I was experiencing on a regular basis as there were so few people I knew who were open about their grieving and how often they slid down the wall. I think this may be one reason so many homies were willing to show up for me if "i was considering suicide." This being one of the only ways some TQPOC can show up for each other as it's automatic for some of us and that hurts deeply. And yes, there were those moments where I knew permanent solutions to ending pain and numbness were possible and did not choose them.

I started taking daily selfies and tagging them #FemmeInMourning with the words “this is how I'm showing up today.” I needed to come back to myself and learn to love this new mami-less me. How did the grief show up in my body? How did the grief change me physically? I wanted and needed representation, an archive for others to witness. Something so wide open and public instead of private sessions. I made my instagram account public. It still is. “Our erotic knowledge empowers us," Lorde says "becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives.” There is already an archive of the healing practice of selfies for feminist, women of color, girls, and the like. I’m now living proof they are powerful ways to stay connected and guided by erotic power.


I had expanded my house rules when this lover a decade my junior arrived, I only had one: and that was having men undress immediately after entering my home if they were expecting to stay longer than 15 minutes. Much like Ausencia in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love In The Time of Cholera where he shares of her that “she thought it was bad luck to have clothed men in the house”! Marquez writes of Ausencia’s ritual with her lover Florentino

she attacked Florentino without giving him time for anything else, there on the same sofa where she had just undressed him, and only on rare occasions in the bed. She mounted him and took control of all of him for all of her, absorbed in herself, her eyes closed, gauging the situation in her absolute inner darkness, advancing here, retreating there, correcting her invisible route, trying another, more intense path, another means of proceeding without drowning in the slimy marsh that flowed from her womb, droning like a horsefly as she asked herself questions and answered in her native jargon; where was that something in the shadows that only she knew about and that she longed for just for herself, until she succumbed without waiting for anybody, she fell alone into her abyss with a jubilant explosion of total victory that made the world tremble.

Florentino was left exhausted, incomplete, floating in a puddle of their perspiration, but with the impression of being no more than an instrument of pleasure. He would say: "You treat me as if I were just anybody." She would roar with the laughter of a free female and say: "Not at all: as if you were nobody." He was left with the impression that she took away everything with mean-spirited greed, and his pride would rebel and he would leave the house determined never to return. But then he would wake for no reason in the middle of the night, and the memory of the self-absorbed love of Ausencia was revealed to him for what it was: a pitfall of happiness that he despised and desired at the same time, but from which it was impossible to escape.

Ausencia used her erotic and it inspired me so much I have yet to finish the novel. How can it get any better?! Her character brought me to Lorde’s reminder that  “When we being to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing the power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense.”

I chose to be responsible to myself. To ask for what I wanted when I wanted it. My desire was immediate to get out of the numb and foggy feeling I was constantly in while grieving. My flesh and hair on my head and body would ache from the lack of touch. I was either numb or only feeling pain. I still am sometimes. Being six feet tall and having homies who are mostly under 5’7” made hugs from them bittersweet: none of them had the strength or ability to really hold all of me without me morphing my body to reach down to them as we embraced. Embracing my support team because I was so much bigger and taller than them brought more pain not joy or comfort. My craving for touch expanded and I created a new house rule: if you spend the night in my bed i’m expecting morning head.

Enter my love affair with more social media: snapchat

And I had a new way of flirting and archiving experiences too! That young intergenerational lover who came to me right after mami died lasted a handful of months and I found myself with numerous month long periods of abstinence, not fucking other ppl but def fucking myself! I have the best orgasms with myself.  I am responsible for my orgasms.

It took only a few months until I started to think to myself as i’m relaxing my muscles and basking in afterglow and sex flush: "someone should be witnessing all this glorious juicy goodness!" This is my favorite snapchat filter because this is how I see myself when I meditate and engage in my energy healing rituals. The light and shine I have is present always. I needed more than energy as I grieved I needed touch, affection, attention. My grief was shapeshifting.  

So I posted on facebook that I was on the prowl for a lover.
Only one friend responded. And they made the introduction. I still believe that finding me lovers, dates, boos, require community effort.

[CAPTION: On the prowl for new lovers. And if this is not a collective community effort I will not be successful! Feel free to tag your homies or send us into notes using the proposed script "hi! bi is on the prowl and I think y'all would vibe well together so here's your introduction to one another. Enjoy! I'll be liking this so y'all can see it throughout the day. Please and thank you and goddess speed."]

And that lover, this time 8 years my junior. That lasted four months and the first thing they said they were into was having me beat their chest. Ok... and we just met, what’s your full name and your sign, safewords, your emergency contacts to dial?! It’s rare that I choose to partner with people of color who have white femmes as lovers because

Emmett Till. So many white femmes get us killed or harmed again and again. Emmett Till's accuser recently recanted her testimony and false narrative and accusations that led to the lynching of the 14 year old child. Carolyn Bryant Donham confessed to this false accusation as she believes she is on her deathbed. I hope her god she meets is Emmett Till. In my experience, white femmes also get chosen over me for all the things socially and professionally and that trauma I do not want coming in my bedroom literally or figuratively. I'm proud of my Black Star.* This person had several white femme lovers. They also didn't have the capacity for the consistency or frequency I desired. It did not last long. Insatiable.

I masturbated

a lot.

Masturbating, asking for what I wanted, taking selfies, co-running the Women of Color Sexual Health Network where I repeatedly told executive board members I was leaving if we could not get our shit together, and still showing up to work at a non profit organization in Brooklyn that was lead by a white woman with founder’s syndrome (it’s so violent!) while sedating myself for the daily Bronx to Brooklyn subway rides because the non-consensual touch alone set me off!  I needed to answer the question Lorde posed" “how often do we truly love our work even at its most difficult?”

I was not loving my work or job i had to go to each day. I love myself more. I stopped wearing a bra and quit my job after arriving to a disciplinary meeting braless and with my nipples on the table. They had to deal with all of me in the exact way I showed up. It was almost instantaneous the deep feelings of grief which led me to, as Lorde writes, "begin to give up being satisfied with suffering and self-negation." I was so OVER my constant mourning and crying and aching.

People had so many high expectations of me during one of the most difficult and traumatic experiences of my life. I lost friends who expected me to be less curt which they called rude, professional contacts and WOCSHN members expected me to remember them, their name, and consistently be jolly and gleeful at meeting them for the first or fifth time. Two and a half Black participants at last year’s PDM complained about my rudeness to Ruby and made it known me as a keynote for this year was not a good idea or one they would support. I showed up the best way I could during that time. My indifference at the people who choose to judge me is real and still present. And I do not apologize for showing up the best way I could at that time. Plus, I was not being rude, I was being a clear and honest communicator. 

Here’s how the resurrection of The Fruits of Oshun, an all woman of color security detail my platonic life partner had considered years ago in NYC, happened. I was moving in these spaces alone with no witnesses or support. I knew when my grief shifted from foggy numbness to pain to action protecting the femmes that protected me was a priority. We showed up for Fruits of Oshun duty to sexuality conferences all over the US. There is no security team at sexuality conferences where so many of us are targeted and harmed by the constant erasure and white supremacy that is present everywhere. Fruits of Oshun is the powerful reminder that we have each other’s front back and all our sides.

I invested in myself during my mourning in the way I adorn and decor my body. I chose to get my mother's signature tattooed on my left hand in Puerto Rico, as she was a lefty. I started to get black acrylic nails which I called my "mourning nails" so I could reconcile my desire to stop wearing black clothing all the time. This brought me so much joy and I felt like I could devour anyone! Being on the prowl for a nail tech incorporated my love of research and minding other people’s business via yelp reviews. I found a young Black woman in New Orleans who hand paints my nails ya’ll!

My last set of mourning nails were at the end of February this year. My first non-mourning set of nails were like a song by my favorite rapper DOOM “every week is mystery meat!” I had Sade on my thumb, droopy cheesy slice of pepperoni pizza index finger, fat red lips with a gold tooth on my ring finger, another index finger totally studded. JJ DOOMs Winter Blues was my anthem:

The phenomenal melanin bio-polymer
Follow with a glass a Merlot, I could swallow her
Eat 'er up like a SnackWell
We could live forever like Henrietta Lacks cells
Melanin on melanin
Ask me where the hell I been soon as I felt her skin
Holdin' hands, feet in the sand, grounded”

I imagined the ways my power was rooted in sharing deeply my pursuit of joy. I trusted in femmes of color and they took care of me. I invited myself to friends homes to hang out at their house, watch cable, eat breakfast with them, do laundry, and just do mundane things with other people who loved me so I wouldn't be alone. I went to Portland, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Miami, Phoenix, New Jersey, Arlington, Aruba, Orlando, Puerto Rico, Washington, DC, and yes, Brooklyn. I invited myself to travel with femmes who had work conferences in cities I'd never been to or that were beachside. We made an effort to share these travel resources. And I found my favorite and most comfortable airline seats my full body could fit into and airlines that were most accommodating to a Glamazon like me! (Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America).

Black Femmes Save Lives. This meant trusting myself too. Last year I turned 38 at the ocean with new and chosen queer New Orleans family. We were the only POC there and it was the farthest out into the ocean I have ever gone.

I want to share with you now an ode to femmes that I was invited to participate in last year. Written by poet and cultural activist and femme papi Sonia Guiñansaca for the Latinx media space mitú: sonia’s poem is an ode to powerful femmes of color. Here is one example of why and how femmes save lives.

Fast forward to the one year anniversary of mami’s death. My friends got me a hotel room with a rooftop pool in New Orleans where I had been for four months. Mami’s birthday is January 6, the epiphany and the day Mardi Gras begins and her death day was the day after Fat Tuesday March 1. I was a fucking mess!

I had already been sharing online that I needed a sex surrogate death doula, how my sexual bereavement was becoming so strong I was marking myself with rubber bands and my own teeth. Cannibalism became something I sort of understood a little bit more thanks also to the troubling erotic and decadent TV series Hannibal (available on amazon). I wailed when I cried from some of the deepest parts of my chest and core. I do not know what made me think I could wake up at 5AM February 28, 2017 Mardi Gras day to witness the Northside Skull and Bones Gang wake up the Treme. Their's is a Black Creole tradition that includes song, dance, and knocking on doors, reminding us of our mortality, and giving honor to the spirits that came before us. Here’s a video mash-up from this year:

We followed along with the crowd. My homies participating and documenting the day. When we stopped for a break I found a bush at the corner of Ursalines Ave and cried hysterically behind it. A friend texted me saying I was welcome to their home and they would pick me up wherever I was. I told them where I was and what state I was in and texted the homies I had gone to Northside Skull and Bones Gang with that I was leaving. Soon a car pulled up next to me and before I moved rum was splashed at my feet and a cleansing done to me by my homegirl who came to me wearing a red Wonder Woman t-shirt. I was reminded of my mother who loved the color red (she only wore red lipstick!) and Wonder Woman because a childhood friend had told her she reminds him of Wonder Woman.

My mami always loved Wonder Woman. There are signs everywhere if we are open to witnessing them and in New Orleans there are hauntings and ghosts and talk of death constantly. I know signs are everywhere and I still search for signs that are special and unique exclusively to me! Yet, some signs are not just for me, others are signs of asking for help in understanding and being open to the signs. Several friends, brujxs, witches, alchemists, and healers have given me and helped me search for messages. Most recently a message was that my mother's attempts to come back in solid form is difficult because she was in such pain and discomfort as a solid form while on this planet. Now I am searching for the ethereal signs.

I asked people to visit me in my hotel and snuggle. I was foggy and exhausted for a long time my memory of that time during and after her death day anniversary is spotty at best. I cried as I was snuggled, asked for advice from sex therapist homies on what to do about my sexual attraction to friends and how radical honesty fits here. I knew I needed an inner circle of homieloverfriends and one homegirl who has this encouraged me to just ask! I did. And was told no again and again. This homieloverfriend thing was not for them.

I just wanted someone to touch my face!

I had treated myself to a massage each week the first 6 weeks after mami died. And once every month after. Paying others to touch me became so expensive. One homegirl who I still go to for bodywork asked me before a session what I wanted and needed and when I told her about my attempts at homieloverfriendships and how i’m not living in the part of the world where people are down for those encounters. A few days later she invited me to set up an impact play session for me with two other homegirls one who was in charge exclusively on pulling and brushing my hair. I felt seen. I felt loved. I didn't feel alone. And this is the most I've discussed about that experience and it will stay that way! I want to keep the sweet memories I can recall now until my Alzheimer's gene kicks in, which could be already happening or in the next several years!

I started to do the rituals I had been taught by femmes in my life. One of Mami's closest friends when I was in first grade, a Muslim Egyptian woman who only had sons and loved it when my sister and I visited, taught us how to make pita bread and baklava, how to practice patience (which is my new life lesson to learn), and how powerful it is to be a woman. I remembered the power she reminded us of as we use our hands to create and build. I pulled from the brujxs and healers who had taught me about herbs, flowers, and other healing practices from the healing justice movements. I was reminded of how fire shifts the energy in the room, how I find pleasure in meditating by finding what is pleasurable about my breathing as my energy healer of over 7 years taught me. I re-read the journals and looked at the art I had created when I was having a full(er) and more satisfying sexual experience and took all I knew and started to write my own Sex Magic Spells. This was the use of my erotic too.

Guided by Kenaz Filan's Vodou Love Magic: A Practical Guide to Love, Sex, and Relationships I did my first of several Sex Magic Spells. I wrote them down in a book, identified what was needed by my sense of integrity and trusting my instinct. I asked friends to prepare for a period of 6 hours for everyone on all the timezones to participate. I asked each participant to engage in sexual and desirable physical pleasures with themselves or others. I saw this much like how Octavia Butler's Patternmaster pulls from the power, energy, and knowledge of The Pattern. I wanted to create our own Sexual Pattern where I could pull and find what I desired by what was created in those 6 hours. Two alters were going on in my home that night.
UPDATE 11/23/2019

Unfortunately this author has believed the lies of white supremacy and has promoted dehumanization of various community members. This post and others will include this update for accountability and archival purposes.

I lit candles, listened to music, read what I love, showered, applied lotion, masturbated, and as I did I imagined each of the folks who had said they would participate sharing their sexual energy and me pulling from them into my own for my own. I've masturbated like this for years, yet didn't really apply it in this way. I knew my orgasm with these lovers who loved me and who loved the idea of me getting the love and touch I desired would be powerful enough to shift what was happening in my life and end this Love Drought.

There are people who want what I desire and need too. We are carving a path for our own survival and healing. And as we carve Lorde reminds me to “find the erotic within myself...it flows through and colors my life with a kind of energy that heightens and sensitizes and strengthens all my experience.” Most recently I've been dancing to the Erotic Death and Dying playlist I created after Mami's death day anniversary. Thinking about death for 10+ hours a day every day for over a year; the connections to death I found eroticism in as well. This playlist has a range of songs that mention or discuss death, dying, suicide, and the like. It was here I wondered "where are all the curricula for men of color who have mental health needs that use contemporary hip hop lyrics of Black men who speak openly and freely of their suicidal ideation and depression? My educator brain never really fully shut down. I'm high functioning even at my most brutal. Perhaps this is why folks expected so much from me. Friends would visit in April and May sharing that I looked better than they thought I would. And my heart remains broken even on days when it looks like I'm keeping it together. I still cry on planes when I'm in the air with the clouds.

Although I spent most of my adult life not wanting the life my mother chose for herself, I realize I want the death she was able to experience: one where someone who loves me is holding my naked body as I take my last breath. Today is not the day. Today.