by Carla Aaron-Lopez
the great protector
Carla Aaron-Lopez writes regularly for Creative Thresholds about the experience of being an emerging artist. Her previous posts are: “Notes from kingCARLA,” “Notes from kingCARLA 2,” “Notes from kingCARLA 3,” and “That Moment When Artists Snap.” “Reiterating the Erotic” is a lecture she gave recently in Atlanta, GA for a Feminist Symposium called “A Bad Question: An Exhibition and Forum on Race + Feminism.”
The devil came wearing white today. And for the next few minutes, I want you to explore what you really think it means to be a feminist. I don’t burn bras. Men are not my enemy. I don’t have Sex and the City moments with my homegirls and I definitely don’t give a fuck about Susan B. Anthony and the suffragette movement. That’s somebody else’s history.
I am the villain who came to make you reconsider sexuality and sensuality using feminism and post-structuralism as my foundation.
Years ago, I wasn’t very moved by those I met that called themselves feminists. Either they were too contradictory, too hypocritical or too radical for my preferences.
Therefore, let me begin this conversation with the year 2012, when it fully clicked that I was going to be a mother to a son. When that realization finally hit home, I knew that everything I had been told, taught and programmed to believe was a beautiful yet hideously disgusting lie.
I truly believe that we live so far removed from truth that I began seeking a new story to tell, a new lie to believe. After my search, I was left with nothing fulfilling and I went into a sort of psychological hiding.
Hiding my thoughts, my fears, hiding who I really wanted to be.
I wanted to walk away from everyone and everything. I began wishing that stereotypes weren’t real because I was planning my great escape from this perceived reality. It was time for me to find a new hero. One that I could relate to in my dark, twisted and morbid little universe. But even that request didn’t hit on what I truly needed.
Ever since I was a little girl, the story of the damsel in distress has been shared again and again. The princess was always so sweet, so soft and so vulnerable that she constantly needed to be saved by a young prince. Growing up black, I also got sold that I needed Jesus to save me from myself and from the sins of the world. Yet another white man who needed to come save my ass.
As I became a young adult, magazines, music and movies told me that I needed to be saved still but in different and daunting ways. If I wear these clothes, he will be attracted to me. If I were this make-up, I will be cute for spring and winter. If I’m like this or that in bed, then I will drive him crazy.
To be honest, I’m still wading through the mess of my life but I’m here now. And to be even more honest, the power of motherhood and exploring the erotic has changed how I see and interact with everything around me. Our collective journey begins with that statement.
I began looking at myself differently from that point. I realized that nothing I learned was going to help the new journey that was unfolding before me. There was no man or woman who would be able to help me in the way that I needed. I could follow a classic framework knowing that I would be more broken on the inside than ever before. Some women aren’t meant to settle down but instead are meant to pierce the taut fabrics that make up your individual perception.
You will not find me in a church. You will not find me in a book club. You will not even find me at a Beyonce concert.
When the feeling came, that moment of clarity, I was standing in my room. The beginnings of my downfall from reality started right there.
And it was glorious.
It wasn’t late into the night but it was winter and it was definitely dark outside. I like the dark. I found myself in my favorite place at that moment. Sinking deep into my thoughts which is similar to navigating through a large warmed vat of thick, luscious, viscous Vaseline. It’s just as comforting as sunny Southern skies with lingering humidity in the air.
I knew this feeling very well and I automatically felt what it wanted to do with me. It started deep down low and seductively moved its way up to my brain sparking a quiet chaos throughout the rest of my body.
The feeling began to inform what I should do next with my life. At that moment, I could either be self-destructive, self-pleasuring or take that energy by its curly rolls and push it into another direction.
One text conversation with a friend later in the night brought back me to the mind of Audre Lorde and introduced me to her views on eroticism. My friend sent me audio of Lorde sharing her essay, “The Power of the Erotic” (a recording can be found at the end of the essay). I pressed play but I wasn’t listening. Her voice was mesmerizing because I had never heard a woman speak with such confidence and comfort. I wanted to be like that. I wanted to inhabit that energy and share it with the people.
I needed to find the thing itself and print it out. The next day, I found her essay because I needed to hold her words and take them in while draped in silence. I needed to touch the papers and strike it with my pen jotting notes all over its margins. I needed a moment with those words and hear them with my inner voice for it to become one with my personal dialogue.
My reason for being so obsessive is because I needed for someone to put into words what I had been feeling naturally and solidify my reasons for working with such hypersexualized imagery. She flipped over and turned out everything that I knew about erotic and I, in turn, reconsidered how I defined the term. The exact same thing that I do with my personal work whether visual or written.
I enjoy looking at classic power structures and dismantling them in a way that I think is an improvement. I choose erotic imagery only because of the amount of negativity that surrounds being a sexual woman.
What if I flipped the perception and turned the eroticization of women into gods and titans? Who would they be to you then? Would they become something else? Would they influence a docile woman to become more than what she is? I don’t know but we’ll see as time passes us all.
I’ve learned that the erotic is a feminine energy and any person can come into the folds of that energy if they are seeking to re-establish his/her individual identity. For many years, I’ve gone on rants and lamented in many essays about the hypersexualization of women of color. Black and Latino women are often seen as aggressive enforcers of sexuality while white and Asian women are docile and submissive. Altogether, people will take advantage of a woman’s appearance, love and experiences. What I’ve learned is that if you just ask a woman what she likes, she might tell you. However, I’ve also learned that many of these same women don’t even know what to do with their sexuality because they are scared of it.
I don’t know why but I think I know a point of relativity. Most women refuse to examine the power within themselves because society says a woman should do and be whatever has been previously established of them from a patriarchal perspective.
For a long time that scared me to the point that I didn’t want to be anything like any woman and I refused to be seen as feminine. I preferred to be dressed in masculine energy and keep rappers as my alter ego to protect myself from critical world views on femininity. If you wanted a woman, don’t come to me because you were going to get a nigga in a dress. This is destructive thinking as a result of a sensitive soul reacting to mainstream images around me.
Ads tell me that I need to use certain products or else I will not be beautiful. I have never really been comfortable with agreeing to such a notion. They also tell me that I need to buy certain products or else my vagina will not be clean and it will smell. That’s scientifically dumb as fuck.
If advertisements aren’t telling me what I should do as a woman, then there’s entertainment showing me how I should act as a woman.
According to what we currently watch in movies, television and the internet, I should be a whore whose feelings are always abused because I’ve opened my legs to the wrong man throughout my adult life.
I should be taken advantage of due to the incredibly high amount of moving images that contain rape scenes and its various circumstances.
Or I should live my life docile and continue to wait for my fictitious white or light skinned knight in a well tailored suit because I am a good girl.
Fuck being a good girl. I don’t care about that anymore unless you want to re-enact a role play scene with me because you love me.
When women are denied the unlimited power and pleasure of being a woman, we create severe deficiencies within our quality of living and when she begins to accept denying herself as a result of our classic gender structures, she becomes the bitter bitch.
We all die a little bit when that bitch comes around.
Life without embracing the erotic is a life that is unfulfilled and obligatory, kind of like the bitter woman. To embrace the erotic is to examine a very wide spectrum of feelings emotionally, mentally and physically. We don’t even know all the words that we could use to describe these experiences.
From sharing joy with a loved one in complete silence to how we interact with the world around us. Have you revisited walking barefoot on wet grass after a fresh rainfall? Have you ever taken a deep breath of crisp air on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall? Closed your mouth and stared into the eyes of your lover? If not, I suggest that you do.
Free your mind and your ass will follow. Famous words by some very famous non-binary black people.
We need not confuse erotic any longer with female hypersexuality but give in to ourselves in order to enrich our human experience as a whole. I am a mother and there’s a woman halfway across the world whose language I cannot speak who is a mother, too. We can share in the joys of that experience. We can definitely laugh at its frustrations.
Embracing the erotic can bring life to our senses if we understand it as an extension feminine energy. It isn’t a sexual energy but a chaotic one that deserves our attention. From being constantly surrounded by sexual imagery, we confuse what that feeling is deep within us. Confusion leads to erratic thinking, poor decision-making and psychotic actions all blamed on the power of erotic.
If someone chooses to break the structure of what they have been taught as normal for their entire lives for the sake of their sanity and happiness then that is a person choosing power over oppression.
Politically speaking, right now, we, as global citizens, are in a stage of redefining and restructuring how we see and approach gender identity. Those lines have always been bent and crossed for a long time with no one voice as representation until now. Questions are being asked from all corners in regards to what defines male, female, man and woman. Of course, there is opposition and hatred to individuals that are creating new social binaries to define their sense of belonging.
It seems silly for me to live my life just for marriage and a man. Is that all my life amounts to because I am a woman? Shall I be in constant competition with another woman over the affection and attention of a man? Or shall I become the bitter woman spewing nonsense about being independent and not having a need for any man? NO. I just want to live my life. My life is not controlled by or in need of saving by any man (or woman).
I’m human and dysfunctional because everyday my heart and brain go through mini battles in the same manner that belief and reason do. All of those points lead to roads of abuse whether the abuse comes from the self or another person. There is no logic to that. There is no defending, upholding or supporting that. And because of that, I support embracing the power of erotic. I want it to drip from my skin, make a woman question her attraction to me and a man feel like I’m something to be cherished. All because I just want to be comfortable in the skin that I’m in and shine as brightly as I can until Death come to give me the sweetest, deadliest kiss I’ll ever encounter.
I find that exploring your own eroticism will lead to the identity and belonging we constantly search for as humans. To be erotic doesn’t mean that we do as want whenever we want. It also doesn’t give anyone the right to become sexually aggressive as a response to growing up in a Puritan patriarchal western society.
Being erotic is as simple as touching the skin you were born in and not having harsh criticism of its imperfections. Just touch it. Being erotic is finding joy and pleasure in things that make you peaceful mentally. And last, being erotic is taking the chaotic energy you were born with and manipulating it in order to enrich your above ground human experience.
Reading Audre Lorde’s essay has helped turn something that I thought was completely abstract into something that is concrete and tangible. She has given me a new life, new direction in defining how I can begin to comprehend my time on Earth because being erotic is in everything that I do.
From the air I inhale to the words that come out of my mouth.
From how I embrace my hair to how I enjoy a hot cup of coffee.
How I see my life’s work.
How I embrace my child.
I am no longer afraid to simply embrace my femininity. I think it looks great on me.
Any questions? Didn’t think so.
Artist: Carla Aaron-Lopez