One thing that I have come to understand and center my work around is the truth that Decolonization is an act of of re-membering how to love yourself - truly and wholly. As a growing, aging, evolving Womxn, what has continually stopped up my process is my relationship to the value that has been placed on my sensuality and sexuality in a colonized world (though I see it shifting and transforming daily). My intention this past year has been to decolonize my relationship to feeling sexy/sensual and feel empowered by my erotic being.
In the beginning of Audre Lorde’s essential piece of feminist writing, “Uses of the Erotic,” she says: “The erotic has often been misnamed by men and used against women. It has been made into the confused, the trivial, the psychotic, the plasticized sensation. For this reason, we have often turned away from the exploration and consideration of the erotic as a source of power and information, confusing it with its opposite, the pornographic. But pornography is a direct denial of the power of the erotic, for it represents the suppression of true feeling.”
I want to take this conversation further. In my own exploration, I have invited ancestral voice and energy to commune in order to examine the constructs of what’s seen as erotic and sexy.
Last year, I experienced a deep depression after returning to NYC from a journey to the motherland that transformed me in understanding my path as a healer, an energy worker, and a medium connected to other divination workers in my lineage. I returned home with the intention of making my every moment an act of re-membering more deeply than ever before. In this process, I encountered tremendous pain and mourning of parts of myself that needed to be tended to. One of the most difficult things I was confronted with were severe insecurities about my inadequacy to physically and sexually satisfy my life partner. I found myself living out cliches of being victimized by a perceived inability to meet patriarchal/capitalistic constructions and expectations of sexual worth.
There have been so many lived days in this existence that I’ve looked at my reflection and been unhappy with what I saw there. I began to shift my beliefs around this 6 or 7 years ago, when I began formulating a practice of praying to all the parts of my physical being as they reflect my ancestors - every inch of my body, every line and curve, every pore and wrinkle. This shifted my relation to physical beauty, but sexiness is something beyond the skin. The focus these past few months has called me to see and feel those Ancestors/AnSisters whose erotic energy lives through me. I have been excavating their remains from where I had buried them away beneath the colonized mentality of what it means to be sexy, attractive, and appealing to the patriarchal and capitalistic gaze. I invite them to dance and pulsate through me, to awaken rhythmic motions and energetic pull of sensuality through me. I invite their presence to light a fire in my belly and send sensational vibrations through my blood, my bones, my skin - emanating from within.
I invite us to move beyond constructions of the erotic and sensual that have made us shame away one of our most powerful centers of energetic lineage, and to ask ourselves: when did we as human beings invest in the belief that the erotic/sensual/sexual had to be kept away in private places? When did we begin to understand sexuality as a performative act, shaped by a surface understanding of its power? When did we begin rooting our erotic selves in the standards of our fathers, brothers, lovers - allowing the patriarchal and capitalist gaze to control and determine our value and worth? When did these parts of ourselves become demonized and fetishized? When and why?
In this conversation of Decolonization I have been uncovering and unpacking a number of ideas that have influenced further conversation that you can follow through my social media and the hashtag #DecolonizeYourSexy:
Moving Beyond the Performativity of Sexiness
Colonization is a teacher of life that asks us to adapt/transform/warp our bodies, thoughts, actions and behaviors into the performativity of a human being. We are taught to perform our lives to fit in, to be accepted by society and to be valued. Decolonization asks us to unravel all of that - to break it down and dismantle it and re-member ourselves back to wholeness and fullness. Sexiness has become an act of performativity; even the act of sex itself has been made into a pornographic display of expected scenarios that equate to sexual fulfillment. It takes so much to unravel, break down and dismantle what we’re taught is necessary to BE SEXY, to satisfy a partner, or to be satisfied by the sexual appeal and performance of another. There is deep trauma behind this need to be “enough”, the need to fit the mold of a sexually desirable human being. We need to re-member the wild nature of our sexual selves and trace the lineage of sexuality/sensuality/eroticism to before it was shaped by colonial standards and expectations. How do we move beyond the performative and re-member how to live as our erotic selves again?
Nakedness is not the only way to access your Sensuality
A core connection we make to our sensuality is rooted in the revealing of skin and the nakedness of our bodies. But in truth, we do not need to be naked to exude our sensual energies and to express the eroticism of our spirits. We recognize the ways that the naked body has been censored and shamed into “modesty” and because of this, liberating its nakedness feels powerful - and we root that power in sex. But the work of Decolonization asks us to understand that nothing is ever as simple or as easy as doing what is forbidden or reclaiming what has been taken; it is much more. We understand our nakedness as the most liberated human expression of our sensuality - the naked body being associated with the indigenous, the wild, the free - and the dressing of our bodies representing the gradual colonization, the covering up and confining of what was once free. But I invite us to re-member that though our naked skin is a physicalized expression of ancestry, lineage, and physical life lived, the true root of our sensuality is in an energetic freedom that has been confused by conceptions of performative eroticism. What does it look and feel like to not have to activate your sensuality through nakedness or sex itself, but to honor and acknowledge that it is always with us?
Eroticism can be relational, but shouldn’t be measured by Colonial constructions
The desire to connect and exchange energy is part of this path of re-membering; the misconceptions come from a perceived need for affirmation and validation of our sensual selves from one another. When our eroticism/sensuality/sexuality lives in its rawness, in its truth - not in performativity - the attractions and connections are undeniable. We are drawn toward one another in sensual exchange that turns something on inside us, that invites our own sensuality to be enlivened.
There is a relational aspect to sexuality, there is a law of attraction with sensuality, there is something that is powerfully exchanged through eroticism. We shouldn’t downgrade it to “desire” or the idea of someone “wanting” us - that is where we have lost ourselves in this re-membering of our sexual selves. If we reclaim and liberate the sacred power of the erotic within ourselves, the vibrations are going to radiate and attract and awaken others. How do we relate sensually without adhering to the colonial structures of patriarchal and capitalist power relations?
examining the idea of Ownership and commodification
I’ve been diving deeper into the idea that we have to reclaim ownership of our bodies in order to feel empowered. I am working to remove myself from attachments that relate my power to ownership of anything - even ownership of myself. I feel moments like this make me contemplate the limitation of words and language. What were we before the idea of “owning” existed? Before someone believed that they could own objects, own land, own water, own ideas, own knowledge, own bodies, own peoples, own lives?
I relate this to the way sex is commodified and how much of our notions of what is sensual and of sexiness are controlled by capital, owned and determined by others. What was it to BE sexy before we were taught to own it, define it, be in control of it? What would it feel like for us just to be again? How can we re-member beyond reclamation? How can we love ourselves without tying it to value or ownership, without measurement or control?
Jana Lynne "JL" Umipig is a multidisciplinary artist, educator, and activist who seeks to elevate the narratives of Pilipina wom*n as a reflection of her own life's journey toward decolonizing, re-indigenizing and humanizing self. She is the creator of the acclaimed Movement Theatre production "The Journey of a Brown Girl," noted as a "transformative human experience through the lens of the Pinay Narrative." She is a core member of The Center for Babaylan Studies, an Inner Dance facilitator, and founder of Butikaryo mga Babae, which creates sacred space for Pinay Womxn Healers seeking to learn and remember healing practice and knowledge connected to our ancestral traditions.