personal essay

Unlearning My Sex Shame & Other Kinks

“Si vienes con una pata más larga que la otra, mejor ni vengas / if you come home knocked up, don’t even bother coming home,” my mother’s reaction when she found out that I held hands with Coco, my high school boyfriend. He was quiet, white and the first boy to actually ask me out. Naturally, my tomboy dweeb self was over the Coco moon. The one time I actually let him walk me to the public school bus, my Mom picked me up by surprise and caught me Coco-handed. She held her anger the whole drive home back to our immigrant, working-class barrio. The sex-shame volcano exploded once we got home.

Nada de Naranjas

Unlearning is 

a real team effort

a work in progress

She obviously thought the worst: that I’m going to get pregnant, that I’ll drop out of school, that I’ll ruin my whole life if I am in the back of Coco’s Volvo, fogging up the windows. That all their hard work would be trashed if I were to get knocked up. I get it. Statistically, I know I was the candidate for teenage pregnancy: poor, first-generation, working class, brown, Catholic in a red state. Also, being first-generation, I have to learn everything the hard way, trial-by-fire. Clearly, sex was one lesson I couldn’t learn hands on. I could understand the anger but I also was accused of something I didn’t do, much less even knew the mechanics of it.

In reality, I was book-loving dork who read the dictionary and newspaper for fun. I was super shy and only had a handful of friends. I wore wide legged jeans and baggy shirts to hide my lumpy growing body. I made my own jewelry and begged my tired parents to take me to the library every weekend. Pro-Hoe Yeiry wouldn’t even make an appearance until after college!

From that tirade, my mother instilled the fear of pregnancy without explaining sex to me. I was left with so many questions.

  • Is my virginity the only significant part of my identity?
  • Why does my hymen determine the integrity and honor of my family?
  • Does wanting to learn and explore my body make me a Puta?
  • Why is being a puta or santa my only options to exist in the world?

There was no Google God to pray to about this issue. All I had was a Catholicism rigidness and a very literal encyclopedia that had medical illustrations under the term “anatomy”. I’m a 16 year old living in Texas, with an abstinence-only education that barely even mentioned a maxi pad. I’m a stranger in my lumpy soft body. I don’t even know the texture of my hair. I have no idea where a tampon goes. But only married women are allowed to wear tampons, right? All I know is that I’m totally alone in this and I’m “supposed” to know things that no one had explained to me.

I internalized and hardened with the sex-loathing lava that exploded all over me. How was I to get pregnant if I didn’t even know what pieces went together? How was I to make sense of things when extreme hypotheticals were thrown at me? It was not a conversation. I had no choice but to obey some archaic belief where my hymen ties the family together. Let’s not break any of it.

Coco broke up with me over the phone during Christmas. He didn’t give a specific reason and just said it was best if we didn’t see each other. I agreed only because I was so confused that he didn’t like me anymore. I never shared with him the shit I got because he was white and he wouldn’t understand. Plus, there is only so much emotional intimacy a 16 year old can hold.

It took 15 years after that explosion to finally make peace with my body.

It took 15 years after that explosion to finally make peace with my body. There was not one road but a series of steps and tumbles that led to my sexual education. I learned more about myself through every relationship and one-night-stands. I healed from the emotional abuse I endured in my 20’s. I learned the cavernous chambers of sexual identity and pleasure. Finally, hands-on learning I can understand!

Unlearning is a real team effort. My older sister’s sex-positive attitude was a light at the end of the cervix. Years of therapy has given me the voice to speak up. A community of feminist peers with their support and communal learning, provided the space to learn and exchange. I have a great gyno who answers all the questions I have. I read books, pamphlets, brochures. I even got the courage to grab fistfuls of free NYC condoms. Anything to further my knowledge. I experimented and learned and laughed, all while shedding my internalized sex-shame one clothing layer at a time.

Unlearning is a work in progress. I still get shy about the topic with my Mom, although now she’s trying to be more open about it since I’m obviously an adult. I’m learning more about my body over time and how to listen to it. How to respond to it and to know what feels good or not. Owning my pleasure meant listening to my body. To be patient with my body. To be accepting of the wisdom it’s telling me; not to reject it because of some other external factor (i.e.: this partner won’t like me if I say this or this is what I’m “supposed” to do).

I am also assertive and vocal of continuous consent, very important for all parties involved. I no longer carry the extra weight of worrying what others will think or say just because I am living my truth. I own every inch of my body and it’s a daily affirmation I make to keep this peace. This body is not for a future spouse, or for childrearing or a trophy for someone’s stupid honor: it’s all my own, no one else’s. Managing my anxiety has also provided me the mental clarity to be present. To enjoy the moment and frankly, to breathe. I am able to be present in the moment, be aware of myself and to accept peace in myself.

No one tells you this about sex: it’s okay to take your time. In this hypersexed/youth-obsessed culture, sex can be weird. Sex can be complicated. The most important part about this sexual education is you: your comfort, your consent, your pleasure, your health, your safety. I don’t have the answers but I’m still learning to not feel any shame or guilt for any piece of me. Solo cuidate / take care of yourself in the process (condoms, birth control, abstinence, whatever works for you). Light up all the candles to the Google Gods and do research to learn.

Sexual education does not mean a direct pregnancy/life-sentence.

It’s a fucking conversation.

Pasion y Poder and Me

Photo Courtesy of Univision

Photo Courtesy of Univision

It started off as a joke. The last novela I got into was in 2009. And again, Fernando Colunga was the lead hottie. As he has been for the last 20 years. My Mom was in town visiting and immediately asked if we had a TV so she wouldn't miss her novela that night. "Sorry Ma, no cable but we have the Internet," I replied. After a quick search, "Pasion y Poder" was on Hulu. And the most recent episode too! Relief. Thank you, Latino Marketing Departments.

In the first 30 minutes of the episode, I'm cracking jokes like a culturally relevant Mystery Science Theater robot.

“Can you believe her outfit? Who wears tight dresses to work in an orphanage?”

“Who are they fooling with that wig?”

“Why does that dude always have crazy eyes when he dramatically takes off his glasses?”

I'm live tweeting for my own amusement with #PasionPoder, as watermarked on every scene by the network. My rational brain pulls apart the synthetic drama fibers one by one. Lodging my thoughts in the non sequitur Twitterverse.

"Tengo que ir a la oficina" Is Franco code for Marintia's apartment  #PasionPoder

"I didn't tell you because you're dumb, Gaby" is what Franco is saying #PasionPoder #WTF

< So many perfect reaction gifs. >

The novela tweetfam validates this. We become united to the mockery and loyal to the drama. This is how we connect. Live tweeting becomes my cultural melding of irony spiced with emotional investment. It’s more than just the “likes”. It’s more of like, helll yeahhhh!

Then, the irony fades dramatically. A genuine interest in the drama encircles as the ridiculously good looking actors drive further into my innate chismosa genes.

“Who's that?”

“How are they related?”

“Do they love each other?”

Mom's laser focus promptly answers all my toddler questions. She fills me in with all the backstory I have missed. She leaves no plot stone unturned.

“Julia must decide between Eladio, her husband who lied to her for 20 years about his child out-of-wedlock, and Arturo, her former fiancee who fathered a child outside of their union? And that’s just the start…”

"Damn... I'm hooked," I sigh deeply. The last time I sighed this deeply was when I caught the feels for a Tinder dude. This can't end well.

Over 2,000 miles away, Dad sighs at a scene with the protagonist and his daughter. Arturo disapproves of Regina’s boyfriend David because his mother is the former fiancee who dumped him when she discovered his illegitimate son. Now the children of the former couple are in love, and no one understands why. What a drama bomb, I tell you.

It's an emotionally loaded scene. "Fake tears on fake eyelashes" real. Dad sighs at the huge display of televised affection. There is no irony here. There are only projections of all his feels. It's the Dad equivalent of me ugly crying at every episode of Jane The Virgin. I don't know this though; he hasn't called me. The abyss that's carving between the TV dad and his daughter is mirroring ours. Will Regina listen to her father? Will Arturo accept his daughter's choices? Am I going to call first or will he? He’s not too disappointed in me, right? We're too similar and too stubborn to be in this nuclear family Cold War.

If only we are made aware of our character flaws as clearly as these novela characters. If only things were as consistent as the way Eladio knots his ties or the way Justino loves Clara. Where in this novela world, we are guaranteed a happy ending because one is not promised in ours. Give the people what they want. Give them poetic justice. Let the bad people lose and good people win. Let Death be as predictable as rolling down a staircase. Give them a catchy theme song at every make out scene. Give them the love they are missing in their lives. And wrap it up in an hour. Dinner is waiting. 



Nostalgia as Family

My Maternal Grandmother's House in Polvo, El Salvador.

Nostalgia has always been another member of the family. It sits with us at every meal, chomping away with its mouth open. It joins conversations without an invitation “...because it brings me back to that one time...” It comes in heavy doses around the holidays. “What year did we stop having a turkey? The same year Tia moved away.” It can infuriate me because it reminds me of the person that I was in any frozen juncture. “Remember when you were small and powerless?” it mocks in its crystal clear form. There’s no logic that my adult brain can break through that iceberg of time. “Yeah, I remember,” as I concede, forever wishing to give my younger self a sip of my adult confidence.

When I was younger, I loathed memory. It angered me to know that there were places I would never visit with people I would never meet. This quandary created an insatiable yearning for what could have been. "You really should have been there," it says in the same subtle elitism as someone who just came back from a semester of studying abroad. "It's not the same trying to explain it," ze says in a souvenir accent. My deceased uncle seemed like an charismatic personality if only his illness didn't end his life 9 years before my birth. My dead great­grandfather could have told me the story of us, the one that set on fire with all the other historical documents during the Salvadoran civil war. The innate nature of the past didn’t allow me meet them. All this knowledge out there and I'm stuck here in the 90's with all these poopy feelings and no internet/social skills to commiserate with strangers. This created in me a resentment for the past.

As adolescence raged on, I learn to take the yearning and morph it into an affinity for all things vintage. Vintage clothes and vintage sounds. Digging into the past was my way to reclaim all the things that were lost upon my generation. I was determined to make up for lost time. This also was encouraged by my impoverished childhood, repurposing vintage clothes as an aesthetic choice versus the distressing financial reality that I could not afford “cool” mass produced clothes. Those Doc Marten boots and I were never meant to be.

By that time, the world wide web began to bloom in its full dial­up beauty. My Dad brought home a found computer by the dumpster and I found the internet. Those modem sounds are forever etched into my subconscious like Mana’s “Sueños Liquidos” because my sister kept replaying it every single damn bedtime. The internet represented this anonymous network of people and places I’ll never meet, all a click away. Anything I ever wondered was within reach and I never had to remember anything again. LiveJournal blog posts carved my identity. Cryptic AIM away messages called my true form. The “cool” way to arrange my top 8 on Myspace was a mantle of who I cared about. I didn’t need memory. I had the internet. All these login accounts were my horcruxes: pieces of me scattered over the http://.

Fast forward to my early twenties when anxiety grows into a new useless organ in my body. The novelty of the internet wore off and I retreat into myself. I deactive my public accounts. I grow insecure. Fixating on the past becomes a need to confirm the present. Did I say the right thing? Am I reading nonverbal cues correctly? Retracing steps so clearly where the mind becomes blurred with imaginary reactions and a million drafts of every message ever sent. The present tense made me tense. The emotionally abusive relationship of my early 20’s was rocket fuel to this anxious combustion. Nostalgia stuck by me, for better or for worse, to remind me of who I used to be to in contrast who I wasn’t at that moment. After the nuclear holocaust of that break­up, memory served to remind me of what use to grow organically on these scorched fields. Which condiments do I like again? What used to be my favorite movie? I took back the power to make my new self, from the ashes of the old one.

Now in the infinite wisdom of 29, I embrace memory for all its faults and for reminding me of who I used to be, for who I am now. I embrace all my former version of myself like humble Salvadoran Matryoshka dolls. I am the sum of my decision­making, the product of the previous generation’s risk­taking, the difference between here and there. I listen more intently to what my older Tios have to say. I soak in every anecdote from my parents. After years of self­work, I no longer cringe at the past. I can sit all my little muñequitas peacefully. Who I am now is enough. I even lay out a table setting for nostalgia at the dinner table now. I welcome it with open arms even if it didn’t call before arriving. “Remember when you were obsessed with Gloria Trevi’s ‘Pelo Suelto? You were so cute when you danced it with messy hair” it starts. “Ay... Yes, I do. But I’m not doing the “Sopa de Caracol” dance,” I smile.

Published in Chiflada Zine, October 2015