Monday, February 23, 2009
Sex Positivity: Carnivals of Culture, Puritanism, Oppression and Body Positive Spaces.
Hello? Anybody there? Sorry, its been a couple weeks since i last posted! But the truth can now be told... i was back in Jamaica with my honey, having a sweet time being very offline. Very sweet time. I still have tactile memories of our sunbaked, suntan-oil slicked bodies holding each other in the ocean, kissing while waves pushed us together. mmmmm!!! (to the family and friends i didn't get to see this time around, beg yu give me a bly, soon come back! this was a strickly honeytime flex...)
while in Jamaica, my partner commented on something that i wasn't really able to see as someone who grew up in the culture. The fact that most adults we talked to (age 30's through young 40's middle class Jamaicans, decent percentage of Catholic upbringing, living at least outwardly heteroexual lives) seem very comfortable talking about sex/sexuality. And with people they have just met. I'm not talking about come-ons, just casual matter-of-fact convo that involves sex in ways that people in the States may involve an anecdote from work, or relating a story of some old friend they just ran into. My sweetie pointed out several examples: A female friend of mine casually shares about her masturbation habits in the first 30 minutes of meeting said sweetie. A male friend recalls performance anxiety in first sexual encounters during a conversation on high school. At dinner in a fancy-ish restaurant, a pregnant female friend reports how her husband woefully strokes her breast with longing, because he knows from experience that her breast will no longer be "his" when the baby is born. Still another woman my honey just met shares how she feels that her sex life has gotten better and better with marriage.
Its only when this is pointed out to me, that i see the pattern. The gf then says with a "i shoulda had a V8" kinda lightbulb realization, "Of course. Its not about Jamaicans. Its about US. The U.S. is a puritanical culture!" It was a great conversation.
And it left me thinking. Thinking about how dominating culture-centric the U.S. is, establishing a standard by which people are determined to be "hypersexual" or... whatever the antonym of "hypersexual" is. Usually, people of color and LGBTQ folks are stigmatized as "hypersexual", while this sexuality is coveted, obsessed about, and fetishized.
Of course, there is a spectrum of appropriateness in every culture, and right now in Jamaica the Broadacasting Commission is banning the radio airplay of sexually explicit songs, a move inspired by the relatively new dancehall phenomenon of "daggering". Daggering is a style of dance typified by simulations of hard banging, rough sex. One of the signature songs, "Hundred Stab" challenges men to pound into a woman 100 hundred times in under 60 seconds. There is an added "extreme sport" factor where a man may jump from a chair or speaker box onto a woman being (consensually!!) held like a net, aiming his groin at hers. Or a woman may run full tilt across a room to jump onto a man. People definitely leave dances with smiles and bruises! This video and this video will elucidate. Whew!!
But again, levels of "appropriateness" are relative. Displays of homosexual activity is definitely staunchly oppressed, and amorousness between same sex couples could be life threatening. Also many members of the dancehall community are not happy about the stigma being placed on the good time they are having, especially since this is near Jamaican carnival time, where the soca/calypso community parades half-naked in the street, emanating rhythmic rapture and beaming with sexuality (see pic above). The dancehall community asks, why is this ok, and our dancing is not? Class and color raises tensions, as dancehall has roots in dark skinned, working class people, and the carnival community has roots in "brown" middle class people. Issues of what is ok to model for children also raise heated debates, with class structured values bouncing back and forth.
Jamaican culture clashes aside, if we look at the picture above, an ironic fact may come to mind. I cannot think of a national cultural event in the United States that echoes this level of costumery, body/sexuality celebration and dance (besides other isolated Brazilian and Caribbean Carnival celebrations here). The closest that would seem to come to this, is Gay Pride. I believe this is ironic for many reasons, but also because here, it is puritanical and heterosexist oppression that has created the need for a space that asserts humanity, and celebrates the body, love and sexuality. Sure, us straight folks have the privilege to walk down the street holding hands, and be amorous in public without fear of harm (perhaps race might complicate that, but mostly, its a pretty assured straight privilege), and the media floods us all with normalizing images of heterosex and affirms its naturality.... But there is not really a national event where heteros- or better yet- EVERYONE regardless of genders and sexualities, can just walk down the street, sun on our skin, revelling in our beautiful bodies, dancing and getting hot and happy with other hot and happy people. One woman i know who does the Jamaican carnival in "full" costume reported having a rapturous experience... dancing down the street, being transported by calypso and soca polyrhythms, feeling free in her body and soul, and looking around and seeing her closest friends also enraptured. A powerful moment of being sublimely and utterly present opened up... and with it came the realization, the message to mark this moment as the happiest moment in her life. Tears streamed down her face, and the ecstacy raised her even higher.
So what do we need here? A Pan-Gendered, Pan-Sexual, Sex Positive Parade? I'll DJ!! When not dancing my half nekkid butt off. The event would need to have a catchier name though, methinks. The Carnival of Body Liberation!! Hee. I'm open to suggestions.
In conclusion, to me the phrase "Sex Positivity" has a new emphasis. It is a phrase that symbolizes the conscious maintenance of natural and healthy body/sexuality self-image in a dominating culture that is oppressive to bodies and sexuality in specific, historically and culturally defined ways.
Hmmm. Maybe the Carnival Of Everyone-Is-A-Juicy-Hottie? Still needs a little fine tuning... ;)