Eat Mangoes Naked – On Becoming Myself… Again

View from Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

In some ways this post is a follow-up to Where’s My Parachute:  Lessons in Love and Loss, my mini-autobiography.

In college, a female mentor introduced me to Sark and her classic book Succulent Wild Woman.  If you’ve never had the pleasure, Sark’s work is like a playful, engaging little kick-in-the-ass that feels like a soft pillow enticing you into a lazy, afternoon nap.  Sark inspires you to envision a more expansive life and take the risks to get there.

Some of my favorite gems that I go back to again and again from SWW:

-“Traveling Alone for Women.”  Sark inspired many trips small and large for me, including a month-long, cross-country road trip by myself where I struck up conversations with strangers of all kinds.

-“Marrying Yourself.”  This is brilliant stuff, folks.  Everyone should marry themselves, everyone.  Go out there and “become the person you want to find!”

– “Investigating the Dark Places with a Flashlight.”  Sark is all about facing our demons head on, with plenty of naps and treats in between, of course.

-“Importance of Being Crabby.”  Duh.

-“Radical Self-Acceptance.”  In college, I actually put little post-it notes all over my dorm room that said “permission” in keeping with Sark’s advice to “fly permission flags.”

-“Importance of Vibrators.”  I will never forget how Sark describes getting her first vibrator as a teen on Easter morning.  She bounds downstairs exclaiming joyfully, “Happy, Happy Easter!” after using it for the first time.  I often think Happy, Happy Easter to myself after a particularly satisfying time…

It’s incredible how life sends you something, and then brings you back to it again and again  offering a fresh perspective each time.  When I first read Sark, I was doing very hard emotional work.  Sark helped me take myself less seriously, give myself breaks, and accept myself where I was.  Part of that was accepting I was really far from being emotionally ready for serious intimacy, including sexual intimacy.

At the time, Sark’s advice about learning to be alone, taking emotional risks, and facing dark feelings felt so on target, but other things were very foreign back then.  Sark talks about “living juicy,” “succulence,” and “sexual blossoming.”  She has another book entitled, “Eat Mangoes Naked.”  Looking back, what Sark was getting at was eroticism – taking hold of erotic energy and utilizing it to live a richer, more vibrant life.  I was so far from “eating mangoes naked,” the best I could hope for at the time was protecting myself from further emotional harm.

In 2005, I traveled around southern Africa with a close friend of mine.  It was one of the three most important experiences of my life.  I had met Seth only two months prior.  I was allowing myself to take risks with intimacy that I hadn’t before.  The friend I was travelling with kept looking at me like I was someone different she’d never seen, as I spoke about Seth and my feelings for him.  Looking back, it was a time of succulence for me, one of the first I had ever allowed myself.

I spent a lot of time on my own during that trip; reflecting on my mother’s death just a few months prior, grieving, but also exploring my feelings for Seth, realizing I was in love with him, and considering what that meant for me.  I remember walking across Table Mountain in Capetown, looking out over the stunning coast and shimmering ocean.  That was my ocean, the one I’d learned to walk next to, but at the opposite end of the world.  At that moment, the sun felt like it was shining on parts of me I hadn’t even known existed.  While my mother’s cancer kept me closed off and hidden, her death left me raw, exposed, with a lot of open spaces ready to be filled.

This week I found myself eating mangoes naked with a lovely, witty, sexy woman from Cape Town.  I had a little chuckle to myself, for Sark, for how far I’ve come, and for the way we grow in circles, revisiting the places we’ve been so we can see the view from where we are back to where we were.    That day, I again found myself somewhere I never could have imagined I could get.  “Living Juicy,” as Sark would say.

By this point I really know what “Eat Mangoes Naked” is all about.   The woman I was on my Africa trip was no longer terrified of love and loss, but the woman I am today is more than that, she is a real Succulent, Wild Woman.  The risks I am taking now feel easy and playful instead of like walking through a title wave.   I let all the big questions of identity and relationship negotiation melt away this week into the simplicity of brushing up against a stranger on a rooftop, an instant connection, and a lingering sense that this was what supposed to happen, for both of us.

My new friend is back in Cape Town now.  Saying goodbye is hard, but it also teaches us to embrace the present.  So I am left with the feeling of being amazed by life, and truly, almost painfully grateful.  Grateful above all else for the simplicity.  After the soul-searching, the over-thinking, the wading through other people’s fears and projections, this experience has been beautifully ordinary.  Not ordinary in a bad way.  Ordinary in a way that tells you in your gut that you knew who you were all along, and that new experiences don’t have to change the old ones, just deepen them.

As I sit here alone, picturing her in her apartment on the slope of Table Mountain, overlooking that same sparkling ocean I once did, I think about the incredible journeys life takes us on if we let it.  If we drown out all the noise, turn off the tv, ignore the naysayers, don’t let other people’s fear turn us off to our own internal compass…  If we don’t play by other people’s rules but allow ourselves to make our own, the ones we really need, life will take us exactly where we need to go.

I know there are many of you out there who feel like you can’t live your fullest, most succulent life right now for a variety of reasons.  The path may be long, can be slow, and I assure you there will be pain along the way.  But don’t let anyone tell you you can’t.  Don’t let anyone tell you you have to stop, that you are getting too old, too wild, too outside the lines.  Keep expanding, keep growing.  Eat mangoes naked.  Find people who will do so with you and let you go when you need to do so alone.  Why do we do anything other than let the ones we love live fully and succulently?  If someone loves you, ask them to set you free.  But you have to set yourself free as well!

Seth and I talked a lot this week about feeling like we should feel bad.  Feeling bad about not feeling bad. We have real fears, of course, but the ones that came from outside of us, we are letting go.   From here on out we steer our own ship.  We are accountable only to each other.  Never could I have imagined this depth of connection when I first marveled at having an intimate partner.  There is little more powerful in terms of an act of love than setting someone free, and little more exalting than having that person stay anyway, though the door is open and the whole world is spread out before him.   There is great power in watching your partner grow and live fully, putting your fears aside, and being happy for him.  The “poly” folks call this compersion.   I think Sark would call it succulence.

Yours in grateful exploration,

Lyla

P.S. – Breasts seriously rock.

 

 

 

 

 

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40 Things I’ll Teach My Kids About Sex


There's way more to talk about than these guys!

A follow-up to my “Sex Talk” Way Outside the Box post, originally appears here at elephantjournal.com.

1. Monogamy is just one way of doing things, it’s not inherently better or healthier. Make sure you make a choice about how to structure your relationships instead of defaulting to heteronormativity or compulsory monogamy.

2. Gay and straight are over-simplified terms. Most people are somewhere in between, orientation can change—and some folks don’t even identify as male or female.

3.  It’s okay to have casual sex if you feel clear and comfortable about wanting to. If you make a mistake, you will just learn from it.

4. Slut shaming is never okay, whether coming from you, or directed toward you. There is nothing inherently wrong with having sex, enjoying sex, talking about sex, etc.

5. No sex should be emotionally damaging.

6. Consent is the one thing you must have in any intimate encounter. There is no gray area here—and it is never too late to say no.

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Hetero-monogo-binar-illa-normativity and… Cookie Dough

If Unwrapping Identity is as Simple as Inventing a New Flavor of Ice Cream, Maybe Being Queer is Just Being Human?

-Also appears here at elephantjournal.org.  Check it out!

–In 1980, Adrienne Rich wrote possibly the most important queer feminist text in human history, Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.  Today, I bring you my own thoughts on compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory monogamy, gendered and vanilla existence, all through the lens of… ice cream.  

—For anyone who might be wondering (especially those who remember this), no I was not high when I wrote this post, just hungry.

Every time I think I’ve stepped completely outside the box, I find there is another box. My life is like one of those Russian nesting dolls—open me up and there’s another one inside. But in my case, instead of getting smaller and smaller, I get queerer and queerer.

When it comes to sex and gender, our world is like an ice cream shop that only sells two flavors—with maybe a third special flavor available on certain days of the week. As a lover of frozen treats, I have to say, that’s pretty lame!

Imagine if ice cream only came in chocolate and vanilla. Strawberry would seem pretty damn novel—even radical! Strawberry might seem so radical, it could never occur to anyone to do something crazy like mix flavors together, add nuts, chocolate bits or (god help me) cookie dough! How empty our lives would be without cookie dough! And the saddest part—we would have no idea what we were missing!

I’ve always been outside the box. It’s not like I only knew about chocolate and vanilla. At 20 years old I was hanging out at something called a “Queer Kiss-In.” I just wasn’t kissing anyone. Why not? Because there were other boxes I was still inside.

Strawberry. I got it. I got the strawberry, but I didn’t get the cookie dough. I was outside the straight box, but I was still inside the monosexual box. I hadn’t reached pansexual yet, and wouldn’t for years. There was no way for me to imagine cookie dough back then.

Why do I meet so many other women who didn’t realize they liked women until later in life?  You see, many of us were never offered that flavor. When we looked down into the display case of life we didn’t see queer as an option. Even me, who thought I was pretty damn radical, marrying a feminist man in a partnership ceremony, wearing a brown dress, keeping my name… I thought I was at the wheel, but I was still caught up in compulsory monogamy and heterosexuality. I questioned the gender expectations traditionally ascribed to “marriage,” but there were so many other things I didn’t question.

Strawberry was my big fat feminist, egalitarian wedding. Cookie Dough is separating marriage from monogamy. I know, I know, I need some dessert.

Seriously though, it’s really hard to see something in yourself that you’ve never seen anywhere else, and that no one recognizes in you. In the last couple of months I’ve had several friends I perceived as straight or lesbian tell me they are much closer to bi, as well as friends I perceived as cis-gender tell me they aren’t. The more I talk to people about my identity, the more I’m able to truly see them, and perhaps, the more they are able to truly see them. I’m left wondering if the LGBTQIAPK, etc. folks that we see out there are only tip of the iceberg.

What’s different about queer people who somehow manage to recognize queer in themselves and live it? Are their skins thicker, are they smarter, luckier, were they simply in the right place at the right time, or are they gayer, kinkier, or more gender flexible than the rest of us? I can’t say.

All I know is how incredibly fine the line is between me and your garden variety heterosexual, vanilla, monogamous suburban mom. If so many of us ladies are, or were, just a couple neuron-firings away from recognizing our queer, than how many more are out there like us whose queer neurons just haven’t fired yet?

Why does one mom stay closeted her whole life, even to herself, while another is tormented by her same-sex desire which she never reveals to anyone?  Why does one woman have a secret affair with a woman, ultimately coming to view herself as a lesbian, while another has a full -blown, long-term relationship with a female, but still identifies as straight. What separates the woman who comes out to her husband and friends and has discreet relationships with women, from the one who leaves her marriage and never looks at a man again?

In my humble opinion, very little.

I say that because I could be any of them. I could have landed anywhere on that spectrum. I still could.  Had I never had pregnancy and birth hormones coursing through my veins and experienced the head-trash of becoming a mother in our society (see here for my manifesto on motherhood and coming out), would I have gotten so in touch with my queerness? Easily not.

I once heard a talk by a woman who is an expert in the field of transgender identity. She stated, with regret, “We’re losing a whole generation of butch lesbians.”  Her implication was that many of the women who would have identified as butch lesbians in the past are now transitioning to male. Why would this be? Current technology and visibility of transpeople means—you guessed it—more flavors. It seems the butch lesbians of the past were all about strawberry, but they hadn’t yet sampled the cookie dough.

It all comes back to the ice cream. If we look down into that case and all we see is straight, all we see is monogamous, vanilla, traditionally gendered, and paired off in dyads, then there’s nothing else to sample. There are so many flavors we all have yet to discover! Everyone has another box to get out of. We all have unexplored aspects of our identity, and for most of us, more unexplored than explored.

I never saw a woman love a woman in a way that wasn’t platonic until I was 18. When I acted flagrantly queer in high school, nobody ever noticed. I’m not saying they ignored or rejected it—see that would be a form of recognition, albeit painful. I’m saying they simply didn’t see it—like a color-blind person looking at a pattern and only seeing certain parts—they were queer-blind. Their brains were not wired to see queerness. They had neurons firing to straight girls acting very, very friendly with their best friends. Groan.

When I was a senior in high school, I won an award for writing. It wasn’t a surprise. I’d been getting praised for my writing my whole life. But what if I hadn’t? What if no one ever noticed my writing? What if no one around me even knew what writing was? What if my teachers paid way more attention to other talents I had and ignored my writing skills? Would I be writing this right now?

Amazing how parts of us can get hidden so far inside us that we don’t even know they are there, while the things that get validated, groomed, praised, and noticed tend to be the ones we cultivate. That my friends, is why I have a husband and a blog where I write about being queer, but not a girlfriend. And that too is why I wasn’t kissing anyone at the “Queer Kiss-In.”

It wasn’t that I wanted to kiss someone but didn’t. I don’t think I even had access to those feelings. I don’t believe it’s because they weren’t there—I think I just didn’t know where to look for them. I didn’t even know to look for them. By then, I’d had my straight parts reinforced up the wazoo, and my gay parts not at all. Remember Eve, my “sixteen year-old lesbian alter ego?” She’d already been sent into hiding by that point.

This is what compulsory heterosexuality is. It’s not big brother knocking on our doors and telling us “You are going to be straight, vanilla, marry, and be monogamous, and that’s just the way is it, young lady!”

It’s much more subtle, and much more pervasive than that. It’s everywhere. It’s in everything we see, but most of all, it’s in the many, many things we don’t see. It’s in everything we are told about ourselves, and it’s in the silence of the things that are clearly in us that not one ever sees.

So what is fluidity then?

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not so much that queer feelings suddenly appear where there weren’t any. I wonder if it’s more like we are, for a variety of reasons, able to see more. It’s like we get treatment for our queer-blindness, and suddenly we can see twice as much. It’s like walking into an ice cream store, and instead of three flavors, there are six, and then sixteen, and then sixty. What if those ice cream shops were everywhere? What if we could all see all the possibilities?

I wonder if we would conclude that fluidity is simply seeing more and more of what already is, and queer is just another word for human?

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Help! There’s a 16 Year-Old Lesbian Trapped Inside My Body, and She Wants Out!

Also appeared in elephantjournal – check it out!  This post is dedicated to MF.

The following is an internal dialogue between me, Lyla (“grown-up,” married, mother of two), and my gay, teenage alter-ego. We’ll call her “Eve since,” as you will see, she spends a lot of time focused on, shall we say, forbidden fruit.

Lyla: There has to be a way to keep up with the laundry without doing some every single day!

Eve: Girls.

Lyla: Aw, my little boy asked a question, that must be a developmental milestone.

Eve: Girls.

Lyla: Seth is my soul mate, best friend, and life-long companion.

Eve: Girls.

Lyla: How do I know if my kids are adjusting well to pre-school?

Eve: Girls… and sex.

Lyla: Dental Insurance?

Eve: How do you pick out a strap-on?

Lyla: I can’t believe this, I didn’t think we had dental insurance, but we do! What a relief!

Eve: Dates… we should be going on them. With girls!

Lyla: I should probably talk to my therapist about this.

Eve: OMG.

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