'Sharp' by Emmanuela

Anger and Sexuality:
Notes Toward Understanding
by Emmanuela Copal de Léon

Soul and body have no bounds
To lovers as they lie upon
Her enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope:
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's sensual ecstacy.

W.H. Auden, from "Lay your sleeping head, my love"

Sexuality grows out of the barrel of a gun
--Homage to Jancso

In Vietnam
eels live in the water
until they are stuffed
into the vaginas of the opposition.
Do not think of the women.
Think of the eel:
bloodstained, hungry,
staring out of
the cunt
having completed
a political journey.

... Chile,
Lawrence, Kansas,
Dallas, Texas
force and sexuality
go together
like men with men
on horses,
like whips and marriages.
Force seeks sexuality,
sexuality seeks
out force.
There is all you need to know.

--Charles Ortleb, from "Militerotics"

We must learn to eroticize our wounds.
The new love means getting it up
for things that are falling apart.

--Charles Ortleb, from "Metaphor as Illness"

What are the commonalities between the hermit, the gun, the political journey, force, and wounding? How have these attributes come to be eroticized, in the 20th century? Is there a necessary convergence between suffering and sex?

These are the types of issues I study in my practice as a psychotherapist. Understanding the site of pain as the most tender place of union has become second nature, for me. This is not a simple task for most individuals to understand. What I'm offering here is the most basic of outlines toward bridging that awareness between ourselves and others.

I work primarily with survivors of trauma: incest survivors; rape victims; veterans of war. There are many levels of healing to be accomplished in this work, and sexuality becomes one of the most difficult. We are so often afraid to reveal, too often taught to conceal.

When Auden wrote of "the hermit's sensual ecstacy," critics assumed he was penning a quietly sensual tribute to the difficulties of being homosexual in the face of spite and venom. For Charles Ortleb, however, to say that "force seeks sexuality/ sexuality seeks out force/ that's all you need to know" is opening up another realm of enquiry entirely. Or is it?

If we are to "not think of the women," but "think of the eel," as Ortleb instructs the reader, what does that tell us of the "political journey"? Are the sites of wounding expected to be revealed only as "the hermit's sensual ecstacy"?

Some of us who have identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, feminist, or activists, have spent long years re-defining for ourselves what is meant by "personal power." Without treading through the basic tenents (and arguments) of B&D or S-M here, I propose to begin this basic exploration of psychosexuality with one basic principle: carnality has never been, and cannot be, divided from the workings of the mind.

Whether it's desire, passion, lust, fantasy, taboo, fetish, or "love," a body doesn't move through the experience of "wanting," without some personal information from the mind to make that desire truly enticing. Yet, individuals don't often know why they want what they want, and we've got a dozen cultures of shame and repression all over the world because of it, with an entire industry making billions off feeding into a person's "darkest wishes." This is perhaps one way of considering the "political journey" of that force Ortleb describes as "the eel."

It's no secret anymore that women have ankles. Victorianism is dead and gone. We've all seen not only the braless woman, but the surgically inflated breast and its lifeless twin, the blow-up doll. Even Congress has determined that we have a right, in this country, to the privacy of our own fantasies.

What the politics of nations, religions, ethnic groups, even the politics of poverty, have accomplished throughout the 20th century is a hyper-awareness of brutality. Very few adults in any nation have gone untouched by war. Many of the brutalities of war have had their origins in religious conflict; we witness this still today, when religion is so often combined with the genocide now called "ethnic cleansing." For groups who have survived attempts at extermination, genocide, relocation, and "assimilation," what comes next is the internal colonization of poverty.

Any and all of these awarenesses breed anger. And all central emotions have some impact on our sexuality. Add to that our inbred awareness now of HIV and other diseases; the increased incidence of breast cancer among women and men; even the divorce rate and declining rate of remarriage; and Ortleb's reasoning that "We must learn to eroticize our wounds" begins to make a great deal of sense, because, indeed, "The new love means getting it up/ for things that are falling apart."

A host of media reports has been devoted, in the past two decades, to understanding why generations of the U.S. population since the Viet Nam war experience an "apocalyptic" fear of world destruction; why young people have developed a stylized ennui regarding their sense that nothing makes sense; why there should be a group of twenty-somethings called "Generation X." Extending Ortleb's metaphor, and invoking Chinua Achebe, I'd say it's simple: things fall apart.

Having said that, it is still nearly impossible to imprison the unwilling or unyielding mind. And, with our cultural history of taboo in this country, there is an added stimulant to experimenting with "the forbidden."

We're in a zone now, in our Western history of sexuality, where fantasies and role-play of bondage, submission, domination, and sadomasochism are no longer going to be studied at some future point as an act of decadence among the "fringe groups," the art sets, or the intelligentsia. A vast majority of the people with whom I work aren't even aware that there are historical precedents for the types of sexual practices they desire. Aiding in establishing this awareness, on a personal, if not historical, level, is what I do.

And that is the nature of my paintings and graphic arts: each is a journey toward my own self-awareness. For those of us who have quieted our sensualities as hermits, it is my hope that these works will open some new views of the relationship between force, wounding, and ecstacy.

I know. I'm not supposed to talk about sex like that, not about weapons or hatred or violence, and never to put them in the context of sexual desire. Is it male? Is it mean? Did you get off on it? I'm not supposed to talk about how good anger can feel -- righteous, justified, and completely satisfying. ...

Let me tell you a story. I tell stories to prove I was meant to survive, knowing it's not true. My stories are no parables, no Reader's Digest Unforgettable Characters, no women's movement polemics, no Queer Nation broadsides. I am not here to make anyone happy. What I am here for is to claim my life, my mama's death, our losses and triumphs, to name them for myself. I am here to claim everything I know, and there are only two or three things I know for sure.

-- Dorothy Allison, from Two or Three Things I Know For Sure

Text © 1998 by Emmanuela Copal de Léon

Original Graphic, "Sharp," © Emmanuela Copal de Léon

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