Two days prior to my Tita dying, she asked Carmen and I to give her a bath. “Escojeme una blusa pa’ ponerme,” she requested. She wanted to get out of her pajamas and dress in her usually fashionable clothes. Perhaps it made her feel more alive, or perhaps she wanted to feel like herself before she died. She was a pretty bold hummingbird. She never lost her sensuality and wanted to make sure she always looked and felt alive.
S. Leyte, Philippines by Maria Cristina Malo
A vagina is a woman’s most intimate, most personal space, other than her soul. So intimate that some women are too afraid to confront it. I wonder if my Tita ever confronted hers. Toward the end of her life, I was able to see this space of secrets, pain, and shame, and I hope of love, wonder, and liberation – though I’m not sure of the latter. I vividly remember cleaning her, trying to touch her gently, carefully. Her puffiness and her elasticity were gone. Lazy and unmoistened skin now held the residue of her memories. Her vagina had been part of her gender, but I don’t know if she had discovered it as part of her womanhood.
My Tita had always talked to me about Miguel Angel, whom she had always confirmed had been the love of her life. She cried sometimes. She cried for the love she felt for him, she cried for the lack of time she had with him, and she cried because she hoped to reunite with him. She met him while married to my grandfather. He was a cadet, a gentleman, and handsome. Her eyes rounded with enchantment when she spoke of the love she felt for him. Once I asked her why she hadn’t eloped with him? Why had she preferred to stay in the abusive and torturous relationship with my grandfather? She confessed that Miguel Angel had pleaded she leave with him. But she was too scared to leave, and even more scared that my grandfather would hurt him. This seemed so oppressive, and I wondered if today a woman would be too scared to elope with the love of her life. I know she was scared, because when she was finally able to escape my grandfather’s torture, she registered her children under new names so that he would not be able to find them. She created a new identity for her and her children.
Miguel Angel died while on duty for the Mexican secret service. She said she cried for days after her brother Ernesto notified her. She didn’t say too much more about him – I think the pain still stung. Until she sat me down one day and said, “Hay algo que te tengo que decir, pero no te vayas a enojar.” The expression on her face of shame, but not regret. And then, as though I was reading an intriguing plot, my grandmother confessed that my uncle, her son, was Miguel Angel’s son. Tears overwhelmed my heart because my grandmother’s love for Miguel Angel lived in something more concrete than her memories. My Tita had loved, she had loved for real. But even in this instance, she wasn’t allowed to love freely – this raw, unrestricted emotion lived encapsulated by fear and guilt. She had to hide and love in the shadows of abuse. Still I wondered if my Tita had had small glimpses of the kind of love that awakens the creative goddess within, that breaks open your sexuality like an orchid bulb erotically spreading and blooming, or the kind of love that commands dignity and self-love.
She always seemed so interested to know if I was satisfied with my sexual life. She would say the women in our family had too much passion to be restrained. She had a friend, Olga, that was a very attractive 55 year-old woman who was consumed with taking care of her ailing husband. Tita would often comment Olga was too sexy to be abstinent, and women had their needs too. She’d laugh and say, “Uuuy si yo tuviera la edad y el cuerpo de Olga, me daría un vuelo!” In some ways she wanted to live vicariously through other women, what, for whatever reason, she wasn’t able to experience herself. This was no more evident than in the Telenovelas she used to watch with so much fervor; her favorite one was “El Cuerpo del Deseo” (The Body of Desire) featuring her beloved actor, Mario Cimarro (picture to the right). There was a lot of nakedness and sexuality happening in the Telenovela, and her naughty smile always made me giggle. She’d scream, “Chulo, Papasito!”
My great-grandma, Tita Chocolate, became less reserved as she got older. I remember once while she was visiting, Tita Carmen told me to make sure the window in the living room was tightly shut. “No se vaya a meter un Cabron,” she said, being cautious about keeping intruders out. Almost instantly Tita Chocolate screamed, “Pues dejala abierta para que se metan dos, uno pa’ mi y otro pa’ ti.” On another occasion, Tita Chocolate was rubbing my daughter, Carmen’s, thigh, sighed, and said, “Hay mija los muchachos se van a dar un vuelo con estas piernas.” She’d always say boys were going to have a whirlwind of a time indulging in Carmen’s legs.
My Tita Carmen and Tita Chocolate, whether consciously or not, were teaching us to be comfortable in our own sexuality and sensuality. Their sexual teasing and jokes reminded us to not fear our bodies, our sexual thoughts, and most of all our desires. They understood that our sexuality was part of us, and to hide it was to commit structural violence against the very nature of who we are.
They both restrained themselves very little when it came to discussing sex or sexuality. Tita Carmen, especially, had a clever way of always making sure I knew that enjoying sexuality was not a sin. Sabado Gigante, a variety show that many Americans would consider risqué, was a household staple at our home. There was always a sexy best-singer-erotic-dancer-with-the-largest-pecks contest. Tita would always call Carmen and I to watch and she’d say, “Mira no’mas que cosas” in admiration of such blatant display of sexuality. The most hilarious part was she knew my husband had an affinity for big booties, so she’d scream out his name whenever there was a performance with sexy women. I think it was her covert way to keep him happy and not call attention to the real lesson she was trying to teach my daughter and I. Once my Tita Chocolate asked me when David was going to ask for my hand in marriage, and I responded by questioning, “Tita why would he want my hand in marriage, if I’ve already given him the booty?” We laughed for a long time, and it was a joyous moment, for I was surrounded by women who had taught me to be comfortable in my skin and with my feelings.
Of course all this talk of sexual liberation, might be misconstrued with sexual libertinism. Along the way, I also received the message that I should never compromise my soul for my sexuality. Sexuality, though an important part of my womanhood, was only a portion of my whole being. Any thing that robbed me, or anyone else, of dignity was never okay. My Tita Carmen taught me to use my heart as a compass, and I learned this – When I choose to give of myself, I do so, only if I intend to walk away whole.
I was recently in the bay area visiting my sister, and we decided to peruse in a store called GOOD VIBRATIONS. Needless to say, we had quite a bit of laughs and discovered waterproof apparatuses and interesting edible accessories among other things. Then I came upon two bright fig-shaped balls, neon pink, for strengthening the vagina muscles. I thought, why not? After all, Tita Carmen would have probably bought it for me, and then followed it with a speech about how I deserve to feel good in bed. Yet as soon as I grabbed IT, I started to blush as if I was committing a sinful act that would have justified some medieval torture like the breast ripper. It was then that I realized that even with the latitude I was given to explore my sexuality, I found myself trapped between the dichotomies of cultural expectations, especially as a Latina (Mexican) woman: On the one hand expected to comport myself with Virgin Mary-like qualities of purity and piety, while fulfilling the insatiable Machista craving for an assertive and sensuous dominatrix in bed.
And then, I ran into Bzzzz Buddies, a female pleasuring device. I had countless conversations with Carmen about her anatomy, safe sex, abstinence, and relationships. But I had never talked to her about the importance of getting to know her body sexually. I want Carmen to be empowered with every choice she makes with her body. We live in a society that condones male self-stimulation, but if a girl does it, she is a raggedy, ratchet ho. This is just double standard shit if you ask me! It’s Carmen’s body [a woman’s body], and she has the right to know what feels good to her, to touch herself, look at herself, and whatever it takes for her to see how beautifully she was created.
So in the end, I purchased both things, because ultimately it’s not about social constructs or expectations, but about our bodies and our soul. How we choose to explore these aspects of ourselves is completely personal. We shouldn’t judge each other or condemn each other for exploring our womanhood. Instead, I hope we choose to talk to each other and uplift each other in our journey to complete liberation.
I also bought her a book, A Young Woman’s Survival Guide, as an introduction to some of the topics that women, let alone young ladies, feel inhibited to talk about. Topics range from sexual identity, to orgasms and how to talk to your partner about what feels good. I certainly don’t want to pressure Carmen into having the conversation with me, but I want her to know that there is no shame in understanding the pleasure that comes with her body. Though I have no doubt after watching Carmen’s amazing performance in Vagina Monologues, she has already begun to explore her body and her soul.
Carmen-my daughter, me, Tita Chocolate, Tita Carmen, David-my husband, and Ofelia-my mother.