Wednesday, August 15

The Suitable Girl: Soft and Brown

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To my untempered, half-grown adolescent brain there were two modes for sexuality: on and off. Either you were turned on or you were going about your day with the dial set firmly to “off.” The only thing in between was the small tingle that raised your skin and sent a shiver down your back. That was the transition state from off to on. I hadn’t seen or been allowed to see the soft in-between of sensuality–touch, tenderness, long held gazes, the space that wasn’t sexual but was affectionate. An electric and calm center space that pulled in no directions.

It wasn’t until I was older and touching a person unabashedly for the first time that I noticed the pleasure that came out of this sensory experience. It was something outside of sexual desire, it was reveling in softness and form. It was like being an artist without a medium. It was altogether more and infinitely expansive as compared to what I had seen so far could happen between people.

It is a difficult thing to be sensual, just as it is a difficult thing to be kind. This is not a world that currently demands a silky, sweet feel. It needs and wants aggression or methodical action. Aimless experimentation that yields no sexual pleasure or movement is a difficult commodity to ship, and yet it is sorely needed. The downward trend of sex and orgasms and the upwards tick of hiring freelance bodies to cuddle you to sleep shows as much.

Does it need to be said, then, that what is already complicated and rare within the larger society is exceptional among our small community? We are not often the figures of sexual thought and discussion. Our sex happens in the dark more often, and it does not always love us back. Sexual violence and sexual abuse plague our community as they do to others all over the world, but we are not good at holding them up to the light.

I was thinking all these thoughts, and wondering if there was an iteration of sex that could be discussed brazenly for brown folks, when I found Raveena’s music. Her voice is sweet and her melodies hang above you like the sunniest halo. The visuals she employs to tell her stories are sensuality manifested–all lingering shots, sensory experience, soft touch, and calming colors. Her newest video “Sweet Time” lives in a space of tenderness and pure contentment. It wants for nothing more than what it has.

To see a brown-skinned woman who is of us sing like this, lay like this, and live like this in a world of her own creation is new. It’s strange, but not unwelcome.

I think back to the first visual confrontation I had with raw, brown female sexuality that wasn’t mine or that of the loud neighbor who lived next to me in the dorms. I was already in my twenties and I was watching Sarita Choudhury in Mississippi Masala. She was sexy and sexual. The camera swooned lazily along her body as she lay bottomless with a thick, honey-toned leg hanging out from under the blanket. Her hair cascaded over her pillow and she was flirting overtly with a man on the phone. I had never see us so beautifully rendered before.

But Raveena adds to that picture for me, she does not change it. Another layer of what we are capable of and another way we can be loved.

I got the chance to speak with her about this video in particular and sensuality as a whole.

“I think taking time to please yourself and surround yourself with beautiful objects, colors, words, places, etc. is very important for brown women,” she told me over email. “We [are]often brought up to look at ourselves and our mothers as the caretakers and these endless pillars of self-sacrifice.”

“Oftentimes in our culture, our sexuality is also repressed and looked at as either sacred/virginal and tainted if you share your body and sexuality with the world. Absorbing all of those values from that kind of upbringing doesn’t leave a lot of space for sexuality and sensuality. Self-care, hedonism, sexual confidence are all extremely empowering and radical for brown women,” she continued.

It is true that our wants and wishes often give over to what is needed and necessary. Sensuality dies in this crossfire of errands but it is always waiting to be resurrected. I am now 26 and I have found myself setting aside time to just be. To be with a mirror. To be alongside music and a plush blanket. To be with my partner. Not to sexualize myself but to sensualize and get reacquainted with myself as more than a working body.

I found even more examples of brown sensuality when I encountered Kohinoorgasm’s “Azaadi.” Here too was a gorgeous music video that dwelled entirely in the quiet, soft-stepping love between people. It did not point like a compass in any direction. It just offers itself up in a medley of bodies curling together, hair braided into bonds, and words left unsaid in gaze.

It’s a brief little thing, only two and a half minutes, but it loves you so fully.

We have heard often from the chiming voice of social media that to love yourself and be tender is an act of revolution. Softness and brownness combined create a potent force for good. I agree but I also retain the need to be individualistic in your softness. To love others yes, but to love yourself above what others need of you.

Affection, tenderness, and softness. My sensuality is still to be realized, but having a visual for it gives me a template. There is a universe in touch and I’m waiting to discover it in all its full, forever-expanding form.

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