Mine To Own: Part 3
A dominatrix, a romance novelist, and a new mom walk into a podcast episode… this episode! The final part of our 3-part series on “Periods, Pussies, and Power: Asian American Woman & Our Sexuality” and what happens when we assert ownership over our sexuality: we get to see and value our bodies in a totally new way, we get to dole out our own happiness and pleasure, we get to define what a woman’s sexuality is and who it is for.
“Periods, Pussies, and Power: Asian American Woman & Our Sexuality” is a 3-part series of stories from Asian American women about our sexuality in all its color, nuance, and embarrassing hilarity. We explore getting our period for the first time, losing our virginity, discovering masturbation, pursuing sexual pleasure, and through it all, find what it is we stand to gain in embracing our sexuality as Asian American Women.
Recognition thanks and gratitude go to Learkana Chong, Lucy Sweetkill, Mindy Hung, Valerie Francisco-Menchavez, Zed Meade at the Center for Research and Education on Sexuality at San Francisco State University, Kai Ling Chieh, Alison Lee, Marielle Magtibay, and Johnson Fung. Music credit goes to Kevin Macleod of Incompetech, Bruno Mars, 3 Doors Down, and Helen Reddy. Subscribe to Sample Space on iTunes or your podcast app of choice so that you don’t miss Season 3!
Mindy Hung’s many books can be found at mindyhung.com. More of Learkana Chong’s writing can be found at lampshadeonherhead.blog.
Periods, Pussies, Power: Asian American Women & Our Sexuality
Mine To Own: Part 3 - Transcript
Learkana Chong: A Blueprint of Desire
Kiss the inside of my thighs,
Press your lips hard each time.
Leave moist imprints on my body.
Do not slobber.
If you are hungry
graze my neck
suckle my breasts
feast on ripe fruit
I laid bare for you to eat.
Don’t just taste me.
Rein in your teeth.
Do not bite too hard.
Invite your fingers
to dance upon
my crown jewel.
If you get lost,
I will show you the way
to hidden treasure.
Keep a steady rhythm.
Learn to multitask.
I want to know your mouth.
Get acquainted with your tongue.
Speak a nonverbal language of lust
with your lips.
Put your hands
all over my body
not just the places
you were taught to yearn.
Stroke my waist.
Cup my hips.
Grip my thighs.
Do not pull my hair.
Do not touch my head.
Do not choke me.
Every so often,
press your face
does this feel good?
Make sure I am
damp with longing
not just spit and lube
before you slip inside.
Slow. Steady. Then faster.
Dance to a rhythm
of shared pleasure.
Do not hit the hallway
of an empty home
you cannot move into.
Do not slam into me.
Thrust to make me moan.
Can you make me moan?
This must be
your never-ending goal.
Love my body
the way it deserves
to be loved
will do the same
DW: That was Learkana Chong, a second-generation Cambodian-American writer based in Oakland, California. You can read more of her writing at lampshadeonherhead.blog
Now, before we get into this episode, we are having an epic giveaway! We have two fully loaded period kits full of reusable cotton pads and Divacups from Lunapads, a kickass women owned social enterprise based in beautiful British Columbia. This divacup is so special, I brought in my good friend Kaitlin to talk about it. Here’s Kaitlin on the phone.
Kaitlin Montgomery: I have a story about me in a bridesmaid dress. I was already a little intoxicated which made it a little difficult and it was a little unexpected, but thank god I had it right, uhm; because I certainly didn’t have anywhere I could carry tampons, so minimal panic and emergency.
DW: So there you go folks, Divacup from Lunapads will definitely save your bridesmaid dress, maybe your wedding dress, and certainly it will save you from having to talk about that time you had a period spill at your best friend’s wedding during your maid of honor speech. And here it is due to popular demand, her Divacup song.
And all you have to do to win one of these gift baskets valued at more than $100 is like Sample Space on Facebook and reshare the post about this three-part series! If you can’t wait to get your hands on the Divacup, enter NEWMEDIA at the checkout for 15% off all of your Lunapad.com purchases!
DW: This is Sample Space by Hirah Media; I’m Diana Wong and this is Mine to Own, the third and final episode of our three-part special on Periods, Pussies, Power: Asian American Women & Our Sexuality. If you haven’t heard the first and second parts, I really encourage you to go back and listen to them!
When we first started this journey, we had one question: What do we, as Asian American women, stand to gain by embracing our sexuality? In Part 1 we heard stories that suggested self-love is what we can gain. In Part 2, we heard that pleasure, autonomy, confidence, freedom, narrative is what we lose by not embracing our sexuality.
So if that’s true, let’s hear from women who have embraced their sexuality and what it has meant for them.
When I first started thinking about who would have a story to tell on embracing their sexuality as an Asian American woman, I was at a complete loss. Luckily, I found Lucy, a second-generation Vietnamese American who embodies that embrace, in many ways. Act 1, Acceptance.
Lucy Sweetkill: I am Lucy Sweetkill; a lot of people call me Mistress Lucy, I am a bi-coastal, San Francisco New York dominatrix that is based in New York.
So when I moved to NY, I was dating someone who revealed to me that he watched a lot of BDSM kinky porn and I was like interesting, show me and he actually showed me kink.com, so I looked at all this porn and I was like oh fascinating; I didn’t find it weird, I was just more fascinated by it.
DW: Up until this point, Lucy had never considered bondage, discipline, dominance and submission, or sadomasochism. Sure, she had an inclination towards biting, and yes, she was a regular of the Folsom Street Fair, an annual San Francisco tradition celebrating leather in all its carnal applications, but she certainly didn’t consider herself kinky!
LS: And then I met this woman at a bar, and I was waiting for some friends, she came up to me because she needed room at the bar; she was by herself as well, and she was like oh what do you do and I was like I work in fashion she was like oh you’re really well-dressed, really casual conversation and I was like oh what do you do? And she was like oh, I’m a dominatrix. And I was like oh, what do you mean? And she explained a little and she was like I think you’d be a really good dominatrix; she was like you’re here in this bar, by yourself, men hitting on you, you don’t have any issue, you can stand on your own and you have no issue with that, you have a lot of confidence, and you don’t seem intimidated by the other beautiful women around here, that type of confidence is the type of confidence you need to be a dominatrix. I was like well, I have a full time job, so thanks. And she gave me her card and it was interesting because her card had nothing on it except a phone number. It was black and just had a phone number. And it was very mysterious, but I left it there because I was like what am I going to do with this? So I left it, I just left it.
And after that because of the person I was dating, and we were actually doing some kinky stuff together sexually, you know like he was like I really like it if you choked me while I have sex and all this sort of stuff, and I started to really look into it, and I found this ad on Backpage that was like looking for Asian dom, will train, you know, pays well, all this stuff. And I was like well I’m Asian, and I’m interested. I contacted them very hesitantly and I wasn’t sure what I was going to get back. And I did a lot of research; the Asian good student straight A student in me did a lot of research; read articles about BDSM, got books, all this stuff, and I was like I am intrigued, very intrigued and so I was super scared because I got an email asking for some photos and then I got an email saying hey, I can speak with you this date and time.
DW: And what Lucy did next was I think what most women would do when met with a text message of the address for her night-time interview in response to a BDSM dominatrix role.
So I’m like ok, so I told a friend I’m supposed to go over here, if you do not hear from me in the next hour please come find me, you know. And it was scary because the place, not clean building, kinda scary building. Go into the elevator, get off the elevator and it’s this little entrance corridor with a gate, so there’s a gate and if you pass the gate there’s another little entranceway you see the door; and I’m telling you, when you get off the elevator, its maybe a five feet by 5 feet room, that’s all; so you get off and you see this camera and there’s a buzzer with a sign that says buzz so I press it and I hear a voice going “HIII” and I’m like “Hi ,its Lucy” and they’re like “oh hey come on in!” It’s a girl’s voice but I’m like I see no one, and I’m being buzzed into a gate into a secret door; so the gate opens, I close it, I open the door and its all dark and red lights.
And she comes out and she’s like the head mistress, and we go into one of the rooms, and then we talked and she was kinda normal; so we had a conversation and she was like this was the deal and then I asked a few questions and then I started. I had a full time job so I started doing it weekends and evenings. And I did it for personal exploration. I had a full time job, so its not like I needed the money. I mean, the money was good, but I didn’t need the money, and I did that for a while before I left my job and became a dom full time; so that’s how I became a dom.
DW: Since then, Lucy has built a successful career as a dominatrix, exploring her and her client’s sexuality and desires. And like most of you, I wanted to hear her exploits, so I asked about the most embarrassing encounter in her job, and she said she had none! Lucy rarely feels embarrassed, which I think is part of being the dominant, so instead I asked about the funniest things she’s had happened.
LS: So like, one client who loved to be scared, I one time came in just tied him up and just having a really sweet conversation with him and was like ‘oh, I’m going to be back’ and came back and brought in this Hello Kitty baseball bat with pink metal and I was like let’s see if we can find something to hit. And I like hit the bar under him; he thought I was really going to whack him in the balls with this baseball bat, which is ridiculous. But there happened to be this metal bar under him that he didn’t realize but I knew was there and I hit it and the metal on metal sound, he got so scared, he passed out!
And I didn’t even touch him! He kinda just crumpled on the ground and I just like slapped him and he woke up and he was like oh my god and I was like I didn’t even do anything to you! And I was just laughing and he was like ‘that was the scariest moment of my life. Thank you.’
DW: Let’s take a pause here. In this interlude of Diana keepin’ it real: One does not just casually become a dominatrix just because a boyfriend likes kinky porn and a stranger at a bar tells you you’ve got chops. If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard that one, well, I’d be making more money at bars than I do podcasting!
So where did Lucy’s journey to embracing her sexuality begin?
DW: Can you tell me about your first love?
LS: My first love, his name is Kevin, and he was actually my best friend. It was one of those situations where I was in love with him but he was my best friend but I didn’t know how to say it because I was 13 and I didn’t think he liked me because I was a tom boy; so I didn’t really know how to act like a girl actually.
DW: I love hearing that Lucy didn’t know how to act like a girl, partly because I was a huge tom boy myself but also because Lucy had shown me a photo of her in high school and she really meant it. She had short electric pink hair and a clunky jean vest with her favorite punk band’s emblem sewn onto the back. Naturally, she’s staring down the camera looking tough while everyone else is smiling. Anyway, back to Kevin.
LS: And so I was in love with him for pretty much two years.
DW: And of course, when you’re in high school and in love with your best friend, only one thing is destined to happen.
LS: He was in love with my female best friend.
And he asked if I would help him romance her and of course, because I loved him so dearly and he was my best friend, I said yes. And so I would write love notes from him to her with his name and leave them in her locker and when she was like I don’t know how I feel about him I would talk him up in front of her while dying inside.
So the love notes, the gifts, the talking her, talking to her, whispering in her ear about how great he was, because I thought he was great, and how they’d be a great couple, and so they started dating freshman year of high school.
DW: I know. And so Lucy backed off, because it was too hard to see Kevin, the love of her life at that point, and her other best friend be together. That is until, well, her two best friends called her out on avoiding them. So she rejoined their group and went back to hanging out at Kevin’s house when one fateful night,
LS: And we made out, Kevin and I, so he cheated on her, my female best friend, with me, so there was obviously this mix of emotion; like I can’t believe this is happening finally but I am a horrible horrible person. And we sorta had this semi-affair for a few weeks and I told him like we need to tell her, we cant do this anymore, I cant do this anymore, I cant be in this place where you guys are together at school and stuff, I cant be this hidden person and what the hell is going on and I cant be in this position. And so, we finally told her, and it broke our friendship, of course; and it eventually ended with Kevin and I being together, that’s how we ended up in a relationship.
DW: But despite the circumstances, being with Kevin was actually the best thing ever.
LS: I had so much love that I wasn’t very used to; my household was very broken, especially at the time; it was a very tumultuous relationship that I had with my sister, my mom. There was not this typical idea of love in my household, you know hugging, kissing, any of that, and so to feel that from someone, it was like a drug and he was so loving, he was so loving, his family was so loving, I loved being in his home, it was the home that I thought was made up on TV with sitcoms right? His mom and dad were amazing together, his sister was super sweet, she looked up to him, he was her hero, they had a dog, they cooked as a family, they talked about things openly, they debated, they had arguments, you know his mother was just so loving, it was so foreign to me, and that amount of love, being around that, was intoxicating.
DW: In Kevin and his family, Lucy found what she had never been offered at home: acceptance.
LS: My mom, she was a hard hard woman; you know because nothing I did was good enough and that’s the dragon lady Vietnamese mom tiger mom persona right. The straight As, the working for her, helping her with her business, everything I did was for her all the time, and to make her happy and to please her and nothing I did was ever good enough and it was so exhausting.
DW: And even at school, Lucy wasn’t accepted.
LS: At the time there were only white people and Hispanics, that at the time just worked for the white people; so I went to a school where there were two Asian kids and one black, this was my junior high and high school and it was intense. It was the first time I dealt with racism, and I tried to fit in for the first maybe six months I moved there and then I embraced my weirdness so I hung out with punk rock kids and he was one of them and we just embraced being different because we weren’t going to fit in; and for me, I wasn’t going to fit in because I was the Asian girl, in general.
DW: So at school, it was the other kids and at home it was Lucy’s mom that left Lucy wanting love and approval and a space to be herself, to be good enough. But with Kevin, she found all of that. He was love and acceptance all bundled up into one green-haired punk rocker.
LS: We were just two people and I had been in love with him for so long and he cared about me so much, we were best friends, we were boyfriend and girlfriend, we were inseparable and everything was perfect.
DW: And Kevin was a safe place for Lucy to be herself.
LS: We explored each other’s bodies a lot; I have a story about squeezing his balls, and just being like hey does this hurt; I pushed that with him, you know, I would bite him and maybe be like would you still love me if I bit you and made you bleed? And he was like I don’t know, maybe you should try, you know? So we pushed the envelope and I bit him once and he bled! I think it was just part of my own sexuality, and I had a safe place to explore that, and I talked to him about everything because he was my best friend; it was so easy to say hey let’s try this or what’s this and what’s that and not have any issues.
So I pushed that with him, like would you still love me if I bite you so hard you bleed? I don’t know maybe you should try you know. So we’d push the envelope and I think I bit him once and he bled and he had no issue with it; we were willing to push that envelope because we were willing to talk to each other.
DW: For Lucy, being a dominatrix is centered around control and power, but it’s also been an avenue for her to finally find that acceptance of which her classmates in high school, her mom, and she herself had denied. Kevin was her first step into embracing her sexual identity and as Mistress Sweetkill, Lucy has continued to evolve, taking ownership of her desires and shame and all the things she felt compelled to hide.
LS: I feel that things that I hid about myself, my sadism, shame, stuff like that, is no longer there because I have people I can relate to and helping people understand themselves, their sexuality, their shame, being there for them, and being this person that is a holder of secrets, as well as the person that people can reveal their truest self to has really connected me and calmed me and connected me to myself.
DW: Lucy is a daughter, a sister, a Vietnamese-American woman, a mama to her pet bunny Moose. There are many facets to her identity, and her sexuality is a part of that. She doesn’t deny this part of her, she doesn’t try to hide it, she just owns it. I’m not saying everyone needs to go out and get kinky sex toys, or scour newspapers for wanted ads, no, the takeaway here is that the power that Lucy holds comes from being honest and loving to herself and the sexual part of her identity. And that she may have clients who prefer Asian doms doesn’t change the fact that Lucy is doing this for herself. She is honest to herself and those around her about who she is, and how part of that identity includes an embrace of her own sexuality.
When I think about what Lucy has taught me about what kind of power we, as Asian American women, derive from embracing our sexuality, it is a complete sense of self. Self-worth, self-love, self-confidence. And self-ownership, of our bodies and our sexuality.
And a part of that ownership means getting to tell our stories, to their very ends. In our next act, we hear how one writer has tasked herself with ensuring Asian American women get to do exactly that. Act 2, Happily Ever After.
Mindy Hung: My name is Mindy Hung; I am a writer and editor in New York City, I'm originally from Canada and I also write romance as Ruby Lang and it’s usually about Asian women.
DW: So before we get into this story, I just want to say that I, like many of you, have, or had, some preconceptions about Romance novels and their writers. Now I’m sure you’ve seen these paperbacks, they’re usually found on racks at the drugstore with cover shots of hulky muscle men carrying women clad with a white shoulder-less frock, occasionally with horses, and certainly with disheveled clothing. The genre is well known for the sex scenes. Things get hot and heavy about midway and there are usually some bulging muscles and cries of satisfaction; this is what romance novels evoke in the popular imagination. And the last thing you probably think of is high literary merit. The people, mainly women, who write these paperbacks aren’t likely readers of Hemingway or Bronte. So how do they end up as writers? How exactly does one fall into those rippling biceps, or at least end up writing about them?
MH: I was at the library a lot; I was allowed to take out any books I wanted, and that was my main way of shutting everything out; and I knew, ok, there are some books which I should definitely hide, even though nobody pays attention; I’m gonna hide some of these books. So I would take out harlequins. I could read, and I read a lot, and that was my main way of shutting out everything else; and I hid away the ones that were a little bit racier; and they were my way of carving out my own space
DW: Because she didn’t really have one in her hometown of Winnipeg, Canada.
MH: When you grow up in an area, in a community that’s mostly white and you’re a person of color, you find the things that you can identify with in books in media, in everything because there’s just no one else. And for me, it was definitely books that taught me a lot of the things that my parents couldn’t or wouldn’t.
DW: I think a place like Winnipeg lends itself to a degree of escapism. With snow that piles up past the roof of your car and winds bearing negative 22 Farenheit glacial chills, it’s no surprise that Mindy spent much of her childhood buried in books at the library and at home. She read to escape the brutal landscape of white snow and white families, reminding her how she wasn’t made for this space, but she also read to escape her own family. Her Taiwanese Christian parents bore a brand of conservatism that didn’t sit well with Mindy, so she sought refuge elsewhere.
But even escapism, even books, have their limits to where they can bring us. And for Mindy, the borders of the space she carved out for herself were drawn by the very characters she so admired and aspired to be.
DW: Did reading those romance novels kind of inspire a sexual revolution for you?
MH: It’s funny because I also felt very detached from it; inevitably, these books were about people who did not look like me; they were redheads, and blondes, and brunettes and you know they had this careless elegance about them and here I was this dowdy little Asian girl and it did not occur to me that it was something I could participate in at all. And its so odd to just think this very normal part of human existence is closed down to you but that is how I felt.
DW: What Mindy is saying is that because she couldn’t see herself, an Asian woman, in the stories where the heroines, the protagonists were all beautiful, graceful White people, she didn’t think that kind of fairytale happily ever after was for her, that it was something she could have, that she deserved. So Mindy was excluded from even the imaginary escapes she had found.
But for all that she couldn’t see in her romantic future, Mindy made up for in her professional future. She was a smart and diligent student and she could do anything she put her mind to, according to her parents.
MH: I was an only child and I was a girl and for all intents and purposes, I had always been told well, you can be smart and do all sorts of things and have any kind of job you want, but when I was a little bit older, my cousins came to live with us; they were boys and one thing I did notice was that they were allowed to skip out on things, like they didn’t have to go to family functions, they didn’t have to go to parties that my parents had been invited to. And I asked why I couldn’t stay home alone and my mom said well, you know it’s because you’re a girl and I was like really? That’s interesting, please elaborate. Well, things could happen to you and I said what kinds of things and I was starting to get pretty mad at this point, and I don’t think she even came out and said it, but basically if something, if someone breaks into the house, I could get raped and that was the worst possible thing and it’s a terrible terrible thing but she imagined this nightmare scenario for me and she did not imagine it for my boy cousins and even now I get really mad about this I always thought to myself, I was free to do a lot of things, but at the same time, I wasn’t.
DW: Of course, much of this fear that Mindy’s parents harbored for their only daughter was born out of their own experiences in Taiwan.
MH: It was occupied by the Japanese in the beginning of twentieth century and then by the time WWII had ended, it was occupied by the Republican Chinese, and the Chinese were not great to the existing population of Taiwan. So my parents kinda grew up with a lot of fear; which I didn’t understand because they never talked about occupation and that sort of stuff; but you know during the war, they were deprived of food, they were also intimidated. There was a purge, basically. I cant even imagine what happened to women.
DW: So Mindy was both implicitly and explicitly taught by her parents that being a women meant limitations, meant fear, meant the possibility of rape. Even through her one escape, her books, Mindy learned that being an Asian American woman meant that she couldn’t be the heroine. The protagonist. The character that gets a happily ever after.
Instead, Mindy decided happy endings were for chumps. She left the romance novels at the library and focused on serious writing with serious and, of course, guaranteed tragic endings. Hemingway never indulged in happy endings and neither would she! Eventually, Mindy moved to New York for her Master’s in English Literature, and really blossomed into a serious literati, black turtlenecks and Shakespeare in tow.
MH: I stopped reading fun stuff, mostly; I read for class; there was the idea that if I wanted to be a professional, I wanted to be an English professor, I would have to read certain things; I would have to read all my Shakespeare, poetry; there was no room for popular book, there was no room for fun reading; and when I did read on summer vacation, I tried to read the kinds of things that people would read. I read Anne Beatty, Hemingway; and I tried to make myself something out of reading too.
DW: After graduation, Mindy became an editor and published her first novel, a serious one at that. In between, she got married and had a baby as well. And in all of that busyness, she stopped the one real constant in her life, reading.
MH: I stopped reading for a really long time after I had my daughter; and I was still reading articles, I was reading magazines; but it was all short, and I stopped reading stories, I think is the thing, I stopped reading fiction, and obviously it is such a big part of my life and I was alienated from it for a pretty long time.
DW: But then, in another attempt to escape and find reprieve, this time from a world of diapers and feeding schedules, Mindy found herself wading into the familiar territory of romance novels.
MH: And I just decided, I just have to read some-thing and so I looked around a little bit; and I said I am going to read romance. I said I;m going to read romance and I picked up Loretta Chases’ Lord of Scandal and I LOVED it. I read it all the time. I read it over and over all the time; when I had free moments, when the baby was napping. It was sort of my life raft; and I thought to myself, there are other books in this genre and I tried to justify it to myself because I still had that whole like snobbiness about it. I needed an academic justification, even though I was not an academic, for reading them. So I read these books and they were not what I expected, even though I told myself I have a very open mind, bullshit; I’m not open minded about them at all; I went in wanting to have theories, be able to categorize them, but basically I really just liked reading them.
DW: And so our black turtleneck wearing serious English Lit graduate of NYU concedes: she stopped dismissing these romance novels and making excuses for the mini-collection growing in her Kindle. Instead, she embraced romance novels as a type of book she deserved and began to write the kind of heroines and protagonists she had so wanted to see as an extension of herself as a reader.
MH: Learning a genre was really great; it was learning a new way of reading, and learning what I liked again, and redefining what I liked, and I changed a lot as I started learning it and by the end of it I no longer needed to be intellectual about it.
DW: Since then, Mindy has published 3 romance novels, each with their own happy ending.
MH: In a romance you always have to have a happy ever after, it’s called. That term sometimes makes people think everybody’s life will be roses and cupcakes for the rest of life, but really it means the author has tried to give these people a beginning that they can build a future life. And the fact that you can have this kind of ending for marginalized people is really significant to me. When I was younger, I didn’t think I could participate in sex and I didn’t think I could be part of that kind of narrative, because I didn’t see that, because when I did encounter Asian characters growing up, it was usually ‘my Asian-ness is excluding me from happiness and at the end of the book, I’m just going to stare off into the middle distance’ but when that’s the only narrative available, then that’s something that you start believing in yourself
It really means something to me to be able to see in these stories, Asian characters having lives that include love and sex and that they at the end have a future ahead of them.
DW: And so Mindy is creating heroines that look like us, characters that deserve and receive their happily ever afters in love and sex and of course, sexuality, in an attempt to change the narrative.
DW: What do you think is the power that comes with Asian American women embracing their sexuality?
MH: I think we just haven’t been seen as having any control over our lives in a lot of ways; and sexuality is a big part of it. If we don’t have our own stories, if we cant wrest the narrative away, then we really don’t have anything. I mean, if you don’t see Asian women as people, then you’re going to take away their rights, even more and storytelling is really one of the ways that we see people as people. Romance novels are social novels; in the end people end up together, and they end up having some sort of future, that’s the happy ever after and when I’m writing a book with Asian American characters ending up together, that means I can see a future; if I’ve done my job, I have convinced readers that they have a future together and that is a really intensely political vision when you think about that. If I can convince a reader that there are people who are going to build lives in this society and they can believe it; that is a small kind of conversion.
DW: Mindy Hung writes as Ruby Lang, author of several romance novels, including Clean Breaks, which is available now. She can be found at rubylangwrites.com
From using romance novels as an escape, to a tool for political subversion, Mindy’s Asian American characters embrace their sexuality to drive home one message: that Asian American women deserve happily ever afters too.
So what happens after our Asian American woman rides off in to the sunset with her new beau? In our final act of this episode, we explore sexuality and the pregnant body. And as Valerie Francisco-Manchevez, a first-generation Filipina American, points out:
Valerie Francisco-Manchevez: I feel like sometimes sexuality is reserved for the non pregnant body, I don’t think people see mother’s as sexual beings, that motherhood and mothering are sexual practices, are practices in pleasure, are practices in desire, are practices in feeling sexy and powerful.
DW: Pregnancy has and continues to redefine Valerie’s relationship with her body, her ownership of it, and her sexuality. Act 3, Superhuman.
Let me set the scene. I met Valerie at an evening panel discussion. And this next part I mention because it relates to our story: I remember thinking ‘Wow, this woman looks amazing.” She had paired her beautiful pregnancy glow with a tight fuchsia dress and at 38 weeks out of 40, she managed to stand during her entire twenty minute presentation, no small feat with a growing human inside of her. A few days after the event, I reached out to Valerie and she sent me a reply. Included in it was an apology for the delayed response because-- actually, I’ll have her tell it.
VFM: I was giving a talk of a chapter of my book and feeling all sorts of pelvic pressure and just feeling uncomfortable, I even told the organizers; they were looking at me 38 weeks pregnant, they were like, are you ok, and I was like, I’m a little uncomfortable, but anyone who’s 38 weeks is uncomfortable ok, so literally I just thought this was regular 38 week pressures, so I went home, and I told my partner, don’t rush home, get me a chipotle burrito bowl, take your time, it’s cool, I think I might be going into labor, but I might be in labor for a while, so it’s cool. Literally, that event started at 5:00 and we ended around 7:30, 8:00, I gave birth 3 hours later, what?
DW: So that’s how I found myself sitting in Valerie’s office, asking her about sexuality and motherhood as she nurses her son, who is now 6 weeks young and looks exactly like a miniature senior citizen. As someone who has never been pregnant, I wanted to know what it felt like the first time around with her daughter, and how pregnancy changed her relationship with her body.
VFM: Just like any first time mom, you know, read all the books, had the app, was following what kind of fruit she looked like in utero; is she a blueberry? Is she a kiwi? Yeah, right, I know. Does she look like a tangerine right now? You know, how big is she?
With Aiya, it just felt like I was not getting sick, its not like I’m a sickly person, I didn’t get a cold, I didn’t feel any nausea, I just felt like superhuman, I felt like this person who had two hearts beating at the same time, when I go out for a walk, I’d have this extra spidey sense. I felt like oh wow, I’m using all my senses, it feels like really good to be pregnant.
I loved being pregnant to this day; it just feels like; I always had flubber right here, so having a purpose to that flubber felt like yes, this is what my stomach is supposed to do. So I was feeling really good in my first pregnancy, I felt really unstoppable, I felt strong, I felt like more focused, I mean there were of course times where I was sleepy and tired because I was making a liver, making an eyeball here and there but at the same time, it felt purposeful; the naps felt like I need to do this because I need to generate a human being in my body.
DW: During her pregnancy, Valerie felt more comfortable in her body than ever before. She was invincible, like a superhuman. And Valerie exercised this new power and ownership over her body in how she presented herself as well.
VFM: I chose all these body fitting clothes that I would never wear as a non-pregnant person, and I carried my body around in a particular way. They say don’t shop for a new wardrobe, for your pregnant body because you’re only going to be in that for 10 months, but for me, I was like, I got things that made me feel powerful, that make me feel noticeable, it felt really <like> me getting in touch with my sexuality in that way and expressing it. People often think as a pregnant person, you’re not a sexual being, but I think you quite are, you really are INDEED like a sexual being, I mean, the epitome of being a sexual being is having this marker on your body that says this is what happens, this is what happens when you have sex, now I have a big baby bump. It was a performing of a sexuality that made me feel like awesome; I didn’t have the highest self-esteem around my body before, and when I was pregnant I just felt like really good about myself.
DW: Valerie was taking on a new sexual identity, and rest assured, other people noticed it as well.
DW: So you felt more sexually, pause, appealing?
VFM: Yeah, absolutely, I think also people saw me like that, both men and women, in a platonic and romantic way. I feel like women would look at me and be like “go girl, you looking tight, you looking fresh, go girl, you know like I love that dress. But I think, you know, both men and women, I would get those lingering looks as well, you know; like I said, I chose clothes that were body fitting because I was proud of what I was doing in my body you know and that was suggestive.
DW: But then, Valerie gave birth.
VFM: I had a twenty eight hour labor, un-medicated; it was very long; and I finally was so tired, that twenty sixth hour, I decided to get an epidural and an hour or so later, after that, I started pushing cause she was ready to come out; and she was what they called transverse, her head was turned a different way, so she wasn’t coming out in the optimal position, and so her heart rate started dropping, so we had to do an emergency C-section and under two minutes, I was, you know, drugged, scrubbed, and dragged into the OR and it literally felt like that right, it literally felt like this moment of powerlessness when I was totally in control of my body from twenty six hours of labor and then all of a sudden, you know, this little girl wants to come out of me and you know, the OBGYN is gonna call it, she’s gonna have a C-section right now.
I was crying every single day for like 8 weeks and I didn’t know why. I was looking at this baby and feeling like totally useless; I didn’t have an easy like transition into breastfeeding and so I felt really ineffective as a mother, I guess being pregnant allowed me to be powerful because I didn’t have to try, my body was doing the work but when Aiya came, I didn’t know how to do it, it wasn’t clear to me how to feed breastfeed on demand, I wasn’t really sure about any of it so that contributed to my feeling not so great about myself and not so good about my relationship with my daughter.
DW: So Valerie went from having this awesome feeling of total control over her body and her sexuality like she had never experienced before, to feeling completely lost. From the moment that the doctors decided she needed a C-section to waking up without the child she had been carrying for 9 months in her body, she was confronted with a loss of control and post-partum depression.
VFM: It felt confusing, because at the time you should feel thankful and happy to have a healthy baby but I was also really confused because I didn’t always feel happy, I didn’t always feel effective. With Aiya, waking up without her in my body was really surreal, because I was under a C-section, I felt really groggy, I cant even really remember the exact feeling of seeing her out of my body, it was more trying to recover from the surgery, so my mind and my body were trying to wrap myself around that. That’s why there was this sort of delay with bonding with Aiya, because I was doing all this other work to sort of like recover, like not being able to walk for twenty four hours after having an epidural, or having major painkillers in your body, it just literally your hella sleepy. So it was balancing out that you know recovery and also making sure I was balancing the needs of this new being in my life; it felt conflicting.
DW: It’s been a couple of years since her first birth, and now that her second is a few weeks old, I wanted to know, how does Valerie navigate her post-pregnancy womanhood and how does she define ownership over a body she now shares with two children?
VFM: I think for me, what I’ve learned about my womanhood through my children is that number one, that the woman’s body is the near perfect organism; everything that my children need and needed in utero and in the fourth trimester as they call it, like in the first three months, is already in my body; it’s amazing to know that things change and shift in your body just as you need it, right? I mean, every single day, when I’m breastfeeding my child, there’s this communication that happens between my baby’s body in his saliva to like in my nipples, you know, cells and enzymes, and they communicate to one another to form this thing to nourish him in the exact way that he needs it; that to me is on some Octavia butler-shit. What, your body talked to my body without words right, its amazing to me, I mean. That part really has taught me that being a woman, has all these secret super hero compartments, like superman ain’t got nothing on me, you know what I mean?
DW: And with this new understanding of how her body serves not just her needs, but the changing needs of her children, Valerie has had to reassess what her sexuality means and how see views herself as a sexual being.
VFM: Your relationship with your body changes right, because when I was pregnant, I still felt like that my body was still mine, even though I shared my body with my baby in utero, after I gave birth to my children, I was definitely sharing this body, these boobs are not mine, I do not control them, he does, like literally when he’s hungry, I can feel it in my breasts, even if I’m not in the same room or vicinity as him, I can feel my breasts feeling firm, which means somewhere, out there, there is a baby that is looking for me; so my relationship with my body changed, so that means my relationship with sexuality, changed too.
DW: Through her pre-pregnancy, pregnant and post-pregnancy bodies, how she felt in each, how she went from insecure about her body to totally comfortable and sexually appealing, to now, where is learning to share her body, Valerie has redefined her sexuality time and time again. And ultimately, this tells her and us that there is no one definition. Just as we’ve seen in the 3 parts of this series, sexuality looks different when we are 10, 11, 12 and starting our periods or when we transition, it looks different when we start touching ourselves or letting others touch us, it looks different when we declare ownership and assert control.
VFM: It’s all a conjuring, sex and sexuality, it’s all a conjuring; its something that you or me have to continue to evolve right, continuously evolving with our ideas of ourselves and our bodies and our sexuality.
DW: Hey, Diana here. In producing this series, I talked to a lot of Asian American women. Some of the women were candid, others were a little more laugh shy. Some of the women I talked to had only ever had sex with one person, others had had multiple partners, some were still figuring out what sexuality means to them, and even others had discovered changes in their body that altered how they view themselves as sexual beings. But regardless of their sexual experiences, they all understood inherently that this was an important conversation, even if they had a hard time articulating why.
So why? Why is it important that we, as Asian American women, embrace our sexuality? What do we stand to gain by doing so?
When I started thinking about this series and putting it together, I thought this was about changing the narrative. I wanted to do a piece that really focused on the positive and allowed us to celebrate our sexuality. I wanted to find the hilarity in high school period spills where you end up having to wear your hoodie tied at your hips for the rest of the day, I wanted to laugh collectively at the ridiculousness of first attempts and how you didn’t know where things were supposed to go and he couldn’t keep it up and then there was farting! I wanted to share stories of Asian American women who have found the promise land of sexual ownership, liberation, and freedom. Through it all I wanted to push back on the existing narrative of shame and stigma, of tired stereotypes with submissive China dolls and fantasy vixens with our own real stories of self-love and empowerment.
But as I went through all these interviews of me asking that very question, what do we stand to gain, what I realized is that sexuality is political and anything that is political is about power. What we stand to gain by embracing our sexuality as Asian American women, is power. And this power extends far beyond the bedroom. When we reject that periods are dirty or unclean, when we stop believing in purity and virginity as markers of value to a woman’s body, when we cease to slut-shame and instead start prioritizing our own pleasure, we fundamentally undermine the principles of a society where men hold power and women do not.
By asserting control of our periods, our pussies, and our ever-changing sexuality, we, as Asian American women, stand to gain power in the form of autonomy, confidence, and freedom in the racialized, gendered, and sexualized society we live in. And if we can do that, if we can assert our sexuality, we get to see and value our bodies in a totally new way, we get to dole out our own happiness and pleasure, we get to define what a woman’s sexuality is and who it is for.
Like Lucy, and Mindy, and Valerie. Like Abeer and Joyce, Melissa and Priyanka. Like Learkana and Jenna, Vicki and Lynette. Take ownership of whatever you think your sexual identity is. Don’t be afraid of your own sexuality. It’s okay to be a virgin, it’s ok to self-soothe with your shower head. It’s ok to be unsure and it’s ok to make mistakes. It’s ok to have an appetite and it’s ok to want things.
But it’s not ok to ever forget that sexuality is as political as it is powerful.
This is Sample Space, I’m Diana Wong and this is the end of Season 2! Let us know what you thought on Twitter @samplespacePod, or email to email@example.com and send us what you want to hear in Season 3! And make sure to share this three-part series with your Asian American lady friends, partners, sisters, cousins, and uh, pets!
If you haven’t already, make sure to like Sample Space on Facebook and reshare our post about this three-part series to enter in our giveaway for one of 2 jam-packed gift baskets worth more than $100 dollars each! They are filled with goodies from the lovely women at Lunapads, makers of reusable cotton pads and the Divacup! Their fans are so crazy they’ll even sing about it:
That was Kaitlin who will be using the special code NEWMEDIA at the checkout for 15% off all her Lunapad purchases, as soon as she’s done her vocal exercises. Yup.
Recognition thanks and gratitude go to Learkana Chong, Lucy Sweetkill, Mindy Hung, Valerie Francisco-Menchavez, Zed Meade at the Center for Research and Education on Sexuality at San Francisco State University, Kai Ling Chieh, Alison Lee, Marielle Magtibay, and Johnson Fung. Music credit goes to Kevin Macleod of Incompetech, Bruno Mars, 3 Doors Down, and Helen Reddy.
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