Guadalupe the Sex Goddess
In high school I marveled at how white women strutted around the locker room, nude as pearls, as unashamed of their brilliant bodies as the Nike of Samothrace. Maybe they were hiding terrible secrets like bulimia or anorexia, but, to my naïve eye then, I thought of them as women comfortable in their skin.
You could always tell us Latinas. We hid when we undressed, modestly facing a wall, or, in my case, dressing in a bathroom stall. We were the ones who still used bulky sanitary pads instead of tampons, thinking ourselves morally superior to our white classmates. My mama said you can’t use tampons till after you’re married. All Latina mamas said this, yet how come none of us thought to ask our mothers why they didn’t use tampons after getting married?
Womanhood was full of mysteries. I was as ignorant about my own body as any female ancestor who hid behind a sheet with a hole in the center when husband or doctor called. Religion and our culture, our culture and religion, helped to create that blur, a vagueness about what went on “down there.” So ashamed was I about my own “down there” that until I was an adult I had no idea I had another orifice called the vagina; I thought my period would arrive via the urethra or perhaps through the walls of my skin.
No wonder, then, it was too terrible to think about a doctor—a man!—looking at you down there when you could never bring yourself to look yourself. ¡Ay, nunca! How could I acknowledge my sexuality, let alone enjoy sex, with so much guilt? In the guise of modesty my culture locked me in a double chastity belt of ignorance and vergüenza, shame.
I had never seen my mother nude. I had never taken a good look at myself either. Privacy for self-exploration belonged to the wealthy. In my home a private space was practically impossible; aside from the doors that opened to the street, the only room with a lock was the bathroom, and how could anyone who shared a bathroom with eight other people stay in there for more than a few minutes? Before college, no one in my family had a room of their own except me, a narrow closet just big enough for my twin bed and an oversized blond dresser we’d bought in the bargain basement of el Sears. The dresser was as long as a coffin and blocked the door from shutting completely. I had my own room, but I never had the luxury of shutting the door.
I didn’t even see my own sex until a nurse at the Emma Goldman Clinic showed it to me—Would you like to see your cervix? Your os is dilating. You must be ovulating. Here’s a mirror; take a look. When had anyone ever suggested I take a look or allowed me a speculum to take home and investigate myself at leisure!
I’d only been to one other birth control facility prior to the Emma Goldman Clinic, the university medical center in grad school. I was 21 in a strange town far from home for the first time. I was afraid and I was ashamed to seek out a gynecologist, but I was more afraid of becoming pregnant. Still, I agonized about going for weeks. Perhaps the anonymity and distance from my family allowed me finally to take control of my life. I remember wanting to be fearless like the white women around me, to be able to have sex when I wanted, but I was too afraid to explain to a would-be lover how I’d only had one other man in my life and we’d practiced withdrawal. Would he laugh at me? How could I look anyone in the face and explain why I couldn’t go see a gynecologist?
One night, a classmate I liked too much took me home with him. I meant all along to say something about how I wasn’t on anything, but I never quite found my voice, never the right moment to cry out—Stop, this is dangerous to my brilliant career! Too afraid to sound stupid, afraid to ask him to take responsibility too, I said nothing, and I let him take me like that with nothing protecting me from motherhood but luck. The days that followed were torture, but fortunately on Mother’s Day my period arrived, and I celebrated my nonmaternity by making an appointment with the family planning center.
When I see pregnant teens, I can’t help but think that could’ve been me. In high school I would’ve thrown myself into love the way some warriors throw themselves into fighting. I was ready to sacrifice everything in the name of love, to do anything, even risk my own life, but thankfully there were no takers. I as enrolled at an all-girls’ school. I think if I had met a boy who would have me, I would’ve had sex in a minute, convinced this was love. I have always had enough imagination to fall in love all by myself, then and now.
I tell you this story because I am overwhelmed by the silence regarding Latinas and our bodies. If I, as a graduate student, was shy about talking to anyone about my body and sex, imagine how difficult it must be for a young girl in middle school or high school living in a home with no lock on the bedroom door, perhaps with no door, or maybe with no bedroom, no information other than misinformation from the girlfriends and the boyfriend. So much guilt, so much silence, and such a yearning to be loved; no wonder young women find themselves having sex while they are still children, having sex without sexual protection, too ashamed to confide their feelings and fears to anyone.
What a culture of denial. Don’t get pregnant! But no one tells you how not to. This is why I was angry for so many years every time I saw a la Virgen de Guadalupe, my culture’s role model for brown women like me. She was damn dangerous, an ideal so lofty and unrealistic it was laughable. Did boys have to aspire to be Jesus? I never saw any evidence of it. They were fornicating like rabbits while the Church ignored them and pointed us women toward our destiny—marriage and motherhood. The other alternative was putahood.
In my neighborhood I knew only real women, neither saints nor whores, naïve and vulnerable huerquitas like me who wanted desperately to fall in love, with the heart and soul. And yes, with the panocha too.
As far as I could see, la Lupe was nothing but a Goody Two-shoes meant to doom me to a life of unhappiness. Thanks, but no thanks. Motherhood and / or marriage were anathema to my career. But being a bad girl, that was something I could use as a writer, a Molotov cocktail to toss at my papa and el Papa, who had their own plans for me.
Discovering sex as like discovering writing. It was powerful in a way couldn’t explain. Like writing, you had to go beyond the guilt and shame to get to anything good. Like writing, it could take you to deep and mysterious subterranean levels. With each new depth I found out things about myself I didn’t know I knew. And, like writing, for a slip of a moment it could be spiritual, the cosmos pivoting on a pin, could empty and fill you all at once like a Ganges, a Piazzolla tango, a tulip bending in the wind. I was no one, I was nothing, and I was everything in the universe little and large—twig, cloud, sky. How had this incredible energy been denied me!
When I look at la Virgen de Guadalupe now, she is not the Lupe of my childhood, no longer the one in my grandparents’ house in Tepeyac nor is she the one of the Roman Catholic Church, the one I bolted the door against in my teens and twenties. Like every woman who maters to me, I have had to search for her in the rubble of history. And I have found her. She is Guadalupe the sex goddess, a goddess who makes me feel good about my sexual power, my sexual energy, who reminds me that I must, as Clarissa Pinkola Estés so aptly put it, “[speak] from the vulva … speak the most basic, honest truth,” and write from my panocha.
In my research of Guadalupe’s pre-Colombian antecedents, the she before the Church desexed her, I found Tonantzin, and inside Tonantzin a pantheon of other mother goddesses. I discovered Tlazolteotl, the goddess of fertility and sex, also referred to as Totzin. Our Beginnings, or Tzinteotl, goddess of the rump. Putas, nymphos, and other loose women were known as “women of the sex goddess.” Tlazolteotl was the patron of sexual passion, and though she had the power to stir you to sin, she could also forgive you and cleanse you of your sexual transgressions via her priests who heard confession. In this aspect of confessor Tlazolteotl was known as Tlaelcuani, the filth eater. Maybe you’ve seen her; she’s the one whose image is sold in the tourist markets even now a statue of a woman squatting in childbirth, her face grimacing in pain. Tlazolteotl, then, is a duality of maternity and sexuality. In other words, she is a sexy mama.
To me, la Virgen de Guadalupe is also Coatlicue, the creative/destructive goddess. When I think of the Coatlicue statue in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, so terrible it was unearthed and then reburied because it was too frightening to look at, I think of a woman enraged, a woman as a tempest, a woman bien berrinchuda, and I like that. La Lupe as cabrona. Not silent and passive, but silently gathering force.
Most days, I too feel like the creative/destructive goddess Coatlicue, especially the days I’m writing, capable of fabricating pretty tales with pretty words, as well as doing demolition work with a volley of palabrotas if I want to. I am the Coatlicue-Lupe whose square column of a body I see in so many Indian women, in my mother, and in myself each time I check out my thick-waisted, flat-assed torso in the mirror.
Coatlicue, Tlazolteotl, Tonantzin, la Virgen de Guadalupe. They are each telescoped one into the other, into who I am. And this is where la Lupe intrigues me—not the Lupe of 1531 who appeared to Juan Diego, but the one of the 1990s who has shaped who we are as Chicana/mexicanas today, the one inside each Chicana and mexicana. Perhaps it’s the Tlazolteotl-Lupe in me whose malcriada spirit inspires me to leap into the swimming pool naked or dance on a table with a skirt on my head. Maybe it’s my Coatlicue-Lupe attitude that makes it possible for my mother to tell me, “No wonder men can’t stand you.” Who knows? What I do know is this: I am obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her skin.
I can’t attribute my religious conversion to a flash of lightning on the road to Laredo or anything like that. Instead, there have been several lessons learned subtly over a period of time. A grave depression and near suicide in my thirty-third year and its subsequent introspection. Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s writing that has brought out the Buddha-Lupe in me. My weekly peace vigil for my friend Jasna in Sarajevo. The writings of Gloria Anzaldúa. A crucial trip back to Tepeyac in 1985 with Cherríe Moraga and Norma Alarcón. Drives across Texas, talking with other Chicanas. And research for stories that would force me back inside the Church from where I’d fled.
My Virgen de Guadalupe is not the mother of God. She is God. She is a face for a god without a face, an indigena for a god without ethnicity, a female deity for a god who is genderless, but I also understand that for her to approach me, for me to finally open the door and accept her, she had to be a woman like me.
Once watching a porn film, I saw a sight that terrified me. It was the film star’s panocha—a tidy, elliptical opening, pink and shiny like a rabbit’s ear. To make matters worse, it was shaved and looked especially childlike and unisexual. I think what startled me most was the realization that my own sex has no resemblance to this woman’s. My sex, dark as an orchid, rubbery and blue-purple as pulpo, an octopus, does not look nice and tidy, but otherworldly. I do not have little rosette nipples. My nipples are big and brown like the coins of my childhood.
When I see la Virgen de Guadalupe I want to lift her dress as I did my dolls, and look to see if she comes with chones and does her panocha look like mine, and does she have dark nipples too? Yes, I am certain she does. She is not neuter like Barbie. She gave birth. She has a womb. Blessed art thou and blessed is the fruit of thy womb…. Blessed art thou, Lupe, and, therefore, blessed am I.