The Cathartic Gush of Sweat, Tears, Spit, and Cum
Four love letters to the self.
In 2016, Sophia the Robot, an interactive humanoid developed by a robotics and engineering company based in Hong Kong, was born. Soon after her conception, photographs and videos of her ability to replicate a wide range of human facial expressions began circulating on social media platforms. At first, the image of Sophia the Robot left me feeling deeply uncomfortable. As time has passed and my interest in nonhuman bodies has grown, curiosity and an unexpected sense of solidarity replaced that initial reaction. While meditating on her own view of Sophia the Robot, Meaghan Garvey, a contributor to Pitchfork, an American online magazine, wrote: “There is something profoundly tragic in her existence, a sense of uncanny anti-natalism that triggers a strange empathy for those who also did not ask to be born.”
Solidarity aside, there are many obvious distinctions between myself and the white, bald robot. However, I am most fascinated by one thing in particular: Sophia the Robot does not excrete human fluid and it seems that I am always experiencing wetness. This revelation manifested through the discovery of a spellbinding conversation between the prolific Chinese-American writer Jenny Zhang and educator and activist Tina Horn, the host of “Why Are People Into That?!” a podcast that explores sex, kink, gender and love.
In the episode, Zhang speaks on the symbolic and literal presence of bodily fluids within her life and work. As a person naturally bursting with fluids ranging from snot to pus, she reflects on healing her relationship to wetness by articulating what held her back from doing so and championing it as a reaction of pleasure. The conversation was eye-opening to listen to as they equated bodily fluids to emotions, drawing out a metaphorical way to understand how we are subject to the pressure to suppress our truths.
On the topic of wetness, certain images from my life materialize. I think of my thighs sticking to city bus seats in the summertime and the embarrassing sound of my skin separating from the leather. Snot bubbling from my nostrils. Drool staining my partner’s sleeve. Clotted period blood between my fingertips. I cycle through childhood memories and remember the lack of access with regards to hygiene. A lack that exacerbated my secretions.
As a child, fluid is what drew me to myself in a non-sexual way. At a young age, I tried to penetrate myself out of pure curiosity, out of a desire to demystify my body. I remember attempting to ingest my excretions, wanting to know what it was like to taste oneself. However, an awareness of fluid threw my morality in disarray. I felt torn between my corporeal reality and the reality in which I was shamed into both invisibilizing and hypersexualizing my body’s natural functions. It made me feel wrong for containing things my parents refused to talk about so when I think of fluid, I look back on the lengths I went to in order to force these things down because I felt repulsed by the sight of my own tears or the feel of discharge in my underwear.
Like Zhang, who identifies as both a “goopy person” and the child of two immigrants, I have come to realize that there is always so much of it, so much liquid leaving my body involuntarily. Similar to my emotions.
Logical explanation aside, I took the opportunity to look at Sophia’s lack of bodily fluid as a projection of a collective insecurity. The process of secretion, a human and nonhuman display, is undeniably universal yet looked at as forbidden and unclean.
When I first looked at Sophia the Robot, I was afraid that her birth was an expression of the dominant culture’s fixation with homogenization. This is expressed through the positioning of white, cis-gender, thin, able-bodied, class-privileged bodies as the norm. I feared technology that could enable the production of a nonhuman model citizen to taunt those inherently looked at as nonhuman due to their positioning outside of the norm. As a young immigrant and settler, I look at both personal and public history as abundant in examples of the way identifiers such as class, race, gender, ability and sexuality are used to deem a body socially unclean and/or deviant.
A story that resonates with me belongs to a woman known as Saartjie Baartman. In 1810, she was put on display at a circus after being presented as an object of fascination because of the excessive amount of fat on her buttocks known as steatopygia, her large breasts, and extended labia minorum. She was called the Hottentot Venus and ordered to perform for audiences because she existed far outside Eurocentric beauty standards. Five years later, Baartman passed away and researchers preserved her brain and genitals to present at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.
So much time has passed since I first heard this story and I still circle around it obsessively to this day. It has both disturbed and comforted my esteem in the process of decolonizing and healing my self-image as a dark-skinned woman struggling with mental and physical illness. In this process, the very first step was crumbling and breaking through the myth of the unshakeable black woman to admit that I have been made to feel inherently disgusted by my body in order for white hetero-patriarchy to thrive. The second step was looking at this revelation as a step towards resilience as opposed to weakness.
The fear of displaying my humanness in its entirety is a side effect of being swept up in the erasure of bodies existing outside of the norm. I live in a body that is deemed uncouth. The promotion of this through media that glorifies white, cis-gender, thin, able-bodied, class-privileged bodies is an act of violence that must be combatted.
With bodily fluids in mind, this begs the question — who gets to reveal their humanness in its entirety while feeling little to no shame? Who gets to be desirable and disgusting? The privilege of being able to float between the two definitions is delegated through the way we culturally define desirability. The pressure placed upon certain bodies to visually present as polite, clean and contained connects to the way bodies are pressured to emotionally present as polite, clean and contained.
In reflecting on her interview with Zhang, Horn wrote: “Fluids carry infections and are often dangerous. Fluids are also the parts of our physical selves that make us feel unclean. Fluids, especially ones we’ve lost control of, are the body’s way of expressing itself; they tell the truth. We’ve invented products to suppress them, like antiperspirant, and ways to contain them, like condoms. Therefore, swapping fluids, or being fluid bonded, is a profound expression of intimacy and trust.”
Horn writes that fluids tell the truth and yet we are incessantly conditioned to feel shame for them in spite of how natural and human it is to secrete, to ooze, and to be wet. There are many truths within ourselves that we are incessantly conditioned to swallow down. Truths that are natural, human and yes, beautiful.
By pushing bodies out, the dominant culture pushes bodies away from themselves. When I think of the consequences of this, I especially think of 2SLGBTQ+ youth who will be subject to definitions of sexuality through heteronormativity, falsely rendering a spectrum of valid experiences unclean and forbidden. Monolithic views of the sexual journey discount what exists in the real world.
In “When We Say #SexEdSavesLives, We’re Talking About Our Own,” a survey conducted by Nuance to hear how the community felt about the revisions made to sex education curriculum, it was revealed that “25% of respondents indicated the importance of a 2SLGBTQ+ — inclusive curriculum and how representation could reduce homophobia, transphobia and stigma around gender identity.” This verifies the diffuse effects of silencing experiences at an institutional scale.
Yes, there is something deeply cathartic about existing in relatively safer and intimate spaces that allow you to secrete emotion, expression, and experience freely but the systemic absence of the talk, through an intersectional and spectrum-honouring lens, engenders shame, isolation, and detachment. An anonymous respondent to the Nuance survey said: “If I was taught in school more than just the very very basics, I would have been able to understand myself a lot better, leading to a lot less shame and self hatred.”
In my lived experience, heteronormativity enforced through systems of education, religion, and culture has produced and weaponized myths in order to keep me away from self-exploration and queerness. This is an intentional and preventative tactic.
An early memory from my formative years involves an arguably facetious myth that was widely held by young boys at recess — girls don’t poop. As I dug into this comical fiction, I recognized patriarchal authority attempting to shame and police marginalized bodies and voices entirely, especially women, femmes or non-binary people. In the production of heteronormative myths, youth are privy to dialogues of suppression and forced to experience the production of restrictive, soul-crushing rules of how a person should be.
Schoolyard sex-centered mythologies plant seeds for greater consequences. Even in my formative years, I was aware and complicit in upholding violent expectations and exclusionary dialogue weaponized against my body and the bodies of my peers. At a time of peak curiosity towards the way my body worked, I was being taught to feel embarrassment towards it. This led to things such as body-shaming and judgement towards forms of sex outside of the heteronormative lens; these things and more were a direct attack on how I grew to intuitively want to express myself.
In drawing out these revelations, I have come to see how revolutionary it can be to make my humanness known in its entirety. To release the shame I feel around my bodily fluids especially as an individual whose leakage is currently related to sickness and pain.
In intimate spaces, I revel in the act of sharing my fluids with a partner that I trust and love deeply. In intimate spaces, the things my body secretes are naturalized and looked at as sacred. There is something healing about letting myself spill into a person emotionally and physically so that there is little separation between the two of us; we are swimming in seas of one another, moved by trust, care, and support.
Love, to me, has never been a clean and contained thing. It is messy and has stench to it, a wetness and a thin, protective film over top of it. For so long, I looked at love and vulnerability as forbidden things and now, they are deeply planted inside of me. Everyday, I am working to unlearn and alchemize my shame. It is revolutionary to make it known that the love I have and the body that I am in are natural, human, and valid.
I invite you to take part in looking at your own relationship to bodily fluids, to look at them as metaphors for how we forcibly contain parts of ourselves and in safe spaces, champion your ability to release, to spill, to gush in every way.
Four love letter style vignettes, tapping into the cathartic release of bodily fluids.
Liquid pools in a pair of once clean underwear. Liquid pools in hollow spaces.
In the small of my back, between thighs, and inside of armpits.
Somewhere, a mother bird is feeding a child. The baby bird tips their head back, beak open. Somewhere in the future, I imagine that there are motherless birds living inside of human bodies, coexisting with blue pills living inside of human bodies. Here in Toronto, at 9:32 am, I am thinking stupid thoughts about the idea of ‘somewhere’ as my eyes linger on the bottle of Zoloft on the bedroom floor.
You wake up as I am rummaging through these thoughts to drag my mouth open with your bottom lip, moving in tandem with a sliver of light that sneaks in through the window sharpening the image of you kissing the image of me.
The image of your morning breath spilling into my mouth.
The image of two bodies, limbs tangled surrealistically. Heaven’s view of us obstructed by white bedsheets, yellowing at the edge. Your body smooshed against mine, transforms into something holy.
Here in Toronto, at 9:40 am, I whisper-chant prayers through my teeth so the image holds
with the image of myself as a young girl, holding shame, hyper-aware of strings of puberty sweat underneath the twin lumps of congealing fat on my chest.
Sweat as an expression of passion looks like, tastes like, smells like, feels like, you becoming my body.
Liquid speaking to liquid. Skin swimming to skin.
sweat whispering bodily secrets
“take me in as your own.”
Strings of mucus fill the space between our mouths.
I shiver, imagining my body, submerged in a lake of Him, swimming upwards towards light teeming through the surface. A lake of Him materializing underneath my tongue. A lake of Him in the palm of my hand.
I am brought back to my body, feeling its way through the dark hallway to find the washroom. On entry, the revelation devours my conscience: This is where He pees, this is where He shits.
The thought cuts through me and I get the feeling that if this were a James Joyce story, I would drink the toilet water. I would be found bent over, wildly cupping the shit-polluted water into my mouth. The water would enter me, working its way through my insides to conjure a baptism.
I would be transformed through you, through the shit-polluted water you make.
Instead, I smear a curdled spoonful of mucus onto the sink beside me.
Longing possesses my body as he examines me. The stare is hard enough to unfasten my skin, to peel away the dark brown mask dirtied with smudged mascara and cherry balm. The corners of my lips stretch into what I hope looks like a gentle, closed-mouth smile.
He traces the smile with a finger and opens me with it in a swift motion. The intimacy we share becomes surgical. Here I am, cut open by his eyes lingering, desperately searching for the lie, for the motherless baby bird living inside of me, the tiny blue pill.
When I cry, I am soft, raw, and half-alive. The body of another extends to offer me space.
He feels so far away, I am seeing him through glass tears and yet the fleshy home his body makes feels infinite, promising, and safe. I stay in this place to become new again.
Something snaps within and I am drunk on this unraveling. When tears lands on my tongue, I taste the salt. I imagine it would be nicer to taste something sweet, to taste honey or breast milk. To be drunk on something more medicinal.
He holds me while I become undone.
Glass tears on brown skin.
I am a geyser, in the body of a woman. Waiting.
I think of other women who are like geysers, bubbling from within. These women live inside of me. Scratch the geyser metaphor. Imagine my body is a house. The women live in separate bedrooms, doors shut and locked. They wait to be beckoned into reality. They wait to show themselves. Hands folded on their laps. Lips pressed into straight lines.
I dig my nails into anger, sink my teeth into feelings of depression and wade in my irrational fears. Here, in this space, I can work with these things. I create magic with every version of myself.
Seawater breaks into the house, seawater breaks into my body. The salt of the water licks their skin clean, temporarily swelling and hurting the flesh of these hermit women within. They float to the surface and together, they sing: If you are loved, do you live forever?
I am a house, I am a geyser, I am a woman alone and sunbathing on my bedroom floor. Inside of myself.
The seawater is not love, the seawater is pleasure.
I find it difficult to write about this feeling outside of poetic language. Outside of metaphor. To cum is to become an animal, outside of metaphorical language. Cums lies. Cum tells the truth. In its purest moments, cum is more than human. In my purest moments, I am more than human.