Decolonizing Love: Part I
I have been thinking about my decolonization process and want to share my experiences with the concept of decolonizing love. It is complex, as love goes, and dips into several subsections that I’ve not yet fully explored.
What does it mean to decolonize love?
To me, it means to remove the boxes under which love is barricaded. Imagine several boxes lined up in front of you. The first tells you about heteronormative relationships: a man and a woman. The second tells you to abstain from sex until marriage, under a religious or culturally divine rule. The next tells you to get married. The next tells you that there are two genders. The next tells you which is your gender. The next tells you who to be attracted to, based on the gender you were assigned. I can keep listing, but I think you get the idea. Now, to decolonize, imagine yourself removing these boxes. When removing these boxes, remember to do so at your own pace. You may want to do so one by one, giving time to reflect on each. You may be ready to knock them all down at once and be done with them altogether. The process is important, so be sure to carefully decide on how you intend to remove them. For me, it is important that I remove them one by one, with time to reflect on each box.
As a Latina raised Catholic, it was taboo for me to discuss sex, and anything raunchy was a "white thing". My mom would tell me about how weird it was to discuss sex with her mom. My mom grew up in a small pueblo in Mexico. The pueblo was Catholic and machismo (exaggerated masculinity) heavily loomed over it. My mom would tell me that women never talked to their daughters about sex. Even talking about menstruation was unheard of. Young women simply stayed home and in bed when they had their periods to avoid seeing anyone and avoid having to explain it (there were no sanitary products for women in my mom’s pueblo; women wore layers or used a rag to absorb the blood). Obviously, people would notice if a young woman was away for 3 to 6 days each month. When men asked questions about the missing young woman, mothers and older sisters would scold them and tell them to not ask questions. When women married and got pregnant, they would avoid visiting their mothers during pregnancy to avoid discussing their sex life. .
Hearing these stories made me feel bad for the women in my mom's pueblo. I couldn’t help but wonder how much she had to repress and the shame she and the other women in the pueblo must have had for menstruating, or for having sexual desires. I also I heard these stories after I’d already exposed myself to Riot Grrrl bands Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. Loud lyrics that went something like “get on your knees and suck my clit” made me feel like sex was a right that I was allowed to have. I was still a teenager, but all of a sudden I felt guilty for exposing myself to sexually liberating music and culture. I was reading about raunchy culture and was starting to allow myself to make paper zines about my own raunchy aspirations. But now things were different. My mom reminded me that I am Mexican, and my family comes from a culture where we cannot talk about sex. What made me think that I can just go and live a sexually liberating life in America? Suddenly, I felt like maybe this whole raunchy stuff was an American thing. It was a white thing. It felt like something that wasn’t for me because I am Brown.
When I added that layer of race and ethnicity, I realized that sex and love as a pre-established structure was another concept that I could decolonize. This is where those boxes come in. I was raised in a household that loves boxes. It thrives on boxes. Anything that cannot be classified into a box is unacceptable. Our society uses boxes. Somehow, pink is a gendered color reserved for girls. Somehow, weddings are sacred rituals reserved for monogamous heterosexuals (and anyone interested in joint tax returns). So now the fun part starts: I am Mexican, but I am also Mexican: as in, I come from a line of ancestors who did not practice these strict models of love. They weren’t even Catholic! The concept of a "white wedding" was a product of colonization. All of these boxes I was passed down were products of colonization. Although I enjoy many facets of my cultural upbringing that were products of colonization, such as La Virgen de Guadalupe and everything she encompasses, a lot of it represses us and continues to colonize us, on an internal and personal level.
But love is special. I am in constant weird conversations among friends where some agree that "love is love" and everyone should be able to get married. Or that love should not be limited to monogamy. Or that heteronormativity is actually poison disguised as diamonds. None of these things are what I want for myself, and the more I learn about structures of love based on colonization, the easier it is to deconstruct it.