Document 3. Beside this file is an image I saw on Tumblr. It is an ad for a scent called E’au D’Héroïne, and on the bottom it reads: by Jork Weismann. There's a close-up shot of an opened mouth, a tilted back jaw, with oozy champagne-colored liquid spilling out generously. I was attracted to this image because of its wetness, vulnerability, and sexiness.
I became obsessed with the notion of oozing substances in my third year of art school. But the curiosity started at an earlier age. It began with the first nutrients I ever consumed—the milk from my mother’s nipples. That is, how it came to be and how her body could produce it for my consumption. Later in life, there was a different kind of ooz that caught my curiosity. It was the feeling of wetness I first encountered between my legs after a basement make-out sesh. I gradually came to associate moments of intimacy, moments of pleasure and vulnerability with these involuntary oozing liquids from our orifices. We are made of water more than anything else and held together by a semi-permeable skin sack.
Sometimes, the word fluidity is associated with a personality characteristic: a type of laid-back openness. It seems in our fast-paced, highly controlled culture to be sought after. But only to a certain limit. Being able to handle flux and ride life’s waves is a valuable skill, but it is not synonymous with privileged passivity. I think we are afraid of what it really means to be open wide. Have you ever sat, after orgasm, with your legs spread apart? To be wet is to be vulnerable. There are so many associations with wetness: To be pure, clean, close to god-li-ness. To be cold, or surrounded in warmth, to be naked. To be connected, to nurture, to climax. To grieve, to fight, to flee. Becoming wet with our own fluids is the essence of experiencing this life. But we spend so much of our time trying to prevent our excretions and what feelings they might come with.
In an interview, artist Paul McCarthy remarked that “we’re taught to be disgusted by our fluids. Maybe it’s related to our fear of death.”1 He could not have put it better. We are innately terrified of death, and everything our unconscious and conscious minds associate with death: weakness, lack of mobility, pain, loneliness, emptiness, loss of control. Our fluids signify a loss of control. It’s a reminder that we are animals. We shit ourselves when we die. Psychologist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach advises her students: “When we look directly at the bandaged place without denying or avoiding it, we become tender toward our human vulnerability.”2 Suffering occurs out of resistance to what is felt, resistance to the reality of disappointment, failure, or grief. It occurs when we try with all our might to wipe up our fluids before anyone-god forbid-notices.
Like many romantic teenagers around that time, I fell in love with the film American Beauty when it was first released. The monologue at the very end is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. The protagonist, a sad, middle-aged man who just rediscovered his spark for life before being killed by gunshot, gives us a glimpse at something we’ll all only get to experience once, and alone: the moment we die. He says:
I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember to relax and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain, and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.3
It flows through me like rain.
Perhaps, this insistence on keeping fluids internal has contributed to our collective insidious and clever nature. Our persistence to organize, conquer, build, and hurt one another.
Paul McCarthy continues the prior quote by adding: “hygiene is the religion of fascism.”4 To be controlled is to have no sort of oozing going on whatsoever. How can you conquer when your breast milk is dripping or your eyes are swelling up with tears? “The body sack,” McCarthy continued, “the sack you DON’T enter, it’s taboo to enter the sack! Fear of SEX & a LOSS OF CONTROL.”5
We live in a society bound by control. Embracing and practicing eroticism – in the entire sense of the word – is a rejection of hierarchal oppressive structure. Audre Lorde writes in Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power:
The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect, we can require no less of ourselves.6
Giving in to the fluids is giving in to the capacity to feel and be.
Giving in to the fluids is choosing to live an erotic life.
Audre Lorde continues in the same chapter writing:
In touch with the erotic, I become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.7
Ultimately, I do not think that this embrace of the erotic is giving up any sort of control. Rather, I believe that leaning into our fluids is a form of resistance against those structures that endeavor to control us.
The above was written by Madeline Rae. She is a performance artist and (future) sex counsellor living on Treaty 1 (Winnipeg, MB). Rae's work focuses on reclaiming sensuality and expanding the scope of the performative space through a lens of Pleasure Activism. This piece was first broadcasted on Winnipeg's CKUW radio show, the Monkey Sparrow on June 4, 2019. It has been edited slightly for readability. All images by Madeline Rae.
1. Weissman, Benjamin. “Paul McCarthy In Conversation with B. enjamin Weissman / 2003,” in Sexuality, ed. Amelia Jones. (London: Whitechapel, 2014) 159-160.
2. Brach, Tara. Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha. New York: Bantam Dell, 2004, pg. 36.
3. American Beauty. Dreamworks, 1999.
4. Weissman, Benjamin. “Paul McCarthy In Conversation with Benjamin Weissman / 2003,” in Sexuality, ed. Amelia Jones. (London: Whitechapel, 2014) 159-160.
6. Lorde, Audre. Uses of the Erotic: the Erotic as Power. Tucson, AZ: Kore Press, 2000.