Artistic expression has the power to transform and transcend cultural norms. It is the artist who can push a society pass its boundaries and divisions into a new ways of thinking. For me, Beyoncé's eponymous new album does just this for women who strive toward a feminine, empowered expression in our hyper-masculine culture.
A friend told me about Beyoncé's new release. "This album is hot and sexy," she said. I downloaded the album and all the videos before I got home. Mesmerized by the videos (especially "Drunk In Love"), I found myself weeping from deep pleasure. For me, Beyoncé had touched with her a place where artistry and the wild woman collide. This is a place I've been feeling within myself, the place in my soul where all my brokenness, power, dreams, magic, and juiciness live. Watching her dance with abandon on the beach, I felt like I was witnessing a free and fully realized woman.
I was particularly struck by the iconic line from the film What's Love Got to Do with It in the video "Eat the Cake, Anna Mae." My parents were not unlike Anna Mae and Ike Turner. I watched them do a crazy dance of love, sex, drugs, and abuse. I saw my father beat my mother black-and-blue in one moment and in the next declare his undying love for her. My mother was out-loud sexy, and as a girl I wanted her to be more demure. Somehow I believed it was her sexuality that caused such frustration and anguish for my father, rather than his ability to face his insecurity and powerlessness. He wanted to own her and be her master. He was her pimp and she his prostitute--and still that was not enough. When he felt he was losing control; he'd beat her into submission. It was in that home that I learned that female sexuality was dangerous; a pathway to hell. Once my grandmother took me away from that chaotic and traumatic environment, my beliefs were confirmed by the Christian teachings.
Those childhood beliefs finally brought me to a crossroad within myself. I've been a devoted spiritual seeker for decades, but I'd found that what I was longing for wasn't offered by religion, or marriage, or success in business, or any other institution our society offers. Did I have the courage to own the parts of me I had denied for fear of being like my mother? A year ago I set an intention to recall my feminine, wild, sexual, and sensual self. The year has been sprinkled with openings and pathways into eroticism and sensuality I had no idea I would ever encounter. I've faced the demons I created as a girl, and I've forgiven and found gratitude for my parents and their painful, destructive choices. But more importantly, I've offered my creativity and artistic expression to my sexuality. As a spiritual practice, I've invited myself to live my sexual and sensual self covertly as a method of getting free. In all of my studies on my spiritual path, none had suggested I embrace my sexual and sensual nature. Then I stumbled on Kenya Stevens of Jujumama. For the first time I encountered a sexual, sensual, and spiritual black woman who embraced her sexuality and even celebrated it on her terms. At the core of her teachings were feminine magnetism and the sexual magic that women hold. It was in this environment that I felt safe and held by others like myself to question old patriarchal ideas about female sexuality. I begin challenging ideas about acceptable sexual female behaviors. I no longer hold the standard cultural and religious ideas, like women should not have more than one partner, women should be pure and chaste, and women should pursue marriage.
Books like the The Female Brain by Louann Brizedine, What Do Women Want? by Daniel Bergner and Vagina by Naomi Wolf inspired me to re-evaluate the parts of myself that I had been ashamed of. I began acknowledging my love and desire for sexual connection as woman. I started acknowledging my attraction to men without needing them to pursue me. I came to accept my sensuality as a gift and not something I needed to fear. I began loving the part of my mother that would allow her hips to sway as she walked through a room crowded with men. I wanted a man who could stand strong in the face of my feminine sexual power without needing to control or own it; who wouldn't be tempted to fear or oppress it. I wanted an Ike for my inner Anna Mae--I just didn't want it to hurt the way my parents had hurt themselves and one another.
Watching Beyoncé's "Drunk In Love" video affirmed something within me. Witnessing her gave me permission to be in my body and feel the energy of hot, sexual desire in its most creative and beautiful expression. This is the gift of artistry. I see something in Beyoncé that we rarely witness in our culture-- a black woman who is undeniably beautiful, vulnerable, sensual, and appreciated by herself and a man.
My journey to discover my sexual, sensual, and feminine self will continue the rest of my life. It includes being a mother, friend, activist, daughter, and a lover of myself and others. It is all born out of my ability to use the creative act to alchemize anything hurtful and heartbreaking, including my inner Anna Mae. Throughout her book Vagina, Naomi Wolf repeatedly states that a woman's sexuality and creativity are intricately intertwined. She posits that the more sexual a woman is, the greater access she has to her creativity. As a modern black woman, I found this idea riveting. The sexuality of black women has been put on ice because of their history as slaves and the rapes of their ancestors, and because their religion holds it a sin. But a new day is dawning, and it's taking many black women, myself included, by storm. We no longer need to hide our sensuality or our vulnerability. Beyoncé's latest work, in my estimation, tells the world, "Within me is everything, I will not deny one part of myself." Within her artistry she transforms Anna Mae into Tina Turner, the whore into the sacred seductress, the wanting housewife into the business mogul. This is true feminine power, unlike anything I've seen in our culture. Her art turns poison into medicine for all who desire to be fully alive, awakened, and free. Yes Anna Mae, eat the cake.