Portland is known to embrace the weird, which translates into the ability for the city to develop unique notions of sexuality. I’ve lived in Portland for two years, and I’ve found myself growing to embrace the weird in my life. I come from a small, conservative New Jersey suburb where polyamory is not exactly an accepted form of relationship. Explaining to my Roman Catholic grandparents that I’m in a polyamorous relationship would be like telling them I practice black magic. However, I’ve found myself blooming as I immerse myself in Portland’s sexual liberation.
Freedom resonates throughout Portland’s city streets, and sexuality is pulsating in the trees. Eroticism is a way of life which Portland’s youth recognize effortlessly and beautifully. Mainstream culture tends to think of binary sexuality as the norm. People are either gay or straight.
Relationships are either monogamous or not present at all. These notions are problematic. Sexual liberation relies on the removing of labels, the ability to follow one’s honest desires and the ability to adopt eroticism into daily life.
I attended a Tune-Yards (often stylized as tUnE-yArDs) concert, which adopted the idea of eroticism with colorful imagery. Tune-Yards is a musical project created by Merill Garbus. Her music encompasses several influences from genres all over the world. The sounds are choppy, disassociated and eclectic, but paradoxically, they create an intoxicating melody that remains present after hours of listening. Instantly, the limbs want to move and the hips want to sway.
I’ve attended concerts on the East Coast, in the deep South and on the West Coast, but I’ve never experienced a gathering in which the audience connected so deeply with one another in only a few hours. My senses dominated, I found myself surrounded by warm, loving people, sensually swaying to music that embodies optimism and fantasy.
At the beginning of the show, I was greeted by a polyamorous group. They welcomed my friend and I into their loving circle and invited us to dance with them, moving their hands along the contours of our figures and kissing us gently on our cheeks. Though I consider myself to be a reserved person even with several glasses of Moscato in my belly, I found myself letting go of those inhibitions and embracing my sensuality, my body and my loving energy.
We danced all night with beautifully warm people, holding hands in the midst of the crowd. I found the experience to be almost like a gathering of souls brought together by art. I cannot imagine a more Portland night. If this is the weird that brought me to this city, then I rejoice my acceptance letter to Portland State once again.
As the show came to a close, all of us drifted toward different parts of the city, peacefully walking our separate paths while acknowledging the beauty of our shared experience. In this instance, I began to understand the concept of eroticism and how poignantly it can be applied to life.
When asking my friend about his experience at the Tune-Yards concert, he described it as, “the effect of sandpaper—an abrasive object creating a smooth result. This smoothness manifested itself in the audience. [An] excited, united front, collectively enjoying this paradoxical dissonance.” The excitement of the crowd oscillated through the room and stayed with me throughout the night, reflecting on to me like moonlight as I walked back to my apartment.
The eroticism in Portland is similar to the energy at Tune-Yards: free spirited and energetic. Perhaps the West Coast air possesses an energy which frees the self from the constricting pressures of monogamy and binary sexuality, but I’ve noticed a lack of pressure to define sexuality here. The free-spirited eroticism is something which would be beneficial to the entire consciousness of humanity.
I’m not stating that everyone should dismiss monogamy, but I encourage all to open their minds and accept different views of eroticism. I encourage all to stop judging those unable to define their sexuality and allow their peers to simply be who they are. Love is a powerful energy which can translate many different ways. There’s a reason love is explained in every language.
Loving multiple partners does not make the love any less valid, nor does having the capacity to love any individual regardless of gender. Powerful connections can be built in any amount of time and art can empower these connections. Sexuality is complicated and cannot be explained with concrete definitions because sexuality will never be concrete. There’s a powerful reason the counterculture of the 1960s sang “free love” on crowded city streets; love and sex can be expressed in many forms.