There are hearts everywhere, and all I can think about is blood.
I don’t have a problem with Valentine’s Day. I love any excuse to drink wine and eat chocolate with my friends, but the hearts are driving me insane this year. We think of hearts as these pink cutesy things that look like a triangle with boobs. We see them everywhere as a sign of love, a representation not of what you feel, but where you feel it.
We say “I love you with all of my heart,” but what does that mean, really?
“Heartfelt” comes from Aristotle’s philosophy that the heart collects input from the organs around it through the blood vessels and that causes thoughts and emotions to arise. A shortness of breath, a clenched stomach, these are all part of that input, your organs telling your heart how you feel.
So then do you love someone with all of the 11-ounce messy muscle that pumps 2,000 gallons of blood through your body a day? Or do you love someone with all the nerves that surround the area of your body where that muscle lies?
If love is held in our heart, what role does the blood rushing through it play? How much does a beating heart and a rush of blood play in lusting for something or someone?
Arousal in its basic physiology is about blood and the swelling of genitals. In Chinese culture, it is thought that sexual desire can cause a man to get a nosebleed. Thankfully, I’m not a Chinese man, or I’d constantly be ruining scarves.
If blood is at the core of arousal, it’s not surprising that blood itself can be arousing.
Once I bit a lover so hard he bled. So I bit him again. And again. And again, until his back was covered in half-moon shaped puddles of warm blood. I poured ice water over his wounds and smeared the diluted red liquid across his back, my hands and our sheets. It was erotic, sensual, intimate, and intriguing, a moment I yearned to repeat.
A few weeks later, that guy taught me how to pierce people. He was deep into the BDSM scene, and we were traveling down some kinky roads together. A mutual friend offered her back and we covered it in hypodermic needles. I didn’t care for placing the needles in the skin, but oh, did I love taking them out, watching her squirm, seeing the entrance and exit points create droplets of blood.
For the duration of that scene, there was a bond between the three of us, created by increased heart rates, consensual pain, and a mutual love of watching blood drip down bare skin.
Except for getting my blood drawn, seeing blood never bothered me. If anything, it intrigued and aroused me. Bring on the period sex, I said, more lubrication. Let’s get messy, let’s get primal, let’s turn everything red! But my relationship with blood changed drastically recently, and now my view of everything from sex to Valentine’s Day hearts is skewed.
It had been awhile since I’d been to a BDSM play party, so when Guns, a hot butch I’m dating, invited me to a local queer-women’s night recently, I jumped at the opportunity to get back in the dungeon. Before the group play started, Naria B. Jordan, Southern California Leather Woman 2012–2013, demonstrated two kinds of techniques: knife play with her wife Bikkja Amy and scalpel cutting with her Grrrl Brigette Beisner.
I didn’t expect this. I didn’t know there would be this kind of demonstration, so when I saw the knives and scalpels, I froze. My heart stopped, or rather my breathing stopped, telling my heart to panic and slow down. Light-headed, I grabbed the wall with one hand and Guns’s hand with the other.
“Blood,” I whispered to her, a look of panic on my face. She understood immediately. She knew the power that blood now held over me. She’d held me in the night as I woke up startled from nightmares; she knew my demons were covered in blood. She got how terrified I was at that moment; she knew what I was remembering.
She knew that two months before, on November 5, 2012, at six in the morning, I heard a familiar bell ring and jumped up to see what my brother needed. A month before, he had his jaw removed and replaced with bones, veins and muscles from his back in an attempt to stop the rapid-spreading cancer he had been fighting for a year and a half. He was staying at my parents’ home, and I was there as well, helping out with his strenuous medical regimen.
He was twenty-five years old.
He could no longer talk, so he snapped his fingers, clapped his hands and texted us when he needed anything. I knew something was wrong before I got to his room. He only used the bell in emergencies.
I used to think the over-the-top scenes in action flicks when blood gushed out of a slayed person’s neck were absurd. I guffawed at the mess they claimed a torn jugular could make, covering the victim and everyone around him in bright red. That morning made me stop laughing.
The human heart can pump anywhere from five to thirty quarts of blood a minute, and my brother’s was pumping it all out through the tracheotomy hole the doctor made in his neck for him to breathe. Some major artery had burst, and it wasn’t long before the sheet we held up in an attempt to stop the flow was drenched.
It wasn’t long before all of my brother’s six quarts of blood were outside of his body.
It wasn’t long before he was limp and dead.
We watched all of that, my mom and I. We watched liters of blood pour from my brother’s throat. Our neighbor rushed over to help us, but my brother was already drained. By the time my dad made it home, he was limp, the blood drying. His girlfriend saw him only after he was pronounced dead, the blood crusted. My sister arrived hours later, after he’d been wheeled away and the dark red mostly cleaned out of our carpets by a caring friend.
But my mother and I saw all of his blood. Every last drop.
I will forever be conscious of blood and the role it plays in our lives. I will never again see a heart, feel a heartbeat, without thinking of the blood within and how quickly it can all come rushing out.
The last thing my brother said to me wasn’t said at all, but motioned the night before he died, arms crossed over his heart, American Sign Language for “I love you.” His eyes were full of gratitude for my help, affection for the bond we had, and hope for a healthier, happier future for both of us.
That’s a feeling a pink cutesy triangle with boobs can’t express.
That morning changed me profoundly. That morning haunts me horribly. Sitting there watching Naria cut Brigette, I saw my brother’s blood, not hers. When I start my period, I see my brother’s blood, not mine. When I orgasm, my head fills with images of that morning, of his blood.
The emotional exhaustion I feel is physically painful. I now fully comprehend the meaning of a heavy heart. Navigating daily life with the weight of grief is extremely difficult. Navigating sex with this much emotional pain is almost impossible.
But sex is my life, my profession, my calling. I need to have sex. At the very least I need a desire to masturbate. Not just for professional reasons, but personally I’d like to get back to a place where I enjoy my favorite activity.
I’m a practical person. I know the only way out is through. So, when Guns offered to walk me outside, take me away from Brigette’s blood, from the triggers, from the heartache and pain, I declined. Instead, I got a glass of water, found a chair and watched.
For an hour I sat there, analyzing Naria’s precise scalpel movements, studying the way Brigette surrendered to the pain, admiring the couple’s intense communication and bonding. Naria was carving a Celtic sun into Brigette’s back, marking her in a way similar to a tattoo, a permanent sign of their relationship, creating a truly lasting impression of this moment that we were all a part of.
The tenderness with which Naria made Brigette bleed was inspiring. Yes, she pulled apart the wound to make the cuts deeper, poured salt to make them burn, ash to make them sting, but she did so lovingly, caringly, cooing to her through her pain. Then, when the cutting was done, she cleaned her up, helped her heal, held her gently, and nurtured her throughout the night.
I’m trying to learn from their example, to pull apart my wound, add salt to it, document it, and feel every bit of it. I’m trying to breathe through my pain and allow others to support me in my process. I’m trying to learn from the BDSM concept of surrendering to another, to turn intense pain into a beautiful moment, sensual and sexual even.
Guns came over and checked on me as blood cascaded out of Brigette, cared for my needs, held my hand and caressed me. I normally would have faked being fine and pushed her away in an act of self-preservation, but that night, I let her in my head and in my bed.
I’m trying to face the fear, to challenge it and get back to a place where blood can be a sensual thing, a personal thing, something sacred, something relatable, tangible, safe, and even fun. The cutting between Naria and Brigette helped more than anything else yet has, it spoke to my creative, emotional side and changed me in a visceral way.
However, emotional experiences aren’t enough for me to heal. I need logic and analytical thinking as well, which is why I started studying blood on a physiological, social, and legal level. In that research, I’ve found that every civilization has a reverence for the connection between two people when they share blood.
Some countries even recognize blood brothers, two people not related by birth who have sworn loyalty to each other and mixed their blood, as legal relatives. Many cultures include blood in rituals that join two people or families, such as marriage ceremonies.
Paternity and financial responsibility for a child is determined by blood. Rights are passed on through blood relations, even when the emotional connection has been severed. When I worked with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, I heard many horror stories of estranged family members making medical decisions for severely ill AIDS patients against the will of the patient and his life partner.
Legal deference is most often given to blood connections over love connections.
Yet, while we socially and legally revere blood, we also fear it. With life-threatening pathogens, blood itself can become dangerous, taboo even, joining the ranks of other restricted bodily secretions. Pornography with blood in it is usually labeled as “obscene” and regulated, or downright banned.
My research assistant’s favorite law in this regard came from the state of Indiana. “A person who recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally places human blood, semen, urine or fecal waste in a location with the intent that another person will involuntarily touch the blood, semen, urine, or fecal waste commits malicious mischief.”
I’m pretty sure that Indiana law just described what some of my favorite people do for a living. From now on, I’m calling the work of a dominatrix “malicious mischief.”
Most laws regarding blood, however, deal with the bonds between people, helping to prove my theory that the connection created by blood is one of the strongest attachments humans can make. The blood that flowed from Brigette bonded her to Naria. My brother and I were, are, and forever will be bonded by our homogeneous blood.
That bond is heartfelt. That bond is held within all of the organs connected by blood to your heart, to yourself. And that bond is greater than any pink cutesy triangle with boobs will ever be able to express.
Photos by Naria B. Jordan and Bikkja Amy.