The Curandero

By Adriana Teitelbaum | Voices | Spring 2019

Image by Mikaela Fishman

The story always starts the same way, with the curandero—our nameless, mythical, ancestral patriarch. We wouldn’t have a story at all without him. Since his time we have forgotten his name and precisely where he came from, but we haven’t forgotten him. Our nameless, mythical, ancestral patriarch. Our curandero was a slave. We don’t know exactly where, some unspecied francophone Caribbean island. Legend has it that during a particularly brutal hurricane season, the mistress of the plantation went to visit the slave quarters in the middle of the night, seeking his help. See, her son had gotten sick, and the European doctors and the medicines they brought with them to this nameless island had done nothing to heal him. The mistress had heard tales of our curandero, how he used herbs and natural remedies to cure those on the brink of death. And so she came to him with an ultimatum: Heal my son, and I will make my husband give you your freedom. And so our curandero complied, assuring the mistress that he could indeed heal her son. He warned her, however, that before her son got better, he would get much, much worse. She was skeptical, but desperate, and so our curandero began the healing process. And just as predicted, the master’s son got much, much worse. Until he got better. Our curandero fulfilled his half of the deal, and so the mistress fulfilled hers. He was given his freedom papers and soon after boarded a ship to a little neighboring island. But, like all stories of legacy and magic, ours does not have such a happy ending. Freedom does not come that easily. Our story includes another slave, a brujo, who sought vengeance against our curandero. He was jealous that this opportunity for freedom had passed him by, and so he cursed our curandero so that no matter how far he moved or how long he lived, he and all of his descendants would not and could not ever be truly free.

I can’t remember the first time I heard this story. I have different floating memories of it being told by my mother and my abuelo as a little kid and as a teenager. Arguing over the details with my siblings and cousins. Sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish. But no matter how hard I try, I cannot find the moment in which I first heard it. But it has. always been around. Lingering in the shadows with its vague setting and nameless characters. The longer I exist with it, the more desperate I am to know every detail—any detail—that could give me a better chance of understanding myself, my family, and our past. My mother tells me that the majority of the story was lost with the passing of her grandmother’s generation. My bisabuela is often thought of as the last in that line of magic. I never met her. We like to say her ghost still remains at my abuelo’s house in Puerto Rico, playing pranks on her visiting great grandchildren whenever we’re around. But I don’t know if I believe she’s really there. Like most things about our past and our history, I don’t really know what happened. No one does.

The supposed manifestation of our curse is said to happen as we start to age, with the slow losing of the mind. And while we can point to certain elderly relatives whose minds and memories faded with old age, that seems to be more a fact of nature than of magic. So I’ve found myself wondering if maybe the curse looks like something else. I think my abuelo must have felt cursed the day he broke his back in a factory accident, leaving him out of work for months. My mother must have felt cursed that same day when her father was brought home in the back of a pickup truck, unable to move. And there are other things, terrible things, private things that are not mine to write down that have happened to descendants of our curandero, that could theoretically be explained by an almost ancient, freedom-depriving curse.

But none of this is anything out of the ordinary. This is not to say the story isn’t extraordinary. It’s to say that we are not the only family with a curse. One that is missing a few details; something special and old that’s fraying at the edges. If you look broadly at Latinx and Caribbean oral histories, you’ll find a lot of magic. Brujería, Obeah, Santería, Quimbanda. And within that magic, you’ll also find a lot of curses. It’s no wonder that a peoples who have been so brutally conquered and colonized would find themselves feeling powerless to circumstance. If you peel back the layers of who has been cursed and how, the pieces will fall together to reveal what looks a lot like colonialism. That root of all evil. El mal de ojo verdadero. Poverty, violence, intergenerational trauma. In our elite circles of scholarship and academia, these phenomena are pointed to as the consequences faced by the colonized subject. Sometimes I find myself thinking that our curse is a just story someone made up to explain why all this shitty stuff keeps happening. But I don’t like thinking that. It feels too simple. The curandero has always been nameless, and faceless, ambiguously floating in time and space. But I’ve always known him, and always felt so grateful to know that a part of me comes from him. I don’t want to let go of him, or that history, just for an answer I can easily wrap my head around.

So where does that leave me? Some unknown number of generations later, a privileged girl at a prestigious American college, who probably smokes too much weed and whose biggest daily concern is her hair. Am I cursed? Am I doomed to go crazy with old age, to be kept from freedom by a curse put on some ancestor whom I can’t even name? Or am I so far removed, such a watered-down norteamericana gringa, that I have escaped it’s elusive, mythical clutches? Is that freedom? Is it my generation that is truly, finally free? When I ask myself these questions I can’t help but notice that I start to sound like I want to be cursed. As if telling myself that I really am damned by maldicíon will reaffirm an identity that so frequently slips away from me. That feels selfish.

But I’m trying not to be so hard on myself anymore. To not blame myself for where I exist. To be grateful for the sacrifices others have made to get me where I am. I know I cannot be the only one trapped by this long, mysterious history. And if there is one truth to our cursed story, it’s that our. lineage did not stay in one location for long. We weren’t allowed to. All that movement must have at some point felt like being lost. So maybe it makes sense that in all that time, across islands and oceans and continents, there really was a curse and it really did just disappear into the chaos. That doesn’t have to mean that I can’t look at this story as a history. A placeless, nameless, faceless ancestry I can locate myself within. Or at least a part of myself. Amongst countless moving pieces, some of which I have no knowledge, it is reassuring to have this story be a constant. An old world. A beginning.

Image by Amanda Poorvu

The idea of an ancestral homeland, a connection to a land that is older than time, is something those lost in diasporas tend to yearn for. It may be fair to say we even romanticize the concept. Junot Díaz once called it a “longing for elsewheres.” Looking at my family’s history, it makes sense why homeland for us is not so easy to identify. What is Puerto Rico to me, a broken tongued girl who was raised in North Jersey. What was some other nameless Caribbean island to my mother and her siblings, when their own Puerto Rico was an ambiguous mix of white and black, of Estados Unidos and the Caribbean? When their home so frequently moved from island to mainland and back again. At that point, it must become difficult to recognize what is temporary and what is permanent. And what came before that? Official history tells me it must have been the colonizers land mixed with somewhere in Africa. But these nameless places have little meaning to me. So whether or not the story is fact or fiction, magic or nature, a blend of all or none, it is a graspable homeland, one that cannot be taken away by anyone else.

And of course, it has always been an oral history. Passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. Over dinners and at parties, late at night and into the early morning. This way it is owned by all and by none. This is exactly why I wanted to write this piece. It is also exactly why I did not want to write this piece. It is the reason I write it warily now, carving this legacy into a physicality, unsure of whether or not it is mine to put onto paper at all. What does it mean for me to be writing about it? Who am I writing it for anyways? I’d like to say it’s just for myself. Or for my
forgotten ancestors, the ones who did not have access to these privileges that rest at my fingertips. Maybe I am writing this for my mother, but I know she has strength enough beyond my words. Part of me fears that I am writing for my peers. As if I have something to prove to the white, wealthy elite that surrounds me. As if my worth lies in my ability to come from as much pain and loss as possible, and as if this story proves it to them. Maybe, in the midst of my desperation to find stability, I have tokenized myself as an emblem of diversity to ease someone else’s guilt.

The closer I think I get to an answer, the more questions I find hiding along this self-reflective path. It is hard to keep track of so much namelessness. It’s even harder to say if I can call it mine. I know I am not done trying to figure out my place amongst this mess of magic and diaspora. I probably never will be. Maybe thinking of it in terms of ownership is too black and white– too stuck in a binary to be true one way or the other. I know that to say the story is not mine, to ignore that part of my biological ancestry is a lie. And to say that it is all I am would also be a lie.

In the very unique, very specific trajectory of my life thus far, our curandero and his story have served a special purpose. And I’m sure that for others—family members I know along with the ones who have been estranged by time and circumstance—this precious story, this terrible curse, has had a different role in their lives. So maybe that’s why we have it. Why it has become a sort of non-material, moveable homeland. It allows us, who feel like we belong to nothing, to feel as if webelong to something. It allows our home to mean more than place. I wish I could end with more concrete answers to all my questions, or with something beautiful about legacy and family and meaning. But answers are not always so static. Sometimes they ebb and flow, migrating across land and water like people.

Graphic Arts

Issue Artwork, Spring 2019

by Wilder Voice Artists | Graphic Arts | Spring 2019

The following works appear independent of any print piece in the Spring 2019 issue.


To Come and Become

by Lily Cat Woodbury | Voices | Fall 2018

Image by Amanda Poorvu

Fear, violence, and destruction are pieces of our heteropatriarchal society as normal as eating, sleeping, drinking, and fucking. Pleasure can be reclaimed. Controlling fear forces it to subside.

Embodying a submissive and dominant relationship is an inventive process. Re-framing power forces it to transmute out of socially constructed violent dynamics which often surround sex.


Lights up, I turn on the salt and lava lamp and my bedroom glows pink. I control the lights like I control my cum slut. My pretty sub has begged me to construct marks of love all over their body. I like to call my sub my “little bitch.” I like to call my sub “baby.” I like to call my sub “my lover.” I like to call my sub “QT.” I like to call my sub my “cum slut.” My little bitch and I are cultivating deep understanding of the importance of sexual communication, and our sexuality in our relationship, based on submission and dominance. We have created these names to initiate a relationship we can define for ourselves; outside of the binaries forced upon hetero-cis-normative couples. We occupy a place of in between that can be infinitely constructed around us, by us, for us.


My sub likes to follow the rules, which we establish together. My sub calls me their bitch. My sub calls me their lover. My sub calls me sexyboy. Our relationship uses power play, constructed by reciprocal respect, and performed through mutual agreement that I am in control, and they will follow my instructions. I determine where I want to be touched, they respect my rules and start with one fi nger. My lover pleads for more which I tenderly allow, for our dichotomous amusement. Our play allows me to be dominant, and my partner submissive; roles that are equally important and dependent on each other. Subs and doms are active in constructing new and personalized systems of power. Powerplay can act to create new and personalized forms of pleasure. BDSM is carved into three forms: BD for bondage and discipline, DS for dominance and submission, and SM for sadism and Masochism. I understand the more general term of kink as the personalization and meshing together of these three components of BDSM. My relationship, while finitely in the realm of dominance and submission, occupies a space in kink between all of these forms.

Sadomasochism and dominance can fog the horizon line between violence and the erotic. The Leather Archives in Chicago flaunt the landscape of kink. The archive’s exhibits demonstrate the nuances in the ocean of arousal, as well as the rigid islands of exclusion within kink. The valleys are beautified from voices such as the lesbian sex mafia, a leather group comprised of non-cis males in the leather community, who have traditionally been left out. The mountains include photographs and interviews with the powerfully inspiring Mrs Muir, a professional dominatrix in New York City. Mrs. Muir describes how she prioritizes comfort while choosing attire to allow her transformation into a multitude of powerful characters. In her interview, she emphasizes her unchanging dominant persona and proclaims “In my dungeon, I am the law.” This landscape, The Leather Archives, echoes the voice in my head saying “Pleasure can be reclaimed.” Fear of BDSM from outsiders shrouds it in dark images of immorality, extremity, and bruises. Contrary to ideas from the heteropatriarchy, my kink is not destructive––morally or otherwise. The loudest voices stigmatize the gay roots of BDSM and isolate kink culture completely. Isn’t it ironic how they fear their own destruction? The patriarchy penetrates and governmental regulations work to create taboo surrounding bodies that aren’t masculine or don’t exhibit naturalized masculinity. Sex toys are objects used for physical pleasure. I call my lover my toy. Many sex toys are designed to emulate human genitalia yet I have come from the pure sensation of a tongue in my ear. Kink culture has been a long work to subvert the notion of sexy. Everyday objects that provide physical arousal and/or sexual bliss are named pervertables in The Leather Archives. Possibilities for sex are reimagined in a divergent context. Through the act of perversion, power is reclaimed. Sensory investigations of inviting objects can render anything sexy. Bliss is in the senses; here I find clear space of possibility for non-binary people in BDSM. Pleasure can be an idea. I fuck my lover’s ribs while biting their earrings. I am titillated by the sound of my teeth on metal.


As a dom, I am self-indulgent, both experiencing power and confronting pain. Pleasure is to be reclaimed. Dominants and submissives both seek release from larger systems of control, thrust upon those socialized under the constructs of power. In the 1994 book Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex, trans writer Pat Califia voices, “Sex discrimination and hate crimes against women don’t come from the leather community… They occur within contexts like industrial capitalism and marriage.” Through BDSM, I have learned how to encode power for my own gratification.

I have found love through de-contextualizing pleasure from power, I understand pleasure not as the relief from existential, societal, or repressed pain from sexual discrimination. As a dom, I have begun to accept the culturally complex substance of power in life. Outside of my relationship, I refuse to accept constructs which many people take for granted: Califa voices this by saying, “As if they had always existed, like gravity or continental drift.” Powerplay allows me to reclaim pleasure within my own terms. As a result, I consider the rigid and reeling systems of power in my life (gender, money, race) more actively. Systems under which queers have been forced to writhe––without saying yes.


Judith Butler asks the alluring question, “What kind of gender performance will enact and reveal the performativity of gender itself in a way that destabilizes the naturalized categories of identity and desire?” How peculiar, that creating our own binaries releases us from others.

I swim in murky pools of gender––who can I trust to know right from wrong? How am I expected to float with weights tied to my ankles? In what ways can my love ease the brash current of sexuality for those who swim alongside me? Where can I find a definition for queer?

Can my body perform dominance when the only listed synonyms for feminine are “ladylike,” “womanly,” “dainty,” “soft,” ”girlish,” ”tender,” ”female,” ”womanish,” and “effeminate”? We can come and we can become. Dominance and submission allow for a discursive, sexual and physical positioning of ourselves, in regards to gender. Pieces of our dynamic being, which are sexual and symbolic, act to psychologically stabilize gender within my relationship. My partner and I are both genderqueer, and by playing with dominance and submission we actively queer our queer experience.

Communication and care guide and empower us to love within roles we create. The reciprocity is apparent. My subby brat wants to be told what to do. We are attached to each other like muscle on bone: a mutually intertwined structure and support system. BDSM relationships occupy the in-betweens of complex paradoxes: pain and pleasure, safety and fear, desire and control.


For me, I embrace a compassionate authoritarianism over my sub; I tell them the rules. They are always helping me and in return, I teach them, reward them, and I too feel good. I protect my sub and in return, my little bitch is obedient, devoted. The safety and trust we share allow me to know my dominance will be guided by giving reward, instead of inducing fear. Fuck fear. Fear breeds destruction and shrouds kink culture in a fixed space of immoral darkness. My exploration of kink assimilates my sexual reconstruction.

My dom role forces me to consider my power directly. It kindly locates a place for me to harness and actualize my control, beyond my relationship. How I have come to understand dominance is outside of the dark myths of leather. I use domination as an escape from socialized definitions of who gets to imbibe the delectably dangerous substance of power, control to my body and power to myself. As a dom, I am my own lover. Incorporating this facet of consciousness into my sexual experiences clarifies my relationship between sex and life. I surrender to how submission functions to release my little bitch. I explore them through this knowledge in conjunction with accepting and performing dominance. As my lover flirts with gays in the leather archives, I roll my eyes although I like to watch. As my lover follows me around, to me it’s clear they are my little bitch. Interactions that are not sex itself are sexually relevant in my relationship. Submission and dominance clarify how I can decouple intimacy and sex while still celebrating the connectivity between the two.


My little bitch tells me submission is an active process. They follow my rules; rules that I put forth, to which they agree. They want to be good. They know what I want. Following the rules makes the mundane transform into a sexual realm within our daily experiences. Whether it is a mug of black coffee at 9:00 PM, or keeping track of my phone. They know what I want as they writhe under my body. I tightly hold them down. They take on a dramatic presence as a bratty babygirl while I suffocate their dick with my hand. Submission permits safety through powerlessness. Submission renders freedom for thrill in the release of control. Our actions enable a symbolic representation of love, completely outside of gender. We both crave the dick I do not have. Play becomes a space to create a new dichotomy of gender; one where it can be performed, extended, and subverted. When my little bitch submits to me, it feels good for them to be good for me. But they simultaneously shape the rough edges of my dominance with their tender desires and boundaries. I tell my lover what I want and ask them how they feel. I examine their desires and do not control how my lover feels for themself. They are submissive, but also empowered. During play, my sub is actively expressing; actively communicating, and actively behaving in order to seek release from queers’ allotted powerlessness. My lover is rewarded by the pleasure of being dominated; their pleasure. We come and we become. I tremble as I withdraw from pleasure. I feed them their cum. My lover wants to be held. I untangle their eyelashes and ponder the amazing glimmer. I see past the teary rims of their eyes. I peer deep into my reward—the pleasure they find in release. They softly quiver. They are to be a pretty girl; I dress them in my underwear.