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A Return to Intimacy with Darlingkink

by Toni Potenciano Photos courtesy of Kay Aranzanso and Toni Potenciano

As the pandemic has left so many apart and deprived of physical connection, Kay Aranzanso, the artist behind the erotica Instagram account Darlingkink, shares what’s been missed and what’s been found.

Kay Aranzanso has three cats: Marcela, Muta, and Lorna. She also has a dog named Dogdog, and a bunch of other unnamed cats outside her family home in Quezon City. “Mga palamunin,” she calls them—a bunch of freeloaders. But her father buys cat food for them anyway. Kay also has 105,000 followers on Instagram and this same Instagram has been shut down twice for content that may have been deemed “inappropriate.” To her friends she is affectionately called K or Ate Kay, but she is also known as Darlingkink, a Filipina artist and illustrator of erotica.

“Toni, hindi ko alam kung may masasabi pa ako,” Kay starts as we settle into our Zoom call. I used to see her every day before the pandemic but now I see her twice a week on Zoom. We both work at And a Half, a local design studio. I joined in 2016 while Kay has been with the studio since 2014. This may be the longest time we’ve been apart since I met her. “It’ll be fun, Ate Kay,” I reassure her. “Kilala mo naman ako, Toni,” she says, “I trust you.”

Before erotica, Kay illustrated children's books. Her Instagram at the time was a collection of chalk art, hand-lettering, and a couple of pin-up girls. That all changed when she posted a pencil-sketch of a girl licking an ice cream cone. “Nawalan nga ako ng followers after I posted that,” Kay says. “Pero sabi ko parang gusto ko ‘to ituloy or maging consistent lang with this style.”

Kay changed her Instagram handle to Darlingkink in 2015, and with it came her signature style of bodies set against shades of carnation, baby pink, and peach. No traces of her previous life can be found on the grid. Throughout the years the strokes of her lines have varied: lighthanded etching, dark and full strokes, or precise and fine linework. The scenes she draws range from masturbation, penetration, BDSM, or cunnilingus. But the focal point of her work is almost always a female protagonist in a state of pleasure, ecstasy, or even despair.

In The Erotic as Power, Audre Lorde describes erotica as a resource that is deeply female and lies in the spiritual plane that is “firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.” The women of Darlingkink possess this power: self-aware, full, and flush with the force of their feelings.

Kay started Darlingkink as an exercise in self-exploration: “Doon ko nailalabas ‘yung mga things na hindi ko masha-share sa ibang tao. I was discovering a lot of new things and Darlingkink was where I could put it all down.” She describes Darlingkink as fearless. “For me, super tapang ‘yung ginagawa ko sa Darlingkink, versus who I am as a person. I have a lot of walls, I’m not very open. Pero sa Darlingkink, sige, lalabas ko ‘yung mga things na ‘to without barriers. Hindi ko na iisipin kung ano iisipin ng mga tao.”

But more than just discovery, Darlingkink was a way for Kay to deal with her grief. The same year she started Darlingkink was also the year that someone she cared about died by suicide. She described that period of her life as magulo. “I felt very alone,” she says. “A friend of mine once told me that when he looks at my work, he feels the desperation daw, and I just said wow, talaga?” Kay jokes. “Ang lungkot ko talaga dati. Darlingkink was a way to process all of the trauma, all of the emotions that I was feeling then.”

Before President Rodrigo Duterte announced the Luzon lockdown on March 16, Kay was in the final stages of prep for her exhibit called Foolish Hearts: A Best Selling Romance. The theme of the show was inspired by pocketbooks, mass-produced Filipino romance novellas sold in local convenience stores or groceries. Kay describes the exhibit as an exploration of love, intimacy, and gender and class roles as experienced by Filipinas. “I really designed the experience this time,” Kay says. “As in, ipapaskil na lang. I wanted to create a narrative, an environment na mag-iisip ‘yung mga tao. Kaso nangyari ‘yung pandemic.”

“How different is the creative process when you’re preparing for an exhibit versus coming up with work to post on your Instagram?” I ask.

“With an exhibit, I have control over the experience. Whereas with Instagram, mabilisan siya. Before, I would sit down to draw for an hour, work on that feeling na kailangan ko ilabas, then I’d post.” Another difference between the two, Kay notes, is the pressure that comes with the platform. “When I feel like I haven’t posted in awhile, I think, oh shit, kailangan ko magpost. I feel the pressure to create. Pero ngayon tinatry ko tanggalin ‘yung pressure. Tinatantsa ko ‘yung sarili ko kasi gusto ko naman mahalin ‘yung mga nilalabas ko.”


he last time I saw Kay in person was early March. We had a team huddle in the middle of the day to discuss the looming pandemic. “It might be a good idea to start working from home for now,” someone said. There were rumors of a total lockdown but they sounded more alarmist than likely. We packed our bags and said goodbye to one another so casually, the same way we would have if we were just leaving for a long weekend.

My next question: “These days, what makes you scared?”

“The virus. Our government. The loss of freedom,” she replies. “I feel pretty helpless. ‘Di ko makikita ‘yung mga kaibigan ko, kayo. You draw strength from friends and ‘di mo sila makikita. Hindi talaga tayo babalik sa normal at sumasabay ‘yung gobyerno natin. I fantasize about leaving the country, but I know that’s something I won’t do.”

We both stay silent for a moment and then a siren razes in the background. “Sorry ang ingay, Toni,” Kay says. I tell her it’s not a big deal. After having been on so many video calls, one can almost mentally cancel out the ambient sounds in teleconferencing.

To lighten the mood, I ask her what her favorite personal work is to date or if there was one particular work that she was proud of. Quickly she answers, “Meron.” She pulls up an illustration of an astronaut, adrift in space without her helmet, breathing out plumes of pink smoke. She explains that this work helped her cope with a problem of hers back in 2013. “Minsan ko lang din kasi mahalin mga works ko, isa ‘to sa mga ‘yon. Hindi ko siya hate ‘pag nakikita ko siya.”

“Darlingkink was a way to process all of the trauma, all of the emotions that I was feeling then.”

“You’ve been doing erotica for five years. How has your view of intimacy and sex changed?”

Ngayon nagbago kasi meron akong partner. Dati kasi, mutiple partners, and you don’t get to discover yourself in terms of sex. I mean, mayroon ka naman nadidiscover, sige, pero mayroon mga bagay na with repetition mas nagiging okay. Gets mo naman, ‘di ba.” She laughs. “Because with a stranger, tapos isang beses lang, iyon na iyon. Contained na doon sa moment niyo together lahat ng pwede mong ma-discover doon sa tao na ‘yon. So, enjoy ako, tapos makakalimutan ko na.”

“Corny man, parang mas alam ko ngayon kung ano ‘yung gusto ko, what I want from sex, what I want from a partnership. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to translate this in my art.”

“As someone who draws such intimate scenes, skin-on-skin,” I ask, maybe a little bit for myself, “what do you think intimacy is going to look like in the post-pandemic world? What will the role of intimacy be moving forward?”

“Personally, I think it will be about being more intimate with yourself. Does that make sense? Feeling ko ‘yun ‘yung nangyayari sa akin ngayon. I’m home all the time so I feel like I’m going back to myself, my feelings, and why I fell in love with illustrating in the first place.” Kay replies. “Another would be how we keep our relationships with others. I haven’t seen my partner since February. We’re trying to find better ways of communicating kasi nga, nafoforce kami na dapat mas magaling tayo mag-communicate kasi ‘di nga kami nagkikita. ‘Yung result is less ‘yung pagaaway namin.”

“Feeling ko may ganung process na you’re being forced to understand more, you’re being forced to—ang pangit ng forced, pero ‘yun ‘yung nangyayari kasi wala kaming magagawa kundi intindihin ‘yung isa’t isa kasi ‘di kami nagkikita. Hindi ko siya mata-touch, ‘di ko siya mayayakap, ‘di ko siya makikiss.”

When I ask Kay what she dreams about, she laughs at first. “Shit,” then she takes a breath.

Gusto ko lang talaga makita kayo, my friends, my partner. I catch myself daydreaming of the day na pwede ulit lumabas with friends. Pumunta ng Baguio with you guys. Parang feeling ko ang simple n’on, tapos iba na ‘yung meaning ng simple. Na mas… Paano ba? Mas cherished na sila. Mas i-checherish na natin ‘yung mga moments na iyon na hindi pa natin alam kung kailan pa mangyayari.”

“Gusto ko naman mahalin ‘yung mga nilalabas ko.”

“I also fantasize about waking up to a better world,” she adds. “I think it’s a pipedream, but I’m hopeful. Ang weird kasi hindi naman ako hopeful before.”

As we wrap up the call, I ask Kay where she thinks Darlingkink is headed. She leans back into her chair and says that she just wants to rest. “I want to take this time to rediscover Darlingkink. I want to do something I can be proud of, happy about. Dapat ‘yun ‘yung feeling na mae-elicit niya from me. I want to take all the pressure off, gusto ko lang maging masaya with what I create.”

Last year around August, the studio took a trip up to Baguio for the weekend. We didn’t have any particular agenda or an itinerary, just a bunch of movies, video games, and beer. On our first night, I remember sitting around the bonfire with Kay. I don’t remember what we were talking about. Then suddenly she interrupted to say, “Gusto ko ‘to.”

“What exactly?” I asked. She gestured around then looked at me. “Just this, all of this. Ang saya ko talaga.” ︎

Toni Potenciano is a writer and strategist for And A Half.