pleasure activism is contagious

yesterday i got to be a part of Arts in a Changing America – ReMap: Detroit. the effort of this work is to address the changing demographics of the US and understand the role art has in shifting narrative and opening justice-based futures.

the day started off with six workshops to immerse people in innovative artistic practices for social justice. i offered a workshop called Writing the Future where i had folks do future memoir entries about art they had been a part of that shifted the course of human history.

in another room folks were writing poetry with tawana, another group was foraging in the wilds of Detroit with shane and mama myrtle, and another group was processing grief with sounds and song with rebecca and ron.

after the workshops we all gathered together for a call and response. the speakers were dream hampton and favianna rodriguez, talking about this moment for Detroit, for Oakland, for artists and activists.

favi showed some of her more recent work, which is focused on challenging the phobias that make us feel shame around our desires and bodies, pussy power, claiming the human right of pleasure. dream spoke about the patterns of mass incarceration and drug sales, advocating for the right of black people to use and sell weed without being criminalized.

i, of course, was the loudest member of the amen chorus in the audience.

to close out the session, both women spoke about the role that masturbation has in their self-care, creative and work processes. i was whooping and hollering with joy!

abby dobson came up and sang while a video of women assaulted and killed by the state played, uplifting the #sayhername campaign to make clear that black women, cis and trans, are being targeted and killed by the state. i must say it was a shocking transition – the work, her voice, were so powerful. i have chosen not to watch most of the footage that comes out, i know we are under attack. to see it with others, with a sacred sound around all of us, was deeply moving.

afterwards a group of us sat, immobilized with grief. slowly, laughter, sweetness, hugs and pleasure helped us to acknowledge that a constant truth of our lives right now is grief, but we are complex, we have so much resilience.

we have the right to each other.

we went out and got “sun all over” our skins, as richard pryor taught us.

later in the evening many conference attendees gathered around dream’s table overlooking the city, and the pleasure principle was the center of our conversation.

i mostly want to talk about pleasure these days. for a long time i have been unknowingly quoting mae west: “an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away,” because pleasure was my health care plan for years before i knew how to talk about it.

at the table we shared survival strategies of pleasure and asked each other questions, to repeat things. we wrote notes, book titles, names. we were learning together, this was sensual scholarship.

we talked about sexual, reproductive, mental and emotional health, favorite toys, increasing the practice of pleasure, decolonizing desire, getting into real practices of consent, asking for what we need, putting action behind our radical sexual theory, how oppressed people cultivating their own pleasure can be an act of resistance, and how ridiculous it is that sex and the pleasures possible in the body are still such taboo topics.

the next book i will be working on is all about pleasure activism and it feels right on time. this day made me feel…titillated to get to work.

You Have Permission

We are winning.

It’s devastating.

Those who believe that the attention of this country (and world) needs to be placed on the death, violence and oppression that result from white supremacy are winning. Black lives matter, we are asserting it with body, mind, heart, spirit, media, disruption, dance, art.

It’s a lot. Some of us are not doing well, treating ourselves like temporary participants, even though we know this is a long struggle.

There are those who want to ignore the ways their own internalized racism connects to this violence. We are raising that attention, making everyone reckon with racism, argue about it, take notice. And, if they are allies, grieve with us, and grow.

But it’s hard.

It means we have to reach our hearts into the bloody mess, lift it up to the light with our grief and attention. Some of us have known how bad it is, have been doing movement work around it for decades. Others of us are relatively new to this awareness, have been living ‘normal’ lives, are politicizing in the streets or on the internet. The growing documentation of black death and assaults on black bodies feels like an escalation. It’s exhausting.

From one awakening human to another, I offer you permission to be long term with your attention. Some movement moments are really quick, some moments feel like a lull, for years. Regardless of the pace, this is life long, generation long work.

Khalil Gibran taught us that the sorrow we experience carves out the space for the joy to come. I have been thinking that the devastation and grief we are experiencing now is carving out a space for the liberation and freedom and safety that future generations will live into.

But in the meantime?

You have permission to take care of your whole self on this journey.

You have permission not to educate strangers about racism on social media.

You have permission to turn off auto play on social media and decide when/if you can watch videos of black people being harmed. You have permission not to seek out visual and audio information of black pain and death.

You have permission to feel your grief.

You have permission to take breaks. The pace of violence is intense, take care of yourself.

You have permission to feel numb, overwhelmed, silenced, enraged, scared and hopeless.

You have permission to be small and need care from your community during this time.

You have permission to ask others to just hold your black body while you breathe, cry, laugh, vent, and feel fear.

You have permission to confront racism in public.

You have permission to feel pleasure. You have permission to dance, create, make love to yourself and others, celebrate and cultivate joy. You are encouraged to do so.

You have permission to rest inside of cultural release – get lost for a bit in a new movie, or analyzing what Drake’s ghost writing means, watching babies samba, or futball magic, or compulsively read horoscopes, or dance to Trap Queen in your living room.

You have permission to heal.

The pace isn’t going to slow down, right now we are in the phase of movement that is about making the truth undeniable. It is not the first, worst, or last of our battles.

It helps to create rituals that allow full emotional range for this time. I use candles and meditation to process the losses, water and moon to ask for emotional/physical healing for those who are harmed. Saying the names is also a powerful practice.

Don’t bottle it up inside, don’t try to move through this time alone.

You have permission to grieve. And you have permission to live.