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Thoughts On Creating Change, Part II: Let’s Map Our Desires!

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February 21, 2013

In my previous post on The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual conference, I wrote about the ways large gatherings like Creating Change help sustain LGBT activism, including queer reproductive justice activism. On the second day of Creating Change, these dialogues surrounding our bodies came to a head when I attended Sex Justice: Mapping Our Desire, an institute which lasted from dawn until dusk.

According to the conference program, the session was designed to “focus on our desires: How we have shaped them and how they have shaped us. In this space, we can begin to consider: ‘What is just sex? How can my personal claiming of my desire foster more just sexual communities? Where do I begin?’ I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into. But pair the words “sex” and “justice” together and promise to improve my skills as an activist and I am so down.

Hoping that I’d learn something that I could take back to my own progressive circles or share with ya’ll on here, I entered the conference room filled with dozens of circular tables where the institute would take place. An enthusiastic proctor instructed me to flip over my nametag and write two things: My preferred name and three things I enjoyed doing in bed. Clearly, this session was not designed for the faint of heart! Knowing that the 100 or so other session attendees were already writing down their kinks, fetishes, and fantasies. Selecting three relatively modest sexual interests, I followed suit. 

What transpired in that room from 9 AM to 6 PM was nothing short of revolutionary. Near the front of the room was a diverse panel of speakers. They were scholars, healers, activists, sex workers, artists, and—in a few cases—some combination of those professions. After setting a few ground rules on respect and confidentiality, the panelists not only introduced themselves but their desires (which were as diverse as the panelists themselves,) how they’ve evolved over the years, the ramifications of them (children, HIV-positivity, et cetera) and how sex has often become a part of their activism.

What followed their introductions was an open forum, interspersed with meditation breaks, for participants to talk about the intersections of their own desires and activism. Because this was such a safe space, I felt comfortable considering my own sexual nuances; those which would have otherwise gone under rug-swept had no one explicitly asked me to think about them.

Later on, we were given a wide variety of craft materials, from glitter to neon feathers and construction paper, to create our own “desire maps.” The purpose of this childlike exercise in cartography was to show participants how fluid our sexual desires are over time. Regardless of whether one has identified with one gender and one sexuality for their entire life or 30 of each, as humans we never really stop learning and evolving. Our desires reflect that, and it was profound to see this manifested in the form of the ~100 colorful maps which were eventually taped up on the conference room’s walls and reached from the carpet to ceiling. If you have a few minutes to spare, I’d encourage you to create your own desire map. All you really need is a pen, a sheet of paper. Try to connect the dots between when you realized your own attractions, where you are today, and where you see yourself going. It’s amazing how little events you never considered relevant to your sexuality can suddenly pop out of the woodwork when you spend a little bit of time thinking about this sort of thing.

I left the Desire Mapping Institute with a renewed honesty about my own affinities and cravings. Not only did I feel like I could be open with future partners about what I may want in bed–but myself, as well. No one said self-acceptance was easy! But, as reproductive justice activists, how on earth are we going to fully promote sex-positivity if we aren’t embracing it in our own lives? To quote a legendary performer, “If you don’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love someone else?” This was my biggest take-away from this institute.

At one point during Desire Mapping, one of the panelists chuckled to herself and said, “What if this is it? What if the solution to ending oppression isn’t legislation, but this? Talking about who we love and the many ways in which we love them.”

I’m inclined to agree.

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