Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Who Taught You, You Weren’t Worthy of Joy? Who Taught You, You Weren’t Deserving of Pleasure?

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May 15, 2023

I’d like to begin this essay with a couple questions. Who is deserving of pleasure, and who has the right to joy? How can we begin to obtain this pleasure and joy? And what happens when we center our actions, activism, and resistance around this pleasure and joy? Community Organizers and the activists who center our lives around this work realize that our efforts typically stem from moments of witnessing injustices and finding an outlet to let us combat our pain for the sake of our communities and ourselves. So, what does this have to do with Joy and Pleasure and more importantly what does this have to do with Reproductive Justice?

This semester I had the privilege of taking two courses, Reproductive Justice: No Single-Issue Struggle and Foundations in Women Gender and Sexuality Studies these courses granted me access to a variety of readings that included, Wellness as Empowerment by (Foundational RJ Activist) Bylle Avery, Reproductive Justice: An Introduction, Sarah Ahmed’s Living a Feminist Life, and (by my favorite Black Queer Thinker) Audre Lorde and her work Uses of the Erotic. In addition to experiences like strategizing and resisting a campus visit from White Chrisitan Nationalist Charlie Kirk that brought me to this personal transformation and shift in political perspective, which eventually resulted in my cumulative final project: Centering Pleasure and Joy: Resources for Joy, Pleasure, and Connection as Resistance (But more on that later).

While I won’t get to explore these experiences and text in-depth, they influence my politic of holistic justice that I believe needs to be a part of central conversations within reproductive justice. The act of centering joy and pleasure, I believe, acts as a step towards liberation and is key because our necessities, while separated from our desires through systems of domination, are often one in the same. When we think about who is desirable under these systems and who is not it is easier to make connections between whose survival is advocated for and protected, and whose joy is fulfilled and maintained by the state and its institutional systems. Matters of choice and survival, as part of joy and pleasure lie out of reach for the non-white and poor, additionally community, sex and its pleasures, privacy, government assistance, education, housing, etc., are all predicated on the notion of deservingness, and strip BIPOC womb holders and their communities of the possibilities of even dreaming of a life beyond white supremacy, by systemically diminishing their access to healthy and safe lives. Joy, happiness, and pleasure become miniscule ideas to pursue when survival is constantly out of reach. When the state systemically prohibits a fully realized existence by, limiting access to the necessities, and resources, we gain more clarity to who is meant to experience joy and pleasure under white supremacy and who is not. While I think it’s simple to chalk this idea up as: “just be happy,” this oversimplified response erases the hardships in daily life under forms of oppression that marginalized groups face. When we talk about a discussed pleasure and joy it’s literally a tactic to help communities endure and thrive despite systems creating conditions that try to strip us over that try to strip that away from us, our love and joy is literally resistance to the powers that be. As we relate these principles back to tenants 3 and 4 of Reproductive Justice: “The right to parent children in safe and healthy environments” and “sexual autonomy,” Joy and Pleasure are central to those rights and needs of marginalized communities. How can we both encourage and sustain our communities towards futures beyond survival? How do we go about making the work of resistance irresistible? When we think about the sexual and bodily policing of Black and Brown, and Queer and disabled communities, our sexual lives and liberation is not only important in creating our communities on our own terms, but acts a joyful, sensual, and sexy resistance that allows us to be autonomous of our sexuality and sexual beings.

Meditating on the lives, and histories of marginalized communities, I wanted my time studying to be reflected in a way that was accessible to community but allowed another possible perspective as we live, and existence as resistance. Through my project Centering Pleasure and Joy: Resources for Joy, Pleasure, and Connection as Resistance I sought to challenge and/or expand on communities understanding and relationship to joy and pleasure as it relates to the intimacy of their sexuality, in the day-to-day beauty of our lives, restricted typically to millstones and moments dictated by capitalism. Within my project I gathered readings and card decks from my personal collection, that explored intimacy, connection, community and sexuality, and put together five principles of pleasure that could be applied to both the intimacy of our sexual lives and as a daily practice of centering joy and pleasure through our day-to day existence, that were heavily inspired by Audre Lorde’s Uses of the Erotic.

  • I trust and utilize my needs, embodied knowledge, intuition, as my inner guide to my desires
  • I can decern the difference between my own internal satisfaction and external validation and expectations
  • I embrace the fluidity and chaos of my desires
  • I understand that joy and pleasure do not have to be “earned”, I am worthy of receiving joy and pleasure as I am
  • Done with grace, I intentionally seek out joy and glee in all that I do….
  • Done with grace, I intentionally seek out joy and glee in all that I do….

We are born into this world with honest authenticity that becomes lost, as we endure the weathering of capitalism, patriarchy, racism, ableism, cisheteronormativity, and the gender binary. How do we expect ourselves to be vulnerable and honest about our needs and wants within our day-to-day goals and lives if we can’t allow ourselves to earnestly interrogate our desires with that same honesty and vulnerability within the bedroom? What advantages does following our desires grant us, how does reframing reproductive justice around this politic of pleasure and joy, embracing the beauty of the everyday mundane relate to our liberation? White supremacy is a force that is not only a preventive force that prevents us from seeing the sun but robs us of its once felt warmth. White supremacy is a force that deprives us of our imaginations through the deprivation of our rest, and our time, causing rippling effects impacting how we live, how we love, how we dream and how we grow. How do we anticipate that masses of working last marginalized Black and Brown individuals to join in community and challenge and defend against this intersecting systems domination, if they are continuously caught up in survival? The framework of the right to joy the privilege of pleasure as a central framework to reproductive justice, follows up on the call to action made by Toni Cade Bambara to make revolution not only desirable but irresistible, allowing us to take control of our lives and address our most basic needs allowing us to begin to imagine a liberation of our own making.

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