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What is pleasure activism?

what is pleasure activism?

From Audre Lorde to adrienne maree brown.

In 1978, writer and activist Audre Lorde introduced a new concept into the lexicon of feminist philosophy: the erotic. Not to be confused with mere lust or romance, the erotic was shorthand for a much deeper, embodied knowledge of the self – belonging, she said, to women:

“When I speak of the erotic…I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.”

Lorde’s elevation of the erotic in “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” has been reprinted many times since its first appearance, including on page 27 of adrienne maree brown’s 2019 treatise, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good. In the five years since its publishing, the erotic has remained at the core of brown’s philosophy (brown, likewise, has expanded it in turn to include other folks on the gender spectrum besides cisgender women). But at this point you might be wondering – what exactly is pleasure activism? brown is thrilled you asked. 

“Pleasure activism is the work we do to reclaim our whole, happy, and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions, and limitations of oppression and/or supremacy,” she says on page 13. A self-described “queer sex goddess,” brown sees the pursuit of pleasure in the midst of oppression as an act of resistance in and of itself. 

In an era of American history characterized by the ongoing assault on Black and brown bodies, and meanwhile the continued deterioration of queer and transgender rights, pleasure is frequently sidelined for the sake of survival. It seems like we all might need a little reminder of how to seek pleasure – whether it be via romantic or platonic partnerships, solo sex, drug use, or sex toys. In Pleasure Activism, brown endorses them all, and then some. 

If Audre Lorde cemented the relationship between love and political warfare in 1978, then brown is continuing the tradition of radical political pleasure in 2024. “Pleasure activists believe that by tapping into the potential goodness in each of us we can generate justice and liberation, growing a healing abundance where we have been socialized to believe only scarcity exists,” she says. Here’s to seeking more abundance in the year to come, even – or especially – if hardship attempts to block the way. 

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