TRANSCRIPT: PLEASURE ACTIVISM
Aminatou: Welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
Ann: A podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.
Aminatou: I'm Aminatou Sow.
Ann: And I'm Ann Friedman. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Hey Ann Friedman! [Laughs]
Ann: You know, some days the simplest part of this process feel harder than they should.
Aminatou: No, my brain is definitely on fire.
Ann: The great thing about today's episode is we are outsourcing the hard brainwork to the incredible adrienne maree brown.
Aminatou: Oh my god! I'm excited about this.
Ann: Who is the author of a book that we really love called Emergent Strategy and she has a newer book out as well called Pleasure Activism that a friend I really love sent me and is there any better way to receive a book than from someone you really love with a personal note that's like "Hey, I think you'd really like this."
Aminatou: Truly a personal recommendation, like a hand delivery or in the mail with a note. Unbeatable.
Ann: Unbeatable. So if you're not familiar with her work adrienne maree brown is as I mentioned a writer, a sci-if enthusiast and Octavia Butler scholar, an organizational healer, a pleasure activist, a facilitator, a life/love relationship work coach.
Aminatou: A doula.
Ann: I know, right? Like so many things.
Aminatou: So many jobs. I'm into it.
Ann: You might've also heard her on an episode we did at the beginning of the year. She co-hosted the podcast How to Survive the End of the World with her sister Autumn Brown so you can also get more of her in audio form there.
Aminatou: I'm real excited that we are working on a sex ed for adults episode. The episode is all about sex so the sex education that we take on as adults and we want to hear from all of you. So this is basically us asking for you to send us voicemail with all of your sex questions and we'll have some of our favorite sexperts answer all of them. You know, everything from like what are you just uncovering that you wish you'd known ages ago, what's hard to address in your relationships, what are you looking for more pleasure but not finding the answers that you need? All you have to do is send us a voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. Or you can also email us a voice memo at email@example.com. Don't worry if you don't want your name on the show. We will not use it if we don't get your explicit permission to.
But otherwise if you want to we will use your name and the city that you're in on the podcast. And if you're shy like me all you have to do is send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, no need to use your voice, and again we won't use your name unless you give us permission to.
Ann: Ugh, I'm very excited for all the people who are smarter than the two of us who are going to field these questions, I won't lie. [Laughs]
Aminatou: [Laughs] Listen, I'm just excited that we're talking about adult sex ed. It's all going to work out.
Ann: Ugh, okay, well let's get into some more pleasure then. Here is my conversation with adrienne maree brown.
Ann: adrienne welcome to Call Your Girlfriend.
adrienne: Thank you Ann. It's really good to be here with you.
Ann: Your book came into my life in my favorite way to receive a book which is that a person I really loved wrote a handwritten note to me about how much she knew I would love it and mailed it to me.
adrienne: Ooh. Ooh, that is good.
Ann: I know. She saw you read in Minneapolis.
Ann: And there's something about that level of personal endorsement and connection to someone who I don't see every day -- shout-out to Becky.
adrienne: Thanks Becky.
Ann: That really made me . . . yeah, that really made me . . .
adrienne: It's also always good to get a chance to have a positive Becky experience too so that's . . .
Ann: Oh, this Becky is a corrective Becky. [Laughs]
adrienne: Like Becky's on point. This Becky's good.
Ann: Yes. Yeah, so -- but I want to ask you upfront maybe if you've got your elevator pitch for what is pleasure activism.
adrienne: Hmm, that's great. Yeah, my elevator pitch is pleasure activism is all of us who are trying to make the world a better place in general, like in a number of different ways, actually tuning into what it would take to have justice and liberation be among the most pleasurable experiences we can have. And what I'm -- that's sort of the key question at the heart of it is is this even possible to have justice liberation feel good and it's a beautiful place to research because the main research is looking at things that do make us feel good and understanding what is it that makes us feel good? Is it aligned with what we believe for the world? And then how do we bring that over into the realm of pleasure? It's pretty exciting. [Laughs] That's the elevator pitch, it's exciting. Yeah.
Ann: I mean -- I mean 100%. And I think that so often these terms pleasure and activism are perceived as being at odds.
Ann: Like activism is . . . we think of it as eat your vegetables, do the hard work.
Ann: Put yourself on the line and stretch yourself.
Ann: You know? And I would love to hear you talk about whether you always felt that these two ideas belonged together or what kind of journey you've had yourself on getting to that elevator pitch.
adrienne: Mm-hmm. I definitely didn't always believe that the two went together. I actually felt embarrassed and ashamed for the fact that there was such a strong pleasure bend in my system. And I was like maybe I'm just not a true radical person because I feel so much about being in a hot tub regularly.
adrienne: Or, you know, taking care of my body, getting massages, feeling good, sex, wanting to talk about drugs. There were all these taboo areas of my life that I was just like ugh, I would be a great revolutionary if only I wasn't like this. And then at a certain point I noticed -- I remember there was a period when I was doing . . . I did photo organizing back around like the 2004 election. I had started in the harm reduction field, so I had started out with great exposure to people who were doing work around safe injection sites and user-determined processes for getting to, you know, not abstinence necessarily but getting in the right relationship with the substances that they needed to move through their lives.
And I then was doing photo recognizing and I was like you know, the harm reduction world was really enjoyable. It felt like whole humans were welcomed there and people who were not pretending that they had it all together but kind of the opposite right? Like harm reduction is like people who are like yeah, I do have addiction issues or yeah, I'm a sex worker. I'm figuring this stuff out and I'm figuring out how to do this from a powerful place but I may not be there right now.
And so there's so much more humanity in it and then I felt like when I went over into a place I felt like oh, this is explicitly organizing. It felt like we had to leave our whole humanity behind and we had to show up and just like read very serious economic texts and have a very serious analysis for the world.
Part of what it means to be an organizer in any way is to say I recognize that we're in danger, that the world is not all good, that there's parts of what's unfolding that I am responsible for and how do I take on that responsibility?
And so I think for a lot of us it's like the scale of the problems is so big that no matter how much you give you can never really touch that scale right? Like Martin Luther King, we all quote Martin Luther King but we all still live in racism right? Like you can be massive and have a huge impact and it's still very small in the river of our human existence. And part of what I'm positing is in that river we need to create spaces that people want to move towards. We have to be more compelling than we have been. It's not enough to just tell people no, the sky is falling. You have to talk about new skies and you have to talk about what feels good under this sky and you have to be practicing what feels good under this sky.
Right now I do most of my work in the realm of black liberation work and I love it. I love being around the people. I love laughing at lunch. I love the, you know, feeding each other. I love dancing together. We had a Harlem renaissance party at one of the gatherings we were at recently and I just loved watching everyone show up in their finery and their attitudes and just the beauty of it all. I was like this is how it should feel and it should feel welcoming . Bring your whole self here because your whole self is what we need.
Ann: I mean I can actually sense the pleasure that you feel in that space when you describe it and talk about it.
adrienne: Yeah, yeah.
Ann: And is that something that you had to learn to prioritize as well? I mean I'm 37 years old and just starting to pay attention to my feelings. [Laughs]
adrienne: Yay, congratulations.
Ann: Thank you! So this book arrived at a good point for me. But I also think that, you know, what you're talking about is a skill set that a lot of people in their families of origin or in the schools and communities they grew up in are not really encouraged to think about.
adrienne: Oh no. We're discouraged, right? So I'm an anti-capitalist. [Laughs] And so I really believe -- yeah. I really, really believe that a lot of how we're oriented towards pleasure is distorted by capitalism because capitalism wants us to want to change. It wants us to pursue pleasure but only in ways that it can benefit from. And that creates a massive distortion away from the places that just naturally feel pleasure right?
So most of us in our bodies, if we're left to our own devices, will figure out lots of ways to feel pleasure in our bodies and we figure it out pretty young. Like if you've ever been around kids, you know, I have a lot of babies in my life and all of them know that they have genitals that feel good right?
adrienne: They're all like hmm. You know, I remember when one of my niblings kind of figured out his penis was something that he could touch and he was just like wow, this is amazing. I'm only doing this now for the next like two years right? And I was like okay, how do we keep you safe? Because that's not the way this world's constructed.
And both at the level of there's a lot of harm that comes to children and children's bodies but also there's a ton of shame, right? That like the same thing that happened to me, that probably happened to you, that probably happens to most people listening to this is at some point when you were just feeling good in your body someone said "That's wrong. What you're doing is wrong. It's shameful. You need to not do that. You will be punished if you do that. Hair will grow on the palms of your hands if you do that. You will go to hell if you do that. You will be rejected from school if you do that. Like you will feel horrible if you keep doing that thing that feels good to you right now."
adrienne: And eventually all of that messaging, all of that control mechanism, all of that really gets inside our systems and then we spend years fumbling around performing sexual pleasure, performing what we think will please, you know, patriarchy, right? Like I definitely came up with, I'm like oh, how do I need to perform sexual arousal so that my male partners will be turned on? And then how do I need to perform sex to make sure he has an orgasm?
And that was -- you know, inside of that somewhere I might also feel good but that's definitely not the purpose of this. And it took a long time and a lot of bad sex before I was like wait a second. [Laughs] I have a clitoris and on my own I have a great time with my clitoris. Why wouldn't that be a part of what we're doing here, you know? Or like, you know, had lovers of a lot of different genders who were like yeah, that -- that penis centrification of all things is not actually necessary here. We can center ourselves and center our bodies and our pleasure.
And for me it has come in that very intimate realm but I don't think it has to come through sex. I think it can come through lots of different practices like getting in touch with your own body, getting in touch with what you actually want. A lot of people go through life and spend days and years with no clue of what they actually want, just moving along.
Ann: Yeah, and I know that this . . . it's funny. I wanted to ask you what role you see this book playing. I mean I almost view it like a reference book and I mean that with all love in my heart.
adrienne: Yeah, I'm okay with it.
Ann: You know, it's very pleasurable to read. When I hear you start to talk about your experiences that led to this book I think about the way that this book is seeming to offer not a road map but some ideas of where to go next.
adrienne: Some pathways.
adrienne: Yeah. Well I . . . I knew that I wanted to do this book for a long time before I got the nerve to actually begin writing it and one of the things that gave me that nerve was while Lisa Factora-Borchers was over at Bitch Magazine she and I worked out doing a column there. So I did a column called The Pleasure Dome and when I started that column it was really just like activists need to talk about sex and drugs more, right? That was on a very basic level those of us who do this very serious work, you know, what I was seeing was that every gathering I was going to, every space I was going to, people were doing sex and drug things but not in responsible ways. And then it was causing a lot of dissonance and harm and breakdowns and sometimes like whole, you know, organizations coming apart. Organizations that we really needed were coming apart because people didn't know how to have necessary conversations around boundaries and consent and attraction and flirtation and what's appropriate and not appropriate.
And so all of that was popping off. I was like I'm just going to start writing about these things more openly. And then the MeToo movement came back into the forefront in a new way and all of a sudden it was like in every direction you're turning people are like "Oh, I've had similar experiences. I've gone through that too and here's where it happened to me." And just starting to hear all these stories and I started to hear patterns because that's how my mind works. It's like I'm synthesizing. I'm a facilitator. So I work with groups to always try to find what is the easiest way through what's happening here? And a lot of that is let me synthesize. Let me find the pattern amongst you where there's some alignment. There's some unknown solidarity, right?
And in that process I was like a lot of this is we don't have -- we're not taught the skills we actually need to navigate being adults with libidos and bodies and trauma and socialization. So then the column took a veer right? And I started being like well what are the skills? So one of the big turning points for this was when that Aziz Ansari story broke and I was like okay, my first reaction to it was is that really so bad, right? And it was surprising to me because I'm very much like yes, I'm a survivor of multiple kinds of assault and harm and I believe people when they're coming through these experiences. And yet I found myself being like well, but that's not it right?
And I was like okay, what's this about? And I was like well first what this woman is writing about is so common to my experiences that it's hard to pull out the distinction. It's like oh, that's also harm. Like just because it's common doesn't mean it's not horrific right?
adrienne: And then the second piece of it was like there are so many places I can see in this story where this person could have spoken up and shifted the trajectory of the evening and didn't. And I know that piece intimately. Like I'm like I've been there. I've been on those dates. I've been through those nights. I've been through those experiences of intimacy that I wasn't actually interested in but I didn't know how to turn the tide.
And so that -- that got me interested in like okay, what are the skill sets? One is how do we learn how to use our voices in real-time if we've been socialized to be polite and to protect other people's feelings over own physical safety and our own physical comfort, right? Like that's deep conditioning. And so how do we de-program ourselves?
And then I was like well what are the other things, right? Like what are the conditions under which I would get naked? How do I negotiate consent? What are the things that I even fantasize about and have I been trained to have sort of rape-oriented fantasies or power-dominating, you know, harmful to women fantasies? Am I in my fantasies? Am I safe in these fantasies?
So I just started going down that road and each column was me learning in real-time and then writing and sharing and with each piece being like "And here's the homework that we need to do if we want this to shift." And that became the hot and heavy homework that is throughout the book.
So the book is structured, the first section of it is all about sex and particularly sex in this #MeToo era. Then there's a section about drugs and, you know, interesting experiments like the people's dispensary in Oakland and how do we actually reclaim this industry of weed for those who are still locked behind bars because of it and for the communities who have been negatively impacted by losing their hustlers, you know?
So there's a whole section there. Then there's, you know, a section where I'm looking at all these other things that are really pleasure in a liberated life, right? So I started to get really excited when I was like oh, humor. How are we using humor in our moments right? Like what is the politics of wholeness in our movements? How do we bring our fashion selves? How do we adorn ourselves? How do we bring disability justice into it? What do we do when we get cancer? How about when we're over the age of 60?
Like I was thinking about all these aspects of pleasure that I don't see talked about or written about, you know? And I know that they've liberated people. So the book is -- and it feels like . . . I could've definitely given even more of a textbook like . . . I'm like it could've been 800, 1200 pages. There's so much that I was learning about those big chunks that I know are not in there the way I want them to be in there. I think there could be a ton more about king and BDSM and the lessons we can learn from that brilliant negotiation but it's a start and it's honest. For me I was like I want to write about stuff I understand or I know people who understand and can get into this with me.
Ann: Yeah, maybe you could talk a little bit about some of the many other voices that are a part of this book.
Ann: And I'm not asking you to pick favorites, I would never do that.
Ann: But I'm wondering if there are a few of the conversations or essays from other thinkers, activists, pleasure seekers that particularly stand out to you or that really unlock something for you. Not just, you know, you're like oh, I'm glad to have this represented in the book but you were like whoa.
adrienne: Yeah. I've had . . . oh, I feel like I've had a great blessing because almost everyone who's in this book is someone who I'm like I know this person. Like I've seen how they've manifested a pleasure principle for their own lives and reclaimed aspects of pleasure in their own lives.
There are a few people that I want to highlight. One is Amita Swadhin who is a founder of something called Mirror Memoirs. But she's done a ton, ton, ton of work around childhood sexual abuse. How do we come forward and tell those stories very honestly? And how do we deal with the fact that we really have at this point an epidemic of child sexual abuse not just in this country but everywhere? And then how do we reclaim from that trauma, how do we reclaim ourselves and our right to pleasure, our right to fair power dynamics in our pleasure?
And recently I got to be on a panel with her and one of the things she was talking about there was like and how do we also not give up our families in that process? Like in the process of that healing. That there's also pleasure, that a lot of times we love the people who harmed us. How do we navigate the complexities of all that? So that piece, I'm in a lot of healing myself around that arena of work. And so each time I read or interact with that piece I'm like I'm so grateful that this was written and that she's just a prolific thinker, you know?
I also am deeply moved to include the work of Alana Devich Cyril who passed away last October after a battle with metastatic gastroesophageal cancer. And she is the love of life for a friend of mine named Malkia Cyril who Malkia is basically like the reason that we all are going to have access to the Internet in the future.
adrienne: Like just that dude, that organizer, that's the husband to Alana. And I got to interview Alana. Just from the moment she got her diagnosis she really was oriented towards pleasure so much of the time that she was sick and towards laughter and towards music and towards enjoying every second of life. And I have an interview with her where she says, you know, "Cancer is hard and I'm just going to let that be hard but I'm not going to suffer any more than I have to." And that we need to grab pleasure up. That we need to take it seriously and move towards it. That it's not something we should just passively wait around to arrive to us.
And every time again I hear her -- I have a recording of her from about two weeks before she passed because I recognized -- we recognized -- that she wasn't going to be around long enough to do a tour, right? And so we did this interview the day that she renewed her vows to Malk and I've been playing it at each of the events and it's just like . . . I think it's so powerful and such a good reminder that it's like none of this is promised and none of this is necessarily easy but it's worth the work. It's worth the work. So those two are really crucial.
And then I have . . . ugh, there's so -- I have a whole section on burlesque and adornment that feels really crucial and I was able to interview people who I've watched them go out into the world and do burlesque and just been like "Whoa, someday when I grow up maybe." Right? And they're members of the Brown RadicalAss Burlesque -- brASS burlesque out of Brooklyn. And then I got to also speak with Taja Lindley.
So that piece feels important because I definitely . . . I remember when I became an executive director, I was an executive director at an organization called the Ruckus Society which trains people on direct action. And I remember at that time being like whoa, there's people out here doing burlesque. Like that -- that is really a big deal. [Laughs] Like I can't imagine ever taking that kind of risk. And meanwhile I'm like, you know, we're out here training people to confront the police. But taking off a shirt in front of people seemed so much more terrifying.
adrienne: And they write about it in such a beautiful, inviting way that's just like this is liberating. And it is scary. It is possibly the most intimate thing that you can do in a room with people. So yes, those are some of the ones that right now are kind of at the forefront of my thinking with the book.
Ann: One thing that was so great for me about reading all these different perspectives on pleasure is I think we're also conditioned to, even when we're hearing about a new way someone is experiencing pleasure, we're immediately sizing ourselves up against it.
Ann: Like, you know, the fact that I'm like "Oh my god, I don't think I would ever derive pleasure from doing burlesque."
adrienne: Right, right, right.
Ann: What's wrong with me? Am I . . .
Ann: You know, like what do I need to change? And that happened so quickly for me and I think for other people of like oh, why can't I relax in a bath? Or why can't I . . .
adrienne: [Laughs] That's right.
Ann: And I'm wondering . . . I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about the tension between openness to kind of exploring some new pathways to pleasure versus that inevitable aspect of self-judgment or kind of immediately thinking about the ways that pleasure would not be safe in the world.
adrienne: Yeah, yeah.
Ann: Or all that stuff that might come up right after.
adrienne: Well I think first I want to say that, you know, we're in a particular generation. I'm really curious to see what comes after us. But you said you're 37?
Ann: I am.
adrienne: And I'm 40 so I feel like we came up in this particular moment where it was like the effort -- all effort was about de-sexualizing the workplace and de-sexualizing the public sphere while it was like there's Hooters, you know? Men can have sexual spaces where they can go even have a lunch meeting and there can just be boobs available. But like for women who are entering any kind of workplace, you know, we cannot possibly even wear a shirt that might suggest we have breasts because that would be too tempting for Bob right? And poor Bob is just out here like what's he supposed to do if a breast is in his face, you know?
Ann: Poor Bob. [Laughs]
adrienne: And so I think -- poor Bob, right? I mean like I cannot imagine being wired such that I couldn't handle being around attractive human beings without, you know, a boner or something horrible happening to me. So these poor men right? [Laughs] So I'm just like we tried that method of being like well we'll just create these rules where no one will look at each other or talk to each other or feel feelings or anything and that will keep us from raping each other. And it hasn't worked right? Sexual harm is still happening all the time. And at the same time we're feeling this deep repression or this deep separation from ourselves as bodies that can feel.
And we have access to all the things we need to numb feeling but we don't have any space where we're just being told like "Here's how to feel." You know? "Here's how you know you're feeling and here's why it's important to feel." And I don't mean feel like emotionally, you know? That's great too and I think that comes with it. But even just at the level of sensation. Like I . . . part of what happened for me with my trauma was like there was a long time where I couldn't really feel much below my neck. Like I could have the idea of feeling aroused but there wasn't much that was actually taking place. Like it's taken years of being on a table and healing, you know, a healer's table. You're like what table?
adrienne: And where is the table that heals that? So yeah.
Ann: Your magical table. [Laughs]
adrienne: Yeah, and my magical table that I fly around on. But no, I think that that's a big piece of it is like the way that that socialization worked was to convince each of us that we were wrong and that we each needed to control our behaviors in some way while also making ourselves more beautiful and more desirable. But not letting ourselves be seen as desirable overtly, right? So there's like a really messed-up game that's been played with us for a long time. For me it's like as long as I can remember I was being given the very confusing virgin whore stuff right?
adrienne: It's like this is how you're supposed to show up, but not too much. But just, you know, let him choke you in the bedroom but, you know, act like you've never had sex before in public. All these sort of back-and-forth, back-and-forth. So I'm never surprised when people are like "I struggle with pleasure. I don't know if I can feel it. I have a hard time slowing down. I have a hard time giving myself any time." That's the other big piece.
I went on a sabbatical in 2012 after doing maybe 17 or 18 years of organizing or something. I'm not sure. The numbers kind of fall away. But I'd been doing it enough and I was burnt out and I was tired. And so I went away and one of the big things I learned while I was away was like I had value that was outside of anything I could produce for other people. Like just me being alive was a valuable thing and I could get a lot of joy and pleasure from my own company and from books and from a lot of things that I hadn't been encouraged to pursue. And that I didn't need someone else to affirm my life in that way, like I had lots of people to affirm my life.
But you know that you get trained like, you know, all of your life before your big romantic partnership is just like the prequel and then . . . and then, you know, then your real life begins when you fall in love with another person.
Ann: [Laughs] Sorry, I just have to laugh at this.
adrienne: Also your own pleasure -- right? You know what I'm talking about right?
Ann: Yeah. Yeah. I do. I do, yeah.
adrienne: I'm just like, you know, for me all of that kind of has fallen away where I'm like oh, the most productive, best times of my life have been when I haven't been partnered with anyone else and a lot of the work that I've done in relationship has been healing -- like recognizing trauma and healing from trauma and getting myself kind of sandpapered in a relationship with another human being. And then coming out and being like "Okay, what did I learn from that one? Now let me keep going." And finding that I'm having this delectable, incredible life because it's not defined by other people and when I have levers they don't de-center me or my work or my callings right?
So all of that long answer but it's not . . . I think a lot of times people are like oh, I just need to learn how to take a bath then it'll be all good. It's like no, no, no. Getting in touch with the part of you that believes you don't deserve it, that might start you down the path of some healing. But understanding that it's not just you, that it's actually like a systemic thing, is for a lot of people gives them permission to truly being their healing process.
Ann: I really love how pleasure -- and often pleasure is very personal, right?
Ann: I mean how we experience a personal -- rooting into ourselves is personal. But you also write about and take this collective view of pleasure.
Ann: And what it can mean to a group of people or an everyone category who is looking for more justice and liberation and a better world essentially. And I'm curious about that leap and how you see personal pleasure or like that really intimate solo experience of pleasure connected to a collective view of pleasure.
adrienne: Yeah. You know, it's been one of the great . . . I think I would be a horrific person [Laughs] if I hadn't clued into the pleasures of the collective. Because I'm like I'm a Virgo. I can come out and sort of be dazzling in brief stints but mostly I'm a hermit. Mostly I want to be alone in my house quietly reading books and then looking at the Internet right?
Ann: Right. You describe yourself as a hermit nudist in the book, I just have to say, which is amazing. Yeah.
adrienne: Exactly. I'm a hermit nudist. I'm like I got dressed for this interview because I was like just in case we're going to be on video. But I'm barely keeping my clothes on now.
adrienne: And I'm like this is who I am. I really love to be naked and I love to be alone. So I'm like but I'm also connected to a long lineage of people who have taught me that -- you know, particularly here in Detroit James Boggs is one of our activist teachers and elders/ancestors. And one thing he says, "You're nobody unless you're somebody to a bunch of other somebodies." Right? And for me I've taken that to be like okay, my healing is not that meaningful unless it's connected to the healing of a lot of other people who look and experience life the way that I have. And I've had this really gorgeous, you know, gorgeous experiences multiples times of being like this felt good for me. How can I spread this to other people who deserve to also feel great, right?
So an example of that is I went off and did this thing called the hedge book writing retreat. You know what it is? It's like a writing retreat for women off the coast of Seattle and it's like so beautiful right? Everything about it is like you're in a cottage in the woods and someone's making you gorgeous meals. It just feels like peak luxurious writing space.
And so I came home from that space and I realized that most of the people in my life don't have access to that right? Either they're not like -- you know, they haven't given themselves over to the writer in them and so they wouldn't think to apply for it or they wouldn't think they deserve it, right? Or they just -- it's not even on their radar. Like some of the folks I organize with and think with here in Detroit, they're like "That -- I didn't even know such a thing could exist," right?
So I was like I can create that here. Like I can do that in my house. So I started holding and for about a year was able to hold these monthly writing retreats and I would have people come to my home and setup little writing stations around the home and I would cook for people or sometimes we would have people kind of potluck it out. And the best part of my house is that I have the most bad-ass bathtub in the world. It's like this . . . I don't know how, it's like my landlord installed it 15 years ago and the jets don't work on it, like maybe it had the jets once, but it's just big. And so that would be a writing station is I would run a bath for someone and have like a little screen in front of it and they could be back there writing while other people use the bathroom or whatever. But it just created this super intimate, luxurious, you know, shared experience.
And I have to say I enjoyed those days as much as I enjoyed that solo time by myself and that was really helpful for me to know. That I was like oh, sharing this does not deplete it right? It's watching all these other people be like I'm also worthy of being cooked for and having beauty and being loved up on and laying in the sun. I'm worth all of it. If Oprah's worthy of it I'm also worthy of it right?
adrienne: Like I tell people that all the time. I'm like you know that's one of the lessons of Octavia Butler who's really one of the primary influencers of all my work, but she says that, that we're all God's seed. We're all divine beings, no more and no less than that. And I think a lot of times we're like oh, some people are more divine, they deserve better, and others are less. And, you know, we systematize that. Either you're rich or you're a royalty or you're really pretty right? [Laughs] So we're like oh, really pretty people deserve massages but like uh-uh, no. It's just like no, fuck that, right? Everybody has a miraculous body that we couldn't recreate and all these bodies need the same things.
And so that has led to a lot of the ways that I approach my organizing work too, my facilitation work. I'm always trying to figure out how do I make this feel good? Because these are the hardest workers that I know, right? These are people who are like "We're fighting for black liberation. We're trying to get mamas bailed out of jail. We're trying to stop the police from killing us." Like these are folks, they're taking calls day and night all the time. And I'm like how -- this meeting is really important. How can I make sure that they enjoy it? Is there a way to bring song in? Can we have a dance break? Is the food going to be on-point? Like how can I make sure it feels good for us as a collective body to be making this change? Which is also more compelling. Like people want to come back if it feels good and it tastes good.
Ann: Right. And I think also that leap, just talking about not stopping at having a pleasurable experience or rooting down into your own pleasure but then figuring out how to extend that, to me is really the key when I was reading this book of asking questions of how do I receive all this knowledge as a white, cis gender, heterosexual woman? Like aspects of my identity that are probably not going to change and that are associated with a lot of privilege. I mean because I do think that, you know, the really surface-level version of this conversation is about self-care. It's like a Goop newsletter. It's like a white woman in a bath kind of thing, you know?
adrienne: Yes. [Laughs]
Ann: And I think there's this -- one of the kind of hang-ups I have sometimes is thinking about okay, what does it mean to center pleasure for myself given all these other privileges? And I think that leap that you're able to make here from the personal to the collective is, you know, was important for me in reading it with the identities that I have even though I know you are really centering the pleasure experiences of black women for example.
adrienne: Yeah. I mean I'll say this: I tend to do my work in the spirit of that Combahee River collective statement which is like if black women were free it would necessitate that everyone else was also free because of the way our systems are structured. And so I really tune in as a black woman. I write towards and for black women but I understand that if we're getting it everyone else is going to get it.
Ann: [Laughs] Yeah.
adrienne: And I just -- I was in Toronto recently and I literally told them, I was like "My orgasms are liberating all of you." It's me reclaiming what my body was supposed to be from white supremacy is good news for everyone right? Because that's a lie and it's never going to work.
But I had a white woman ask me this question yesterday, a little bit of like "Do I have permission to also be feeling pleasure given all the messed up stuff white folks have done in the world and are doing?" And I really felt like, you know, as long as you're doing your own work and as long as you have some spirit of redistribution, right? And I feel responsible for having this. I'm a mixed-race woman so I show up as a light-skinned black woman. I am college-educated and world traveled. And I think that because I have those privileges it's really important for me to constantly be thinking about how I'm redistributing all the time. How am I redistributing any kind of access that I'm getting that is in any way related to white supremacy? How am I redistributing that?
And that shows up in who I invite to submit pieces to my projects. It shows up in who I focus my work on and towards, who I mentor for free, right? Like there's just a million ways that we're each resources to each other. And that's what I tell white folks, I'm like if you are using your platform to redistribute resources and to make sure stuff is getting to people then yeah, go ahead and take that bath right? [Laughs]
But if you are, you know . . . I think this is one of the areas where Gwyneth Paltrow has gotten in the most trouble, right? Because I'm like I'm sure she has great intentions but everything she offers seems to have no awareness of the privilege that she brings to it. And so without that awareness she's constantly putting her well-manicured, well-pedicured foot in her well cared for mouth, right? Because people look at it and they're like that's not realistic for me as a working mom. That's not realistic for me as a black woman. That's not -- you know, for whatever it is. I'm not a working mom but, you know, I've heard things.
adrienne: And, you know, to me that's always the piece is like pleasure is also -- it's not hedonism. It's not like feeling good and never having any suffering. To me it's saying like suffering is an automatic part of life. We're all going to lose people we love. We're all going to wonder about our belonging, right? That's what this structure yields. And inside of that we don't have to add to it by making it as hard as possible for our bodies to exist here and for us to be with each other. In fact we benefit if we make it as easy as possible for us to be with each other which means learning what feels good, learning what satisfaction feels like.
Ann: I love that. And I also think about the fallacy of the kind of Goop-ish selfcare narrative for lack of a better term for it is that it doesn't . . . everyone can tell that's sort of a lie for the future. Like there's no future in which it looks realistic that we're all paying this much attention to everything that goes in our bodies and taking lots of baths.
Ann: And steaming our various parts, you know?
Ann: We all know that's a lie as a potential future. And I think maybe a good note for us to end on is something that kind of comes up in a few different ways in your work which is essentially we're going to run out of steam only reacting to the negative and pushing for what we want to see in the world and pleasure as a way of knowing what we want to see is the sustainable way. And I think you write all organizing is science fiction.
Ann: Maybe you could talk a little bit about that perspective and how you actually live that when it feels like, you know, we could all go out of breath listing all the things that are negative requiring and demanding our attention. [Laughs]
adrienne: That's right. So a couple of thoughts, one is I recently did a vaginal steam. I just feel like I need to be honest about that because I don't want to pretend like that doesn't happen over here in adrienne's pleasure activism land.
Ann: Was it pleasurable?
adrienne: But I do want to say I . . . it was so interesting. Well I think -- pleasure? It was pleasurable afterwards because afterwards you're walking around like I feel like I have somehow steamed the entire inside of my body.
adrienne: So that is very interesting. Yeah.
adrienne: When you're sitting there it's a little hot right?
adrienne: You're like it's a little hot. Are we cooking it? Are we steaming -- you know, because we're steaming, like that's how I cook dumplings. What am I doing to my pussy, right? But it's, you know, one of those things. I'm very susceptible to things that say like ancient practice. I'm just like ooh, okay. If it made it this long.
But I'll say this. I got to go to the spa recently with two organizers that I really love and respect and one of them, Charlene Crothers (?), one of the things she talks about is like how do we take turns with all the different pieces that it takes to keep a society going right? And like whatever economic system you want to call that, it's like how do we take turns holding the hard work that it takes to be in community and takes to have a functional society so that we also get to share the pleasures?
And I love that as a framework because for me that's all I'm ever saying. I'm like I don't want us to banish hot tubs. I also don't want to make sure we individually have -- every single person has their own hot tub. But right in the middle where it's like we share the work to build the hot tub and then we have a hot tub that we have collective access to and we share the work of keeping it clean. You know what I'm saying? Like we share the work of like, you know -- or share the resources, share the finances it takes to get it fixed if it breaks and things like that. That it's like . . . it's not just like we get all the enjoyment and then when stuff gets hard that we outsource that to someone else. I think that's the tendency, again the socialization, that we need to figure out oh, how do I offset that in my own life? And I feel like my sci-fi vision for people when it comes to pleasure is that more and more people are able to access their feeling bodies, their feeling selves.
And my sister and I just got to do an episode of How to Survive the End of the World at Brown University and we asked -- the focus was like queer and trans futures and we asked people "What are your visions for these things?" And one of the young people in the audience was like "I'm not really imagining like a time or even a specific like here's how it's all going to look." But she guided us to all put our hands on our hearts and to feel into our hearts that the feeling we'll have of safety and dignity and deep belonging, just knowing that queer and trans people are safe and black people are safe and babies are safe. That that is a feeling that it's actually in us and it's the thing that compels us against these systems that do not provide it for us right? It's that somewhere in us we know that it can be better.
And we put our hands there and we recognize that it is inevitable that we will win. It is inevitable that we will create this safety for each other. We're beginners, we're babies, we're still trying to figure it all out but it was inevitable. And to just imagine that. And that, it blew my mind because I think of that all the time. My vision is less and less of a place and more and more of a feeling, right? I'm like I will feel free. I will feel like no -- there's no man in Congress who can decide anything about my body right? Like I'm like oh, I'll feel that. I'll know that in my system. It won't be a question.
And I think about the pleasures that I have now will not feel forbidden. They won't feel judged. They won't feel like I'm possibly at risk of death if I travel somewhere and hold the hand of whichever lover I'm with at that time, right? There's all these places where I'm like oh, that feeling of safety that drops your shoulders down and your butt reactions and your gut softens, you're just like I'm at ease. I don't have to hold it together for anyone here or protect myself against anything. That's my vision for the future.
Ann: Ugh, that's so beautiful and I can't think of a better note to end on.
Ann: For listeners who want to follow you, hear more from you, read more from you, where can they find you?
adrienne: I love Instagram. It's my favorite of the social medias and I post pictures and stories and songs and stuff there. And then if people are interested in bringing pleasure activism to their work or anything like that they can look at -- or they can just email actually email@example.com.
Ann: Ugh, well it has been such a pleasure to have you on the podcast and to talk with you a little bit today. Thank you so much.
adrienne: Thank you so much. Y'all are -- like this is incredible. I'm really grateful y'all exist. I really think friendship is one of the great pleasures in life too.
adrienne: And having a cast of friends is like the shit, so yay.
Ann: Friendship is one of my great life pleasures for sure.
adrienne: Me too. I'm like this has been a -- this is one of the great joys of my life and why the book ends with a conversation I'm having with two of my closest friends in the world because I'm like I'm tired of de-centering the pleasures of friendship for the sake of romantic pleasure.
adrienne: Right? I'm like these are the relationships that last, honey, okay? [Laughter] Like I'm going to lean into that. We're going to go on our sistercations and our wokecations and stuff like that. So yes friends.
Aminatou: She is amazing. I am really happy that you talked to her.
Ann: Yes. And at the intersection of so many things that we care about she is really -- she's one of those thinkers, writers, humans who really seems to connect a lot of threads that were maybe taught or disparate but in fact are super, super related. So I appreciate her work so much.
Aminatou: Can I tell you one of my favorite adrienne maree brown things that has nothing to do with her work? She did this interview on Bon Appetit and her answer to her favorite food texture is something I think about all the time because as you know I am obsessed with tapioca textures.
Ann: Bobasexual? [Laughs]
Aminatou: A lot of things are better than that. But her answer is she likes a cold, slightly-melted ice cream with hard chocolate in it and I remember the day that I read it I went out and bought the exact same thing and it made me so happy. So all of this to say that she's an incredible pleasure activist.
Ann: Wow, bodies are so different. There's nothing I hate more than hard chocolate in the middle of melty ice cream. I'm like give me a consistent texture. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Ann, cold, slightly melted ice cream. Listen.
Ann: Ugh, no.
Aminatou: What's your favorite texture?
Ann: You know what? That's a great question. I do love a pure and simple crunch. I mean this is why -- like savory forever, like a popcorn crunch, a potato chip crunch, like . . .
Aminatou: You are the crunchy queen.
Ann: A health food store Dorito, like a nerdy health food Dorito knockoff I love.
Ann: Like truly give me a crunch above all else. But when it comes to like a creamy ice cream I'm much more in the category of a soft serve with consistent texture. Like when I'm stopping to chew some hard chocolate I am not in my pleasure zone.
Aminatou: What's something that's given you a lot of pleasure recently?
Ann: Really this is going to sound so dumb but this is the first thing that came to mind so I'm going to say it.
Aminatou: It's never dumb. It's good.
Ann: [Laughs] I recently invested in like a microfiber hair towel and . . .
Aminatou: Why is this dumb? This is great.
Ann: Well I have to say I have very, very thick hair that hangs onto water forever. And being able to spend the first hour, hour-and-a-half after washing my hair with that hair towel on, I don't know, it honestly just unlocked something for me about post-shower pleasure that is very unexpected. Like I did it because I thought it was supposed to be good for my hair but honestly I'm taking a bigger and deeper pleasure in the hair towel. What about you? What is giving you pleasure?
Aminatou: I don't talk about my pleasure on the air so uh . . . [Laughs] Just kidding. Something that's given me pleasure recently? You know I'm obsessed with perfume but also I don't know a lot about perfume. Like I've been researching and learning a little bit more. And the other day I got to smell all these different scents that I never smelled before and it just made me really, really happy. It's like why was this -- why didn't I know this was a job I could have?
Ann: Wait, how did you access all these new scents?
Aminatou: I bought something called an olfactorium. It's like a portable perfume like organ basically. And so you get to smell everything that's in the first steps of creating a fragrance so there's like some floral smells and fruity smells and aromatics and citrus, woody, spicy. You know, it's like basically the raw materials that you're supposed to memorize. And turns out perfume is a science but I'm dabbling and I'm having a lot of fun.
Ann: Ugh, I love that. My intuitive scent queen getting scientific.
Aminatou: Listen, listen. I -- you know, it's just smelling things is fun. I was really grateful for my sense of smell, like something I don't think about often.
Ann: Ugh, I love that. Well I hope everyone listening to this is having a pleasure-filled start to their summer.
Aminatou: I know.
Ann: Or I guess we're deeper than start at this point, like oof.
Aminatou: Do something real nice for yourself.
Aminatou: Real sensual.
Ann: 100%. And thanks to adrienne maree brown for helping us all think about pleasure more.
Aminatou: You know what's stuck in my head? I'm saying treasure. [Laughs]
Aminatou: Pleasure! That is what you are.
Ann: [Laughter] I'll see you on the Internet. Gina you better leave that in.
Aminatou: Oh no, you better take it out.
Ann: Please, that is gold. Gold.
Aminatou: You can find us so many places on the Internet: callyourgirlfriend.com, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, we're on all your favorite platforms. Subscribe, rate, review, you know the drill. You can call us back. You can leave a voicemail at 714-681-2943. That's 714-681-CYGF. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme song is by Robyn, original music composed by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs. Our logos are by Kenesha Sneed. We're on Instagram and Twitter at @callyrgf where Sophie Carter-Kahn does all of our social. Our associate producer is Jordan Baley and this podcast is produced by Gina Delvac.