by Tshegofatso Senne (she/they/he)
Image by Andrea Leon
I will always look back at 2020 as the year I finally realised that I had always been living my purpose. How I found myself and collective wisdom in the arms of pleasure activism. How I cemented all I knew via the power of the erotic.
I’m a proud member of Woo Woo Twitter. Some of you may read this and ask what that is, but I’m pretty damn sure you already know.
Woo Woo, a definition: A person naturally accepting of supernatural, paranormal, occult, pseudoscientific phenomena, or emotion-based beliefs and explanations.
My own definition is slightly different to this, I will never spell it out to you in plain black and white language. Can you blame me? My sun sign is Scorpio after all.
You know Woo Woo Twitter, the ones who post about the new moon intentions they set, how they carry obsidian stones in their pockets to deflect negative energy from themselves. The ones who burn imphepho and sage, have their own deck of tarot cards, and opt to use plants rather than pills as medicine. The ones who use essential oils, are aware of their chakras and practice cupping, tapping, Ayuverda, meditation, throwing bones, chanting or dancing as extensions of their spiritual practice.
I’m a proud member of the Woo Woo. After my grandmother passed the first few days of 2020, I leaned further into it. It helped me stay connected to her but it also brought so much more to the surface for me. This Woo Woo lead me to dig deep into the reasons I was doing anything. It allowed me to quit two jobs that were draining me of every morsel of my creative energy. It lead me to continue to find the importance of pleasure in my life, and by that extension how I could begin to prioritise erotic energy in all I was doing.
Audre Lorde’s work on the Power of the Erotic is integral to work on pleasure, she opened my eyes to the ineffably abundant nature of pleasure and how erotic energy could be a theory that empowers every aspect of our lives.
“The very word ‘erotic’ comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects—born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony,” Lorde wrote. “When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the life-force 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.”
Erotic energy. Delicious eroticism. Demonised, vilified, feared, the erotic holds so much power in it that I was shocked that I hadn’t been lead to understanding it the way I now do much earlier in my life.
I speak about pleasure and erotic energy almost interchangeably now because that has been my understanding of them. As I delved deeper and deeper into understanding my own relationship with the two I was struck by how often we speak of the erotic and of pleasure in terms of the sexual. But the main reason I wanted to start doing more imagining around pleasure and the erotic outside of strictly the sexual is because I think many of us lose track of what gives us pleasure, what is actually contained in the bounty of the erotic when we strip of just the sexual?
It felt urgent to start thinking of pleasure in broader terms, to start creating space for the things that made me feel orgasmic without constantly tying them to sex. Pleasure is anything that makes us feel good, a simple feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment. My favourite manifestations of pleasure include playing creatively (finger-painting is a recentt joy), spending time with my loved ones, eating nourishing food, caring for my plants, engaging in self-pleasure, dancing, siinging out loud and, surprisingly, connecting deeply wiith people I barely know. The Woo Woo of it all is what envelops me in pleasure.
I just could not separate all that is contained in erotic and pleasureable energies that exist within the sexual and asexual. It isn't a reach tto say that if we were to invest more of our energy into understanding the blissful asexual pleasures we could have healthier relationships.The knowledge of our erotic energy empowers us, it allows us to evaluate. If we were to put pleasure and erotic power within our solutions, could you imagine how intentional the changes we make could be? Solutions that are rooted in creating rich lives for ourselves.
I am a Black, genderqueer, kinky, polyamorous, pescatarian-ish being who centers love and healing in all I do and the world is not kind to me. Understanding the way my personal experiences had led me to claiming all these identities out loud is a privilege. What I aimed to do with this unearned privilege was figure out how to bring equity the ways I had accessed pleasure. How could I start thinking about making the lessons that I had learned as accessible as possible? I found myself digging into everything I could find that could help me figure out how to start prioritising myself and my communities, via my own self-care, wellness, pleasure and leisure.
I found what I was looking for within adrienne maree brown’s Pleasure Activism (2019). The writer picked up this term from harm-reductionist Keith Cylar, whose work as an HIV activist prioritised the right to experience pleasure, to be safe and respected in the pleasures we choose. Much like I do, brown uses pleasure as a lens she can view almost anything through, a lens that says that justice, equity and liberation can be pleasurable experiences.
brown builds on the work of Audre Lorde, this is deeply Black feminist, radical and imaginative work. I build on work from them as well as powerhouses like Sylvia Tamale, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, Pumla Dineo Gqola, Dr. Beverly Ditsie, Jessica Horn, Bibi Bakare Yusuf, Lebo Mashile, Makgosi Letimile, Patria Hill Collins, Vangile Gantsho, Sonia Sanchez, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Aamarasinha, Maneo Mohale, Staceyann Chin, Kimberly Drew, Malebo Sephodi, Desire Marea, June Jordan… I list them so you can also dig into the glory of these beings.
I have been a living testament to the power of the erotic, pleasure and leisure. Audre Lorde taught us that caring for ourselves is “not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." And while the quote has been memed, quoted and co-opted by capitalistic frames of self-care, the core of the quote and its meaning to me I powerful. When we are able to care for ourselves, find joy and pleasure, dive into the dualities of our own lightness and darkness, we are able to affect change that moves from the internal to the external.
My self-care demands that I live within that pleasureable and erotic energy. The energy that demands that I can reclaim the things that feel good, that I enjoy them even when the world tries to strip me of any good simply for being the person that I am. That is what Pleasure Activisms offered me. While we acknowledge and understand the structures of power that strip of the access to these, we need to create and live in pleasure for ourselves in order for us to practice pleasure as a daily practice of liberation, resistance and constant revolutions. Pleasure allows us a sense of wholeness that begins with us.
Is this sounding more and more Woo Woo to you?
What the Woo Woo offered me is an opportunity to see that the things that I had been taught, the way the world is, the way things function cannot be the complete picture. That another world is possible. It allowed me an opportunity to start doing some introspection and determining what living a life of pleasure can look like for me, but more than that it allowed me to start putting the pleasure first. That’s something many of us have never been able to do. Could you imagine being able to make decisions simply based on whether they would make you feel good? What a privilege that is. A privilege that many of us could have access to, with the information we need and community that is invested in making these imaginative solutions start to manifests in our real lives.
I have personally created small spaces that do this, that give so many permission to stop waiting for others to allow them to access their own pleasure. We are already aware of the things that make us happy, but informed by our environments we often fall into the trappings of capitalism that force us to mine income from our pleasures, forgetting the joy involved. When we have no income we find that pleasure is a little less attainable, that our pleasures are a waste of time that can be spent working. When we have no knowledge of our own pleasure, we end up tired, drained, burnt out and in many ways, preyed on by those looking to take advantage. We are unable to access pleasure and leisure in ways meaningful to us. When we have limited access spaces that exist for pleasure and leisure (parks, libraries, youth clubs, community centers, etc.) we have even more limitations placed on us.
I have been fortunate enough to work collaboratively with Black women in creating spaces where our pleasure is the main priority. I have hosted consent workshops; within which I was grateful to expand the way many participants would immediately think of consent as inherently sexual, and got them to a place of understanding how consent I involved in all we do.
I was then able to found Meet Greet Kneel, with Dineo (surname purposefully withheld) and Kgothatso (who is now Your Pleasure Advocate), a space that existed to introduce those who were curious about kink and BDSM to practicing it safely and within a community. Our workshops focused on safety, consent and wellness within BDSM, but it also expanded into understanding our own relationships with pleasure, and how to make practicing it as equitable as possible. One of our favourite ways to demonstrate equity was via DIY BDSM, understanding that one does not need expensive tools to access kink, you can use items found at home or hardware stores that are more affordable.
More recently I share all I can about holistic wellness, pleasure and self-care via social media. Through my small business, Thembekile Stationery, I offer people a way to balance between their productivity and wellness via my planner that prioritises mindfulness. Our latest effort to engage our community took the form of an Introspective Journaling challenge, a practice that gave me immense pleasure. Introspective journaling allows us opportunities to sit with our thoughts, process your context and imagine the lives we want out loud. This is an act of radical pleasure for me and I wanted to share that with others.
Countless of us are doing work that is rooted in healing pleasure work, whether we’re aware of it or not. Yococo is a company that sells artisanal dairy-free ice-cream, using locally-sourced ingredients and use no refined sugars; this is pleasure that cares for our physical wellbeing. Queer Talk Africa is a podcast and open forum for queer African to have a space of discussion that is safe and open, something many of us are denied living in countries where we are violated and murdered for being ourselves. The Nap Ministry is an organisation that practice resistance through napping, they name sleep-deprivation as a racial and social justice issue, facilitating and sharing information about how we can access pleasure and leisure by resting more often. My dear friend Tumi recently launched The Four Season Apothecary, teachingus ancestral knowledge about herbs that heal and the ways we can bring them into our daily lives; an offering of intentional reconnection, remembrance and return.
The website and community of Adventures from the Bedrooms of African women serves a pleasure project that allows African women to speak openly about their desires. Kleaver Cruz amplifies Black joy as resistance via the Black Joy Project, noting that,
"Amplifying black joy is not about dismissing or creating an 'alternative' black narrative that ignores the realities of our collective pain; rather, it is about holding the pain and injustices we experience as black folks around the world in tension with the joy we experience in pain's midst. It's about using that joy as an entry into understanding the oppressive forces we navigate through as a means to imsgine and create a world free of them."
This is all revolutionary pleasure work, that is deeply rooted in creating equitable solutions. These are all public-facing; there is so much potential for solutions that prioritise pleasure work, even when no one is there to see that it’s happening. Pleasure work that is deeply personal and looks internally as the first and most important step.
In conversation with brown (2019), Ingrid La Fleur said, “I believe every moment of every day should be a pleasurable experience. If it is not, then it is time to question what is happening and why you decided to endure it.” This has formed the skeleton of my own pleasure practice. I build via brown sharing that a coach once told her that what is easy is sustainable. That’s exactly it, what is easy is sustainable. While I am rooted in imaginative thinking, I also know that what feels too complex, will not work equitably. I am living my most pleasurable life when I find solutions on my own terms and for now, that means doing what I can where, I am, with what I have.
I, once again, remember Lorde’s words, “Our erotic knowledge empowers us. Becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly, in terms of their relative meaning within our lives.”
Pleasure and leisure work can be extended into basically every aspect of our lives. It can allow us to approach every day with the basic notion of doing the things that make us happy, however small they are. It sounds simple and it is often the most simple solutions that I feel can be applied to as many contexts as possible. There is absolutely nothing keeping us all form attempting to invest in our own pleasure, whether those pleasures rotate around our hobbies, the meals we eat, the people we spend time with and the thing we give our energy to.
My boldest claim in this work will be that I believe that pleasure activism that is rooted in mutual investment, community and harm reduction can allow us to find equity in the mundane.