We shake with joy, we shake with grief. What a time they have, these two housed as they are in the same body. - Mary Oliver
Last June, inside Rooted (virtual global village and un/learning gathering space) we invited our friend, Kai Cheng Thom, Somatic Sex Educator to explore the theme of reclaiming pleasure and through it, ourselves. It was a tender inquiry into how we access, receive, give, or “take” pleasure.
With the opportunity to wander our edges by simply encouraging our tightly bound fists to open, by noticing the varying experience of what it’s like to ‘touch to take’ vs ‘touch to give’, Kai Cheng opened us to a portal to explore what it might be like to be powerfully in our yes, and just as powerfully in our no, even when both might be difficult to take a stand for with dignity.
I was reminded of Queer, Black, Feminist Author, Audre Lorde’s powerful essay “Uses of the Erotic” a strong reclaimation of pleasure and eros from patriarchy and white bodied supremacy, where she says:
“When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of lifeforce; 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…
Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea.”
To embody pleasure and eros in this way, is a direct affront to colonization and white bodied supremacy. To reconnect to our ‘capacity for joy’, our love for life, our stretching towards kinship with all the beings and elements that surround us, to be able to feel pleasure from the birdsong in our ears, to witness the buds turn to flower to fruit to juicy sweet softness in our mouths, to think along with other people about what a culture of belonging might be like… and whatever else it is that brings you that joy.
How can you reclaim your pleasure? How can you reclaim yourself?
To highlight our exploration of pleasure of queering our perceptions of it, we brought in the work of Indonesian leather and visual artist, Fikri. Fikri Abdurakhman (FHA) is a Visual Artist from Bandung, Indonesia who dreams, acts, speaks, writes, and thinks, through art and imagination.
Yet, we also know that this reclamation is challenging, painful even and not without contradictions, paradoxes and complexities… Kai Cheng shared a quote with us from Coda Brooke “Pleasure work is grief work.”
In my experience, I’ve known the icy shell of my being starting to melt away from pleasure and love only to flood my system with the needly, stinging, sadness of having been frozen in certain places. And I know that, for many, pleasure and grief are bedmates.
Even so, we all have birthright ‘capacity for joy’, and we can rest in “know[ing] the extent to which we are capable of feeling that sense of satisfaction and completion, we can then observe which of our various life endeavors bring us closest to that fullness” (Audre Lorde), and we have that power to move our lives always in the direction of life.
For Bodies of Culture and Black bodies, this reclamation of our birthright of the experience of pleasure is, as Audre Lorde says, nothing short of liberation work. It’s a re-alignment with the surge of creation that moves through our bodies - what shapes would it take if we were to connect with it and allow it to flow in unexpected directions not contained by coloniality/modernity and outside the forms imposed by white body supremacy?
A Prompt to explore
"Giving Pleasure, and Taking Pleasure"
in the laboratory of your own life:
If this somatic practice is accessible to you, then you will take both hands and one will be the hand that touches, while the other will be the hand that receives touch. For each step, see if you can take on the orientation stated and notice what happens.
Step 1: Have one hand touch the other, for the pleasure of the hand doing the touching - spend a few minutes with this.
Step 2: Have the hand that is touching, touch for the pleasure of the hand that is being touched (the passive hand) - spend a few minutes with this if you can.
What was that like for you? What did you notice? Was there a difference between the two?
This practice was a powerful moment in our workshop with Kai Cheng… Within the group, there was considerable noticing of the different energies of ‘taking pleasure’ vs ‘giving pleasure’. One of the things I noticed was, in the first scenario, the hand being touched didn’t feel much at all, while hand touching had all the sensation. In the second practice, the hand being touched was alive with sensation, and the hand touching was much slower and smaller in its movements. What a small but profound experience.
Try it for yourself, if you’d like, and see what happens.
Last July, as an extension of Pride month, Rooted hosted a public event called Expanding Possibilities of Love: Queer Ecology & Re-Imagining Belonging. If you would like to access this event in it’s entirety, as an online collection of recordings, audios, and transcripts, click here to donate and receive it.