Throughout history, we are reminded of horrific acts of violence throughout countries and eras. But what often gets lost in the recounting of these events is the fact that for people to survive (and thrive) in spite of violence happening around them, they needed to have pleasure. They needed to have moments of peace, times when they could celebrate themselves or the things that made them feel good about their time here on Earth. And to me, this is what Pride is about in a lot of ways. I’m reminded of how important it is to connect back to pleasure and celebration, alongside the action.
Every Pride, there comes an opportunity to celebrate who we are, where we’re going and how important it is that we’re here. Pride matters because for many of us, this is one of the few times we can wholly be ourselves — we don’t have to separate this from being Black, brown, or of color; where we fall on the queer spectrum of sexuality and gender; being different in a way that makes others frown or look down upon us. These are the best parts of ourselves because they connect us to an important community and legacy of others that have not just survived out of spite, but dared to celebrate who they are.
So, what does pleasure have to do with Pride? In short: everything.
I’m a sex educator and writer, and since my work surrounds me talking about sex in various ways, I often think about how much this has taught me to define pleasure in new ways for me. Pleasure is a right, not a privilege, yet so many people that I interact with are waiting to be given permission to experience it. Orgasms are often what we think of in challenging this because we see orgasms as the ultimate sign of pleasure encapsulated. But marginalized people have fought hard to be seen within the limitations of what sex looked like for them that it has pushed for the evolution of experiencing pleasure.
But where do we even begin with discovering what this looks like?
The secret is that experiencing and prioritizing pleasure means having a deep knowing of who you are and a firm uncompromising stance on putting that first. Which is scary for a lot of people. For me, this really shifted when I realized that I was waiting to get permission that it was okay to feel good from somewhere outside of myself when my desire alone was all the permission I really needed. From there, I focused on what felt good and used orgasm as the idea to see what else felt could match those feelings. Shifting orgasm from being the “only goal” to a guideline for defining what pleasure looked like for me created this new appreciation for how important pleasure was in my life.
Another secret: pleasure is about much more than just having sex. It’s about connecting to ourselves. Pleasure takes so many forms: it’s selfish and giving at the same time because we are giving ourselves permission to experience a sensation firstly because we want to, but also because sometimes, we want to share that experience with another person or persons.
Sex is a natural expression of this, but we can also prioritize pleasure in the activities we do because they bring us joy: a hobby that isn’t monetized or connects us to a simpler time. Napping (this is a huge one for me because prioritizing rest has been so frowned upon in hustle culture and in history for Black people). Connecting to the Earth with gardening or tending to plants. Cooking a really good meal and drinking wine, especially with good friends or my partner. These are all things that bring me incredible pleasure.
It’s also important to remember that pleasure can be a source of activism as well. This began as a term coined by Black gay and bisexual men in the 1980s and 90s who were living as HIV+. The term itself came about as a way to reclaim pleasure in their own lives, as doctors were attempting care and preventing transmission by telling them to abstain and that they didn’t have the right to experience pleasure, no matter what their HIV status was. People have become more familiar with the term following the book by the same name by adrienne marie brown. But, I think it’s important that we examine that pleasure has a place alongside activism. When we think about what is happening today: how five Black trans women have been killed this year (that we know of.), Black and non-Black people of color face incredible amounts of racism, how reproductive health and access for all people that can become pregnant are being threatened across the country.
Even with all of this, it’s important to remember that pleasure can be a guiding light in all of this darkness. We can shine a light forward, continue on and change the world to better fit what we want to see by prioritizing pleasure and teaching others that it is their right to do the same.
This Pride, I hope that you remember that. I hope that you give yourself and teach someone else how you like to feel during sex, and have an orgasm or two. I hope that you attend as many rallies, conferences, and marches as you do parties this Pride. And I hope that you feel that you, just as anyone else, deserve to feel and prioritize pleasure.