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I find “sex positivity” politics to be paternalistic and violent. Paternalistic and violent. My tolerance for it is at about the level of my tolerance of street harassment now. These politics remain White supremacist, cishet-focused and anti-intersectional. They are about forced sexuality in unwelcome spaces (and then judgment when that force is critiqued) and assault (when people are aware of others’ boundaries, have been made aware several times and yet find pleasure not in their sexual freedom itself, but in denying choice to others) more than about empowerment for all women since no one sexual politic about “all women” could exist any more than any one articulation of feminism in praxis could ever exist.
If intersectionality (H/T Kimberlé Crenshaw) reveals that not all women experience gender in the same way, if it shows that not all women—even ones that share race/gender/class/sexual orientation oppression for which intersectionality itself was first articulated on—experience oppression in the same way, why on earth would a politics of “sex positivity” that continues to center Whiteness, heterosexuality, phallocentrism, and almost a willful disregard for the varying histories of sexual politics for women who are not White (and especially Black women for whom the construction of White womanhood could not exist without making Black womanhood the antithesis) be something accurate and of interest to me?
There is no articulation of “sex positivity” by mainstream feminism that will ever mean anything to me. It is regularly paternalism and violence. In the same way that their feminism itself does not speak to my experience and I regularly have to avoid it or interrogate it—hence womanism shapes my lens by which I view, experience and challenge the world—is the same way that I have to avoid or interrogate their “sex positivity” politics. One can only be triggered on a daily basis for so long. One can only stomach the paternalism of White sermons about how sex is “political” for some people for so long. Oh how nice, sexual politics history from women who are always considered human and “people” to start with. Must be nice. (Really White women, you’re gonna educate me on feminism? This is laughable. Check the repertoire.) This paternalism is what causes their concern trolling for Black women who express their sexuality freely and openly yet judgment for ones whose sexual politics may more often involve the word NO, as I wrote about in For Me, Sex Positivity Involves The Word “NO.”
For some reason, lack of discernment and lack of respect for boundaries is now called “liberation.” So, I have to applaud every disgusting, poorly made, hideous, and violent sexual Vine video that comes across my Twitter timeline or is forced into my mentions to “prove” how “sex positive” I am. Every sexual photo, especially of a phallus, must be praised. Every non-sexual conversation that I have in peace with someone that I actually like in social media—which is so, so few people—has to be forcefully turned into a conversation where someone who I have never seen in my life then discusses their sexual intercourse frequency, desires, or fantasies. Every time I share an image of a celebrity or “beautiful” person, I can’t get replies on the quality of the photograph (I’m a photographer, sue me) and the beauty of the person (since other types of attraction exist; not solely sexual); people have to go a step further with graphic sexual explanations and forced and repeated sexual commentary that dominates my Twitter mentions for hours or days. I don’t even mean simple sexual comments such as "my body is ready" or "that person in the photo can get it!" which coming from people that I know and trust can be very funny and jokes I’ve made myself (though admittedly I don’t want to hear this every single time I share a photo). These comments that I am speaking of are usually much more graphic and violent at times. Worse, these people will then conflate my rejection of their violence as me being anti-sex in general or anti-sex work which is categorically false. Their slander is attached to the idea that I must accept their violence to “prove” I support women.
Much of this endless violence on a daily basis—yes, a daily and at times hourly occurrence—is only in response to the last several months of me discussing asexuality. Some of this is very new abuse. Some people who would’ve never said a thing to me about sex before now do so solely because I write about asexuality. People feel that I should be punished for this identification because of several factors. In general, asexuality is misunderstood and/or hated. It is the one time I’ve watched some queer people align with their oppressors, some heterosexual people, to degrade asexual people. They’re a team on the topic. A lot of it has to do with how I am perceived in the male gaze—as “pretty” quite often, thereby I should automatically be “available” to men, particularly cishet Black men. If a person is viewed as “attractive” then how dare they choose not to be sexual (though some asexual people have had sex before and/or do have sex; attraction is not behavior). It also has to do with how I am perceived in the White Gaze—as a Black woman, thereby “hypersexual” and automatically heterosexual. Thus, speaking of my perspectives and experiences as an ace violates other people’s perception of who I should be and thereby they feel that I should be punished. Hence the paternalism and violence.
Obviously being a Black woman complicates this. Some White women behave as if they’re getting “street cred” by forcing sexual conversations with me. This is why at past jobs White women would immediately tell me about all of the Black men they’ve fucked or their sexual desires when I barely cleared my 90 days at jobs, when we had no relationship other than getting paychecks from the same place. Their consistent need to dominate and consume where Black bodies are concerned shapes their “sex positivity.” It feeds their eat pray love syndrome of “slumming” and fucking their way to “liberation” by use of Black bodies and bodies of colour as tools and props. And when the racism involved in this “sex positivity” is called out, they claim it is “misogyny” even if the ones doing the calling out are Black women. If the “purity” of White womanhood is “liberated” by mimicking the stereotypical concept of the “deviance” of Black womanhood, then they have to project every sexual action—whether words, forced conversations, stereotypes, cultural appropriation, or actual sex with Black people—onto any Black people that they can. What better person to do it on than a Black woman who is an ace since to them asexuality for Black women has always meant the loving “mammy” who listens, not the sexual orientation and empowered stance that asexuality can be and is for me, as I wrote about in Black Womanhood, Asexuality and Agency. Instead, asexuality, queerness and heterosexuality for Black women is viewed as “the mammy,” “the deviant” and “the Jezebel” in the White Gaze. Oh boy, oh boy the White supremacy to unpack from “sex positivity” makes my skin fucking crawl. The impact of White supremacy on sexuality itself is something that I discussed in The Large Space That White Supremacy Occupies In Conversations About Sexuality.
"Sex positivity" as articulated by Black women hasn’t been perfect for me either, but much better and definitely much safer. While there are a few Black women who also do not seem to understand boundaries and respect, feel that forced sexuality conversation is “freedom” (and why they do is much different from why White women do), and that “sex positivity” is more performative than intrinsic to Black feminist or womanist politics, many have to be told something only once. If I say, “well this particular thing is a NO for me” they’re told once. We don’t argue about it on a daily basis. There’s no paternalism or violence. And this definitely is shaped by the fact that our bodies and sexual choices have been colonized for so long that some of us are committed to not also being oppressors. It’s more imperative for us since our value as human beings is regularly tied to sexuality based on misogynoiristic lies and oppressive constructions such as controlling images. Black women don’t have the luxury of pretending that “sex positivity” as articulated by mainstream feminism is a blanket liberating tool. Most of it rests on the notion of “deviant” Black womanhood anyway. That’s why Black women clearly make more effort and intersectionality is considered in “sex positivity” as opposed to a space where our liberation is based on the degradation of another woman in the way that mainstream feminism’s “sex positivity” remains anti-intersectional while standing on the backs of women who aren’t cishet and White. (When I want to hear and experience messages of what doesn’t feel like abusive and oppressive notions about sexuality, I often turn to some Black women’s music.)
I’ve talked to Black women about consent, dating, sexual intercourse, sexual orientation, desire, same-race relationships, interracial relationships, celibacy, BDSM, sex work and more with an ease and safety that is not there for me with Whites or men. And since the latter refuse to acknowledge how stereotypes about who I am as a Black woman matters to them more than who I am, Trudy, the person they may have followed online for months or years, their conversations remain cyclically abusive, paternalistic and down right violent. For the ones who aren’t simply ignorant and presumptuous about my sexual orientation and sexuality, it’s purposeful harm they’re engaging in. Their need to harm me is so important, as if they do not already harm me via their privilege and via White supremacy and patriarchy which benefits them. So this “extra” need to harm on an interpersonal level is so caustically violent and sickening. Worse, some seem to equate my choice to engage in conversation about sexuality at times with permission for them to use that discourse to harm me at unrelated and/or non-consensual times. I do not feel safe discussing anything about sexuality with Whites (and I mean in a sociopolitical sense; I am NOT making a value judgment on interpersonal interracial relationships).
I am done with “sex positivity” as it is currently articulated. I don’t want this White supremacist capitalist cisheteropatriarchal construction anywhere near me any more than I want mainstream feminism anywhere near me. In fact, I would argue that it IS mainstream feminism. My womanism is always one that embraces people of any sexual orientation, the right to any consensual sexual choices or non-sexual choices without stigma and shame rooted in oppression that facilitate oppression, the space for intersectional perspectives on sexuality and why notions of gender, womanhood, choice and agency vary, and the space to acknowledge while respect of choice and agency themselves is critical, actual worshipping of each individual choice even when that choice is harmful for me as a Black woman and only benefits White women is antithetical to the wholeness that womanism articulates. My womanism is not one that can indulge White supremacy as “sex positive.”
Sexual politics will never be intersectionality-neutral space. As long as “sex positivity” remains about forcing sexuality and only particular conceptions of sexuality, it will remain abusive and beneficial only to a very small group of women, the same ones who regularly get to decide what is feminist or not while standing on the backs of the women they’re judging. If “sex positivity” means that White women get to decide what my boundaries are, it is White supremacy. If it means that only sexual intercourse itself matters, not all the politics that shape sex long before the bedroom, it will remain patriarchal. If it means that the history of the colonization of Black women’s bodies must be excluded from the conversation when that colonization is what White womanhood itself cannot exist without, it will remain oppressive.
A week ago someone said to me that they thought that “sex positivity” was supposed to be "sex is good." I replied I thought it was ”any consensual sexual or non-sexual choice should be considered valid and stigma-free.” Obviously my thoughts on the matter don’t even remotely relate to “sex positivity.” I was delusional. And of course the "if it’s not perfect, then it’s not the thing mentioned" people will come to derail. The same ones who claim TERFs or racists aren’t “real” feminists because they don’t want to take responsibility for how actual feminists harm will claim that the people who do what I have described here aren’t “really” “sex positive.” They can save it. My disinterest is palpable.
I have no problem with sexuality itself; clearly. I discuss it often with responsible people, which of course is then derailed by violent notions of “sex positivity” or the actual “sex is shame” type of respectability politics-loving patriarchal misogynoiristic type of people. My problem is about *how* people choose to engage me on the topic; without consent, with paternalism and with a frame of violence. My problem with “sex positivity” as popularly articulated is my problem with White supremacy or patriarchy. It oppresses me. It does not liberate me. This "we’ll show them!" attitude where since sex is shamed then forced sexuality becomes pride is a binary that I want no part of. The fact that people need to “perform” their non-consensual “sex positivity” for me on a triggering hourly/daily basis—especially after asked not to on a daily basis—is violence. There’s nothing “positive” about it.
All my life white people have been making fun of me for meditating, doing yoga, and then practicing acupuncture. Now that there’s yoga mats they have no problem telling me my problem is I need to do yoga, meditate, and try acupuncture.
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