Woof. I have been reading a lot of really amazing critical work this year and a lot of it has been just for fun. Also, a lot of it makes me feel like my brain is exploding but in a way that feels really really good to me, and I think Adrienne Maree Brown would approve.
Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, by Adrienne Maree Brown, is a collection of essays, interviews, and other writing by Brown as well as a series of incredible thinkers, movers, and shakers in the social justice world (and in particular, Brown’s world, which feels important). Overall, it is a book that asks us to consider that changing the world for the better, that the fights necessary to make major shifts in our culture and each other, can be full of pleasure and goodness and that we should strive for that. The work can feel good. It can be sexy. Brown draws on Black feminist thought and is very clear: how we do the work and how we think about the work needs to change.
This is not a new idea for me to encounter, but even knowing or being familiar with ideas of rest as resistance (please please please check out the Nap Ministry if you don’t know) and other Black feminist movements that (appropriately and importantly) challenge the long standing groundworks for social justice activism and movements, Brown’s approach feels so powerful and complete it is really mind shattering for me. Also, I still regularly encounter people in the social justice world who seem bent on the ideas of justice work as only serious work, draining themselves of energy and joy and burning themselves out. Brown is very resistant to this, indicating through her own work and the work of others that we can be an activist in so many different ways and through so many different lifestyles.
Pleasure Activism covers sex and physically feeling good through sexual acts, romance, and intimacy (with yourself and others). But it covers a lot more as well and I hope no one ever puts it down thinking it is only about sex. It covers trauma and healing, both of the body and mind. It covers racism, disability, fatness, boundaries, the environment, fashion, ageism, gender, sexuality, Beyonce, motherhood, and like a million more things than I could ever cover. One of the earliest chapters talks about Brown’s deep love for Octavia Butler, so deep she feels like a lover, which correlates to her understanding of a vision of pleasure, reclamation of life, and dynamic thinking about relationships in our future. I immediately texted my friend, the one that recommended the book to me, about my own obsession with Butler which began the summer after my sexual assault. I checked out every Butler book from my university library and read them all in one week, falling into those worlds. Of course, Butler is brilliant, but I never really understood my obsession beyond that till I read Brown’s words and somehow all was illuminated.
It’s a brilliant collection and worth every moment of reading and discovery within. It can also be a hard read in many ways. Chapters that detail specific trauma are very challenging but somehow this book was less triggering for me than others that talk about the same issues. Brown couches everything, even her writing bout trauma, in a sense of discovery and peace that makes it something processable and knowable in a way that I can not really describe any more clearly. The lens of Brown’s work is made very clear from the beginning: hers is a framework situated in her lived reality – it doesn’t mean that a white cis male (or in my case a white latinx cis female) can’t get anything from it, and in fact no matter who you are or where you’re from or how you identify you will and should definitely receive something from this book, but I know lots of folks who would be turned off by that presentation and might find it a barrier to connecting to the work. Ultimately, I feel in regard to that, this book embodies the quote “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” (The Combahee River Collective Statement, 1977) If you can’t understand how a framework that lifts up the embodied experiences of Black women helps everyone then I can’t really help you (and I guess neither can this book).
Finally, I’d like to say that I listened to the audiobook of this. I’ll be purchasing the physical book for a re-read but I HIGHLY recommend the audiobook as well. Brown reads the text herself and her voice is, well, very soothing and sexy to me. Also, music is incorporated into the text in a way that, well, feels so damn good.