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A Workshop on Pleasure, Consent & Rights

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What’s pleasure got to do with sexual and bodily rights, you ask? We’ve been asking ourselves the same question! And we’ve been asking people across the world to send in their stories and ideas on the topic, through our #SexPleasureRights series: http://sexpleasurerights.csbronline.org.

So much did we enjoy hearing people’s thoughts and experiences, that we decided to take the conversation further and host an open-space evening workshop on “Pleasure, Consent & Rights” in Malaysia last week.

Tuesday night’s turnout was great: a mix of activists, organizers, community members, and people simply intrigued by the topic. The mix of perspectives made for a dynamic evening, allowing us to engage in discussion, share iftar, play games, and open up our thoughts to new ways of thinking about pleasure.

UsesoftheEroticPart of the evening was spent reading and discussing “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power“, a piece written by the Audre Lorde in 1978. Despite being almost 40 years old, the piece offers sharp and ever pertinent perspectives on the power of female eroticism. Audre Lorde reminds us of the power that resides in knowing our bodies, our sexuality, and our inner resources deeply, especially as women. Particularly when common conceptions of the “erotic” translate most easily into the disembodied consumption of the pornographic, as defined by business and marketing interests in a world governed by patriarchy.

In choosing to explore the “erotic”, Audre Lorde takes a word that for many–including for many at the workshop–seems full of sexual overtones, and she asks us to re-conceptualize it. To redefine it. To look at eroticism more broadly. To start to feel every thing sensually, through our skin; from every day acts such as “dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea“.

If we could tap into such a power, such a visceral sensation, what impact would that have on our daily lives? On our relationships? On our efforts to “go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our societies“, and encourage excellence through our art, and advocacy and activism?

Perhaps, as Audre Lorde shares, being in touch with the erotic might enable us to tap into and amplify our fearless capacities for joy. She writes, “In touch with the erotic, I become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.”  

Of course, Audre Lorde was writing in the United States at the time, centering black women’s experiences, and her work is imbued with sharp critiques of emerging capitalism, embedded structural racism, and patriarchy–and their crushing grips on our imaginations; the way these overarching and interconnected structures of oppression limit, twist and deform the ways that our power as women can be be felt and reached.

Without a deep understanding of the social context Audre Lorde was writing in, it is not so easy to translate her work and her arguments into another context–such as Malaysia in 2017–without the risk of losing the specificity of her words and her message. Audre Lorde was always, first and foremost, speaking from her experience of being a black lesbian woman activist. No matter how much her words resonates with our experiences as women, women of colour, women in the global south, as women who love women, as activists, as queers, as human beings–and they do resonate loudly across identities–reading Audre Lorde’s work requires we be attune to our positions in the social hierarchies of our daily relationships, work and activism, lest we usurp or erase the particularities of her social critiques; map them too simplistically onto our experiences; or forget to bring in what is missing given our current realities.

With all of that to hold and sift through, the framework of analysis in Uses of the Erotic provided much food for thought, and challenged current ideas about eroticism and women’s power as derived from our bodies and our sexuality.

At the workshop, given the desire to get us into our bodies, we also spent time learning somatic practices as a way to connect with our emotions and senses on a more visceral level. We mixed breathing and meditation and movement and dance, and reflected on the energies this stirred in us. All in all, it sparked a lot of ideas and we hope it’ll be the first in a series of further workshops and conversations.

Our special thanks to Nani for leading the somatic exercises, who helped us host the event.

Check out #SexPleasureRights and Uses of the Erotic and let us know your thoughts!

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