Written · August 26, 2018
Pleasure Principle: Oshun’s Mirror
Swipe left, swipe right, swipe up, swipe down.
Repeat as necessary until the image presented to you is one that you find desirable. We're blessed to live in a moment where any combination of the words offered so far can hopefully allow for folks to smile and affirm the validation of being pleased with what we see in the mirror. All Black bodies are deserving of all expressions of love. Everyone's journey will look different, and will be political simply for the fact of aligning to center Black joy as opposed to simply Black pain.
Can all the bodies of the Black Diaspora speak? When we're punished for deviating from the norm - like when Ebony Donnley and Ericka Hart were removed from VIP during Afropunk Brooklyn for donning a shirt that read "AFROPUNK sold out for White consumption " - which Black bodies are acceptable? Or can we only be subversive when it fits the acceptable narrative, thus perpetuating forms of violence particularly against Black queer, trans gender non-conforming people? This action by one of the cofounders of AFROPUNK speaks to a larger conversation around the image of the Black body and which ones are desirable.
This latest example of intraracial conflict within the Black community is unfortunately the latest example of what happens when we embody perspectives that are in service of White, hypercaptialist, cis-gendered, hetero-patriarchal norms. This is also why I continue to center my healing through spirituality, joy and pleasure. We all deserve a pleasurable existence that prevents harm from happening in the first place.
Back in June, I attended the Allied Media Conference in Detroit with a delegation of NYC-based queer feminists. The Brave Bridges crew, an homage to two feminists texts - "This Bridge Called My Back," edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and "But Some Of Us Are Brave: All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men: Black Women's Studies," by Patricia Scott-Bell and Barbara Smith - attended several sessions and debriefed together throughout our time there. On the last day, I rolled out of bed in time to take part in adrienne maree brown's session, 'Pleasure Activism 101'. One of the lessons that came through that morning was adrienne guiding us to arrive at the idea that we don't have to keep putting off nirvana and that actually it's our responsibility to cultivate it now.
In the months that have followed, I've gone back to my personal drawing board and thought of how I could make sure that I was finding pleasure in as many of my actions as possible - but particularly to complicate the intimate ones in my life. As a survivor of sexual-based trauma, I have struggled with my body constantly - how I dress it, how I adorn it, and who has access to it. I am constantly showing love to said body for being able to carry me to places and people along my chosen path, but sitting in 'Pleasure Activism 101' reminded me another being I should be seeking advice from: Oshun, the orisha of love, sensuality and sweet water.
I had spoken to Oshun in the beginning of the year and asked for blessings as I moved to focus my energy towards serving my communities, leaving the urge to explore sexually at the altar. After offering that petition, I was celibate for the first five months of 2018. I had grown tired of people only wanting the idea of me, and not all of me. When I experienced 'Pleasure Activism 101' a month later, I was left with the following sentiment - finding nirvana now means we have to name the particular steps towards achieving that within ourselves and then radiating that outwards.
But as sweet as that sentiment was, it lead me [to] more questions - What does it mean to be divine when we share our sexual/sacral energy with others? Do we end up choosing partners that aren't worth the exchange and then end up in this predictable cycle? Swipe left, swipe right, swipe up, swipe down. Repeat as necessary until the image presented to you is one that you find desirable.
Just like mainstream culture has and continues to alter the iconography of Oshun, making her into a less complex, hypersexualized being as opposed to a multifaceted deity, we as a culture are doing the same when seeking pathways to expressing our sexuality and intimacy. These embodied politics, or lack thereof, don't want to understand the nuances of being in relation with each other - physically, sexually, intimately, or anywhere in between. I'm not sure if it's because we're holding on to valid trauma, or because we simply just want to know be able to read right away if the person is into us based on their reply to a DM versus learning how to read their eyes, their smile, their laugh lines, the furrow of their brows. Still, I'm left with more questions than answers.
In a world of instant gratification and the spoils of the privilege to access virtually anything, what does it mean when we internalize hyper capitalist structures? Is there selective amnesia when it comes to holding ourselves accountable to how we show up in the world - both physical and virtual? Or do we not care about consent with our images and our bodies even though we seemingly understand it when it comes to campaigns such as Stop Telling Women to Smile and #MeToo (started by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and Tarana Burke, two Black women that I deeply admire)? As adrienne put it, "not with shame or with righteousness, but with deep curiosity: What turns us on, and can we change it if it doesn't align with what we believe?"
Pleasure is something that can avoid us for a lifetime if we aren't given these opportunities to dig deeper. Yeye Luisah Teish, a priestess of Oshun, once described the orishas as the personification of the forces of nature, and I sometimes fear that we can forget our own nature in the name of pleasing someone outside of ourselves.
A practice to accompany this essay - bring the following question with you to your atlar and leave your answer:
What’s a story that was placed on you without your consent (by someone else OR yourself) that you now want to release?
the instinctive drive to seek pleasure and avoid pain, expressed by the id as a basic motivating force that reduces psychic tension.
As told by
Veronica Agard is an alchemist, educator, and connector at the
intersections of Black identity, wellness, representation, and
culture. Of Afro-West Indian, African-American and Indigenous descent,
she continues to experiment with healing modalities such as movement,
singing, herbalism, divination, capoeira, and yoga. Her primary
channel is writing and holds healing space for the community through
writing ciphers. She is the curator of the Who Heals the Healer series
and the conference of the same name.
Veronica is a firm believer in putting theory into practice. She has
extensive experience in community outreach, activism, journalism and
social media, and focuses her energies on projects dealing with issues
of gender, race, culture and human rights.
Through archival research at the Centro de Investigaciones Regionales
de Mesoamerica (CIRMA), she completed her undergraduate thesis on the
complex histories of sexual assault and violence against women in
post-conflict Guatemala. In 2014, she graduated from The City College
of New York with a BA in international studies and history and
continued her work as a co-founder of Sister Circle Collective, a role
she was active in for five years. As a writer, Veronica’s work has
been featured in The Grio, Let Your Voice Be Heard, Mic, For Harriet
and The Queen Sessions.
is part of
a theme that the Black Girl Magik collective explored and invited the community to investigate with us through a practice of communal healing and coalition building.