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On Pleasure and Belonging: Manifesting Lessons From adrienne maree brown in Egypt

On Pleasure and Belonging: Manifesting Lessons From adrienne maree brown in Egypt

On Pleasure and Belonging: Manifesting Lessons From adrienne maree brown in Egypt

Let me begin this article by stating that I love adrienne maree brown and this is an ode to her power and magic. I carry her latest book, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, with me everywhere I go. I make my friends read it and encourage them to practice the “hot and heavy homework” she suggests at the end of most chapters (try it, it’s fun). Sharing adrienne’s wisdom and practices with those around me is communal care because in Egypt, where I live, you cannot buy this book anywhere. It’s too outrageous, beyond anything a conservative Islamic heteropatriarchal society wants to imagine, let alone promote. It’s perfect. So, I sneak it into people’s houses and spread adrienne’s theory of pleasure as “a measure of freedom” as widely as I can.

In adrienne’s words: “pleasure activism is the work we do to reclaim our whole, happy, and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions, and limitations of oppression and/or supremacy”.

In Cairo, pleasure and the politics of feeling good seem like a western luxury, foreign to the Egyptian context. On the 3rd of April, the ‘Pharaohs’ Golden Parade’ unfolded in the capital’s streets – inaccessible to commoners, of course. Ancient mummies were driven in fancy cars from their old home into a new, highly problematic museum while the world watched in awe, reminiscing and romanticising about Egypt’s ancient civilisation. Outsiders were completely unaware of how Cairo had been turned into a super militarised apocalyptic city, with sniper-like security standing on every house. On that day, I was driving down that same parade street, astonished and terrified. I wondered how pleasure and feeling good could possibly save us from the violent realities we navigate daily.

adrienne is a mixed-race Black queer American writer, community organiser, facilitator, witch and – may I say – goddess.

On Pleasure and Belonging: Manifesting Lessons From adrienne maree brown in Egypt

adrienne maree brown. Photo credit: Anjali Pinto

On why she chooses to write her name in lowercase she said: “i like to self-determine what i capitalize? and lowercase letters are generally more aesthetically pleasing to me”.

Such non-conformity speaks to her revolutionary ways when it comes to loving herself and others. Much of her wisdom has been documented in her past column, “The Pleasure Dome: A Place for Pleasure and Feminism”, where she discussed sex, consent, and liberating our desires. Alongside her amazing sister, Autumn Brown, she hosts the podcast How to Survive the End of the World: learning from the apocalypse with grace, rigor and curiosity. Listening to their conversations about witchcraft and queer astrology, I drove past the snipers to my Pleasure Activism study group. Meanwhile, Cairo was getting ready to exhibit dead pharaohs, disregarding the curses they placed on those who would ever dare to disturb their precious afterlives.

“pleasure activism is the work we do to reclaim our whole, happy, and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions, and limitations of oppression and/ or supremacy”

When we first came together at our little feminist meetup, many were sceptical that an African American queer woman could help us figure out pleasure and liberation in Egypt.  Here, the state hunts non-heteronormative desirers, and writing a column in celebration of sex or drugs risks incarceration. How would we relate to the Black struggle in America? Still, we were so intrigued by her offer to “make social justice the most pleasurable human experience” – longing for and dreaming about it. In her essay Uses of the Erotic: Erotic as Power Audre Lorde taught us that if we center the Erotic in our lives, we will “give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering, and self-negation”. Following Lorde’s legacy, adrienne maintains that “there is no way to repress pleasure and expect liberation, satisfaction, or joy”. Delving into her book, we realised that our pathways towards social justice may differ, but the desire not to be broken by oppressive systems unites us, from Detroit to Cairo.

adrienne tells us to find the answers to our problems in community. In order to do so, we need to practice radical honesty and prioritise feeling good in each other’s presence. She proposes “a culture where the common experience of trauma leads to the normalisation of healing”. This sentence rings true to most Black folks who are surviving racial trauma of the past and present. Equally, it offers a simple, yet magical analysis of what Egyptians need after witnessing the death of their revolution.

Despite her writing in and for a very different context, adrienne managed to create a toolkit from which we can draw from, in order to create support for one another, to feel held and valued. I fell in love with her words, for the ways we can, and the ways we cannot, relate to her world. When we discuss her work in Cairo, we practice holding space for, and learning from, oppositions and ambiguity. adrienne writes: “If we want to have a revolution, we have to craft revolutionary relationships in action, not simply in rhetoric”. Of course, the word “revolution” holds a different connotation in Egypt than it does in the US, but we still put her advice into practice in our own ways.

Reading her book, we have learned about living in accordance with the moon and written experimental-wisdom-sex-ed-poetry. We remind each other that, yes, the world is depressing, but there are delicious meals to be made and good books to be read; all the while giggling and exploring what makes us happy and turns us on (“Ah, dear reader, contradictions are human, and moving through them in the name of great sex is divine”).

Finally, I will leave you with one of my favourite pleasure activism homework’s: “make a commitment with five people to be more honest with each other, heal together, change together, and become a community of care that can grow to hold us all”. I am doing this, and it is life changing. Thank you, adrienne.

Written By: Amuna Wagner – a German-Sudanese writer living between Cairo, Nuremberg and London. Her writing covers themes of gender, heritage and decolonisation. Follow her on Instagram and check her blog Kandaka

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