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Essay Response: A New Politics of Sexuality

Reading A New Politics of Sexuality by June Jordan

As always, a copy of this reading can be found in the TCUF Library.


This is one of my most favorite essays, likely due to the period of my life during which I discovered it and the fact that it totally altered my perspective of the world. What Jordan does is outline “a new Politics of Sexuality,” or as the last paragraph illustrates, a less myopic and more expansive outlook on the fight for Black liberation. One that makes it very clear that sexual oppression, whether in the form of physical violence, identity repression, institutional harm, or simple denial of existence, is as much a contributor to our struggles as racism is/was at the time she gave this speech. She says, “The Politics of Sexuality … subsumes all of the different ways in which some of us seek to dictate to others of us what we should do, what we should desire, what we should dream about, and how we should behave ourselves, generally.

This might be a perfect summary of my political awakening, which began when I was a child -- arguing with my father that locking my hair was as much of a manipulation as blow-drying or adding extensions and he should therefore get off my back and let me do what I wanted -- and grew throughout high school before finally cementing during my undergrad years. 

To tell my life story in a few sentences: throughout adolescence, I was the hypersexual latchkey kid that they warn cookie-cutter middle American families about, and it was in discovering and eventually coming to terms with my identity (and the experiences that helped shape it) that I determined I would never be truly free so long as people were able to police and harm my body without consequence. Growing up in a relatively conservative Black environment that harped on values like family and tradition (boooo!!), I was breaking taboos by demanding an inclusion of my body’s experiences beyond race — for instance, with sexual violence, queerness, and (hyper)sexuality — in how my community thought of freedom fighting. 

For so long, I was taught that Black liberation lies in the heterosexual family unit (to be clear, however, not the nuclear family) and the development of a self-sustaining pan-African community, from schools and hospitals to corner stores and social values. What lie hidden behind all that revolutionary fluff, the discovery of which was world-shattering for me, was the expectation that women remain pious and chaste; that queerness be “Africanized” out of existence, which would mean rewriting history and ignoring reality; that we go back to a place lost to us centuries ago, as opposed to reveling in what we created in the homes we were forced to make on these stolen lands; that we be quiet about sexual oppression, violence, and exploration. 

While I learned a great deal about Blackness, radical identity, and the Black liberation movement throughout my childhood, I also watched women be quietly mistreated by the men around them. I was taught the mechanics of institutionalizing queerphobia and gatekeeping a movement from the people most impacted by and arguably at the forefront of it. I had a front-row seat to the adoption of respectability politics (though we were also often the target of it and, by necessity, had plenty of rebuttals against it) and antagonism toward Black American culture (the latter of which felt incredibly paradoxical because we were simultaneously proud descendents of enslaved people). And though I think my family would ride for me if a man harmed me ever again in this life, I don’t think they ever saw my experiences as a product of the world they were intent on creating (whorephobic and male-centered) or even related to the fight to undo the world we currently live in. 

In short, every experience I’ve had, from the first time my mother told me about her mother to the day we left my father’s home and started to rebuild our lives and identities, has led me to this new Politics of Sexuality. One that says the things that happen to my body and the ways people treat me because of what I do with it aren’t one-off occurrences, and any fight to free me from oppressive systems must take that into account. It must be committed to ending whorephobia and rape culture. It must work to undo hatred of queerness and self expression and respectability. Otherwise, my “honest body can be controlled by the state, or controlled by community taboo,” and I am “in that case, no more than a slave ruled by outside force.” Unfree and unwhole.


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