Like many people, I spent most of Saturday at my computer and on my phone reading and re-tweeting updates about the white supremacists who had descended upon Charlottesville, Virginia. My emotions ranged from anger to sadness to disgust. And try as I do to promote empathy, I couldn’t arrive at a place where I could understand how white men in their 20s who were marching around a statue of Thomas Jefferson could fear being “replaced,” or think the history of the founding fathers was being erased. I’d had plenty of sleep, and I ate all the right things on Saturday, but the day was exhausting.
And then late that night, an unexpected feeling came over me: horniness.
Not so intense that I called the guy who says he wants to be my husband but is MIA on the weekends and so probably already has a wife (yep, I’m putting all that shade out there), but enough that had I called him, he would’ve been happy he didn’t have to do much work.
Wanting sex at the end of a day of national shame and tragedy bothered me for a minute. This is not the time, I thought to myself. So much other stuff to think about—Heather Heyer. the nineteen other people injured, the white people in my social media circles who haven’t said anything. A quick glance at my calendar, and I dismissed the timing of this feeling as hormonal, and then I got annoyed with myself for dismissing it.
There is a place for pleasure in the midst of terror.
Pleasure can be a comfort. Had I called the guy, what really would’ve been the difference between sex and a pint of ice cream, watching Moana, making memes out of every foolish thing 45 says, going to sleep, or whatever else people do to escape?
Sometimes pleasure is resistance. It is defiant. It says, though you hate and threaten our very existence, we love ourselves. We are kind to ourselves, take joy in ourselves, and when it comes to sexual pleasure, some of us may thrive on human connection, or we may even relish the chance we could make more of ourselves.
But I don’t want to always impose a higher purpose upon sexual desire or pleasure to enjoy their existence, either. That for me is too much like restricting them to marriage, the parameter I thought for so long they had to be kept in to be acceptable. I would rather think of them as natural and be grateful for them every day, not just on days when Nazis act out.
Many times since the 2016 presidential election, I’ve thought about black people who lived in different eras and who faced the threat of death at the hands of white supremacy every day. So many still went to school, worked, got married, or had children. They wrote poetry, novels, plays, and music. They cooked and ate good food, did their hair, and wore their Sunday best when it was called for. Some of that was a fervent embrace of morality, a race to prove themselves respectable and worthy of rights. But I think some of it, too, was pride in their craft, was appreciation of beauty, was necessity, was life, was love, was hope, and was the idea that even now, pleasure is good, and we can have it.