The other day, a really good friend of mine marco polo’d (if that’s a word) me to read an excerpt from the book she thought was amazing, Homecoming. She said, “LaWanda, when I read this particular passage of the story, it made me think about your perspective on the story of Ester and Queen Vashti from the bible.” A little bit of context on Ms. Ester and Queen Vashti, others who have heard this story within religious contexts often admire Ester for her “sacrifice and obedience” and devalue Queen Vashti for her “disobedience.” But I just don’t share that sentiment and have adopted an unpopular and likely provocative opinion. That is, I appreciate Queen Vashti. Essentially, her husband wanted her to flaunt herself naked in front of his friends for nothing more than a stroke of his ego. And guess what, she refused to. And I appreciate the fact that she refused! In doing so, she lost her position as Queen, and in comes Ms. Ester. My best friend often says, “She (Queen Vashti) was a womanist before there was even a word for it”, and I definitely agree. Although Queen Vashti and Ms. Ester are not the topic of critical discourse (today that is), their story reminds me that we often take on the opinion of others who are in positions of power without thinking critically about the implications of those perspectives on who we are as women. Queen Vashti chose for herself under what conditions she would expose herself sexually; and publically before men was not it! Queen Vashti in some ways is my motivation for today’s topic of critical discourse, Sex Positivity 101. So back to my friend who marco polo’d me, and the excerpt of the book.
“Whose story is correct? Yaw asked them…… Peter raised his hand, “Mr. Agyyekum, we cannot know which story is correct.” He looked at the rest of the class, slowly understanding. “ We cannot know which story is correct because we were not there.” Yaw nodded…“This is the problem with history. We cannot know which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely on the words of others. Those who were there in the olden days, they told stories to the children so that their children would know, so that the children could tell stories to their children. And so on, and so on. But now we come upon the problem of conflicting stories…Whose story do we believe?” The boys were silent. They stared at him, waiting. “We believe the one who has the power. S/he is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must always ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there, you begin to get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture. “
My friend immediately thought of Queen Vashti and Ms. Ester after reading this excerpt. And for me, it screamed Sex Positivity. I suppose we see whatever is most salient to us in the moment. You see, in many ways I was like the boys in the classroom. Asking, “whose story about sex and sexuality is correct?” looking around to multiple people and trying on their version of the story about sex and sexuality as my truth; adopting the perspectives of my mom (or lack thereof), peers, media, and religious institutions. All of which had conflicting opinions, positing what was “truth.” All of which told their narrative of sexuality based on their position of power.
My earliest memory of seeking truth so as to navigate sexuality came when I went to my mother and asked, “So when will we have a talk about birds and the bees.” Her response was two words, “We’re not.” She was so resolved in her answer and I was so filled with questions. This led me to go search for messages, understanding, and values about sex and sexuality where it was readily accessible and in abundance. And that was through media. So I looked to media as a “script,” if you will, on how to navigate this new space. The problem is that the “informant” I was drawn to was Hip Hop. The problem with some Hip Hop music back then and still today is that the sexual script of Black women in particular is harmful. She’s hypersexual and valued primarily for the sexual pleasures and favors she can provide. The emotional component of sex and sexuality is lacking, and there is NO talk of consequences about sex. So I found myself acting out this script during my high school and undergraduate years for better and for worse, facing emotional consequences, subsequent elimination of opportunities, and ultimately destruction of my character.
In reflecting on my story and many others, I can see clearly that we all have fallen victim to socialization agents to some degree. To some degree, our truth is a truth passed down to us. To some degree, we all need a crash course on sex positivity so as to be enlightened and empowered to deconstruct and reconstruct the scripts we use to guide our choices. We need scripts that will lead us to overall wellness and psychological well-being. I realized a long time ago that socialization of “scripts” can create aversive impacts on our overall wellness if we are not careful. To that end there is a necessity for critical discourse to discern what is helpful and what is harmful. Join me and my guest, Dr. Akilah Reynolds for Unscripted with Dr. Hill, on Friday, June 9th at 9:00am on 90.1 FM KPFT Houston as we explore sex positivity, socialization, and its relation to overall psychological wellness.