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This week, Erica and Kenrya talk to Mom of My Mom creator Jacquelyn R. about moving back home to care for her mother, building a community for caregivers, learning how to meet her own needs and how she finds joy every day.
Guest, Jacquelyn R.: Website | TikTok | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube
Book, "You Make Me Feel" by Tucora Monique | Amazon
Author, Tucora Monique | Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook
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Kenrya: Come here. Get off.
Kenrya: Hey y'all. Today, we are talking to Jacquelyn R., pronouns she and her. Jacquelyn became the sole caregiver for her mother, Lynn, and grandmother, Joyce, in 2016 after a faulty furnace leaked carbon monoxide into her family home, causing both to develop Alzheimer's disease. Wow. She began documenting her journey on YouTube and TikTok under the handle Mom of My Mom. She's since been praised by Teepa Snow for her devotion to implementing fun and creating joy around the task of caregiving. Her TikTok has gone viral many times amassing over 580,000 followers and receiving over 80 million views. With this platform, she hopes to bring to light the challenges that caregivers face. And as a TV writer, she hopes to bring these relatable stories to screens around the world. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Jacquelyn R.: Thank you for having me.
Erica: So Jacquelyn, I am so happy and proud to be one in the 580,000, and I probably added two of that 80 million views.
Erica: Yeah. Because I just adore what you're doing. First, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Jacquelyn R.: Man. Okay. Prior to starting, I just like to start out by saying that I stutter. And so, just so that people who hear this know that their phone is okay or someone is okay. But me, when I was a child, what did I want to do when I grew up? I wanted to be recognized, but I think that that came from this needing to feel known and wanting me to feel important.
Jacquelyn R.: And I think because I was an only child, I just veered towards TV, partly because as a child who stuttered, no one wants to hear you. And so, wanting to be heard was what made me want to work in TV. I wanted to perform, which I don't want to perform at all anymore, but that, I honestly think, stemmed from feeling like no one heard me, or it took me too long to talk, or I think that was just me projecting, but I wanted to be Raven-Symoné.
Kenrya: Raven-Symoné was that girl when we was little.
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah. I was like (singing). She sang also. She had a rap tape and I had the tape.
Erica: Oh, I remember. I remember.
Jacquelyn R.: And I play the rap tape all the time.
Kenrya: Right? I don't think I knew she had a rap tape. I knew she sang.
Erica: Oh, she did.
Kenrya: Because by the time she hit Cheetah Girls, I was aged out.
Erica: “That's what little girls are made of.”
Kenrya: I don't know nothing about that. Yeah.
Erica: I totally remember that. Totally remember that.
Jacquelyn R.: I was like, people listen to her and she's everyone's sweetheart. And so, I was just, "That's what I want to be."
Erica: You unlocked a memory back there with that-
Kenrya: Raven-Symoné rap tape?
Erica: ... Raven-Symoné rap tape. Maybe not a lot...
Kenrya: You probably got a bunch of people googling right now.
Erica: Yeah. Okay. So how did you get from little Jacquelyn, star of stage and screen as a young'un, to where you are now?
Jacquelyn R.: So my mom fostered it a lot. She knew... She was like, "All right. You want to be in TV?" That's a lot. So she would actually take me out of school sometimes, and then we would go see live tapings.
Kenrya: Oh wow!
Jacquelyn R.: And so, we would see that, and we saw “Moesha,” we saw “The Parkers,” and so on. And so, what I...
Kenrya: That's that little Black TV renaissance.
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah. Yeah.
Jacquelyn R.: And she was like, "I'm taking off work."
Jacquelyn R.: "You don't have to go to school today."
Kenrya: I love that.
Jacquelyn R.: And so, that kind of showed me that there's jobs everywhere. You don't have to star. You can write, you can be behind the camera. And so, that's when my mind started to change a bit, and then I started writing. And so, that's sort of how it all happened. For college, I moved across the country, and that's where I was like, "I'm staying here." I loved it on the East Coast. I was like, "The East Coast is me." It was just everything.
Jacquelyn R.: And I ended up getting a call in 2016 while I was on the subway saying that, "You need to fly home. There is something wrong." And I flew home and the mortgage hadn't been paid for months and there was rotting food, and I just came home to a complete mess, and I was just kind of like, "Okay. I can't, in good conscience, not stay home."
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jacquelyn R.: And so, that's pretty much how it happened. But living on the East, it just gave me that time to figure out who I am and not have my mom just like, "What are you doing? What's happening?" all the time.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jacquelyn R.: And so, I really do appreciate that time because it let me really grow into who I am. And I think I'm able to make the content because I come from this sense of knowing who I am, but not needing it to be about me, which is its own journey would take care of someone also.
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative). We actually touched on that in the last episode, because both Kenrya and I are not from the D.C. area, which is where we live now. And it was so important to get away from your family because I think Kenrya said in so many words, she was trying... She knew that she had to leave her hometown in order to become-
Erica: ... the person she wanted to. And I guess I did too. I just knew that I needed to... My family was getting on my nerves, in less beautiful words. I know I had to get away from them in order to figure out who I was and what I wanted to be. Yeah. We totally get that.
Erica: So we asked you on the show because the story that we read last week, "You Make Me Feel," centers on someone who had to return home to take care of their family. So can you tell us a little bit more about getting there, being back home adjusting, and recognizing your new role, and what does that look like now?
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah. I don't even think I recognized my new role. I think I fought it, actually. I probably fought it for about a year and a half, but I came home. The house was messy, and that's not my mom. She make up her bed every day, make sure the house is tidy type. And to come home to see it, it was just really daunting.
Jacquelyn R.: And then to get home to my grandmother and for her to not recognize me, but then to be somewhat violent also like, "Get out of my house." I don't know. The knowledge that I'd lost my grandmother without knowing that I lost her sort of hit. And I think the mourning of that was very instant, but it also couldn't continue because I had to then start making sure that they were fed that they had people to come in.
Jacquelyn R.: If I couldn't hire anyone, then I was the one taking care of baths and medicines and doctor's appointments. And there were weekly doctor's appointments. And so, it just literally became my new job. And it gives you no time to mourn. There is no time to adjust.
Jacquelyn R.: When someone's going to have a child for nine months, you're sort of like, "Okay. I'm about to have this baby," and you sort of like set it up mentally, and there was no time for that. And so, I don't know what happened in all honesty. It was a blur. It's still somewhat a blur, because I felt like I was swimming, just trying to stay afloat.
Kenrya: Yeah. Wow. So in the book that Erica just mentioned, one of the characters, he actually was saying he had to go home because there were some family stuff going on. And one of the things that he really struggled with was reconciling the parent that he knew as a child with the parent that he was interacting with today.
Jacquelyn R.: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kenrya: Does that ring true with your experience at all as an adult returning home?
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah, absolutely. Naturally, the relationships with your parents change, and it's actually more of like a joyous, "We can drink now. We can talk about life now." And because my mom wasn't that far, it became a battle of like, "How much do I take care of my mom? How much do I let her still do her own thing?"
Kenrya: I'm sorry. It's okay.
Jacquelyn R.: Now even, the lines are a bit more clear. I have taken on the role of mom, but I still struggle with wanting my mom also.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jacquelyn R.: So I don't think that it's clear cut. I think that it changes all the time and that you're still longing, and you still want someone to call and be like, "There's this boy I'm talking to, but I don't know if I should," or da, da, da, da, da, but you don't have that anymore. And so, I'm still trying to actually figure it out and come to terms. But for the most part, I am the mom to my mom.
Kenrya: I think that's interesting because I think when people think of adults who are caregiving with their parents, so often the focus is on the work of it all. But I don't think that we know necessarily think about the fact that there is that mourning in that loss of that person and the dynamic in that relationship that you had.
Kenrya: My grandmother had dementia for the last few years of her life, and you're taking me back to the first time I went to visit her and she thought I was somebody else. And I was like, "No, it's me. This is my kid," and she cussed me out and told me that I was wrong. My grandmother was a cuss-you-out person anyway.
Jacquelyn R.: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kenrya: But eventually, either she remembered who I was or she just told me she did. But just remembering that day, I had flown home to see her and she... Because I had been calling and it was hard on the phone because she was also hard of hearing. And so, you had dementia on top of difficulty hearing, and her normal cantankerous nature and it never worked. And I'm just remembering that that was the moment I was like, "Oh, this relationship has changed," and you're living in that every day. And I know that that's tough.
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah. It gets harder other times, and it's harder some days more so than others. I do think that Mom of My Mom is a way for me to cope also. Me figuring out hacks or tips and tricks that help me to then help other people is a way to also detract from the sadness of like, "Wow, my mom's at this stage now." It's very abstract because moments come when I am really sad. There's at least one week per month where I'm just kind of like, "Is this really happening?"
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jacquelyn R.: Because I have also been raised up in the "Work hard and hide your feelings in the amount of hours you..."
Jacquelyn R.: It's all connected, which is also why I think Mom of My Mom is doing well because I do tend to hide my sorrow in my art. But it's a way to cope. There's no right or wrong way to cope, especially when something like this. And so, I just think whatever gets you through the day.
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. So why do you find it important to share your experiences via social media?
Jacquelyn R.: Social media has been a large part of my life for forever, so I think partly because I was a person who stuttered, and clearly I still stutter, but my stutter was very severe. When MySpace came out, I was like, "Is this a way I can interact with people, and I don't have to always talk all the time?" And I really, really hooked on to social media as a way to get out who I felt that I always was.
Jacquelyn R.: And so, it's always had a very special place for me. However, while caregiving around year two, I was at my wit's end. I was having migraines all the time, my hair was falling out, my cycle was fluctuating from stress. And one day, I got in my car and I drove to a mental health hospital, and I just sat in the car and I cried.
Jacquelyn R.: And I was like, "If I check myself in, who's here?" And I just sat in the car and I just cried and I cried and I cried and I cried and then I stopped, and I was like, "Take your ass back home." And so, I went back home. And not too soon... Excuse me.
Jacquelyn R.: Soon after that, two of my friends gifted six months of therapy to me. And once I did that, and having a therapist really share with me that, "You deserve to have help. You shouldn't be doing this by yourself." She re-instilled that, "You're worth living. You should have your own life." And just knowing that I got to that point that low, low, low of just thinking that my entire life is now dedicated to caring for someone who's sick and not the enjoyment of just living.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jacquelyn R.: I knew that there had to be other people who had been to that depth, and I just wanted to create some sort of space where I could be like, "Hey, this isn't who you are. This is a part of your journey. It's not the totality of who you are. And if you need someone to talk to, here I am." That's kind of how it started.
Kenrya: Wow. So it really came down to creating a community.
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah.
Kenrya: Yeah. Wow. I'm wondering what... You were saying earlier, and we read it in your bio, that you've been working to bring joy into this space. What does that look like for you?
Jacquelyn R.: Honestly, it looks like whatever I'm interested in. My mom wants to do whatever I want to do, which makes it easy. But then on top of that, joy, for me, looks like me not constantly thinking, "Is everything okay? What do I need to fix? Do I need to do this?" which is why I try to find hacks so that I'm not thinking about, "Is the water in the bathroom running all night?" So I'm not like waking up at 2:00 AM just checking it.
Kenrya: To check it? Yeah.
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah. And so, joy for me is also like, "I hope she's not using the paper towels all night," which is putting them in a place where I don't have to then worry. The more that I can free up mental space, the more that I can even create joy. And so, joy for me is dancing with my mom. Joy for me is going out on a date.
Jacquelyn R.: Joy for me is hiring someone and then being like, "You take that over right now and I'm about to go do whatever." There's so many ways to create joy within it, and I create joy for my mom, but in the same vein, I'm creating joy for myself because I deserve it.
Kenrya: That's right.
Erica: Yes. Yes. What is your favorite thing about this chapter of your life?
Jacquelyn R.: Oh man. When something... This experience, I feel, has taken me to the darkest place that I could ever imagine. But climbing out of that and then being on top of it, it really does make you feel like, "Who going to check me, boo?" Like, "Who going to do..."
Erica: Yeah. “I did this shit.”
Kenrya: Right. Yeah.
Jacquelyn R.: I did. And so, I love the confidence that has come from it. I love knowing that whatever task someone puts in front of me, I've done things 10 times harder. And so, it's the personal development that I enjoy. It's changed me as a person overall. I'm not the same person. It's made me more compassionate, more empathetic. It's made me slow down because I was just always like, "Da, da, da, da, da. I lived in New York City. We go here."
Erica: You know what, I was going to say, "You're so New York."
Jacquelyn R.: I'm in New York. I was like, "I'm in New York. I'm staying in New York forever." But it's really forced me to just kind of like slow down and be more intentional. And when you take more time, it's easier to be more intentional and to just kind of like make sure that exactly what you're saying is exactly what you mean.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jacquelyn R.: Though I get caught up with messaging and trying to answer everybody and it just becomes a bit much. Had this happened prior to the situation, then I wouldn't know what to do. Yeah.
Kenrya: Wow. So you mentioned earlier that one of the things that brings you joy is going on dates.
Jacquelyn R.: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kenrya: I love if we could talk about, what does maintaining or creating those type of relationships look like while being a caregiver?
Jacquelyn R.: It's been a lot of different things. I've been learning as I go actually. And I've come to the conclusion that I have to choose to take the time to go out on dates. However, I only feel good about making that time for someone if I've vetted them in a reasonable enough way to be like, "All right. I don't mind making time to spend time with you."
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jacquelyn R.: Looking cute and so on. But a part of me also likes the getting cute part because that's not in my job title. And so, I enjoy that, but then I'm also learning to not tell guys about Mom of My Mom at all. I don't share socials at all because I think it becomes an unfair advantage of you learning so much about me.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jacquelyn R.: And the truth is most men really don't get what it means to take care of someone who has dementia until they see it for themselves, so I don't really spend tons of time trying to explain it either. I think it'll come when it comes. If the person is in my life at an amount of time where I share it, then fantastic. However, for the most part, they find out when they find out.
Jacquelyn R.: And if I want to make time, then I will make time. And if I end... Yeah. Yeah.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I totally get you on the "It's an unfair advantage when you talk about sex every week consistently and anyone can google it." I find myself one day, it seems like, "Oh, so you like consent? You like being tied up?" And you're like, "Yeah."
Jacquelyn R.: No, this wasn't for you. This wasn't for you.
Kenrya: My goodness.
Erica: This was not for you. Mind your MF-ing business. What do you wish more people knew about caring for a parent?
Jacquelyn R.: OMG. Yeah.
Erica: You got a list?
Jacquelyn R.: It's a mixture of the way that you were cared for as a child, so if there's trauma, if there's any kind of stuff. I honestly think that the way that we care for our parents mimics the way that our parents care for us. If our parents didn't do a great job, then... And we choose to then take on the task of caring for our parents, then we're going to need therapy. We're going to need to let go of some trauma. We're going to need to work through whatever it is that we went through as a child with our parent.
Jacquelyn R.: No fault of their own, sometimes fault of their own, but I think having the understanding that our parents are human too. They went through their own stuff, and being able to forgive that and then move forward is one of the biggest things that I think people should know prior to taking on this task, but that takes self-awareness... A lot of it too. And so, you can't ask that of everybody, but that's what I would say is the biggest thing. It's also very time-consuming. Very. And it's not for everybody, and I don't judge people who choose not to.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Kenrya: I mean, that's interesting. It makes me kind of think of the... I was just talking to somebody about this, about the cultural piece of that and how different cultures in this country tend to take care of our elders in different ways.
Jacquelyn R.: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kenrya: And I think there's absolutely an expectation in Black families that this is what you do.
Jacquelyn R.: Like, the expectation of it too.
Kenrya: Yeah. Like, "Oh, okay. We don't put our people in homes. We take care of our folks," without always a consideration of the fact that... I don't know. I guess there's levels in terms of the amount of care people need and the... Yeah.
Erica: Your capacity and...
Jacquelyn R.: No, absolutely. I don't think that this is a job that should be dumped on anyone. I think that we, as a society, need to plan better for our senior care. We to plan, save up. We need to talk about end-of-life care sooner so that things like this just don't get sprung.
Jacquelyn R.: And on top of that, I think it should be an understanding that it's no one's obligation to care for you. Just because you chose to have a child, does not mean that that child is then obligated to now take care of you. I think it's a beautiful return and it's a lovely way to appreciate that parent. But please believe that if my mom didn't care for me the way that she did, I wouldn't feel the desire to return it.
Kenrya: That's real.
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah.
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Kenrya: Hindsight, being 2020, is there anything that you would do differently in this journey?
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah. Yeah. I would've done therapy much sooner. I would've asked for help. Not just ask for help, because I can ask for help. What I talk about with some people in the community is that sometimes you have to guilt people into... Because people don't get the amount of work that goes into caring for someone who has it until they actually do it.
Jacquelyn R.: And so, me talking about my mom sneaking out at night or da, da, da, da, da, it doesn't affect you as much as you laying in bed at 2:00 AM and hearing the front door swing open.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jacquelyn R.: And I think that people need to live it in order to feel the amount of fire under their feet to then help. And I wish I would've put that fire under my family's feet much quicker because it takes a village.
Erica: Definitely. How can we better support people that are doing this work?
Jacquelyn R.: Good question. Share Mom of My Mom. I super, just, appreciate that more so though because I know that people are looking for a community that understands them. And most of the time, caregivers suffer from loneliness and isolation. However, on top of that, call, send a house cleaner. Just say, "Hey, there's someone I hired. They're going to come at 10:00 AM. They're going to da, da, da, da, da." Great. Send food.
Jacquelyn R.: Send a check, pick up the phone. There's so many ways where you don't actually have to be there that are so helpful. Oh my God. If someone just was like, "I hired someone to come clean your house for an hour," that would've been the bee's knees, but different things like that have been so helpful to me, and I know would be very helpful to other caregivers also.
Kenrya: All right. What's your superpower?
Jacquelyn R.: Resilience.
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah. I keep going. I'm just like... Part of me feels like there's no way that I was meant to experience this level of pain to just be like, "All right. That's it." There has to be something else. There has to be something to come out of it. There has to be something to share, to help, to make sure that someone else who is like, "I can't get out of this." Then I'd be like, "You can, you can. I promise, I promise."
Jacquelyn R.: And so, I do think that I have a high level of resilience because there's something greater than what's in front of us. And if there's not actually something greater, then I'm going to make it something greater. There's going to be something greater.
Erica: Exactly. Yes. Yes.
Kenrya: Word. Are you reading anything right now? Do you have time?
Jacquelyn R.: Yes. I read a lot of funny stuff. My last favorite book was Trevor Noah's autobiography titled “Born a Crime,” and it's such a fantastic way to tell a story how a mixed child born in apartheid, how it structured how he just sort of like moved in the world. And since he's a comic, he just makes it silly. And Jenifer Lewis, hers was also like...
Kenrya: Oh yeah.
Jacquelyn R.: And she narrated it also. And so, if you ever just need the audiobook to hear Jenifer Lewis narrate her own story, it's so good.
Kenrya: I did the audio for it too. Did you see it?
Erica: That's hard.
Erica: Yeah. Yeah. I had to, because I'm like, "I need to hear her."
Jacquelyn R.: You have to hear her.
Kenrya: It is the best.
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah. It was good.
Kenrya: Probably my favorite audiobook experience was her book actually. It's so good.
Jacquelyn R.: For sure. One of the greatest audiobooks.
Erica: So one of my favorites, but you know what was a surprise? Bobby Brown's autobiography.
Jacquelyn R.: Ooh.
Kenrya: Oh yeah?
Erica: He read it himself also. And it was just... Yeah. It was nice hearing Bobby Brown talk about this shit.
Jacquelyn R.: I could use one now.
Kenrya: Oh, yeah.
Erica: Yeah. Please. It was good.
Kenrya: I don't think I knew he had one. That's awesome.
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah.
Erica: Yeah. It was good. It was good.
Jacquelyn R.: He has a crazy life.
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Erica: Girl, yeah.
Kenrya: Didn't think so much. Yeah.
Erica: So what's turning you on today?
Jacquelyn R.: Ooh. I get to see bae tonight.
Jacquelyn R.: So I'm dating someone more seriously right now, which is really nice, different, and cool. And I'm discovering that dating someone who isn't trying to live in my house is great because I get a vacation.
Jacquelyn R.: Go away! And every time, I'm just like, "I'm about to get in my car and come to you." That's my turn on. I'm like, "That's what gets me all hot and squishy."
Kenrya: “I'm on my way.”
Jacquelyn R.: I'm like, "I'm on my way."
Erica: You don't have to make up the bed there. You just get to...
Jacquelyn R.: No.
Erica: It's like a little hotel stay. I love it.
Jacquelyn R.: Exactly. I just walk on in.
Kenrya: I'm in for it.
Jacquelyn R.: ... to just, "Hey, let's just watch TV. I don't care what we do. Let's just do something."
Erica: Yeah. That's great. Okay. So we're going to do a quick word association. I am going to tell you a word and you tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. Joy.
Jacquelyn R.: Ooh. Crab legs.
Erica: When you crack it-
Kenrya: I'm so hungry.
Erica: ... and it comes out with all the...
Jacquelyn R.: [crosstalk 00:41:37] the whole thing.
Kenrya: When you ain't fuck it up. Yes.
Jacquelyn R.: Then it's good.
Erica: Yes. Okay. Family.
Jacquelyn R.: Mom.
Jacquelyn R.: Ooh. Just, sex.
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah.
Erica: I love it.
Jacquelyn R.: But not... Yeah. Just...
Erica: Wild sex.
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah! Just in it. Not thinking about nothing else.
Erica: Yes. I love it.
Erica: Okay. Surprise.
Jacquelyn R.: Direct deposit.
Jacquelyn R.: Yes.
Erica: That is good!
Kenrya: I like all your answers. I identify with them all.
Erica: Yes. And last, beauty.
Jacquelyn R.: Heart.
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah.
Erica: Yeah. That word association alone has me on the seat of my pants, on the edge of my seat, excited about whatever it is you were going to be writing and producing, because I'm like, "Oh, this is going to be good. It's going well."
Jacquelyn R.: It's going to be for me.
Erica: Direct deposits and crab legs.
Jacquelyn R.: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Crab legs.
Erica: And wild sex.
Jacquelyn R.: Money, wild sex. That is my aesthetic, so yes.
Kenrya: Yes. And speaking of which, what's next for you? What are you working on? What can folks watch, follow? All of that.
Jacquelyn R.: Yeah. So Mom of My Mom is my main thing right now. However, I just recently got signed to a manager for TV writing, which is something I've been working on since I've moved here trying to reestablish. And so, I'm really excited about that. And so, I'm just trying to sell these scripts. That's pretty much what we're doing right now, trying to sell these scripts.
Jacquelyn R.: And I have this one story that circles around a community of people who care for their loved ones. And so, that has no crab legs yet, but I'm definitely going to put it in there. However, it has a lot of sex and heart, and I'm excited for that.
Kenrya: That's what's up.
Kenrya: So where can folks find you so that they can keep up with everything that's going on and join the community?
Jacquelyn R.: Appreciate it. Mom of My Mom, so you can find us @MomOfMyMom on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and MomOfMyMom.com.
Erica: TikTok. Yeah.
Jacquelyn R.: TikTok.
Kenrya: I want to say TikTok.
Jacquelyn R.: Yes. Especially TikTok, we are all over that. And so, Mom of My Mom. Mom of My Mom.
Kenrya: Word. Yay. Y'all go follow. And Jacquelyn, thank you for joining us today.
Jacquelyn R.: Thank you for having me.
Kenrya: Yeah. It was a lot of fun.
Jacquelyn R.: This was lovely.
Kenrya: Yeah, it was. Yay!
Jacquelyn R.: Thank you for this moment.
Erica: Thank you for making it happen. Yeah.
Kenrya: Thank you for saying yes. All right.
Jacquelyn R.: Of course, of course, of course.
Kenrya: Well, that's good. That's it for this week's episode. Thanks to everyone for joining us and we'll see y'all next week. Bye.
Kenrya: This episode was produced by us, Kenrya and Erica, and edited by B'Lystic. The theme music is from Brazy. Hit subscribe right now in your favorite podcast app and at YouTube.com/TheTurnOnPodcast, so you'll never miss an episode.
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This week, Erica and Kenrya talk to author adrienne maree brown about "Pleasure Activism," the distinct joy of writing fiction, growing a pleasureful life, learning in public, what the Black kink community can teach us about negotiating intimacy, the joys of integrating your sexual self with your other selves, navigating disability and sex and why we're so damn grateful that Black people write books.
Guest, adrienne maree brown | Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook
Kenrya: Come here. Get off.
Kenrya: Hey good people. Today, I don't even know how to explain how excited we are.
Erica: We never do. This is a very special episode of The Turn On-
Erica: This very special episode of The Turn On.
Kenrya: Yeah, it's true because, y'all, today we're talking to adrienne maree brown. When we first had the idea to do this show, there was a very short list of folks who we knew we wanted to talk to and adrienne was on that list. You don't even write erotica, we were like "meh, details."
adrienne maree brown: Oh, I do.
Kenrya: Oh, what? Wait.
adrienne maree brown: We'll talk about it.
Kenrya: Oh, shit, okay. Yup. Let's get into the intro so then we can get into the stuff. Okay. So adrienne's pronouns are she and they. adrienne is the author of “Grievers.”
[Kenrya holds up copy of “Grievers.”]
adrienne maree brown: Oh my gosh, I'm gonna cry.
Kenrya: The first in her novella series with the Black Dawn imprint. “Holding Change: The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation”; “We Will Not Cancel Us: And Other Dreams of Transformative Justice”; “Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good”; “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds”; and the co-editor of “Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction from Social Justice Movements.” She's also the co-host of the How to Survive the End of the World and Octavia's Parables podcasts, and adrienne is rooted in Durham.
adrienne maree brown: That's true.
Kenrya: Yeah. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
adrienne maree brown: Thanks for having this show and thanks for having me on it.
Erica: So adrienne, what did you want to be when you were growing up?
adrienne maree brown: I love that question. Gosh, well, there's always been a dual path for me, so I always wanted to be a writer. I always knew I was a writer. As a kid I was writing stories, but I was also a performer. I wanted to be a singing, dancing, theatrical star. I actually auditioned. I mean, I was in every dance class, every play, everything like that my whole childhood. I went to the North Atlanta High School of the performing arts, where was told I was on path to become the next Jasmine Guy which was, I was like, "I'm for it, I'm here for it. I love ‘A Different World’ and I'm here for it." Yeah, it was always a performer and a writer, always a creative endeavor.
Kenrya: Well, so usually my next question is how did you get from there to here, but it's a straight line kind of, sort of?
adrienne maree brown: No. I mean, I spent 25 years in social justice movement work thinking definitely like I'm never going to be a performer, or a singer, or anything like that. Or if I do, I'll only do it like, I'll sing in movement spaces or I'll sing to gather people back from small groups, something like that. Which I did, I used to be like, "It's time!" Then writing on the side. I was like, I blog, I do stuff over here, but I really... for a while I was like, "I don't know if I'm going to get this fiction thing happening or books happening." That was okay because I am a good facilitator. I'm a great facilitator, and I love doing it. It uses my brain in ways that are good for my brain. I synthesize, I can hear between the lines. But yeah, there was a period where I was like, "Okay, this is my life of service," and yet, and the other part just kept knocking at the door like, there's songs, and there's books, and there's stories, and there's other stuff.
adrienne maree brown: My close friends and family will tell you that at least once a year I call them like, "I'm a writer," and they're like, "Yes. Everyone knows that. Everyone knows that. Everyone already knows that so what are you going to do about it?" Then after having published several nonfiction works I was like, "I'm a fiction writer," and they're like, "Yeah, what are you going to do about it?" I have continuously kept trusting the process, trusting. I write, I just keep writing. I joke around I stay writing. If I have, that might be what goes on my tombstone is just, "She stayed writing."
Erica: “She stayed writing.”
adrienne maree brown: "She stayed writing. She's probably still writing." I'll be an ancestor be like, “Thoughts on the afterlife.” But yeah, it doesn't feel like a straight line to me, but it feels like I'm landing in something that I always knew I was supposed to be in.
Kenrya: What's your favorite thing about what you do?
adrienne maree brown: I get a lot of pleasure from what I do on a daily basis. I love my work and the more I talk to other people who write, the more I recognize how special that is. Because I know a lot of writers who are like, "I have to write, but I hate writing. I don't enjoy the process. I'm pushing it out. I'm struggling with it." For me, I never feel like that. I'm always just like, "I get to write. I can't believe I get to write all day today." When I get to clear out space and just write there's times when... I'm the kind of writer who I'll wake up in the morning, usually the content is there, something's there. It's like, "You have to write about this. You have to write about this." Writing fiction is really a pleasurable, daunting experience because it's not about reacting to the world in that day in the same way. It's really stepping back and world-building. I feel like a student there, so I like the balance in my life of getting to be someone who knows about certain things and is still learning about others.
adrienne maree brown: Then I really like that I get to determine how my time is spent. I think I have found myself saying a lot that I feel like one of the freest people to ever live. I'm like, "Why does it feel that way?" I have done a bunch of study of my own lineage and my ancestral lines, and what humans have been up to. So much of human history is shaped around the labor of survival, the labor of obligation, or the labor of subjugation. Being in conditions where you didn't get to determine how you spent your own time. Then a lot of it was like, how do we survive how other people feel about us, hate us, want to oppress us, want to tear us down? And I've got all the different things. I'm Black, I'm queer, I'm a woman, I'm disabled. All the things that traditionally have been like, "Oh, you are not going to get to do what you want to do." The fact that I wake up most days and I'm like, "I want to do everything that's on my schedule. I only say yes to things I want to do."
adrienne maree brown: Like his conversation I'm like, it's like I open up my calendar for the day I'm like, "That's going to be wonderful." I feel really strongly I'm like, that's my favorite part about my life is... I work a lot, but I don't feel like I hustle. I don't feel like I'm in a tense hustling place I did for a long time. But one of the nice things about being in social justice work for a long time is I learned that I can really live a satisfying life on not a lot of income. I have a great life and I have enough and I'm not constantly striving for, “I need a Benz.” I'm like, that's not driving me. I want to be able to write. I like being in love. I don't need a massive house, I just want enough space. That gives me a lot of freedom in my days because I'm like, "Okay, I have enough. Okay. Let's do what I want to do."
Kenrya: That's great. What's the most challenging thing about all of this?
adrienne maree brown: Yeah. Well, I mean, because I don't have some other boss there's no one else telling me what to do. The most challenging part is sometimes figuring out, how do you write a book? Or, how do I make a deadline? I've had to create systems of deadline for myself, so that's been one. It's just like, when do I know something's complete? I have to often be the one who determines that something is complete. There's no one else to be like, "Yeah, I approve that." I'm like, "Do I think it's done?" I think the other part is what society is up to right now is it's daunting to be a visible person in any way. Because on one hand people are like, "Oh, I love you. I want to put you up in some visible space," but we're also really structured around destruction of those that we can see and we'll destroy for any reason. So whatever it is, its like, "Oh, this is your weak point," or, "This is your mistake," or, "This is your thing." There's a lot of, as soon as you're like, "Oh, I'm doing what I love." There's someone who's like, "I hate you." What? You don't know me.
adrienne maree brown: Hate is such a strong emotion to focus on and generate, and it's not how I'm structured. I'm like if I don't like an artist, or a writer, or a movement, thinker, or whatever, I just don't put my mind on them. That's my [crosstalk 00:10:56]-
Kenrya: That's not for you.
adrienne maree brown: It's not for me. There's clearly in service of something else and someone else because they have followers and that's okay, but I bring my attention away. That part is always challenging where I'm like my ego. I'm an appease, I'm a likable person or at least I want to be. For a long time it was important to my work. As a facilitator, it's important to come in and not be ruffling the feathers in the room because it's like, "It's not about me. I need to be a neutral, kind energy that can allow movement to happen here." But now as a writer I get to step out more and more as, here's what I think about things, here's how I feel. Pleasure activism, that was a major leap from what I had been doing and where I had been. Suddenly I was like, "Also, let's talk about squirting. Also let's talk about consent. Also let's talk about spanking. Let's talk about these very important topics."
adrienne maree brown: There were a lot of people who were like, "I don't respect that. I don't understand. How am I supposed to honor that or take you seriously as a leader?" Then I've done other books that were challenging. People are like, "What? That's not what we wanted from you." I'm learning though to also take that challenge as growth, as a way of growing, as an invitation to grow. I can't remember who said it right now, maybe Baldwin, but it's like, if you're not upsetting anyone then you're not actually doing your job. If no one is critiquing the work, then you're not actually taking any risks. In that way I start to receive certain challenges as like, "Okay, I'm taking risks." Brené Brown has this book, “Daring Greatly” which I recommend to people when it's like, "I'm trying to take a risk." You know, that book, right?
adrienne maree brown: In it she quotes, I think it's Teddy Roosevelt in the beginning. She's like, "If you're not in the arena..." basically it's, don't listen to the people who are not in their arena. If you're brave with your life and you choose to live in the arena, then you're going to get your ass kicked. I love that. I love that, that I'm like, "Yes." If I have haters, or if I have challenging critiques, or if I have stuff like that, it means I'm in there in the space trying to learn and trying to figure it out. Learning in public is really challenging, but I feel committed to continually doing that. Trying to think if there's other challenges. There's a certain loneliness to a writer's life sometimes. It's like a self-imposed thing but I'm like, "I'm clearing out space, I'm clearing out space, I'm clearing out space." I'm like, "I'm all by myself in this space." Sometimes there's that, having a... my fiancée now has helped a lot with that, but there were years there where I wasn't with anyone and I had started to make room for writing.
adrienne maree brown: I was just like, "Am I just going to be alone for the next 15 years writing books?" Because my characters are good company. I love being in a book and being in a writing process. I have great friends who check on me and who show up with me. But especially when you're trying to write something new or something that feels new, there's a way that you're inching out onto a certain limb by yourself and it can feel lonely there. I think now I go out there and then I come back to the whatever [inaudible 00:14:51]. I'm just like, "Okay, I need nourishing. I need loving up. I need my people to circle around me." When I release a book now I turn way deep inward. It's like, "Okay book, go out there. I'm going to go turn deeply inward, check in with my people. Let them just love up on me for completion." Because out there on the limb, people start throwing things, yelling things. It's like, hold on. I don't know how people are going to feel about this, but I'm going to go get nourished first before I look at the reviews.
Kenrya: Yeah. It's a blessing that you have that space where you can be nourished in those times. Yeah.
adrienne maree brown: Inner circle is everything.
Erica: We talk about sex. We always ask folks, what was the prevailing attitude about sex in your home growing up?
adrienne maree brown: I feel like it was generally positive but private. I don't remember seeing my parents interact with each other much physically in a way that was like, "They're getting it in. That's their vibe." I know that I was the oldest of three so I was like, "Y'all are still making more babies somewhere." I know that they loved each other. They were very cute, adoring with each other. I remember reaching a certain age where my mom was like, yeah, just always make sure that part of the relationship is good. She's like, "If something's wrong with the sex part of the relationship, it's going to be hard for the rest of it to work." I thought that that was really good... it has been very good advice in my life. There have been periods where I was like, "I think everything's great, but I'm not satisfied." She's like, "Get out of there."
Kenrya: Because it only gets worse.
adrienne maree brown: It's only going to get worse, A. B, she's like, "There's something in that root system of desiring each other and being able..." she's like, "You just can work through a lot in that space." I do find that to be the case in my loving relationships. The best relationships I've had have been ones where I was like, "We mad, let's go work it out." Makeup sex is a really magical thing in a healthy relationship. Yeah, but that was it when I was growing up. My parents are both Southerners. I don't think my dad's ever read “Pleasure Activism.” This is something you don't really talk about. Yeah. That was the energy.
Kenrya: I mean, you just talked about how that influences your relationships. Now, I'm wondering how coming from that space, being rooted there, influences your work now.
adrienne maree brown: Yeah. Well, I think it's so interesting because there's still this part of me that is always like, "I can't believe we're talking about this." When I was doing the book tour for “Pleasure Activism,” it was actually hilarious because I would do this dealer's choice thing with the audiences because it was like, be in a room with a couple of hundred people and I was like, "Which pieces do you want me to read?" There was always the nipple piece, the squirting piece. It was always the reasons that I was like-
Erica: This is what you like in front of people.
adrienne maree brown: I was in front of people and comrades. In front of people who I'm like, "I've been your facilitator for years. I've maybe been your boss or whatever." Now I'm like, “So, squirting.” There's still in me that trained in, I don't know if it's prudishness or a polite company. There's something in there that's like, "Oh, adrienne," even as I'm the one who's crossing those boundaries. I think there's a real sense of love should be a part of all of it. Growing up, what felt important in the household I grew up in was love matters so much and being loved and loving matters so much. I think that shows up in every aspect of my work now. It's like, everyone deserves to be loved. Everyone deserves that. You don't have to perform it for other people. You don't have to show that, but you need to know that it's good. You need to know that you're loved and that you have your people. That shapes a lot of my work now.
adrienne maree brown: There's a lot actually that I don't share with the public now, but it's because it's good. I'm like, "This is functional. This is great. This is working. I feel deeply joyful. I feel deeply satisfied." I'm like, "That doesn't have to be performative. It doesn't have to be for the Gram." In some ways I feel like I'm trying to notice that. I'm like, for some people, the most healing thing you can do is reveal more and for some people the most healing thing you can do is really tune in and make sure you're in an authentic place. You have to know which medicine is the right one for you.
Erica: We asked you to come on the show because “Pleasure Activism” aligns so closely with what we do here. I opened up by saying it is one of our guiding lights. Tell us a little bit about that book and what did you want? What pushed you to write it?
adrienne maree brown: That was one of the books that it was like, "I'm going to be written." I kept waking up with clear stuff that wanted to be said. It just kept showing up in my life. Since I was in my early 20s, I was really aware of how important sex, and orgasm, and pleasure were to my reclamation of myself as a fat, Black woman. Then doing drugs was important to me. I'm like, I really feel like a large reason why I'm in touch with myself in the ways that I am is due to mushrooms, and weed, and ecstasy. I felt like I was around a lot of people who had similar experiences, really positive experiences, of sex and drugs helping them to become themselves, and yet feeling like we had to hide that part like we were living in some mythological society where those things were naughty or bad. I'm like, "No, we're all adults." What we're not talking about is actually allowing so much harm to happen because we don't talk about our desires. We don't talk about our drug use. We don't talk about our sex lives.
adrienne maree brown: It means some people are just never having great sex. Some people are having really unhealthy sexual relationships. I think a lot of the sexual harm, sexual abuse, things like that come from repressed desires and mishandled desires, and things that don't get spoken about. Things that people are like, "Oh, I'm ashamed." I'm like, "You don't need to be ashamed. You need to find people who share that kink with you and where you can consensually do that thing. You need to find people who can help you heal if something has been harmed or broken." All of that was a big part of my life. One of my first movement jobs was at a place called The Harm Reduction Coalition. It was training people in, how do you reduce the harm that comes from drugs and sex? It was such a, one, I'm so grateful that that was one of the first things I ever did professionally. Because I was around a lot of other adults who were like, "We're fucking. We're fucking and we're drugging, and we're high, and there's nothing wrong with any of that." Actually, there's something wrong with being in a society that acts like the poor people, and the Black people, and other folks who do that are somehow bad and wrong, even though everyone's doing it.
adrienne maree brown: I mean, we see that. We live in a society where white people are getting very wealthy off of selling marijuana while Black people are sitting in prison for the same thing. All of that was fascinating to me. First I started doing this column for “Bitch Magazine” called The Pleasure Dome. I was just like, "Let me feel into what it's like to write about these things more publicly." I had done a little dabbling on my blog and it was so good and I got such positive responses. People were like, "Thank God you're talking about this and from a social justice perspective, from an abolitionist perspective, from a radical perspective, that there's nothing wrong with us. There's nothing wrong with desire." Everything can be in alignment with the future we want. I feel like the book really was pushing itself out. Then there were these edges I would come to where I was like, "I don't know enough about this, but I know who does." It was really a hybrid of my own writing and an anthology of other people who I really look up to and learn from.
adrienne maree brown: There's another book in the works now that is going to be a book on Black feminist kink that I'm really excited about. I have a team of incredible Black, radical, feminist women who are working on that now and teaching me. I'm like, "Tell me everything because y'all are..." they're further along than I am in the practices. I'm like, I think we have a lot to learn from the BDSM kink communities around how we communicate what we want to need and getting it. Yeah, some stuff there.
Erica: That's so dope. I actually just got back from a conference and there were... I was at the Sex Down South Conference. There were lots of kink practitioners there. I went to a workshop that was about BDSM and its therapeutic benefits, and I felt like I was at a Jodeci concert. It was all Black women in there.
adrienne maree brown: Yes.
Erica: I mean, it was just full of Black women. At the end we were like, "How do I join?" It's wild because I feel like the more Black women get exposed to this, the more they're like, "Hmm, this seems pretty interesting." I mean, some might not identify. Because I think we hear about BDSM and the first thing that goes to our mind is submission, which that's some people's thing, but there's so many parts of it, right?
adrienne maree brown: Yeah. There's so many parts of it. I think for me, the thing that is important is we have... Black women's history, especially in the US, is that we were brought here to be in total subjugation. Our bodies to be used as labor, as sexual labor, as whatever was demanded of us. There was harm, there was pain, it was built into the structure. I think that for a lot of people who are like, "Oh, I would never want to go someplace where there was harm, there was pain, there was submission." But I think the thing that's been fascinating to me about everything I've been learning in my dabbling practices are like, it's actually about power and it's about reclaiming power over every aspect of this. I wish that every single person who has sex of any gender, background, anything would go through the BDSM checklist, or would go through that aftercare checklist and just be like, "Here's the things that I know I like, here's what I know I don't like, here's what I consent to, here's what my safety language is. If I need to change that arrangement, here's what I need afterwards in order to feel cared for and loved."
adrienne maree brown: That stuff is just brilliant for anyone who's negotiating sex with a new partner. I think the BDSM community teaches us a lot. I also have been blown away by my gay male friends who are negotiating a lot of this stuff on apps. I remember when Grindr came out and they were all like, "Yeah, I'm doing all this stuff by chat before I ever get there so I walk in the door and we both know what's up, and we both know what we've agreed to, and we both have to honor that." They're having sex with people where they're like, "We don't even know each other's names necessarily, but we had a very deep, intimate experience where we both were in consensual, pleasurable time." I'm like, okay, how can I make sure that Black women get to experience something like that? Because what I'm hearing concurrently from Black women is that we keep ending up in relationships where we don't feel empowered to articulate what we want. Where we have been trained and socialized that our job is just to please our partner. It's not just our male partners, those dynamics shift over into queer relationships too. Patriarchy is still present.
adrienne maree brown: That being in service rather than being in a collaborative experience towards pleasure, that's built-in. We have to actually intentionally, think of doing something differently if we want different results. I love the tools of it. Then I think it's important to testify when you do have an experience that's like, "Oh wow! That blew my mind in ways that I didn't expect." I find it very fascinating that there's so many Black women who love being flogged, or being spanked, or being hit in those kinds of ways where they're like, "I'm in charge of this." Because I'm like, "What happened for that to be a healing and pleasurable experience for people whose lineage comes from slavery?" That is a massive transformative thing to be able to do in a few short generations. To me, it's part of why I'm like, I don't think anyone should ever be spanking children because I'm like, there's a pleasure sensibility to this act that shouldn't actually be done with children who can't consent. It's being done as a punishment, I think it's confusing.
adrienne maree brown: I don't think anyone should ever hit a kid for any reason, but especially that reason. But I'm like, "Oh, the more I understand what spanking actually is the less I think it should happen to anyone who can't consent to it." There's just all this fascinating stuff there to me that I'm like, let's unlock those conversations and not be ashamed of them. I also meet a lot of Black women who are like, they'll whisper to me what they want. I'm like, "You're telling me that. I'm not going to bed with you. I'm not going to be able to help you get that." I'm like, "You don't feel comfortable telling the person you're having sex with, or the people you're having sex with what you actually want. Let's work on that." Because everyone deserves a space where they can articulate their desires and have them be held and figure out, is there a safe, consensual way to have this experience?
Erica: We know that “Pleasure Activism”, we've touched on this, is so much more than just sex. But as you mentioned, you do have chapters on nipples and squirting. You also mentioned earlier that sometimes you struggle with integrating your sexual self with your other selves. How do you find common ground?
adrienne maree brown: Yeah, I mean, I think it's gotten easier. It definitely helped putting that book out. Putting the book out. One of the things that happened after the book came out, I was still actively facilitating during that time, and I started showing up spaces. If people were late or if we had a break, folks were pulling me to the side like, "Can we talk about pleasure? Can we talk about sex? Can we talk about it?" What I found is that I became a little bit of a portal for people that they were like, "Now I know." Sometimes you just become a portal or a beacon just by being or talking about something. Suddenly people were texting me, "I just had this orgasm," and DM-ing me about the pleasure practices they were in. What it made me realize is that it actually was helpful, the more I could integrate this for myself, the more I could actually be of use to all the people who are like, "I'm in relationship to you, I trust you, and you're able to talk about these things. Help, help, help."
adrienne maree brown: To me the integration was both for myself because I'm like, this is just the truth of my life is that I'm a sexual goddess. I've been that way since forever. I can't remember. Even at a very young age, I was thinking about pleasure. My mom was like, "You were always making out with your friends. You were always physically in touch with them." I was always getting caught under the covers with someone. That was always me. The only thing that put me off that path was going through experiences of sexual harm and sexual assault and having to recover from those experiences and be like, "Actually, this is still me. What was done was not about sex, but about power."
Kenrya: Or about you.
adrienne maree brown: Exactly. It was like, "That's that person's work, but mine is to continue healing and to be my whole self." It feels now much more integrated into who and how I am all the time. One of the things that's been fascinating more recently is I've been experiencing so much satisfaction in my life in general. I have been writing the books I want to write, I'm in partnerships I want to be in, I'm engaged. All my niblings and my family are doing well. My friendships are deep. I've been saying I feel like I'm experiencing lifegasms. There's something that I used to think only happened for me in the orgasmic realm of the bedroom that I'm like, "Oh, no, this feeling can be expanded into my whole life." I wrote about this, living in the yes in “Pleasure Activism.” At that point I think I was like maybe 60 to 70% there. I was like, "This feels good. I can feel this. This is great." But actually putting the book out unleashed a whole different level where it's just like, I'm still withholding parts of my truth and parts of myself. The more I can actually let those out and articulate them, the more aligned I can be in my life.
adrienne maree brown: I feel like now I move fluidly through my wholeness. I think the other piece is, I don't feel like I have to perform anything around it. Because I feel like there's that pendulum swing where it's like, you move from the prudishness all the way to, "I'm only talking about sex, and fucking, and sucking, [inaudible 00:34:34]." You can also end up on the other side of that spectrum where you're sexualizing every experience, and every relationship, and everything. I definitely went through that too. I was like, "Everyone's hot." I'm like, "Well-"
Kenrya: Maybe not.
adrienne maree brown: Everyone is hot, but I'm not actually attracted to everyone. I'm very picky. Even when I was in my very, I've got different lovers all over the country phase, I was still very picky about who they were and what experience I wanted to have. Now I'm in this new wild experience where I'm in a monogamous engagement with someone that I'm madly in love with, and deeply attracted to, and growing a pleasureful life with. Where it's like, we both are looking for the utmost joy and the utmost feeling good throughout our lives. Sometimes that looks like erotic dates painting, and sometimes that looks like going to movies, and sometimes that looks like making love. It starts to weave into everything.
Kenrya: You write quite beautifully in “Pleasure Activism” about how pleasure led you to fall in love with yourself through the terrain of your body. As someone who…I quite frankly struggle with that. I'm disabled now, but even long before that, body image has been a thing for me. I'm wondering, can we talk about how you got there and how you stay there? Because also-
adrienne maree brown: Well, that's what I was going to say, it's not a one-time journey. It's daily practice. It's really daily practice. There's some practices that I return to over and over again that help me looking at myself, really contending with myself in the mirror. I'm very much like, I look at myself I'm like, "Yes, look at this. Let me see this body. Turn around, let me see that ass. You look good." I'm always just on the precipice of posting so many nudes on Instagram because I'm just like, "I look so good to me." That self-affirmation practice feels really important. I say in the book, I think I talk about how I started with doing one part of me at a time. I started with my left pinky finger, because that was undoubtedly lovable and I worked my way up to parts that seemed less lovable to me at the time. Since “Pleasure Activism” came out my ability has shifted pretty drastically. My arthritis has taken off. Some days I wake up and I feel like I'm in a bone cage. I can't move the way I want to move.
adrienne maree brown: Which has meant that there's been a lot of grief. I feel young to be as limited in my range of motion as I am. I've had to get really creative about what can I still do. I'm having to change what I eat and other things just to be like, "Okay, that is inflammation and that's not," those kinds of things. Now that's become part of my self love practice, is to really think with every single thing that enters my body, "How is this going to feel as it moves through me? Does this serve my utmost mobility, my utmost health, my utmost wellbeing, or does this serve a short-term pleasure that's going to actually cause me a lot of pain?" Ingrid LaFleur actually talks about that in the book. It's like, "How do you live that pleasure life?" I'll also say it's really noticing the things that I have been trained to not like in my body. So I'm like, "Oh, I have been trained not to like cellulite in my body and to feel really negatively towards it. Let me get curious about that. Could I produce a different feeling in myself around cellulite? Are there any people on Instagram?"
adrienne maree brown: Instagram, I really love looking at the fat girls, the big girls on Instagram and just seeing what they're up to. Lizzo has been really helpful for me. I find it helps to have folks who are like Gabi Fresh, and Lizzo, and other people who are larger and who'd just be up there. [inaudible 00:39:14] is one of my favorites because she is a big girl with juicy, big, old thighs, and cellulite, and everything and she just [inaudible 00:39:22] twerks and shakes everything. I'm like, "It looks so good when she does it." I'm like, "Maybe it looks good when I do it." It's just perspective. I've really transformed my thought process around stretch marks. I used to think, "Oh, those can't be good." But I've actually found on my lovers that I love their stretch marks because it's something so distinct to them. I'm like, "That is my boo right there. That's mine." It's so funny, now I'm super into my own stretch marks and how they... there's an intimacy. All these things that we think of as imperfections, those are the intimacies. That's how someone knows they're with us. Those are the markers.
adrienne maree brown: It's like, that's the map, the cartography of your particular body. All of that helps me feel more loving to myself. It does really help to understand that it's like, I'm in a society that has trained me not to like my body, and that should be interrogated. But there's nothing actually wrong with my body. I do a lot of gratitude practices now. My therapist has got me really into this. She's like, "Yes, you have a lot less ability than you did a year ago, but you have a lot more ability than you might a year from now. Let's be really present with the ability you have right now, and let's be really grateful for all of it." When the pain comes, that's a limitation. How can you be really grateful for your body saying, "Oh, hold on message. I can't do that. That's not..." My body is actually communicating with me all the time and something about that is really humbling that I'm like, "This body is an ecosystem, it's not a machine. I'm alive." I've lost a lot of people in my life, so I think that's also a big part of it for me is being like, "I'm alive. This is what my aliveness looks like today. Let me be grateful for this aliveness today."
adrienne maree brown: It's one of the conversations I plan to have with the creator someday is just a little like, "I don't understand why the allergies had to happen. I think I could have enjoyed things more if I could eat almonds. I would love to not... I just don't understand why you made me love pizza if I wasn't supposed to be eating pizza this much." Some of it I'm just like, "This feels like a creative glitch. This doesn't feel like it's on me." But yeah, being with what is, being with what is. When I'm in touch with my mortality, it makes it much easier to just be really deeply in love with the body I have. Going through a loss with people and being like, "I loved their body until the very last breath. There is nothing wrong with it because it was the body of the person I loved." Yeah, so how can I be like that with my own body? Just like, "This is me, it's adrienne, this is my body. It's great."
Kenrya: I love that. I'm sorry. I'm clearly going through it.
adrienne maree brown: Yeah, no, I mean, this is what it is. You have to open yourself. You asked for a medicine that you needed.
Kenrya: Yeah. The bit about being able to sit with the where you are, that really resonates with me. My mobility has also changed quite a bit, quite drastically in just the last couple of months. Thinking about the future of that not in a way that is like, "Oh, it's scary. Where is it going to be?" But more in a, "Let me have gratitude for where I am now and the things that my body can still do for me." That feels really good, so thank you.
adrienne maree brown: And the relationships around it. I mean, I think if I had anything here. I've been really wrestling with, how can I be sexy if I need a special chair at Lowe's? My partner, thank God for her, is just like... I told her that and she's like, "Well, then I'm going to gas you up." When I get in that chair she like, "You look so fine." I'm like, "Okay, good. I just want to make sure I still look fine." It's true. I'm like, we have a long way to go, I think, in understanding that disabled bodies are still sexy as fuck. They're still wired for pleasure. There's still so much happening in all of our bodies. For me, some of my greatest teachers have actually been folks in the disability justice community who have just been like, the folks that [inaudible 00:44:22] they're like, "We are having so much sex and we're having sex that actually is better because we have learned how to articulate what we actually need for our body." I'm not out here... I used to be get on top and cowgirl off into the whatever, moonlight.
adrienne maree brown: I'm like, that's not the knees I have now. So if I do that it's going to be a week of torture. So I'm like, how can I ask for the... and it's related to the BDSM conversation too. It's like, in all of these things, how can I say, "Here's my body, here's my ability, here's my needs, and here's how pleasure can actually work for me." I think we should all know that about ourselves and know that it's constantly changing. I definitely want to be having great sex until the very last minute of my life, so I'm just like, "Look, if nothing is working but my clitoris, you can still suck on it. You just get on in there because we'll figure it out." As long as this works, hey.
Kenrya: Let's get it. Speaking of change, there's a sentence at the end of the intro in “Pleasure Activism” that always gets me. You write, "If this is being read in a future in which this language has evolved, then please know I will be evolving right along with you." I love how future-facing that is and how compassionate it is, not just for the folks who are reading it but for yourself. It also makes me wonder: Octavia Butler taught us that God is change. Have any of your beliefs that you shared in the book changed in these last couple of years?
adrienne maree brown: That's a good question. I think a lot about what I wrote about fantasy and the idea that we should work to get our fantasies aligned with our politics or that we should really notice our fantasies, especially because we're in a world where so much of what is pitched to us is actually sexual harm in different iterations. I think I said in the book, the top searches on most pornography sites are for incest, or for cross. Yeah, a lot of it is just straight up for incest. It's like, stepmom, stepbrother, step this, step that. A lot of the culture... we live in a rape culture and the pornography industry really looks like that, at least the free pornography industry. But I don't know that I got it right in terms of how I wrote about fantasy. I feel like there's more to explore there. Because what is so important to me is that people are not ashamed of what has been shaped in them by the society but figure out, "What are ways that I can be healing in my lifetime?"
adrienne maree brown: There's this vision that a group called Generation Five put out to end child sexual abuse in five generations, and we're really in the first generation of that work. I think about it all the time as I'm like, I don't know how we can engage in any kind of fantasy that supports incest or supports the abuse of people who are teenagers or younger and move towards justice. I just don't know how. I'm like, so I think we need to figure out ways to reckon with that without shaming people for being inside of that. I think that's really hard. I hope that the writing that I did didn't come across as shaming, but I do think that there's some judgment in there and it's judgment I'm still working my way through and trying to navigate. I think it comes from a good place. It's like, when I was writing that book, I was really aware that I'm in love with all these kids who I want to protect and I want to protect them right now, which means I want all the cycles of harm that could possibly hurt them to be done now and facing the reality that they're not. Facing the reality that each of their parents have had to have conversations with them about how to keep them safe.
adrienne maree brown: It breaks my heart. Yeah, sometimes I can feel the heartbreak in there. But overall, yeah, I feel good about what's in the book, I think. I really wish there was a lot, lot, lot more in disability and there was some interviews lined up that fell through and stuff like that. That might be another book that comes out, although there's some good stuff being worked on around it that I'm waiting to see. In the next three years, if I don't see the book that I'm like, "That's it," then I might produce it.
Kenrya: You got it. What are you reading right now?
adrienne maree brown: What am I reading right now?
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
adrienne maree brown: I'm reading “The Prophets,” and it's amazing. If y'all follow Son of Baldwin on the internet, it's his first work of fiction and it's so good.
Erica: Yeah. I just started it last week. [crosstalk 00:50:05]-
adrienne maree brown: It's so good, and it starts off with this very sexy, gay, hot sex scene. It's about, I mean so far. I'm halfway through and it's about a gay slave love story and it's amazing. There's a lot of other stuff happening. I just finished reading my own novel. My novella came and I got to sit and hold it in my hands and read it, which is a different experience than reading it on the computer and the editing process. That was wonderful. Then I have my next book that's going to be read is Tarana Burke's memoir, “Unbound,” which just came out.
Kenrya: Yeah, two days ago.
adrienne maree brown: I just think Tarana is one of the most important humans to ever live. I'm really grateful to be holding this book. I listened to, she did a two-part interview with Oprah about it, where she was talking about so much. It's like, contending with being ugly, contending with being Black, contending with being abused, contending with all these things. I'm just like, we need writing of this caliber and this honesty to keep becoming ourselves. Yeah, I'm grateful Black people write books.
Kenrya: Yes, every day.
adrienne maree brown: Every day.
Erica: What is turning you on today?
adrienne maree brown: Well, my sweetheart and I went through this, have gone through the pandemic together. For most of it we were like, it's just the two of us, no one's leaving the house, everything is happening from the house. In my mind that was like, we're just going to be having sex all the time. But actually it was really hard to keep up a sexual energy in those conditions because it was just like, "This is difficult. We never go anywhere. We're always together and we're always wearing sweat pants. I don't understand." Right now she goes off to work and she comes home and it is like the hottest thing. I love when she comes in from work and she's got a little whole outfit on that she wore to work and I'm just like, "You look so good to me." That's turning me on these days. Then I have a whole group of friends who are going through sexual awakenings themselves. It's just a lot of vicarious delight happening.
adrienne maree brown: We're cheering each other on and just being like, "Yes, live your best hoe life." Watching people figure out how to continuously find connected pleasure in this period of COVID is fascinating to me. I'm like, humans just evolve. We just figure it out. We're never not going to figure it out. We're going to have sex. That's been turning me on and then, I'm trying to think if there's anything else right now. Hot baths. I feel like I take a hot bath and when I come out I'm like, "This is the sexiest version of myself that exists." I'm clean, I'm hot. I literally am steaming off. I'm just like, "God, I'm so hot right now." That's me.
Erica: Okay. So we're going to do a quick lightning round of what brings you more pleasure. I'll give you either or, you tell me which brings you the most. So-
adrienne maree brown: What brings me more pleasure?
adrienne maree brown: Of the things you're going to say?
Erica: Yes. Of the things I'm going to list. Okay, so breakfast or dinner?
adrienne maree brown: Breakfast.
Erica: Yes. Cake or ice cream.
adrienne maree brown: Ice cream.
Erica: Okay. Dress up-
adrienne maree brown: Which is barely.
Erica: I know. I'm like, "Ice cream cake."
adrienne maree brown: I was like, hmmm. There's one particular cake that I have to have every year for my birthday, that's a strawberry cake with chocolate frosting. Nothing will take its place and I need that, and it gives me deep pleasure. But on a day-to-day basis throughout the year, I need my dose of ice cream almost every day.
Erica: I got it. Is this strawberry cake with chocolate frosting from a particular place or it's like [crosstalk 00:54:52]-
adrienne maree brown: It is from a box that you get at the store. Yeah. Everyone will ask me, because they're like, "Are you ready to upgrade to a grownup cake?" It's the same cake I've had since I was like five years old. I'm like, "I am not." Now that no one else is.... I made it for myself this year. I was like, "I don't even need to wait until my actual birthday. We can do it the whole weekend before [inaudible 00:55:12]." Everyone laughs at me in my family but I'm just like, it's the best tasting cake.
Erica: I have the most budget ass taste buds because I love a good box cake or a good Costco cake or Sam's Club-
adrienne maree brown: I'm like, this thing is damaged. I've had so many fancy cakes so I'm like, "The flavor's not really hitting."
Erica: Yeah, no, it needs to be soft-
Kenrya: You know what will make this better? If it was from the grocery store.
adrienne maree brown: I was like, it good was the one that came in a box and then the frosting came in a little plastic container.
Kenrya: Oh, I've never-
adrienne maree brown: This time I actually did it grandma style, which is I didn't put it in the fridge. My grandmother it's the thing was like, "You leave a cake because it stays soft, and moist, and everything. You cover it and leave it on the counter."
Kenrya: Oh yeah.
Erica: That's my norm.
Kenrya: That's what we. Erica bought me a cloche, one of them things, fancy because I don't have nothing fancy. She bought me one for Christmas one year because I bake a lot so that I could do that with my cakes and not have them just sitting out.
adrienne maree brown: I love that. For years I was like, "Oh, I need to be putting this in the fridge." I would put it in the fridge and I'd be like, "Oh."
Kenrya: It's never the same.
adrienne maree brown: This year I was like, "I'm not doing that. I'm baking it in a pan and I'm leaving it on the countertop." It was just delicious to the last bite.
Erica: Yup. Because the last bite is super moist.
adrienne maree brown: Exactly.
Erica: It's super- Dress up or dress down.
adrienne maree brown: I like my partner to dress up and I dress down.
Erica: I like looking at you but I want to comfortable.
adrienne maree brown: Exactly.
Kenrya: It's like every couple that you see in DC walking around.
adrienne maree brown: Exactly. I'm like, "Well this looks good to me."
Erica: Beach or mountain.
adrienne maree brown: Beach.
Erica: Yeah. Last one, country or city.
adrienne maree brown: Country. Yeah.
Erica: All right. That's all-
adrienne maree brown: Nature, I'm just like loving it. I'm like, put me where I can watch what happens in nature and I will be very, very pleased.
Kenrya: Oh yeah. So as we wrap up, what's next for you? You mentioned erotica. I feel like and this what's next for you. I need to hear about this.
adrienne maree brown: I was just like, "Well, don't count me out." I actually won an erotica writing contest some years ago, maybe 15 years ago now. This place called Cake New York had an erotica writing contest when I was living in New York and I wrote erotica for it. I almost always write erotica for my partners, for people I'm dating that stars them or stars folks who are going on sexual adventures in space or whatever is clever. I love writing erotica and I could definitely see myself doing that as a practice. I don't think in the first novella there's any of the sex stuff. There's some in her dreams, but in the next ones there's a lot of sex coming. I love writing sex. I think it's really a beautiful practice to put poetry to and put words to. So yes, the novella, the next one will come out I think about the same time next year. Then the third one will come out the same time the following year. There's a lot of sensual work in those. Then the next book I have slated is a collection of poetry and short stories, or spells and short stories, called “Fables and Spells”; that's coming out in February.
Kenrya: That's what's up. Folks, if you want to keep up with adrienne, there's a lot of different ways. You can go to the website, which is adriennemariebrown. That's A-D-R-I-E-N-N-E-M-A-R-E-E-B-R-O-W-N.net. Then on Twitter you're @adriennemaree. On IG you're @adriennemareebrown, and Facebook is adrienne maree. That's all right?
adrienne maree brown: Yeah.
Kenrya: Okay, awesome.
adrienne maree brown: Instagram is the one where I most often do interesting things. I think that's the best me that you can get online.
Kenrya: Yeah. You post a lot on IG.
adrienne maree brown: Yeah.
Kenrya: Word. Thank you.
adrienne maree brown: Thank y'all
Kenrya: This has been a true pleasure.
adrienne maree brown: I loved talking with you.
Kenrya: Yeah. It was really lovely. Yeah. Thank all of you for listening. This is it for this week's episode of The Turn On and we'll be back next week. Bye.
Kenrya: This episode was produced by us Kenrya and Erica and edited by B'Lystic. The theme music is from Brazy. Hit subscribe right now on your favorite podcast app and at YouTube.com/TheTurnOnPodcast so you'll never miss an episode.
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Kenrya: Don't forget to email us at TheTurnOnPodcast@gmail.com with your book recommendations and your pressing sex-and related questions.
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Kenrya: Thanks for listening and we'll see you soon. Holla!
The Turn On
The Turn On is a podcast for Black people who want to get off. To open their minds. To learn. To be part of a community. To show that we love and fuck too, and it doesn't have to be political or scandalous or dirty. Unless we want it to be.