While pleasure is generally understood as a feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment, adrienne maree brown has been a locus for discussing how pleasure is policed and the liberatory work needed to reclaim it. While brown credits Keith Cylar (founder of Housing Works) for coining the term Pleasure Activism,
brown recently solidified the term with the book, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good (2019).
In Pleasure Activism, brown posits that pleasure should be considered as the basis for a radical politics of healing and happiness that says changing the world doesn’t have to be just another form of work.
Drawing from Black feminist traditions (particularly Audrey Lourde and Octavia Butler) and harm reduction work, brown argues that we need to stop equating social justice work with suffering, and activism in general with burn out. Instead we should focus on “our whole liberated, free selves” through our relationship to pleasure. A lot of judgment, guilt and assumptions are placed on pleasure—from food to sex to moments of relaxation—so pleasure activism expands the definition of activism to include important components such as the joys of intimacy, sex and what she calls “radical drug use.” She argues that oppression includes self-negation and that people of color, sex workers, disabled, and queer, trans and nonbinary people in particular have unequal access to pleasure.
Therefore, pleasure activism is not only about making activism as pleasurable as it can be, but also advocating for reclaiming (especially among historically marginalized and disenfranchised folks) pleasure in our daily lives. In this way, access to pleasure is a measure of freedom.