On Black Church(ed) Women Embracing the Erotic

Ally Almore Photography

Ally Almore Photography

I started thinking deeply about spirituality and sexuality after curating a private, online group for people of color who were unlearning religious and/or spiritual oppression. We called it “The Space.” The name was meant to suggest that this group could be a middle place, unaffiliated to any particular religion and understanding of people’s backgrounds and lived experiences. It was a virtual “living room” where people could ask questions, share grievances, and build community. The threads were filled with comments, questions, funny videos, and deep reflections.

However, my personal inbox was telling another very important story. It was there that members of the group asked for resources that might help them move through the sexual & sensual repression learned from religious institutions. It was there that people trusted me with their stories of how hard it was to stop the feelings of guilt or bodily shame. They shared how hard it was to simply focus on pleasure or feeling, let alone achieving orgasm. Together, we discussed ways to stay protected and filled each other in on sexual education points that may have not been received from their place of worship, religiously affiliated schools, and/or religious parents.

It is key to note that most, if not all, of these queries, came from Black (formerly) church(ed) women.

A few years ago, I began writing & compiling “living” draft notes about the sexual & sensual lives of Black women & queer people of color (QPOC) who were socialized particularly in Black Evangelical church spaces. Published pieces, drafts, social media posts, art, and rituals were the mediums I used to engage questions like:

  • What have we learned about sexuality from the institution of the church?

  • How did members of biological or fictive “church families” reinforce those beliefs? Divest from those beliefs? Or (most often) divest from some while reinforcing others?

  • How could we use the faculties of intellect AND creativity to heal from sexually repressive norms & expectations? What would this LOOK like?

It seemed that I was not alone:

“Digital ethnography reveals burgeoning communities of critical questioning regarding the sexual politics of Black churched women. Online groups (such as ‘The Unfit Christian Congregation, by D. Danyelle Thomas) have opened up new pathways to discuss sex & sexuality in the Black church & the church, writ large. The 2015 hashtag #Blackchurchsex, created by Ahmad Green-Hayes (doctoral student in the Department of Religion at Princeton University), gave way to conversations, posts, and a physical convening on the very subject. Multimedia projects like “Sex is a God Thing”, by erotic coach and former praise dancer, Rashida KhanBey-Miller, asks us to reconsider the false dichotomy of sexuality and spirituality.

Collaborative online writing projects such as #BlackSkinWhiteSin on The Feminist Wire, curated by Dr. Tamura Lomax (author of Jezebel Unhinged: Loosing the Black Female Body in Religion and Culture), take a scholarly approach toward Black church(ed) women and the politics of our bodies & sensualities. Finally, written materials on The Churched Feminist and Candice Benbow‘s Red Lip Theology (and more) allow us the chance of digital conversation with theologians, faith leaders, educators, and integrative practitioners.

The curation that happens in these spaces and beyond allows participants to ask questions, receive feedback in real-time, share resources, and actively suss out what information is necessary for their further reflection. These practices and spaces allow us to hear the lived experiences of others and build more accessible community libraries on such topics. The work of embracing our erotic selves as Black churched women is a work that must happen across socioeconomic stratification. Perhaps social media platforms allow greater access for us to question, reframe, and synthesize – together.” (1)

My travels, conversations, and engagements of this work led me to my new ‘comadres’ and dear, dear friends: Black women who are scholars, sex workers, sex positive polyam artists, sex educators, sensuality coaches, and intuitive healers & mystics of all disciplines.

We learned together, grew together, and still share notes, kinky tips, and progress updates on the evolutions of the work.

There is a through line through this work and these communities: Honoring our erotic, sensual, sexual selves is crucial to the well-being of Black women & Queer People of Color (QPOC)  and is supported by the Divine, however the Divine is personally interpreted.

Immediately afterward, the next leg of the work emerged. At the time, it sounded like: “Okay so, like… cool shit & all but… HOW?!” HOW to honor MY sexual self?!

It translated more broadly into: How can we use the faculties of intellect AND creativity to heal from sexually repressive norms & expectations? What would this LOOK like?

As a mystic, I know that there are some questions that no one else can answer for you. Scholars, artists, healers, etc. can all provide artifacts, guides, and options of thought. It was then my intention to reference these artifacts, build on them, and to use my own intuitive gifts & skills to answer this “How” question, over a course of time.

I didn’t experience any further breakthroughs until the timing was right. For me, this timing included:

  • The collisions of my journey as a burgeoning mystic & tarot consultant

  • Re-imagining of my body’s capacity after traumatic sexual, emotional, and physical incidents

  • Embarking on a medical leave of absence, coming to terms with chronic illness(es), and diving into disability justice community

  • Beginner level sessions in strip dance & sensual floor work (under the tutelage of Rashida KhanBey Miller)

To do this work meant that I needed to decolonize my sexuality, that is, to engage in acts & rituals that help me to know my sensual self apart from white supremacist heteropatriarchal nondisabled gazes. To resist splitting my sexuality from my spirituality and to encourage others to embrace similar personal & community work.

Below, I share a few pieces from The Embodied Rituals project - meant to help us to use sensory information, creativity, and intellect in our healing journeys. This work is far from finished - but I believe it will end in liberation.

Fig. 1, Embodied Rituals content offered on jadetperry.com & patreon.com/jadetperry, Photography credit:    Ally Almore Photography

Fig. 1, Embodied Rituals content offered on jadetperry.com & patreon.com/jadetperry, Photography credit: Ally Almore Photography

Fig. 2, Embodied Rituals content offered on jadetperry.com & patreon.com/jadetperry, Photography credit:    Ally Almore Photography

Fig. 2, Embodied Rituals content offered on jadetperry.com & patreon.com/jadetperry, Photography credit: Ally Almore Photography

Footnotes:

  1. Excerpt from the unpublished draft, “A Seat at Mother Bynum’s Table: Resisting Warped Trajectories of Healing for Black Evangelical Women”, by Indhira Udofia, M. Div, STM, & Jade T. Perry, M. Ed.

  2. Photography credit: Ally Almore Photography