I don’t make it a secret that at any given time, I have any one of my “personal projects.” Over the past few months, I have focused on how I do and, more pressingly, don’t engage my communities for support. I framed this question as a way to better respect their love of me. But along the way I started asking myself: what are my “communities” anyway? What ways can I be more considerate to those I have not incorporated into my circles of community? What ways can I be more kind? More expressive of consent-focused interaction? More open to radical definitions of intimacy?
The answer to these questions, for me, has been about developing my personal expressions of love. I realized I must reconfigure how I engage and respect others because all communication should be a central figure of sex positivity.
For me, sex positivity has never been just about sex; it’s a platform to think through interpersonal relationships—sexual, romantic, platonic, familial, new, old, developing, safe, violent, consensual, abusive, happy, individual, collective, macro-scale, micro-scale. So when I write about how I imagine safer, happier kinds of relationships, I implicitly ask that we extend our kindness further and further beyond ourselves. It extends to those beloved to us, to those we find sexually and/or romantically attractive, and to acquaintances, peers, strangers, people we will never come to meet.
I wish to make this request for kindness even more explicit. I offer this week the vision I have developed for myself in response to my earlier questions: a vision of what I will call a loving recognition of worthiness I see in each person.
The idea of recognizing something valuable in everyone is not new. Discourse around inalienable human rights have been going on for hundreds of years, and the concept of universal humanity underwrites all debates around what resources and conditions should be accessible to all. I choose not to invoke this discourse within my own sex positivity because inevitably when I talk about marginalized groups not receiving human rights, I end up framing them as eternally dehumanized. I worry that if I construct consent as a human right, I can further the harm towards survivors of sexual violence by framing their humanity at the hands and actions of their assaulters.
So, at least for now, I have settled on the term worthiness for a sex positive recognition that others deserve some level of my time, respect and compassion. Worthiness is a term fraught with its own baggage, but what I appreciate about it, is how it is inherently defined through interpersonal relationships. Worthiness simultaneously asks both “who is/isn’t worthy” and “to whom.” Unlike how humanity centers the conversation on the body/bodies of the marginalized, a person can only be deemed unworthy (of love, of resources, of respect) if someone makes that decision; but that decision doesn’t define everything about that person. Every unique relationship makes new opportunities for different decisions and meaning of self. So, I believe I am worthy of my self-love. My family and friends believe I am worthy of their time. The guy catcalling me on the street does not think I am worthy of respect. The multitude of racist institutions that have affected me believe I am not worthy of their resources because I am a person of color. My worthiness rests not in a single relationship or single moment; my worth is a manifestation of the many networks of love, pain, support and life I experience as I move through the world.
And yes, in these networks there are violent people. There are gross, oppressive, unloving and/or unkind people. I hate being around them, hate what they say, hate the networks around them that brought them up to be so cruel. But I still choose to lovingly recognize them because I do not want to continue the violence of deeming others unworthy. I base this view on my own experiences as a survivor of violence. I loved, forgave and still love the very people who, in the moments they were at the forefront of my world, effectively ruined my life with their violence. At moments I despise them. At moments I am disgusted by the memory of their faces. At other moments I remember the times they made me laugh, and I empathize with their madness and I understand how cycles of abuse ripped their perceptions of how to do interpersonal relationships without resorting to violence themselves. It’s then that I forgive and love them again.
For me, a universalized worthiness of love inherently includes the potential of violence, the history of being unsafe, the structures that hold me and others within literal and figurative prisons of marginalization. By interrogating the people supporting these structures, I hope we can demand they recognize and take responsibility for the struggles and pain and love of the people they deem unworthy. I respect and love them by acknowledging a capacity to change, but I also do not have to be the one to teach them or be their friend.
A discourse of worthiness is how I chose to radicalize and extend my love, but my vision does not have to be your vision. My sharing this is not an indictment that others should follow my steps. For example, no survivor/victim should be pressured into forgiving or caring for their abuser and/or rapist, because those two emotional modes are so often tied with the violence anyway. So survivor or not, if you want to separate out recognition according to how awful or violent someone is, go ahead. Unlike the mutual respect I expect from you, feel free to make conditional what you choose to learn from what I share, especially when it comes to things as vague as universal love. My experiences, however, should be viewed as an illustration that worthiness and love can be lived differently than how it has been historically defined. Making change, then, is a redefinition. A redefiniton is the process of expanding love past the limits we imagine right now, no matter what our final visions of love unite to mean.