To be totally honest, when I think of sex, I never think of Planned Parenthood. Strange, isn’t it? The organization has provided so many of my reproductive health needs, and what is reproductive health about, if not sex? But over the years, I think, as a movement, we’ve felt the need to distance ourselves from sex; we feel an obligation to be, somehow, more responsible than that. To validate our movement, our need for access to birth control, maternal health care, abortion care, we needed to be respectable. Listen to the stories we tell the mainstream about abortion. We tell stories of married women, most of them heterosexual; we tell stories of women who needed an abortion only the one time, not like the irresponsible sluts we’re constantly being made out to be. And Planned Parenthood has lately become synonymous with that mainstreaming image, the “only 3% of our services are abortion” sort of aggravating apologist rhetoric that sets us back more than it moves us forward.
It’s easy, in that context, to forget that PPFA is different than its tiny affiliates, who are down on the ground where the work gets done, where people have non-gender normative identities and multiple abortions and lack of access and very real, often desperate need for their services. And last night, I discovered that the Planned Parenthood New York City affiliate is pretty fucking bad-ass.
Last night, PPNYC threw their “Summer, Sex and Spirits” bash, apparently an annual event, at the Hudson Terrace on the far west side of the island. Like most NYC venues, its facade fell somewhere between “non-descript” and “downright sketchy,” located as it was next to that saddest of sights, an abandoned H&H Bagels (I know, right? Tragedy.). Inside, however, was a phenomenal space with pink lights and weird, cool chandeliers, and a great DJ (when your second song of the night is “Hey Mickey,” friend, you have my attention). Mistress B was making everyone weirdly sexual balloon hats and two beautiful women were wandering around performing and dancing on stilts, and all of it without the “oh look at the different!” uncomfortable sort of gawking I am accustomed to seeing from folks when anything vaguely weird is going on at a party.
The lack of awkward tittering was due to the crowd, overwhelmingly under 30 and much more diverse than your typical fundraising event, even in NYC. The $40 ticket was reasonable – although even reasonable will only get you so far on the budgets most of us are living on right now – but it was the all night open bar and the snacks that ticket got you that I assume was the kicker for people. The extremely attractive bartender made me something with tequila and grapefruit juice that tasted like summer. Thanks, dude.
So where I ended up last night was a pretty cool place, surrounded by people my age drinking and partying to good music with people walking around on stilts and making balloon animals. Fun. Sexy. And as a result, I want to propose here and now that we put the fucking back in reproductive rights. “What kind of work do you do?” “I’m in fucking reproductive rights.” It really just lends itself to so many circumstances.
This isn’t the first time this has occurred to me and anyone else who happens to really love sex and also works in reproductive rights; the conversation happens a lot. Shouldn’t sex be fun? Shouldn’t life be fun? Should work about sex be fun? But I am seeing a broader conversation about moving away from the mainstreaming tactics that were meant to advance us and instead seem to be perpetually setting us back into which I would like our movement to wade thickly and messily into. This great truthout interview between Laura Flanders and Amber Hollibaugh, a self-described “working class, white trash, incest survivor, high femme, lesbian, sex radical,” gets to my greater point really eloquently, I think, when Flanders says, “This is no time to privatize and hush. It’s time to talk ever louder and ever-more publicly about dreams and desires and wanting.” The whole interview is really worth a read.
What happened last night was that, while swimming in this movement and its internal evolution and the daily external assaults, I was suddenly given a sense of time and place; I was suddenly and abruptly made present, in New York City, young, economically struggling, occasionally desperate, happy, excited, yearning, and not fully formed. I feel we rarely give ourselves and one another the chance to have that moment, and I feel we should, far more often. I feel we should get together and talk about sex and feelings, and dance, and eat a lot of food, and stay out to late, and drink. I feel we should do that in the ways and contexts that are appropriate to who we are and how we want to live and interact with one another, and I feel we should do these things starting immediately, right now, as soon as possible. There is really no better combination of things than summer and sex.