Who comes to mind when you think about the trailblazers in history fighting for freedom and liberation? For me, it is not the freedom fighters, activists, public speakers, or political parties passing laws; it is drag performers, trans women, sex workers, sexuality educators, porn stars, video vixens, and sexual deviants who worked continuously for the goal of sexual freedom and liberation.
As a sexuality educator, kink practitioner, and Black Queer Masculine of Center Femme, it is pivotal for me to give thanks and continue to walk in the footsteps of those who created a path for me. The work that I do is sexual liberation, and the existence that I live is sexual liberation.
We owe a lot to those who have fought for our freedom and liberty to express ourselves without hesitation. Without them, there would be no us, the world would be dull grey, social movements that worked to gain our rights would cease, and kinky things simply wouldn’t have that spark.
Below are just a few names and histories of people who have fought and continue to fight for sexual liberation.
Marsha P. Johnson
One of my wife’s favourite fairy godmother, Marsha P. Johnson. She was one of the most prominent figures of the gay rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s in New York City. She solidified her impact with her dedicated advocacy for homeless LGBTQ+ youth, those affected by H.I.V. and AIDS, gay and transgender rights, and sex workers in NYC. She founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R) House, the first trans sex worker labour organisation with Sylvia Rivera.
Royal Fetish is made up of Jet Setting Jasmine and King Noire. Jet Setting Jasmine is a licensed clinical therapist who has over 20 years of experience as an adult entertainer, educator and Master Fetish Trainer. King Noire is an accomplished writer, artist, MC and global activist.
The duo’s love of the arts, film and sex education are combined to produce erotica that stimulates and engages the audience to explore their sexual boundaries. They are the co-owner of Award Winning Royal Fetish Films, a Black-Owned Inclusive Porn Company that highlights and centres Black sexuality, love, pornstars, and ethical kink.
Now, Mrs Steffans is MESSY. Karrine Steffans is a famous video vixen who appeared in music videos in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She has worked with prominent American artists and actors such as Ja Rule, Vin Diesel, LL Cool J, Jay-Z, Nelly, Usher, and Diddy. She wrote the memoir Confessions of a Video Vixen, a tell-all highlighting the sexual exploits and experiences of 90’s and 00’s hip hop rappers.
Joan Jett Blakk
On her 35th birthday, Joan Jett Blakk, the drag persona of actor Terence Smith, ran for president in lipstick, heels, and eyeshadow, continuing a long tradition of drag as political activism. Blakk co-founded Queer Nation’s Chicago chapter and had already run against Richard M. Daley in the Chicago mayoral race of 1991. During these “campaigns,” Blakk advocated for policies that many politicians are still discussing today, including universal healthcare, eliminating student debt, and civil rights. In her mind, “If a bad actor can be elected President, why not a good drag queen?”
A founding figure of the separation and uplift of the Black feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s was Pauli Murray, a Black queer feminist, civil rights lawyer, priest, and co-founder of NOW. She played an essential role in civil, social, and legal organisations during the rise of the Black feminist movement during the 1960s and 70s. Mainly, she theorised and wrote about the intersection of gender, race, and sexuality, sharing her experiences of black womanhood and asserting that her identifiers could not be separated, an ideal that fueled her legal work and activism.
Harriet Jacobs was an African-American writer whose autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, published, depicted sexual violence experienced by enslaved Black women and widened the range of issues discussed with abolition.
It would be disheartening not to include a mentor of mine in this list of sexual liberators. Ericka Hart is a kinky, poly, cancer-warrior, activist and sexuality educator. Dismantling the ways that systemic patriarchy and anti-black standards of beauty affect our everyday lives, Ericka is shifting ingrained cultural modes and attitudes on chronic illness. She posits visibility as vital to any radically inclusive movement towards equity. But it is her work on the medical and industrial complex that forces us to see our institutions and systems of care as complicit in the perpetuation of illness in marginalised communities. Unabashedly centring and sentient such that queer, trans black, brown, and femme voices are not lost among the drone of scholarly research less skilled than Hart herself, she brought academia to the places it refuses to go.
Now, remember that these people are far and few between all the other prominent figures who are out there fighting and have fought for sexual liberation. The history and sexual liberation in itself are a fluid motion and show up in many ways; several movements, lives, literature, and thoughts have been attacked with the erasure or have been diluted with other ideas to change the perception of what it is. It takes a great deal of courage to step into sexual liberation; it takes an even greater deal to pass that history forward. Now that you know this history, these people’s names, go out and continue the narrative.
So the next time you grab for that favourite porn scene, lube bottle, flogger, or your partner’s ass. Give a little shoutout to those who helped make that reach possible. The next time you have the urge to patronise sex workers, attend a sexuality workshop with educators like myself, or attend dungeon events, know that we would not be able to without the existence of sexual liberators.
Shanae Adams – Shanae “HonestlyNae” Adams, MA, LPCC, CIGT, serves her community in various ways, including therapist, educator, and sex-positive enthusiast. Her mission is sexuality normalisation, explanation, and melanated representation. Her passion revolves around the liberation of embracing sexuality. She is known for dynamic workshops, sex-positive mindset, and eliminating the “taboo” surrounding sex and sexuality.