by Veronica Agard
I've had intimate experiences that gave me more pleasure than intercourse. I've breezed through intercourse as a temporary fix to mask disappointment in a separate person. I've been more guarded than the protection that I use.
But I've never been asked what turns me on explicitly until a long time friend asked me outright. If it helps, the level of care with this person is long-term platonic, one time lover. It was three years and two apartments ago, which in New York City, counts as several lifetimes.
I shared what I felt comfortable expressing in a voice note, and invited him to do the same. He typed back an array of experiences, in my shyness at the topic, I continued to think out loud.
Until that very moment, I’d never been asked that question. I've been sitting with it ever since. In experiences that I am able to surrender in, or offer up aspects of consensual control, I am giving said partner one of the intimate aspects of myself that I can give - my trust. Something that someone I shared chemistry with claims that this trust can be spotted in hugs that linger past seven seconds. I’m still waiting on the data for that, but I hold some essential truths and nagging questions.
There’s something to be said (and not said) about the geographies of being in relation with others. When survivors start their healing journey, our current social culture is quick to respond by offering counseling services and mental health resources. However, what would happen if we create additional sites for witnessing how past traumas land in the emotional and physical bodies? Is there a way to seek pleasure while being accountable to our responses of coping with the state of the world?
At times, navigating this dynamic feels like making a playlist or mixtape but not having anyone to play it for. Or maybe you can play it a couple of times, but not consistently or not in a way that allows you to feel fully seen. A sentiment that I can only describe via these bars from Immortal spit by J.Cole - “somewhere between being heard and being known, damn.”
In that both/and space of being heard and known - or being seen and felt; I can feel very lopsided and disjointed. This feels extremely contrary to the work that I do of bringing my various communities together to weave sites of care and healing. When I’m on deck, and holding space for others, there is a level of birth and aligned creation that can make others question how I’m not a doula or a birth-worker (yet).
While reparenting myself around play and pleasure, I’ve been adamant about not starting something - within myself, outside of myself, in communal relation, and in any form of relating that requires romantic and/or sexual intimacy - that I cannot finish. As you can imagine, once I named this at the top of 2019, I was wading deeper in that practice to the point where I couldn't unhear it since. I can be complex in the levels of love that I have for the people I support, and then teter on monogamous or stable structures in my romantic life.
This has also caused me to catch feelings for folks at a pace I did not anticipate. It did not matter that a conversation on sexual and romantic needs had been had months prior, and that there was an alignment of what we could both give and receive. I caught feelings because I trusted an intimate form of myself with them - my work, and my work and my heartspace are intimate with each other. I threw it at them, and not only was it caught - but held in a way that allowed me to feel relaxed and seen within a space without feeling completely responsible for anyone’s emotions or experience other than my own. I adored that feeling and then placed it on that person.
Whether it’s my work on how to become an Ancestor in Training or the non-answers at the heart of Who Heals the Healer - I am often asked how I arrive at such profound questions and remain self-aware and grounded enough to provide an experience like I’ve described above for others. I mostly write, ask challenging questions, and find comfort in not having all the answers. I try to embody the words of my spiritual mentor in Ifa - an African Traditional Religion, and maintain my iwa pele, which translates to good character and is a mantra for lack of a better term. I was in my kitchen, sitting and rooted in a place of gratitude for being asked to share my immediate, intimate, traumas as a survivor of sexual assault, as well as my coping and healing modalities, to illuminate how that has shaped and shapes my work with myself and therefore ripples out in my community organizing.
Then I was asked the following. “How do you want to pass down your work to those that come directly after you? What about creating your own family?”
In my twenty-nine years of life so far, I have yet to be asked that question. I've been laughing out loud while sitting with it ever since.
At risk of spoiling the documentary, and also knowing I won’t be able to recall what I said word for word because I was delightfully caught-off guard - I’m sure that my first response was to name that that would require me knowing who I would be parenting with, which would be to acknowledge that I have to continue to work on naming, seeking and aligning with future parents that I could envision myself bringing, raising, and/or creating a life with.
Amid the immediate laughter, my deeper, intimate breakthrough is in the following string of questions - which in and of themselves may read as a cop out. The following sets of inquiry, or self-study, are my answer. What does it look like to envision your most intimate spaces as sites of pleasure - but particularly as a survivor? It is possible to embolden intimacy in such a profound way that it becomes intergenerational? That it becomes a gift? One’s legacy? Because if my creative works are my children, what happens if I don’t have a biological family to pass it down to?
Now, I know that not all families are the same. There is beauty in that spectrum. However, I know myself and I know what type of familial structures I want, and in order me to chart a path where I can discover the answers above - I have to continue to be transparent with my wants, desires, and needs from the jump, which in this case, are potential sites of conception.
In my journey so far over the past two and a half years, there’s always a cooling period, or a clearing that happens. It will clear the deck of lovers that I have, of all kinds, including the one I mentioned at the top of this essay. Ideally, the redirect reverts these connections back to their first form - a platonic friend. On the opposite end of that polarity, they are cleared from my life completely. When I try to play and seek pleasure outside myself during this period, it also gets cleared away. Not because I do not enjoy my own company, do not love myself, do not find myself beautiful, or do not feel worthy. But because that’s not what I need to be focused on while drawing from the same creative wellspring.
Or so I thought.
I now realize that I’ve exposed myself again. In the purest form of the word, awesome. Because if the joy of being asked how to keep myself in the question of building a genetic legacy while creating sites of healing, community and care is indicative of anything - I am no longer afraid of the type of partner I would be. I am no longer scared of being alone. I am no longer yearning for a familial structure outside of the blood and chosen ones that I have.
Since I am no longer operating from a place of scarcity in my most intimate spaces, I am able to discern what types of intimacies I need as opposed to temporary ones that will come and go with the seasons. I can build capacities within myself to try deeper levels of commitment in saying out loud that it is time to think of the generations that I carry within me already, thus being fully true to the work beyond being an ancestor in training. It is extending my body from only being my first home, to a new awareness it is the home of another as well, which will require an intimacy that makes pleasure and joy encoded in their DNA from the start. I’ve actually unconsciously started on my end by asking lovers, when naming that they are about to orgasm, if that’s what they want to do. If they say yes enthusiastically, we continue, if they want to extend the moment, then they can. Bold, but absolutely necessary.
Anyone interested in me will probably read this and go “oh, she's serious about this like she's serious about her work” and this very declaration may isolate me again.
But I'm not worried.
I will have more intimate experiences that gave me just as much pleasure as intercourse. I will stay in the present and not escape through intercourse as a temporary fix to mask disappointment in a separate person. I will be more open and honest with my feelings so that I am no longer as guarded as the protection that I use. This overexposure can only lend itself towards loving partnerships with myself, my communities, and future lovers and potential co-parents.
A Brooklyn-based writer and educator, Veronica’s identity is inseparable from her work as someone of Afro-Caribbean, African-American, and Indigenous descent. Through her writing and organizing, she proudly defines herself as a connector at the intersections of Black identity, creative wellness, representation, and culture while she experiments with forms of healing. An alumni of City College of New York and a future social worker from Fordham University, she sincerely believes in putting theory into practice. With recent bylines at @blackgirlmagik, @life_as_ceremony and @blackandwell, she is the curator of the @whoheals.thehealer experience, facilitates the @ancestorsintraining educational project, and is an Associate Producer at @thisisyourmagic. You can explore Veronica's musings on her website, veronicaagard.com, and engage with her at @verosgotthejuice