Liberating DesireIt's Time to Shift Your Fantasies

What are your go-to fantasies? What do you imagine that arouses you? Have you shared it with anyone?

The brain, home of the sensual imagination, is such a private place. There’s a ton of mystery, controversy, scholarship, and questions about how the brain works, what lights it up, what generates desire.

Somewhere along the journey, either through attraction we feel for others, media images, and healthy and/or unhealthy interactions with those older than us, visuals and story lines groove a pathway for desire in our brains. We begin to have certain scenarios which turn us on, fantasies of what we want to do, or have done to us, or witness.

Fantasy is technically “the faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable.” Fantasy, then, becomes a safe space to desire things that we might never do or allow in real life.

But because the realm of imagination is also where culture begins—we imagine things that in turn shape our real life desires and practices. Where did capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy come from? Some imagining of scarcity and power that isn’t true.

This is where things can get tricky, because for most of us, this desire setting happens early, and if we aren’t both careful and creative, we can get stuck in fantasies that don’t mature and politicize with us. We can get caught in fantasies that perpetuate things so counter to our beliefs and values that we feel ashamed of what we want, even as we find ways to get it.

I had a babysitter when I was quite young who watched the Porky’s movies, which can best be described as rape culture time capsules from the80s. My familys military-issue apartment was small and I easily snuck out of bed and found a spot from which I took in sexually disempowering images I didn’t understand. I also loved musicals—Grease and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers were favorites. As a result of this kind of media, my early fantasy life was often about men taking advantage of skinny women, secretly watching them, trapping them, or women having to change for the desires of men. I thought this was how sex happens, that it centers men, and that we as women should be in a constant state of seducing, playing hard to get with, and getting caught by men.

Hence, my 20s. But I learned! To see differently, to imagine differently.

I once got to swim in a body of water where salt water met fresh water. With goggles on, I could see the subtle horizontal line between the freshwater on top and the heavier, denser seawater below. That visual comes to mind as I think of the cultures we swim in in the United States. The heavier seawater is our much-defended rape culture, which is fed by fantasies of incest, rape, coercion, boundary transgression, force, transaction, and other scenarios where the masculine wields power over the feminine. Floating above that is the culture of repression, often rooted in religious spaces. Repression fantasies focus on purity, innocence, virginity, monogamy, and youth.

These fantasies are one of the ways we get trained in the gender-normative behaviors that sustain our layered culture. We learn from parents, teachers, extended family, media, religious leaders, and basically all adults we encounter. And, of course, our early lovers, who are often fumbling in their own confusion and learning. 

Men learn to be dominant, initiating penetrators: They learn that it’s in their nature to ravish women. Women learn to be coy, dishonest receptacles: We’re taught to say no until the last moment—and then say nothing but yes. Or say nothing and mean yes. Those who don’t fit into this binary construction, or who shift within it in their lifetimes, are often expected to still don these roles in sexual encounters. The lessons are sometimes very direct, other times implied: cross your legs like a lady, save that for your husband, take her like a man, it hurts a little at first, it’s just nature, who’s your Daddy.

Layer into this our intersecting systems of hierarchy—racism, ableism, classism, etc.—and you have a plethora of fantasies that perpetuate and sustain a janky reality.

Note: I’m not saying there aren’t people in the United States whose early fantasies are generated outside of a mainstream paradigm stretched between rape culture and a culture of repression, I just have yet to meet such a person.

These gendered fantasies shape our very sense of self. How do I fit in this world? Am I desirable? How do I become desirable, what role must I play? Do I take or give?

So few people make it to the question: What do I really want?

From our first moments, we should be encouraged to focus on how our bodies feel, what sensations and interactions awaken us, what feels wrong, what kind of touch feels right and how to communicate a spectrum of boundaries and consent. Instead, many of us spend our formative years in our heads, learning to be something we are not, unlearning the skills of truth we’re all born with. Eventually our desires are woven so thoroughly with these social norm fantasies that we think that we desire our own disempowerment or someone else’s.

I have been intentionally working on developing new fantasies. Fantasy is where I first explored the impossible idea that I am desirable. The improbable idea that fat bodies, Brown and Black bodies, scarred and dimpled bodies, bodies that hurt and lurch and roll, bodies with hair and acne, bodies that sweat and make sounds and messes—that all of our bodies are desirable. This work has shifted my reality of lovers, and my reality of how I see myself and let myself be treated.

And, and, and…even as I write this I won’t tell you all of my fantasies. Some of them are rooted so deeply in my system that I’m not sure I’ll ever let them go—I’m not even sure I want to. But I do want to be able to recognize what is mine and what isn’t, what should stay in fantasy, and what is aligned with the world I’m generating—one in which gender is not an indication of power in or out of the bedroom.

Hot and Heavy Homework

Examine your fantasies!
What initiates your desire?
What sustains and builds your desire?
What makes you cum?
Are you, or people who look like you, included in your fantasies?
Do your fantasies primarily focus on having unjust power over another person? If yes, does this show up in your life?
Do your fantasies primarily focus on having someone else have unjust power over you? If yes, does this show up in your life?
What do you want to be turned on by? Can you even imagine it? Try. Again. Again. Keep trying until you feel something. 

by adrienne maree brown
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adrienne maree brown is a pleasure activist, writer and facilitator living in detroit. Co-editor of Octavia’s Brood, author of Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds 

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