Erotic Revolutionaries is one of the juiciest Black feminist projects I have sunk my teeth into since I discovered Jill Nelson’s Sexual Healing. Shayne Lee’s Erotic Revolutionaries careens from pop cultural sub-genre to sub-genre exploring the contributions many black women in the public eye have made to sexuality through their platforms in sports, music, and even in the pulpit. Lee is convinced that the notion that Black women should be respectable has led to a stranglehold of sorts over many scholars, possibly preventing them from joining a pro-sex, black feminist contingent. Thus, his book is a review of resources that can inform everyday black women on their sexual options.
I was struck by the idea that feminist nuggets of wisdom can be extracted even from women who I vehemently disagree with on some sexual matters. When I see the image of Beyonce emblazoned on the cover, I recall some of her anti-feminist musical moments, such as in “Nasty Girl” where she sings:
Nasty put some clothes on, I told ya
Don’t walk out your house without no clothes on, I told ya
Girl what ya thinkin’ bout lookin’ that to’ down, I told ya
These men don’t want no hot female that’s been around the block female, you nasty girl
Passing judgment in this way on what a fellow sister wears is about reinforcing the politics of respectability at the expense of a black woman’s self-expression. This is not a sex positive moment.
Yet, Lee shows, Beyonce can also be a teacher on freedom and sensuality for women. In “Get Me Bodied” she “empowers millions of women to hit the dance floor feeling sexy and lustful and to forget all their worries and yield to their seductive temptations of their sensuality.”
He creates even more room for sexual pioneers when he discusses black clergywomen, such as Juanita Bynum. Lee notes that Bynum has been referred to in the New York Times as the most prominent black female TV evangelist. While Lee readily acknowledges that Bynum “offers no practical solution for women to control combustible lusts and sexual cravings,” he also credits the prophetess for being “the first to talk about masturbation behind the pulpit on a national stage.”
I will readily admit that I am repulsed by Bynum’s homophobic comments in “No More Sheets.” Yet, I frequently play a portion of Bynum’s “No More Sheets” on YouTube. Along side her repulsive comments is a powerful testimony on the transactional sex that black women become vulnerable to because of their economic status.
Lee is spot-on when he calls attention to these feminist moments in non-traditionally feminist quarters. The million women who bought a copy of “No More Sheets” may never have read a word of bell hooks’ Penis Passion. And honest talk about sex and the concept of sexual empowerment shouldn’t be available to self-identified feminists alone.
Lee has given us a bold contribution to black feminist scholarship. He writes:“I like my feminism complex, perplexingly diverse, and open to contradiction.” He gives us this, and much, much more.