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Harm Reduction as Pleasure Activism Benjamin Shepard CUNY.

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1 Harm Reduction as Pleasure Activism Benjamin Shepard CUNY

2 Abstract / Preamble In 2004, organizer Rita Maree Brown described the links between pleasure, harm reduction and social justice activism. Some people think Ive spent the last several years of my life working with raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, destigmatizing drug use, and ending overdose, but really its about breaking down barriers to pleasure. So Im a pleasure activist.

3 Preamble continued Brown is not alone in this sentiment. I dont think we do acknowledge the pleasure though, explains Allan Clear, not as much as we should. While the acknowledgement of desire is a part of harm reduction, the right to pleasure is often neglected as an explicit aim of the movement. This talk considers the history of harm reduction vis- à-vis struggles for pleasure.

4 Part One: considers a few historic social and cultural barriers to the realization of pleasure from the middle ages through the War on Drugs. Over and over, authorities have sought to curb expression of pleasure or consumption of intoxicants. Yet, few have have built on the lessons of the failure of prohibition.

5 Part two considers case examples of pleasure activism from the drug user and sex work organizing to efforts aimed HIV prevention and social organizing in support of safer promiscuity. The core questions of the paper remain: How can we create an agenda to support both the affirmation of pleasure and the rejection of prohibitive politics? What would such an agenda look like? What are obstacles and best practices?

6 Failure of Imagination: The failure of the political left to articulate a pro-pleasure argument leaves a huge void to be occupied by moralists. How can harm reduction take up the issue of pleasure, linking understandings of multiple forms of pleasure, with a progressive agenda aimed at rejecting prohibitions which support war and violence, rather than affect and care, pleasure and abundance?

7 An ongoing dialectic between expression and repression

8 Anti – Pleasure Ideology

9 Anti-pleasure has a long history

10 Romans attacked the Dionysus Cults

11 St. Thomas Aquinus, Summa Theologica

12 Antonin Scalia

13 Christina ODonnell

14 Puritanism

15 A Lingerring Legcy

16 Whisky Rebellion - 1794

17 THE WIDESPREAD DRUNKENESS AS WELL AS SEXUAL DESIRE The founders had many reservations about the threat of:

18 Jefferson advised those in the new nation should not visit Europe, where one: is led by the strongest of all human passions into a spirit of female intrigue, destructive of his own and others happiness, or a passion for whores, destructive of his health, and in both cases learns to consider fidelity to the marriage bed as an ungentlemanly practice, and inconsistent with happiness.

19 Founder of US psychiatry Benjamin Rush

20 Benjamin Rush described bodily pleasures as: a disease of the body and the mind.

21 Temperance Movement


23 Prohibition - Alcohol prohibited with 18 th Amendment

24 Alcohol consumption moves underground. Al Capone and the underground economy thrive. Unintended consequences rampant.

25 Sex Negative Ideology "Why should we take advice on sex from the pope? If he knows anything about it, he shouldn't! George Bernard Shaw - results in dangerous policy - abstinence only sex education - sexualized and racial fear - prohibitive politics - and disconnection from the body

26 Wilhelm Reich

27 Wilhelm Reichs The Mass Psychology of Fascism as scripted by the Surveillance Camera Players












39 Prohibition Ends

40 There is much rejoicing (and a few messy questions). What are the lessons? Does prohibition work as a public health strategy?

41 Criminalization vs. Prevention Welfare state expands from 1933-68 Goldwater generates crime as a panic issue. It fails in 1964. Crime succeeds in 1968. Southern strategy. Racialization of welfare services. Policy emphasis on crime control, rather than welfare or prevention. Policy shift.

42 Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller

43 May 1973, Rockefeller Drug Laws



46 Young Lords Party and Acupuncture Lincoln Hospital Takeover 1970 List of demands, including: Spanish Language Translation for Services Acupuncture Services/ Detox Program (funded by the city in 1971) Consumer Bill of Rights Most became policy

47 Mickey Melendez (2003) recalls: This was before the advent of patients rights, and the majority of doctors treating low income residents did not recognize health as a right. But regarded it as a privilege… We were trying to replace that demeaning system with one based on respect for human dignity, (p. 171)

48 STAR with Sylvia Rivera

49 There is an ethical urgency about queer theory that is directed at the damage that sexual prohibitions and discriminations do to people, Eve Sedgwick

50 Meanwhile at the Wonder Bar

51 Donald Grove

52 How to have promiscuity in an epidemic

53 Abstinence is unsafe, Repression unhealthy. Crimp argued: We were able to invent safe sex because we have always known that sex is not, in an epidemic or not, limited to penetrative sex. Our promiscuity taught us many things, not only about the pleasures of sex, but about the great multiplicity of those pleasures. It is that psychic preparation, that experimentation, that conscious work on our own sexualities that has allowed many of us to change our sexual is our promiscuity that will save us.

54 Safer Sex/Risk Reduction How to Have Sex in an Epidemic. Practices, not places spread HIV. Meet person where they are at with personal choices. Provide clean syringes and safer sex info.

55 From the Young Lords to Harm Reduction

56 Syringe Exchange



59 From Direct Action to Direct Services in New York 1) Syringe exchange as life saving intervention 2) Arrest and civil disobedience 3) Legal argument – Medical Necessity 4) Public Health Pilot 5) Successful intervention 6) HIV affected 60% of injection drug users in 1990. As of 2001, that rate was down to 10% - NYDOH

60 Mark Souder

61 Today Much of harm reduction is about evidence Science Linear thinking Collaboration with health departments Service provision and struggles again co- optation Funding and the traps of the non-profit industrial complex

62 Yet, where did the pleasure go? StigmaPleasurePractice plenary of the 9th Social Research Conference on HIV, Hepatitis C and Related Diseases, Australia, 2006 (Holt and Treylor, 2008) Why is it difficult to consider pleasure in drug policy and practice? What are the consequences for practice? How might a greater focus on the pleasures of drugs might invigorate harm reduction?

63 Where did the pleasure go? While harm reductionists reject moralism of anti-drug abstinence campaigns they share with antidrugs campaigners a focus on the risks and harms associated with substance use. If it is acknowledged at all, pleasure seems for socially sanctioned, legal drugs, while positive experiences of pleasure outside social mores remain difficult to admit.

64 Rejecting Shame Gay Liberation / ACT UP / SexPanic! Drug User Unions and Squats – Stand UP Harlem, VOCAL (Voices of Community Activists and Leaders)ommunityLeaders Safer sex parties Street parties Mutual-Aid Practices Individual Harm Reduction Activists in micro and macro practice

65 Best Practices

66 ACT UPs Gregg Bordowitz Looking back on it now, it was a place you could have romance. Well, everybody was in love with everybody. There was this intense sense of comradeship and closeness. We were all brought together and felt close because of the meaningfulness of the work, and the fact that people were dying, and people in the group were getting sick. It created this feeling, a heightened intensity. Emotions were very powerful within the group, and they were on the surface of the group. Often people would cry in meetings, or people would get enraged in meetings. It was intense that way. And also, that fuels Eros. That fueled attraction thatpeople clung to each other, not necessarily in a desperate way, but people found comfort in each other. They enjoyed each other. Pleasure was a resource, play is a resource.

67 In 1998 Chris Farrell wrote: I joined Sex Panic! because there's no group making the same connections between the renewed sexual repression of the past several decades...The failure of the left to identify pleasure as a political principle worth fighting for does a lot to explain the moribund state of progressive politics these days. The failure to point out this fatal flaw and return sexual pleasure to the progressive agenda is unforgivable....Until the left learns the function of the orgasm, our fight against repression is doomed.

68 Safer Promiscuity AIDS Prevention Action League – Save our Sex Party, Jacks o Color Support for public sexual culture Not in me, on me. Eric Rofes – rejecting paternalism, embracing complicated choices Julie Davids – challenging public health panics, rejecting stigma.


70 A Radical Definition of Consent "Consent is the presence of "yes" and not just the absence of "no," with the understanding that everyone can change their mind, stop, or back up at any time. Consent must be established each and every time sexual activity happens, regardless of past interactions. Without justice, there can be no pleasure.

71 Keith Cylar


73 Squatting, Louis Jones That to me felt so incredible. You talk about emotions. I just felt such pleasure. Everyone thinks about pleasure in terms of decadence, but there was more to it than that. I was moved…It brought fulfillment. I felt animated. We were living together, sleeping together, and working for change. We were part of something very global, a global movement. Yet our take was from the local view, as the cliché goes.

74 At Stand Up Harlem Using was dying with dignity with dignity because it was my choice. No one was making it for me. I took a stand set for me, for those I knew who chose drugs when they were facing death. When they were facing death, they would want to cop in the midst of all that pain. For some it was just to get that old familiar, this old feeling, relationship, lover, what have you. This pain relief that the doctor might not give or it might not be enough. And this was not from a pharmacy. It was on your own terms. The liberty was what I was elated about – the choice without shame. The idea was I had choice. That was what I was doing....

75 A Circle at CitiWide At CitiWide we said goodbye in a circle. And members knew they had faced the negative, moved through it, and come out the other side. The tenacity of those in the circle made the scene one of the most pulsing spaces I have seen. In their daily transforming of the negative into a new way of living, those in those in the program achieved a kind of magical power

76 Harm Reduction as a place to play Building healing communities Communities of care Solidarity Connection And challenging the insurmountable. And share lives and authentic experience together.

77 An Agenda for Pleasure In Three Essays on Sexuality, Freud rejected Puritan mores by suggested that everyone has some form of perversion in them. There is no shame in it. This is part of being human. Yet shame exists and it causes harm. To do away with shame and the repression it fuels, we will need to push to transform the social order. Only here will emancipation be achieved (Thatchell).

78 In sum Without justice, their can be no pleasure. Harm reduction teaches us that all boundaries are to protect. But part of what we are protecting is a right to social imagination which rejects both paternalism and positivism, while opening spaces for alternative social relations, and ways of embracing experience outside the realm of the rational experience.

79 In Sum Harm reduction is about trust and community building. To be effective at these ends, then our process must include a respect for self determination, choice, and different forms of pleasure. If we do not acknowledge the importance of pleasure, we risk mirroring the prohibitive politics we reject.

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