“Seeking pleasure is seen as a sin and self-indulgent” – Ratnaboli Ray, Anjali

While on a search for #PleasurePockets in different cities and among different people, we discovered that pleasure often comes at a ‘cost’ for certain groups and for certain individuals. This ‘cost’ is especially relevant to people with psychosocial disabilities. Depending on who you are, what you do and where you live, this ‘cost’ has its own politics constructed around it. In an attempt to learn, understand and communicate the predicaments of people with psychosocial disabilities, especially with respect to the narrative of pleasure and the politics around it, we had an insightful conversation with Ratnaboli Ray, Founder of Anjali Mental Health Rights Organisation.

Pleasure

Hidden Pockets: What is pleasure to you?

Pleasure to me is about access: to joy, to privilege, to accessing the world with all my senses and body, to dressing up and grooming. Even eating is pleasure to me. A beautiful rainbow is pleasure to me. Baarish is pleasure to me. I’m lucky and privileged that because of my class, education, and other positions (inherited or had the freedom to acquire) I’m able to access pleasure and enjoy these things in the way I want to. The very fact that I’m speaking to you on pleasure is also a matter of huge privilege. How many people do you think actually get to talk about their pleasure?

Hidden Pockets: Can you share a few things that you do to give yourself a pleasurable time?

There are lots of things that I enjoy: intimacy, intellectual conversations and eating good food. I have evolved my own aesthetics and style to dressing that gives me immense lot of pleasure. The fact that I know and am able to articulate my fantasies is also pleasurable to me.

Hidden Pockets: Often people hesitate to talk about pleasure due to its association with sex. What do you think blocks people from talking about pleasure, sexual or otherwise?

I think one of the main reasons for a majority not talking about pleasure is the social construct around us. These constructs and other social norms do not really give access to pleasure as it is seen as something that is illegitimate.

We also do not have the language to express what is pleasurable to us. Very few people have the language to talk about what gives them pleasure because we are not trained to articulate such thinking. And those of us, who access pleasure (and are articulate about it), are often labeled (meaning isolated), given names that aren’t nice, and made to feel hedonistic (which again) is not a nice word. Seeking pleasure is seen as a sin and self-indulgent hence seen with censure.

Further, there is a gender bias. If a woman talks about sexual pleasure, she is stigmatized. If it is just simple pleasure, as against bodily and sexual pleasure, it is labeled as self-indulgent- which again carries a certain stigma.

In short, all the above either blocks the access to pleasure or blocks the articulation of pleasure- in spite of it being accessed- fearing stigmatization.

Politics:

Hidden Pockets: What do you think are some ways in which we could lift these blocks paving way for talk about pleasure, especially sexual pleasure?

The lifting of these blocks are gradually happening. Many of my feminist and other friends are making a conscious shift to talk more about pleasure like Paromita Vohra’s ‘Agents of Ishq’ which essentially talks about the politics of pleasure to give expressions about sex a ‘good name’ (legitimacy). The more we talk about sexual pleasure, the more we bring it into our everyday discourse without making it sound obscene or ugly, and this will help lift the blocks. I think that’s the only way we can stop people from shaming pleasure. Also, I think we need to cultivate a different language: words and expressions for sexual pleasure (without vulgarizing sexual pleasure) because expressing sexual pleasure often gets tied up with a certain colloquial language which often demeans sexual pleasure.

Hidden Pockets: What do mean when you say ‘giving sex a good name’?

By good name I mean ‘good,’ and not something as a value judgment.

In the times we are living in, there is a lot of clamping down hence the need to bring out our experiences of sexuality without either ‘clinicalizing’ or ‘colloquializing’ it. There should be a balance between the two.

Hidden Pockets: What is the thought behind Anjali’s conference, Pleasure, Politics &Pagalpan?

We are going to discuss about the practice of sexuality in general and the practice of sexuality within the realm of psychosocial disabilities. We are also going to talk and discuss about concepts like eroticism, pleasure, danger and fantasy to facilitate a change in the understanding of these concepts. There is going to be lot of networking. A thematic paper will also be published as a result of this conference. This paper will contribute to the intellectual discourse around sexuality since very little discourse or literature is available especially on sexuality of people with psychosocial disabilities. We are also hoping, through this conference, to usher in a shift in the acceptance and use of a better and healthier language while articulating the narrative of pleasure.

Hidden Pockets: With names like Do Din Ki Chandni and MakhmaliAndhera, the panels in the conference seem to have interesting and intriguing names. Why names associated with less serious concerns’ in a conference dealing with serious issues?

That is precisely the politics of ‘language’. We are trying to break the norm of the ‘language’ and how it is usually used in conferences by incorporating elements of popular culture to enlarge the scope of understanding of issues to a wider audience and to add a different flavor to the conference. Many of the panel titles have been inspired by Bollywood movies. I remember my own sexual journey was constructed by Bollywood films. So Bollywood has a very important role to play in our sexual lives. We cannot deny that. Bollywood has also become a global phenomenon. So it is not just about Hindi and Bollywood, it is also about popular culture. Its appeal, its kitschi-ness, its acceptability, and its quirkiness that triggers a different kind of imagination hence will have a healthy cross-over effect on serious issues in the conference thus breaking the traditional norms of how ‘language’ is used in conferences.

Disclosure: Hidden Pockets is Media Outreach Partner for Pleasure, Politics & Pagalpan

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