We’re all about having open, honest conversations about sex and our bodies, so it’s only fitting to share them with you here. As part of our Tryst Changemaker series, we’re featuring Q&As with the people who are inspiring us by breaking taboos and shaking things up in the sexual health world. Today we chat with Sonya Renee Taylor, queer poet, activist and founder of Your Body Is Not An Apology, an international movement to cultivate radical self-love and body empowerment.
You started as a performance poet and writer. What lead you to create The Body Is Not An Apology?
It started from a selfie. I had this picture in my phone of me wearing a black corset. I felt beautiful and powerful and empowered in my body, but I also could hear the judgment that I thought would be leveled against me. It’s what I call “the outside voice inside of us.” It’s the voice of body shame. So I had not shared the photo on social media. Then someone happened to post a photo of a plus-size model on my Facebook page and she was wearing a black corset. Something about seeing her and her empowered body encouraged me to post my own photo and I asked other women to post photos where they felt empowered. When I woke up the next morning, about thirty people had tagged me in photos. It made me realize there was this need for a space for us to be allowed to unapologetically celebrate ourselves. So I started a Facebook page and named it after a poem I’d written called “The Body Is Not An Apology.” And it just took off from there.
Why do you call your approach to self-love “radical?”
Radical self-love is our inherent state. You’ve never seen a self-loathing two-year-old and the reason is because when we arrive here, we arrive here fully aware of our own divinity and worthiness and value. We think the bodies we’re in are awesome. So our disjointed relationship with that is something that’s given to us. And we need an extreme form of love to challenge the daily barrage of body shame and body-based oppression that’s leveled against bodies around the world. The love we’re talking about transforms political, economic and social systems. It isn’t just about our individual self-confidence or self-esteem, it’s about transforming and creating a just and equitable world that works for everybody and every body.
What was the motivation behind your new sex-positive puberty book Celebrate Your Body (and Its Changes, Too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls?
I noticed that most books talk about puberty like it’s this horrible thing that happens to girls that we have to prep them for. Like, Oh God, watch out! It’s about to be terrible! I wanted to create a book that talked about puberty as this interesting, cool and wild ride. Because it’s your body doing what bodies do. You can have the power and the agency to navigate this stage AND still think your body is this cool, amazing thing if you have the right information. It’s got all the stuff young girls need to ride through puberty still feeling 100 percent powerful in their bodies.
Who gave you the sex talk growing up?
There was never a formal talk from my parents. I think my father maybe slid a book to my brother and me when we were like fourteen or fifteen. But I was an inquisitive and nosey kid. I was always reading something about it or investigating for myself. When I was in high school, I became a teen pregnancy prevention peer educator. I was able to get a lot of factual information through that program that I was able to share with other young people.
What do you wish had been taught to you about sex?
There wasn’t much dialogue around the emotional elements of sex. I wish we’d had a conversation about how society tells you that sex means either this or this or this. And because you grew up in that society you may have some of those ideas too. And they may complicate the way you feel about your own sexual relationship. Let’s talk through some of those beliefs and what society tells you about sex. Then let’s talk about your own beliefs. And let’s talk about some of the feelings that may come up for you after you’ve had sex. I think that emotional piece doesn’t get dealt with enough.
What does being a sexually educated being mean to you?
It means having accurate information. It means having access to the resources I need to take care of myself and my sexual wellbeing. And it means being given the trust to make those decisions for myself. So access, trust and information—to me, those are the pillars of what it means to be a sexually educated being.
June is Pride Month…how can we all be better allies – both for the LGBTQ community and for all marginalized communities?
I think the first thing is to challenge the notion of allyship. I really see allyship meaning “helping you do a thing that’s for you” as opposed to “helping us do a thing that is for us.” Indigenous Australian activist Lilla Watson once said, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” And that is what I’m interested in seeing folks do. Which is recognizing that your complete and total liberation requires my complete and total liberation.