Pleasure Gardening with Tourmaline

View of Vandewater Street, corner of Frankfort Street, 1863, by Major & Knapp

Boarding House for Black Sailors, 330 Pearl Street (Part 2)

T. Lax: As you're describing the active life of this history and making it felt and present for all of us, there's this other piece that you're summoning, which is unknowable in history proper, with a capital H, but that you, nevertheless, make available. And here I'm thinking about the kind of freedom dreaming that might have happened between sailors who were finding succor and refuge with one another through practices of, we could call it non-normative sexuality, queerness, pleasure.

Tourmaline: I think that to me what feels most compelling is thinking about those moments of lightness and fun and pleasure in the gaps that surround a historical archive of Black life in New York City.

Thinking about all the delicious sex that was happening at the Boarding House between the Black sailors as an extension of the pleasure ground and pleasure gardens that were also happening. And so, I don’t know—I think I'm also looking for the fun. I think so often when we talk about the past and Black life, it gets so quickly reduced to these moments of utter tragedy or deep heroics. And so these small, everyday moments of intimacy and pleasure feels, to me, like, where the life really is.
My college professor, historian Robin D. G. Kelley coined the term “freedom dreaming” in his book Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination.

Robin D. G. Kelley: "Without new visions. We don't know what to build. Only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics, but a process that can and must transform us."

We can't move forward if we're always fighting the demon in front of us. We've got to move beyond it and think about what we're trying to build.

All the stories of those moments of feeling free in spaces that were designed for confinement, designed as enclosure, designed not to be spaces of liberation, that we make our freedom in our actions sometimes. So when you’re talking about the embrace of another in a world where that embrace is rendered illegal or immoral, you know, you're basically seizing freedom.

Liberation is not necessarily something that we achieve by getting to the mountaintop. But it's a constant process of cultivation.

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