I got to sit down with Sweet Lorraine, Shades of burlesque producer and Brown Girls Burlesque troupe sister to talk about her up-coming event The Goddess Walk. The Goddess Walk is an anti-street harassment rally happening Aug 24th in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn. It is another part of her project called The Goddess Festival: Oshun Returns.
I've been to a few events done under the umbrella of The Goddess Festival: Oshun Returns. What was your favorite one/why? What is the inspiration behind the festival?
This is hard to narrow down! All of the events pushed me to a level of growth creatively, spiritually, personally that I am grateful for. They are all my favorites in that regard.
But I’ll tell you 2 favorites J
1) Oshun Returns sessions are gatherings for women that incorporate yoga, discussion, meditation & creative activities that encouraged women to make time to appreciate themselves. Topics range from how to enjoy pleasure to releasing painful memories from street harassment. It was a space where women could be open with each other, share our experiences & celebrate ourselves. At the end of the session I have the women walk around the space envisioning themselves as Goddesses, confident and loved. During this, I drop rose petals at their feet. This is something I think every person should experience! This is where the Goddess Walk was born. It’s a reminder that we are all worthy of the goodness life has to offer simply because we exist. We should be treated as such!
I started this as a practice to be more caring to myself vs. being overly judgmental. As women we’re taught that everyone else’s needs take precedent over our own. I had to unlearn that way of being. These sessions gave me and other women a space to do so.
2) Shades of Burlesque shows are also a favorite. These shows feature Black burlesque performers in NYC. There are a great variety in the performances presented, proving that there is no one “black woman experience.” This show allows us all to define our sexuality while expressing it freely. I even decorated the space with images of Black Pin-Ups. Seeing yourself reflected in different mediums whether on stage or in the media in relation to beauty is important to me. I wanted folks to know that Black women were there during the golden age of burlesque & pin-ups even though our images are rarely shown in historic documentation.
When was the first time you experienced street harassment? What went through your mind?
The first time I was harassed as an openly queer adult was a few years ago when I was walking with my partner at the time. A man threatened to rape me. Another man threatened to kill me. I had never experienced threats of violence associated with street harassment until after coming out. The incident that prompted me to organize the Goddess walk was when I was harassed by a group of guys & eventually pushed. I was on my way to the city and hadn’t even made it off of my own Block when a guy says “hey baby…” I turned & said “My name is not ‘baby’ if you want to speak to me just say hello Miss.” Then he and the rest of his group cursed me out. I wasn’t afraid even though there were about 6 guys yelling at me, threatening to steal my phone. Probably because they were teenagers, I have a teenage nephew & 2 younger brothers so that’s why I wasn’t too concerned until one of them decided to push me. It was the first time I was physically assaulted in relation to street harassment.
So many things went through my head: Did someone really just push me, I’m going to call the cops, the cops won’t do anything because I’m dressed non gender specific today, would these young black men treat the white women who moved onto my block like this, Don’t cry, Don’t curse at them, I’ve been meditating twice a day for months, but I have zero compassion to show these kids right now, regroup you still have an engagement in the city…
I was angry but more saddened than anything. They were so young and had no respect for me as another human being, especially not me as a black woman. This experience of lack of respect seemed to be a common experience in my community for Black women & queer folk.
Wow. That’s pretty horrible. I’ve had plenty said to me but I’ve not had anyone on the street touch me. So, the Goddess Walk is approaching. What do you hope to achieve?
The Goddess walk is an anti-street harassment rally specifically for black women, LGBTQ folk and our allies. I make the distinction because, in my experience, negative stereotypes associated with Black women in terms of our sexuality influence how we are harassed on the street as well as one’s sexual orientation.
I feel compelled to organize this event because I don’t want to be afraid in my own neighborhood. I don’t want to hide who I am. I don’t deserve to be harassed because I am Black, a woman or queer. I want to be the change.
Is there anything that you've ever wanted to say to men on the street as they comment when you walk past them?
YES! I usually say, “Respect me and respect yourself,” if they say something inappropriate. I would also like to add please stop assuming things about me as to why I refuse to respond. I don’t have to respond. Period dot, end of story.
And if I had their attention for 5 minutes I would say this & listen to their response:
Are you familiar with Stop & Frisk? Have you ever been stopped & frisked by the cops when you were on your way to work, or the gym, or a night out with your friends? Did you feel angry that they imposed themselves on you with no explanation simply because they had a badge and a gun? Can you recall how your body tenses up when you see a cop & you just hope they’ll pass by, but you know they won’t because you fit the description for those who they are supposed to stop & frisk? Do you think this is unacceptable behavior?
Well that’s how I feel when you harass me on the street. I hope you think about this before you catcall.
Huh, never thought about it that way, but you’re right about the parallel of imposition. What advice would you give to "the good peeps" who may want to approach a woman but doesn't want to be thought of as just another cat caller? I feel like the good folks end up quiet for fear of being disrespectful. And the disrespectful people shout out loud.
I think being respectful is always the way to go. If you say hello and you want to continue the conversation, ask her if she’s willing to do the same if not let it go & move on.
What are you up to when you're not helping women be able to move freely about the streets? Where can we find out what you're up to?
Performing burlesque, go-go dancing, making pasties, revamping a wig, styling a shoot, writing my solo show, ya know the usualJ You can check out my comings & goings at sweetlorraineburlesque.weebly.com or find me on www.faceook.com/Lorraine.sweetlorraine
Speaking of Facebook here is the Goddess Walk Facebook Event Invite. Are there future plans for The Goddess Festival: Oshun Returns?
Yes, besides the solo show, my goal is to make Shades of Burlesque a regular monthly show here in NYC. Consistent visibility for Black women freely expressing their sexuality in their terms, from their many different perspectives is one of my greatest passions. I can fulfill this desire & my love of performing simultaneously by producing this show :-)!