I Hart Ericka
The queer non-binary sex educator, advocate, and breast cancer survivor has their agenda filled to the brim with aspriations of their own. And while Hart is compelled to spread their knowledge along the way—the last thing on their mind in being your hero. Bluntly but with love, Hart passes up rose-colored glasses, opting for a magnifying glass. Read more about Hart's findings below.
You've become a go-to person for all things sexual education within the black queer community. Do you feel as though there is pressure, whether from you or the people who support you, to constantly be on work mode 24/7?
100%. I feel, as black people, especially queer black people, we equate our worth to how much we work—it has a lot to do with being diminished in our existence. So, we look for things inside of capitalism to make ourselves feel good. It’s also what capitalism teaches us, that if you have a good job, or that even now with the age of social media that if you have a lot of followers, that means you do a lot of work. That means that you are important. That means that you’ve made a name for yourself, and that’s more important than you taking care of your mental health, you resting, or you binging a Netflix show all weekend. What needs to be forward facing is the type work that you do. There's definetly some things rooted in slavery that are carried out in our existence today.
In 2019, there were at least 22 trans people killed. How can we better support our community?
There’s lots that we can do. First, lot of those statistics are on black trans women, and a lot of the people who are killing black trans women are unfortunately black cisgender men. I think it’s important that we are not infantilizing black cisgender men, and I feel like we do that a lot in the black community. We’re like, "oh our boys" or, "it’s okay that they got very angry and punched a wall and screamed at you–they’re just a man." I think that we need to separate ourselves from the gender binary because so much of our existence as black people is not even included in the conception of the gender binary anyways, so us adhereing to it makes no sense.
I think that as a community of black folks, we are constrained by things that we think are going to bring us towards whiteness, or that we think are going to bring us towards some sort of freedom–if it looks like we are no longer going to be seen in chains. So I think that it’s important that black cis men are spoken to and held accountable for their actions, white people stop perpertuating the gender binary, and stop creating these impossible structures for blacks to navigate and just exist even in a workspace. And that we actually hire black trans women to work in offices that not only educate others about gender, but do the things that they want to do that are fulfilling to them. It’s more than visibility, it’s actually a paycheck to the visibility. I think there are a lot of different avenues, but right now it is a crisis, and it’s not related to a crisis.
Abortion is still illegal in several states within the U.S. till this day. Why do you think the fight for women to have free reign over their body is still an ongoing fight?
The United States is based on a foundation of white supremacy, and the core of white supremacy is to control. In order to not give up power, I have to control somebody’s body to have a baby—if you have more babies that means more people. I think it has everything to do with white people producing more because black people have been sterolized against their will, latinx people have been sterolized in order to create birth control and to create safe abortion methodolgies, our bodies have been as experiments. So that conversation has a lot to do with white people. It centers white people, and I think when we have an intersectional conversation about abortion it looks a lot different because black people even die in accessing safe aboritons. I think that we have to consider if they’re illegal then people are going to seek the actual illegal methods that are often times not safe and may lead to someone’s death.
There are 21 states in the U.S that are not required to teach sexual education. How do you explain the importance of sexual education?
It’s lifesaving. Sex ed is just as necessary as math and english, and we disregard it too often. I know adults who don’t know where there clitoris is or that they even have one. People with disabilities are not related to, as if they don’t have a sexual body. Young people are not related to, as if they don’t have any sense of autonomy. These are all things sexual education would resolve if we just embedded it in education system, but it’s not! Because we live in a very religious white suppremacist society that says, "let me control your body". If you have this information, the correct information about your body, you’re going to take care of your body in the ways that you need to, instead of doing things that would be wild and leave you in harms way. So sex ed is life saving, I can’t say that any other way. It needs to be regarded as just as important as anything else.
What’s your advice on dealing with people who refuse to accept that sex education is much more fluid than what we were originally taught?
It’s funny because one of my students at Columbia gave me back a feedback form—I do my own personal feedback forms—and one of the forms said to have reduction in dogma. Which I guess they felt they were smart for a second—I’m clearly salty about it—but they’re saying I stand too firm in what I believe is the truth, but there’s lots of truth. Dogma is kinda almost related to religion it’s not necessarily related to a sex ed class. They didn’t like that I was saying that gender is actually not binary; it’s not an opinion that is not binary it’s just the truth. Gender is fluid and sexuality is fluid. These aren’t opinions it’s just the truth. So my pushback to that is I’m just telling you the truth, and you can do what you want with that as long as you understand that the truth won’t change. If you feel like your sexuality is set in stone and that there’s no freedom inside of that okay fine then do you, but don’t don’t harm other people in the process.
Tell me a bit about Sexualizing Cancer.
As I was going through breast cancer, even as my mom was going through breast cancer, it was all very white cisgender able bodied surbaban lifestyle with a picket fence and a minivan with an island in the kitchen. All of that was the picture of breast cancer and it still is in a lot of ways. Sexualizing Cancer was my response to that. It’s important that doctors all the way to people without cancer are not relating to us like we are some sort of exception to this rule. And it was also a way for me as a breast cancer survivor to reclaim my body through things like kink and BDSM, but also to explore lube again and to explore what masturbation looked like with my new body. Because I already understand how a lot of that works, but I didn’t understand how it worked for someone with cancer even though I had it. I had to discover that on my own, so once I did I just wrote a curriculum about it—that was my last paper in Masters program.
How do our preconceived notions of gender limit our understanding of periods and physical processes?
They limit our understanding because if you go into any public restroom or in an office restroom, there may be now tampons in the bathroom, but that is a new advent. And they are now free in some bathrooms but you still have to pay (they are usually in a dispensary where you pay 25¢ and that’s ridiculous). I don’t have to pay for toilet paper in a public restroom, so why am I paying for any sort of menstrual pads or tampons? But also they should be in the “men’s room”, or there should just be fucking gender neutral bathroooms, and we can have all the supplies that we need to go to the bathroom and get the fuck out. But we’re like, "oh it’s only women that have periods and that’s it’ so we put them in the women’s bathroom only," and that's limiting.
It’s also when trans people go to the doctor and the doctor is talking to them. If this is a trans man then they need to be having conversations about their period. Like when was the last time you had your period? Are you on testosterone? Has your period stopped? Those questions are sometimes not there depending on where you live in the country or even what you have access to New York City. It’s such a detriment, and it just leaves a huge group of people out and people are so vested in periods being for women it’s nuts! Any gender can get their period so relax!
Tell me about the podcast Hoodrat to Headwrap.
My podcast, Hoodrat to Headwrap, is not a destination. My partner Ebony is a self proclaimed hoodrat, and I wear a lot of headwraps. It’s just me and him talking shit about life. The subtitle is a decolonize podcast, so we often times talk about stuff that’s happening in the world. Stuff that’s happening personally in our lives, and work to decolonize that topic. Our latest podcast episode was about interracial relationships, and it’s probably one of our most popular to date. It’s literally just us sitting around talking just a candid conversation about how feel about stuff, and then we’re just recording it. So we don’t hold back or anything—it’s cute.
Based on your years of teaching, have you noticed any issues arise from white students when you solely focus on the strife of marginalized people?
You know what’s so funny? They don’t get mad! We have to strike a balance. I don’t pathologize blackness in my class because white people love that. They love talking about how bad black people are or like how can we help the black people. No, I’m talking about how black people are poly, how black people fuck. How black sex workers navigate the world, and all of this stuff that doesn’t put us in the light of ‘look at the poor black people’. And I think that that helps some of my predominantly white classes see that they don’t always have to talk about black people in such a detrimental way. They don’t need to save us. I teach at the school of social work, and their idea is that they need to save us. I’m like nah they don’t need any saving, and that’s the first thing you need to let go.
You crafted the term top-less activism—can you explain how this term sprouted?
I just went topless at a music festival, and I literally just did it because I wanted to raise awareness. And then from there it kind of went crazy, I just kept doing it. I was doing because I wanted people to see and black queer young person with breast cancer scars with a double masectomy. That’s really what the catalyst of it all was because then I was like this is actually a form of activism. Whenever I go topless, people see what this looks like and they don’t have to Google double mastectomy and only see Angelina Jolie or some random white person. Maybe my picture will show up, which I think I have accomplished. I think [laughs].
In a world where being naked is overly sexualized, especially the bodies of black woman and black queers, where did the confidence stem to be top-less in photos? How did you deal with the backlash?
I didn’t get a lot of backlash. People are terrified to scrutinize somebody with breast cancer because it’s inside of ableism. People are like, "oh my god you’re such a hero" or, "you’re so amazing", but they won’t necessarily say, "oh you’re so fucking sexy" or, "you look hot". I wanted to shift people relating to me as a hero because it was either hero or sexy. I wasn’t hearing sexy enough, but I have certainly only heard sexy in my life too as someone who was always sexualized. There was a part of me that was like wait go back to saying I’m sexy, so there was this inherent anti-blackness where I could only be these two things that I had to kind of navigate for myself. And my response to that is that I’m just fucking topless because I’m hot. Because I don’t want to wear a shirt. Because who cares about nipples or the lack of nipples. So what? Anybody can take their shirt off, it’s ridiculous—it’s skin. It’s literally fatty tissue that’s a little browner than the rest of your body who gives a fuck.
You speak a lot about making sure your ancestors are alive and present within everything you do. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to be intune with their ancestors but doesn’t know how? What should be the first thing they do?
I would try to read any sort of family history you have, and then if you don’t know your family history, which is a lot of us, just go read some Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, or Toni Morrison. They are our collective ancestors. Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hammer, all of these people who had the privilege to write what they were experiencing and their feelings. I think it’s so important to get connected in that way. I also think it’s important to go to places that we have been. Wall Street is an African burial site. The city of New York is built over the African burial site, and I was actually diagnosed on Wall Street. Whenever I go there I feel held. Whenever I go to New Orleans I feel held. Oakland, Baltimore City, Miami, Atlanta all of these very black ass cities—we’ve been everywhere! Tulsa fucking Oklahoma! I know that we are there, and it feels good to read about. Oh we traveled through here and that Great Migration went through here. That’s fucking tight, but where are the black people? Everywhere I go I’m looking. Where are the black people? I’m always asking that question. In looking for ancestors and considering ancestors, I think it’s important for us who think about ancestors often to know that some of our ancestors were fucked and that they had some fucked up politics. They weren’t here for the revolution and definetly not no fucking freedom. They may have been here to just survive. But we are fucking dope, and I think it’s just important that we honor who we are in the ways that we know how.
What do you aspire your legacy or imprint on the world to be?
Oh wow, I just want to make a difference. I don’t even really care if people really know my name or not. I just want a difference to be made. Like oh yeah black queer people can get breast cancer, great. Sex education needs to be in school, fantastic. Gender is not binary, great. I want to take myself away, and that’s really hard to do. That’s something that I’m working on by taking myself away and being less self important and solely focusing on what is needed. What needs to be put out into the world? Maybe a little less Ericka and more shifting of systems.