The Social Practice of Jessica Lynn Whitbread
My community mother, Darien Taylor, was one of the first women living with HIV to do direct action with AIDS ACTION NOW! in Toronto in the late 80s – she’s seen a lot. Darien said that I was a love warrior, and what I advocate for was people being and feeling loved. Which I guess is different than people being accepted because being loved, feeling sexy, being desired, or getting fucked ultimately come with a sense of feeling good and at a deeper level change our quality of life. I had a conversation with a taxi driver in Johannesburg once who asked me if there was a cure for AIDS, I told him yes – kindness. For many people living with HIV and those who are marginalized by ability, age, class, and so on life really sucks sometime and through my projects such as LOVE POSITIVE WOMEN, Tea Time, and No Pants No Problem I aim to change people’s sense of wellbeing at both the micro and macro levels. I believe that role modeling how to be a good friend, lover, family member or service provider has effects that ripple through our communities. People notice. People feel it. I feel it.
LOVE POSITIVE WOMEN is a holiday/movement/project(s) to celebrate women living with HIV in our communities every year from February 1-14th. Basically, people are asked to do something nice for themselves as women living with HIV and/or their communities as friends. These events/actions/gestures are driven not by donors or grants, but by people who actually just want to do and perhaps feel something nice. There is something like 5000+ individuals and about 125 organizations implementing activities each year (which for me is a little mind blowing organizing such a thing with ZERO budget-ha). Communities are incredibly amazing and creative from dance parties and secret talk show giveaways in India, candle making in Nigeria, quilting in Jamaica and Barbados, soap making for trans women in Puerto Rico to card making in NYC. My heart is full of emotion every February as I’m always inspired by what projects people come up with. Most years I do my own person intervention, which usually includes stitching a banner. In 2015, I stiched one for my sisters in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that said “Любите Позитивные Женщин” and took photos of different people in Jamaica, New York City, and Toronto holding it – these were posted on the LPW social media. Within a few days a copy cat banner was made in Ukraine and posted, and then another, and another all in Russian. It was so amazing to actually experience your work having an impact in real time. In 2018 there were about 15 different LPW projects in the region.
Another one of my long term projects is No Pants No Problem. NPNP was a way for me as a young 20 year something year old how to exist as a queer, women living with HIV. Which to be honest, with not many role models is a little difficult. It is rare that women living with HIV are ever depicted as sexy, sexual or queer, especially at that time. So what I did was created a world where I (and eventually others) could explore their sexuality and gender without disclosure being a barrier. In this world we all feel a variety of levels of awkwardness dancing in our underwear, but ultimately realize that we didn’t seem to mind too much when we realize that we forgot our pants at the party the night before (true story of a friend of mine). Working with other artists to create the NPNP experience (such as performance artists: Morgan M. Page, Mikiki, Glam Gam, House of Hopelezz, Kia LaBeija), NPNP is a collective practice that, like most things I do, more about the process than the end result. NPNP has been produced on 5 continents ranging from 50 – 1200+ people. I’m not a size queen in this respect.
I like to work on projects that have longevity and eventually are adapted by others to foster community building, but really most of all, people feeling good. At the core of my projects is myself. They are a representation to things that I often need in my life – so have lots of sex and feel loved I guess.