An Open Letter to the Brown U. Queer Alliance


Dear Lorin Smith and Brown University Queer Alliance Coordinating Committee,

I recently read your announcement of the cancelation of the Sex Power God Dance this year. As one of the planners of the first Sex Power God Dance, 28 years ago, and one of the three, with Christopher Jarvinen and Michael VanDam, that came up with the name Sex Power God, it was interesting to read about the dance’s “original aims.”

I don’t think anyone has ever asked us what we were originally thinking when we first named one of our dances “Sex Power God,” or when we decided to use the name again the year after that or the year after that. We certainly didn’t think we were starting something important or long-lasting; I am honestly moved that the Sex Power God Dance came to mean so much—and so much that I myself have come to believe in.

But I don’t think the original aims are what are important here. As a queer educator providing support for LGBTQQI middle school students, I frequently find myself saying to other educators, “They are not little ‘us’s. If we are planning programs and thinking ‘This is exactly what I would have wanted at that age,” then we are doing it wrong.

In other words, queer youth don’t need what we needed and their battles are different than those we fought, though anyone who studies the history of queer liberation at Brown can see that our programs and our protests were steps on the path queers at Brown still walk.

I would hate to see that history lost. Members of the Brown Queer Alliance might want to know about the work in which their organization’s precursor, the Lesbian Gay Student Alliance (no ‘B,’ no ‘T’) engaged, almost 30 years ago. For example, in the Dorm Outreach program, LGSA members, three or four at a time, entered curious—sometimes hostile—dorm units, fraternities, and sororities to debunk stereotypes and answer even the most ignorant questions about our lives as lesbians and gay men. For many queers who came out at Brown, Outreach was their first exposure to others like them.

Do LGBT students at Brown today know how hard students in the ‘80s fought for the 1989 addition of “sexual orientation” to the university’s non-discrimination statement? Or that there was a time when it was controversial that we displayed a huge wooden pink triangle on the green for “Awareness Week,” taking shifts staying awake all night to protect it from vandalism?

And while we are sharing history, you might enjoy the story of the time that a small handful of us quietly spray-painted messages decrying Rhode Island’s now-defunct sodomy laws all over the University the night before Parents’ Weekend began. I’m glad our generation won some battles—or at least took up the struggle in turn—so you don’t have to fight them.

But when it comes to what queers at Brown do today, what I think doesn’t particularly matter. Calling the dance Sex Power God was a liberationist act, a f*** you to those who thought sex, power or god belonged to them not us, and a good joke. The dance itself was just a dance.

Except for this: As the first Sex Power God Dance ended, we faded out the 80s music and played “Free to be You and Me” off the album from my childhood that I had brought with me to Brown. As students, queer and straight, danced around laughing and singing this cheesy feminist children’s anthem, I remember having the strongest sense of freedom I had ever felt in my life.

You know what an album is, right?  Just kidding.

Anyway, I understand your reasons for canceling the dance. Safety, respect, consent and bodily autonomy are more important than a party — even a really good party. In its place, you’ll start something new, on a whim, never knowing what the future holds.


Be well, queers at Brown.

Rebecca Hensler, Class of 1991


Featured illustration credit to Maggie Meshnick.

  1. Thank you so much for the work you and your generation did – I think all too often we often forget the amazing folk who paved the way for our generation.

  2. I first attended SPG as a straight-identifying white cis male, and I loved, LOVED ending with “Free to Be You and Me”. I loved dancing in a venue in which women didn’t have any reason to expect me to hit on them, and so we could just dance for the sake of dancing. (I was too shy, not too gay, but it was still more fun than the straight pickup dance venues.) I loved seeing Rebecca Hensler rock out on the balcony with total abandon.

    When I first experienced a same-sex attraction… then I immediately had one space, in which I already felt safe, in which that attraction was acceptable. (Though the Queer Questioning and Coming Out group was also very helpful, once I found it.)

    I remember wondering whether the pink triangle would survive the weekend, or get broken this year.

    And I absolutely love and respect and endorse Rebecca’s message. Do what you gotta do, today’s Brown students. Liberation matters. The where and when and how, under what name and what acronym – that’s up to you.

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