Photography by Celeste Noche
December 3, 2017
Name: Ev'Yan Whitney
Pronouns: She/hers + Boss Ass Bitch
Background: Black American from the African Diaspora with German and Native American ancestry (my great-great-grandmother was Choctaw)
Medium of choice: I've been writing about women's sexuality and sensuality for almost eight years and I've created a private practice where I help others heal and actualize themselves as sexual beings on their own terms. And up until recently, those were my only mediums, with writing being the most used. Lately, though, my work has expanded in such ways where I am using my actual voice rather than just writing (I podcast); my physical body (I use erotic self-portraiture as a political act; I also perform occasionally); and my spirituality (I use my intuition and connection with my ancestors to guide me when I'm in session with my clients) as methods to create, heal, and take up space.
Astrological signs: Virgo sun, Cancer moon, Sagittarius rising. I'd also like to mention that my Venus AND Mars are in Virgo, which speaks very accurately to the way I am in my relationships (much to my dismay).
Karaoke jam: "Paranoid Android" by Radiohead. Also, "Formation" by Beyoncé.
“Communing with and staying connected to my ancestors inspires me.”
Feeling alone because of your skin is one thing, but not knowing how to love the body you're in is another world. It can be difficult to separate these two ideas when they feel so inextricably linked, especially when we live in a society that can be so narrow-minded about what is beautiful.
But the conversation is changing. The people who have been excluded are seizing this narrative for themselves— a celebration of black and brown, of queer, of fat, of everything they told us not to love.
Our guest today takes this celebration to a simple but radical level: stepping outside of shame to embrace and understand our sexuality. Her work is an ongoing conversation about what it means to be queer, black, and femme today. From The Sexually Liberated Woman podcast to her workshop on erotic self portraiture, Ev'Yan is empowering femmes to find radical self love through their sexuality.
Tell us about one of your favorite Portland memories: I'm originally from Southern California and for 23 years I had never lived anywhere else in the world but that area; the parched desert was all I knew. So when I made the decision to move up here, one of the first memories I have of Portland was going into Forest Park and being enchanted by the landscape. I remember putting my hands on the trunks of these giant trees and petting thick tufts of moss and feeling so held and supported by everything around me. It literally felt like I was in another world and I remember leaving the forest that day feeling really high and being unsure if it was because I had spent the last hour frolicking in this magical forest or if I just wasn't used to breathing clean, highly oxygenated air - ha!
Please share a time it was difficult living in Portland: I lived in the Beaverton area for the first year that I moved here and it really gave me a false impression of what the rest of Portland was like. My neighborhood was super diverse—I was one of a handful of POC on my block—and I was naive enough to think that the rest of Portland would be like that. When I finally moved to Portland proper (SE Buckman), I was confused—where were all the brown people? Was I the only non-white person on my street? (I was for a time.) It was such a rarity for me to see POC and black people in my neighborhood back then that I whenever I did see them I felt relieved, like I could breathe a little easier. Which was nice in the moment, but because of the lack of people of color in my area, it meant that I wasn't breathing easy often. To feel that isolation, that depth of otherness, was really new for me and during those times, I had a bit of an emotional breakdown. And then I stumbled upon Portland's racist history by way of Walidah Imarisha's work and I hit an existential crisis. I felt myself shutting myself away from the world and when I did leave the house, I made myself small and took up as little space as possible. I didn't feel safe in my skin, I didn't feel wanted or welcome here. I didn't feel seen. I felt the weight of my race and the color of my skin in such a visceral and inescapable way, which made me really insecure. I went through a huge and painful identity crisis, which, on the brighter side, resulted in me becoming radicalized in my Blackness and grounded me into my culture in a way I had never been before. But it was a very hard, very rocky process and I almost left Portland because of it. Finding the POC and Black community here saved me.
How do you stay inspired in Portland? Being around my people inspires me. When I can code switch and use my body and voice to unapologetically take up space, relief/release floods my body. Like, "Finally, there is a space where I can let my guard down and just be my very Black ass self"—that feels so, so good. That feeling of relief/release inspires me. It grounds me back into my body, into the truth of who I am on a cellular level and in that grounding, I am able to access myself in more authentic ways—which inspires me to take up space and create important work and it helps me serve my clients better. It also helps me get out of the funk I sometimes land in that can make me isolate myself. And when I don't have those spaces—like, when I can't make it to the potluck or when the weather is so atrocious that it makes me even more of a homebody—communing with and staying connected to my ancestors inspires me. Remembering that they've been here before, that they dealt with far greater tribulations, and that their strength, wisdom, tenacity, and stubbornness lives within me. . . that's something that keeps me grounded. I think that's why I've continued to stay here in Portland, because I feel my ancestors with me and telling me constantly, "This space is yours. You deserve to be here. You belong here, too. Don't let nobody keep you from your home."
How can Portland support you and your community? Love me like you love my culture. And not just love me, but respect me, hear me, see me, believe me.
To see more of Ev'Yan's work, visit sexloveliberation.com and follow her on Instagram.
Portland in Color is a self-funded project. If you enjoyed this feature, please consider donating to keep the series going.