“I honestly feel like telling the truth has become taboo,” said author and digital strategist Luvvie Ajayi to an audience at the Chicago Ideas Week event “Tackling Taboos.” The night was broken up into three conversations, a performance, and a talk and addressed conventionally taboo subjects including porn, sex, and religion. This allowed audience members—specifically, the high school students who are part of the Chicago Ideas Youth Ambassadors program—to walk away with a new understanding of why it’s important to talk about difficult issues transparently.
The first conversation was between Ajayi and Yvonne Orji, a Nigerian-American comedian and actress who currently stars as Molly on HBO’s Insecure. She talked about the shift in career plans that occurred when she put her faith in God, or “Daddy,” as she calls him. “I don’t have daddy issues, don’t worry,” she joked. When she devoted herself to religion, she dropped her plans of becoming a doctor and took up comedy. This led her down a path of success she didn’t know she could have because of the confined lifestyle she’d had growing up in an African household.
When living with African parents, “dreaming is a luxury,” Orji said. “Living with Mexican parents too,” said one of the teenage girls sitting in front of me. Though Orji had followed her parents’ plans up until graduate school, she was able to tackle the taboo of pursuing her own dreams and following her own plans.
Orji also talked about therapy and mental health stigmas within black communities. She and Ajayi joked that their parents would be so much happier if they went to therapy and let go of all the pain and grudges they’ve held on to for the last 40 years. “Our generation is making it more healthy to seek help,” said Orji.
Journalist Emily Witt took the stage next and gave a talk about the contemporary pursuit of sexual pleasure and connection, including topics like porn, orgasmic meditation, webcam sex, and polyamorous couples who schedule sex.
“Our own taboo limits us,” she said in regard to how we restrict ourselves from exploring different sexual experiences.” What a wonderful thing for teenage girls to learn so early on in their lives, I thought.
Following Witt’s talk, comedian Becca Brown sang a song about the lies women tell to get rid of the unwanted attention of certain men, specifically tackling the taboo of periods. “Your fake period got rid of that jerk,” she sang. “‘Cause you’re disgusting and useless when your pussy don’t work.”
The second conversation of the night was with Michael Arceneaux, author of I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyonce. He spoke about the taboo of being gay in a southern, black, Christian family.
“I think religion is very beautiful and very helpful in people’s lives, but at the same time, religion tortured me,” he said. He thinks the transparency in his book helped tell other people’s stories and solidified him as “the Cardi B of lit.”
The final conversation featured fashion designer Norma Kamali, whose recent work raises awareness about the unique experiences women face regarding objectification. She said because of how widely accepted harassment and assault were in the fashion industry, she never realized how bad the things she and other models or designers had experienced were. She encouraged everyone to keep talking about assault so it doesn’t continue being normalized.
Overall, the event was fun. It opened my eyes to the way my different identities have caused me to view certain truths as taboo and to hope for a future where these truths can be commonplace.