In “A Recipe for More,” Sara Elise Asks: Who Do You Want To Become?

The following essay is excerpted from A Recipe for More: Ingredients for a Life of Abundance and Ease by Sara Elise, published by Amistad and out today, May 2. You can buy your copy from Bookshop, or wherever books are sold. 


Moving through my life as a multiracial, autistic, femme woman means that the world is told that it has access to all of me, all of the time—access to my smile and my interest when I’m walking down the street to get home, access to my labor when large brands ask me to “collaborate” with them for free in exchange for “promotion,” access to my cultural traditions when white people decide to wear Native ceremonial headpieces for Halloween, access to my mental energy and expectations of my patience when I’m expected to “be less sensitive” when a restaurant is blasting music and has just turned on strobing neon lights above the bar. But I am able to reclaim agency over my body in my visibility, especially through practices such as BDSM.

BDSM helped me more clearly realize who I am. In BDSM, I can consensually choose to use my body for submission or service. I name myself as “kinky” and as a “leatherdyke” as a means of visibilizing myself and honoring the history of my ancestors and elders in these communities who came before me, and who oftentimes themselves did not feel safe being visible. As a femme-identified person, I am told that my “beauty” is of the highest value and importance, so I am able to reclaim for myself the power in that through “dollification,” using my looks for play and fantasy. Fariha Róisín, in her most recent book Who is Wellness For?, says, “I think part of unlearning these vast and failing systems is to learn to trust ourselves and our own wisdom, but we must also challenge the status quo and unpack how we play into domination.” It’s important to remind ourselves that we have the power to decide what we do or don’t do with our bodies always, and can determine when we want to engage with the structures that society has deemed useful or valuable (like in fantasy make-believe scenes), and when we want to fuck around with them, queer them, and ultimately dismantle them and anything else that doesn’t serve us. And the first step in doing that is the claiming and the naming of ourselves, for ourselves.

In 2020, I was interviewed for a feature article for Playboy in which I talked about what it means to be Black and in the BDSM community. In it, we discussed that often, after playing, visible marks might be left on my body:

Elise’s visible scarring is something she finds beautiful and a marker of both her Black and Indigenous heritage where scarification in certain communities is symbolic of a life lived, traumas survived and earned positions in society. “I find I am often expected to act ‘lady-like,’ meek, and shy. But having scars makes me feel strong. It’s when I feel most like my outsides match with what my insides feel like.

My interviewing journalist, Tarisai Ngangura, agreed that “everything about living and breathing as a Black woman is politicized, making it an act of self-deception to believe that the bodies we are in do not determine the ways we perceive and are perceived by others, even in our most personal and sacred moments.” The marks and scars are another act of living loudly in my truth. I go on to share that “being a Black woman in this world is definitely a very tough embodiment. One of the most beautiful things to me is looking at my Black body and seeing it in rope or seeing the marks that the rope, knives, or impact tools have made on my body. When I play, I feel like the fullest embodiment of myself.”


One reason that we resist visibility is shame. Similarly to the way self-internalized ableism affects autistic masking, many of us invisibilize ourselves, even subconsciously, because we feel shame about aspects of who we are. And it’s not our fault! We’ve been bombarded with information our whole lives telling us that we are not good enough, not rich enough, not healthy enough, not straight enough, not white enough—so it makes sense that even the most radical of us have still internalized this messaging. Shame and vulnerability expert Brene Brown says, “We define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging—something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” Whenever shame arises on the surface, it’s a signal that there might be something else happening several layers deeper.

One of the gifts of my autism is that I don’t think I have ever actively experienced feelings of shame. I experience other feelings intensely, but not experiencing what folks describe to me as feelings of shame means that I haven’t ever believed that I am unworthy of love and belonging because of something that I’m doing or experiencing. This gift helps me to clearly detect when people are experiencing shame and then give them the love and affirmation that they need, because what they’re experiencing in that moment feels so clearly like disillusionment to me. Logically, we all need inclusion and affirmation and belonging, no matter what we’ve done (in other words, fuck cancel culture). So when shame comes up as a natural defense mechanism, could it be possible for us instead to get into practice of shifting feelings of shame toward ones of self-compassion? I love what author and illustrator Yumi Sakugawa says:

Shame is a self protective learned behavior that gives you conditional safety. You are safe if you hide, play small, blend in, please others, stay silent according to the expectations of others. You learn to self-shrink and dim your own lights to steer clear of conflict and pain. But self love is a self protective, learned behavior that gives you unconditional safety. No matter what others may think of you, you give yourself the space to be seen, follow your desires, and speak your truth. This is expansive safety where you are protected by your own radiance and self-acceptance.

You are trusting yourself to be able to count on yourself, and in that act of trust, you are telling yourself you are enough and allowed to be present, public, and fully you!

We do not have to do anything more to be worthy; we are worthy just because we are.

I am Black & Indigenous, queer, autistic, a leatherdyke, femme, an energy worker and mystic, a womanist, and probably many more names and signifiers that I’ve yet to discover. When I talk with some folks in older generations, they’ve expressed frustration about millennials needing to have so many identifiers. And now Gen Zers seem to be even more into labeling themselves! Some elders ask, “If we’re trying to get away from discrimination, then why do we all need to focus so much on our differences?” But the act of naming is both a conclusion as well as a beginning. It implies a process that first starts with encountering—a learning of self and a writing of your narrative. We are in survival mode when the recipe of our life is of someone else’s choosing. But visibility helps us more clearly define who we aren’t, so that we tell the story to others (and to ourselves) about who we are. Visibilizing and naming our differences for and with one another can help us to celebrate them, and ultimately our whole and full selves, more honestly.

So, I must ask: Who are you in the recipe of your life? And who do you want to become?

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Sara Elise

Sara Elise is a Black & Indigenous, queer, autistic femme creative splitting her time between Brooklyn and Upstate, NY. She is a pleasure doula; the co-founder and designer of Apogeo Collective, a hospitality experience centering QTPOC; the founder of Harvest & Revel, an event catering + design company; and is currently working on her forthcoming book with Harper Collins (Amistad Books) entitled A Recipe For More. Sara Elise has been featured in Dazed, Playboy, Afropunk, Healthy-ish, Well + Good, Nylon, StyleLikeU, and them, among others. With all of her work, she aims to challenge our collective reality by first re-imagining and then creating alternative systems and spaces (both external and internal) for BIPOC and LGBTQIA2S+ folks to thrive. She spends much of her thoughtspace contemplating pleasure, pain, healing, destruction, and growth— and how inextricably those concepts are linked. To that end, Sara Elise has deep interests in BDSM, ritualization, relationship dynamics, and the development of personal awareness and well-being.

Sara has written 1 article for us.

1 Comment

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!