No Pants No Problem gives new meaning to the phrase “political party.” Organized by Jessica Whitbread for almost 20 years, No Pants No Problem is an underwear party with expanded possibilities for connection and intimacy. Described as “a curatorial arts project based in social relationships and direct action, as a means to challenge binaries in gender and sexuality, phobias of all sorts, and constrictive inner and outer dialogues about bodies and desire,” No Pants No Problem has provided a unique space for people to explore and discuss issues ranging from risk and sexual autonomy to public health messaging and HIV stigma—all while dancing pants-less.
Ahead of the upcoming—and final—installment of this iconic party at the 2022 International AIDS Conference, Visual AIDS artist member and Oral History Project Liaison Cea (Constantine Jones) spoke with fellow artist member and project founder, Jessica Whitbread.

C: I love the idea of a politically charged underwear party. When and how did NPNP begin?

JW: When I was diagnosed with HIV it was around new years so I made a resolution to do whatever in life I wanted to do—it was a real throw caution to the wind kinda thing. So in my early 20s I started hosting these sexually charged, themed events in Montreal—Slutty Bingo, Bikiki Girls with Machine Guns (a water gun fight party), Smooch’O’rama, etc. No Pants No Problem started through these parties in 2004. I actually think that NPNP was my lover's idea, but to be honest an underwear dance party is not that unique—it's what we created with the community that made it special.


C: It sounds really special! I’ve never been to anything like it (yet). What was your inspiration to start the parties?

JW: For me, I was really searching for a way to navigate my own gender and sexuality in the context of HIV. I had no community and so I had to make one. These parties collected all the misfits in Montreal and then years later snowballed from there to Toronto, New Orleans, San Francisco, New York City, Durban (South Africa), Melbourne (Australia), Bangkok (Thailand), Amsterdam (Netherlands) and so on. Like, really in my heart I just wanted to kiss folks—to feel sexy and desired, and to also be able to play in a space where I felt that I didn’t need the messiness of disclosure. So a spin the bottle game felt safe, grinding up on the dance floor felt safe, working a kissing booth felt safe. I basically created my very own kiss-a-thon starring me—it was not very altruistic. But shortly after it started one of my friends who was trans told me that they also used NPNP as a place to explore their own gender and sexiness. For the first time, I think that we both felt a real shared experience around disclosure. People living with HIV did not teach me about disclosure and safety—the trans community did. Anyways, at this point I started to realized that these spaces were also important for others to be able to explore, to taste, to push their own boundaries. It’s for everyone, whether that be a newly diagnosed person with HIV or the old cis white gay guy who kisses a woman for the first time. One thing that has been very important to me is to make everyone feel good. You know that moment when you are in your bedroom, half naked, singing along to your favorite song just before you go out? You know that moment when you look in the mirror and think, “woah?! I’m hot and ready to take on the world”—well this is the exact moment I want to recreate within NPNP. And for everybody.

C: I love the spirit of inclusivity, and how it feels like boundaries start to dissolve or become more arbitrary once folks are all in the space. Can I ask what are you most proud of about NPNP?

JW: First and foremost it's the community we built. It is the collaborative endeavors and the magic that we made some of the most marginalized folks feel even if it was just for one night. Don’t get me wrong, NPNP was not perfect. It was not always a safe space—nothing is, but for many there were magical moments of realizing that the world could be different, myself included. I really see NPNP as an educational play space for folks to explore, learn, and try, which meant that everyone needed to be there—straight, gay, cis, trans, old, young, differently abled. I cannot tell you how many cis identified gay men opened up about wanting to explore women but felt shame within their gay communities, for example. I was filled with joy hearing their stories about making out with women the next day. And vice versa—I’m always up for hearing about others' joy and pleasure around sexuality. I also loved hearing from fat folks, people with disabilities, older folks and folks with various hang ups about their bodies how they also felt included in the space and desired. Now that the party is officially ending I am hearing so many more stories and they are just so beautiful. I feel completely honored to have been part of so much joy. Because joy is resistance!


C: How does NPNP fit into your work as an artist?

JW: Within the party context I performed a character I did not see represented, at least in the early 2000s, and that was a hyper-sexualized woman living with HIV. Like in many art spaces, this alter ego framed as performance allowed me to push boundaries and do advocacy differently. To be honest, it was only when I connected with Visual AIDS did I ever start thinking of anything I did as art or calling myself an artist. I just thought that title was reserved for those who went to art school and knew how to draw or paint—and I suck at both. NPNP is an intentionally curated space, created together with artists and activists in the different places it occurs. Sometimes we engage in collective banner making, other times we collaborate on a performance, but we always create the space together. My practice and entire sense of being is woven into NPNP and vice versa. On the walls hang the banners I/we make; I love when folks from PosterVirus or The HIV HOWLER perform; I love hosting NPNP during Love Positive Women to celebrate the holidays. In many ways, all of these projects are about building and nurturing a community over long periods, sometimes decades of time.

C: So many of your projects really have that durational / occasional aspect to them. Since this is the final iteration of NPNP, what hopes do you have for this one?

JW: I really just want everyone to feel celebrated. The final NPNP is my love letter to everyone who has carried me and the community over the past 18 years. I want people to know and feel that they have been important and have made a difference. I want to reiterate boldly that we are stronger together and that any divisive measures in our movements and in our communities only hurt ourselves. As my friend and NPNP superstar Morgan M. Page once said, “why would I publicly shit talk any other trans person when there is an entire world doing that to us all the time? If I really have an issue I can reach out and talk to them myself.” I really feel this and maybe it's because I’m 40+ and I’m in bonus life (since I was told that I would only live to 40, bonus life is what I call any additional time), but I want to build communities which include building trust. I have artists joining from previous NPNPs, some like my dear friend Julie Paquet who attended the very first ones, and I want to make one VERY special moment to center the achievements of activists in our community—women living with HIV specifically. But that is a secret.

Save the Date: No Pants No Problem at AIDS 2022 in Montreal, July 30th. Tickets HERE

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Jessica Whitbread