Illustration of my good friend, Michael Grondin.
A wonderful photo by Michael Grondin of my partner Amy and I.
If you’re out to spot a feminist or radical leftist the watchword is consent. The word traces the outlines of today’s sexual/political discussion to the point that no discourse is complete without it.
Consent as a sexual/political category — as a tool of personal and social interaction and decision making — is the product of laborious and courageous efforts from feminists and radicals (and let’s be serious, mostly through the efforts of female comrades). Its effectiveness in reducing harm to the disenfranchised and shaping sexual discourse cannot be denied. But consent has reached an impasse. Consent cannot be our only tool for establishing sexual dignity and autonomy.
Consent is a mainstay of the privileged: access to requisite knowledge and the will required for consensual decision making is fundamentally in the hands of a select slice of society. While consent has enabled many disenfranchised individuals to have dignity and autonomy in their lives, full access to the empowerment of consent comes with the trump card of privilege.
As the TerrorINC collective put it, consent has become a “tool for defending consensus reality.” Many feminists and radicals want to tell us that the language of consent hasn’t made its way into the larger social discussion. But the problem is actually the complete inverse: the language of consent has been incorporated into larger discussions, and has thus been compromised by its ensuing compartmentalization — stripped of its liberatory core. Consent has been integrated in such a way that we will never be able to ‘consent’ our way out of sexist, racist and classist domination. The gentrification of consent should suggest to us that, instead of connecting us to a radical emancipatory kernel, acceptance of consent ends up replicating oppressive conditions through our complicity.
We must reintroduce and reorganize a notion of seduction into our sexual/political discourse. Seduction as a sexual/political mechanism still retains a radical emancipatory core that other concepts do not.
Admittedly, the concept carries baggage. One’s mind immediately jumps to ideas of deception and manipulation when a word like seduction comes to the table. After all seduction was, as Jean Baudrillard reminds us, the “strategy of the devil, whether in the guise of witchcraft or love,” as well as the primary preoccupation of pre-industrial aristocracy. But this fear of seduction is profoundly misplaced. Yet if anything, the unsavory, risque heritage of traditional seduction would give it an edge should it re-enter social discourse, unlike our softer friend consent.
Seduction cannot be divorced from desire. The two are inextricably entwined. Desire is the slippery, irreducible element that introduces the ecstatic “yes!” into our sexual and political decisions. Of course consent and desire can go hand-in-hand. But the two are not serious bedfellows. Consent can be mundane. Consent can be bureaucratic. If our goal is to create a society composed of autonomous people who live with dignity and make the most of their various capabilities, then that enthusiastic “yes!” is absolutely necessary for our discourse. It then follows that if desire is a necessary component in a better world, then the most effective route is to make the most of desire’s coupling with seduction. Thus our task is, as mentioned above, to reintroduce and reorganize seduction.
Our reappropriated notion of seduction contains many of the structural features that any traditional notion of seduction contained. An act of seduction is still a risk — a one-off shot at convincing another person of the value of your proposed sexual and political sphere of desire. An act of seduction may still fail — rejected at the outset as undesirable with a stalwart “No.” But what’s crucial to our reappropriation of seduction is that it bypasses the realm of the conventional forms of decision making. Additionally, our reappropriation refuses to see seducers as manipulators and those who are seduced as victims of manipulation. Instead, our robust notion of seduction sees seducers as people who are seeking to share a particular desire that is inaccessible given present boundaries. Our notion of seduction sees those who are seduced as people who have chosen to connect to a new and rewarding sphere of desire that had previously been beyond their boundaries of possibility.
Seduction gives us access to a realm of decision making that consent cannot. One may be seduced into a particular sexual or political decision which they may have never consented to at the outset, and discover a sphere of desire previously denied to them. In one’s day-to-day life chances are that one may not feel the impulse to engage in a strange or new sexual activity or political experiment. But, critically, they can be seduced into it. And once seduced, they have, by extension, consented. If the right partner comes along in the right context, one may be seduced into trying sexual bondage, whereas your rational mind would never consent to it. And the same applies politically. Since consent limits our political discussion, we are unable to consent our way beyond the politics of domination. We must be seduced beyond.
Our friends in the TerrorINC collective give us the most parsimonious account of how seduction can work in the service of liberatory discourse:
“How does seduction work? We hypothesize that seduction unfolds via three processes: transformation, invitation, and contagion. We transform circumstances, creating space for new possibilities and thus new desires to flourish; we invite others to participate in these new situations, to experiment with different modes of action and desire; and we infect others with curiosity, an insatiable desire for freedom, and the means to experiment towards it.”
We must come to see seduction as way to consent ourselves into new spheres of experiences that have previously been off-limits but are, deep down, desirable. We must come to see seduction as a mechanism that enables our deepest dreams and passions to become livable experiments in radical sexual and political emancipation. And don’t forget, if a seduction presents you with a set of desires that are truly beyond your limits, just say “No!”
Consider, for the following moment, what it means to lose one’s virginity. For some, considering virginity means recalling a pleasant moment, wherein a romantic interest blossomed out of an idyllic and simple time into the beginnings of one’s sexual life. For others, the boundary of virginity has not yet been crossed, and anxiety and ambivalence can be the common sexual state of mind.
Virginity can be seen as a special thing to be maintained. Perhaps sex is entirely unappealing despite the pressures to buy into the sexual game. Yet for many others virginity conjures up memories of worry and fear, perhaps physical, emotional or mental pain and anguish.
Whether one’s earliest sexual experiences were negative, positive, non-existent or somewhere else in the sphere, most of us are made profoundly uncomfortable by openly discussing virginity.
I must admit that I too initially withdrew from this topic, knowing that opening such a door would put me and my sexuality in a vulnerable position. After all, a topic such as virginity touches upon very personal and often sensitive issues. For this reason, I insist upon taking a thorough and meaningful look into what we mean by virginity and its comings and goings.
Considering virginity provides us with an intimate gateway into the intricacies of sexuality. And now, more than ever, do we require such a gateway. Never before have people been so bombarded by images, ideas and ideals of sexuality. Never before have people faced such disorienting and possibly damaging sexual forces through the Internet or commercialism. Never before has sexuality been so thoroughly tied to politics, economics and our collective experience.
Considering virginity and how we relate to it forces us to be vulnerable. But, if we truly wish to grow, and see our passions and desires ﬂow free from the restraints of the media’s shackles — overturning the unspoken traumas that lurk behind every door— then we must confront the issue at its heart. We must go beyond the current understanding of virginity into new and exciting realms where sexuality exists in its heartiest and fullest form.
The traditional description of the so-called loss of virginity is, to its credit, fairly straightforward: the ﬁrst time that a penis ﬁnds itself in a vagina, or the ﬁrst time a vagina ﬁnds itself with a penis in it.
While this description may seem simple and broad enough to constitute the boundaries of virginity, we would be doing all sexual peoples a massive disservice by accepting that description as fully encompassing and accurate.
The ﬁrst and most clear problem with the traditional description is its hetero-normativity. That is to say, the description is inherently biased towards a heterosexual picture of sexuality. A gay person who has never been with a partner of the opposite sex, but has been with someone of the same sex is considered, under the traditional description, still a virgin.
Transgender, gender ambiguous or hermaphroditic people are also left in a confused and difﬁcult situation if our explanation of virginity is grounded entirely in traditional ideas of mere genitals. It should seem obvious that calling said alternative-sexual types to still be virgins is a painful and incorrect understanding.
The hetero-normative aspects of the traditional description of virginity are made even more apparent when we consider the historical underpinnings of virginity in women. As psychoanalyst Amanda Hon pointed out, “Historically, the hymen has been widely regarded as the ‘anatomical representative of virginity,’ although its existence is conjectural. Virginity has been written about as a physical state long before the hymen was ever discussed in medical literature.”
That is to say, the physical loss of virginity was patriarchally decided upon ﬁrst, then proved with the hymen’s so-called discovery. And yet, even when the problems of the traditional description is laid out before us, rather than engaging their imaginations, many attempt to simply reform the traditional description, or add enough caveats for it to operate successfully.
Such reformers attempt to expand the traditional deﬁnition into a scale of sexual activity: once one has achieved or performed a certain level or certain number of sexual acts they then cross the boundary out of virginity. While this reform of the description may be inclusive enough for most members of the sexually active population, it still leaves us short on too many levels.
First of all, it still leaves us with a description that favours penetration as a marker, since on any scale of sexual activity, penetration remains the easiest point on the scale at which to draw the line.
Take, for example, recent research that analyzed the teen magazine Seventeen, as mentioned by Amanda Hon, wherein girls’ loss of virginity was, “deﬁned as occurring when they have intercourse, while in boys there was some ﬂexibility, allowing them to choose whether to base their virginity status on their achievement of orgasm rather than penile penetration of a vagina.”
This sexual double standard reconﬁrms a heterosexual, male and phallic bias that leaves all non-straight, non-male-identifying people with penetration as their only option for deﬁning virginity.
It almost feels silly to point out that penetration is not the end-all-be-all of sexual activity, and yet such thinking all too often underpins sexual assumptions.
The take-home point, it must be stressed, is that all attempts to create a deﬁnition of virginity using carnal descriptors inevitably reveals itself to contain some element that ends up being discriminatory or limiting. This point is made all the more real when we consider situations of sexual abuse. If a person’s ﬁrst major sexual experience was one of rape, do we still maintain that that person is no longer a virgin? After all, they’ve “gone all the way” at that point, even though it was not their choice to do so.
Yet, our intuitions should be telling us that something in our understanding of virginity is wrong if it leaves the sexually abused and mistreated in the dust, if it leaves us with that sinister virgin-whore dichotomy, if it leaves us in the trash-bin of modern hyper-sexualization. If we hope to maintain any understanding of virginity that cruxes on physical lines, we will be drawn back in to problematic and limiting understandings of virginity.
We need to re-envision virginity to move past these limitations. We must therefore turn to desire, to consent, to passion, to seduction and to dignity which will arouse in us a fuller awareness of virginity and sexuality.
First and foremost, we must drop the whole “losing” or “loss” part of the equation. Virginity is often something special — that cannot be doubted. But, for most of us, virginity has an endpoint that, if we are being sexually respectful of ourselves and others, occurs when it ought to occur, free from the pressures and hold-ups of the oversexualized consumerist game around us.
By calling it a loss we inadvertently buy into the fetishizing of virginity, and miss out on what can be gained on both sides of this supposed virgin/non-virgin divide.
Genuine virginity, then, ends where genuine sexuality begins: at the moment in our lives where, as contemporary philosopher Wolﬁ Landstreicher put it, we “truly allow the expansiveness of passionate intensity to ﬂower and to pursue it where the twisting vine of desire takes it.” That is to say, virginity is ours to decide.
If my passions, abilities and desires dictate that a certain set of experiences is what constitutes the end of my virginity, then that is that. If my partner has chosen a different set of conditions then that is their choice.
What is more important is that we open up the ﬁeld of discussion of what each of us expects from the other in sexual interactions. The meaning of virginity and sexuality is a personal decision, and an autonomous understanding of need and desire.
We must realize that, as Slavoj Žižek put it, “True freedom is not a freedom of choice made from a safe distance, like choosing between a strawberry cake or a chocolate cake; true freedom overlaps with necessity, one makes a truly free choice when one’s choice puts at stake one’s very existence — one does it because one simply ‘cannot do it otherwise.’ ”
That is to say, our choosing of meaning must not be treated like any average choice one would make while shopping. It is a choice that matters deeply and must be treated as such. One must consider what virginity means to them, since if one does not then social forces and pressures make the decision for better or worse (with a likely tendency towards to latter).
The deﬁnition of virginity must not be a closed ordeal. There is no other way to transcend the demands of hyper-sexual modernity, since the sexuality of our present day doesn’t respect our personal trajectories or passions, but instead dictates what it means to be sexual. And, as has been shown, that present-day sexuality is far too often damaging, non-inclusive, reductionist, consumerist, sexist and not in the interests of liberatory attitudes.
Virginity must remain ﬂuid and interactive as to be able to respectfully include the many requests that each person’s sexuality asks of it. Rather than having our understanding of virginity ask us to conform to certain discriminatory and damaging norms, our understanding of virginity must ask of us, as Martha Nussbaum once asked, “What is each person able to do and to be?”
But it must be remembered that such an alternative vision of virginity can only come about if we decide to adopt the struggle for a radical, collective and authentic sexuality. We must decide to shed the sexual anxieties and frustrations that modern hyper-sexualization has burdened us with. We must decide what constitutes or constituted the end of our virginity and where, and how, and why our sexuality has its beginning. We must decide what is or is not meaningful within the many twists and turns of the erotic.
So I ask you again, to consider virginity. Consider what virginity is in the here and now. But most importantly, consider what virginity can be.
It was late Saturday night in Black Rock City, Nevada — site of the infamously intense Burning Man festival. As I relished in the comedown of another acid trip, I stood witness to the burning of “Wall Street,” which stood as five full-sized buildings, ironically beautiful representatives of capitalism’s financial vanguard: corporate banks. The fire that engulfed them was immense in size, ferocity and brightness, reducing the structures to smoldering coals atop the desert dust. Raw joy and satisfaction bubbled throughout my entire being, and then, as we gathered around the remaining ashes, a peaceful stillness set in.
While the entire week of Burning Man left me with countless thoughts each to be pondered in their own right, the question of the significance of Wall Street’s burning continued to linger as one of the heaviest issues. I wondered if anyone beyond the several thousand ‘burners,’ huddled together in a dusty corner of the desert, would be tripped-out by such a politically-charged artistic act. I wondered if anyone beyond we burners could care, or even ought to care. Yet surely such an intense act could not leave our hearts untouched, nor could it be ignored by mass media or those in power.
However, when it came time to bring sage words to the question of the significance of mock Wall Street’s burning, I was initially silent, all my thoughts had become still, just as I had been as I stood before the buildings’ ashes. But, as it turns out, that is the point. That is the significance. A fire, incomparable to any other, occurred before me and I basked in its brilliance — neither thought nor action (and especially not words) were necessary. My eyes were open, as was my heart.
For those who have had the opportunity to immerse themselves in sport, there is a moment when thought and action unite, the distinction between them melts and performance becomes singular. Being ‘in the zone,’ as it were. I receive a pass, take a shot and score — neither thought nor action guided me, as it was mindless, a moment of ‘oneness.’ Our radicality, our dream of a better world, needs this same sensation of oneness.
The burning of mock Wall Street, the significance that can be drawn from it, lies in that ‘zone’ of which I speak. The fire was a figurative and literal melting of theory and practice. Practice informed theory, like the brilliance to construct and enact a mock burning of Wall Street. And theory emerged from practice, just as the flames that leapt out of Wall Street’s windows ignited a fire in our hearts and inspires us with new ideas and dreams, while also giving us the space to construct something new atop the ashes.
For those of us who dream of a better world — those of us who know a better world is possible — the burning of mock Wall Street is an incredible gift. Moving forward, my radicality is informed by the sensation of the becoming one with thought and action, of theory and practice, just like the stillness I felt in the face of the flames. That is to say, we are hopeless without theory and hopeless without action, but when the two meet and melt together — an occasion only feasible through the stillness born in opening our hearts, which sometimes takes a fire for us to feel — then our adventures, encounters and experiments begin, in their own right and on their own terms, to create a better world upon the ashes of the old.
Since the beginning of the fall semester, in September of 2011, the University of Calgary’s independent student newspaper, the Gauntlet, has been held hostage by a lone ultra-left terrorist who goes by the simple pseudonym “Remi.”
The founding member of the terrorist network the Coalition for a Revolutionary Alberta Society, Remi has single-handedly managed to capture and control the Gauntlet’s nine section editors, as well as countless numbers of the paper’s volunteers. Adopting the title of “opinions editor,” Remi has transformed the previously arch-conservative student newspaper—once the springboard for Canadian right-wing heroes such as Ezra Levant and Stephen Harper—into an ideological tool for a terrorist message of “pro-autonomy” and “pro-dignity,” ideas that are clearly dangerous to the health of sensitive Albertan minds.
Having precipitated several violent incidents on the university campus, Canadian security and peace enforcement agencies having been pooling their resources to capture, kill and end the strife he has caused.
‘Remi,’ as he is known to allies and enemies alike, commandeered the student newspaper on September 3, 2011, and seized the title of “opinions editor.” The opinions section previous to Remi’s takeover maintained a small but humble position near the back of the weekly issue of the Gauntlet. While maintaining his reign of terror over the paper’s real editors and volunteers, Remi has successfully expanded the opinions section to take up most of the paper, and through the section he bombards University of Calgary students with a weekly barrage of horrifyingly new ideas. As student Emily Hamilton, member of the Delta Upsilon Mu sorority observed, “The newspaper [the Gauntlet], like, used to be, like, totally fair and balanced, like the Calgary Sun is. Now it’s basically like mostly opinions from that hipster fag Remi or whatever his name is.”
As of the March 28, 2012 issue of the Gauntlet, a total of 300 students have claimed serious injury after having been exposed to an issue of one of Remi’s signature articles or illustrations.
One political science student Sam Bloom, remembers all too well how he obtained his injuries.
“I was walking down the hallway just leaving professor Flanagan’s class, and I saw the Gauntlet. I used to read it all the time. It was way better in my day. But I hesitated picking it up because it had something I totally didn’t like on the cover,” Said Bloom. “I flipped it open and it was just ultra-leftist filth everywhere. Some of the art was even communist looking. Then I started to read this article by that boy Remi. There were words that I didn’t like, like ‘passion,’ ‘vitality of life,’ ‘apparatus’ and ‘wherefore.’ I barely got through the first paragraph when I felt this terrible pain fill my head. Next thing you know I’m in the hospital for an entire day. I wasn’t even allowed to go to ThursDen that night. Like what the fuck. Remi is so pathetic and stupid.”
No one has yet to successfully discover the identity of “Remi,” although the Canadian Security Intelligence Service believes Remi’s gender is of a male-like variety, as one Gauntlet hostage reported as having seen, “A large phallic-like object,” which supposedly came out of Remi’s pants once during a visit to a bathroom. Remi’s elaborate use of disguise, including a tangled mess of hair, crafty and distracting glasses and a penchant for shadows has allowed him to avoid recognition. It is thought that Remi is capable of producing fake newsmedia as a tool for deception, as well as writing about himself in the third person (generally considered an extremely masturbatory act) as to dumbfound and irritate his detractors.
The Coalition for a Revolutionary Alberta Society was, according to the group’s website, founded by Remi in late 1988, apparently not long after “Remi’s” supposed birth. Since that time both Remi and cras have grown considerably and have forged powerful relationships with various terrorist groups. Yet Remi has retained his anonymity since day one. Even fellow terrorists involved in Remi’s terrorist ‘Front’ or affiliated groups in his terror network apparently know nothing relevant about the ultra-leftist’s identity or origins.
In late 2011, members of the West Albertan Nationalist Guerrillas and the Socialist and Anarchist Coalition who had participated in terrorist acts of “discussion of political alternatives” alongside Remi’s CRAS, were apprehended by the Royal Canadian Peace Enforcement Agency and were subsequently coerced into revealing details behind their terrorist network. The coercion undergone by members of WANG and SAC revealed startling information about the level of penetration perpetrated by the terrorist connections here in Alberta and abroad, but failed to reveal anything significant about Remi. Even Remi’s Facebook profile is incredibly vague and misleading, claiming that Remi is, “In a relationship” and “Likes” such topics as “reading” and “music.”
With a love for violent “debate” and the use of frightening tactics such as “critical thinking,” Remi has successfully kept the editors and volunteers of the Gauntlet student newspaper hostage. Current Gauntlet editor-in-chief Eric Mathison, who has managed to maintain a level of connection with the outside world, stated in one letter that, “most of the time we are subjected to his [Remi’s] constant discussions of ethics, politics or metaphysics, as well as hour-long diatribes about the proper accents on ‘Slavoj Žižek.’ But he has allowed me to go for the occasional coffee and washroom break, and every now and again my wife is able to bring me in some vegan cupcakes.”
However, not all students or Gauntlet members have been overcome by Remi’s takeover. A post-Trotskyist student organization, a campus-based anarchist association and various pro-human rights activist students have all asserted their solidarity with Remi and CRAS. Additionally, current Gauntlet news editor, Amy Badger, has, according to one hostage mediator, fallen ill with Stockholm Syndrome.
According to Mount Royal University psychologist Evrin Ting-Halvoff, Stockholm Syndrome is “a paradoxical psychological condition where hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, occasionally to the point of defending their captors.” Badger is believed to currently be involving herself in sexual relations with Remi, although this has neither been confirmed nor denied by either party.
The Royal Canadian Peace Enforcement Agency has been unable to infiltrate the Gauntlet and arrest Remi. RCPEA commissioner Dic McIver stated in a recent press conference that, “we, the law enforcement agency of this fine city, have been unable to capture Remi. As it stands, we have been heavily preoccupied with meeting our quotas for speeding tickets, parking violations and agitation of undesirables.”
When questioned as to what changes might aid the RCPEA in their hunt for Remi, McIver claimed that an increase in peace officer funding and powers would enable the organization to “finally rid the city of its unwanted elements,” at which point the capture of Remi, “would become our top priority.”
With the student newspaper under Remi’s control, the ultra-leftist terrorist has been able to offend and horrify the delicate minds of University of Calgary students. With a large proportion of upper-middle class students attending the institution—all of whom are succeeding through their own rugged individualism—the terrorist demands of Remi’s, which include the “proliferation of genuine autonomy” and “respect for the dignity of all people,” have erupted into obscene ideological violence.