Principia Seductio

This article first appeared (modified) in the Gauntlet on Feb. 13, 2014.

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.

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Illustration by Bridgitte Badowich

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!”

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Consider Virginity

This story appeared, modified, in the Gauntlet on February 6th, 2014. 

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.

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Photo by Michael Grondin

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.

Why we ought to occupy

This is an offering to the world, on why we occupy, by James Jesso, Evangelos Lambrinoudis II and myself — autonomous individuals — speaking on our own behalf. This is NOT, in any way shape or form, an official statement from Occupy Calgary itself. Occupy Calgary expresses itself through the myriad of voices that comprise it. It speaks for itself. As participants, occupants, individuals, and authors of this offering, we speak for ourselves. Our offering speaks for itself too.

Courtesy: Chelsea Pratchett. People left to right: Evangelos, Remi, James.

Occupants of Calgary, of Canada, of the world, this is our offering to you.

We wrote this piece with the help of several other individuals. Thank you immensely.

We have come united as autonomous participants of the occupation of Calgary — in solidarity with the multitude of international occupy movements, and with deep respect to the indigenous lands on which we stand — to create the conditions necessary to give birth, incubate and bring into the public eye a conversation. A conversation that is essential in awakening Canadians to the storm that encircles us all, and realizing our potential for a better world. We are intimately linked to the crises manifesting both home and abroad, and out of apathy or lack of awareness we have failed to responsibly address this for far too long.

We, Occupy Calgary, want change.

We want a Canada that is not looking down the barrel of the same economic rifle that has already fired on the United States. Where the fiat currency with which we currently operate — a currency with a value based solely upon government regulation and law — and the fractional reserve banking system through which it operates, where the required reserves are defined as “nil” by the Bank of Canada Act section 457 (4), are brought to an end. Where the Canadian government is no longer allowed to borrow from Chartered banks money those banks don’t actually have, and where the majority of our taxes are no longer used to pay for the interest accrued on those loans, but are used to fund services that better our quality of life. Where our currency is based on tangibilities, not on illusionary abstractions monopolized upon by greed within a corrupt system.

We want an Alberta that grows its wheat, raises its cattle, cuts its timber and pumps its oil in a manner that is sustainable and to the benefit of the land and to every person, not to the benefit of corporations abroad. Where the debt per capita does not double in the next decade, as it had in the past ten years. Where we are no longer blocked by red tape — created in the interests of corporate monopolization — from exploring and utilizing sustainable alternative sources of energy and methods of resource extraction.

We want an accountable government — one that understands that there are consequences to its actions. A government whose intentions are to progress human welfare, not to seek profit or international prestige.

Liberated from the Calgary Herald

We want an end to a system that allows political parties to be corrupted by the tens of thousands of millions of dollars given publicly and secretly by corporations as campaign donations every election. Where a wealthy few no longer hold power over our government. Where politicians can no longer obtain sweeping power through just 24 per cent of eligible voters, as our present Conservative majority has done. Where economic power cannot buy political power. Where every single person is given the democratic representation they deserve, not a representation based on mob rule of the majority, wealth, status or connection.

We want a government that is transparent. where senators and supreme court judges are democratically elected not appointed. Where there are no closed doors. Where empathy is the official policy both home and abroad, taking seriously the duty of international amnesty, not furthering global conflicts.

We want to see a justice system that is not based on punishment and revenge, as the Conservative government is presently reinforcing, but is based on principles of restoration. Where no law can be legislated that shall deny us our human dignity or capacity for radical self-governance.

We want a healthcare system based on healing, not on the perpetuation of illness for the sake capital gain.

We want a Canada where the voice of the indigenous peoples — on whose land we occupy — are no longer ignored; rather they are given the dignity, respect, and acknowledgement they deserve. Where we respect the many ways of knowing.

Liberated from the Vancouver Sun

We want a government, society, culture and economy that thrives in its connection to the land we live with. Where we no longer exploit our resources in an unsustainable fashion but respect them for the lifeblood they are. Where we respect sacred geography. Where our food and water-supply is no longer poisoned by corporate profit-seeking and monopolization. Where mono-cropping is a thing of the past and we respect the boundaries of nature and all things within it. Where we no longer trample entire ecosystems. Where our system of exchange no longer embodies the logic of a cancer cell.

We want a media that delivers information honestly, no longer filtering it through the lens of corporate or political agendas.

We want a society and culture that encourages relationships that result less frequently in divorce, as 70,000 do in Canada every year. Where our communities are no longer under the constant threat of fragmentation. Where people are not condemned to the streets because they had no where else to go.

We want to cultivate in our brothers, sisters and most importantly in our children, the power of creativity, curiosity and forward thinking.

We want a world where housing, healthcare and education are universal human rights, and nobody goes hungry.

We are at a pivotal point in time as a species embedded within a living planet. Collectively we are facing the mass extinction of ecological life and of the multitude of cultures that once diversified the globe. It is in the face of this crisis that we are opening our eyes to our vast potential and interconnectedness to one another and to the planet. We are awakening to a self-awareness — long termed enlightenment — that can now be recognized as a universal human capability at this possible turning point in our history.

Liberated from the Metro


As technology enables an instant connection to each other and to information, we have begun to evolve out of an obsolete paradigm and into an integral understanding of the universality that exists across humanity’s vast story of cosmologies and cultures. A recognition that redefines our connections to each other into a new paradigm of inclusiveness — where mutual humanity transcends the archaic values that judged on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation and other facets of who we are, which we are now coming to see are reason for celebration.

We are here to give birth to a system that reflects the human values of compassion and mutual development within and without. The established values of seeking profit above all else, at the sake of not only the resources and integrity of our planet, but also the integrity of our bodies and our communities are outdated and unwanted. We want a world of co-independent communities and not the metropolis of consumption that is devouring the essential human spirit.

We are autonomous people participating in Occupy Calgary. This has been our offering to you. We would like to invite you to join in this conversation.

… [E.L., J.J., R.W., et al.]

It’s time we occupy Calgary – speech

On Saturday Oct. 15, 2011, participants of Occupy Calgary hit Banker’s Hall on Stephen Avenue to begin the noble movement. I was given the opportunity to speak following the smudge ceremony that started the event. The following words are the script of the speech itself.

Liberated from CTV

Right now, we are saying to our parliament, to the media, to corporate interests, to the world, that we are here to participate in a conversation of change.

 “Our politics caught up with who we are,” were the words of our new premier, Alison Redford, touting her election victory. While it is certainly momentous that a woman has finally come to power here in Alberta, it is incredibly embarrassing to hear politicians and media alike believe and announce that our present politics have in any way, shape or form caught up with who we are. In contrast with Redford’s remark, I find myself sympathetic to sociologist Jean Baudrillard’s astute observation that “today, power itself is an embarrassment and there is no one to assume it truly.”

Our political sphere continues to survive on the fiction that it represents we the people, and not neoliberal interests. In our globalized world held hostage by corporate forces the need to subvert the system and bring about serious and legitimate change has necessarily gone viral. We stand at a juncture in history where through participation in this grand act of enthusiastic emancipation we can become the terminal illness that brings an end to a system that has long propagated massive global injustices.

The Arab Spring, Tahrir Square in Cairo, the acampada in Spain, protests in Greece, London, Iceland and Portugal, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Occupy movements across America and across Canada, and we here in Calgary are all united in the desire to open up new social, economic and political dialogues, avenues, and opportunities.

When the Arab Spring ignited the stations of politics and media were caught off guard. They struggled to make sense of what was happening, what it meant and what brought it about. Observing the mainstream media sources’ coverage of the events past and event present reveals, on their part, a severe lack of understanding. Only three days ago the Herald ran an article written by Ric Mciver that called this movement a “gang,” the flavor of the month,” “wannabe Barak Obamas” and “Socialists.” Ric Mciver doesn’t want to understand. The world of media and politics have shown themselves to be utterly disgusted and confused by the idea of regular people expressing their autonomy by camping out on public property to participate in an attempt to create an altruistic, alternative space wherein a dialogue for serious change can be conceived and incubated.

Liberated from the Calgary Herald

When the mainstream media speaks about the Occupy movements you will hear them say “this movement doesn’t know what it wants” … “it has no real plan” … “it has no serious goals.” What we want — our goal — is straightforward: emancipate ourselves, our economy, our society and our politics from the crushing grip of corporate control.  Our plan, to echo Naomi Klein, is to allow people to speak for themselves — rather than having corporations speak for them as they presently do — because we believe that people, when given the opportunity, are smart enough, and capable enough, to make decisions that are the best for them.

Many of our fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters across the province, across this country, often revert to the ‘Canadian’s are calm’ card. You hear platitudes about how easygoing and peaceful we are, as if our very genetics somehow expressed a desire for non-confrontation. This is a mask too easily worn. A mask that blinds us from the very real and pressing concerns that surrounds us all.

Calgary is a colonial outpost of the corporate network in a literal sense.

The ground we stand on right now is Blackfoot land. The Blackfoot people were barriers to the interests of the few and were removed accordingly. And I assure you the injustices did not end there. Crowfoot was a great chief and the Peigan were a people before we assimilated them into roads. In the past few weeks alone, the Harper government has tabled an omnibus crime bill that is determined to enhance the extreme prejudice — the overt racism — contained in Canada’s justice system, where 70 per cent of inmates are aboriginal peoples. To say that Canada, through residential schools, the reserve system and eugenics board, merely has a legacy of racism against its indigenous populations suggests that that racism has been acknowledged and is being corrected as best as possible. Well that is bullshit, brothers and sisters. Racism is as alive as ever here in Canada — aboriginal peoples, having been violently divorced from their lands and their heritage are no longer blockades of the ‘free market’ and make great serf labor for industrial expansion. I implore you to remember that we stand on Native land. Please do not forget it.

Alberta’s economy, while providing many of us a degree of stability, is, in fact, not much of an economy. All of our resources, whether it be oil and gas, wheat, cattle, timber or people –as we too are seen as commodities — are crudely extracted without due care to the environment, are refined for transport, and are sent south to the benefit of the ultra-wealthy abroad. Our natural wealth is exploited by the wealthy. When regular Albertans attempt to speak for themselves and develop legitimate larger industry to their own benefit, and not corporate benefit elsewhere, they are promptly shut down. Borders of supposedly ‘free trade’ conveniently close. Loans are refused on the grounds that our province lacks the real capacity and manpower to develop much beyond primary and secondary industries. The oil refineries, meat and food processors and lumber mills are not in Alberta and are not owned by regular Albertans — we have absolutely not say in any of it. The economic destiny of our province is in the hands of the wealthy who do own those industries, and who extract and exploit our natural wealth at their own leisure and our detriment.

Liberated from the Calgary Sun

Our brothers and sisters who have camped, are camped and will stay camped in the plazas of Madrid, parks across America and Canada, central squares of Arab cities and the streets of Greece believe that now is the time to start the conversation. Revolutions of the past doomed themselves to the repetition of history through traditional modes of coercion, incomplete methods of representation and a tendency towards violence. We can change that too. The injustices we face — locally and globally — propagated by the behemoth of corporatist hegemony that enshrouds us can be brought to their ends through encouraging, incubating and realizing the conversation around us.

Maybe by gathering here we will give our brothers and sisters who are stuck in that a malaise of mutual indifference the courage to stand up and speak on their own behalf too. Because here we are, peacefully assembled, declaring our autonomy, and creating a space to conceive and incubate the dialogues and opportunities that will give way to the essential changes needed to set our city, our province, our world down a healthier path.