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.

Image

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!”

Advertisements

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.

Image

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.

Age of no consent

This column appeared in The Gauntlet on March 22, 2012

You have never had consensual sex. The sex you have now is not consensual, nor will you ever have consensual sex so long as you continue to live as you do. Rape, sexual abuse and assault are merely the tip of a sexually violent iceberg. Given the direness of our present circumstances — the inherent barbarism of the social, economic, political, religious, academic and cultural corrals into which we are captured and contained — it is fair to claim that it is impossible for anyone to adequately consent to sexual activity in the present. And what’s most sinister is that we’ve been ‘educated’ to think that all is well. While it may seem harsh or absurd to think that a statement that echoes of the obscene charge that “all sex is rape” could be legitimate, to deny it suggests that one is suffering from a terrible case of false consciousness. We have become numb, no longer capable of feeling the flow of sinister authority that permeates the fabric of our lives. We are incapable of making autonomous and well-informed decisions, incapable of being in touch with ourselves and our own sexualities. We’ve been normalized to sexual violence and the vital force of our erotic passions has been drained, leaving the substance of genuine consent unobtainable.


The issues of consent cut a wide swath of possible discussions in all sorts of fields of interest, but none of them evokes as furious and emotionally infused reactions as the issue of sexual consent does. Clearly we are pressing on sensitive tissue. Dare I say that our nerves are so frayed perhaps because we, at heart, understand that something integral is lacking in our sexualities? That sexuality’s intimate core is missing, or has been stolen? Do we not sense that some grave and grievous injustice is being done in every porn film, night club, brothel, fatherly household or kangaroo rape trial? Yet we don’t face up to this reality, perhaps because we know that the rot exists not only on the periphery — in the porn flicks, whorehouses and violent rapes — but that its roots extend through the entirety of the whole, the bulk of matter, and into our very beds. Must I remind you that most sexual assaults and rapes are perpetrated by friends, family or acquaintances — and if we are finally being honest with ourselves and one another, even when we, men and women the same, tell ourselves that our sexual activity is mutually and genuinely consensual, we are refining our skills of disavowal. The behemoth that is our way of life is thoroughly infected. The laws, the language, the imagery — everything our senses can be imbued with, even one another, has been infused with patriarchy’s dominating, savage values. The same system that allows spliced and splayed ‘women’ to be devoured also liquidates our capacity to make well-informed judgements and to understand and appreciate our own sexualities. We live under the same roof, and eat the same stale, mouldy bread as the whore and rapist do.

We grudgingly accept the old cliche “sex sells,” not because we understand it as ‘truth,’ but because we aren’t allowed to believe anything else. Sex is pleasurable, erotic desire animates our lives; but that doesn’t justify the sort of logic that packages our passions into marketable, measurable and manageable hedons. Even if a seemingly innocuous phrase like “sex sells” contained a nugget of truth (although I don’t know how it would), it has been used against us, inoculating us from birth with a false sense that the hyper-sexualization of our world is an inevitable consequence of ‘human nature,’ of Homo economicus. Or worse, we tell ourselves that sexual violence is an exception, perpetrated by perverts. But we know better. We can do better. The bastions of patriarchy are far from being inevitable consequences of ‘the way things are.’ Walls do fall, whether through lack of upkeep, nature’s wrath or by our own hands. But rather than waiting for the situation to improve or placing our hopes on reform (which, lest we forget, only buries the problem deeper) we ought to take sexual and erotic freedom, and the revolutionary struggle necessary to achieve it, seriously. We must, as Wolfi Landstreicher told us, “ . . . truly allow the expansiveness of passionate intensity to flower and to pursue it where the twisting vine of desire takes it.”

No one wants to admit that their sex life is not and never has been consensual. But there is nothing fantastical and utopian about believing that it is possible to form new ways of life where we congregate with one another as autonomous equals, adequately informed and genuinely in touch with ourselves. Bringing to fruition the way we ought to live — where loving and erotic relationships of infinite variety are legitimately possible — requires overturning and annihilating the destructive order at hand, adopting struggle as a way of life, passionately and incessantly dreaming and doing. Accepting sex’s current non-consensual nature is a bitter pill to swallow, but perhaps it is just the right medicine to cure us of our sexual woes.

No place to study . . . each other

This article appeared in the Gauntlet on Oct. 27, 2011.

The Taylor Family Digital Library opened to considerable fanfare, but its study spaces are absurdly busy, noisy and in short supply. The majority of MacKimmie Tower closed, robbing us of a study place of solace. Coupling these concerns with the record enrolment numbers and the bureaucratic hodgepodging of both the su and campus administration, students are realizing that our campus has woefully inadequate study space. However, there is an equally pressing concern that most students haven’t yet considered: the woefully inadequate lack of sex space.

The studying of sexuality and sex in all of its scholarly manifestations is ubiquitous in the fields of academia. But in our university the having of sex and exploring of sexuality have been denied a constructive outlet. This has condemned campus sex and sexuality to secretive trysts and regretful dorm room encounters.
If our school really wants to achieve “excellence” they need to affirm sexuality and create sexual space. Sex space would undoubtedly reduce the amount of pointless and often painful one-night stands that result from the immature sex rituals of ThursDen. If we had sex space students would waste less of their days and nights ogling their fellow students, searching for a human connection or for a fuck. It’s understood that sex is a wonderful option for stress relief. I’m certain most students don’t need the benefits of stress relief explained to them. With less nights and days wasted, with our focus regained and our stress reduced, grades and emotional well-being would improve. Our burden upon services such as the Wellness Centre would certainly be reduced. The practical element of establishing sexual space would be an incredible adventure that only a closed mind would not appreciate. While there is something to be said of clandestine rendezvouses in empty classrooms, sex space would foster a better relationship to sexuality.

Sexuality is an essential aspect of humanness — it expresses itself in a bountiful plurality of beautiful possibilities. However, perhaps resulting from the hyper-sexualized sexist corporate media, sexuality within our campus has, almost entirely, been relegated to the darkest recesses of our school. Sex space is a possible means by which we can reverse this trend. Our university needs to graduate from its immature understanding of sex — a coital convocation that affirms genuine sexual values.

Anal-fisting: the fullest manifestation of the sexual act

 This article appeared in the Gauntlet on September 15th, 2011.

  Slavoj Žižek — the quick-witted, foul-mouthed philosopher — punctiliously proclaimed “fist-fucking” to be — simply — “Edenic,” and ultimately, under my auspicious observation, Žižek is correct. Anal-fisting, a sexual act whose relatively high level of difficulty to perform with success, foreseeably prompting revulsion in sensitive ears, is the fullest and most intense manifestation of sexual capacity, pleasurability and sexual expression.

  Žižek’s insights — contained in his 1997 work The Plague of Fantasies — were predominantly theological-sexual speculations about Adam and Eve before the Fall. However, with a dash of courage, the thrustful arguments made by the Slovenian wit can conveniently be extended into contemporary sexual discourse, especially in respects to homosexuality/homophobia, issues of dominance and control and the powerful symbolic role of the hand as the object of penetration. Anal-fisting is the culmination not of just unquantifiable personal sexual orgasmic experiences, which commonly limits discussions of sexual pleasure, but rather it is the fullest manifestation of the sexual act as it relates to sexual ability, limits, pleasure, expression and symbolic relations and power. But, of course, as one anonymous Montreal author stated, “Why fisting? Why not? We all are constantly searching for higher and more fulfilling planes of sexual pleasure.”

  Sexual activity involving anal play, particularly the act of anal-fisting, is seen by a significant majority of present society as being a predominantly perverted homosexual act. In the words of sex-blogger Tristan Taormino, “Most people think anal-fisting is either a gay urban legend or some freakish sexual circus feat.” The present efforts seek to dissolve and move past such judgements, which are themselves the actual perversion. Anal-fisting is not the sole property of any one orientation or partner relationship. Whether performed by a single individual, two men, two women, a man and woman, two people of whatever sexual identity or multiple people of whatever sexual identity, fist-fucking oversteps the demoded hetero/homosexual dichotomy, receiving the entire sexual spectrum much as the ass receives the hand: in a steady, lubricated thrust. As anal-fisting knows no sexual boundaries, it is the crowning jewel of omnisexuality activity — the prime pansexual pleasure.

  The next feature in favour of fist-fucking being considered the fullest manifestation — the most ‘Edenic’ expression — of the sexual act is the necessity of Will that is required to succeed in the act itself. The necessity of Will divides into two intertwined points: resistance and overcoming. From a physical standpoint the ass is a highly flexible orifice, more than capable of receiving a fist (hand) into it. The difficulty of the act resides in the psychological determination required to surmount the mind’s own opposition. In Žižek’s words, one is “penetrated in the region in which ‘closure,’ resistance to penetration, is the natural reaction.” The term ‘closure’ as used by Žižek is specially meaningful, as its antonym, ‘opening,’ is reflectant of both what is necessary physically and of the ‘openness’ of Mind required. To relax — akin to a meditation — and overcome the mental difficulties present and accept the fist of one’s partner is to lay down all judgements, physical and psychological, in the pursuit of pleasures oft forbidden to unopened Minds.

  One of the most striking properties of fist-fucking is the symbolic role of the hand. As Žižek notes, the hand is “not the phallus (as in ‘normal’ anal intercourse) but the fist (hand), the organ par excellence not of spontaneous pleasure but of instrumental activity . . . What enters me is not the phallus, but a pre-phallic partial object.” The hand, in psychoanalytic terms, cannot be rendered into the receiving subject’s ‘narcissistic illusion of completeness,’ obliterating the phallic-centred desire/dominance ego struggle so characteristic of contemporary sexuality.

  Furthermore, anal-fisting requires passivity on the part of the receiver. It is through passivity that anal-fisting transcends homophobic tendencies, extends beyond dominance and control and provides the intense experience of pleasure. Forced to remain passive, especially in a culture whose sexuality still suffers the nightmares of patriarchal dominance, the receiver must overcome their own inhibitions, so often homophobic in nature, in order to succeed in the edenic enjoyment available.

  The determination of Will required to quell the tendency towards closure and control. The pre-phallic symbolic nature of the hand as a giver of pleasure. The breaking of restrictive limits so common in sexuality, the understanding of one’s body and of sexuality imbued from the knowledge gained through exploration. The passivity required for receiving and the blurring of sexual-orientation distinctions into pansexual unity all astoundingly announce that anal-fisting is the prime pansexual penetrative pleasure — the fullest manifestation of the sexual act.

“Coitus au Courant”

During my time as illustrations editor for The Gauntlet I helped create the 2011 creative supplement. My primary contributions were the cover art and design — itself somewhat controversial, as it is ‘unreadable’ and also has me, its own designer, as the cover’s subject — and a poem I wrote and laid-out. The poem is, for me, an interesting conjoining of my interests in design and literature, since for my poem to ‘work’  it requires the intimate coming-together of the text and visual apparatuses to form its whole.