Loving Beyond Beauty

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This piece by Caleb Luna (they/them) gets at an issue that increasingly seems to me to be *the* sticking point for a radical politics rooted in the erotic, in love. What happens to bodies marked by the majority as unbeautiful? Urging people to redefine their idea of beauty, as corporate marketing campaigns sometimes do, misses the point. That still makes beauty the measure of worth. It’s not enough to say, “You too are beautiful, body that society relentlessly devalues”; what’s radical and necessary is to say, “Your human value has nothing to do with your beauty or unbeauty, your human value is inalienable, and yet you’re still a body and your body is still good.”

I’ve often been kinda terrified about how alone I’d feel if nobody I find attractive found me attractive. I’ve worried that my tendency to date conventionally nice-looking able-bodied white people, when once in a while they’ll have me, just doesn’t scale: if everybody did that or tried to do that, so so so many people would be frustrated and alone.

And hey wait: so many people ARE frustrated and alone! It’s almost as if a neoliberal market logic, applied to the sexual “marketplace,” results, for some, in what Michel Houellebecq calls “absolute pauperization.” It’s almost as if the neoliberal privatization of care, the political consensus that people are mostly responsible for themselves and it’s not the role of the community to look after all its members, means that people who don’t find mates — whose bodies make it difficult to find mates — are pretty royally fucked.

But speaking of fucking, you want to fuck who you want to fuck, right? You do. It’s hard if not impossible to “reeducate” desire. But the identification of sex with care — the reality that, as Luna points out in their piece, a lot of people direct a disproportionate amount of their emotional energy towards the person they’re fucking — is a problem. Of course you should show as much care as possible to whomever you’re fucking. But a radically loving politics needs to go further.

Maybe it means building more friendships that are as committed and emotional-energy-intensive as good sexual relationships. Maybe it means fucking those you care about but who aren’t socially marked as beautiful, and also worshipping beauty (because beauty is amazing) and fucking those it abides in. Probably it doesn’t mean monogamy, which deals in a logic of status and possession and will-to-babymaking that causes many people, for both social and biological reasons, to prioritize beauty. (My partner and I aren’t monogamous and I still happen to think she’s beautiful, but I would love her and want to take care of her and be taken care of by her even if she weren’t.) Certainly it doesn’t mean pretending, because we want to protest oppressive forms of “objectification,” that we’re not bodies. That’s wrong. We don’t *have* bodies. We’re not spirits that borrow bodies. That’s Christianity. That’s Plato. That’s metaphor. We’re bodies.

I dunno. But it seems to me that the fundamental political question is an erotic one, that a politics that enables people to live fully human lives must both affirm beauty (because beauty is amazing) and refuse to make it a necessary basis for care.

On sexual assault, Steven Galloway, and radical visions of ethically self-governing community

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ubc-march-29-2016On November 14th, Margaret Atwood, Joseph Boyden, and dozens of other celebrated Canadian authors published an open letter to the University of British Columbia. It was an act of protest against the university’s mistreatment of one of their CanLit luminary peers, Steven Galloway, the novelist and former UBC Creative Writing Program chair at the centre of a sex scandal. It’s now known that Galloway had an affair with a middle-aged student in his department, who later accused him of sexual assault; a number of his students also allege that he played favourites, created a sexualized environment, and engaged in horseplay that crossed lines of decorum at the least.

None of these details were available to the public last November, when The Globe and Mail and other major news outlets ran the story that Galloway had been suspended from his job in light of unspecified “serious allegations.” An internal investigation at UBC followed, conducted by a retired provincial Supreme Court judge. Her report found most of the complaints against Galloway, including the sexual assault one, couldn’t be substantiated. Still, whatever was in the report was enough for UBC, and Galloway was fired in June, without severance. There was extensive media coverage, with varying degrees of sympathy for the different parties. Galloway tried to kill himself.

In The Walrus magazine, Margaret Atwood likens the business to the Salem Witch Trials, total reputational annihilation on the basis of whisper campaigns and a guilty-because-accused standard of public judgment. She’s right. Many others on Twitter express concern for the complainants, de-centred in favour of Galloway in the heavyweights’ letter. They’re right. Dorothy Palmer, a union leader and activist, argues on Facebook that the open-letter CanLuminaries are bourgeois stars of the neoliberal gig economy and their weaponizing the media is a form of union-busting: the controversy should be settled through unions’ established protocols, better able to ensure fairness and privacy. In principle, she’s right.

Except the fairness and privacy ship sailed last November, when UBC failed both Galloway and his accusers by allowing his suspension to leak to Canada’s daily newspaper of record and thus to social media. What anybody embedded in the neoliberal gig economy knows is that your union grievance rights are worth shit once your personal brand is dead. Whether you’re a bestselling author or a desperate MFA grad watching your bank balance dwindle (or both), you are your name—or, to be precise, your name’s globally accessible Google search results.

Employment depends on them. Housing may depend on them. Future friendship and romance most certainly depend on them. Someone whose name has been wrecked online must wonder, each time they meet a new person: Do they know the shame my name now holds, and will they abandon me when they find out? To be sure, many victims of sexual assault feel a parallel version of this loneliness when they wonder, each time they meet someone new: Can they tell I’m traumatized, and will they abandon me when they find out? The open-letter-writers may have felt the former horror more acutely. Or they may have felt, as they imply, that Galloway has gotten a rawer deal than the complainants in light of the circumstances that are known. I can’t tell if the CanLuminaries’ demand for a public inquiry into the events is all that coherent; it’s not clear to me that such a thing would benefit the main stakeholders at this point, though unmuzzling Galloway might well benefit his mental health. What I wish is that these exceptional writers had used their collective force of imagination to probe more searchingly the moral, ethical, and legal questions before them.

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The Canadian Theatre is a Lameass Bourgeois Snooze

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karl-marx-peaceSo I pitched The Walrus magazine and was assigned in April to write this essay (below) about the Canadian theatre’s sanctimonious bullshit liberalism, but it turns out The Walrus‘s freelance labour practices are high-handed and exploitative, i.e. partake of the same liberal motherfuckery I was writing about. After six (6) months of missed deadlines and serial ghosting on my editor’s part, after I thrice (3ice) tried to withdraw the piece and was told the magazine still wanted it for its website—but wouldn’t commit to any timeline for editing, publication, and payment—I made a very funny joke about telling my editor to fuck off, and that, for some reason, was taken more seriously than any of my polite follow-ups over the preceding half-year had been. The world is full of wonders.

I now present the piece on my Website, locus of my Personal Brand. You may Ignore it, or you may Read it; you may Concur, or you may Attempt To Destroy Me. I wrote it mostly in May-ish, when I was formally a nicer person than I am now; today I would use more swears. At any rate, it’s a punchy bit of Marxism that blows a raspberry at the Canadian theatre’s neoliberal circle jerk, though when I wrote it I thought it was also fairly measured and constructive. Maybe it’s still constructive even though now I’m fucking pissed and don’t much care. Most of what it says about CanTheatre is obvious, but I’ve not seen those things written elsewhere. It picks on Soulpepper and it champions Soheil Parsa, whose relative neglect is a disgrace. You will likely find it truthful and be reluctant to share it.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯               ¯\_(ツ)_/¯               ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Like Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon keep watch for their Godot, I wait for the Canadian theatre—so self-confidently progressive, so sure of its liberal bona fides—to produce something like a class critique, an adequate reckoning with its own economic premises and those of our society. It never comes.

In vain, mumbling and prancing like Beckett’s Lucky, I hold out for some brave fool to say: “Hey, institutional theatres that claim millions of dollars in public funding, you’re still of and for the rich, and courting the brown rich in addition to the white rich doesn’t make you paragons of social justice. How about enacting policies that make your work consistently affordable for patrons who earn near or below the Canadian median income? That, like many European repertory companies, offer wage security to artists and not only or mostly to administrators? That provide childcare so attendees needn’t be able to afford babysitters in addition to show tickets? Most importantly, how about staging work that challenges, and doesn’t just affirm, your audience’s liberal triumphalism?”

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The Mysteries

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It was the year when I became so preoccupied with sleeping with women that I lost motivation for almost every other pursuit and began to worry, at times, that I might starve. The women I slept with would feed me, I hoped. Or perhaps I’d establish a network of male friends, preferably wealthy, whose envy of my lifestyle would transform into an urge to help me, sustain me as an avatar of their own desires, a mild-mannered satyr through whom they could live vicariously. I was surviving on a combination of government grants and awards and a monthly allowance from a local dowager, sentimental and cruel and extremely old, whom I’d met at the opening of a play I’d written, a Holocaust fable about erstwhile child star Jonathan Taylor Thomas (JTT) and the working poor. It wasn’t very well received, but my benefactor-to-be, quite senile, thought me a young genius. Once she died, which could happen at any moment, I knew it would be much harder for me to survive.

In the meantime I was pretty happy. I got into the habit of discussing my situation with Debbie, brilliant and anxious, an inveterate overachiever who greeted with ambivalence my merry fornicating ways. “Debbie,” I’d say, as we lay entwined in bed, “I worry sometimes that I’m spending my whole life chatting with girls at Starbucks, and also at ‘independent’ coffee shops. I go to such places to write, but I always end up talking to some girl. I’m not getting any work done.” And Debbie would squeeze my bum and say, “I don’t want to hear about this,” if she felt jealous, or, “You’re so ballsy,” if she did not.

She was an acquisitions editor for a major publishing house and a wonderful freak who could reach orgasm only when first spanked and then, during intercourse, scolded with biblical verses suggesting she was not among the elect graced by divine providence, generally selections from the Book of Jeremiah or, during fellatio, Isaiah. We’d met online. She was more or less okay with me fucking other people as long as I took care of her needs and was kind and honest. This contract was agreeable to me—my standard boilerplate, as it were. She could read incredibly fast, a symptom of or qualification for her job; often she’d read my writing. “It’s shit,” I’d say, as she read my manuscript at the kitchen table. She’d hold up a finger to shush me, and I would shush. “It’s seriously shit,” I would insist, and she’d tell me that if I wouldn’t shut up she’d exile me to the hallway. I had a bachelor apartment in a low-rise building; the hallway was poorly lighted and offered nowhere to sit besides the filthy carpet. “Okay,” I’d say then, trembling, “but if you come to feel you’ve wasted your time reading that shit and you’re resentful, you’re the only one to blame.” She may have given me the finger, if my peripheral vision is to be trusted. In any case she gave me a finger.

Well, but I knew my “work-life balance” wasn’t tenable, so I decided to visit the dowager for advice. Continue reading

On Top – The Complete Script

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goodwp.com_16407A little experiment.

For the next year, I’m waiving all production royalties to my play On Top for theatre companies and collectives with an annual budget under CAD $50,000. The full script, below, will live online for the year. To secure the rights, just e-mail me and tell me what you plan to do.

The text is also full of meaty audition monologue material for men and women in their late 20s and 30s.

On Top premiered at the Tarragon Theatre Workspace in Toronto in March 2016, directed by me and performed by Krista Colosimo, Michael Goldlist, and Jess Salgueiro. Under a previous title, it won the 2015 Safe Words Playwriting Competition. The play is political, sexual, non-linear, fragmentary, occasionally poetic, sometimes anti-dramatic, often weird. It requires no set or design. It allows, maybe demands, a fair bit of interpretation by the producing artists. It runs about 60 minutes.

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