Thursday, August 3, 2017

Making Peace with the Penalty Box

There’s a deafening silence at the intersection of slut-shaming, toxic masculinity, and stigmatizing mental struggle, a hole where a conversation ought to be.

Bacterial STIs happen. From experience, I tell you they suck, but they pass. And we never talk about it.

Silent survival is expected during the 7-14 days following treatment when sex is medically discouraged. The mental health implications of BSTI treatment are significant but smothered. In order to break this silence, we need to name and unshame the penalty box that comes after BSTI treatment as a valid experience.

Three discourses ensure the penalty box stays quiet. Slut-shaming, poor health as weakness, and mental illness as weakness. For masculine folks, the penalty box picks up another layer insulation though gendered expectations of stoicism and unwavering strength.

It’s ok not to be ok.

Anxiety in the penalty box is particularly arduous. Having a BSTI is the ultimate forum to question your self-worth, life decisions, reasons for living, etc... People may cope with substance use, and/or disregard prescribed abstinence.

We can make it easier.

“I’m in the penalty box” needs to mean something; it needs to kill the dead air around sexual health by completely normalizing two things: 1) I’m not having sex right now because I have/had a BSTI and 2) treatment may have mental health implications.

The penalty box can manage sexual expectation without disclosing any details. If someone says they're in the penalty box on Tinder, you can actually take a second to be thankful that this human is choosing sexual responsibility and consider that they might be going through some heavy stuff.

My trip to the penalty box.

My recent week in the penalty box got off to an insane start. A hot week in July, I had did some drugs and guys. It happens. So in the week, I had safe intercourse with 4 guys. All of the guys I fucked were on PrEP and preferred bareback. One of them straight up condom-shamed me to no avail, and the other three were chill about condoms.

Gonorrhea strikes, go figure, but why did it have to happen like this?

Allow me to set the scene. I logged on Seeking Arrangement for the first time in 8 months and saw this guy in Toronto, who was gainfully employed in the cultural sector and looking for what I’d call a courtshipwith a younger suitor. My Seeking Arrangement profile was a “why the fuck not?” project that somehow spat me out on a date with this wealthy bachelor.

He was neither ugly nor handsome. He was bullish and clearly liked things his way. He was demanding just under the point of being rude. He put our server on eggshells for no reason other than his concept of good service. He kept her busy; one of the ways he liked to have things was half-in-the bag.

I had, prior to our meeting, expressed my disinterest in drinking over our dinner, but I didn’t mind if he did, and I didn’t. I did mind his repeated insistence I join him in drinking. I don’t casually drink, I never have. If I’m going to drink it’s for a reason; otherwise, I don’t really like the taste of alcohol, and I try to only drink coffee and water for health reasons.

During our two hours together, I estimate he consumed a bottle of wine and 3 spirits on the rocks. With each drink order, he’d blatantly insist I have one with him.

He’s the kind of person you casually disagree with but try to find some mid-ground with because you’re trapped in the same space with clearly nothing similar about your lives.

Disagreeing can only proceed casually so long. His racist uncle style anti-indigenous rant was my breaking point. I’m not one to hold back, so I nailed him to the wall for homogenizing indigenous people as a singular problematic race.

Then my heart sank. He felt it too and excused himself for a cigarette. The ideal arrangement, where we both liked each other was out of reach, but he still wanted to bang me.

He did get around to suggesting returning to his condo for sex, and that's when I had to bring up the penalty box. I disclosed that I had just been treated for an STI, and I medically couldn’t have sex. He was rather unconcerned by this information, but I had just told the best kind of lie: a 90% truth.

I hadn’t sought treatment yet. Symptoms presented an hour and a half before our meeting. It was cancel and make it to a clinic or meet him and go first thing in the morning. I chose the latter.

Let this information sink in…. I’m ever-so-slowly leaking mucus during dinner with this awful human trying to see if a viable arrangement can be salvaged.

The answer was no. It came down to the fact that I didn’t care how wealthy he was; I would be embarrassed to introduce him to my friends because of the entitlement and ignorance he wore like armour.

The next night, I ended things with this text and no regrets:

“Another meeting is not in our future. I was extremely disappointed with how hard you pushed booze. Also, not a fan of loud ignorance about aboriginals.”

I couldn’t say he was a good person based on what I know, but I’m actually kind of sad for him. It suffices to say I’m happy my life isn’t that lonely or liver-damaged.

Behind all that dinner drama bullshit, there’s the mental side of the penalty box I mentioned earlier. I spent the night feeling like I didn't fully own my body. It was like a stranger that I let in had some lingering insidious control over me. Further, I chose a date with a sub-par suitor over my own health, and I proceeded to beat myself up over it during my whole week in the penalty box.

I refused to suffer in silence through treatment and the penalty box. I talked it out with a couple of close friends, and then I digitally purged my shame in a set of TMI confessional tweets.

Knowing and asserting that the personal is political is how I made peace with the penalty box, and you can too.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Condom-Shaming is Rape Culture

From experience, I tell you that there is mounting pressure for queer and gender diverse men to abandon condoms. I didn't have the words to express my discomfort with this phenomenon until recently, and I need to name and shame the dissuasion I've experienced adhering to condom use while participating in hookup culture.

Condom-shaming is rape culture.

I want to start by saying that I've been grey raped. I was consensually having sex until I realized that he didn't have a condom on. Condom use was discussed and expected, but that wasn't the idea this guy had. I was consenting until I wasn't. The conditions of my consent were not being met, but I assumed they were because of intentional deception. After the panic attack stopped, we proceeded to have sex with a condom.

That hookup will never leave me. It made it hard for me to relax and trust that my conditions of consent will be maintained with new partners.

They call it stealthing, and I'm happy Canadian legal institutions have identified this deception as legal rape. If stealthing is rape, then condom-shaming must be rape culture.

Advances in treatment and prevention of HIV have emboldened men to expect and demand condomless sex. We are witnessing a fundamental shift in the conversation about condom use between queer and gender diverse men.

We're in a culture war largely being fueled by PrEP. PrEP is pill-a-day prevention regimen prescribed to people at high risk of HIV contraction, it is not a substitute for condoms, given that it protects against no STIs other than HIV.

The context of bareback sex is changing from product of negotiation to an expectation/demand. The practices that move the social context of bareback toward an expectation/demand directly inculcate rape culture by detracting from the acceptability of a person setting their own conditions of consent, in this case condom use.

The solicitation of bareback sex needs to be taken with the same gravity as stating racial preferences. Most people can wrap their heads around how writing "whites only" on a dating profile is an expression of racism, but why is no one calling out the growing number of guys seeking "bb only?"

Whenever we write "only", we ought to reflect. "Only" is exclusion, and you should be sure who you want to exclude and how you're doing it.

In addition to rape culture, blanket exclusion of condom users reinforces classism and ableism. The ability to demand highest risk sex activities is a position of privilege. Many people (especially in the US) are too unhealthy or too poor to desire the risk of sex without condoms, but no one needs a reason for demanding condom use.

Some advocates have it twisted. The ill-considered argument goes: because the risk of unsafe sex is now primarily bacterial and manageable, people who discourage bareback sex are ill-informed and discriminatory against people with HIV.

False. Consent is a right, and unsafe sex is a preference, condoms were the original HIV(=), and super-gonorrhea is not treatable by any known antibiotic.

Citing PrEP or an undetectable viral load as evidence against a partner's preference for condom use is rape culture; therein, the partner seeking bareback sex is actively trying to replace their partner's context of consent with their own by deferring to decontextualized scientific authority. Condom-shaming is a one-sided negotiation tactic that should be seen as both gas-lighting and symbolic violence.

Obviously, HIV risk can be discussed without rape culture, but we can't do that in a "bareback or fuck off" chat setting, no matter how nicely it's spelled out.

By all means, select partners however you see fit, but it we're calling in/out the racism & femme-phobia of hookup culture, let's talk about the ableism, classism, and rape culture of condom-shaming too.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Calling Out Cultural Plagiarism

Identifying instances of celebrity cultural appropriation has become increasingly published mainstream fodder. The good intentions of politically recognizing and reconciling power relations evaporated when cultural appropriation became a profitable context to write about the arbitrary actions of celebrities - when it became fashion.

Like globalization, cultural appropriation is a neutral process that has both good and bad implications. It has always and will always be happening. The argument that cultural appropriation is an inherent evil inadequately/incorrectly defines culture as a product owned by a group determined by biological descent.

Marxist and essentialist theories define culture for the zealous opponents of cultural appropriation. Marxism suggests that culture is a good that is produced and owned, and essentialism adds that cultures self-reproduce by creating immutable stereotypes of themselves. Cultural appropriation is always bad if you believe culture should be owned by its "rightful" creators, who are "authenticated" by stereotypes.

Post-modern theories offer a more accurate account of culture as a set of practices that characterize a distinct group of people. There is no division between culture and knowledge; culture is language, music, dance, dress, food, storytelling, political traditions, sports, and relationships with animals and environments.

Calling cultural appropriations injustices also misrepresents consensus on what injustice means. The dominant narrative of injustice is an understanding that an unacceptable rights infraction has occurred and requires remedy. If you can't directly replace the words "cultural appropriation" with "racism" in your pop cultural critique, you're probably missing the point.

Speaking of all cultural appropriation as injustice proverbially throws the baby out with the bathwater. The effort to curb injustice incidentally commits injustice through heavy-handed cultural policing.

Cultural policing is a censorship phenomenon with roots across the political spectrum. Conservatives eschew sex, violence, and non-traditional values in TV, film, and video games. Meanwhile, progressive factions have taken to policing 'insensitive' cultural elements. Regardless of motivational divergence, all practices of cultural policing present relative moral narratives as justification for challenges to free expression.

An instance of cultural policing can be of net benefit when it's motivated by the correction of injustice. I do not write "the pursuit of justice" because the tense of cultural policing is the point where the practice pivots between corrective and intrusive. Using a flawed method to correct a flawed world is reasonable, but using a flawed method to create an ideal world is illogical. Cultural policing is either corrective (justified) or moralizing (intrusive).

The corrective capacity of cultural policing is assumed in the project of political correctness. Political correctness is a commitment to correct injustices that language conventions (re)create. Solidarity across immeasurable difference and individual accountability for words spoken into reality are the desired outcomes of political correctness. The cultural policing of political incorrectness is justified because it corrects unequal power relations actively and passively entrenched in language.

Moralizing instances of cultural policing from progressives are motivated by the movement toward empathetic correctness, a doctrine that asserts that individuals should take responsibility for the emotional reactions to their free expression. Empathetic correctness is an approach to build a specific and contested vision of justice at the cost of civil liberty. Empathetic correctness values a non-offensive character to culture over the critical consumption of freely produced culture.

There's just one glaring problem with empathetic correctness. Hurt feelings are not injustices.

The power relations that need to be critiqued between privileged and underprivileged cultural producers is legitimate in a context of plagiarism. Plagiarism sets cultural critique in the paradigm of intellectual property rights. Imitation within reason is acceptable, but there are economic rights protecting intellectual property. Where rights are infringed, there is injustice.

Cultural plagiarism affords us outrage when Navajo designs are printed onto Urban Outfitters t-shirts, but tells columnists that Justin Bieber's corn rows aren't worth writing about. If we talk about cultural appropriation like we talk about fashion, we make discussion indivisible from the socio-economic relations of production. The privileged produce and reproduce cultural elements for personal gain too often without the due diligence of credit or payment to original creators.

Definitively, it is within your rights right to both culturally appropriate and police, but I implore you to consider why exactly you're doing so. The world would be a better place if people stopped to ask themselves "is my costume fetishizing or trivializing anyone?" or "is my public confrontation/keyboard call-out based on a subjective moralizing argument?"

Reflection is better than judgement.

Friday, May 26, 2017

John Campbell is Right About Pride

But he could have explained himself so much better...For readers out of the loop, Toronto city councilor John Campbell introduced a motion to strip Pride Toronto of their city grant for a decision to restrict the dress and conduct of police officers in attendance of the festival.

Censorship is a tool of oppression. It cannot be used to create anti-oppression.

I am a realist. Pride Toronto is a private entity. As much as they'd like to claim they represent Toronto's immeasurable diversity, they don't. Private entities have the right to organize themselves as they see fit. However, private organizations who take public funds are bound to the conditions of public opinion.

Let's get some facts straight about Toronto Pride.

Fact: Many community groups, businesses, and non-profits run events that contribute to the overall economic impact of the Pride Festival. Giving all of the credit to Pride Toronto is a beat up strategy non-profits use to lure funders.

Fact: Taking away $260 000 hurts not a single queer person. It forces a very problematic organization to examine their conduct and realign their policies and expenditures within a financial reality that does not sponsor their censorship of parade participants based on occupation.

Fact: Pride Toronto is a white, gay, capitalist institution. There's no rational disagreement with these descriptors. Pride Toronto is not entitled to public money.

Fact: Legally, a university couldn't censor event participants like Pride Toronto plans to.

Fact: We can give the money to more deserving applicants.

Propping up Pride Toronto and saying "well, if you have a problem, get involved" is asking the oppressed to save themselves. Why should more people need to get involved when funding can just be given to less problematic recipients?

The non-profit industrial complex is an axis of evil until it's something you like, right?

Friday, May 5, 2017

For Clarity: A Biopolitical Diary Entry

I haven't written in so long that it actually disappoints me. I accept my struggle with balance; I tend to pick one thing and do really well at it alone, and for the last six months that was working 40 exhausting hours a week at Cannabis Culture in Toronto's Church-Wellesley Village.

An early November afternoon, I handed Marc Emery a resume tailored to the Prince of Pot. Unexpectedly, I was hired for a trial shift that day and spent the next six months selling cannabis for recreational use in open defiance of prohibition laws.

Officially, I was a budtender, though that's getting punched up to "CSR for special retail" on the resume. I can't tell you how many times I heard "you have the coolest job ever".  Straight up though: budtending is exactly like bar tending, sub weed for booze. I don't love customer service, but I like weed and money! It was my most memorable job to date, certainly.

I know a lot of words, and none of them in any combination can speak to how much my life changed over the course of my employment at 461 Church Street. I landed in Toronto June 30 on the final leg of what would be a two year stint informally housed. With stable income and welcoming work family, Toronto became home. Do not take any of this as a love letter to Toronto; the feeling is tenuous.

Comforts of home burnt out for me a while ago. It hasn't been New Brunswick for years; I doubt I'll spend more than a few weeks in Sussex the rest of my life. Ottawa lost its luster after 9 years too. As I hit my late 20's, I fell out of love with Ottawa's double lives, zealous partisans, and golden handcuffs.

Working at Cannabis Culture was unique. I was day staff and immediately realized the stream of humans at the LCBO was as diverse as the stream of our customers. Blatant wealth and poverty were on display at 461 Church, as was every other facet of life. Being nimble at working across class and cultural differences made some of us better at budtending than others.

I need not recount the history of dispensary raids that put me out of work, but know that I've had some time to consider my options the past couple weeks.

Clarity is priceless. I learned this young. Thinking an option through is far more important than acting immediately, despite any pressures otherwise. Without a job, I was imploding trying to figure out my next move. For the first time in my adult life, I have enough money saved that I can comfortably investigate self-employment prospects.

These prospects were dizzying. I don't mean that in a self-congratulatory sense; I mean that I made myself sick with consideration. The pressure I was putting on myself to act quickly was too much. Days of stressorexia preceded me getting worst stomach flu of my adult life. Through the anxiety and illness, I researched a cannabis business proposal that would have made me a millionaire quite quickly, and then I decided against the whole plan.

The level of completion at which I walked away from the proposal frustrates a lot of people. It felt familiar to me, but more imortantly, it felt right. The other time I felt this was withdrawing my PhD acceptance. Something, in this case horrible physical illness, prompted me to identify and purge disingenuous internalized classism.

So how much had I done? I took an online cannabis studies program, I incorporated & trademarked, I did all the sales projections, I listed all the community partners, I found the site's investment package from it's receiver, and I shortlisted three of my most trusted friends to ask in on it. I did everything short of typing it up.

The pitch was to re-purpose the abandoned Sussex Mall in Sussex, New Brunswick for licensed cannabis production. Conservative sales estimate was 16 million dollars per year. I still get a pang of excitement thinking about the potential of the idea, but I need to smother that shit with reality.

I would be rich, but would I be happy? The answer was: not for a few years. Life would suck until I could walk away and just cash cheques.

Minus one: my relatives are batshit crazy, and I'm not in regular contact. If I was going to pursue this opportunity, I would be in town just in time to see my brother stand trial for assaulting my mother. Uhhhhhhhhhh.

Minus two: I'd have to give up film school in September. Check myself. I'm already on the path to the life I want. It took one of these fucking epiphanies to get here.

What's my best life?

It sounds like an MTV commercial, but it's a really useful consideration. I'm an artist. I want to create until I die. I would rather die making culture than making money. I can figure out wealth after I figure out happiness.

Working in weed is the first time I've ever been tempted to "sell out". By "sell out", I don't mean "environmentalist takes job at Shell". I mean on an existential deviating from my intended path to happiness for money. I have path, and I flirted with a less certain possibility of happiness via wealth.

Wealth can buy a lot of things, but time isn't one of them. I have dreams and creative goals that money doesn't advance. I've always wanted to be a meaningful force in cultural production and a lawyer, specifically a jurist. My dream job is at Netflix, and I plan to combine my interests practicing entertainment law later in my career.

I love weed, and I love working in weed, for now. I don't have the technical skills for the life I want, but I will.


Monday, October 31, 2016

The Politics of Halloween

For us theory nerds, Halloween illustrates conflict between essentialist and post-modern ideals. The politics of Halloween challenge the limits of free expression with moral claims against cultural appropriation. If you want to skip the next 800 words, you totes can wear an insensitive costume, but I don't personally understand or recommend it.

Decrying cultural appropriation is rooted in Marxist and essentialist theories. Marxism offers that culture is owned, rather than participated in, and essentialism adds that cultures self-reproduce by creating immutable stereotypes of themselves. 'Cultural appropriation is always bad' because culture is a product of labour that can/should be owned by it's "rightful" creators, who are "authenticated" by stereotypes. "This is what X people and do and look like, and you are not X people. You don't have the right to look or act like X people."

Post-modern theory defines culture as a set of practices that defines a group. More accurately than other ideas, post modernism states that culture is participated in, not owned.

Critics of cultural appropriation invoke the 'everything is blackface' approach, which, in the most ironclad irony, is culturally appropriated. Let's take a second to talk about the uniqueness of blackface. Blackface was a performance element that culturally maintained black subjugation. The practice has a specific North American history, and it is widely understood as a glorification of black slavery and suffering.

Transposing the history of blackface onto other imitations is both inaccurate and insensitive. "Redface", "yellowface",  and "brownface" are not at all the same as blackface. These imitations are not tied to the history of transatlantic disenfranchisement and slavery that black people survived. If these imitations offend your sensibilities, articulate why without appropriating the unique context of black North American history for your convenience.

Lest we forget that race is a white idea that is/was carved into 'truth' by colonial violence. It seems people are easily offended by the performance of race because they are uncomfortable with the idea that race is a performance.

Halloween costumes are created and worn to elicit three reactions: sex appeal, respect for artistry, and humour. North American obsession with 'the funny costume' is likely a result of humour being the least embraced motivation of dress in everyday life. With the broad uptake of 'the funny costume', humour's relativity manifests in a vicious politics of Halloween.

Costuming that mocks social characteristics (race, gender, religion, ability, poverty, etc...) is not acceptable. Neither are costuming practices that re-create themes of historical racism and disadvantage. Difference and disadvantage are not fodder for jokes. "Drunk Indian" and "suicide bomber" are obviously racist costumes because they mock race, religion, and idigeneity. But what about when a costume falls short of mocking and only imitates? And what if that imitation is specifically to represent a fictional or historical figure?

Ellen DeGeneres as  Nicki Minaj.

Culture as costume is a shitty costume. I may not call you racist, but I would call you lazy. "French" or "Japanese" or "Native" costumes that aren't satirized or fetishized just state stereotypes with no punch line. It's like walking into a new mixed crowd and saying "so, I hear Asians are good at math". You're likely not a bad person, but you might be hella awkward.

I have absolutely no problem with character costumes (cosplay). If you love Mulan, be Mulan, but again do so in a respectful way that doesn't mock or fetishize an entire group of people.

Cultural appropriation is a neutral process wherein discourses are re-created without concern of origin by and between distinct groups of people. There are both positive and negative outcomes from the spread of democracy to corporate plagiarism of indigenous designs. The clandestine nature of cultural appropriation is why the intent of a costume must be interrogated, and why I choose to zero in on culture costumes that mock and fetishize.

Zealous critics of cultural appropriation overreach and end up committing the 'isms' they decry. Caitlyn Jenner and "transface" drive the problem home.

In 2015, the Caitlyn Jenner costume call out misplaced transphobia. The camp saying you just shouldn't do it refuses the possibility that anyone could want to dress as CJ without out intentionally mocking her. While I don't really like CJ, I assume someone must. Ignoring this possibility reduces the inaccurate context to "dressing as Caitlyn Jenner is de facto transphobia". 

Further, It's totally OK to mock celebrities for their own shortcomings. There's a line, however, when celebrities are mocked for their arbitrary social characteristics. If you genuinely appreciate CJ, or if your costume is smart enough to mock CJ for something other than her gender diversity, give'r.

Caitlyn Jenner being mocked as a Republican and wealthy evader of vehicular manslaughter charges.
CJ has said herself that she's not offended by the costume kits that were sold. So we have a situation where the group of people denouncing transphobia are actually enacting it. Activists denied CJ full participation in her celebrity status solely because of her transness.

The difference between a lazy costume and a racist costume is intent. Culture costumes are not carte blanche for toxic call outs; they are a starting point for a complex dialogue about colonialism and power relations.

Halloween is rife with offence. People offended by costumes. People offended by censorship. People offended by public displays of bodies and sex. On Halloween and in life, we need more understanding and less judgement.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Merge or Bust

Justin Trudeau's ongoing popularity is sucking the air of out the Canadian left. Internal conflict has ripped open wounds in both the Green and New Democratic Parties of Canada, and it's time we solve two crises in leadership with one leader.

After their devastating loss in 2015, the NDP tossed Mulcair and set the stage to battle for the social democratic soul of the party. The Leap Manifesto was accepted for study by the federal NDP, much to the chagrin of their centrist governing Alberta wing. The celebrity-endorsed Leap Manifesto is a non-partisan policy doctrine that articulates a succinct socialist and ecologically conscious direction for Canada.

Notley New Democrats are ardent that a party of gradualism is the only way forward. The Leapers want a party of principle.

In Alberta, New Democratic centrism means electability, but there's no air in the centre of the federal political spectrum. Notley New Democrats are sandbagging the federal party's grasp on relevance. The New Democrats are having a hard time finding a leader. The race to replace Stephen Harper has eight candidates; eight more than the NDP has. Speculations of the NDP's collapse have been published in the Globe and Mail and on Steve Paikin's TVO blog.

The Green Party also finds itself plagued by internal conflict. Greens are fuming about Elizabeth May's audacious resistance to a democratically enacted party position to support the BDS campaign. Elizabeth's May's leadership is flailing.

With the adoption of the Leap Manifesto looming, The NDP will wade into Green Party policy. The Greens are already consistent with the majority of Leap Manifesto.

The present is the best set of conditions organizers have ever had to unite the left in Canada. Two parties are in disarray and a cohesive set of common ground policies gaining traction. For the good of progressive movements in Canada, we need to break up with centrist New Democrats and unite the Green and New Democratic partisans under the principles of the Leap Manifesto. 

The Green Democratic Party has a nice ring to it.