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On sexual politics: shared games and intimacy

in Campus Journal/London Calling by

Sex is always political, especially at Swarthmore. We draft and redraft flirty texts like press releases, assuming that every detail will be scrutinized the same way we dissect the cryptic proposals we receive. If you gossip, your approval rating for last night’s hookup might enter public lore, to be used by future Swatties deciding on their next sexual candidate. We’ve all witnessed the inevitable PR nightmare when too many swords cross on the same hall, or in the same seminar, or between the same obscure McCabe shelves. As we watch the world around us show its ugliest side and elect a commander-in-chief whose sexual politics are abhorrent at best, we need to figure out the ways in which we can be better. We must ask ourselves: what makes a good sexual politician?

The first step is to acknowledge the ways in which those around you are acting politically; you can only play the game if you know the rules. I know this guy who schedules his hookups up to eight days in advance, as if you’re being slotted between a call with “China” and a ribbon cutting at some ethical health foods store. Since I refuse to believe that anybody at this school is both that busy and that committed to an inflexible schedule, I can only assume that he does it in order to maintain control over the situation, forcing his partners to submit to his timetable or get slotted out. This tactic bores me. Another friend of mine who is rarely spotted wearing anything but a practical boot, comfortable denim, and flannel shirt turned heads all night when, on Halloween, he strutted Upper Tarble in the tightest booty shorts you could imagine, in a transformation that can only be described as “cool dad CEO” to “come fuck me.” Politics love shock value, and a good sexual politician knows how to draw you in through harmless manipulation of your expectations. Lest we forget, honorable mention is due to the assholes of this world who ghost you for weeks, only to text back the Friday night you finally decided to move on: we know your game, we see you trying to rope us in, and it’s not cute. The bad sexual politician is a dick to you. Avoid them.

Beyond specific behaviours, sexual politics are about power: acquiring, holding, and displaying control over a situation. The sexual politician can deploy an arsenal of tactics to reach a certain position relative to the other parties. Take the following anecdote: I’m standing with a friend on a sidewalk somewhere in the depths of Brooklyn, too hungover to feel pretty, when a Swat alum acquaintance (Nick, say) I hadn’t seen in years walks towards us with bags of groceries. I wave, which felt like the appropriate amount of intimacy for this unexpected encounter. Nick disagreed, and instead he kept coming closer and closer to me, ignoring my friend, until he’s standing about five inches from my face. I’ve never stood so close to someone without kissing them. I’ve probably never stood this close to someone without sucking their dick. I was so near him I could smell his breath, wafting through a toothy smile — spearmint, I think. It was hot.

“Hi, Tom, how’ve you been?”

I was tetanized. In the time it took for him to walk over to us, Nick decided he would own the situation, and now, he can probably comment on how loose my pores are looking. That’s a power move. I stood my ground — literally, I didn’t step back an inch — and smiled back, said I was fine, and tried to have conversation without spitting on him. It went well enough; I complimented his hair, then he complimented his hair, which was fair game because he has these drooping black curls to die for, then he complimented my hair, then I didn’t compliment my hair because we both knew it was looking like a greasy rat’s nest, and he was probably just being polite. Needless to say, it felt suffocatingly flirty, and I loved every second of it. Nick eventually walked away, and I finally got to exhale, but for days, those curls were on my mind, bouncing inches from my face. He could only leave such a lasting impression by controlling the dynamic at hand, wielding it to his advantage. He had me exactly where (I suppose) he wanted me: craving something more. Nick saw, he came, and now I want more. That’s politics. Nick, if you’re reading this, drop me a line.

What I loved most about the interaction was its kindness, as physical proximity conveyed intimacy and assurance instead of dominance and intimidation. We both smiled genuinely, and recognizing that the dynamic at hand didn’t take away from the fun. The whole thing demonstrated that good sexual politics aren’t threatening, but rely on a mutual understanding and engagement. Who likes to play games alone?

Let’s be real. I wrote most of this prior to the election, and am publishing it because I believe humor is cathartic and valuable. However, we must remember in these moments that our sex is political in concrete and essential ways. On the night of the election, most of my queer friends and I were cruising Grindr or desperately texting booty calls to set up some good old fashioned election panic sex.

There’s something absurdly dystopian to the thought of climaxing as Hillary loses Ohio, but who can deny our need for physical intimacy, bodily comfort, and reassurance? We need to fuck our way into a pleasure so blissful that we forget the world around us, that we remember that we’re living regardless. We need to make love so passionately to those we care about that we know we’re not alone. We need to hold each other so tightly that we express all the solidarity and strength we can muster, that volatile Facebook posts don’t do justice to. Our sex is political because it’s our only evidence that we exist and feel together. It won’t change the world on its own, but it’ll remind you that you can.

To be a great sexual politician is to wield your power with love and for mutual pleasure, as a tool for resilience. Sure, the games can be fun and make a good story, but they’re not what matters most right now. Fuck Trump’s hate.

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