Red Tory: My Corbyn Chemsex Hell
by Huw Lemmey
My world warps in the spread of your denim; I get stuck in the throat of your jeans distorting at top speed. Radicalisation occurs at the point of contact; in Huw Lemmey’s novel Red Tory: My Corbyn Chemsex Hell, this is called ‘being pulled forwards’. Radicalisation occurs in the epiphanies of a trajectory; the crush of desire that begs you to hyphenate – ‘Otto had begun to tip his head to an angle when Tom spoke’ – feeling theory dilate – ‘doubt and cynicism are aphrodisiacs for anarchists’ – love that smashes glass to give everything a new ceiling – ‘risky and failing and brilliant fucks’ – love that smashes itself to become something else – ‘the whole world up turned’ – sexual chemistry that speaks an imminent physique – ‘Tom’s consciousness of his body, his awareness that he was a sexual being, was formed in a schoolyard where any expression of wanting what he wanted meant you were disgusting’ – an intimacy can fuck you up until you’re giving new weight to the entirety of it – ‘class struggle consciousness in every home’.
A Few Hot Takes
I start seeing a mind doctor, ostensibly, to ‘resolve’ my ‘problems’ around ‘sex’. One of her most banal hot takes is that I act like a top in all areas of my life except sex. This is a funny conceit but the humour of it slips into the counter-gravity of a different way of being in the world. I’m not trying to extrapolate huge insights off of my sex life; I’m just trying to understand how all of life occurs in a single oval of ideologies and nerve-endings motivated by emotion. I’m just trying to ask the question Rob Halpern said New Narrative writers were trying to ask: ‘How does one relate one’s life to social phenomena whose scale threatens to eclipse us?’
Lauren Berlant is not a member of a Bay Area literary movement like New Narrative, or a mind doctor, but they provide me with a diagnosis of pleasure in sweeping terms. Everything that exists since Trump existed before, but Berlant says the turn further to the right when he grabbed the wheel was a warp of pleasure:
[W]hoever won, the atmosphere of the Trump campaign had let out of the bag an amplifying pleasure in white supremacy and American exceptionalism and misogyny and xenophobia that, no matter who won, was not going to get stuffed back in.
We are now in, on one hand, an unchanged world—because white supremacy’s not new, and structural violence is not new, none of that is new just because Trump got elected—but the pleasure in it is intensified.
What does that mean for a revolutionary politics or consciousness, developed or furthered during a particular late capitalist moment of global fascist resurgence? According to Jordy Rosenberg, ‘we’re in the shit’ which means ‘no one gets out clean.’ We’re not always going to have a counter-fascist erotics that’s pious, but we need a counter-erotics nonetheless.
In his essay ‘The Daddy Dialectic’, Rosenberg recalls – echoing Berlant – that for Ernst Bloch in 1935, ‘the appearance of fascism in Europe was not the irruption of an unprecedented evil, but the expression of a deep-rooted structure in contemporary form’. For Rosenberg, ‘fascism doesn’t operate through reason’, instead ‘it unleashes horrible fascinations, ensnaring the subject in what Bloch called a “warlike erotic[s].” In response to this, ‘The Daddy Dialectic’ understands anti-fascism as demanding and producing a messy alternate erotics; Rosenberg draws on José Esteban Muñoz’s queer classic Cruising Utopia, which also cites Bloch, to not only demand a counter-erotics to fascism and capitalism but to exalt it as a key political strategy. Rosenberg quotes Muñoz reviving Bloch in Cruising Utopia, and asks us to embrace ‘the transformative force of eros and its implicit relationship to political desire’.
The significance of eros here lies both in its transformative quality – its catalysing and radicalising properities – and its ‘implicit relationship to political desire’. We all participate in erotics attached to power and our politics, whether or not we acknowledge our erotic investments or our politics. And, if nothing else, the transformative and omnipresent qualities of eros mean that the effectiveness and the reach of anti-fascist and anti-capitalist action is at stake when we talk about the project of eroticising what we might broadly call, ‘leftist’ politics. Rosenberg instructs us further on how we could engage in an actively politicised erotics, with a vocabulary of dreams and unsurrender:
Muñoz’s exploration of eros as the hinge between individual and collective desires might be our most exquisite guide to what it would mean to unsurrender an anti-fascist hell, if we can imagine such a thing. This is an eros that does not acquiesce the unconscious and all its monsters, but summons them instead to another dream […]. For dreams are neither simply a thesis nor, themselves, the extent of the field of struggle. Rather, dreams and all their ilk (fantasy, literature, language) are a zone of unsurrender. Struggle’s companion and consolation.
In guiding us towards the revolutionary ‘hinge between individual and collective desires’, Rosenberg flags fantasy, literature and language as both our ‘companion and consolation’ – meaning that these things, ‘and all their ilk’, can inspire and galvanise direct action, as much as they can provide necessary moments of escape and comfort during struggle. All of which – inspiration and escape – must be actively at stake or at risk in a consciously erotic and consciously political novel.
A Formal Offering
Red Tory: My Corbyn Chemsex Hell by Huw Lemmey (writing under the pseudonym Spitzenprodukte) was published in 2019, four years after his 2015 debut Chubz: The Demonisation of my Working Arse. Both books are amyl-soaked cum rags thrown into the bonfire that is British politics, and I describe them using a bombastic mixed metaphor because they’re hyperbolic, hybrid things. Critical of contemporary London and cis gay male culture within the UK Labour party, both books are pornographic fictions set in Gay London, which interrogate the political organisation and social formations of the (queer) left. Where Chubz focused on Grindr and the British political commentator and Labour Party activist Owen Jones (as a way of understanding urban gay life in the book’s moment), Red Tory wrestles with the greatest hits of 2015: Brexit, Corbyn, chemsex, pigfucking, and anarchic potential—which, in Lemmey’s fiction, culminate in direct action when catalysed by hallucinogenics and falling in love. There’s a more defined commitment to erotic revolution in this second offering. Along with a satire of centre-of-left politics, the reader is promised a transformative eros in the vein of Rosenberg, Muñoz, and Bloch, before the body text even begins. The novel opens on this epigraph from the queer and anti-fascist novelist, Thomas Mann:
Passion is like crime: it does not thrive on the established order and the common round; it welcomes every blow dealt the bourgeois structure, the weakening of the social fabric, because therein it feels a sure hope of its own advantage.
I want to break into an aside here to note that when I googled Thomas Mann, I found a Wikipedia entry which included excerpts from his diary which disturbed me. I note this as its own small but important criticism – I think we should all feel compelled to be more conscious of who we cite, and why, and how their ‘personal lives’ can and should affect our proliferation of their political work – and to more broadly use this compromising reference to consider what it means to write for another world, while writing in and about the world we currently live in. This requires reflecting and reproducing, even subversively or critically, the absolutely-not-utopic, classically satanic and insidiously sinister aspects of what’s going on around us. This question about what it means to reflect and reproduce the realities of the world, amplifying or dismissing harm in that process, is one that I circled back to often as I read Red Tory. Lemmey is clearly invested in writing the UK as he sees it, with reference to the fucked-up parts of it, so he necessarily writes about phenomena that are usually misrepresented or mistreated in media: substance use, Islamophobia, xenophobia, prejudices, and problems with age and consent that saturate spaces like Grindr. I still feel so unsure about the nuances of this satire at times – but I do understand that it’s ambitious and clearly coming from, and with, an explicit political agenda.
Red Tory is ambitious in a lot of ways but perhaps, most interestingly, it’s ambitious at the level of form. Lemmey is unafraid to blend and play with multiple, often loaded, genres: Real Life Persons fanfiction, slash fanfiction, political pornography, romance, political thriller, bildungsroman. These popular genres fuck, together, in service of what he tells i-D is a rather simple ‘satirical conceit’: ‘what if the newspapers’ descriptions of the political scene in the UK were reality?’ He clarifies his premise for Red Tory:
What if those people who joined the Labour Party as it tacked left were all bloodthirsty communists? What if falafel and cappuccino were elite foodstuffs only eaten by bourgeois metropolitan liberals? To take [newspapers] at their word was the only choice in adopting “satire”.
Lemmey’s rebuttal of a UK that he feels is full of ‘sensible’ and ‘dogshit’ satire, and a grossly ‘neutral’ media class, is his assertion of socialist desire in bodily terms and his production of ‘satire that advocates for something’.
I read his camp, maximalist and romantic satire, and his commitment to advocating for socialism with a complex mix of humour and eros, alongside Kay Gabriel’s review of Andrea Long Chu’s ludic and polemical pamphlet, Females. Gabriel ends ‘The Limits of the Bit,’ with a call for writers ‘to commit to the concepts that we mobilise, and to being accountable to their consequences.’ This call implicates queer and trans writers far beyond Chu. Maxi Wallenhorst’s recent response to Paul B. Preciado’s An Apartment on Uranus ends with a similar call for writers to interrogate how they write in relation to hotness, the hotness of hot takes, and ‘queer theory’s wet dream’ of ‘writing with the body.’ The final line of Wallenhorst’s review of Preciado and trends in queer theory and writing at large, argues for poetic and political commitment:
Critically sticking to a scene with more commitment than the lip service of a 1:1 analogy might require even more radical poetic and polemical experimentation – which is not limited to but includes a different kind of hotness, sustained, as warmth.
Gabriel and Wallenhorst’s requests for greater poetic and political commitment help frame Lemmey’s novel within broader trends in queer and trans theory and political writing – and the desires and demands of critics who want writers to write, experimentally, with commitment. As a unique, novel-length piece of propaganda that sometimes lags in pacing but sustains its particular political position, I think Red Tory is a uniquely ‘committed’ effort – and more than that, an offering towards a world where more thoughtful and off-trend experimentation, with more overt political (and erotic) commitment, might occur.
I could review the sensuousness that leaks into Lemmey’s writing, even when he’s trying to describe the horrors of a contemporary cityscape like London; I could argue that in doing so we’re introduced to a sort of resilient hedonism that makes ‘making do’ more than just an exercise in survival free from pleasure. I could write more about technical things like how Lemmey collapses shifts in perspective amongst the ensemble cast in a distinctly communist way, moving swiftly across individual alienations and desires to render a group of individuals as a bleeding collective, an energetic mass of wants and aches. I could write at length about the critiques of centrist left wing organising, rhetoric and sociality – or even about the frank critiques of radical left activists. As one radical in the book admits when discussing his ultra-left comrades, ‘I hate many of them on a personal level.’ I could write about the loaded imagery and allusions in a series of hallucinogenic app-orchestrated chemsex scenes which, if I’m honest, I often found hard to really get into – perhaps because the sexual and social practices described were familiar to me on the level of description but, as always, evasive on the level of real bodily experience. Or maybe because I felt a number of these scenes were overlong and neither deeply erotic or deeply comedic, for me. I could compare and contrast the various representations of characters in the book who, living and working across the political spectrum, all ‘[affiliate themselves] to [power’s] order of dogs’ (as Guy Hocquenghem says in his manifesto ‘To Destroy Sexuality’). I could even write about the construction of right-wing desire as an emotional and emotive desire that mirrors – in a distorted but not directly inverted pattern – left wing political desire, in a way that reiterates Rosenberg and Berlant’s earlier hot takes.
There’s a lot going on in this book and so much to discuss. But books get dog-eared during trains of thought interrupted by sex lives, and I want the rest of this review to circle an arc of questions that have swirled against my sex life and my body, before and after this book arrived. I want to read Red Tory how I read a gay male commie porno: against sensational questions of communist sexualities, voids, shame, and masturbation.
A Communist Sexuality
In ‘The Daddy Dialectic,’ Rosenberg jokes about his sexuality being Marxist. It’s a titillating sound bite that led to him being asked to speak about the connection between Marxism and sexuality – about political realisation and lust as interlaced – in an interview in The Lifted Brow:
It’s funny; I never wanted to or intended for [Marxism to be my sexuality]. I spent a lot of my youth as a very hardline Marxist, almost to the exclusion of thinking or writing about gender or sexuality in a scholarly or critical way. The process of bringing that young experience of academic Marxism together with lived reality has been a long time coming. And even now it ends up finding its way in ways that often surprise me. I owe almost every political radicalisation that I have had to femme women. Everything that has really pushed me forward and leftward and expanded my sense of being related to history has, for me, been a kind of erotic relation. That’s not necessarily the best way to become politicised; I don’t even think it has the most integrity. But it is what it is, and at a certain point I began trying to write devotional accounts of this—in the novel, in essays, etc. A friend of mine once called Confessions of the Fox “basically just femme worship and apologising,” and I actually thought that was very fair. It is! I’ve just been trying in my very minor way to get down into words a kind of a gratitude to femme knowledge, and the intensity of being able to be in relation to that.
Red Tory takes this kernel, which acknowledges that for some of us political theory gets real when lit by the intensity of attraction, and explodes it into an entire book. The novel’s central love arc (between a two-party leftist and a ‘radical’), and the centrist protagonist’s personal chem-sexual odyssey towards a revolutionary politics, sketches out an account of what a Marxist, or communist, sexuality could be like in pretty specific terms.
Lemmey doesn’t offer up a universal communist sexuality, but in some hot compound of the USSR’s ‘winged eros’, and the Second Summer of Love’s drug-fueled, anti-right euphoria, Red Tory fucks. By which I mean, Lemmey constructs a communist sexuality in the reaching shadow of history, writing to summon ghosts and stoke embers still glowing hot. The communist sexuality painted in Red Tory fucks in the pull back of a thrust, with the follow-through of history, considering the way that the possibilities foreclosed in a failed marriage (all the revolutionary energies that have historically ‘collapsed’) might motivate someone to keep panting after romantic love and all its unrealised potential after the feeling or material splinter of divorce.
This late 2010s vision of a communist sexuality is of-the-moment yet historical and historicised – I read Red Tory as a project of alchemising the revolutionary energies of ‘winged eros’ and Acid Communism into an erotic program, a sort of counter to the way that conventional sexualities operate as the binding of so many interlocked histories and ideologies. I read Red Tory in the same breath as Aaron Schuster’s ‘The Sexual Life of Communists: Reflections on Alexandra Kollontai’ in Red Love: A Reader on Alexandra Kollontai, and Emma Stamm’s reflection on acid and socialist consciousness, ‘Turn On, Tune In, Rise Up’. The former includes a primer on ‘winged eros’ – eros that transcends the bourgeois love project to include lust and devotion towards the work of revolution – discussed in the biographical context of Alexandra Kollontai, a Marxist revolutionary who served in the Bolshevik government. Schuster says that in Kollontai’s vision of ‘winged’ relationships and ‘comradeship love’:
[W]ork must prevail over love, but as the very condition for being able to love, that is, for entering into intense affairs and relationships which do not drown in intimacy or the jealous passion to possess the other, but are ways of acting in and engaging with the world. The moral is not simply that one must learn to balance work and love, public engagement and private life, but that the two can be brought together only under the perspective of the former.
Schuster brings Kollontai’s vision into focus with a passage from Svetlana Alexievich’s oral history of the collapse of the USSR, Secondhand Time, which details two lovers reading a forbidden book together instead of having sex during a night framed as a tryst. Schuster wonders if this fevered reading – work towards changing the world – is ‘a portrait of communist sexuality’, which is necessarily enmeshed in politics:
Instead of gazing into each others’ eyes, their eyes are trained on a third thing, a book, which connects them to the collective and the wider social universe.
Here, reading is part of connecting the microcosm of the two-person romance to a bigger revolutionary project, in a way that doesn’t diminish the power or intimacy of an affair but, instead, exalts it. But Lemmey also brings this vision of winged eros into contact with a particular brand of politicised substance use, in the spirit of Acid Communism, a theorisation of revolutionary prefiguration popularised by Mark Fisher and taken up by Emma Stamm.
Stamm’s writing on ‘acid against austerity’ acknowledges that Mark Fisher’s unfinished follow up to Capitalist Realism (2007) – a book arguing that Thatcher’s ‘there is no alternative’ has been naturalised to a point where resistance seems completely futile – is Acid Communism, an incomplete text that proposes that mind-altering drugs might help us get outside of the impossibility of capitalist realism and encourage revolutionary ideation. Fisher’s proposed trajectory of capitalism to communism furnished by revolutionary imagination induced by psychedelics is vital to Red Tory. So too is the idea that the love of a comrade is unique because of the way the twin desires for a lover and structural change might create something even more overpowering than the sum of their parts when experienced together.
And what happens in this amalgam? In Red Tory, the revolutionary spectres and substances of the Soviet Union, the Summer of Love and the Second Summer of Love turn late capitalist sex and love towards revolutionary commitment. This communist sexuality is energised with the propulsive force of past revolution, it’s historicised and historic, it’s material and materialist, it is embodied.
It’s also very – undeniably – gay male and Red Tory can’t be read outside of its specific homoerotic thrust. But in articulating an erotics of love and sexuality that centres revolutionary work and perceptual change, this extremely gay book does some heavy-lifting towards diminishing gender as the central point around which sexuality and desire constructs itself. Instead, a communist sexuality emerges with political desire anchoring and orienting the libido in ways that ask us not to entirely refute sexuality and its organisational impulse, but to consider sexualities arranged on axes beyond gender – not against gender, but with the opportunity to feel another and perceive consciousness and imagine the world, both with the world and in excess of it.
We walk at night and sit on the swings. Actually, I’m standing up, leaning my breastbone into a swing seat, pressing into the resistance to tighten my chest. We talk about the insular clique of gay male culture that you felt, hovering adjacent to it and aware of all the invisible boundary-making, at a queer party. We talk about the gap between what Huw Lemmey tells i-D he imagines for the future (the abolition of gender and sexuality so that desire and sex acts may exist anarchically across bodies) –
I generally believe in the eventual abolition of homosexuality and gender as a subject, and the triumph of a polymorphous perversity where acts overcome identities in the sexual sphere.
– and what he’s written (a narrative that reinscribes desire inseparable from gender, and gender as the locus around which particular economies of desire and sociality form – welcome to Cis Gay Male Culture™). This is probably a few nights after your disappointing ANZ Bank’s 2020 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras acid trip and probably two weeks before you tell me that T has increased your libido in a non-sexual way. I tell you about this unbelievable passage in Red Tory:
The first sensation came from beneath his balls. The cock is rooted there, not where the shaft meets the testicles. A common misconception, but the visible rod is the tip of the iceberg. As above, so below. But when the sexual drive and the spiritual connect, when desire erupts fully from the core of the male body, you can feel the second penis, the strong ridge of another shaft that runs past the balls, and right up to the simpering, puckering anus. The Romans had an embodiment of the divine penis called the Fascinus. Representations of these winged phalluses, touching little charms and amulets, often featured, alongside the wings and tail, two leonine legs. In Tom, these legs began to twitch and run on the spot. He felt an energy build beneath his balls, and with it, the sound of clattering hooves in his head, the sound of an assembly of gathered men, of shouting that threatened to overwhelm him.
Humour and arousal can collapse into each other if your laugh is in close range of actual desire. Objectively this passage is really silly and it reads like a farcical inverted reboot of Georgia O’Keeffe-cum-new age vaginal imagery. But if we can learn anything from the pleasures that occur in Red Tory, and from the still-relevant queer-of-colour led theory of negotiating mainstream culture in Muñoz’s Disidentifications, it’s that you can and will find pleasure in the farce of the current world order. You can and will find pleasure in the void of your existence – when you are avoided.
If you go into the libidinal end point of your consciousness – if you really let yourself have that fantasy – you might be asked, like me, to go near the edges of shame and what seems possible. And if you read, with the vagueness of desire, into the specificity of Red Tory – with its frame of reference and plot so precise in order to satirise gay men in London’s anti-Corbyn faction of Labour, it gives you a total lack of vagueness – you might find yourself in an architecture so clear and closed that you can very easily (necessarily) write your own underworld.
Around the same time Red Tory was published, Andrea Long Chu and Emmett Harsin Darger had a conversation called ‘After Trans Studies’ where they argued that ‘our task’ now is ‘to write a trans satire.’ I think, in a way, the trans satire is already here; I think, in another way, Huw Lemmey has written a text that’s open to being read as a trans satire because the total absence of transness satirises cisness in/as centrist gay culture. And because the body isn’t avoided in Red Tory but, rather, is blown up in a sweet hyperbole, caught between eros and farce, there’s space for the reader to indulge a freaky attitude that carries both a skepticism of and desire for revolutionary consciousness into engagements with the world and its writing. Was it Foucault who said that sexuality and politics develop in tandem? Sorry if citing Foucault here misrepresents Foucault but I read Red Tory, Foucault, and Freud’s understanding of phallic physics with a bit of human error:
The remarkable phenomenon of erection, around which the human imagination has constantly played, cannot fail to be impressive, involving as it does an apparent suspension of the laws of gravity.
When my reading hit breathing, it was hard even though actually it was wet. There’s something specific about getting off to an image in opposition to the actual bend of flesh your blood is rushing towards. The bending of anti-gravity crystallised into a total sublimation that bounced back into totalising sensation. A full-body blood rush – that’s how they describe it, yeah? But normally it’s localised to the groin – I was saturated, completely, by the feeling and redefining the idea of being hard-up, into a sort of filling up, into the expansion of a circumference (it’s just dilation solidified and I can make myself solid against anything I want).
What I had intercepted and introjected in the conversation between Huw Lemmey and Sigmund Freud was not just a crack in physics that tested the limits of my consciousness and body and their intersection (the exact spatiality of my pleasure), but a trap door in Mario Mieli’s Towards a Gay Communism. This was not a psychedelic door into new perception, but it was a door that led right into the consciousness-testing themes of Red Tory nonetheless: reading Lemmey’s phallic poetics I, with Mieli, ‘have defined as transsexual our potential erotic availability’. Or at least, my potential erotic availability, which right now I want to collapse into my potential political availability – I’m metabolising Red Tory’s dick montages and my impossible desires, with the questions Kay Gabriel has in ‘Gender as Accumulation Strategy’:
In view of a politically urgent hedonism, the question becomes: what would it mean for gender to function as a source of disalienated pleasure rather than an accumulation strategy? – a question that, mobilised in practice, helps us to engage the world at every relevant scale.
A question that, also, helps us contort into specific bends when we read an anti-capitalist porno. One point of this tangent, beyond its use value for those who it might directly ‘represent’, is to further address how parts of the body that are encumbered with gendered signification – an ordering principle of sexuality – are written and read in a novel which isn’t interested in gender so much as it remains fixated on it. The elusive hardness we call ‘gender’ anchors and pervades this book in the way that it does our bodily experience of the world and power, as much as we might not actually be interested in it. It’s always there. As much as we might just be interested in bigger – or smaller – politics, we will always be reading it – even when, in books like Red Tory, it’s displaced in its total primacy by an eroticised political agenda. Although, as Gabriel makes clear, we can engage gender with or through an eroticised political agenda: a politically urgent hedonism.
But what’s that line from Hocquenghem’s The Screwball Asses that keeps looping in my mind?
The boy at my side murmurs in my ear: “What? Are you ashamed?” He might just as well have said: “Are you ashamed, comrade?”
Red Tory opens with shame circling masturbation. Masturbation is written in visceral language while at the same time being described explicitly as ‘a symbolic act.’ To be more precise, the opening pages of Red Tory introduce us to its initially centrist protagonist through an image of desire directed by aversion at the point of ejaculation:
But the thought of watching his semen bloom and coagulate amongst the peaty red water was a real turn off. He had an aversion to seeing cum in water—it became too living. […] Even when he wanked in the shower he got out to cum. Sometimes he just stuck his dick round the edge of the shower curtain and shot a load across the bath mat. Those early experiments, when his parents were out, meant coming home was still a sexually loaded moment. He remembered the shameful panic of mustering enough dirty clothes to justify a wash, bath mat included, before they got home from the shops. Either way, yuck yuck yuck.
A masturbatory emission is evidence of independent dreaming, evidence of fantasy turned into action, evidence of imagination in motion, evidence of taking it into your own hands, evidence of autonomous desires, evidence of a visionary engagement with the world. The complicated refusal of this at the point of private shame – the most intimate internalisation of ideology – places revolt and the revolting in the domain of the body which, even when alone, is never alone.
This central sense of shame threads through the erotic life of left centrism throughout the book, as discomfort at the very act of masturbation gives way to the lingering vestigial shame of queerness that most people feel long past their supposed personal liberation. This spectre of shame persisting in a centrist’s body is contrasted by a radical’s seemingly radical acceptance of nonconformist desire:
The shame was still there. Tom became aware of being in public, of being stood by the sliding doors of his local Tesco. Otto didn’t seem to care who heard him. Tom did.
Otto, the radical in Red Tory, is both a lover affiliated with the revolution, and the personification of revolution. To desire Otto – and yeah, I think the point is that we as readers desire him, his ‘classic deutsche bike-punk look’, and the political and emotional ‘adventure’ and substance that ‘might be under that bike-punk look’ – is to form a libidinal attachment to revolution. I read this attachment on multiple scales – and in the compression of scale. Otto is a tool for Lemmey to eroticise a particular revolutionary politics – and the comrades who embody that politics – through literature, sure. But I also read Otto’s characterisation, and Lemmey’s decision to express and propagate a revolutionary politics through a smutty narrative, as part of a project that binds political desire to the libido, explicitly and implicitly demanding that readers integrate their immediate and interpersonal desires with their systemic and planetary hungers. ‘As above, so below,’ as Lemmey would say.
I very deliberately haven’t had sex in about a year. I don’t need to completely unpack that on the Sydney Review of Books, but I think my obsession with sex – writing about it, talking about it, passionately avoiding it for extended periods of time with the desire to theorise it in solitude – can be described in part by Robert Glück:
[T]hose of us who write about sex never really got over the shock of it. Desire is shocking to me; I am still working out the terrors and physical sensations and loss of self, the control of self in order to find a way into sex, the long distance leap from no touch to touch, the gain in control over another body, the generation of pleasure inside another body, the unimaginable intimacy, the involuntary spasm, the fact of skin, the fact of pleasure, the fact that we have bodies.
But how do you move through the ‘still working out’? What’s possible before, after, or adjacent to sexual encounters? What’s possible in masturbation? I’m thinking of that Bruce LaBruce film still: ‘masturbation is counter-revolutionary’. Who could believe that, when masturbation is as social as reading, as social as finding a psychotropic edge of your own consciousness, almost as social as revolution? The material stimulating masturbation, fantasy, collapses that which is in the world into the body. And masturbation stimulates the material – the body, the nerves, the connection between body and mind, the emotional life of flesh – that needs to act to stimulate revolution.
Towards the end of Red Tory, shame – a sort of repressive mechanism that can stretch, shift, inhibit and direct the body from the pleasure centre of masturbation to sex to two-party politics – has dissipated in the hurtle further leftwards. A significant masturbation scene occurs near a body of water, with a very different attitude and poetics than what we’re privy to in chapter one. This time we have visions of ‘linger[ing] in the half-point between consciousnesses’ with fantasy, feeling the ‘sun kiss all over’ while ‘grunt[ing] outwards towards the sea.’ This time we have ‘the sudden rush of endorphins’ and a ‘ghostly mirage’ which might be prophetic or psychic. Either way it feels supernatural, sensual, social, loaded with memory and awareness and dreaminess and being in the world. There is a (sensuous) world view that shoots like a star through the body that stimulates itself and the world it stimulates.
I believe this masturbatory scene, and its revolutionary trajectory from the earlier representation of anxious onanism in the book, is one of the most instructive passages in Lemmey’s totally loaded, bursting at the seams Red Tory. Because in this, we’re tacitly given a – perhaps more realistic and more inclusive than ‘everyone do drugs’ – vision of how to experiment with the limits of consciousness and actively imagine and desire life after and against capitalism, in a zone more chemically charged, surreal, illusory, and embodied than ‘just’ reading might occur in.
But I still need to know how to move through these pervasive saturations, moods like the feeling of a pulled muscle, the physical and emotional ‘still working out’ of sex and of developing a better politics. My questions keep circling each other and unfolding so fucking slowly. I’m reading Red Tory, glad that someone writing gay erotica-cum-political satire also thinks that we owe it to ourselves to commit to, critique, alloy, and steel our desires at an axial level. I’m in a communist’s bedroom, trying to understand how taut I’m being pulled between emotional helium and a sinking from my stomach into the floor into I don’t know what. I’m lying next to you, trying to explain my feeling of falling outside the frame of reference – I don’t ‘believe’ in dysphoria, but I don’t vibrate at the exact frequency of moving towards euphoria. I need to fuse all of my desires and all of my critiques with the feelings of being in a body, but I don’t understand my body, which feels like this body, I don’t understand myself and I don’t have words for what’s going on. I’m expressing and expressed upon. I’m guilt, shame, self-disgust, unfamiliar, alienated, turned on, in the sublime, vicarious, dislocated, not able to fuck in a way that feels simultaneously or mutually pleasurable in any conventional economy, totally disinterested in capitalist notions of debt and reciprocity, on top of you, thinking that your shoulder tastes vaguely of T, trying to just fuck without the running commentary or need to intellectualise; I continue to practice avoidance – of my body, this world, finishing this review – through coming.
After a hard climax imagining what we talk about all the time, I shower it all off hot and think about how Red Tory demands fantasy while insisting on material reality. Its satirical conceit, its outlandishness, its ties to reality, its demands of the past thrown into the future. I think about how ‘the point’ – there’s never just one, but for the sake of ending this outrageously long review, I’m boiling it down – is that we need fantasy and the material (those two irreconcilable forces) to remain in tentative and hot, mutual seduction. They don’t have to touch, but they need to touch.
The thing that grabs me by the scruff in Red Tory – the thing that I want more of – is the simple claim underscoring and anchoring this full-bodied, broken, excessive, limited, fucked-up fever dream of a book: the simple claim that interiority, sociality, capitalism, anti-fascism, excess, love, someone you dislike at the rally, fiction, violence, reality and imagination all co-exist in strange, unbearable and inescapable ways. Eros has to come with satire; commentary on ‘right now’ should merge with an absolutely surreal vision of revolution. Red Tory could help you think about developing a socialist revolutionary consciousness through or with poetic form, communist sexualities, shame, voids and masturbation. But it’s also just a comment on how all this absolute horseshit around and inside us is the context for the excesses we hope to feel outside of it; nothing outside of it is outside of it; anything outside of it needs to fuck both in and outside of its frame.
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Guy Hocquenghem, ‘To Destroy Sexuality,’ Polysexuality, edited by François Peraldi, Semiotext(e), 1995, 260-4.
Huw Lemmey interviewed by Harry Burke, ‘We Speak to the Author Behind “Red Tory: My Corbyn Chemsex Hell” – a Satirical Slice of Pro-Communist Erotic Fan Fiction,’ i-D, June 17, 2019.
Andrea Long Chu and Emmett Harsin Darger, ‘After Trans Studies.’ TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 6, no. 1 (February 2019): 103-116.
Mario Mieli, Towards a Gay Communism: Elements of a Homosexual Critique, Pluto Press, 2018.
José Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, NYU Press, 2009.
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Jordy Rosenberg, “A Conversation with Jordy Rosenberg.” Interviewed by Eilish Fitzpatrick and Stella Maynard. The Lifted Brow, Issue 43 (September 2019): 107-112.
Emma Stamm, ‘Turn on, Tune in, Rise Up,’ Commune, September 7, 2019.
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