C/O Allauren Forbes
A philosophy course offers a space for exploration of some of our most intimate topics
What is love, really? What makes a meaningful relationship? How can our understanding of love and sex shift with the complexities of societal, political and ethical expectations?
The study of philosophy involves seeking out truths about the world, our relationships with one another and our relationship with ourselves. Allauren Forbes is an assistant professor at McMaster University within the department of philosophy. Forbes teaches a course called Philosophy of Love and Sex, which focuses on exploring truths about topics of love and sex.
The course offers students an opportunity to have discussions about philosophical topics, engage in self-reflection and analyze philosophical literature, some of which may challenge their personal views on intimate relationships.
Though unique to every individual, such topics are universal and monumental to how one navigates the world and Forbes believes that the importance of love and sex extends beyond just romantic relationships alone.
“[T]hey're really personal things that shape enormous amounts of the way that we live our lives, the kinds of relationships that we pursue, the kinds of choices we make about careers or where we live [and] a host of other things,” said Forbes.
Although not always obvious, love and sex are often complicated by societal values and expectations.
“[Societal expectations] tell us what kinds of relationships are good or valuable [and] what kinds of structures are good or valuable,” explained Forbes.
One example of how relationships can challenge societal norms is found in polyamorous relationships. Forbes explained that polyamory is not as widely accepted in Western societies given that monogamy is the default understanding people have about what a relationship is supposed to look like.
However, exploring philosophical questions can help investigate the value behind these assumptions in society.
“[I]n the context of romance, you should have a relationship structure that suits your needs and if you are in a society that says, ‘Well, [here] is a very specific narrative: you should find the one and live happily ever after and have two kids,’ maybe that's not what suits you. [Philosophy] helps us question some of these structures. Maybe monogamy isn't right for somebody. Maybe there are other ways to do things that are still in love and still meaningful and valuable [in] all the ways that traditional relationships are,” said Forbes.
In addition to societal norms, intersectional identities such as race and gender can also play a crucial role to how one experiences love and sex.
Often, Forbes explained, this can present itself in the form of racist expectations of what is appropriate or not for a particular race. False stereotypes about people can be damaging and pose extra barriers preventing people from building meaningful lives for themselves.
The community that an individual surrounds themselves with, whether it be their family or friends, can have also significant impact on their experience with relationships.
“I mean, it could be so psychologically burdensome to try and live a life that is authentic and affirming to you if the people around you think that you are living or being in the wrong kind of way or the wrong kind of relationship . . . [Community] has the power to lift you up but also has the power to sort of pull you back, mak[ing] it harder to live the life of your choosing but also harder to feel good about living the life you're choosing,” said Forbes.
After teaching the course for the last two years, Forbes said that she enjoys teaching the course, though it can require an important balance between open discussion amongst the students and staying mindful of the sensitive nature of these topics.
Forbes aims to be respectful of students’ experiences, recognizing that discussions can be personal, while creating an atmosphere in which students feel comfortable engaging in stimulating conversations. As a way of promoting this environment, an anonymous form is available for students to fill out if they have any concerns they want to bring to her attention.
Stressing the importance of how philosophy can transform our understanding of love, Forbes hopes students can apply their learning to their own lives.
“I want students to come away from the class with the sort of formal school skills of philosophy to question some of these things [and] make sure that they understand the kinds of things that they want to do for themselves. I mean, I think philosophy can help us live better lives and I think that part of it is understanding what it is that we're doing,” said Forbes.
In 2020 and 2021, Philosophy of Love and Sex (PHILOS 2ZZ3) has been offered in the fall semester. Although not certain as of date, students can keep an eye out for future offering of this course on the department of philosophy website.
C/O Jessica Yang
Students share how their existence within certain identities have rewired their approaches to romance
With the release of season two of popular HBO teen-romance show Euphoria this January alongside the creeping approach of Valentine's Day, it appears as though romance is on the back of most Marauder’s minds.
While many eager student romantics have been cruising the depths of Hinge and Tinder, or perhaps even decided to try their luck with the relaunched 2022 Aphrodite Project, there remain many cultural barriers in place for queer and racialized students to jump in on the dating apps craze.
For many such students, romance, sex and intimacy are not solely categorized by a binary of being in a relationship, but is instead a radical journey of self-discovery and constantly questioning whether their vision and presentation of romantic love are valid.
Mymoon Bhuiyan, a third-year material sciences student, is an active member of Engiqueers, the largest queer student-led group within the faculty of engineering. Bhuiyan identifies as a queer activist and draws attention to how queer romance is complicated as they bring forth with them institutional challenges to relationships.
“As a result of added complexity to queer, gay and trans relationships, we see a lot of mental health crises. However, we also see positive attributes such as reduced rates of violence within queer and trans relationships,” said Bhuiyan.
Besides having to navigate adulthood, queer students can often feel uncertain about which individuals and spaces are welcoming of their identities in the first place given the presence of less than five 2SLGBTQIA+ spaces on a campus of more than 25,000 students.
Trans students particularly are disproportionately at risk of facing partner violence for their identities. Being queer while desiring romantic intimacy in the same ways that are accessible for heterosexual couples can therefore quickly become a questioning game of whether a romantic interest is safe to pursue in the first place.
It is increasingly difficult for queer students to identify other queer students to date and have relationships with, especially as many of the ways queer individuals have traditionally used to identify each other with have been assimilated as part of popular trends.
“Queer aesthetics and culture are being co-opted, the same way much of Black culture has been normalized and co-opted by other non-Black audiences. They are using our words, they are talking like us, but they forget about us,” explained Bhuiyan.
The queer community at Mac is far from being heterogeneous, with organizations such as the Queer and Trans Club of Colour acting as an avenue for racialized queer students to form community with one another. However, due to complicated cultural understandings of queerness across different demographics, Bhuiyan expressed much of dating for racialized queer students remains hidden underground on hook up apps.
As a Bengali woman, Anisah Ali, a second-year health and society student and the equity, inclusion and diversity officer for the McMaster Bengali Student Association, uses her lived experiences to characterize the perceptions of love within the Bengali community.
“There are certainly fewer open conversations about romance, intimacy and sex within Bengali households relative to Western cultures. Such discussions are considered very private and are not necessarily talked about openly unless it is being talked about in the context of marriage,” explained Ali.
The persisting relevance of marriage within Bengali culture comes as no surprise given the countless multi-day intricate celebrations weaved within traditional Bengali weddings. However, due to this strong emphasis on settling down clashing with more casual approaches adopted by North American dating, Bengalis in the diaspora are usually unable to hold conversations about dating, boyfriends, and girlfriends with parents and other family members. While romantic relationships are slowly becoming a normalized rite of passage among newer generations of Bengalis, such relationships are typically held in secret, and are commonly frowned upon by more conservative older Bengalis.
It is not uncommon for diasporic children of immigrants to learn about sex, romance, and intimacy from other communities, sources, and the internet as it can be uncomfortable to approach parents or older members of a cultural community. Consequently, young adults from communities such as the Bengali community outsource education about intimacy from outside sources to gain knowledge of it.
“I simply wish that more Bengalis, especially our parents’ age, would talk amongst each other about romance. Maybe it will manifest into something beautiful for each and every single one of us to be fulfilled by this understanding of love to a greater degree,” hopes Ali.
Whether it is because of our sexual orientation or culture, our identities shape the communities that we are involved in, and in turn, affect our experiences with intimacy. Though love and romance may seem straightforward, the reality of it is much more complicated than what meets the eye.
C/O Jessica Yang
Holding space for the stories closest to our hearts
One of the first articles I wrote for the Silhouette was for the 2020 Sex and the Steel City issue. As I struggled to come up with an idea, I remember feeling daunted and underqualified to tackle the topics at the heart of the issue. I agonized over that article, rewriting it half a dozen times before I got a draft I was even remotely happy with. But after, I also appreciated the space writing that article offered me to think about the questions of love, intimacy and relationships—and then the space the issue offered to read the stories and thoughts of others as well.
Just like that early article, I’ve agonized over this issue, too. When I started planning it, I felt just as daunted and underqualified as I did before. Sex and the Steel City is a unique special issue, close to the hearts of so many people and I wanted to do justice to that, but I didn’t know what I had to bring to the issue.
And I kept thinking about the space that first article gave me, the spaces I’ve strived to offer interviewees as a reporter and my writers as an editor, and I thought about the unique, wonderful safety inherent in community — in a space where you are free to not only be yourself but also able to even just figure out who you are to begin with, without having to worry about protecting yourself or the expectations of others and knowing you have people in your corner who see you and will support you.
This same sense of safety, of community, is a key part of Sex and the Steel City. It’s what allows this issue to offer the space it does to not only its contributors to share the stories closest to their hearts, but also to its readers to feel seen and heard, to know they are not alone. In this year’s issue, we’ve tried to honour the importance of community, highlight the ones that have built us up as well as those we’ve built through love, intimacy and relationships.
Sex and the Steel City is a community project, a true labour of love. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this issue, who shared their stories and their artwork; it has been a privilege to hear your stories over these past few weeks. Thank you to everyone on staff who wrote for and created and organized this issue. This will be the largest issue of the Silhouette to date and it wouldn’t have been possible without you.
For everyone who reads this issue, though, I hope you feel some of that same sense of community, too. I hope you can see yourself somewhere in these pages, even if it’s just in one image or one story, and know you are not alone.
But if you don’t, because I also know there are stories missing from the pages of this issue, stories still to be told, I hope you know there is still space for you here, just as you are. I like to think that’s why we do this issue every year, so everyone has a chance to tell their story.
[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id="223" gal_title="SATSC Kyle West"]
This photography series was inspired by comparing classic symbolism of unity and strength with consideration to the themes of Sex and the Steel City. Across the world and throughout many diverse culture, the symbol of holding hands can be seen to communicate intimacy or a close relationship.
Taking this symbol and empowering it through strong vertical compositional choices lend the viewer to perceive these couples and their love as prevailing. The stylistic choices are a nod towards the strength and monumentality of the landscape work of Ansel Adams and the influential portraiture of Platon. Ultimately, Come Together is a story of love, unity and partnership and my best ability to document this.
Kyle West is a Hamilton-based photographer. He is in his final year of art history at McMaster University and is currently the Photo Editor for the Silhouette. West has developed a particular interest in portraiture over the years, often times turning to digital and film photography to capture his subjects in a beautiful light. From perfectly timed scenes of bustling city streets on film to carefully composed landscapes and journalistic endeavours, West also utilizes his photography as a means for storytelling.
This digital drawing entitled “Shower Scene” explores ideas and themes of intimacy that are typically uncomfortable for individuals to openly discuss.
Sex and sexuality are often unnecessarily forbidden topics that need to be reimagined as natural and normal.
Through this piece, sexuality is explored and depicted as natural, normal and familiar.
Simple lines and colours along with a minimalistic look are used to enhance the idea of intimacy as a normal and acceptable human experience.
Erin Nantais is a fourth year multimedia student at McMaster University. She typically works with photography and graphic design. Her personal style of work emphasizes strong lines and simple colour schemes to create a distinctive digital feel. Creative portraiture and animal photography are main sources of inspiration for most of Nantais’ work. Nantais has always been interested in art and photography and through her work she’s found a digital style that incorporates elements of both.
[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id="221" gal_title="SATSC Jet"]
Jet’s artistic process relies heavily on research into my chosen focus. It starts with the inquiry: “I want to understand more about…” as they then experiment with different mediums until they find the right material and presentation of their idea. Visualization is the key to their process where they push the boundaries of my idea and test as many possibilities as they can. When the piece is ready for an audience, Jet prefers the audience takes part in the outcome of the work itself.
Jet works mainly with performance, video, sculpture, photography and painting. They try not to ever limit myself to one medium. Jet encounters ideas that seem to float in the air and works with them, listens to them, becomes them and finds the best method to allow the work to exist in harmony with the audience.
Jet’s practice often explores the human body in all of its physical and ethereal elements. Throughout their life they have always made space for themselves to imagine and work out complex issues. This gives them the head space to create and transform what is not yet physical into a tangible piece.
Jet is a multidisciplinary artist who emigrated from Mexico in 2009. They grew up feeling that they didn’t always belong. Social norms, family, friends, peers, the state, and especially an oppressive culture of dominance, sought to limit the creativity of their soul. Now their work reflects a rebirth of expression, and the power of the artist’s will to transform the unseen beauty that surrounds them.
[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id="225" gal_title="SATSC Cait Gautron"]
In her first piece, Eviscerate (3016), in using fruit to mirror anatomy Cait Gautron was seeking to question ideas of ripeness and primacy in media surrounding sex. Shadowing the piece are ideas of destruction and decay. With these characteristics she playfully seeks to evoke viscera while using approximate substitutes to create a surreal and dreamlike atmosphere.
Coercion (2018), oil on canvas. With this work, Gautron seeks to raise issues around social and institutional factors which motivate consent and the fear felt by participants who may unknowingly fall in to the role of perpetrator or victim.
In oil paints Gautron seeks to explore the delicate balance between desire and disgust, growth and decay, inherit in human anatomy. Raised by an artist mother, the majority of her early artistic education came from exploring the galleries and museums of Europe in her early teens. In that time she became enamoured with the lustre of Vermeer’s still lifes and the contortion of Schielle’s portraits. Currently enrolled in her second year of McMaster University’s studio arts program, Gautron has just began to show her work around Hamilton and Ontario.
Kayla Da Silva
[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id="227" gal_title="SATSC Kaylita"]
or nothing at all.
It’s 11:07 am.
You check your phone.
For a moment
you can’t breathe
and then breathing
happens all at once.
Too fast. Too frequent.
in the depths of your mind
and anxiety holds
you by the throat.
It’s 9:27 pm.
You ask them to choose you,
but they show you
they never will.
Over and over again.
You knew all along
this was going
The red flags
but they were in
your blind spot.
You are accompanied
by your old friend,
You are enveloped
and gently embraced
by the solace of truth.
you have to choose if
you want to pick
or the rose
or nothing at all.
The artwork accompanied by the poetry is meant as a reflection of relationships that are emotionally damaging. More times than never, an individual in the relationship may not be aware of how complicated the situations were until leaving them.
The series is meant to highlight the mental turmoil an individual can experience when the pattern of behaviours from a partner negatively impacts their state of mind. When being in a complicated relationship, it can often lead to an internal conflict when they are in-love with their partner.
The difficult question is; how long can one hold on to what appears to be a rose when the thorns cause trauma? A partner should never put you in a position where you need to routinely put your wellbeing at risk.
Kayla Da Silva, also known as Kaylita, is a creative and a designer. She has found her poetry to be a suitable companion to the visuals she creates. She holds a Bachelors of Arts in multimedia and communications from McMaster University and currently resides in Hamilton, Ontario working full-time as a junior graphic designer.
CW: Disordered eating
For me, sex and food have always had their limbs awkwardly intermingled (in a no eye contact Grindr hookup sort of way). I know what you’re thinking: “how deep, bananas look like dicks and I’m entirely enthused and kind of turned on.” Yet, the story of this photograph is really one of inner turmoil, anguish and ultimately resistance. The food/fuck correlation, as I call it, has lingered like an unwanted houseguest in my head for quite some time now. It goes something like this: the less sex I’m having the less I feel I’m allowed to eat. In times of plentiful or at least grandiose sexual conquest, I can take a breath… or, a bite I guess. The logic is as desperate as it is simple. If I’m not getting laid, I better stop snacking and start looking like a snack. The food/fuck correlation not only problematically frames sex as some prize for me to win, it also leads me through disorderly cycles of eating. It’s all too easy for the things I did or didn’t eat to change my self-perceived body image.
This self portrait is meant to picture the undying torment food puts me through. Putting a voice to this struggle challenges the hegemonic belief that men, those wonderful, tenacious beasts, could never develop eating disorders. The photo challenges the societally constructed ideal of a man who is too tough to feel pain. Inability to conform to this ideal can strip one of his own masculinity. As men the borders of our gendered and sexual identities are constantly under scrutiny by our peers. For most, it’s far easier to conform by reproducing masculinity however they see possible. As a result, men are taught that being normal means never being vulnerable. Expressions of masculine insecurity like my food/fuck anxiety are constantly pushed to the margins of society. I say fuck that. Through this photo I proudly shout: I am a man, I have feelings, sometimes I feel insecure, but here I am. And hey, I bet you’d still fuck me.
Matty Flader is an emerging artist based in Hamilton, Ontario and Vancouver, British Columbia. He takes an interdisciplinary approach to art projects, with a specialization in portrait photography. Flader’s work concerns a broad range of topics, including gender performance, eating abnormality and responses to current events. He often challenges difficult ideas through a humourous lens in attempt to bring attention to the absurdity of this world.
[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id="82" gal_title="Queering Intimacy"]
Experiences of intimacy, in so many of my own cases, were often wrought with the anxiety of underperforming or oversharing. It was with some relief that I finally arrived at my own queerness in my late teens and felt my world grow bigger. Finally, I had arrived somewhere where I could set my own pace and my own definitions. My understanding of intimacy changed radically.
Queerness eliminated so many of the rules I had understood myself to exist within, and, within the state of unrest, queerness allowed for a vast range of acts to fall under the umbrella of intimacy. At its core, intimacy is to explore, and perhaps share, parts of oneself. That connection, to oneself or to another, and most especially in the context of queerness, allows for the attainment of some small slice of liberation.
In spite of the inherent risks, and against the odds, there is power to be claimed in these acts of queer intimacy. I found power in screaming at my best friend’s drag show debut. I found power in kissing my friend on the street in broad daylight. I found power in cooking breakfast for my first girlfriend. I have found unparalleled intimacy and safety in so many of my relationships with other queer people.
In thinking about this photo essay, I thought about twin beds and toothbrushes in pairs, about picking up the bill and carrying the grocery bags. I thought about inhibitions and shyness, and about bravery both quiet and loud. I considered all those ridiculous and beautiful moments that are made free under the banner of queerness.
Queer intimacy, like all intimacy, can exist as a haven in which to shelter oneself. Queer intimacy is a place for growth that is both euphoric and aching. It is the capacity to say, “Here is what my chaos looks like. Will you celebrate it?” It is the capacity to be heard. Queer first loves, whether romantic, platonic or somewhere in between, have an element of unique shared vulnerability that I have found indispensable to my own growth as a young queer person. In taking these photographs of a queer couple, I did my best to capture this particular flavour of softness.