Graphic by Elisabetta Paiano / Production Editor

By Nisha Gill, Contributor

Literature can be a wonderful escape from the dreariness of the winter months; there are few things better than being curled up in front of a warm fire with a good book. Perhaps counterintuitively, as much as it is an escape from our world, literature has a lot to teach us about the world we live in, especially with regard to love.

“Literature is always to some extent about our love and our knowledge of what love means,” explains Professor Noel Glover, of the McMaster University Department of English and Cultural Studies.

Literature’s capacity to inspire our imagination is one of its greatest strengths, allowing us to push the boundaries of what is and imagine what could be. It accomplishes this by using settings, characters and plots to not only mimic our experiences, but also expose us to new ones. This exposure prompts us to explore profound and personal questions, such as those pertaining to love, with little real risk. For example, we may wonder at Amira and Duncan in “The Chai Factor” or marvel at Simon and Baz in “Carry On”. We can put ourselves in these characters’ shoes to learn about forms and expressions of love that we have yet to experience, and reap no consequences. After all, it’s “just a story”. 

“We can see love and come to understand what love means [by] leaving ourselves behind, leaving what we know behind, or at least, being confronted with the question of how we know love and loving relationships from experiences that are not written from our own but that we can be called on to imagine nonetheless. This imagining is both the responsibility and the pleasure of literature,” said Glover.

The imaginative nature of literature enables us to explore our identities, beliefs, desires and dreams through worlds and characters that are both astoundingly alike our own and dramatically different. We are able to think on how our lives might follow the same paths as our favourite characters or perhaps instead the roads not taken. By living through these characters we are able to explore and understand what we want from love and how we want to love and be loved, tying these questions of love to larger questions of identity. Glover talks to the way we process romantic questions being linked to how we perceive romance within literature itself.

“Literature stages the effects of this image [of identity], both as a personal demand and a socio-cultural repertoire such that there can be room for crisis, transformation, revolt, pleasure and, especially, counter-normative expressions and representations of self in the cultural syntax of gender, race and sexuality. The questions at the heart of identity ‘what am I like,’ ‘what do I want,’ can be inflected and enjoyed in literature in contradictory and exploratory tenses: ‘what does it mean that I am like this character and like that character as well?’; ‘what is the other’s desire?’; ‘what can desire be like?’” said Glover.

While literature’s capacity to spark our imagination helps to enrich and expand our view of love by encouraging us to look beyond our own experiences and beliefs, it also has the potential to distort our view of love. This distortion results from the reinforcment of stereotypes, particularly regarding normative relationships and gender roles, that have been established by classic literature, from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” as well as more contemporary works such Nicholas Sparks’s “The Notebook”. 

“[Literature] is inventive . . . of others and relations we may know all-together too well, reinforcing stereotyped expressions of love and loving, oppressive and supremacist stereotypes of who is worthy of love,” noted Glover.

Thankfully, in the past few years, there has been an increasing diversity of voices being heard in literature on love, thanks to works such as Richard Wagamese’s “Starlight”, M.G. Vassanji’s “A Delhi Obsession”, Lydia Kwa’s “The Walking Boy”, Kagiso Lesego Molope’s “Such a Lonely, Lovely Road” and many, many more. Many of these authors grew up without seeing their identities and experiences in love represented in literature and then took it upon themselves to correct this. In doing so, they are setting the stage for new questions and further exploration of love and identity in all its forms. All it takes is for one person to see that there is someone else like them out there in the world to be inspired to embark on their own path of self-discovery.

 

This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.

 

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Photo C/O Yannis Papanastasopoulos

By A. A., Contributor

I was on a study date with a couple of my close friends at a Starbucks we used to go to almost every single day. A couple guys we had met there came and sat with us to study. Skim forward a little bit, my friend, who knew I was gay, made a joke and exposed my sexuality to one of the guys.

All of a sudden, everything changed in the way he spoke, as if he was trying to alienate me. I froze.

I advocate for being proud of who you are and I do embrace my sexuality, but in that moment — I hated everything about it.

He insisted that he could “fix” me if he spent 24 hours with me. He even told my friend, who was a girl, to have sex with me. I tried a couple times explaining that being gay is not something he would ever be able to understand, it is something he needs to accept. But my words were quickly dismissed. I had no words, I did not know whether I should say anything at all. I was catching glares from a boy sitting across from us at the large table we were sitting at. It felt like a beaming hot spotlight was shining over me; like everyone was looking at me with pity, disappointment or disgust.

I felt a rush of tears come to my throat, that feeling where you are about to cry and if you say any word at all you will. After so many years of owning my sexuality, I felt isolated, alone and the odd one out all over again. I was taken back to being 12 years old, when my parents told me that I could be sent somewhere to be fixed. 

I needed to leave, so I walked out and called an Uber. While waiting for my Uber I could not stop myself from breaking down. 

Am I really proud of who I am? Or just around people that accept me?

I cannot stop thinking about how he won. I was not able to stand up for myself. I was not able to show him that I am me no matter what he thinks is right and wrong. Insidead, I felt so small and alienated. I am usually loud; I say what I want, when I want. I stand up for everyone’s story, but that day, I learned that I cannot stand up for my own. My own truth and who I am is fragile right now. I know they say—even I say—that being gay is just a part of me, but when that is the biggest struggle in your life, it becomes you. I am gay.

Why does it have to be so hard?

I think I have established for myself that life is not fair, but this has not been an easy lesson for me to learn—in fact, it has been the hardest. I am a 18-year-old Middle Eastern man, born and raised in a outspokenly homophobic household where religious ideals formed the foundation of my family member’s lives. But I am also gay, and discovering my own identity in such an environment was not fair. 

It is not fair to grow up in an environment that shames parts of who you are before you even recognize those parts of you. It is not fair to only be able to be true to who you are around three of your friends. It is not fair to feel like your family is not going to be there forever. It is not fair to feel as though your family’s love is conditional over something you cannot control—who you are. 

There is no explanation. I have no explanation for being gay so how do I explain it to someone that does not understand? Should I even try? Should I let them be ignorant? Why is it easy to stand up for someone else, but so much harder to stand up for myself? I feel like I’m proud of myself and my accomplishments but am I really proud of me—am I really proud of being gay?

I want to learn to be loud and proud but that comes with a price. 

Not everyone will be supportive, not everyone will accept me as I am. I have to learn to be who I am regardless of how many times I’m discriminated against for something that is nobody’s business but my own. Before I can be loud and proud, I have to pay the emotional price of working to turn every doubt and harsh thing someone says into a reason why I will not back down from who I am. 

I am who I am and that should be okay. This will be the next thing I learn.

 

This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.

Photos C/O Katie Cui

By Anonymous, Contributor

The idea of femininity is one that, for a long time, upset me. I remember distinctly hating to wear the dresses my family bought me. I didn’t want to be exposed. I didn’t want to perpetuate the notion of what a woman should be within society. I didn’t want to feel objectified by men, I didn’t want to be regarded as “weak”, “fragile” or “sensitive”. However, that didn’t mean I didn’t want to be noticed by men. I was “straight”, so I assumed that, as a woman, I wanted attention from men. 

There have been countless times when I’ve been told by my family: “Dress nicely so that boys will notice you.” Sometimes I would cave, and I would receive the standard compliments that one would receive from a heterosexual male: “You look hot/ nice/ pretty/ beautiful.” Other times, I’d find my strength in going against the world’s expectations, and put on a suit instead. I did not receive any typical compliments, but seeing men gaze at me in half jealousy and half admiration was good enough. Afterall, I looked hot and powerful.  

Boys, I wanted you to notice me—but I also wanted to be noticed for who I am, not for conforming to societal expectations of what a woman should wear. 

A jacket on a red background.

In grade 10, I started to wear snapbacks. In grade 11, I started to wear muscle shirts. In grade 12, I started wearing suits and called myself heteroflexible. In my first year of university, I began to wear men’s t-shirts and men’s joggers. In second year, I made it a habit to check out the women’s section and the men’s section in clothing stores. I went from calling myself heteroflexible throughout my high school years, to declaring myself as bisexual in university. 

Fashion, sexuality and gender expression have always been a messy knot in my brain. I frequently dress like someone who, if you took one look at me, you’d know I am not straight. Maybe you could even infer that I’m bi. 

You’re told not to judge a book by its cover. But what if I want you to?  

Symbolic interactionism describes how our world is made of symbols which convey meaning to the people we interact with. Fashion is the pinnacle of my interaction with the world. 

Pants on a red background

Every day, what I choose to wear is a reflection of who I am. Sometimes, I want to go undetected—that’s a day for dark jeans, t-shirts and a sweater. Other times, I want to be noticed—that means wearing a suit or a dress. Other times, I feel incredibly gay and just throw on a Henley, typically a shirt for men, and men’s joggers. 

Our world has always had an invisible hand in how I present myself. I am well attuned to how I dress and how that will draw different kinds of stares and gazes; however, as someone who is interested in both men and women, this has become a habit of practiced expression.

Our world has always had an invisible hand in how I present myself. I am well attuned to how I dress and how that will draw different kinds of stares and gazes; however, as someone who is interested in both men and women, this has become a habit of practiced expression.

I used to feel almost guilty about how I dressed, I never felt feminine enough for those around me. As I grew more comfortable with my sexuality, I realized that I didn’t need to dress to attract men to me. How I dress on a daily basis, with a style between androgynous and masculine, is both more comfortable for me, and the ladies like it. 

I remember dressing to go to a party one night and turning to my friends saying, “I’m going to wear a crop top, because that way people know I’m a little bit of a slut. But I’m going to wear flannel shirt over that because I still want people to know I’m hella gay.” 

Dressing myself is a calculated strategy. I choose my clothing carefully to convey hidden messages. Yet, sometimes I question how whether or not my acceptance of these messages contributes to perpetuating stereotypes around gender and sexuality. Stereotypes can be harmful. Actively assuming details about a person can feel intrusive, belittling and insulting. Yet, I purposely use stereotypes associated with sexuality to communicate with the world. I’ve cut my hair shorter, I wear flannel, I cuff my jeans and I keep my nails short. These are all stereotypically associated with being “bisexual” or “gay”. 

Suspenders on a red background

Stereotypes become harmful when you actively use them to make harmful assumptions. Not every flamboyant man is gay, and you have no right to tell him he is. Not every girl with short hair is a lesbian, you don’t need to tell your friends she is. 

Don’t judge a book by its cover, at least, not actively. 

Yet, when I wear a French tucked t-shirt with a leather jacket with my cuffed ripped black jeans, I am trying to tell the world I am not straight. It’s me telling the world that typical compliments about my general appearance won’t woo me. Maybe compliment my graphic t-shirt with the teenage mutant ninja turtles on it, then I’ll entertain a discussion with you.   

This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.

 

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Graphic by Elisabetta Paiano / Production Editor

By Nina Joon, Contributor

Why yes, the rumours are true. I, Nina Joon, completed (finishing with a 12) my second one-night stand and I am here to shout it loud and proud. After years spent huddling under a blanket of sexual apathy, agonizing over the inevitable awkward intimacy during sex, I have finally reached a state of no-fucks-given. 

As a product of both millennial and generation Z culture, I am no stranger to the supposed perils and triumphs of hook-up culture. Now, after two engagements in the action, I think it’s safe to pronounce myself as a voice of the people, offering advice and insight into this tumultuous sexy time in our young, hot 20-something year old lives. This, my friends, is an ode to the sweaty club grind-ups and confusing “booty-Facebook-message-hookups” that you’re still trying to dissect literally months after they happened.

The classic tale of a one-night stand often begins in the club, in the middle of the month, during techno night. You’re on the dance floor, body glitter sparkling from the disco ball reflection. While looking down to admire your amazing shuffling skills, you spot a pair of humbling red converse high tops with laces caked in mud. Is this a skater? Is this a longboarder? Questions cloud your mind, so you look up to see whose face belongs to these shoes. Not to your surprise, it’s an absolute cutie sipping a rare brew of Collective Arts, dancing slowly to the tempo of the music.

You nudge your friend (hereby referred to as Derby) and point to this mysterious gem nestled on the dance floor. Derby’s eyes light up in excitement. 

“Aye! Good shout mate!”, they claim, confirming your feelings of attraction to “red-shoes”. 

You run with that bout of validation, slyly dancing your way into red-shoes’s line of vision. The music’s pumping, your earplugs are the perfect amount of hidden; this is your moment. 

“Hey, I heard it’s your birthday! Happy birthday!” you shout to cutie’s face. 

To be clear, it is not their birthday, nor is there any available information that would lead to that conclusion. You just hope that the mere randomness of your comment will spark intrigue in red-shoes. 

“Huh?” they respond back. 

“Oh my god, sorry, haha, you look just like my friend whose birthday it is today . . . my bad!”

Red-shoes uncomfortably laughs but you feel their gaze as you dance back to Derby and continue to shuffle for a half-hour straight.

It’s getting late now and you’re wondering where this cutie has gone. Derby is on their third hook-up of the night, copping two numbers and one Instagram handle. While sipping a glass of communal water, someone taps on your shoulder. You turn to see red-shoes staring into your soul with their glassy beaming eyes. 

“Hey, you’re a really good dancer”, they say. 

Stunned, you quickly make a fart noise and say “Lawl, no way! Thanks! I like your um, shoes, tee-hee”. 

Together you start to talk, eventually moving to a booth and then locking lips in a dark corner.

After back and forth flirty banter, during which you offered red-shoes a cherry Halls and they declined, the question comes up. 

“Your place or mine?”. 

You’re living at your parent’s house, so that’s not even an option. To your surprise, red-shoes calls a Lyft, signifying their uniqueness, to which you self-congratulate yourself for knowing how to pick ‘em. During the car ride home, you keep your distance from red-shoes as a sign of respect to the driver, feeling shy because you harbour culturally-internalized shame towards sex. It’s all good though, you’re learning to overcome it! 

Red-shoes leads you into their low-ceiling basement bedroom that smells like weed and 5 gum. As the making out escalates, you progressively get more excited. Then you remember you’re a #feminist who doesn’t shave. Despite knowing you’re beautiful and loving your body, you can’t help but recognize this is not a cultural norm and worry how red-shoes will react. As expected, they don’t even notice and the night seamlessly continues on to become an X-rated episode of Degrassi.

After hardly two hours of sleep and being awoken by red-shoes’s deaf cat jumping on your chest at 7 a.m., you decide it’s time to go home. Your cutie is slow to wake up, rolling around looking all hot as they enjoy the luxury of being a deep sleeper. They drive you home in their Prius, dropping you off in a Mac’s Convenience Store parking lot. While washing off last night’s face, you remember you left a recently thrifted sweater at cutie’s. You send a text asking for it back and never hear from them again.

In your hungover state, you struggle to submit a weekly discussion post on Avenue while smiling about last night’s events. Maybe you’ll see red-shoes again, maybe you won’t. Your sweater might be lost forever, but the smell of that nicely renovated kitchen will live on in your memory. You close your blinds and nap until 4:30 p.m., excited to do it all over again. 

 

This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.

 

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Photo C/O Lucrezia Carnelos

By Rachel Lieske, Contributor

The popular astrology app CoStar is known for daily insights that are customized according to a user’s astrological chart. Every day at 10:37 am, CoStar sends me daily affirmations, recently with a recurring theme surrounding “pressure in love.” I usually shrug off the AI-generated insights, but the idea  of “pressure in love” echoed in my mind—it felt symbolic of young love, and everything it represents, and caught my attention. 

There’s a common narrative that persists around young love. Finding love that lasts in your adolescence is the one way to create a fairytale ending. Needless to say, a fairytale ending is merely a fictional account. There is a lot of love rhetoric echoed in our culture like “you’ll find love once you stop looking”, but aren’t we supposed to be finding love now, just as many of our parents did at our age? 

Like any frantic Gen Z, I texted all of my friends and asked them if they felt “pressure in love” and if they felt that there was an inherited timeline to find it. As it turned out, most of my single friends were pessimistic about finding love and felt a pressure weighing them down. Here’s what they had to say.

“There’s a lot of pressure regarding the demographic and social aspect of it all. If you’re in a city that is full of people your age and your living the typical university lifestyle then it should be easy to find a significant other, but it’s really not.” - Allie, 20

“[University] seems like a perfect time to meet people, and a lot of people are finding love. At the end of the day, media makes love seem like this whole encompassing thing that everyone craves but I’m not so certain it’s the end all be all.” - Robyn, 19

“I think the pressure comes more internally than externally, especially when I see people who have had lots of relationships in high school and university and I feel like now there’s less time to find my ‘soul mate’. If those people have been through so many relationships and haven’t found the one, how can I with less time?” - Taylor, 20

“There’s a lot of cultural pressures because for me, my parents are Russian and there’s an unspoken standard that you will find a person to marry within university and if you can’t, it’s like, ‘Okay, what’s wrong with you?’”- Devon, 21

Coincidently, most of my friends who were in relationships said that they never felt pressured to be in relationships. Instead, romantic love randomly found its way into their lives. However, they experienced a  different sort of pressure; a pressure to experience single life fully in university. 

“There’s more of a pressure to not find love because of single culture being so dominant with university nightlife and online dating!” - Alex, 20

“Finding love shouldn’t have a timeline to it. It shouldn’t be a race. If you don’t find love by 25 it doesn’t mean that you’re undesirable!” - Vanessa, 20

“I felt more pressure to be dating than to find true love. I didn’t feel like I needed a soulmate, but I didn’t want to get to a point where I felt so much less experienced than everyone else that dating would feel impossible later on,”- Quinn, 20

“The short answer is no, I don’t feel the pressure to find love in university but I’ve been in a relationship most of my time at school,  in which the first one was very all-consuming and overbearing so I actually felt the pressure to be single for once.” -Mary, 20

It’s undeniable that our adolescence is a time of experimentation when it comes to love. We may make dumb decisions that we come to regret, but we can use the lessons from our successes and failures to help navigate the world of dating. Although past successes and failures help us navigate new relationships the pressure still persists: to find something real, raw, lasting and most importantly, loving. 

Other pressures come from trying to understand how to balance personal growth and romantic growth. In the infancy of our adult lives, we underestimate how many commitments we already have, and how large of a commitment love is. At some point, we have to give up on some of our commitments, and most of the time it’s a battle between love or loss. 

When we open our hearts to love, we also open our hearts to loss. Inevitably we might feel a combination of both. Choosing love is an act of bravery that deserves credit for its commitment to vulnerability and its gamble with loss. The pressure can be grave and intimidating but somehow always finds its way into our lives, in this quest for love or something that feels like it.

 

This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.

 

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