What is one man’s and one woman’s love and desire, against the history of two worlds, the great revolutions of our lifetimes, the hope, the unending cruelty of our species? A little thing. But a key is a little thing, next to the door it opens. If you lose the key, the door may never be unlocked. It is in our bodies that we lose or begin our freedom, in our bodies that we accept or end our slavery.
– Ursula Le Guin, Four Ways to Forgiveness
Freedom, in Scotland and elsewhere, isn’t something that is given by governments or other authorities. It’s something that’s practiced. And not just in social movements or halls of power. It’s part of everyday life. It’s in our bodies, in our relationships with ourselves and each other.
I am grateful to feminists such as Le Guin who remind me of this. All too often in social movements or political discussions, it’s those everyday things that can get left out, made out to be ‘just personal problems’. I don’t see that neat line, myself, between personal and political. The relationships of domination that make up official economies and political systems aren’t magically stopped by little things like bedroom doors, declarations of love or other markers of personal life. And, as Le Guin and others point out, genuine acts of love are part of revolutionary change.
And so this column, where I am serving as Bella Calledonia’s new Anarchy Aunt. Writing and talking about the links between intimacy, sexuality and radical politics is what I do. I taught sex education in Edinburgh schools for 8 years (what a great job!) and did a PhD on anarchism and sexuality. Doing that, I learned that intellectualising the emotionally challenging stuff in life doesn’t make it all better. Oh, no! I still appreciate political theory and intellectual discussions. But I like them even more if they’ve got heart. How do we really learn to listen to ourselves and each other? How do we practice that freedom that I suspect we all want? It doesn’t happen (just) from reading Karl Marx or even Emma Goldman. It happens from the real life practice of relationships. And it’s not easy. We all need help.
In another essay, Le Guin (can you tell I’m a fan?) laments how reading has become instrumental, ‘so you can read the operating instructions’. Stories, she says, are important. They help us imagine. ‘All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don’t, our lives get made up for us by other people’. The guides? Stories. So my aim in this column isn’t to give you advice on how to live your life. Only you know how to do that. It is to write stories in a way that may offer some guidance, that may help you and me and everyone live a little more freely, equally and lovingly.
The title refers to love, sex and romance in our lives because these can be sources of great joy and great pain. They are areas people want to talk about, and might not have people around who are understanding. As a friend of mine said recently, “I asked you about it because I knew you would understand. I didn’t want to have to deal with other people’s emotional reaction to the topic.” Now, I’m not saying I won’t ever have an emotional reaction to a letter. If I do, I’ll sit with it carefully before writing a response.
Love Life is also a reminder that being radical doesn’t have to mean being grumpy. Nietzsche reckoned that holding on to resentment about the world not being the free and equal place you or I might want it to be can be a way of holding on to that inequality and lack of freedom. I think he’s got a point. It certainly fits with my experience and things I observe in others. And so, this column is an invitation to love life, even when it hurts: to recognise the beauty that surrounds us, to see beyond the official ‘reality’ of borders and markets and violence, to notice that there is something much more fundamental to life itself.
So, dear Bella readers, is there anything happening in your life that you would like to ask for help with? How are relationships with friends or neighbours, collective members or co-workers, lovers or family members? Or are you troubled by my linking of love and revolution and want to talk about it? Want to ask about ethics, erotics or ecology? Or perhaps anarchy, autonomy, or anatomy? I don’t know if I’ll be able to answer every letter, but I’ll certainly do what I can. And maybe, even if I can’t answer each one, just writing a letter down will help.