When ‘friends with benefits’ no longer benefits you

Let’s talk about sex, second tries, and no strings attached

When ‘friends with benefits’ no longer benefits you

A couple of months ago, I decided to get involved in a friends-with-benefits relationship. Do I regret it? No. Does it suck? Yes. Am I surprised that it sucks? No. After all, these situations rarely work out, but I also knew that I didn’t want to shelter myself anymore or cower away from new experiences, even if that entailed making myself vulnerable to getting hurt.

This was the second time I chose to get involved with this guy because I thought the feelings I once had for him were gone. Logically, I understood that we wouldn’t work out together, not only because he had expressed to me before that he didn’t see me ‘that way’ — ouch — but also because I genuinely could not see us in any type of relationship beyond this weird hookup or friends-with-benefits thing.

We don’t share many similar interests, we don’t really have the same sense of humour, and we just aren’t compatible. I figured that my judgment could override my emotions; naturally, this did not work out.

At the time, I didn’t even want a relationship, but tasting intimacy was simultaneously comforting and unsettling. I enjoyed it in the moment, but retrospectively, I felt fake because he didn’t actually want me and he just wanted to have sex with me. I began to crave something genuine.

I realized that my feelings had not disappeared and that I subconsciously thought that if he spent more time with me, he would like me. I eventually had to accept that I was the rule, not the exception, and that if a guy is acting like he doesn’t care, it’s because he doesn’t care. He was doing everything he should be doing for the type of relationship I agreed to: nothing more and nothing less. Could I really blame him?

I rarely dabbled in the dating scene, so I was disturbed when I began to doubt myself because a boy denied me affection. I began to question my emotional and mental depth. I overthought whether I was interesting enough to deserve romantic attention. I have always been strong-willed and self-assured, so I disregarded myself when I began to crumble over a guy who wasn’t worth crumbling over.

I hate to turn this oh-so-sexy article into a Chicken Soup for the Soul narration, but after I ended things with him, I realized how much love was in my life that I had been oblivious to while I was sleeping with him. Was part of this romantic longing a sick need to prove to myself my own worth by trying to win his validation? That’s when I knew it was time to end it.

After it was over, I continued to wonder if casual sex was ever sustainable, or if getting hurt and developing feelings for your partner is inevitable. A friend of mine said that her experience with casual sex worked out well. However, she only recommends it if you don’t see them often because otherwise “you’ll probably get attached, catch feelings, and start freaking out.”

I don’t regret my decision. I still care about him, and he still cares about me. I broke it off because hoping for anything stronger than platonic care is a waste of my time and energy. In a weird way, friends with benefits did work out. I learned from it. I sustained the friendship. I walked away.

If anyone relates to my experience or is in a similar situation, my main advice is to end it when it’s not fun anymore. If you want more from the relationship but can’t get it, or if you find yourself feeling generally dissatisfied or frustrated, you should probably move on.

Stop beating your dead horse. The horse is already dead and the punching and kicking will only make you winded. We all have too much to do to be winded.

What movies get wrong about casual sex

You don’t have to be damaged to sleep around

What movies get wrong about casual sex

Two of my favourite romantic comedies are No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits, both centred around an ostensibly modern dynamic: friends having sex. Once taboo, casual sex is becoming increasingly normalized — mainstream enough to be the centre of a romantic comedy.

But underlying their apparently modern stories is a reliance on outdated tropes. No Strings Attached opens with young versions of the main characters at summer camp, with Emma (Natalie Portman) comforting Adam (Ashton Kutcher) over his parents’ divorce.

“People aren’t meant to be together forever,” young Emma says, making evident her resistance toward commitment, a detail that will drive the plot in the rest of the film.

The opening scene of Friends with Benefits is similarly meant to set up character motivations for having casual sex: both leads are dumped by their long-term partners, leading them to be cynical about love.

The concept that people only have casual sex because they are damaged is not a new one and is often levelled specifically against women. Even more recent films, like Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, reinforce this message that women sleep around because they fear intimacy and crave attention.

Amy (Amy Schumer) is told by her father in the opening scene that “monogamy isn’t realistic,” which then jump-cuts to her current lifestyle of excessive drinking and one-night stands. The audience is meant to see her life as a calamity — see the movie’s title. She ultimately changes her ways when Aaron (Bill Hader) persuades her to pursue a monogamous relationship with him — after some conflict, of course.

The plot conveniently plays on the classic fairytale ending of a woman being saved by her Prince Charming, while embedding this antiquated storyline in a modern context. As casual sex is increasingly portrayed on the big screen, I can’t help but notice that female characters like Amy are often portrayed as emotionally stunted to explain their sexual choices. In contrast, male promiscuity is seldom psychoanalyzed or represented as a character flaw.

When I started sleeping with a friend in first year, it didn’t look anything like these films. We didn’t spend time developing a list of rules. Both of us still believed in love and commitment, just not with each other. We were 18, friends, attracted to each other, and living in the same residence.

It was a dynamic made out of convenience — but that doesn’t mean it was without complications. There were times when I thought I was developing feelings for him. However, it was hard to differentiate whether I truly wanted a relationship or whether I just wanted to be absolved from the guilt of having sex outside of one. I was often unhappy and conflicted about the dynamic. I’d tell him it would never happen again, but then it would. I questioned whether choosing to sleep with a friend meant I was damaged in some way.

Ironically, it took someone else saying what I had been telling myself to realize how ridiculous it sounded. A male friend recently imparted this advice to me: if I wanted guys to find me attractive, I needed to stop sleeping with them. Men don’t like women who sleep around, he said.

I realized that for all the judgment I inflicted on myself, I never judged the guy I was sleeping with for having casual sex. Moreover, anyone who determined others’ worth by judging their sexual history was probably not someone I wanted in my life, friend or boyfriend.

Casual sex had its benefits. I was sleeping with someone who respected me and viewed my pleasure as important. I learned that sex could be something I actually enjoyed. The experience also forced me to confront the double standards that I had internalized and ultimately changed my relationship with sex for the better.

For young women, taking ownership of our sexuality doesn’t have a uniform manifestation. While some can’t have good sex outside of a monogamous relationship, others find one-night stands to be empowering. We don’t all want the same thing — but we should all have the autonomy to make those decisions for ourselves. Society needs to see that women are competent adults, not sexual objects.

Navigating the complex Venn diagram of sex, love, and intimacy is a captivating topic for films, but I would love to see more that challenge misconceptions rather than reinforce them. Pop culture needs a new narrative, one that doesn’t equate promiscuity with damage and cynicism — and we all need to stop pathologizing women for their sexual choices.

You’ll still catch me watching Friends With Benefits and crying when Justin Timberlake surprises Mila Kunis with a flash mob at Grand Central Station or when, in No Strings Attached, Ashton Kutcher brings Natalie Portman a bouquet of carrots because she hates flowers. But I know that real women don’t need a backstory to explain their sexual choices, or a relationship to prove that they’re worthy of love.

New year, same archaic traditions @ trin college

Why is there still so much stigma attached to U of T’s most elitist college?

New year, same archaic traditions @ trin college

In “The problem with high tables,” I mentioned the stigma associated with Trinity College: it’s “pretentious,” “snobby,” “elitist,” and so much more. And these are words that are often associated with the college. There are multiple issues worth exploring in connection to this stigma. Why does it exist? How much truth is there to it? Is it bad? If so, what can the college administration and student body do to combat it?

Why does the stigma exist?

Trinity College has a long, rich, and vastly interesting history. Founded by Bishop Strachan as an Anglican rival to the newly secularized University of Toronto, Trinity College has its roots in religious tradition: Wednesday Choral Evensongs, special services for holidays, and a mascot that is a literal pope. Trinity College’s religious influence, however, cannot be seen as a source of stigma, as the traditions are never mandatory. Instead, they are introduced to members of the college in an open-minded, respectful manner, and the college has taken special care to not allow religious intolerance on campus. The same cannot be said for traditions that find their roots in an aristocratic, blue-blooded, and haughty class.

For instance, I was surprised to find out just how few students at the college knew the actual origin of pouring-outs. In fact, I received many complaints about my previous article, claiming that I mischaracterized the tradition. ‘Pouring-outs’ involve — with consent — removing a student from Strachan Hall for doing something infamous. However, if you do a bit of research, you will find that pouring-outs used to be known as ‘pooring-outs.’ These pooring-outs involved physically — and without consent — removing a student from Strachan Hall for not wearing the required gown, which made them look ‘poor.’ Thus, what is now known as ‘pouring-out’ is actually a reformed tradition of an extremely classist, offensive tradition.

It is also worth giving special mention to Episkopon, the secret society founded in homophobia and racism that was banned from the college campus in 1992. It still lives on off-campus and members still participate in it.

Disconcertingly, there is an intimate connection between these ‘pouring-outs’ and Episkopon: academic standing and wealth. It is no secret that Trinity College stands out to those applying to U of T. Trin apparently requires the highest marks, and it mandates a special application to narrow down the number of applicants. So immediately, most students entering U of T will have the perception that Trinity College is, in some way, ‘special.’ And, in many ways, it is.

Trinity College has a remarkable academic record. Not only do half of its students graduate with distinction or high distinction, but it has consistently produced a Rhodes Scholar once every three years. But is this academic success intrinsic to the college? Do the students succeed because they are in Trinity College? Almost certainly not.

Most are aware that many of the students who are accepted into Trinity College come from wealthy, privileged backgrounds. And it is not unusual that those from privileged socioeconomic backgrounds also tend to have higher grades. So it is not just that the stigma comes from being academically successful and wealthy. It is also that the latter is perceived as driving the former. Many believe that Trinity College students essentially lucked out by being born into privileged families, gaining opportunities not available to many other students.

The fourth and final cause is the most potent: that members of the college recognize the stigma and embrace it. They recognize that Trinity is a wealthy college and often choose to apply to Trin because of this fact. Alternatively, some were forced to come by their parents, who are alumni of Trinity College. After talking to many students, I’ve also regularly heard that it is because of Trinity’s historical traditions. Some acknowledge where these traditions come from and wish to participate in them because the Trinity students see their culture in such traditions. This embrace simply perpetuates the effects by reinforcing and exemplifying the stigma.

How much truth is there to the stigma?

That these are some of the causes of the stigma, I have no doubt; however, it begs the question about how truthful it is. I want to suggest that, in essence, it’s true.

Firstly, it’s important to remark that such a stigma cannot be fairly applied to all members of the college. There are many who take efforts to avoid being associated with the stigma, and, therefore, should not be labelled as such. Rather, the stigma is applied to the vocal, popular, entrenched group at Trinity College who see the stigma and choose to do nothing about it. These are the individuals who often come from privileged backgrounds, fail to recognize the harm of participating in and reinforcing the negative traditions described, and who readily embrace the stigma associated with the college.

That these members of the college are ‘wealthy’ is true: we know that many members of the college come from highly privileged backgrounds. That these members of the college are ‘pompous’ is also likely true. I believe this because of the fact that they readily participate in a variety of traditions with offensive roots. It might be objected that the traditions now present at Trinity College are not classist and are not offensive, for they have been reformed and changed. To this I disagree; however, I shall address this point at the end of the article. But, that these members of the college are ‘academically elitist’ is likely not true, at least not in comparison to other students of the university. I see no evidence that members of the college are more snobby about their grades than other undergraduates at U of T. Rather, the elitism arises from the socioeconomic backgrounds and societies that these members grew up in.

Is the stigma bad?

I feel it is crucial to mention the reception to my previous article. I was a bit taken aback by the amount of openly negative comments I received. While I expected some, I didn’t anticipate so many to openly fail to recognize the prime issue I was attacking in the article: the professor-student hierarchy. Rather than address this point, many resorted to mocking me for not being ‘social enough’ in the college to have a fair opinion on these matters. Perhaps it never struck them that the reason I am not as social as I could be is because of the types of stigma associated with such members, and what their involvement reinforces.

Perhaps these points are too anecdotal — maybe I am making up or exaggerating my claims. If you believe this for whatever reason, then you need only look at the recent student experience survey at Trinity College. In an article published in The Varsity, it was revealed that the survey “included comments that alleged classism, racism, and election influencing by ‘Social Trin and Episkopon.’” If this is not evidence enough that there is a systemic problem at Trinity regarding the embraced stigma by those who are privileged, I don’t know what else could satisfy you.

Surely, the administration does not want to have this reputation. As time goes on and individuals become less and less tolerant of institutional classism and elitism, Trinity College could become the butt of a joke: all it shall be associated with is its stigma. People won’t see Trinity College for its long list of positive attributes: its rich religious history, advocacy of student democracy, energetic and enthusiastic student body, excellent clubs and groups to meet a diverse range of interests, and many more. Surely the administration at Trinity College wants to be seen as an active player in combatting the negative attitudes described in this article. Surely it wants to be ahead of the game. But how can we help?

What can be done?

I leave the bulk of the question unanswered — it is to be thoroughly investigated in a future article. I do wish to offer one solution to the problem: abandon the traditions with roots in classism and privilege. It has been suggested to me that we should keep certain privileged traditions because it reminds students that they have privilege. That we should keep pouring-outs, high tables, and the like, because it allows us to recognize how privileged we are to have them in the first place. I find this rather silly. Surely the fact that you come from a high-income bracket and are white is enough to recognize your privilege? I think such excuses are given to mask the fact that these traditions have assisted in forming the community of Trinity College and that their removal might begin to make these students feel less like they belong to a close-knit community on campus. I agree that this would certainly be the result if no traditions were designed to replace the old. But what is the issue in creating a new wave of traditions? Why can we not leave the traditions of the privileged, archaic elite behind and create a new set that represents the diverse, inclusive, and caring community that Trinity now has?

Free pancakes changed my life

We need student organizations to create community on campus

Free pancakes changed my life

From the outside, UTSG is an odd collection of dissimilar buildings. It’s a mosaic of clashing architectural styles, filled with students and academics of wildly different disciplines.

Yet, on any given day, in any given building, you can probably find a fold-out table with buttons, stickers, and a cardstock sign that says “free food.” At Woodsworth College, you’ll find this table every Wednesday from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm, staffed with dedicated student volunteers flipping pancakes to hand out to their peers.

Student organizations are what bring university to life. With thriving clubs, course unions, and student societies, a collection of buildings becomes a vibrant campus.

It was a Wednesday at Woodsworth that I found out about the Woodsworth College Students’ Association (WCSA), and later decided to run for mental health director. I found more than free breakfast every week; I found a group of students who work to make our college a home for everyone.

The WCSA uses student fees to create social events, professional opportunities, wellness workshops, and so much more. When our $7.50 student levy each semester becomes a pizza party with a make-your-own sundae bar, a coffee social with free donuts and boardgames, or an open-mic night, it becomes conversation, friendships, and community.

The importance of free food to university students should not be understated, but the role of student organizations goes beyond providing snacks — they also advocate for and empower students. The WCSA provides professional development grants, funds clubs at Woodsworth College such as the American Sign Language club and the Woodsworth College Racialized Students Collective, and meets with administrators to lobby for student interests.

My position, mental health director, was added last year to further mental health advocacy on campus. Our equity director is spearheading the push for gender-neutral washrooms at Woodsworth College.

The WCSA dedicates funds to mental health and equity, not only to make our college a safer space, but also to signal to the administration that equity and mental health are priorities to us as students and to push the administration to dedicate further resources to these areas.

Being involved with the WCSA and The Varsity, I often receive questions about whether extracurriculars take away from academics or the ‘real’ reason for my being at university. But I can’t imagine school without these outlets. I’m developing skills I know will help me after I graduate, including email correspondence, teamwork, and project management.

Beyond professional skills, I’ve found my voice as an advocate. If it weren’t for joining the WCSA as mental health director, I would never have applied to be part of Plan International Canada’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC), where I work with young people from across the country to advocate for gender equality.

As trivial as it sounds, I’m simply a happier person because I’m involved on campus. Writing for The Varsity, serving on the WCSA, competing in moot tournaments, and being part of the YAC have all had a positive impact on my mental health. These activities provide me with a support network, structure, and a greater sense of purpose. It’s difficult to imagine succeeding in school without these communities.

But I’m worried for the future of student organizations in the wake of the recent announcement of the tuition cut and “non-essential” non-tuition fees becoming no longer mandatory. Involvement in student organizations and the student press is something I want to be available to every student. When tuition is cut, funds for student associations may be the first to go as they become optional.

By cutting these opportunities, the provincial government is doing more than putting free pancakes at risk — it is taking away our outlet, our community, and our voice.

“thank u, next” — contributors talk about relationships they’re leaving behind this year

Introducing The Varsity’s newest column: Let’s talk about sex

“thank u, next” — contributors talk about relationships they’re leaving behind this year

The lady on the screen above the dated stainless steel washer said it was going to start snowing at 2:00 pm — and start snowing it did.

Everywhere I look, I see you.

As the snow falls, I am transported to the Brooklyn bar under the highway where I held your hand and asked you to follow me. Reaching for your beer, you say, “You’re going to move here.”

You look down at your beer rolling it between your palms. “But I can’t come with you, I just can’t.” I look past you at the snow lit red by the neon light. My throat tightens.

I wake up in a cold sweat in a tiny Bushwick apartment. In my dream, a tiny blonde slipped out of your bedroom, while I, a stranger, slipped on my shoes down the hall.

I don’t think of you anymore. Except when it snows. Or a certain song comes on. Or when someone says, “It’s a toss-up.”

I wanted you to feel pain when it ended, but that would have required you to first feel passion.

You felt nothing and I felt everything. I told you nothing and you told me everything. I became the kind of woman I thought you might love. You became the kind of man people would call a ‘good boyfriend.’

You never knew me. I never fell in love with you.

So allow me to send my love letter from New York. I’ll keep it simple. I am happy you left me. I am happy I left town. I am happy that you are finding yourself.

I hope you find the passion too. I know you’ll find love. I hope she knows how precious you are. As for me? I did it babe, and I am so happy.

— Chantel Ouellet


If you’re reading this, I don’t care.

What is typically gleaned from years of therapy can be told with three simple words: thank you, next. Pop sensation Ariana Grande tells her listeners to dump the douche and love yourself. 2019 is a year of possibility, devoid of that I’m-trying-to-figure-myself-out love, followed by a don’t-worry-I’ll-only-spend-weeks-neglecting-you-because-of-it love.

Yet 10 missed calls and a “I wish I could kiss you at midnight” voicemail does not scream ‘thank you’ nor ‘next.’ Not everybody can be grateful for a cheating, manipulative “I’ve just been really busy” type of ex. But you can start a new page. The next chapter doesn’t have to be ripped from the spine of a Nicholas Sparks novel, nor does it have to come from the ambitious pages of The Alchemist. You don’t need to be bursting with love or dripping with inspiration to be important.

Real treasure doesn’t need to be sought out, and a man is not what’s glowing in your gold-encrusted chest. If I could do it all over, I’d stop guessing why he hadn’t texted back and instead simply say, “Thank you, next.” His vacant words will not draw you any closer to your goals.

They won’t tie you to a storyline or secure the future you doodled into the pages of your childhood diary. Choosing a person who always puts themselves first will only force you to put yourself last each time. It’s important to know how to accept love, but also to know when to admit Ariana is right. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re drafting an escape route for your toxic relationship.

My advice: this year, skip the bull. Tell the flighty dude, “Thank you, next,” even though 2019 is the year when we’re so grateful for ourselves. Don’t waste your time with greentext paragraphs or old Instagram photos. Simply put down the phone and make 2019 noteworthy.

— Grace Meany


I guess it’s kinda sad that we broke up. The time and money that neither of us had in the first place but used on each other essentially went down the drain as the long distance coupled with our growing irritability toward one another resulted in the inevitable demise of our relationship.

But I’m glad that we did when we did, because if one thing was made painfully clear to me as frosh week turned into reading week and then exams, it’s that the difficulty of the academic transition between high school and university, along with the availability needed to build new social relationships and my own attempts at keeping a part-time job, would have only erupted into a disastrous mess, had I also set aside the time and energy needed to keep our relationship going.

I can’t lie though, there are times when I — and my entire body writhes as I say this — miss you. For one, I’m no longer part of the elite Spotify premium class and am instead an ad-listening pleb. I see posts from people I didn’t like in high school and have no one to readily trash talk to, and no one else will willingly listen to me rant about how the MLB is committing corporate suicide in the face of younger generations.

However, I know you’re still present in my life in many really crucial and meaningful ways, including your HBO account that I still use to watch The Sopranos, the comfy rag & bone sweater I stole from you and doubt that you’ve missed, and finally your contribution to my oral health with that electric toothbrush you gifted me last Christmas.

And with that, it’s time for me to pursue my 2019 dream boyfriend — that sexy sexy 4.0. I can’t wait for him to stop playing hard to get.

— Angie Luo


One of the most basic new year’s resolutions, other than getting fit, is finally cutting out that ex you know is no good and I, unfortunately, am one of the countless girls who brought in the new year to “thank u, next,” promising to cut out the toxic ex. Here’s hoping I stick to it this semester.

I’ve been back in Toronto for a little over a week and I’m already so deep into my university routine I can barely remember lying in a queen-sized bed and not having to do laundry or eat cereal for dinner. In first year, going home for winter break brings up a wide range of emotions, some which make you question your sanity, one of them being nostalgia. Maybe it’s something about going back to places with so many memories, but somehow there is always some sort of communication with your ex, and I know I’m not the only one who got the “Hey how’s uni?” text.

I was in a long, confusing relationship for most of high school and I was just about done with it, and university was the perfect exit point, a point where we both decided that we had a good run in each other’s lives. But it was time to move on and go separate ways. So my question is why was it necessary for me to get a reply to my Snapchat story of my airplane window, asking me when I was reaching home.

Unfortunately, I am not completely innocent, having replied and indulged polite conversation until the point the conversation escalated from “How are your classes?”  to ”Do you want to hang out?” too quickly.

Thinking back, I realized that it’s always the one ex who hasn’t really met anyone or who has had a bad experience in university who texts first. If you’re the one who hits your ex up, shame on you. If my friend can meet a guy, and 20 minutes into the conversation be asked if she’s going to have an arranged marriage just because she’s brown, and still not hit up her ex, I’m pretty sure you can do the same.

— Krisha Mansukhani


One day, my then-girlfriend suggested those four dreadful, short-circuiting English words: “We need to talk.” Naturally, this came as a surprise, so I asked, “What’s wrong?”

She explained that she loves me, that her family and friends like me a lot, and she assured me that, she hopes, the issue is something I’m totally unaware of. She claimed, when we’re out and about, for example, on campus, that I walk through other people’s photos. She hoped that I was just scatterbrained and unaware of my actions and demanded from me an acknowledgement and explanation.

I replied that I like her for all the same reasons. However, I’m totally aware of my actions and insisted that I had a great argument to support them. Firstly, most are using digital cameras; if it were film, I’d genuinely feel guilty, since the price and patience required mean something more.

Secondly, the world doesn’t revolve around them. When I take photos, I wait for gaps, aim high, and don’t expect the world to stop for my self-indulgence — I’m just not that self-important. I thought hard about my argument and developed a provisional conclusion, since, honest to goodness, I’m open to change in light of more compelling evidence, really.

She retorted, and I’m paraphrasing here, “What if this lady taking a photo is from, say Chile, and when she returns home and shows off her travels on a slideshow to her family, and in every Toronto photo there’s this tall bearded guy? Her family would rightly ask if that’s how Torontonians look and act, eh?”

She said, “I love you, but you need to be a better ambassador for where you live.”

“At the very least, when you’re photobombing the poor people’s photos, you can smile!”

These days, I smile every time I do it!

— Oscar Starschild

If you are interested in contributing to “Let’s talk about sex,” email arts@thevarsity.ca.

Winterfest 2019: Battle of the Bands

A tale of two bands, a whole lot of beer, and one winner

Winterfest 2019: Battle of the Bands

I am seated on a beige bench in Lee’s Palace at 9:20 pm on January 9. Having just narrowly escaped death by a patch of ice on my way here, I note that the bench is one of those benches that you sat on in elementary school for recess. Above me, a disco ball reflects the purple lighting that engulfs the venue. There are four dangling lights surrounding the disco ball but only one of them is blue. It bothers me.

Four well-dressed guys with white shirts come on and play “Someday” by The Strokes. They are Paint Dept., one of the two finalists. They sound like an indie rock band straight from the early 2000s — you know the type. They formed in a band member’s garage with sentimental lyricism that makes you subtly miss your ex.

The most standout member of the band is Kyle, the bassist. His hair is seriously gorgeous. Kyle described his hair as “blinding and buoyant.” It looks like expensive spaghetti that drops down to his shoulders.

His dad later told me that Kyle used to be bald. Kyle confirms this, looking into the distance as he reminiscences about how he used to wear a hat when his hair was in the liminal state between baldness and the gorgeous spaghetti longness that it is today.

By now about 70 people are in the venue. Most of the crowd sit on the beige benches while the few bravely standing hold their drinks and stare at the band. I look intently at one stander who is touching his right arm with his left hand like John Wayne at the end of The Searchers. Paint Dept. gestures for the crowd to come closer before playing an Interpol cover.

I debate whether I should stand up and engage in the crowdly escapades. I decide otherwise. My status as a note-taker who is jotting down everything with a near-empty pen prohibits me.

The band tries to make banter the same way one tries to banter with a friend of a friend that one just met. It’s only when they play their second The Strokes cover, “Last Nite,” that the crowd really gets into it.

It’s at this point ­— after a raffle in which I did not win anything — that Rocket Bomb comes on. Another five well-dressed guys start playing high-energy pop songs. Do you have to dress nicely to be part of a band? The bassist does not have long hair, but his bright red jacket combines with the purple lighting to accentuate the ’80s aesthetic the band is going for.

Rocket Bomb are an indie dance pop collective with rose-tinted glasses for ’80s disco and funk who integrate modern pop sensibilities to create hip dance songs. They cite DNCE, John Mayer, Shawn Mendez, and The Killers as influences. They are more confident with the crowd, commanding the power to significantly increase the standing to bench-sitting ratio.

While they go through their set, someone in the crowd shouts, “I love you Jacob!” and then the lead singer ­— whose name is not Jacob — takes off his black jacket and proceeds to cover Tiësto and Dzeko’s “Jackie Chan.” Bodies move. Rocket Bomb gets the crowd to do that thing where everybody claps in the air.

Rocket Bomb are definitely the larger entity: sporting over 350 Facebook likes, over 1,200 Instagram followers, and almost 5,000 monthly listeners on Spotify as of press time. Meanwhile, Paint Dept. has nine Facebook likes, about 100 Instagram followers, and no Spotify.

In this sense, 2019’s Battle of the Bands is a classic David versus Goliath tale. Rocket Bomb advertise themselves as a product that 20-somethings can dance their 20s away to, while Paint Dept. are a grassroots garageband for 20-somethings who pontificate about how modern society lacks any realness.

Suddenly, Rocket Bomb starts playing the Wii theme. This is a level of post-irony that requires more alcohol in my system to appreciate, so I try to go to the washroom. Unfortunately, I am stopped by security who tell me I can’t bring a drink out. I do what any reasonable human being would do and finish the drink there. By the time I get back, Rocket Bomb is finishing their set.

They tell the crowd to follow them on Instagram and that they have merchandise for sale at the back. Everybody gets closer for the last song. Or, more accurately, about 35 people get really close to the stage and about 28 people stay on the sidelines, either sitting on the beige benches or standing and staring intently from a distance.

At the end of the night, these two seemingly distinct bands, in both sound and style, are pitted against each other in a battle of the bands. You’re probably here for an answer to this question: who wins? Well, to answer, I quote Jacques Derrida, the post-structuralist French philosopher: “Every other is wholly other.” For Derrida and his postmodern funkies, we don’t make comparisons with one another in terms of an objective standard.

I can’t really compare Paint Dept.’s sound with Rocket Bomb’s, because any sort of objective standard by which I might compare the two wouldn’t capture the singularity of each individual band.

Derrida points out that to take otherness seriously, that is, for an other to be truly Other, there has to be something utterly irreducible about them. The other must always be outside oneself. As such, there must be something unfathomable and untranslatable between Paint Dept. and Rocket Bomb as musical acts. Yet that singularity — that thing which makes Paint Dept. ‘Paint Dept.’ and Rocket Bomb ‘Rocket Bomb’ is what makes each respective act meaningful in the first place.

Declaring a winner for the battle actually defeats the ethos of both bands. Fortunately, the judges don’t have this philosophical concern — it is a battle after all.

Rocket Bomb won.

In conversation with Abigail Whitney

U of T student, model, and director — how does Abigail Whitney do it all?

In conversation with Abigail Whitney

At just 21 years old, Abigail Whitney is a full-time University of Toronto undergraduate student, model, actor, and now, director. Whitney is majoring in Theatre and Performance Art, with a double minor in English Literature and Equity Studies. When she is not in a lecture or a library, she models for CoverGirl and Vogue Italia, and most recently, she has become the centre of Sephora’s national beauty campaign.

Whitney’s latest creative endeavour is directing the UC Follies’ show Les Frères (The Brothers) by Sandra A. Daley-Sharif. The play stars Kwaku Adu-Poku, Kato Alexander, and David Delisca as the brothers, with Most McNeilly as Woman and Rob Candy as Mr. Brent Ewens.

The Varsity sat down with Whitney to discuss how she, as a woman of colour, navigates being both hyper-visible and invisible in her three worlds: student, director, and model.

The Varsity: How are you juggling being a full-time student, director, and model all at once?

Abigail Whitney: Yeah, it’s so much, but I knew that I wanted to direct this play and I would do anything to just make it happen. Currently, I have assignments due, so I couldn’t even schedule rehearsals this week because I knew I had to focus on school. The actors are super understanding about it, because this is the only week that I haven’t been able to have rehearsals and they’ve been rehearsing together.

I have a [modelling] gig today — I’m such a bag lady on campus. I have this interview, and then a class, and then I am missing part of another class, and then I have another interview, and then I have to run to the shoot, and then I have class in the evening. So I’ve been able to sort of balance school and model, but it’s definitely a lot on my plate.

TV: That’s incredible. It all sounds quite demanding. How does the industry navigate your availability?

AW: As long as I’m free, I can let them know that I can schedule something, but they are totally up-to-date that I’m directing [Les Frères] and that it can’t conflict with show dates or anything like that. They are completely aware that I’m a full-time student as well, and they know my class schedule, so they try to work around that. Honestly, I feel more like a student because I’m a full-time student. I’m not yet a full-time model, so I consider myself more of a student.

TV: The fact that you’re part of Sephora’s national campaign is a big deal. What’s it been like working in the industry as a woman of colour?

AW: It is a big deal. I take it so seriously because I know having this opportunity doesn’t come to every dark-skin Black model. And, oh my gosh, it’s super emotional too… it’s rare — just the slightest opportunity is huge and a super big deal. I’ve met so many incredible women of colour on set who are tremendously supportive. Doing this campaign, I was kind of low-key when I went into the Sephora stores, but my friend was with me and she’s told all the workers, “That’s the model.” And then I had really beautiful Black women come up to me, who were like, “Oh my gosh, to see you, you know, a dark-skinned Black model, showcased with this huge brand.”

I’m just happy for the support that I’m getting. I haven’t had a negative experience, but obviously coming into it, I was a bit hesitant, because of the perceptions of being a Black model [and] what kind of shoots they might put me in because of the way that [the industry] perceives Black women. I thought that would have an intense role in what I could do. That’s something that I just thought might happen, but that has really never been the case.

TV: You co-directed I Can’t Trust Anyone, Everyone Hurts Me: A Comedy for the U of T Drama Festival earlier this year, but Les Frères is your directorial debut — how have the two experiences differed, if at all?

AWWhen this play came around, I knew I had to do it on my own, because it’s unique to my experiences. It’s still a collaboration, in the sense that I am collaborating with my set designer, my lighting designer, and my actors as well. These ideas are not solely mine. I still welcome opinions. It’s honestly just a total learning experience, and I want the work to be transparent with both the actors and me. They tell me how to improve. I tell them how to improve. It’s student production. We’re all learning. We’re all just trying to make the best out of things.

TV: Now that you’ve worked professionally in the industry, how does that translate into student productions and your understanding of them?

AW: I know that there are limitations to student productions — limitations with budget, with how much energy and time people can actually commit to the production compared to when you’re doing, say, a professional modelling gig. [In that scenario] everyone is focused and zeroed in on that and they’re not thinking about other commitments. But for this, the actors have other commitments, the stage manager and assistant stage managers have other commitments, [and] I have school. It’s a lot of balancing.

TV: For sure — everything is such a balancing act! Why is this play so important? Why should people go see it?

AW: For so, so, so many reasons. It’s the first time [Les Frères] has ever been staged. So really, it’s the premiere of this play. It’s just super amazing. When I asked the playwright for the rights, she was hesitant because [the script] was a draft so she didn’t know how I would feel about it and didn’t know how she would feel about it or if she wants it out there.

It will be the first time that [many audience members will] get to witness a play that centres around Haitian culture and [a] representation of Haitian history on stage. I’m half Haitian, so it’s just so full circle. It feels like an out-of-body experience just to have the opportunity, in a creative space, to talk about Haitian culture, to talk about Haitian history, and to speak the language. I remember when one of the actors was speaking Creole and I was just like, “Oh my gosh, this is so amazing.” The audiences will be able to witness that, and I think it’s a beautiful, really beautiful thing.

I have the opportunity to creatively express my own relationship with Haiti. I’ve never stepped foot in Haiti. I was born [in Toronto] and the play is allowing me to question what that means, and I am able to explore how I express that on stage. I completely relate to the male characters, in terms of them being displaced from Haiti and being displaced from their apartment as well.

They are estranged brothers and haven’t seen each other for over 10 years. There’s this fear of entering back into their apartment, and the play explores what the apartment represents and what it reflects — perhaps, our ideas of Haiti, or maybe it simply represents Haiti. So I get to creatively work through these ideas. The actors are doing an incredible job. It’s a lot, but it’s going to be really, really good.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Les Frères runs at the George Ignatieff Theatre from November 29 to December 1.

Where’s the old Kanye?

The idea that you need to be unstable to be a successful artist is damaging and dangerous

Where’s the old Kanye?

In late October 2016, my best friend and I dished out over $150 for Kanye West tickets. I was out of the country at the end of August when he first brought the Saint Pablo tour to Toronto, so I was determined to see him in December. Of course, that never happened, because on November 19 in Sacramento, California, Kanye started his concert an hour and a half late, performed for 15 minutes, and then gave a half-hour rant before running off stage. The tour was immediately cancelled and Kanye was hospitalized and placed on psychiatric hold. 

Kanye left the public eye for a while, and from his few appearances, it seemed as though he was getting better, healthier. Then, this spring, Kanye resurfaced, more controversial than ever. He pledged his support for Trump, louder than he had in 2016, sporting that signature garish red hat with the white script. 

Those of us who follow Kanye’s social media — and had heard quiet murmurings that a new project was on its way — hoped that this was just a publicity stunt to reemerge into public consciousness. In the age of streaming, when curiosity-clicks on YouTube and Spotify generate legitimate revenue, any form of attention is promotion. 

And Kanye knows a thing or two about controversial promotions. 

Some of Kanye’s previous albums have been directly preceded by some controversy or petty feud, usually sequestered in the Hollywood-sphere. Before Graduation’s release in 2007, Kanye was in a public rivalry with 50 Cent; he even moved his album’s release date to the same day as 50 Cent’s to heighten the sense of competition. Kanye’s infamous intervention in Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs and the subsequent fallout probably helped in the conception of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, released in 2010. The Life of Pablo was released after three very public re-namings in 2016, and was concurrent with part two of his Taylor Swift drama, in which he and Swift had a falling out over lyrics in his single “Famous.”

Kanye has always used the public’s gaze to his advantage: luring admirers and critics in with whatever drama he has managed to stir up, only to deliver thoughtful, experimental, and groundbreaking music. 

Kanye’s Trump love last spring therefore had me crossing my fingers and hoping that this was just his latest approach to promotion. After all, it doesn’t make sense for Kanye to support someone like Trump.

Because if we do as musicians generally expect us to do — take their lyrics as an extension of their thoughts and beliefs — we get a picture of Kanye who, for all intents and purposes, would not be backing Trump. In the first verse of “New Day,” Kanye raps: “I mean I might even make [my son] be a Republican so everybody knows he love white people.” In “Two Words,” he references police racially profiling Black men. 

In “Murder to Excellence,” Kanye manages the most jarring lyric on the track: “Three hundred and fourteen soldiers died in Iraq, five hundred and nine died in Chicago.” Violence in Kanye’s hometown of Chicago is a recurrent theme both in his lyricism and public activism. In “New Slaves,” he raps about racism and the prison-industrial complex.  

Kanye has always been progressive. In 2009, he criticized the hip hop industry for its attitude toward gay people. In 2005, he shocked millions when, during a relief concert for Hurricane Katrina, he ad-libbed the now famous quip, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” 

Kanye was contrarian, but more importantly, he was logically sound and presented nuanced ideas and thoughts — granted, usually in less-than-ideal circumstances. So, I, like many of his other fans, had hoped that this unabashed political outspokenness was a new approach to promotion. Alas, it proved to be something much more. 

This controversial era is unlike his others — primarily because his statements stand polar opposite to the person Kanye used to be. Nowadays, it seems like Kanye is being contrarian simply for the sake of being contrarian. By his own admission, Kanye admires Trump because Trump is doubted: it is as if Kanye is looking to be ostracized. And it’s left many of us scratching our heads, wondering how and why. We can get into a heated discussion about what fuels Kanye’s Trump endorsement — is it dissonance, ego-fuelled self-promotion, or a genuine personal investment? 

And then, just as quickly and suddenly as it had begun, Kanye’s Trump love ended: a few weeks after his White House meeting with the president, Kanye donated over $120,000 USD to Democratic Chicoagan mayoral candidate Amara Enyia. A couple of weeks after that, he tweeted that he felt he was being used: “My eyes are now wide open and now realize that I’ve been used to spread messages I don’t believe in.” For the time being, it seems that Kanye is distancing himself from politics. 

My intention is not to condemn or defend Kanye’s recent political outbursts: politics is just one small fragment of Kanye’s unique presence in pop culture. Rather, this is meant to spotlight his slow and bizarre descent into martyring himself as a tortured artist. 

Can suffering be inspirational? Motivational? A combination of the two? Our understanding of art history is plagued with figures who are as tortured as they are talented: the starving artist, the poète maudit, the quixotic writer. Drug addiction and substance abuse; sexual repression and frustration; narcissism, self-loathing, and anti-sociality — these are all things we expect to find when we dig into the biographies of auteurs. 

It’s been hammered into our heads that creativity stems from adversity. Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear, Sylvia Plath was clinically depressed, Oscar Wilde was jailed for his homosexuality, Fyodor Dostoyevsky was exiled to a labour camp, and historians believe that Edgar Allan Poe suffered from bipolar disorder.  

 It seems that the message we are pedaling as a society is that to create good art, you must suffer. Take Damien Chazelle’s 2014 film Whiplash, or even this year’s A Star is Born for more contemporary examples. The problem with this belief is that not all dives into addiction and mental illness come with brighter days afterward: all of the aforementioned artists ended with unfortunate deaths. 

Our adherence to the mythos that anguish and misery is conducive to creativity is incredibly dangerous, it is alarming, and clashes with today’s overall attitude toward mental illness. To suggest that a writer writes best when manic, or that an artist paints better when depressed, dismisses the importance of their overall health and stability. 

This is where we return to Kanye’s diagnosis. On October 1, Kanye sat down with TMZ for an interview in which he mentioned that he was off his medication. Link this to his song “Yikes, in which he calls his bipolar disorder a “superpower,” and you get a very disturbing picture of Kanye’s mindset right now. Considering that the psychology community has long debated whether or not bipolar disorder has a direct link to creativity, and maybe Kanye’s mindset is not all his doing. 

For an individual who takes art and the creative process extremely seriously, it should surprise no one that Kanye puts his ability to create above his health. When we prioritize achievements and success over everything else, what other outcome could there be? 

We glorify and romanticize artists who have suffered throughout history, arguing passionately that their success came from strife. In the twenty-first century, the tortured artist is scrutinized by fans, ostracized by the media, and laughed at by society as a whole. 

Is Kanye under the impression that channeling his mental illness will help him create better music? Are all these bizarre public outbursts just a side effect? Can we blame him if they are? We love tales of suffering disguised as underdog stories, ones that conveniently leave out tragic and unfortunate endings. Mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, but it’s not something to indulge either. “I hate being Bi-Polar its awesome,” reads the cover of Ye. 

This is not to say that we should give Kanye a free pass. However, we do need to be patient and allow Kanye to return to form, to the Kanye who approache drug-dealing in impoverished neighbourhoods with nuance in “We Don’t Care” and criticized excess in celebrity life in “So Appalled.”

The fact that Kanye paints his disorder as a superpower should ring alarm bells. The fact that there are real communities that believe that not taking medication results in heightened creativity should worry us. 

Our perception of mental illness is skewed and harmful, and we have to start a dialogue about what kind of messages we — the readers of newspapers, listeners of Spotify, viewers of cable — retain and promote.

There’s a lot of things to unpack here: both the endurance of the tortured artist trope, and the lack of serious conversations surrounding mental illness, particularly for Black men. We need to reassess our attitude toward art and creativity.

You should not have to have a public meltdown, or cut off your ear, to make good art or be considered a gifted artist. 

Hopefully, someone lets Kanye know that.