we speak to the author behind ‘red tory: my corbyn chemsex hell’ — a satirical slice of pro-communist erotic fan fiction
Huw Lemmey discusses his latest piece of political pornography, a novel that attacks the centrism miring UK and European politics and the co-optation and corporatisation of LGBT+ agendas.
In 2014, Huw Lemmey, an artist and writer who often writes under the name Spitzenprodukte, published Chubz: the Demonization of my Working Arse. Its protagonist, Chubz, meets Guardian columnist and “cute crypto-twink” Owen Jones on Grindr, setting the stage for a crude and glorious portrait of austerity-era London seen through the lens of digital cruising. The book caricatured Nigel Farage as lecherous, poppers-obsessed, and controlled by a European dominatrix named Gutrot Essenem.
Huw’s new novel, Red Tory: My Corbyn Chemsex Hell, likewise queers the genre of fan fiction. It is set in the woozy doomsdays that followed the 2015 general election, as the Tories form their first majority government since 1992. Soon after, Jeremy Corbyn takes the Labour Party leadership, David Cameron is ensconced in a pig-sex scandal, and Parliament passes the European Union Referendum Act. Amid this, Tom Buckle, a bright-eyed Blairite Labour researcher, is discovering London’s chemsex scene. One morning, in the arms of an older Italian man, he tries a mysterious new hallucinogenic. His life, love, and politics are changed irrevocably.
“Workers of the world, masturbate!” announced the Front homosexuel d’action révolutionnaire (FHAR) as they fought for gay liberation in France in the 70s. The FHAR’s writings, like those of their founding member Guy Hocquenghem, were giddy and uncompromising. Spitzenprodukte’s “political pornography” continues this tradition. Through upbeat prose and smart observational humour, Red Tory attacks the centrism miring UK and European politics, and the co-optation and corporatisation of LGBT agendas. It is a vinegary polemic against teetering Brexit Britain, and a scintillating, sexy read — showing, as Susan Sontag argued, that the most elegant criticism is not just aesthetic but erotic.
Red Tory details the paranoiac bite of a hangover, but it also parables how intoxication can induce horizon-shifting desires. Why was it important for you that chemsex and psychoactive drugs play a critical role in Red Tory?
As the UK descends into an ever more obscene domestic politics of spectacular farce — encouraged by the moronic, subliterate response of the commentator class — the gap between the imaginary and the real seems finer and finer. I started thinking back to those moments when chemical highs can switch the way you understand and relate to the world, and the political changes that can produce. When I started the book I was having a conversation with a friend about what he called "the psychotropic edge" — whether stuff like the second summer of love (in 1988/89) really disarmed the burgeoning hooligan movement's alliance with the far right in England through the massive introduction of ecstacy into working-class culture. I was interested at looking at what function chemsex and its culture might have.
Chillouts typically happen in private apartments — a result of a growing lack of urban public space, and many gay bars closing due to gentrification. How are cities, and the lives of queer people within them, changing?
Life feels hard in London. It feels like it's always speeding up, taking every bit of spare capacity for something unknown, serendipitous, risky, creative, and consuming it into a new pop-up or trend, or spitting it out like a piece of bad fruit. In response, people carve out a little more space, and a little more spare capacity, and the same thing happens. Everything is squeezed, and the cracks people could survive in get filled. Maybe chillouts are a part of that? There's no one answer to why people do what they do but the high-intensity, high-capacity fucking of a chillout seems like a very London form of efficiency; you can get railed by dick all weekend without a break then be back at work and Pret on Monday. Fucking in London stresses me out sometimes.
There are material concerns that shape people's sex lives — housing being a key one — and that's definitely an aspect to London's vibe right now. The housing crisis means hosting a hookup is hard sometimes. Communities are being dispersed which makes local gay bars less sustainable, et cetera. I'm not going to lament some past golden age that is a popular figment of gay imagination, but the city, the culture, and the technology is changing, and faggots are rising to meet the challenge.
Red Tory addresses, and arguably vilifies, the moderate-left: those involved in “the reasonable wing of the Labour Party”. Can you say more about this?
It doesn't vilify the moderate-left, I don't think. It vilifies the arrogant delusions of a centrist movement in the UK that thought that ideology was over, and that we were cruising towards the bright sunlit uplands of more PFI hospitals, more zero-hours work, and more Immigration Removal Centres. They used to rule without challenge. We were in a period of soft, comfortable managerial brutality, and these bastards thought they'd cracked the electoral code and could swap power between the two wings — the Labour Right and the Tory Wets — forever. When Corbyn was elected, and the Tory faultlines broke with Brexit, these people were left holding little more than a strong, angry sense of entitlement. I was interested not so much in the Chuka Umunna’s of the world, but the generation below: those who had worked their way through the managerial career path of political power, waiting their turn at the wheel, only for the system to collapse beneath them. I was curious as to the human cost and effect of that collapse. While some would continue thrashing their dead gravy trains, to mix metaphors, I wondered which of them might cut their losses, and why, and what they'd do next.
What if those people who joined the Labour Party as it tacked left were all bloodthirsty communists? What if falafel and cappuccino were elite foodstuffs only eaten by bourgeois metropolitan liberals? To take them at their word was the only choice in adopting "satire".
Chemsex is often coded as a male phenomenon. Where can we place chemsex within the pluriversality of communist desires?
What a question! I... don't know? I generally believe in the eventual abolition of homosexuality and gender as a subject, and the triumph of a polymorphous perversity where acts overcome identities in the sexual sphere. So is chemsex a gender-free proto-communism? No, although the processes of group sex — dissembling, switching subjectivities and rethinking genital contact, dissolving into a human mass — are exciting, interesting, renewing. Wow! Maybe sex can be complicated and complicit and yet also political — while not at the exclusion of other material political concerns. I like sexual politics that are actually about sex, you know, touching each other, for better or worse, for harder or tender, because that sort of sexual politics gets sloppy and fluid fast.
Anyway, only a certain type of chemsex — that which is the subject of a prurient fag scare in the UK at the moment — is coded as male-only. The most predominant form of chemsex in the UK, complete with complications with addiction and abuse, and social concerns around consent — alcohol — has been a constituent part of our sexual culture as a nation for years. Until I was in my mid-20s I knew barely anyone straight who could chat someone up or end up fucking without being pretty pissed first. This is not a health crisis, of course, nor a sign of a deeply sick culture, nor a nation overworked and fried to its eyeballs on anxiety and self-hatred, it's just a bit of fun on a Saturday night.
Media events, like #piggate, are vital to Red Tory 's narrative. The novel sits between satire and slash fiction. Why these genres?
J.G. Ballard wrote that as we live in a world now entirely mediated by fictions, the invention of fictional content is not the novelist’s job: "The fiction is already there. The writer's task is to invent reality." British politics today really plays that out. The satirical conceit of Red Tory is little more than this — what if the newspapers' descriptions of the political scene in the UK were reality? What if those people who joined the Labour Party as it tacked left were all bloodthirsty communists? What if falafel and cappuccino were elite foodstuffs only eaten by bourgeois metropolitan liberals? To take them at their word was the only choice in adopting "satire".
Anyway, most satire in the UK is dogshit today. The whole culture of it, like the rest of the media, revolves around this self-image they have of being somehow not just the only "sensible" ones, but the only ones untouched by ideology, like when comedian Richard Osman tweeted: "Clowns to the left of me / Jokers to the right / Here I am, patiently waiting for a witty, kind centrist party to restore some sanity with you". That's the self-image of Britain's media class: neutral, in the same way heterosexuals or white people think they're the default. Neutral, where the truth sits somewhere between any two given positions, even if the right of those positions has shifted heavily rightwards over the past forty years. These are the sort of people who think milkshaking a fascist is a step too far. I'm tired of how smug and detached these bastards are. It's fine to produce satire that advocates for something. I'm not dead from the dick down. I want a socialist country. I want the redistribution of power and wealth to those who produce it. I want racial justice and investment in education. I want to see Tony Blair on trial. Private Eye, The News Quiz — that satire can suck my dick.