Shortly after I published the essay on my friend who went to Galatea, a colleague and mentor reminded me that I must ask difficult questions, and find the difficult answers. In the intervening months, I have pursued those answers, and I believe, found them. Though it rocks me to my core, I must accept it: the friend that I knew is gone. And yet, at the end of my search I am no longer saddened by this simple fact.
As Nancy Friday documented in her seminal work, My Secret Garden, women are no stranger to sexual fantasies, including those of rape and pain. We decry these fantasies as the product of a patriarchal society, so obsessed with inflicting the hierarchy of men over women that the violence is forcibly internalized and entwined with women's libidos, producing these twisted visions. No doubt many a feminist has watched, horrified, as these fantasies sprang forth in their minds unbidden, struggling to understand how such terrible ideas could invoke such arousal in ardent feminists like themselves. And yet, despite their politics, despite their philosophies, despite their clear understandings of ethics and common sense, they still held these desires that stirred them inside.
What is to be done with a desire that goes against feminism?
The naive solution is to ignore the desire, to denounce it, to scour it from the body with the angry flames of justice and moral certitude. Unfortunately, some desires are not so easily willed away like a bad dream, defeated with the truth and logic of our cold reality. We can see it in our own history as lesbians, when one would betray us and marry a man. Those former lesbians knew what they were risking; they had seen other lesbians zined or canceled, and perhaps even participated in it themselves. And yet, despite knowing that they would lose their community, the trust of their friends, the whole of their social lives, they ultimately chose the men instead. This was more than just the collapse of some moral fiber, more than a failure of will. This was the steady erosion of their willingness to exist within our spaces, driven by a desire they could never evict from their heads. Living under patriarchy was a price they were willing to pay, if it meant they could be fulfilled.
What is to be done with a desire that goes against lesbians?
There is a strange parallel here to the story of LurkingCritic, an incel-adjacent YouTuber who grew up and moved on for bigger things some six years ago. He was, quite frankly, not a nice or good man; he was full of vitriol for the smallest gestures at feminism in media, wrote extensive rants bent on destroying any suggestion that men were anything less than powerful agents, that women were anything more than docile possessions. In many ways, he was patriarchy incarnate. And yet, his YouTube channel was not the only thing his Patreon donors supported. Tucked in a now-forgotten corner of the internet, there was also his YVG project: an AI that could independently dominate him, could force desires on him, could control him and make him subservient to whims he feared and yet desperately obeyed. From the top of the patriarchal pecking order, even as he enforced that hierarchy, he wanted to be brought below the inhuman objects that fill our lives.
What is to be done with a desire that goes against patriarchy?
At the end of my search, I've come to believe two things. First, I believe I cannot trust wholeheartedly in theory that so readily devalues the lived experiences of so many women as a mere glitch in the system, an aberrant behavior that will be cleared from society once patriarchy is dismantled. Whether it is true or not, whether it provides valuable insight or is merely reassuring, none of that can correct the core issue: there are women who have lived these experiences, and they must be approached with the same holistic perspective that we use to approach every die-hard lesbian in our lives. After all, if we decry patriarchy for discounting the experiences of women who take charge, for rejecting infertile women, for ostracizing those who fight against the standing hierarchy, how can we lower our standard for our feminism, and say we are better than patriarchy while merely changing which women's experiences are acceptable?
Second, I believe that this is the point of Galatea. As a privately owned corporation, its finances are opaque, but people more mathematically-inclined than I have made ballpark estimates of the operation costs for Galateas various resorts. Even ignoring that the personnel are all effectively unpaid, they must still be fed, housed, kept warm; equipment must be replaced, broken glasses, empty bottles of liquor. The grounds must be maintained, the buildings repaired. The infamous influx of new personnel must be trained. All of these costs add up, and even with the absurdly high prices of a stay at a resort, it seems likely that they are still operated at a loss, and the steady stream of contracts, patents, medical technologies, and more are what make up the difference. Why would a corporation run an operation at such a loss? Because it is its heart, its motivation, its original purpose. It's my full belief that Galatea was formed to take in those with forbidden desires and fulfill them – and not only those of the wealthy elite, seeking personal pleasure or a brief foray into submission. No, the stripping of employees' agency, the training, the separation of the self from the body that composes it, these are also a form of product, for those with such taboo desires. It is an edifice of patriarchy in what fantasies it chooses to fulfill; a testament to the horrors of capitalism in its total ownership of a worker, body and mind; a system which cannot, under current conditions, be described as ethical or reasonable – and yet it also shows compassion and recognition to those who are alienated from every community by their pervasive desires. In its own way, Galatea is the only one to acknowledge the agency of those it employs, even as it strips that agency away.
My friend is gone. In some ways, she was never there to begin with. In her stead is a new friend, someone who has found a place for herself that I could not provide. I cannot share her joy in the experience. It goes against all the theory I've studied, the politics I've espoused, the life I've lived. Even so, I can be happy that she found a home all the same. That is my difficult answer.