The Joy of Sects
By Joseph Tomaras
Illustration by Luka Basyrov
As an undercover agent in the Sect Control Commission of the Secret Service, I cannot allow the reflexes developed in my earlier assignments to survive. A capacity to isolate and overwrite tics and habitual rhetoric is the sine qua non for this job. We are encouraged to elaborate these narratives between assignments, both as part of the overwriting process and in the hope that historians of the coming Collaborative Commonwealth will be able to reconstruct and comprehend the death throes of class society. Under the old regime, there was a Secret Service that protected the president, but also was assigned to root out counterfeit money. Our Secret Service protects the sovereign people by uncovering counterfeit ideas.
I was one of the first assigned to this role, but it was not my first form of service to the Council. After the Bronx Uprising and the establishment of our power in the outer boroughs, the fact that I was one of the few accountants — a notoriously conservative profession — to be a trusted member of Workers’ Unity meant that I was put in charge of requisition and allocation. I soon realized that this was a mistake; perhaps Lenin was right in his day to think that economic planning was like accountancy, but I could tell that to take account of second- and third-order impacts in feeding a city of eight million people under siege and facing catastrophic sea-level rises, I would need second derivatives, probability integrals, eigenvectors and Markovians — things I had not studied since I was nineteen. My assignment then became to find all the mathematicians who had gone to work for the high-speed trading firms, who had become Wall Street billionaires and who thus were on the other side of the lines, and promise that not only would they not be strung up, but they could have comfortable lives solving far more difficult optimization problems than ever before.
Yes, I had to promise them some privileges, and no, that didn’t sit well with the rat-burger scrounging masses, or the Council. But it was surprisingly easy: Half of them had already run their models and figured that, one way or the other, we were bound to win. That was how I discovered my talent for clandestinity.
Some of my early assignments were dull. For example, because before the establishment of the Unity I had hopscotched around some small Trotskyist and Bordigaist groupuscules, I was asked to infiltrate — with the help of some reversible plastic surgery — the remnants of various Marxist groupings that had not joined us. The Badiouan post-Maoists misconstruing mathematical formulas to determine whether our Revolution met their standards for being called an “Event,” the Spartacist debates over whether our power was a “degenerated” or “deformed” workers’ state or still too indeterminate to say anything about, the five Chirikians who defined themselves as the sum total of the “proletarian milieu” — I reported that they posed no more threat to us than they had to the capitalists beforehand. We were determined not to repeat the totalitarian excesses of the past.
The traditional theistic religions posed little problem, either. Those clergy and congregants who were inclined to go over to the counterrevolution rarely bothered with dissimulation, and a surprising number of religions split along “social justice” or “liberation theology” lines in our favor. As long as we can restrain the church-burning excesses of Insurrectionalists, we have little to worry about from the god-believers. The only truly interesting conspiracy I uncovered from that corner was the multi-ethnic Chan Buddhist temple in Flushing that was an elaborate cover for a fascist, Chinese-supremacist coup plotting to take over Queens.
What we have found, however, is that the scientific outlook of a historical materialist is rarely taken on in full during the present struggle for existence. People pick up little bits of utopian impulse here, some propositions reduced to the level of slogans there, mix them up syncretically with the cultural detritus of the old regime’s slow decline, and sects that no one could have anticipated spring up like mushroom clouds after the Zionist Masada.
Sometimes they’re harmless. The strangest cult I ever had to infiltrate was the Marcia’s Witnesses. They were obsessed with Maureen McCormick, a twentieth-century actress best known for having portrayed a teenage girl named Marcia Brady on an insipid television program eighty years ago. My final report said that while they were undoubtedly backward on the women’s question, they were mostly harmless, and so no extraordinary measures of suppression were needed.
But not all the syncretists are quite so harmless, and that is why I just shaved off a beard after a sojourn among the Feuerbachians.
To be fair, that is not what they call themselves. The official name is the Church of God as Love. Those of us in the Unity who identify as Marxists have yet to shake the habit of associating ideologies with surnames. The public preaching of this group does not differ substantially from the ideas expressed in Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity: “God is pure absolute subjectivity released from all natural limits; he is what individuals ought to be and will be: faith in God is therefore the faith of man in the infinitude and truth of his own nature; the Divine Being is the subjective human being in his absolute freedom and unlimitedness.” Or as Thawratullah — the self-styled True Essence Incarnate — would put it: “You are God, you will be God, but only in the Revolution. The Revolution needs us to become the God we are meant to be.”
It’s not just that this sort of rhetoric is a distraction from the urgent tasks of the day. For all their talk of love and unity, it’s basically divisive. Feuerbachian street-preachers have been known to trigger brawls outside of churches, mosques and gurdwaras. Their evangelists sidle up to the more fuzzy-headed cadres in the Unity and distract them with grand discussions of the unity of body and spirit. And the more political operators have infiltrated our council structure to divert scarce resources into “educational” ventures tied to the Church.
Then there are the sex parties.
My transition was interrupted when the uprisings began. There were still plenty of backward elements in the Unity who didn’t recognize their own cis-privilege, who dismissed synthetic hormones as cosmetic, not worth putting on the pharmaceutical ration queue. It wasn’t my first faction fight, but in the meantime, even though my breast growth was irreversible, resurgent testes had put hair back on my face. With all the work to be done, there was hardly time for shaving or makeup, let alone electrolysis or lasers. I was the one who started the jokes about “Lydia the Bearded Lady.” This is not the body I had imagined, but it has been put to good use in the struggle: For the Chan assignment, I had to bind and pass as cis-male. Passing as cis-female with the Witnesses was easier, once I got my hormones back and a facial graft — they were so chaste, so obsessively focused on Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. I could have been more comfortable with the Feuerbachians — Thawratullah hirself is trans — but someone on the Council had a bright idea.
Marx said that people create their own history, but not in conditions of their own choosing. However many times I overwrite my thoughts and gestures, my history is written in this body. The form into which I have been compelled appears to have been freely chosen by the True Essence Incarnate: Hirsute as a 19th century German philosopher, yet with full breasts and hips. My bio-engineered implants were synthesized in the same Lehman College labs where ersatz steak and bacon are grown for the carnivores on the Council; Thawratullah must have found an incubator on the black market. Hir penis is circumcised but otherwise intact, the scrotum baggy with stray, undyed white hairs, the only outward sign of hir advancing age. Yes, I got that close a look. The perfect synthesis, so they claim. I got my orders: To mimic Thawratullah’s corporeal engineering. It was not pleasant: Nanoactuators dusted into every follicle, t-shots strong enough to stop my heart and leave me convulsive, aggressive, priapic and masturbatory.
We all have to sacrifice for the future we wish to create.
There was never the expectation of perfection. How could there be? As far as we can tell, Thawratullah was born Ahmed Abdullah ash-Sharqi to a pair of Egyptian revolutionaries nine months after a Tahrir Square hookup. They fled to Astoria with their kid after the second coup. That’s about all we know about hir early childhood, but it’s enough to tell me that zie would always be darker-skinned, and hairier, than a Eurasian ladyboy like me ever could become. The point was not to impersonate hir, but to emulate the Essence as so many of hir followers already had.
Fewer attempted to emulate hir Consort: Born female-bodied, zie had been infibulated and had breasts removed, seeking to become a Body Without Organs. (Though the overt doctrine is pure Feuerbach, the Church’s secret rites have more than a bit of Deleuze to them.) One could never truly become a BWO oneself, however many modifications one had — it was the desired end state of Human Species-Being, a quivering flux of differentiated energies. Modifications and transitions were not required of church members. I encountered many a cis-body in the ceremonies. But humanity, they believe, becomes God by transforming itself: It does not surprise me that many of my people have found their way into their ranks.
One’s second visit to a ceremony is more confusing, to the new initiate, than the first. The Church teaches that familiarity is the opposite of Love: By recognizing another person as family, friend or acquaintance, one sets them above the species as a whole, and closes off the possibility of respecting their coming transformations. One must always greet a person anew, with the same effusive welcome as the first time. They are political enough to accede to social norms in their external activities, but in the sanctuary — a Bushwick warehouse — one will always be greeted by each body with an embrace, perhaps a kiss, and the same greeting: “My love! Do you feel the God?”, with no differentiation between new recruits and old lovers. Names are used, but beyond the security check at the entrance, it becomes taboo to ask them.
The meeting begins in a way that would be familiar to any activist in the Unity: Church emissaries report on the outcomes of their assignments in as dry, quantitative a tone as any of our requisitionists. Yet whereas we have retained the impractical habit of retaining a minimum level of clothing regardless of weather or climate control malfunctions, the officiants will disrobe in the midst of the meeting with no apparent erotic intent. Since the space ends up as crowded as the 7 train in the 4 a.m. rush, even in winter the body heat will eventually mount to a point where nearly all attendees have fully disrobed, leaving only piercings and Bioelectrical Data Implants attached. On those many summer days when the temperature crests 37 Celsius, the disrobing is almost immediate. The BDIs allow participants to silently communicate propositions, consent and demurrals without interrupting the flow of speech. There is no decorous inhibition on initiating such assignations, so it is not uncommon to experience a bit of ass-play while listening to a droning enumeration of speeches given, contacts made, greetings proffered, combats won and lost, and narrow escapes from the militia. The only restriction is that one must remain silent, out of respect for whoever is speaking.
Nor do they refrain when Thawratullah rises for hir sermon. If anything, pairs become threesomes, groups become clusters, and the vigor rises until the conclusion, which is always, “Comrades, unite in becoming God! The Body Without Organs!” A casual observer might assume that Thawratullah had just stimulated the multiplying contacts and commanded the ensuing orgy. Rather, it is a dialectic: Zie times and modulates hir speech in response to the BDI signals from the Church members in the room. The difference between membership and mere contact status is that members must allow Thawratullah unrestricted access to their BDI signals. Hir relationship to the officiants is not that of a commander switching on a squadron of drones, but a conductor leading an orchestra. Only after the sermon do the worshippers break out in the crescendo of moans, gasps and expostulations one would expect.
That was the most exhausting aspect of this assignment: For my dissimulation to work, the IT commissariat needed to develop forms of encryption so advanced that its presence could not be detected by Thawratullah’s consciousness or hir dedicated processors. The time when I should have been sleeping, I had to keep my implants active so the programmers could read the traces of Thawratullah’s probes and enhance the encryption. Yes, they had me under sedation, but the sleep one has under sedation, still connected, is not like biological sleep: It is an otherworldly dream from which one cannot awake even in horror. I wish I could tell you what those dreams were like, but the last measure taken by IT security was always to wipe their traces from my conscious memory. I was left with only the ever-growing fatigue.
You who read this in the future have probably formed certain assumptions about what the sex was like, and those assumptions are likely wrong. The Church meetings were not spaces without taboo, but spaces in which the taboos we have inherited from the bourgeois past and before have been consciously overturned — and others put in their place, just as consciously. Among the new taboos was one against ejaculatory orgasm. This imposed a particular restraint on those of us born male-bodied — and, in my case, not yet as fully transitioned as I would wish — as well as on those female-bodied persons prone to squirting. The ideal put in place of phallic climax was that of the “Thousand Plateaus.”
The long-time members of the Church had developed certain breathing and meditational disciplines to this end, and over the duration of the assignment I picked up a few of them. Drugs also helped: I ended up rummaging through the requisitioned stocks of the pharmacies and found an old-fashioned antidepressant called duloxetine that helped me postpone. More important, though, was finding one’s own ways of engaging libidinally without exploding. For example:
- My nipples are more sensitive to digital or oral stimulation than they had been before my transition began. The first member of the Church to discover that was surprised to see my eyes roll back into my sockets.
- The raking of teeth or nails against the inner crook of my elbow sends a shiver through my entire body.
- There is a ligament to the right of my scrotum that connects my groin to my inner thigh; when it is nibbled in just the right way, I melt like an ice cream shop in a brownout.
The fact that I only just discovered these things about myself leaves me just a bit disenchanted with Comrade K_____, who has had three years as my lover to explore this body — at least, when I haven’t been on assignment. I’ll try to show him when my debriefing is done, and I’ll grant him a probationary period of a week or so. If he can’t work it out by then, we’re done.
Outwardly, they abjure all hierarchy, and in fact denounce the Unity and the Council for the degree to which we have created new orders of command. In practice, however, there is an informal hierarchy at work in the degree to which one is allowed proximity to Thawratullah. The more giving one is in the ceremony, the more plateaus one attains, the further one advances.
The employment of BDI for erotic purposes is not wholly unknown outside the Church, but they have elevated its practice to an art form. It also served my purposes of covert infiltration very well. On an open BDI channel, one can determine who has had a particularly stressful day, who is harboring aggressive tendencies, and who is in the right frame of mind for some extended play. I had always thought of myself as having a decided preference for the male-bodied, but perhaps that was a kind of phallus-worshiping false consciousness brought on by childhood trauma. With eyes open, I would always be drawn to the longest, firmest penis I could see; with my eyes closed, tuning in to my thoughts and the BDI signals, my paths would cross more frequently with those who were born female-bodied.
It was just as well: If I had let myself be fucked, I would have felt exquisitely broken open and would have been unable to restrain myself. I would have come, again and again, and would have gotten no closer to the Essence. This way, I was able to practice giving of myself without giving up myself, exploring how bodies I did not expect to desire could unleash desire in myself, and thus I learned, through women, how to maintain such plateaus with men as well.
This makes no sense, and there is nothing I like less than not making sense. The worst thing about this assignment is how it has made me unintelligible to myself. Perhaps that is how the encryption worked, how Thawratullah could plug directly into me without discovering who I really was. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I advanced through the hierarchy in record time. Within nine months, the Consort had beckoned me to hir. If those who read this are familiar with some of the more barbarically patriarchal practices of the past, you perhaps associated hir infibulation with the methods of ritual genital mutilation that our power only recently extirpated in parts of Africa. While hir modification could not have been without pain, it was not of a kind with those rituals. It had been done very precisely, with dissolvable biofilaments welding hir labia minora together, and hir clit — larger than average, extending out nearly an inch when engorged — had been left untouched. The overall effect was reminiscent of the seam of a scrotum, without any testicles obtruding, and a small throbbing head perched above. The lips were still sensitive, the clit extraordinarily so, and knowing that this was the third level of proximity, I was able to bring hir selflessly to plateau several times in the ceremony. I had not been well practiced in this sort of stimulation before this assignment, but the nine months prior had given me ample opportunity to practice. And besides, it was all for the good of the mission.
In my case, there was little respite between the third and second degrees of proximity. Thawratullah and hir Consort consulted through encrypted BDI, and then asked me to join them. I had observed this portion of the ceremony about twelve times before — it was not always indulged in, but served as a means for Thawratullah to remind the congregants of the reasons for hir relatively exalted status — and thus knew what was expected of me. The Consort and I began rimming Thawratullah thoroughly. I then nibbled gently up the perineum and the scrotum — which is how I know about those white hairs — and finally took hir penis wholly into my mouth, as the Consort traced a similar path along my breasts and belly toward my own. This was the signal to those in the congregation similarly equipped and so inclined that they could do the same, for since direct fellatio so often ends with ejaculation, it was not a common practice outside this stage of the ceremony.
No one invited to the second degree of proximity had ever outlasted Thawratullah. Either they deflated into the Consort, or collapsed exhausted, their jaw cracking and unhinged from its motions around hir pendulous member. I ended the first way, but made a good showing, outlasting any of the previous initiates I had seen. The Essence reached under my armpits, lifted me to hir mouth and kissed me deeply, then whispered into my ear the first words zie had spoken since that evening’s sermon: “Almost.”
The kiss meant that I would be allowed to partake of the first degree of proximity. The “almost” meant that it would not be that night, or the next. Thawratullah would observe me carefully, and zie would decide when I was ready.
The IT Commissariat got to work on tightening the encryption. I had witnessed the first degree of proximity only once, and I knew that I had different preparations to make. In nine months of infiltration, I had not had any anal sex — my usual preferred role. I knew that Thawratullah would penetrate me, and that once fully in, zie would find a place on my body where one of my BDI ports matched one of hirs, and make a directly wired connection.
At that point I would lose control of my own destiny. My success or failure would depend entirely upon IT’s expertise. This retelling of what I had to do is based upon my own faulty recollection of what they told me to do, which was itself a pedagogical adaptation of something too abstruse for me to understand. I had to keep my legend, the cover story of a raw recruit to the Church of God as Love, readily intelligible to Thawratullah’s mental probing, while maintaining strong encryption on anything in my identity having to do with the Council. At the same time, my true identity would be decrypting the parts of Thawratullah’s mind that zie kept secret even from the Consort. This would require no conscious intervention on my part; the routines were programmed to activate upon penetration of any BDI port. Consciousness would be a sign of failure, an indication that Thawratullah had begun to link the threads between my legend and my identity. In a direct link, it would be easy enough for hir to stop my heart with a quick bio-electrical surge. In the bottom position, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for me to disengage in time.
My conscious task would be to avoid coming too soon, to allow the routines sufficient time to do their work.
I spent the days before each ceremony inserting fingers, thumbs, butt plugs, dildos, vibrators, robotic fuck-dongs in my well-lubricated ass, my hand moving up and down along my shaft again, and again, and again. I also doubled my dose of duloxetine, which left me in a bored stupor. By the time I came to the meetings, I was exhausted, flaccid and incapable of any higher order thought.
This was apparently what Thawratullah found most desirable. Within four nights, I was called to the altar.
The Consort and hir attendants did a good job with the application of the lube. That, and my preparations from the previous day, meant no immediate pain when Thawratullah penetrated me, just the frisson of knowing that something was happening over which I had no control. Zie moved hir hips slowly: It seemed as if five full minutes had passed before the first ten centimeters had entered, bringing that familiar tickle against the prostate. Five more centimeters, and my first involuntary moan. Five more, and my eyes flashed wide. The Consort applied some more lube to the last five centimeters that lingered against my augmented yet hairy ass cheeks, then some to the cheeks themselves, probing toward the sphincter. Thawratullah pushed in with a final thrust, and I snarled. I wanted zie to begin the rocking rhythm of pull and push but waited for the wired connection.
Zie found a port along my lower back and exposed one on hir right palm, pressing me down against the altar. The pushing motion made hir penis slide out slightly, and zie pushed back in. In that momentary delay, my mind made its move; I should have remembered that consciousness was a sign of danger, but I was too intent upon my mission. I found hir vanity and arrogance, and caressed them gently; they parted to show me the calculation and will-to-power beneath. I felt the thrusting of hir hips as a conquest from within, a tumor. To the extent that Thawratullah had a plan to undermine our power from within, I could grasp that plan, perhaps not explain it, but intuit it with each pulse. I wanted hir off and out of me: NOW!
With that thought an electric jolt passed between our BDI ports, not strong enough to do any damage, but enough to trigger both of us to ejaculate. I felt sure that the encryption had held, but could not help but worry that somehow zie suspected who and what I was. If zie did, zie did not order any of hir followers to apprehend me. Hir ejaculate was still hidden inside me; I could have destroyed the legend of hir superior self-command just by unclenching my anus and letting it dribble out for all to see. But the truest of believers would not believe the testimony even of their own eyes, and I did not want to be around for the chaos and division that would ensue.
When we suppress the Church of God as Love, as I have already recommended to the Council, it will be done in an orderly and effective manner. And I will ask that this be my last assignment.