“Not so typical love song, 'cause it hurt us again & again”: Starfucking & Thirst Politics
“We get to know these performers […] on a rudimentary level, but it’s more than enough to fall in love with them and the characters that they played. […] Those certain lines of dialogue, a smile that reminds you of your high school love, a naked body that seems to play to all of your personal fetishes, the way certain camera angles are framed, perfectly-timed music cues, editing that smacks you upside your fool head with a close up at a key moment—all of it acting like Cupid, making you crush hard on your favorite actors and actresses […] Then you gotta know more. […] But what you’re falling in love with is a ghost. Someone who is gone, even if they are still alive and talking to you right there in person. […T]he only thing left of those men and women on the screen that is still clear and tangible is what you fell in love with in the first place: that celluloid footprint in the sand. Everything else is ethereal and distorted by time. […] There is something so sad and yet beautiful about that. Unrequited love is romantic and pathetic all at once. Ghosts can’t love you back but you adore what they represent all the same.”
Robin Bougie - Cinema Sewer, Vol. 5
The horrible thing about being the rejected party in a breakup is how small, insignificant, and how utterly worthless you’re made to feel. The only thing possibly worse than being dumped is being dumped by someone with even a modicum of fame. Why? People who have achieved celebrity at any level were CHOSEN. They were chosen by casting agents, by viewers, by their fans. Something about them causes others to respond favorably. Something about them is compelling enough for other people to want to see more. Celebrities are adored, desired, envied, WANTED.
So when someone famous—someone whom the public loves—says they are not interested in you any more, it’s difficult to feel anything but the obvious: this person who is the symbol of mass adulation is telling you that you are not worthy of not just their level of public idolatry but of private human affection, period. You mean nothing. You can no longer stay in their orbit. Bitch, bye.
For one reason or another, this person who is validated by clicks and reshares and view counts and followers has told you: you aren’t good enough. Maybe you weren’t good enough sexually (even if you tried your best to fill every role they needed, to play every game no matter how hurtful and mentally damaging, to dutifully learn everything they liked so you could please them), maybe you weren’t attractive enough or didn’t fit their type (even if they vehemently denied they had one, yet their fantasies revealed otherwise). Maybe you didn’t have the social media numbers (for example, say they have over 14K IG followers and you don’t even have 1K—if your celebrity partner was thinking strategically, they’ll likely replace you with someone with higher figures to inflate their own). Maybe you publicly embarrassed them (a major starfucking don’t—no one wants to do damage control and all your celeb beau cares about is good press). Maybe they looked down on you and the work that you did because it didn’t have the same view count as their projects (and without the numbers, you and your work are unimportant). Maybe they found someone with more power in this industry—a director, a casting agent, etc.—who was single and offered to help them with their career. Maybe a million things. Ultimately, if you’re dating a celebrity—if you dared to cross that line between the distant adulation of a fan into outright starfucking—you may soon find that your relationship isn’t love, it’s a potential PR strategy for your celeb beau, and if you don’t benefit them in any capacity, they will eliminate you. After all, they’re the celebrity. Who are you? No one. Arm candy, if you’re lucky and they want to take you out publicly. If they’re too ashamed to take you around that never ending self-promotional party circuit (and why should they?! an actor must always seem available—they’re whores just like you and me!), you’re just a glorified cum bucket—the thing that sneaks over at night, takes a few condomless loads, and then fixes her makeup and calls her own damn Uber while your celeb dick wordlessly scrolls through his phone.
Let me backtrack. For the last several months, I’ve been starfucking. I didn’t think I was. I thought I was in a relationship. Sure, that relationship entailed a lot of quickies. And towards the end of it, we saw each other less and less except to fuck. I tried to ignore that. I was in love. I fell for someone whom I viewed to be a spiritual twin, whose work I admired greatly, and whom I’ve been horribly infatuated with for some time. It’s just my misfortune that he is an actor.
For a creative, to fall head over heels for another creative is often the equivalent of a double edged sword: that thing your fell for about them (their passion, their drive, their work, their career) will be the thing to drive you apart at the end. One can only think of the works and tumultuous relationship of Marina Abramović and Ulay, and the cautionary stipulation in Abramović’s “An Artist’s Life Manifesto”: “An artist should avoid falling in love with another artist. An artist should avoid falling in love with another artist. An artist should avoid falling in love with another artist.”
Nick Cave’s recent ruminations on his split with PJ Harvey also come to mind. In the Red Hand Files, issue 57, August 2019, Cave writes: “[…] at the end of the day it came down to the fact that we were both fiercely creative people, each too self-absorbed to ever be able to inhabit the same space in any truly meaningful way. We were like two lost matching suitcases, on a carousel going nowhere. [My work] completely consumed me at that time. It was not what I did, but what I was. It was the very essence of me. Polly’s commitment to her own work was probably as narcissistic and egomaniacal as my own, although I was so deep into my own shit that I can’t really comment on this with any certainty. I remember our time together with great fondness though, they were happy days […]”
In May 2019, I fell in love with another artist, nay—a performer—Galen Howard. I didn’t just fall, I became emotionally and physically dependent on him. I needed his affection. I needed his touch. I needed him inside of me and purring in my ear. I needed these things to feel anything approaching happy. In the course of our brief, torrid affair, he saved my life repeatedly, made me cum even more (due to a history of abuse and trauma, having orgasms with cis-men is extremely difficult for me), was a personal clown and confidante...God, he even got Filipino food with me when I was homesick for my family. (What white man willingly does that?!) Galen was an absolute angel. I was and still am terribly in love with him.
Before you judge me or make fun of my naiveté concerning the length and sincerity of Los Angeles/entertainment industry relationships (as my Uber driver cackled last night—“Girl, you fell in love with an actor?! And you thought it was gonna last?!”), I need to ask—and this one goes out especially to fellow film critics, cinema scholars, pop culture analysts—when was the last time you fucked someone whose work you’ve spent years staring at? If you never have, I will tell you it is a blessing and a curse to be touched by a star. Stars, true stars, real stars exude a certain type of energy. A force I can’t quite describe. They are magnetic, irresistible and wield a strange type of power. But even if you love them—not for their fame or their work—but them as individuals, when they’re raw and unguarded and not “on” or in performance mode, when their insecurities seep out after failed auditions and roles lost, when they injure themselves on shoots and reveal themselves to be normal and mortal and human and flawed and vulnerable, the Peter Pan-ish/Lost Boy manchildren that they are—they will never love you. Because you’re only one person. And what a star loves even more than the adulation of one is the adulation of many. What an actor loves more than role play in bed is a recurring sitcom role, an edgy breakout part in an indie by some wunderkind director, anything that leads to more work, more fans. You were just a diversion. You’ll be the one they blame when someone else gets the part they said they couldn’t prep for because you came over to fuck. At least…that’s how things played out for me.
I know you probably have some questions…or at least one: WHO THE FUCK IS GALEN HOWARD?
I: Thank God for Galen (?!)
Galen Howard is a character actor you and I have seen more than a billion times. He’s gotten wet and wild under UV lights for over 2 million thirsty souls in The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Solara.” His model-assisted cannoli binge for Weezer’s “Thank God for Girls” has catered to the desires of over 3.6 million hungry food play and Femdom fetishists. His supermarket striptease into sparkly latex briefs for Galantis’ “Peanut Butter Jelly” bagged over 116 million views. As one of many objectified men in Elle King’s hyper-female-gaze-y “Ex’s and Oh’s,” Galen’s towel-clad dad bod embodies the epitome of male submission, servicing Queen King with foot worship for an audience of more than 136 million. His most family-friendly role, a sweet turn as doughy donut shop employee in Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling,” has a whopping ONE BILLION plus views.
Galen has jokingly referred to himself as a “music video ho,” and though some might laugh (“what, this guy?!”), his career backs up the assertion. Including the aforementioned work, he’s appeared in over 60 music videos including Neon Indian’s “Slumlord Rising,” Bleachers’ “(Alfie’s Song) Not So Typical Love Song,” Cheerleader’s “A Million Ways,” Slugabed’s “Infinite Wave,” MIJA’s “Dead Flowers & Cigarettes,” Bad Suns’ “One Magic Moment,” Z Berg’s “Time Flies,” Death Cab for Cutie’s “Gold Rush,” Shinedown’s “Monsters,” THEORY’s “Straightjacket,” Breaks Co-Op’s “Sounds Familiar,” and so on.
He’s been on the beloved TV shows Brooklyn 99 and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., his web work includes comedic sketches on major channels like SMOSH, YOMYOMF, Mandatory, and Buzzfeed, he was a lead in the indie features Children of Sorrow, Saving Flora, and the upcoming dark comedy Moon Manor, as well as the holiday horror anthology Deathcember.
Galen’s work was the catalyst to the relationship: he wormed his way into my subconscious because his uniquely charming visage is omnipresent in my favorite form of media—he’s been an integral part of some of the most quirky and aesthetically pleasing music videos released these last 5 years. It’s impossible to escape his face if you, like me, live online and stream music. So, I suppose, if I had to be honest, my romantic feelings were in part tied to the respect and esteem I have for him and his oeuvre, and to the fact that he has done everything I wanted to do and accomplish with my own work. Galen is fucking incredible and I adored him. I worshiped him. I was so nervous when we first started being intimate that I shook, I’d get shy, I’d hide behind my hands. I am a grown-ass, fine-ass 35 year old woman with her own set of accomplishments, and yet being with Galen made me bashful—a timid, lonely child playing “peek-a-boo” with a schoolyard crush. There was an innocent quality to the relationship, or to quote Bleachers’ “Alfie’s Song (Not So Typical Love Song)”: “Fake young when we met/Everything seemed alright/Like children sing on the sidewalk/Cut straight through the moonlight.”
All variants on the word “children”— “childish,” “childlike,” “manchild,” may be the only accurate way to describe him, me, the fragility of ourselves and what we had. But again, that’s my gullibility—that’s me buying into Galen’s screen image, his perpetual typecasting as an inexperienced, “emotionally stunted” “savant” [his words, not mine]. The reality is much different. The reality is, despite his kindness, he told me very early on in the relationship that this was going to be a brief one—or rather, his previous relationship history foretold our fate, as did his schedule, his predisposition to always be on his social media apps or booking gigs, and his gradually escalating disinterest, inability to communicate or spend time with me. [Despite his version of events, I don’t believe that his last girlfriends were “crazy”—I mean, who doesn’t have issues?! I assume that they also fell in love (because it’s impossible not to fall in love with Galen) and he, as he did with this relationship, felt trapped, and broke it off.]
The week that I started cleaning up this piece (which has been in progress since May), Galen was absent—he auditioned for a recurring role on a Duplass Brothers-produced sitcom starring NYC legend Bridget Everett, and he spent several days playing the romantic lead in a music video for a well-known Asian pop-star. It’s difficult not to admire his drive and work ethic; again—it’s brought him a career that I’m simultaneously envious and in awe of—but it was also impossible not to feel abandoned, alone, and incredibly anxious when we went for days without contact due to his schedule. And so my heart is in my throat and my stomach is on the floor and all the myriad turns of phrase to indicate my dis/ease over this failed romantic pursuit, for while I am happy that Galen’s momentum shows no signs of slowing, that he’s an icon in his own right, and while I was lucky that someone this talented and in demand was momentarily my best friend and lover…I have to now contemplate the ethical ramifications of publishing something so personal about someone who spent his whole life trying to be professional. But you know, he dumped me, so whatever.
Often self-effacing, soft-spoken, and (initially) a total sweetheart, Galen was one of the first people in Hollywood who realized I needed help. That without intervention, I was going to die. That’s how our relationship started: he saved my life. I was extremely fortunate that Galen there for me on a night when I experienced a series of rolling seizures and fainting spells—the culmination of months of malnourishment and extreme stress. (More on this later.) Since that incident, Galen came to my rescue repeatedly, confronting street harassers, providing nourishment and transportation when I’ve felt weak, a shoulder to cry on during bouts of marital discord, etc.—all while he ran around to classes and auditions and booked fairly high-profile gigs. His chivalry and presence in moments of crisis put my other working LA actor “friends” to shame. It’s easy in this town to blow people off for someone or something better…at least that’s what I learned from firsthand experience (even prior to this breakup). After months of distancing and/or silence from industry connections, I didn’t think anyone pursuing a mainstream entertainment career trajectory would have anything to do with me. Most people in this town are too busy looking after themselves.
Right when I began to lose hope, fate typed some shitty stage direction: “ENTER GALEN HOWARD.”
Galen embodies a few contradictory cliches: the unassuming nose-to-the-grindstone nebbish and the gallant knight in shining armor; the jester and the prince; the fool and the scholar. I’m attracted to them all.
The irony of my falling for Galen due to his oeuvre is that the videos for the best songs contain prophetic lyrics to describe just how PAINFUL it is to be involved with an actor. My favorite video of his—Cheerleader’s “A Million Ways”—captures the utter elation I felt around him, as well as the trials and tribulations of trying to make a relationship work. “A Million Ways” is the perfect showcase for Galen’s ebullient charisma and gentle goofy charm. But it also calls to mind things that he said when we first started seeing each other: “I know that it’s useless, ‘cause I’ll never change.” The situation and confines of the relationship, all the reasons that it was unfulfilling, they never changed either. But part of me knew that was coming. Because he’s a goddamn actor and he's married to his damn job.
There’s unfortunately a certain amount of rigidity in both of our personalities. It was inevitable that the things that attracted us to each other drove us apart. And yet, I still fucking love him. Look at him, how could I not?
If this piece were a feature-length script and not a bold-faced valentine masquerading as a hybrid critical analysis cum personal relationship exposé, I’d toss it out NOW due to its hokeyness and predictability: bored, battered housewife at the end of her rope (due to the frustrations of marital strife and being shut out of her preferred profession) finds herself saved by rouge-ish industry pro with a heart of gold who is the living representation of her own shattered dreams. This is a million Hollywood stories. To quote “Girl Meets Boy,” a duet about overused romantic film tropes delivered by two iconic star-crossed LA lovers, Sunset Boulevard’s screenwriting sweethearts Betty Schaefer and Joe Gillis:
Betty: No, it’s great, if they do the same job—
Joe: So much in common, they’d fall in love wouldn’t you? […] Girl likes boy, she respects his talent.
Betty: Working with someone can turn you into a fan.
I really thought I had a connection with Galen. We’re incredibly, uncannily similar. I guess I forgot that maybe my primary role was “fan” first. I’d thought we’d moved beyond that. (The relationship was built on a fast bond, the sex games that we played intensified that symbiosis, creating a maternal attachment. These were his preferred games. He did this.) But the less-than-ideal and continuously distancing circumstances of our tenuous relationship made my role all too clear.
The initial month and a half with him was rough for a few reasons. Galen is a working actor, after all. He has a career that he’s focused on, and he didn’t sign up to “save” me. It wasn’t part of his plan. (Every actor friend here has some kind of a personal career plan.) He’s been in this town for 8 years, he’s worked hard to achieve everything that he has. Every booked gig, every success, no matter how minor. A romantic relationship doesn’t really factor into most actor(/industry pro)’s careers, it seems, because the work comes first. The work always comes first. For all the sacrifice, the painful, tragic backstory, the family and friends left behind, the work must come first. And it’s never just the gigs themselves, it’s all the trappings—the networking, the partying, the prepping… It took me a few weeks of receiving texts saying that Galen couldn’t hang because he was at a premiere and then seeing on Instagram the next morning that it was HIS premiere that prompted me to realize the extent to which Galen was kind of famous.
His fame and the probability of him getting recognized in public eventually became sources of irritation. At one film festival, I could barely restrain myself from attacking a particularly busty woman who was flirting with him. At a later “best of” screening for that same festival, several other women were overly friendly with him, and when I voiced my displeasure online, he got irritated with me. Honestly, I don’t enjoy feeling like this (with him or any partner) and know I need to work on my anger issues and insecurities. But there’s a unique helplessness and pain that accompanies playing the role of the less-successful, unknown partner of a rising star. I’ve been in this position with other lovers in other fields before. I hate it. But I guess, since Galen called it off, it’s no longer my problem.
During Galen’s initial disappearance (and any subsequent period in which Galen was absent due to work or work-related functions), motivated by a combination of respect, morbid curiosity, and loneliness, I deep dove into his work. As I analyzed it, I noticed a pattern. Let’s put aside the masochism on display here; Kyle Turner already said it best—"cinema, […] love” and obsession “[make] bottoms of us all.” I see the words I’m writing; I’m aware of my own behavior. Though I thought I started out Dominant in this relationship (at least privately, in our role play scenarios), at some point, I relinquished control—I submitted to Galen. As a fan, I submit to his image on the screen, in perpetuity. I am complicit in his popularity with every click and re-share. His popularity ensures that he books work. His work ensures that I never get to see him except on my screen. As a lover, my fandom was emotional self-flagellation. The relationship was purgatory.
Perhaps that’s why I’m fascinated by Galen and his oeuvre: the vast majority of his more popular roles involve humiliation and submission. And good Lord, as a switch with a predisposition to gravitate towards submissive and publicly debasing behavior, there is nothing more irresistible to me than a good sub. So, let’s talk submission in the collected works of Galen Howard, shall we? (Did you think I was going to trash him this whole essay? This isn’t a character assassination piece. I mean, F&F is a critical website! We get screeners, for crying out loud. There must be something of academic merit in this work. Consider this a character study. Onward!)
II. Ex’s & Oh’s
Elle King’s video for “Ex’s & Oh’s” is a master class in objectifying the male form. Elle, the daughter of Rob Schneider, is, like me, mixed-race Filipina-American, therefore I will love what she does out of tribal loyalty, but the song, sultry and soulful, is a legit banger and the video is….I’m sorry, I’m too busy masturbating to it to write about it critically. The video is hot. The video does it for me. “Ex’s & Oh’s” is a veritable softcore-pornicopia of chiseled submissive males with bodies damn near ripped from the fantasies of Tom of Finland. These men are hyper-attractive, hyper-masculine, and hyper-eroticized in a manner clearly for Elle’s and the viewer’s benefit.
And, yes, GALEN HOWARD IS IN THIS VIDEO. Galen’s primary scene involves him playing a deeply submissive manservant who gives Elle a pedicure as she soaks in a bubble bath in the middle of the desert. He also runs through a sequence in which three other more physically fit men are doing endurance headstands, then he has some lawn chair choreography involving manspreading and tiger hands, and, for the video’s climax, Galen’s in a dogpile/orgy sequence.
I can talk about the other men—muscular, athletic types, clad only in tight underwear, hosing themselves off, running around, packages lit to stun (I mean, bulge), allowing themselves to be manhandled, wrestling for Elle’s enjoyment, and all other manner of self-objectifying and ingratiating acts meant for Elle’s (and the spectator’s) pleasure—but Galen, as the soft, stringy haired, dad-bodied standout, is just intriguing to me. My eye is drawn to him in every frame in which he’s present. He’s the oddball in the video, sure (and, more often than not, typecast and credited as the “weirdo” in his other video work), but for some reason, that makes me want him more than the other men, who, despite being racially diverse, exude a certain type of bland homogeny.
I’ve seen “Ex’s & Oh’s” many times and have always been drawn to Galen, even before actually getting to know him. I should probably be embarrassed. I’m not. I like what I fucking like, ok?
I didn’t beat around the bush when asking Galen about this video. I asked if giving Elle a pedicure turned him on. Galen—a professional—laughed off my question. “That really wasn’t where my mind was at. It was certainly a circumstance […] I hadn’t anticipated. They hadn’t told me that’s what was happening. […] I felt like just purely more of a fixture. […] It was more just, I had a job to do. It’s one of those that you do the job and you look back at it afterwards, like: ‘oh, that’s what that was.’ […] The whole idea is the subservient males. That was no issue. I certainly have no shame about going anywhere like that.”
From a BDSM fantasy framework, the specific Femdom dynamic being depicted in “Ex’s & Oh’s” is a Queen and manservant(/sissy maid/court jester/etc.) scenario…even though the video’s aesthetics and the Joshua Tree hipster trailer park setting veil this “whatever Her Highness wishes” Femdom framework slightly. While it’s lacking crowns and codpieces, trust me (also a professional, albeit of a different trade), “Ex’s & Oh’s” poses Elle King as a Supreme Ruler and every male in the video as her slave, Galen included.
In an earlier interview, he initially responded: “Do you really think I’m submissive in most of my work?”
“An actor is submissive by nature. I mean, that’s the job.” I declared while lying on Galen’s bed.
“Right, but what profession isn’t? Everyone answers to someone,” he replied.
“Unless you’re the top 1%,” I interjected.
We stared at each other
I elaborated: “You answer to a director. To a producer. To a fuckton of people. You do what you’re told repeatedly until someone tells you you did a satisfactory job. It’s a subservient role.”
Galen cut me off: “And you serve the production. Right, I get it. So, do you feel that character actors are more submissive than ‘regular’ actors?”
I sighed, “I guess character actors are by nature more submissive than actors with leading roles because leads are often so vain that they don’t see themselves as in service to the production. They think everything revolves around them. I mean, that’s the stereotype. Character actors usually have to do things that are more demeaning, humiliating…. A lot of work they do is at their expense.”
“And you think character actors are like that by nature? Submissive? I guess I never thought about that in relation to my work…. I mean, I’ve thought about my sexuality but never in relation to my work. Interesting.”
I stared at his face for a long time.
“C’mon, this isn’t anything new,” I finally said, exasperated.
As a writer dealing with the intimate, there’s never a guarantee (no matter your methods) that you can coerce your subject into giving you that statement or soundbite that makes your piece. Galen and I discussed the subject of “public/private submission in the personal lives and careers of character actors” countless times since May; after a while, I couldn’t concentrate on writing because whenever he spoke, I wanted to pin him down and fuck him. When I behaved, though, when I gave him the opportunity to speak, sometimes Galen described in gleeful detail certain shoots with clear BDSM themes, like the time he did a Halloween-themed torture porn shoot with his friends that involved him bound to a chair with razors connected to strings connected to confections in a bowl of candy, so that whenever a trick-or-treater took a treat, he was cut to shreds. The short ended with him being eviscerated. And castrated. Did I forget to mention some of those razors were affixed to his balls? That’s HOT.
I have a personal predisposition towards seeing men get their comeuppance at the hands of a Dominant female, and I feel like some of my readers might as well, so here’s “Surprise!”—a Room 104 style short in which Galen plays a sadistic lothario in a kinky, fun twist on the standard serial sex killer tale. (Note: this isn’t the aforementioned BDSM Halloween short, I don’t have a link to that. This is just another wild piece of his that validates my argument.) I love the choices that Galen and everyone involved make in “Surprise!,” and I hope you do too. If you, like me, get off on seeing pathetic boys bound and gagged, weak men getting verbally and physically emasculated, slimeballs get theirs at the hands of powerful women, and all the stock and trade that is the essence of the Femdom/male sub dynamic, this short delivers, so hang on through the end.
I love a Maneater. I also love men who eat…. (What a terrible segue, lol.)
III. Food Play
Though (as with the Elle King video) I have seen the Weezer video for “Thank God for Girls” many, many, MANY times, it didn't dawn on me the first night I hung out with Galen that he was the same person who was in that video, even though IRL, he looks exactly as he does in that piece.
As someone who has worked with food in video art to illicit a feeling of repulsion in the viewer (by toeing the line between the sexual and the indigestibly perverse), I have been enthralled by the eating in the TGFG vid, which is a combination of three different styles: competitive (family-friendly), mukbang (companionate), and feeder/feedee (pornographic). I love the simplicity of the concept, the cheery high-key lighting (it can’t be subversive if it looks like a sitcom, wink-wink!), the Jesus painting in the background (even if it’s too literal, it makes the set, cements Galen as the perfect casting choice, and ties the concept together). I also adore the slow-motion medium close-ups of cannoli crumbs falling on Galen’s crotch and the opalescent acrylic nails of that Stanton-esque model creeping into frame, her rag poised over the white goo on his pants. TGFG is NOT subtle with its innuendo, its overtly sexual themes transgress from cute to carnal in a matter of moments. The superimposition of select lyrics over the action reinforce this by creating some incredibly suggestive text and image juxtapositions. For example:
The other key element at play in TGFG that reinforces its status as a fetish video masquerading as an all-ages music video is the dynamic created by the casting. There’s clearly an “opposites attract”/Beauty & the Beast-style yin-yang to the video’s imagery: a physically perfect, statuesque Swedish model (I was told she was flown in specifically to do this), and a total slob. Urban Goddess meets suburban nerd. Be still my beating heart. But maybe it’s not just the casting, maybe it’s the play on the Nursemaid fetish (the central conceit of the video) that I get off on. I thoroughly enjoy the shots of the model Mommy Domming Galen—wiping his face, his shirt, his pants. As with “Ex’s & Oh’s,” this video sends me. It depicts yet another Femdom fantasy, but a more nurturing one: caring, capable woman/infantile male; AKA Mother/baby or Nursemaid/ward.
The metaphorical (and actual) icing on the cake as to what makes TGFG so thoroughly enjoyable is that the video is intimate and palpably tactile. I can taste the cannoli. I can feel that rag in my hands, the cream on the fabric, the heat off his body. Or, rather, I want to feel it. What can I say? I like a messy boy who plays with his food. Observing Galen’s face in this video—when his intensity gives way to a childlike glee—my heart flutters and my clit throbs. As I watch TGFG, there’s nothing more I want than to sit in Galen’s lap, straddle him, brush my chest against his and lick that goo off his face. That’s partially why I kept creating public feeder/feedee food play moments. I’m so fucking turned on by watching him eat. By feeding him. By having him baby bird me.
I know that it goes deeper than that now. One night, when we were at dinner, Galen told me that he appreciated that I had a “connection with food.” My family on both sides were farmers; my parents were both immigrants who had nothing when they came to the US. It was a major deal in our household to have food, to make meals. Food is a source of connection to the cultures that make up the essence of who I am. It’s also been the source of stress (I grappled with eating disorders in my 20s). Currently, I am broke and food insecure and anyone who deigns to share a meal with me and pay for it is a personal savior. Food is and always has been a way to show that one cares. And so when I watch TGFG, or when I played with Galen, I’m reminded of that—the nurturing aspect, compassion for another, family, love.
TGFG, for all its “Let Them Eat Cake” (err, cannoli) excessiveness, also oozes pleasure. And food play is extremely pleasurable. We all need to eat. We don’t need to eat decadent things, but treats are nice. I have a sweet tooth. I like when subby men cater to it. I also like being controlling and force-feeding subs. I might possibly have a sugar, sex, and power addiction. These are powerful highs.
When I played with Galen, I was turned on by the act of doing these things publicly in the real world with someone who has made a career out of doing this on millions of people’s screens. That’s the starfucker in me. I’d like to hope our play was more meaningful, though; we’re both exhibitionists with shared kinks and perversions, hopefully there was some relief in finding another person who liked the same types of games. I know it gave me peace. It’s rare for me to find someone operating at this level of sexual compatibility. Being with Galen felt like home—an idealized concept of “home” I’ve never had before—a safe, judgement-free space for exploration and personal growth.
If it’s not clear by now, I am indisputably attracted to the fact that Galen’s made a career out of being subversive and inappropriate (and that those tendencies did indeed extend to his personal life). I want to say that he is a free spirit, not plagued by any inhibitions or pesky boundaries, but as the relationship continued, it became clear that there were lines he would not cross…though being with him required that I break my own sexual taboos to accommodate his preferences. But I’m getting sidetracked.
I asked him a few questions about the TGFG video: mainly, how many cannoli did Galen actually eat (5), was there a spit bucket (no)…. The shoot was apparently, a very quick, low-budget affair. He didn’t anticipate that it would go as viral as it did. A note: I won’t say that Galen is lactose intolerant but I know he doesn’t really “do” dairy, so please take a minute to applaud his bravery for eating five vaguely phallic tubes of softened mascarpone cheese pastry. I mean, c’mon. That’s dedication to the craft.
Oddly enough, it was Galen who first said that it was only natural we’d be friends because we’ve both done (gross) video work with food. I didn’t realize how many other similar themes we worked with until I dove down the rabbit hole that is his IMDB page: submission, objectification, bondage, wet and messy fetishism, humiliation, madness, awkwardness, and a myriad other forms of self-deprecation…including writing our own respective web series (years ago when that was a thing) that amplified our flaws.
In addition to thematic similarities between our oeuvres, there are also aesthetic similarities and some commonalities between how we have approached performing specific scenarios:
Galen is the only person I know who has made as much work (specifically video content) as I have in as short an amount of time. That’s another major source of my attraction to him. I also appreciate that his roles (at least in his music video work) seem to oscillate between uncontrollable manic joy and a deep depression, because that isn’t just my performance style, that’s who I am as a person, and I need to be around people who understand both extremes.
The primary differences between Galen and I are obvious—he works with big names, he gets paid to perform (whereas I’ve gone bankrupt doing so), and on top of that, Galen has far more exposure. He’s playing to a significantly larger audience than I ever will. I often wonder whether or not he’d have the same energy and enthusiasm for the work if it didn’t draw the same crowd, but I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him perform with the same childlike energy for an audience of one—me—so…who knows? Guess he’s just a natural showman.
His Instagram following is an indisputable source of vanity. At 14.1k followers, I am keenly aware that Galen has a rabid fanbase of thirst followers with whom he has had relationships. I wasn’t one of those initially. I swear. I messaged him months ago because, despite the throng of people at his disposal, he seemed like a decent—albeit slightly weird—human. I was looking for a kindred spirit. I like kind weirdos. I might maybe have been cruising for a sub, but I wasn’t sure if his career intersected with his personal life…initially. I wasn’t even sure if I’d have the opportunity to find out.
It’s rare to find a star in Hollywood unaffected by their fame in some capacity and I’m desperate to find those people—the ones that don’t devalue other people because we haven't had the same career success. If only we could all be as lucky as the Galen Howards of this world. But that level of accelerated stardom in such a short span of time is so fucking rare. And once attained, it seems like those blessed with the momentum never quite relate the same way to us common folk again. Whatever. One can still wish that friendship between the have nots and the upwardly mobile is possible. [I don’t intend this to refer merely to finances. (Everyone cries broke in Hollywood.) I’m referring to cultural cache.] But again, maybe I’m just naive.
In addition to the aforementioned positive characteristics (genuine decency and a touch of eccentricity), Galen seemed slightly sad and lonely. I, too, was sad and lonely. I don’t know why I read his pictures or work that way. The occasional chick-bait captions about existential crises interspersed between the optimistic banalities? The defeated half-smile? That hint of something dark in his kind eyes? Maybe I was projecting. It’s likely I saw what I wanted to see. Isn’t that a measure of success of any character actor, that no matter the roles they play, we see ourselves in them?
While trying to pursue this friendship-turned-romance with Galen, I didn’t think about the modern class status we have with social media influencers—I thought he seemed normal enough to not let that affect any burgeoning relationships, but everyone in LA is careerist and I guess I just don’t have the numbers or views to perpetually stay in the orbit of a star-cum-hipster social media influencer like him. But whatever, that’s the politics of social media, kids. He was nice enough to me when he wanted to be and I am so starved for kindness and friendship that I took everything he deigned to spare.
IV. “Man, Walking a Tightrope…”
In “One Magic Moment” by the Bad Suns, Galen plays a goalie who mercilessly gets wailed on by a bunch of kids, yet magically reappears unscathed at the end to return a valued photograph to the lead singer, who has spent the length of the video trying to get this picture back.
Galen has an exquisite, singularly beautiful, highly emotive face that always seems fixed somewhere between tortured and completely at peace. This video showcases it rather gorgeously. It’s troubled yet serene. I mean, let’s be honest, it’s the Jesus look. It’s the fucking Ian Curtis look. It’s Anna Karina on the verge of tears in Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie as she watches Renee Falconetti’s Jeanne cry while being persecuted in Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc. It’s the look that every martyr has and they have it because they have suffered greatly, but now, in icon and replica, they must be aesthetically pleasing, eternally appealing.
I suppose the visage of a music video staple is much the same: it’s his role to convey volumes of unplumbable emotional depth without speaking, to be a symbol [of whatever], the signifier that is the soul of whatever project he’s in. And Galen—without speaking—is at turns sensitive and sensual or menacing and vulgar—a concentrated force of emotion and energy. In real life, that force manifests itself into joy and and compassion. Sometimes. For the brief period I knew him, Galen was the kindest person I’d ever met. No exaggeration—he’s tragically empathetic. I say this because his sensitivity to other’s emotions coupled with my instability and deep depression killed our relationship. I wish we’d been able to find a balance. Most men I’ve known fake it for the fuck. Galen actually cared.
At any rate…it’s unfair to Galen that the vast majority of his more popular work is non-verbal. I say this because I love his voice and find his verbal tics endearing and believe that they could be put to great use if anyone had a part that could showcase his talent. (I started writing a script for him, but he hated it, lol.) Galen’s music video career paints him as somewhat of an enigma (if we as an audience believe in even a sliver of truth in casting). But though he’s essentially a silent film actor (whose craft has been reduced to classical over-exaggerated mannerisms, grotesque physical humor, clownish facial reactions and expressions), there’s volumes of pathos in every millisecond of Galen’s stares and gestures, a level of pain and understanding that I don’t have the words to describe.
I’m a person who carries a lot of trauma. I’m incredibly attracted to people who can show theirs without saying a word. I’m even more attracted to people who aren’t afraid to acknowledge their pain, share it with others, and reach out to other people that are clearly hurting. And so Galen, the tragic empath, meant the world to me.
On the night we met, I was a mess. And that’s an understatement.
The very first time I met Galen IRL, I fainted three times in a crowd of people and had rolling seizures so bad that the spasms of my body knocked down concerned bystanders. I was broke and starving that night. I’d been living on snack-sized bags of Goldfish crackers for over a week; my main priority up to that point had been making sure F&F writers were paid and I hadn’t budgeted to leave enough money for meals. I could barely walk a straight line before we got to the event.
We’d decided to meet up at an arcade bar earlier in the night. It was the first time I’d been anywhere in LA that reminded me of San Francisco. Pre-tech San Francisco. I felt comfortable. He’d picked the place, and I was shocked that without really knowing me, he understood my vibe. Weeks later, after a conversation about music and having similar tastes, I boiled it down to statistics—we’re the same age, we’re both “offbeat” pseudo-hipster types, the probability of us liking the exact same thing is high. That night though, his choice meant a lot to me. I’d been feeling incredibly out of place and uncomfortable since I’d moved to Hollywood. My initial chosen family/friend group abandoned me, my husband was treating me horridly, I was struggling with unemployment and the crush of constant job application rejection, and on top of that, I was in an unfamiliar environment with an urban layout I couldn’t comprehend at all. I needed a friend who understood me. Like, immediately.
We had plans to go to a show and walked to the venue from the bar. I didn’t last long. By the second band, the room started to go black. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t see, I knew I was going to drop, and at that point, I finally asked Galen to get me water. As soon as he left, my body hit the ground and I went into convulsions.
I don’t remember too much about that night—the vague sensation of my weight against his and the feeling that I was being dragged out of the crowd. I was barely in my body. When my vision finally returned, I do remember that Galen sat across from me at a table as I, sweating and sobbing, apologized profusely. I told him about my history of epilepsy…and that I hadn’t eaten a meal in a while (and that starvation can trigger seizures). I was one hundred percent sure that when I excused myself to use the restroom, I’d never see him again. I’m pretty sure that I begged him not to leave. I will never forget what he said to me: “I don’t scare easily.” Since that night, Galen took great pains to make sure that I had enough to eat (to the point of babybirding me when I was stubborn), that I was hydrated; he financially supported my endeavors, he did his turn on the suicide watch, he was a great friend and a good partner. Which I still can’t believe because our first date was a nightmare, and for the first month and a half following that, I was a complete bitch to him. A confession: as someone who had been roofied in the past, I wasn’t entirely convinced of his innocence on our first date. It took me a very long time to gauge his “true” character and warm up to him. Honestly, the more of his work I watched for research, the less I was convinced that he was being genuine with me. But every time I pushed him away, I kept hearing that fucking sentence: “I don’t scare easily.” (I certainly think about the statement with some bitterness now that the relationship is over.) When I learned his life story, I understood why.
Galen confided (in a later conversation) that, with no exaggeration, acting saved his life. As a child, he was diagnosed with a learning disability that most educators and therapists (at the time), were ill-equipped to handle, let alone treat. No one knew what to do with him. He was verbally accosted by teachers and classmates—accused of being “stupid,” and when he showed any intelligence, they called him “lazy.” His formative years were filled with the pain of such Othering and ostracization. At one point, he ceased speaking. He went mute because he was scared of being bullied for his stutter. It was only by taking drama classes that Galen was able to regain power in his words, his actions, himself. While he pursued other paths before moving to Los Angeles over 8 years ago (he was among other things, a film festival programmer, so maybe the film nerd in me had been responding to the film nerd in him), acting was his true passion and his move paid off.
He carries deeper trauma, though we never discussed it much. Galen lost his father about a decade ago. While never explicitly stated, the connection between the death and the decision to move seems abundantly clear. If anything, that’s the loss I felt the most with him (the way he often claimed to feel my pain). We just never talked about it. Wish we had. Despite every intimate late night conversation or lengthy text exchange, I still can’t say I really knew the man. He never gave me the chance.
V: Vulnerability and Showmanship
Character actors do work at their expense. Galen Howard is no exception to that rule. Within his oeuvre, he has sat clad only in a towel in the desert, giving Elle King a pedicure (aforementioned), he has (more times than I can count) flailed his body around erratically like an inflatable statue outside an auto repair shop, he’s been in ill-fated relationships, he has been force fed, and he has died onscreen many, many, many times. He’s played a creep, an asshole, a drunken scoundrel, a lowlife gambler…basically, all the varieties of villain (from evil missionary to evil elephant poacher to demon-possessed serial killer to rapist serial killer and so on). He has, time and again, been the spurned lover—pathetic, humiliated, a total loser. He was Edgar Allan Poe! (Of course he was. Look at him.) He’s been forced into women’s clothes, fetish couture, pimp swag, and every service uniform imaginable (from the military to the medical profession to every flavor of food service). He’s been shot at, coerced into multiple cults, cried tears of blood, left for a mannequin, stabbed with scissors, dismembered. And then he’s died a fuck-ton more.
I suppose I should clarify that my obsession with character actors has to do with technique and psychology. Mainly, as a performance artist, I am endlessly curious as to other performers’ processes and the choices that they make every second of any given role. My performance style is different (downright antagonistic most of the time, TBH) and I have admiration for people who have sincerely devoted their life to entertaining others in a manner meant to cultivate joy and/or pleasure.
As far as psychology, prior to obtaining my film studies degree, I was initially on a psych track, and as a woman with trauma (wrestling daily with PTSD and depression, the consequences of a wild youth!) and a daughter of immigrants, baring their generational trauma (not to mention their experiences with racism, xenophobia, and other prejudice), I’m interested in how everyone else’s trauma informs their present reality, affects how they operate, and the ways they decide to deal with that. Now that I’m a pop-cultural analyst, my biggest curiosity is finding out what the overlap is between any actor’s true IRL personality and the choices they make when playing certain characters. I am drawn to character actors because they’re usually given less than flattering roles, and I believe that there must be a certain amount of ingrained self-deprecation and masochism in these individuals to constantly subject themselves to being humiliated onscreen. To be perfectly honest, that is what drew me to Joshua Burge, that’s what drew me to Caleb Quinn, and that’s definitely what keeps me captivated by Galen Howard.
But the bigger question is: why am I drawn to professional masochists? As someone who used to be a pro-sub, I suppose I’m looking for understanding, a connection with those who work in analogous professions. My work scarred me. I don’t feel ok unless I’m with other people with comparable experiences. And they’re hard to come by.
Did I say earlier that Galen was a natural showman? Like many actors, (as aforementioned) Galen has used acting to overcome personal issues and trauma. While we were dating, I’d often think about what Galen endured and how he moved past it. During one conversation, he responded simply: “I try to turn my pain into something beautiful.” For many people, this would be a cliche—a banal deification of the tortured artist trope—but Galen in his own personal life has not succumbed to the self-destructive coping mechanisms that ensnare other artists I’ve loved. In my eyes, that makes him more beautiful. And rare. And this isn’t me attempting to be moralistic or judgmental—it’s just, maybe at 35, after years of attempting to support other artists dealing with their demons in unhealthy ways, I have a sincere appreciation for souls who have managed to escape those traps. Galen’s a fucking unicorn. The living embodiment of hope. Triumph over adversity, yadda yadda yadda, I’m writing in more cliches, I know…but when I tell you the man is rare, the observation comes from years of experience.
His webseries Galen (2011) showcases the closest approximation of the man I know (or thought I knew). Galen’s vulnerable, versatile, and incredibly skilled at physical comedy. He shines in this project in a way the bigger budget work that he’s done hasn’t allowed him to. His clumsy charm and awkwardness serve him and his scene partners well, and the series has some truly lovely and hilarious moments. If you’re into showbiz satires and mumblecore romcoms, this should hit your sweet spot. Also, if I haven’t convinced you of Galen’s thirst-trap status yet, the webshow co-stars this fine piece of shirtless Hollywood trash, along with some beautiful and talented actresses that you may recognize from Galen’s other projects.
The blueprint for everything Galen’s done later in his career (from erratic dancing to weird food stuff) is in this series. Please give it watch.
Regrettably, I can’t seem to find any other work of his that allows him as much range and freedom of creative expression as this show. So lately, I’d been bugging him about creating something together. This was one of the many contributing factors to the relationship’s demise. I think he didn’t like the pressure, not to mention the premise, which likely was too true-to-life for comfort.
I once asked Galen why he kept hanging out with me despite the fact that I was initially incredibly cold to him. He replied that it was because I “seemed so sad.” His company had healing benefits. The first month I knew Galen, I was a stress case. I was closed off. I was actively suicidal. I was going crazy. It was during those weeks that Galen would look at me with puppy dog eyes and his patented pious expression, put his hand to my chest, reach into my soul like a mystic and say: “You carry so much pain. I feel it. I’m a really sensitive person. […] I have to guard my heart. If I let you in, it would destroy me.” I guess I should’ve known right then that the relationship was doomed.
The second month I knew Galen, my suicidality had decreased, but the bitchiness and anger surrounding my situation (joblessness, abandonment by friends and chosen family, marital problems, etc.) persisted. Even if he took time away from working on projects to see me, I walked around with my head down, back hunched, arms folded. If he tried to hold my hand, or wrap around for a hug, or place his hand on my shoulder to comfort me or calm me down, I’d push him away or lash out at him. We were walking away from a matinee when he stopped me on the sidewalk and said, “Look, I know you said my company helps you, but it would be nice if you could show it for once.” I appreciated that he called me on my shitty behavior. I appreciate his honesty.
I’ve never attempted to take as much time to reflect on how my moodiness and emotional instability affected another human being as I did with Galen. He told me my pain hurt him. I saw him wince and cry talking about my issues. That definitely gives a gal pause.
Caleb and I are so mutually damaged and scarred that we don’t think or talk about our mental health with each other. I mean, we’ve tried, when we’re at breaking point, but the conversation always happens when the relationship hits all-time lows, so the dialogue is one-way and fatalistic: “if [insert condition here], I will fucking kill myself” or “because [insert condition here], I want to fucking die.” There’s never been any healing. The relationship, while okay (just okay) now, has dragged me through infinite and ever-expanding levels of an emotional Hell that I didn’t even knew existed. After a while, the pain was so great, I didn’t believe I could function as a normal human around other humans again.
But Galen changed that. Galen’s decency made me want to reciprocate in kind. I began to think about my impact on him. And on others. Mostly him, though. By month three, I had nothing but love for Galen. He might have never said that he loved me (and shouldn’t that have been a red flag that things were going nowhere and bound to end fast?), but repeat exposure to a human who does nothing but demonstrate kindness, care, and compassion completely changed me. I didn’t feel human when we met. I was already dead. Now all I want to do is spread love. Mostly to him. Did I say spread love? Strike that. I love him, but all I want to do is spread my legs. Despite my apprehension, he had my heart the moment he told me he wasn’t frightened of me.
When he broke up with me, all of that positive growth disappeared. The depression he helped lift came back with a vengeance—more severe than I’d ever experienced in my life. But assisting me with my mental health struggles was never his job. That’s not what he trained years for. He’s an actor. He’s just an actor. He never signed up to be my—
VI: Scene Partner
When I was young, I was precocious and predisposed to theatrics. I wanted to entertain. I got a lot of joy out of it. The desire was stripped from me systematically over the course of decades. It happened in a number of ways, subtle and not. One of the many ways it was taken from me was because of racist homogenization and socialization practices here in the United States.
In the Filipino culture, we often communicate nonverbally. We’ll point our face towards something, raise our eyebrows and by that gesture, you’re meant to understand full sentences like: “you dummy, I love you” or “we can’t turn the lights on because I haven’t paid the power bill in two months and I am furious that you spent the money on alcohol, you fucking asshole.”
From birth through my teens, I was teased for my “jumping eyebrows” and face-pointing as a substitute for loquaciousness. I learned to deaden my face muscles in order to fit in with my less emotive Caucasian peers. I’ll be honest, though, it was the first time that I was raped that truly killed my ability to emote. From the age of 15 on, I wore a mask. It was around that time that I began to wear pancake makeup inspired by the middle ground of emotional death buried firmly between a geisha at the end of her career and a lifeless porcelain doll. I never wanted my feelings or interior life to be outwardly visible again.
As an adult, refusal to show emotion informs the vast majority of my work, which is characterized by a retaliatory non-emotive, non-performance. It is meant to be defiant, a disconnect between what should be a pleasurable sensual visual experience and what is ultimately delivered—dead-eyed cold fish stares, a weighted-down by depression numb body… I’m walking death, crawling trauma, a human void. On screen. For your non-enjoyment. Are you not entertained?! Oh, you’re NOT? FUCKING FANTASTIC. EAT IT, fucker.
I’ve asked Galen a million times if he’s mixed race. He’s very popular among hapas, Eurasians, and part-Asians on IG, and I and everyone else in the community thinks he is one. This may be because his self-titled web series was produced by Happa Productions and all of us part-Asian folks just made the mental leap. Other than that, I read his features as ethnically ambiguous. (…though as a lighter skinned mixed-race woman, I’ve gone through large portions of my life convincing myself that everyone I’m attracted to is mixed-race part-Asian as a coping mechanism. I’ve been so desperate to find someone like me, who understands my experiences regarding race and ethnicity in this country.)
The biggest factor in my assessment is that Galen has a tendency to communicate nonverbally. I’ve never studied anyone else’s face as much as I have his. And I don’t mean just for research for this article, I mean, I carefully surveyed his expressions every interaction we had. I take great pleasure in watching the way his face moves.
Even though Galen has told me he isn’t mixed, I swear to you he has Filipino eyebrows. His face jumps and moves and runs marathons every sentence, spoken and not. Because I spent so much time with him, my face started to move again. My eyebrows arch, my brow furrows. I smile. Wide. I can’t remember the last time anyone made me smile. Or made me feel. Or broke though the ice and the pain and reached in and pulled out the person I was. And dusted her off and told her she had a chance again. Filipino or not, hapa or not, Galen made me happy.
After I was raped in my teens, I didn’t just lose the ability to express myself, I lost all of my youthful aspirations, but mainly, the desire to act. I told myself I never wanted it. That I was probably too ugly anyway. And I didn’t want to have to be forced to feel, to move through all those emotional beats, to deal with all of those people. I was better suited to staying at a distance, being an observer—studying actors, studying film, studying art. I was better suited to theorizing, not doing. After all, doing is painful. Better to just wall off. Better to just watch. Better to just step aside, step away.
Galen, like me, has baggage. Galen, like me, is a switch. I can’t and won’t speak to what he does in his intimate moments (at this juncture, anyway), but I will say that like a lot of switches, this behavior extends to normal, everyday non-sexual interactions. When Galen and I interacted, there was an element of play (and switching and improv) that’d been missing my entire life. Had I pursued acting and performance in any serious capacity, I would have had many scene partners who pushed me in this capacity and made me not just better at my craft, but a better, more empathetic human being.
For a few brief, glorious months, in the privacy of a bedroom, Galen was my scene partner. And all our role play made me curious about acting again. It emboldened me. In his company, I had the confidence to do anything. Unfortunately, his presence had the power of radioactive fallout: potent for the period immediately after seeing him, decreasing in power exponentially every day I didn’t. In short, how he made me feel, his ability to alter my mood never lasted. How could it when we live apart and I am home dealing with my bullshit and he was nowhere to be found?
Our relationship was a fucked-up, gender-swapped inverse of Harold and Maude: I’m the depressed, death-obsessed partner, Galen’s the one who taught me how to love again and brought joy into my life, but instead of being able to carry that lesson in my heart in his absence, I only feel suicidal again when he isn’t near. (To be clear, I’ve struggled with deep depression and suicidal ideation since my youth, but the breakup made things worse. I barely function anymore.)
Let’s talk about my other partner (in acting and life) for a second…
When I made my feature, RAW NERVES, I was reluctant to be in front of the camera. Truthfully, the core cast and crew were all recovering from my husband/filmmaking partner Caleb’s near-death experience, and that damaged the production in a number of ways. On set, I felt stronger in a leadership role and I needed the strength that came from holding such a position. But Caleb usurped my authority on the shoot constantly. I couldn’t even ask someone to clean a camera lens without him dismissing my order. Between that and having to endure the months of uncertainty about his health, I was too dead to act. My husband might have survived a heart attack and heart failure, but I was left completely numb from the experience. By the time production resumed, I was a Susan Alexander Kane—someone pushed into a starring role by their egomaniacal partner. I never wanted it. Of all the things that have fueled my increased suicidality as of late, the feature and my role in it is at the top of that list. The experience was so horrible, so searingly painful, I never wanted to make another feature again. I never wanted to make art again. At all. I just wanted to stop existing. I was a shell of a person until I met Galen.
Suddenly, with Galen, I was working on new scripts. The ideas flowed. I wanted to create. The man was my muse, my energy, my raison d'être. I was inspired by that massive force of talent in a tiny, mushy frame. There was magic in his jumping eyebrows, magic that leapt from his to mine, and zapped me back to life.
Galen was an integral part of my rehabilitation from my depression simply because he was game. He hasn’t lost the spirit of play that most adults lose at some point as they get older. On top of that, the fact that he’s a skilled actor, an empath, and a switch has helped me work through my negative mental thought processes simply because he pushes me through them to something else. His name literally translates into: “calm,” “tranquil,” “healer.” He’s certainly those things. My name, unfortunately, translates to “Morningstar”—and I alternately inflict pain (like the weapon) or transform into a personal Venus depending on the circumstances. Galen weathered the fluctuations (until he couldn’t). There was something about him—his perpetually peaceful disposition, I suppose—that transmits serenity. Maybe he’s a hypnotist. I can’t explain the power that he has. Maybe it’s just the power of suggestion. Maybe I should have taken him a little more seriously when he said he reclaimed power in his words, because truly, his words completely changed my psyche. He vanished negative thoughts just by cooing “baby,” or apprehensively saying “teacher.” If the word “Goddess” escaped his lips, the world vanished and it was just me and him and I didn’t feel sadness, I felt power. I felt amazing. I couldn’t feel sad when we played and cycled through roles. His ability to embody his characters and be present in the scene transported me, healed me. When we fucked, all I knew was him and me and the heat of the moment and the situation as it was in that instant. And the next second, if he uttered another word, the situation changed. But the shifting roles didn’t matter, all of it flung me further and further away from depression and suicidality and closer and closer to embracing life.
Much has been said about the therapeutic value of BDSM relationships when it comes to mental health. Films like Steven Shainberg’s Secretary (2002) illustrate how it is possible to use Domination, selective punishment and rewards to retrain someone suffering from extreme suicidality, the desire to self-injure, and low self-worth. Like Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal), I struggle with these things, and though I am a switch with a tendency to be Dominant, I need a partner who will be there for me when I am suicidal and in the mood to self-harm, and I need them to be proactive about the situation. Though Galen perhaps outwardly seems too childish to take on such a responsible role, he was Dominant enough with me to banish my negative emotions and desire to self-harm. (But, again, his power over me only extends to when we are together, which is problematic. When he worked on long shoots, my depression took over. Now that he’s completely gone from my life, I’m inclined to act on my suicidality. )
VII: Cracks in the Veneer of “Art & Life”
In the BDSM community, we often wear the marks given to us by others with a certain amount of pride. Bruises, cuts, rope (and other) burns are our gold stars, our Brownie points, our fucking medals of honor. When you play with someone who is kinky but not into heavy pain play, you tend to look for other signifiers of their impact on you, other physical things that you can use to publicly demonstrate that you are with this person, that you have been marked by this person, that they have done something to you, that they own you (or vice versa). As a starfucker and an artist whose life is her art, documentation (photos, screenshots, social media recognition, videos, etc.) is my bag, the patches on my whorish Girl Scout sash, my everything. For Galen to have felt “awkward” but okay about this—for him to have been a consenting, willing participant in my life and my work—meant everything to me.
As I mentioned earlier, Galen & I re-watched Joe Swanberg’s Easy because many episodes dealt with the same scenarios in which we found ourselves, and it was cathartic to watch other characters navigate the same waters with varying degrees of success. The Easy episode that I most connect with and one that Galen urged me to revisit after we publicly began dating is “Art and Life” (s1e5), starring Marc Maron as Jacob Malta, an autobiographical graphic novelist who has a penchant for putting everyone with whom he’s had a relationship with in his work, and Emily Ratajkowski as Alison Lizowska, a grad student gearing up for her MFA show, whose autobiographical selfie portraiture makes unwilling stars out of the people she fucks. The parallels are beyond obvious.
As someone whose art is also of the autobiographical “selfie” school, who views all relationships as public performance (which, BTW, doesn’t make my feelings any less sincere, it just means I’m more inclined to tell everyone about them at all times on every platform I have access to, any way that I see fit), I always disclose to all of my partners several things: I’m polyamorous, I’m pansexual, I’m in an open marriage, and I WRITE OR MAKE ART ABOUT ALL OF MY PARTNERS OR LOVE INTERESTS (requited or not). That’s my thing, that’s my work, that’s who I am.
That I disclosed all of this to Galen and that he was (initially) OKAY WITH IT was incredibly hot to me. [For confirmation, please refer to the text messages at the beginning of this section.] That he told me to rewatch “Art and Life” because of its parallels to our relationship/my relationships, and that he understood me and could talk about my field the way I can talk about his makes him a rare find. I don’t know what I’m going to do now that he’s gone. Even my husband doesn’t understand me the way that he did. We had the same frame of reference for so many things, and I have never in my life found someone who could converse with me the way Galen did. I feel like I’ve found my twin only to have him ripped away. I am beyond devastated.
I was and am madly in love with him and I don’t just want to talk about it or make work about it, I want to publicly demonstrate it at all times. Sometimes I still wear his clothes. When we were together, I just let him alter my appearance. In Hollywood, where everyone is image obsessed, I selected the “undone” selfie as the public signifier of Galen’s impact on me…at least I did when we met to fuck a few times a week. I eventually had to stop because Galen would smear my lipstick across half my face, down my neck and to my breasts, and after sex, my shadow and foundation would be all over his sheets, so I’d be more concerned with trying to look “decent” when I left his apartment than with documenting the whole affair. I mean, after a certain point, who cares? The fucking happens or it doesn’t. And it did. And for a while, it was amazing and unlike anything I’d ever experienced with any other partner, partially because of the play, partially because of the connection, and partially because, despite the manchild routine, I am 100% certain Galen knew of and was confident in his power in the bedroom.
Galen once asked what my favorite sex scenes in cinema were. The list is LONG, and if you’ve followed me long enough on Twitter, you’ll already know my answers (the food play sex scene with the egg yolk kiss in Tampopo, most all of the sex scenes in In The Realm of the Senses, Sid and Nancy, Blind Beast, etc.). Instead of boring him and you (I’ll leave that for another article), I’ll share a recent favorite that made an indelible impact: Ann-Marit (Sky Ferreira) rubbing Euronymous’ (Rory Culkin) makeup off while they make love in Jonas Åkerlund’s Lords of Chaos. The sequence is perhaps the most quiet and tender moment in that film, and such a clear visual symbol of the impact we leave on each other when we fuck. Though I normally don’t like when people put their hands on my face or smear my makeup, I liked when Galen used to. He’s the only person I’ve ever allowed to touch my face intimately. He’s the only person I’ve ever wanted that with, not just because I could see that he wanted it, but because I genuinely craved his touch. Also, there’s something about not respecting that basic boundary and pushing into someone’s personal space. I liked not having any sort of barriers with Galen in our intimate acts. There were no fixed roles or set rules. Everything was fluid, changed minute by minute. It was refreshing. (There was only one game that I found triggering/hurtful, but I don’t wish to discuss it here.)
The heart of what made us work as a couple was that we both listened to and actively helped construct each other’s fantasies. We’re also aware to what degree the other’s personality is a construct, a mask to hide our respective insecurities. And we played with that as well.
Acting as a profession is not dissimilar from professional BDSM work. At this stage in our lives, maybe we both needed someone who knew how to set the scene we were both lacking and craving. I needed someone with a genuine sense of play, capable of fully committing to the bit, he needed someone sex-positive and non-judgmental who understood his desires and could bring them to life. We both had roles we needed filled. And for the briefest period we had each other. No amount of writing can convey how much I will grieve his absence. Again, I’ve never met anyone like him.
VIII: Tied at the Hip
On a shoot in June, Galen sustained an injury to his hip while performing some stunts. The terror and sadness that has crossed his face at the thought of never being able to work again utterly devastates me. I can relate. When I was diagnosed with hip dysplasia in my mid-20s, I was told that I would never be able to run or dance, that I’d never walk again without the assistance of a cane, that I needed a hip replacement, among other things. As an extremely physically active person and performer, the news ruined me. The diagnosis (and the physical discomfort) is one of many things that contributes to my (mostly) unshakable depression. I can’t move the way that I used to, and the avenues I would normally pursue to support myself (like pole/exotic dancing, for instance), are now closed off to me. That Galen and I are tied at the hip is another one of many uncanny coincidences that makes our meeting seem fated.
I am an only child—a daughter of workaholic immigrants—and I grew up alone in a world of books, film, and games I played by myself. As first-generation (born-in-the-US), I had a cultural disconnect from my peers, and I found I had to teach myself about media to fit in. As an adult, my experience with sexual and physical abuse left me further isolated from others. I’ve always felt as though I was on the outside looking in. However, as a Gemini and a deeply lonely person, I’ve been obsessed from a young age with finding my twin. A few years ago, I’d conned myself into thinking that it was a specific character actor with whom I’d shared personal, intimate correspondence. (Spoiler: it wasn’t.) I’ll be honest—I came to LA chasing after this twin. I eventually found him, even though he wasn’t who I initially thought he was.
Another long-standing obsession of mine is pop-culture romances in which both partners push this twin conceit to its limit: i.e. Genesis P-Orridge and Lady Jaye, their cohorts Chris & Cosey, Nick Cave and PJ Harvey, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith (and Joan Baez and etc.), the “Brad Pitt likes to dress in the same way as the person he’s dating” meme, Marina Abramović and Ulay, John and Yoko, etc. I felt this bond with Galen, although I suppose I was delusional because he clearly didn’t.
IX: “Fake Young When We Met…”
When I was growing up, I lived in my head all the time. In my neighborhood of San Francisco, the Sunset District, and in the neighborhood of Daly City where my grandmother raised me, the sky would be a constant pale grey—like a blank sheet of paper. It would look like this most of the year. I’d often see things in it. Seeing things, creating color and motion, projecting onto that enormous screen was the one thing that kept me from falling into the depression that consumed my older half-brothers (from my father’s previous marriage), who later would confide that the weather patterns in the neighborhood were the source of their teenage despair (something that I also experienced as a teen in the Sunset District).
The sky is not like that in any other neighborhood of San Francisco, and it’s true, global warming has changed the weather patterns of the city since the 80s and 90s, but that constant looming blank screen shaped me. To this day, I cannot live in a white walled space without collageing the walls floor to ceiling (yes, I’m in my mid-30s, but I treat every space like a dorm room). It is also one of the many reasons why I gravitated towards film and video art. From an early age, I recognized the importance of filling the frame and the capacity that has to remedy one’s mood. That’s the power of imagination, isn’t it?
Galen too has this transportive power, one that we typically associate with children. It’s stronger in him more than anyone I know. That’s why my relationship with him was vital—to me. I needed someone to help me reconnect with that part of myself. I’ve said it before earlier in the piece, but I’d given up on life when I met Galen. I lost the drive to create. On top of this I was physically unwell.
In a strange way, because the relationship began as platonic, and because it was so strained and marked by separation, and because the two of us are basically overgrown kids, I found myself comparing it to the one between Anna (Charlotte Burke) and Marc (Elliott Spiers) in Bernard Rose’s Paperhouse. Anna, like myself, is a sick, cranky tomboy loner who occupies herself with a world of her own creation. In this fantasy world, she finds solace in her companionship with a slightly older, slightly more intelligent, and (ultimately) more talented young man, Marc. Like Anna, Marc is struggling with disability, illness, and trauma. While Anna survives in the real world and Marc doesn’t, he eventually escapes the fantasy world. (Like Galen left me.) Their bond, like ours (while it lasted), however, was built primarily on the mutual comfort derived from being in the company of a fellow outsider.
When I met Galen I was completely dead inside. And when I acknowledged this months later, he looked at me and said simply, “I know. I saw it.” I’d been reaching out to everyone around me for months since I moved to LA, trying to communicate the severity of my depression and suicidality. Even my husband muted me—IRL. No one wanted to acknowledge it. No one wanted to see it. No one wanted to hear about it.
Galen, my psychic twin—albeit one who has his shit together—was a soul refresher, juice to my creative batteries and my spirit when I’d lost all drive. But for all this mawkish “written in the stars” prose, I can’t pinpoint when I started falling for Galen. Was it really the first night? Was it because of the sense of immediacy—the need for a physical connection—a dependence on another caused by being in physical danger? Was it that one day, when Galen came over and I tied him in tight shibari knots and beat his ass and thighs and left dozens of nasty welts, despite the fact that he’d never let anyone Domme him in that manner before AND despite the fact that he wasn’t into physical punishment? Was it because that afternoon, I realized that he, rather sweetly (in a naive way), trusted me with his life and also not to rob him? And, reader, though I am desperate for money, something in me softened, and I didn’t take every bill and card from his wallet. I honestly couldn’t believe he let me wail on him. I was touched.
Was it the triple feature at the Egyptian when he put his head on my shoulder and I put his hand between my thighs? And then afterwards we had a discussion about my marriage but he didn’t run away? Was it when he purred Cohen’s “I’m Your Man” during my yearly birthday karaoke party (at which he was the only guest)? Was it when he let me put my ratty wig on him during “Midnight Radio” at Joe’s screening of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Kibitz? Or was it at the Aero, after a tedious date at the Santa Monica Pier during which he spent a fuckton of money just to get me to smile, when we were watching the Robert Englund Phantom of the Opera, and Erik said to Christine: “There is nothing that you could ask for that I would refuse.” And I realized that Galen had been behaving in an incredibly submissive manner towards me. And that I felt the same about him. To this day, weeks into the breakup, there’s still nothing I wouldn’t do for him. But…whirlwind fantasy escapist romances never last long, and the reality of my illness—my PTSD, my bad hip, my seizures, my depression—caused a tipping point in the relationship. I don’t blame Galen for wanting out.
X: “It Hurt Us Again and Again”
Lust and desire are subjective and highly personal. But being on Twitter, in the margins the mainstream and adult entertainment industries, and fielding pitches for this issue have led me to conclude that our culture has homogenized our objects of obsession. If I had the funding to publish F&F’s thirst issue in its entirety, you would have had the privilege of finding out all of your Film Twitter mutuals’ types. Surprise, surprise (or not really), most of your Film Tweeps are into “bad boys” (see Brianna’s incredibly personal essay on Barry) or femme fatales. We’re sooooo easy to read. We like cruel bitches and assholes. They’re exciting! Could anyone really be that awful? Who knows? Just wreck me, Daddy! Emotional unavailability, possible physical cruelty, psychological torture, DRAMA—from a fictional character—elicits a knee jerk Film Twitter response: a Paris Hilton “that’s HOT” GIF followed by a million water drop emojis. Pain makes us SQUIRT. Don’t cringe, you know you’re into it. I’m guilty, too. 💦💦💦💦💦
In real life, however, emotional unavailability isn’t exactly an ideal foundation for a relationship. And actors are notoriously emotionally unavailable. I was so fucking stupid to expect anything.
TLDR: I have a host of mental and emotional issues. I need a partner who can be present. Actors can not be present due to the obligations of their profession. Galen was a nice guy, but he’s an actor, so I should have expected nothing. Should’ve keep it at discreet NSA starfucker status. I should NOT have fallen in love.
As I come to a close in my clean up of the article, I can’t help but feel one thing: isolation. My relationship with Galen has been simultaneously the most joyful and devastating of my entire life. It was the separation that destroyed me. The days without contact. And now it’s completely over.
Irony of ironies—I scared away this man who claimed not to scare easily. I just have so many problems. I guess I’m a fucking monster.
XI: Love and Death and Thirst
To be perfectly honest, “thirst” is a tricky issue for me because as a rape survivor, I’m concerned about consent and am therefore not interested in people that don’t chase back. I know we speak of “thirst,” particularly “thirst” for pop culture figures, on this theoretical, what-if, fantasy plane… But, as a starfucker, there’s nothing theoretical about the majority of the people I thirst for. There’s been reciprocal thirst. Like, we were both parched, found a metaphorical spring, splashed around in it, quenched each other’s thirst for a bit. As time passes, sometimes that spring dries up. That being said, in the context of pop culture, what is “thirst” anyway than overwhelming pangs for a mirage? In the quote that opens this essay, Robin Bougie calls it: the celluloid heroes we’ve fallen for are illusions. “Ghosts.” And that’s “pathetic.”
I, like, Brianna, mainline “sexy, sad boys” like my life depends on it. I repeatedly fall in love despite the emotional labor and eventual disappointment, pain, and abandonment. Loving sexy, sad boys is exhausting. Galen, unfortunately, is both a “sexy, sad boy” and a working actor. This means, that ultimately, despite my best efforts to argue to the contrary, Galen is careerist, and Galen is self-absorbed, and all Galen cares about is his social media numbers, furthering his name, and booking increasingly prestigious roles. Again, loudly for the people in the back: he’s married to his profession. And why not? It saved his life, it gives him purpose, a sense of belonging. He has fan adulation in place of that of a partner. And I suppose if that’s what he sacrificed everything for, then he should have that. That I should leave him alone to enjoy that. I should call it now—like every careerist in my life, Galen Howard is dead to me. After all, even he has admitted that actors “[become] ghosts to others and themselves in a city built on forgotten legacies, where people strive to be recognized and barely make eye contact.”
As I’ve said, thirst has to be reciprocal for me to stay interested. And I know that as with every relationship with a “sexy, sad boy,” I once again invested more in this relationship than my partner is willing to give. And I hate that. And now we’re done. I don’t know why I’m grieving for a partner who (eventually) was seldom there, emotionally or physically. I mean, I can talk about the passion and the heat of the moments we had but the truth of the matter is those were fleeting. Galen’s industry job and aspirations ensure that he never can or will be present in any truly meaningful way—in my life or anyone else’s. Sometimes I wonder about his disconnect to his own life and himself. I mean, what kind of a life is this that he has—the constant gigging and vying for higher social media status? That’s kind of gross. That’s not life. (And this is coming from a woman who struggles to stay alive.) But I guess, if it brings him joy and satisfaction…good for him. At any rate, Galen’s time in LA (almost a decade) and visible career momentum indicate that he is on the cusp of success he has been working towards his entire life. So…I guess, good luck, babe. I can’t be mad at you. But I am going to miss you. Call me if you ever get lonely. Though, I know as long as you have your career, you won’t. Wish you all the best, sincerely.
Danica Anna Uskert-Quinn (@donnauwanna) is a mixed race Filipina-Indian-Chinese-Spanish-Slovak hapa writer, curator, director, video/performance artist whose work has screened at PFF BERLIN, PFF VIENNA, VAULT FESTIVAL UK, ATA, CENTER FOR SEX & CULTURE, and many other domestic & international venues. She hopes to stay alive long enough to finish post-production on that indie feature she wrote-directed-produced and starred in last summer. She’s also the editor in chief of this publication you’re currently reading. She probably loves you. Right now, she needs your help & generosity so she doesn’t get evicted:
What she wants more than that, though, is for Galen Howard to forgive her and take her back.