Ormskirk-born stand-up, writer, broadcaster and musician Rosie Wilby returns to the region this month for a talk about her new book, Is Monogamy Dead?
Questioning conventions in love and relationships has been a major theme of Rosie’s shows over the years, and in the book she opens up on the subject like never before, interspersing her own research and chats with professionals with a deeply personal memoir of her own experiences of being, as she light-heartedly calls it, a “disgruntled serial monogamist”.
She has been touring and writing around the theme Is Monogamy Dead? since around 2014, turning it into a TEDx talk and penning broadsheet features on the subject. Central to this is the exploration – and potential debunking – of the notion that just one person can meet all the needs of the perfect partner, from deep friendship to good sex.
Wilby will be speaking at a ‘secret location’ in Liverpool city centre on 27 September 2018 as part of an event by Funzing Talks, a London-based entertainment concept being rolled out in Merseyside and described as “the ultimate boredom-buster”, offering the chance to “delve into a totally new subject and challenge your perspectives with like-minded, equally curious people”.
Is Monogamy Dead? is her first book, and offered a chance for Wilby to get to the real root of her interest in romantic relationships, what works – and what doesn’t. “The original book pitch was more factual – then I got a place on a writers’ retreat in Los Angeles, and the response from my group was ‘tell us why you needed to investigate this’,” she says. “So the idea of making it a much more narrative book crept in, embedding my own motivations and discoveries about monogamy and the psychology of love in my own journey in a much more chronological way.
“In a book you can say so much more than you can in 50 minutes of standup,” she adds. “So I was really pleased with how I could tell parts of my story that wouldn’t be obvious comedy material.”
For those who know Rosie particularly as a stand up – a regular at Homotopia comedy showcases over the years, previous shows she has brought home to Liverpool include The Science of Sex and Nineties Woman – the intimacy of the memoir sections of the book pack an unexpected punch. As well as a (sometimes harshly) critical examination of her past relationships and her behaviour in them, it offers an interesting glimpse into a performer’s mindset as her career in comedy and music take shape. What’s more, having a lesbian guide through all things love, sex and relationships offers a perspective, and narrative voice, that arguably isn’t always so visible in the media. Whichever way you look at it, there is plenty to take away.
“I think the importance of honesty and openness is one of the key messages that comes across in the book. So it made sense to be pretty candid myself,” Rosie says. She is still in contact with all the exes who feature, has discussed it with them, and changed their names as well as protecting the identity of her current partner. Apart from that, not much is held back.
“There’s an element of memory being malleable, so the line between memoir and fiction is very blurred indeed,” she says. “But I felt that it was important to be authentic to my emotional truth of what happened. Even where I can’t recite the exact words that I said in a particular moment, I do know what I felt.”
This included an honest recollection of when relationships weren’t meeting her needs physically – and a fair bit of juicy detail when they were. It stands out as almost unusual to see our drives and desires acknowledged and normalised in such a positive way; not by a hypersexualised Kardashian or a Rhianna, but someone simply rather like the rest of us.
“In this country, we have a tradition of being terribly awkward about discussing sex – sexual innuendo is a big part of our humour because we struggle so much to say it like it is,” she says. “Perhaps being gay forced me to think and talk about what I was looking for from an early age, so it feels slightly less scary than it might.”
However, life can still throw the odd curveball. “But,” she adds, “I still felt way out of my comfort zone when I decided to go and do a set at a sex party… It was all in the name of ‘research’ and resulted in one of the more comedic chapters [of the book].”
Rosie is a comic performer after all, and while the subject matter of Is Monogamy Dead? is serious stuff, the talk also sees the funny side of life. “Attendees will be able to hear about my adventures at the lesbian sauna, as well as discuss some of the new language emerging around love and relationships – my favourite is that if you’re polyamorous and have reached your threshold of partners, you can say you’re polysaturated.”
The book also has a perhaps unintended consquence of being something of a social history too, documenting the lesbian community over the decades of Rosie’s lived experience. The network that supported her as she came out in the 1990s and navigated the dating scene is different now, something those on the outside of it might not always appreciate.
“When I first came out, there was a tangible sense of community… it was like ‘family’ and the friendships were inter-generational,” she says. “Yet now we see the community fragmenting, separate scenes emerging and many people adopting more nuclear family models. There’s less of a feeling of memories and stories being handed down to younger women.
“Representing a lesbian experience has always been very important to me. In a minority group, being able to be around other people like us is vital to wellbeing – it isn’t replaced by dating apps and social media.”
Follow this link for tickets and more information about Rosie’s talk. Is Monogamy Dead? is out now.
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