‘Law School’, with Benjamin Law and Jenny Phang

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Photo by Amanda Hirsch. Image reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Dear Law School,

Living in a sharehouse with friends is a lot of fun—until someone owes you a lot of money and then it isn’t anymore. I pay all the house bills and my roommates are particularly bad at repaying me—one friend hasn’t even repaid me her bond money and believe me, I’d love those few hundred dollars right now). I hate feeling like a debt collector when I’m hanging out with them, but I also can’t be around them without thinking about the exorbitant amounts of money they owe me. What’s the best approach here?

Jane’s Bond

Jenny:

You are too generous, too soft and too good to your so-called friends. Friends never treat each other like that; they’re all taking advantage of you! You poor thing. If I was your mother, I would never let people do this to you. From a very young age, I let my kids know everyone has to be very fair. If people owe you, you chase them up; if you owe money, you make a reminder to pay it back as soon as you can afford it. You should put a big DEBT message on a big piece of paper—black and white—stuck on the fridge, so no one misses it. Or a big SMS group message about the ones who still owe you money. Group messages are the best, you don’t even have to talk to them. Right now, they owe you money big-time—especially the bond money!—and yet you hang out with them. Friends don’t do that. Unless you found out they’re in financial difficulty or lost their job (that’s very sad), then give them a time frame. They can’t owe you money forever.

Benjamin:

Oh dear God. This is very triggering, and reminds me of the sharehouse I lived in with friends throughout the early 2000s. O’ feral Queenslander, I will never forget our bucket bong sessions in the laundry, the party with the broken glass, the mushrooms that grew out of the shower, the time everyone took a bath together and the neighbours saw my penis, the endless cobbler’s pegs infestations and the time we got fleas even though animals were never in the house which indicated compromised basic human hygiene. Yet despite all the horrors, bills were ALWAYS PAID ON TIME, because none of us were human garbage. From now on, you abide by several rules. (1) You don’t have to pay for the bill upfront. Everyone pays their share via BPay or direct debit, and only their share. If someone misses the deadline and they threaten to cut your internet/electricity/gas/reason for living, they bear the wrath of the collective, not just you. (2) Always work out bills in a group, not by yourself. (3) If none of this works, kick the motherfucker out.


Dear Law School,

I can’t stop serial dating. Am I just searching for “the one” or has the schizophrenia of identity under capitalism spread from fast food and fast fashion to fast feelings?

Swiped Out

Jenny:

“Fast feelings”? What the bloody hell is that? Love is food from your heart and soul. You can have fast food and fast fashion—everything fast! —but definitely not fast feelings. No such thing. You have to be very careful: there was a Tinder date “fail” this morning on the news… where a man poured petrol on someone and stabbed her. So you can meet people with mental problems or who are sex maniacs. Okay, so my daughter and her fiancé actually met on Tinder, but they are lucky. It sounds like you can’t stop dating. After you have a broken heart, you need to heal a bit and take time off from your emotional feelings, you can’t just go-go-go. Would I use Tinder? Never-never-never. Actually, never say never. For the first ten dates, I’d go to a public place. At least ten. Call me old fashioned.

Benjamin:

Let’s face it: most people are garbage. Sure, that dude has a cute smile and enormous penis but turns out he’s dumber than a bag of toes; that smart, erudite and sexy woman is also a chief architect of Operation Sovereign Borders; your seven-month office crush turns out—up close—to have halitosis so intense it could kill a small child. So it might be the case that you don’t actually have a problem, but basic standards. If that’s the case, relax. It’ll take you a while to find someone who clicks with you in all the ways that are important. Test the waters, play the field, moisten the mound or whatever you kids are calling it nowadays. My only caveat to all this is to check you’re not being a total fucking jerk to totally lovely people you’re dating along the way. (Hint: you can tell if this is happening, as people will start calling you “a total fucking jerk.” If this happens, check yourself.)


Dear Law School,

My partner and I have been exploring the world of BDSM for a little while now. Recently, he expressed interest in exploring financial domination—with me as the domme. I’m excited by this idea (particularly since he said he’d be turned on by the idea of paying my rent) but I wonder if we can keep our relationship separate from the roles if, at the end of the day, he’s strapped for cash?

Tentative Mistress

Jenny:

Relationships are based on things that start with “C”: compassion, compromise, commitment. Oh, and compatibility—especially when it comes to sex. Some people want it every day, or once a week, once a month, so sexual compatibility is very important. No relationship can be just give-give-give or take-take-take. You’re talking about a man paying your rent? Pay your own rent! What if at the end of the day he’s strapped for cash? Even you thought of it! What if he lost his money? Lost his job? That said, in Chinese culture, when you’re dating, men pay for everything, especially when you’re chasing after a woman to be your wife. But it doesn’t apply to the white culture. In my time, I preferred a man to be everything, but my attitude is different now, because I’ve lived here long enough. I like the fairness of both people paying… but still I like men to pay more. Not everything. Just more.

Benjamin:

To be a kept man or woman is to live the dream (specifically, my dream). If good-looking people who earn lots of money want to pay my your rent, then great. And if it’s in cash so there’s no paper record that proves anything retrospectively in a court of law at a later date when the relationship turns to shit, well even better. That said, I’m sceptical of anyone who gets a sexual thrill out of that dynamic. Sure, there’s something lovely and old-fashioned about the idea of supporting someone you love, but to frame it as a kink is a little too, I don’t know, patriarchy role-play for me. On a personal level, taking role-play out of the bedroom and into the everyday Monday to Friday grind isn’t weird, per se, just exhausting, and I am fundamentally lazy.


Dear Law School,

I’ve been offered a permanent writing position that will require me to surrender copyright and leave my articles unsigned. I think I am excited to finally be able to work full-time as a paid writer, despite anonymity—though maybe I’m just as confused as Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail, who loves Tom Hanks, even through his evil mega-store has absorbed her independent Shop Around the Corner? Is it okay to be a ‘kept’ writer?

Yours truly,

A Lone Reed

Jenny:

No no no no no! Lots of no’s. Never surrender your copyright to anyone, unless they’ve signed a contract with you to give you lots of money until the day you die. I have two children who are writers, so I know a bit about the writing industry. I know where you’re coming from when you’re struggling and nobody knows you. And lots of writers have manuscripts that never get seen, and only get known after they die. So tragic and depressing! So don’t surrender your copyright. You can’t prove it’s your writing—it’s that simple. Very unfair. Not even unfair. Offensive. It’s your blood, sweat and tears, poured from your soul. Even if I had to survive on two-minute noodles, I wouldn’t give it away. It would be like prostitution. I feel very angry and upset by this question. These people are bullying and abusing you. I’d punch them in the face.

Benjamin:

Hmmm… you’re not writing for the Economist, are you? I mean, I like that magazine, but its lack of bylines has always irked me. In most cases, writing needs to be credited, not just for the author’s ego, but for transparency—writing is a way to convey ideas and ideas don’t form in a vacuum. And you should never be put in a position to surrender copyright if it’s your original work. That said, if you’re working in, say, public service or advertising, then go for it. That comes with the job and you’re writing for organisations and clients. It’s rare for a writer to be paid for their work in general, as you know. And unless you find yourself a Financial Dom in some messed up BDSM situation as per the previous question, mama’s gotta eat.


Dear Law School,

Does the Marxist aphorism “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs” apply in the dating world? How much should what my date earns factor into what share of the ~courting~ activities I let him pay for?

Splitting Shares

Jenny:

Like I said, in Asian culture, men pay for everything, every time. If you’re a man, you don’t go dating if you don’t have money. Would I expect that if I was dating now? I’d still expect it to a certain degree—for real! His birthday? I will pay that. Valentine’s Day? He’s absolutely paying that. My birthday? He definitely pays. Christmas? Depends on who I’m dating—white or Chinese man. Chinese New Year? He pays.

Benjamin:

Who pays for dinner is such a source of existential dread and anxiety for me. In Hong Kong, it’s courteous to shout not just your date’s meal BUT THE ENTIRE TABLE’S DINNER EVEN IF YOU HAVE OVER A DOZEN CHINESE RELATIVES AND THE BILL IS ONE MILLION DOLLARS. I’m not a sociologist, but it always feels like this demonstration of male superiority, and it’s usually assumed the richest and/or most senior male member of the table will pay. But if you’re a guest, you need to make at least a theatrical display of trying to pay the bill, and this occasionally involves violence and at least mild bruising. It’s all very tiring. So when I come back to Australia, I love the civility of split bills. You order what you intend to eat, you pay for only that share. And yet: cash is fiddly, no one ever has the right change, restaurants never split bills, it’s all fucked up. So it’s worth keeping a polite mental tally. Are you going to a show, drinks and a restaurant? If you got the drinks, he can get dinner. If you know he’s not earning as much as you, flip it so that you know you’ll be paying more, while still allowing him to contribute. And don’t worry about Marx in this context. Smart guy, not really into fine dining apparently.


This piece appears in The Lifted Brow #32. Get your copy now.

Benjamin Law is the author of The Family Law, Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East and co-author of Shit Asian Mothers Say.

Jenny Phang was born in Ipoh, Malaysia, and is the mother of five children, including Lifted Brow writers Michelle and Benjamin Law. She lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.