One hot Summer afternoon, Helen Razer’s partner of 15 years decided to up and leave. After days of mourning and scanning through the depths of some of the seediest parts of the Internet, Razer decided on a unique way to deal with the pain: The Helen 100.
The rules of The Helen 100 were simple. Razer set herself a challenge of attending 100 dates within a year, with each date constituting a single ‘point’. A maximum of five dates with a single suitor were permitted before these points stop accruing. Simple as that.
And so, a book about love, loss and pain is born, full of humour that will have you laughing out loud throughout. In The Helen 100, Razer takes her unique writing style to present a memoir/self help book that is not just about her pain, but also about how our society deals with break ups, and in particular how, how this pain can impact queer people differently.
The thing to know going in to The Helen 100 is that it’s not really about her 100 date challenge—if you’re expected a titular tell-all that chronicles each and every date in specifics, then you will likely be disappointed. Yes, Razer tells all, but not in the way expected.
This doesn’t matter. The challenge is really just a prop for what the book is actually about—dealing with what can only be described as the dysphoria that comes with the loss of a long-term relationship. Razer does so in a raw, often difficult, funny, and most importantly, honest manner.
As a self-help book, instead of providing tips designed to ensure your own growth and betterment, Razer tackles the stark reality that the most basic thing a dumpee needs to do is survive. Her ‘public service announcements’ scattered throughout the book include tips such as ‘have a bath’.
As a memoir, the book is just as raw. Razer tells her readers her deepest and darkest secrets, ranging from her often submissive sexual tendencies to the episode in which she hacked her ex’s Facebook account. This rawness is strongest when Razer discusses the social reactions to her break up, particularly in relation to her sexuality.
Razer provides great insights as she recounts the reactions from her friends and so-called ‘allies’. Describing an interaction with an acquaintance who encourages her to move from XXX apps to more vanilla dating sites, Razer's friend - described in the book as a ‘sex-positive feminist’ - is clearly displeased when she’s informed that Razer is searching for sex with a man. Razer recounts feeling forced to justify her current disavowal of women, stating that she believes sex with men is easier, and therefore she will be less likely to create emotional bonds.
This sort of reaction was not just about Razer’s sexual life, but focused on the very break up itself. In the most politically charged sections of the book, Razer discusses how friends expressed the disappointment at her split. People, it seemed, were less concerned about her heartbreak than the political ramifications of a lesbian couple breaking up. As Razer says:
“Lesbians are really not supposed to break up, these days. They are supposed to stay together forever and provide an inspiring liberal example to others. And, this, notwithstanding my actual intention to stay together forever, was an attitude that really ticked me off.
“Regularly washing the socks, or licking the vagina or another woman are largely seen as acts of moral leadership in the West. If there is one thing now more socially shameful that being part of a homosexual relationship, it is being expelled from a homosexual relationship.”
This is an important reflection. With marriage equality campaigns in particular often being built almost solely around pure, happy, beautiful queer romances, it has become increasingly difficult to discuss the challenging elements of these very relationships. The very survival of queer relationships in this model becomes a political act, meaning that - as Razer laments - when these relationships break up, people seem to more concerned with the political - rather than emotional and personal - consequences. It seems sadder to have lost an ‘inspiring couple’ than to see a friend in real pain.
This is the brilliance of The Helen 100. Weaved in between her powerful emotional and sexual narrative, Razer provides tidbits of excellent analysis of what breaking up even means in our society—in particular for lesbian and bisexual women. In doing so, she takes her memoir to a different level, one well beyond what is expected from this kind of book.
The Helen 100 could have been a scandalous tell-all, and in some ways it is. It is also, however, a realistic and unedited description of the pain, hurt and shame that occurs in the breakdown on a long-term relationship. More than that, it is a political reflection on the process of breaking up in the first place—one that, as Razer outlines, creates pain for queers that is often more complex than it is for our straight counterparts.
It is a book worthy of your time.