Even after discussing the book with Ms. Reyes, I still have mixed feelings about it. I throroughly enjoyed it, but remain disappointed at the same timEven after discussing the book with Ms. Reyes, I still have mixed feelings about it. I throroughly enjoyed it, but remain disappointed at the same time. My disappointment, however, has absolutely nothing to do with the book, and everything to do with my own expectations.
With the exception of a few key chapters, the fact that Raquel is a transsexual is almost inconsequential to the story. There's no exploration of how or why she felt different as a child, no early experimentations with femininity, and no real development of gender. Instead, we're introduced to a 'pretty' boy whom we stick with for a few chapters, before we're given a very touching coming out scene, and then it's a very quick jump from 'pretty' boy to full-on transsexual.
At the time of reading it, I was disappointed that there was no transition to embrace, to identify with, and (to be totally honest) to envy. Designer brands are name-dropped here and there but, as readers, we never get to share in the joy of transforming.
Having discussed those very same concerns with Raquel, I realise now that was entirely the point. As she put it to me, "I am a person first, a transsexual second." For her, becoming a woman was not about resolving issues of gender identity, but simply about living the lifestyle she wanted.
Once I understood that this was a 'life' story and not a 'transsexual' story, I thoroughly enjoyed it. She has lived an absolutely amazing life, full of fantastic people. I was quite literally shocked at the depths of some of the horrors she experienced, and shed more than a few tears for both her sorrows and for her triumphs. I came to love her friends, and her family, even if I found myself shaking my head over some of the choices she made for herself. Had Raquel spent half as much time describing the thrill of dressing, or the joys sex, as she did the rush of her drug addictions, this could have been an intensely erotic read.
While I'm still saddened that's not the case, it's once again a matter of expectations interfering with the experience of the story. Raquel's story is honest and unapologetic, intensely personal, and (yes) profound. It's the story of her life, as she lived it, and it's the difficult parts that sometimes give it meaning.
When it's all said and done, would I recommend it as a good read? Absolutely, but with the caveat that this is less the memoir of a transsexual, and more the confessions of a gay party girl. ...more
You know the old adage about never judging a book by it's cover? Well, this is one of those instances where I found myself twice passing over what turYou know the old adage about never judging a book by it's cover? Well, this is one of those instances where I found myself twice passing over what turned out to be a wonderful novel. The title is catchy and cute, but doesn't reflect the depth of the story within – a novel that’s the literary equivalent of the kind of prime time drama you might find on Showtime, HBO, or the BBC.
Much of the story revolves around a conflict between Windfield College and the North Virginia town in which its students and faculty resides. On one side of the conflict we have the College itself, a liberally diverse institution that proudly boasts members of the LGBTQ community among its founders. On the other side we have Graymont County, a staunchly conservative community that objects strongly to any left-wing influence trying to open its closed-minds.
Caught between the two is Nickie Farrell (the school's first transsexual professor), Collie Skinner (the son she doesn't know she has), Cinda Vanderhart (the lesbian student journalist who 'outs' the professor and her secrets), Jo Markwith & Alex Steward (faculty members who are both in love with Nickie), and Eamon Douglass (the dying ambassador who wishes to bring down Nickie, the college, and everything they stand for).
Woulff does a superb job of establishing her characters, providing significant insights into the struggles and triumphs behind their lives. As a result, what could have easily become a tediously melodramatic tale becomes, instead, an emotionally compelling tale of life at a crossroads. In terms of gender, Nickie is established as a transsexual woman with a history that has helped to define her, rather than just a past to be dismissed. Similarly, she is developed as a character who honestly struggles with the question of how she can love to very different people, rather than as somebody who is either confused or simply casual about her sexuality.
As for Cinda, she’s a key player in this drama, and her development is probably the most intricate of all the characters. As a nosy college reporter, desperate to make a name herself, no matter the cost to others, she is easy to dislike from the start. However, as the story develops, and she begins to interact with Nickie as a human being, rather than as just a news story, she opens up and finds a hidden depth of compassion and integrity.
If there’s one character who didn’t work for me, it’s Robin, the devout Christian who works with both Collie and Cinda to expose two secrets that turn out to be one. Her presence is an interesting one, placing her in the conflict as a sort of moral/ethical compromise between College and County, but she’s just too nice . . . too perfect to work as a realistic character. Eamon Douglass has the opposite problem but, being the villain of the piece, it’s not such an issue.
Like any good prime time drama, there's an equal mix of soap opera, mystery, and thriller involved, but what makes the story work is the relationships between the characters....more
This was an extremely difficult read - it's a story full of sorrow and pain, not a lot of hope, and only a few fleeting moments of happiness. Yet it'sThis was an extremely difficult read - it's a story full of sorrow and pain, not a lot of hope, and only a few fleeting moments of happiness. Yet it's also an amazingly courageous story that absolutely commands your attention and respect. It's never self-pitying, and never asks the reader to do anything more than witness the events (even if it does leave you wanting to hold her hand).
Almost too sad to be a true story, this a powerful work by a wonderful writer who effortlessly connects with the reader by laying bare those emotions we all share, yet find so difficult to talk about. ...more
This is a beautiful, powerful, emotional read. It grabs you by the heart and gets into your head like few books I have ever read. It’s the first bookThis is a beautiful, powerful, emotional read. It grabs you by the heart and gets into your head like few books I have ever read. It’s the first book in a very long time where I not only had no idea how it was going to end, but was sincerely concerned with how the situation would resolve itself.
I could write an essay about this book, what it meant to me, and how I feel about it. I loved it and I hated it. I was afraid to read another chapter, and I never wanted it to end. My head wants me to wrap Brian Katcher in my arms and thank him for such an amazing story, even as my heart wants me to pound on his chest and demand that he rewrite the ending.
I fell in love with these characters – Logan as much as Sage, to my surprise – and didn’t want to let them go . . . especially not like that.
Instead of an essay, though, I’d just like to touch on the things that Brian did so well:
1. He perfectly captures the awkwardness, the joy, and the sorrows of growing up. I didn’t go to high school with the characters, but a part of me wishes I did. It’s a small cast of characters we’re presented with, and there’s no space wasted on clichéd high school conflicts that don’t contribute to the story.
2. He has written a carefully-plotted story that is driven by a romance, not a romance that comprises a story in itself. There’s a significant difference there, in both style and approach, and it’s what makes this such a compelling read.
3. He presents us with a story that’s real, complete with all the flaws and all the unanswered questions of life. As much as my heart craves a tidy, happy ending, he really couldn’t (and shouldn’t) have ended it any other way. Having said that, I would not be at all disagreeable to reading a sequel that catches up with Sage somewhere down the road.
4. He sprinkles in just enough humour to relieve the tension, but never at the expense of the characters or the situation. The moments of humour are completely appropriate and very much appreciated.
5. He offers us an honest exploration of gender identity and expression, filtered through the eyes of an outsider. As fascinating and heart-breaking as Sage’s story is, it’s only by putting us inside Logan’s head that we’re able to truly appreciate her struggles. It’s what makes the story so widely accessible, while also helping to preserve the emotional and physical mystery.
Ultimately, this could just as easily been a story about racial, religious, or cultural identity. The elements of the story could have worked with any other struggle at the heart, but I dare say the book would not have been as powerful (or nearly so interesting). Through the question of Sage’s gender identity we also get to explore questions of sexual identity/orientation, particularly with Logan, who struggles with what it means to love a girl who used to be (and, from a purely biological standpoint, still is) a boy.
Brian Katcher’s novel is as brave as it is bold, and he’s to be applauded as much for his choice of subject, as for his talents as a story teller....more
Tag is an interesting, exciting, and altogether refreshing take on the near-future, Utopian sci-fi thriller. Simon does a wonderful job of exploring bTag is an interesting, exciting, and altogether refreshing take on the near-future, Utopian sci-fi thriller. Simon does a wonderful job of exploring both the technology and social constructs that allow for the illusion of a utopia, but also demonstrates a deep understanding of the humanity that so often undermines the Utopian ideal.
The first thing that struck me about the novel was its geographical and cultural focus. This is a story that’s set entirely in Southeast Asia and Australia, with only passing references to places like North America and Europe that usually dominate the genre. There isn’t a significant amount of contemporary culture to be explored, due to the nature of our Utopian future, but there is distinctly ‘foreign’ flavour to people and places that I found very attractive.
As for the technology, Simon smartly avoids the temptation to automate the world. The technological advances he introduces are quite wondrous to behold, but they’re also very subtle, being natural extensions of the technology of today. The Devstick is a perfect example, a pocket-sized device that finally accomplishes what every manufacturer is aiming for – the complete integration of all our mobile devices. Living arrangements are a little more advanced, and transportation has certainly changed (trips to the moon are as accessible as a flight across the country), but they’re a clear evolution of our adaptation to environmental restrictions, rather than a frivolous attempt to wow us with technology.
To return to the theme of utopia for a moment, Simon’s future requires a few leaps of faith (I’m not sure, as a race, we could ever agree to some of the compromises he places ahead of us), but it’s an attractive place to live. Governed as a homogeneous whole by the United Nations, the world has become a socialist (almost communist) society, free of the racial, geographic, and religious conflicts that have plagued the past. Unfortunately, any utopia is only as strong as its worst member, and there are forces looking to take advantage of our global complacency.
The ‘tag’ of the title is hardly a new idea – surgically imprinting humanity with a chip that broadcasts our identities, and allows for government oversight – but the way in which it is presented, and the ease with which the world is sold on the concept, is very disturbing. The secret flaw behind the tag is even more frightening, but I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. Suffice to say, this is a book that works well as both a science fiction adventure and a political thriller, a combination that isn’t as easy to manipulate as you might suspect. The characters are very well-rounded and likable, so much so that I spent much of the book wondering if the villain was really the villain we’d been led to expect, and whether the revolutionary hero didn’t, in fact, have ulterior motives. Simon engages us, and ties us to the characters, but also distances us enough from the action to keep us guessing.
Finally, although it’s not a significant aspect of the novel, I must say I thoroughly appreciated the portrayal of sexuality. Sexuality has been stripped of its taboos, leading to a society that may be a little too open and promiscuous for some, but which is very accommodating. One of the more significant supporting characters is a transgendered woman who lives and loves as if she were never anything but female, never having to worry about being discriminated against or beaten for her gender. In fact, the fact that she's transsexual is dealt with so casually, you could literally blink and miss it. Similarly, one of the primary characters is involved in a long-term lesbian relationship that isn't presented as being any different from any of the other character’s straight relationships. There is an S&M aspect to the relationship that had me concerned, but there's a justification for it, and a development of the character's motivations that ultimately redeems it.
Definitely an enjoyable read, and one that I would highly recommend....more
As much as I love how the advent of e-books have opened up the world of transgender erotica (and transgender fiction in general), I do still have a soAs much as I love how the advent of e-books have opened up the world of transgender erotica (and transgender fiction in general), I do still have a soft spot in my heart for the tattered paperbacks of my youth. Somewhere in my plastic totes of books I still have a stack of old Nexus paperbacks and Mags Inc. chapbooks that connect me with my past.
Over the years as a blogger, book reviewer, and columnist for magazines like Frock and Transformation, I've learned of several lost classics from that paperback era that I've spent a lot of time tracking down. As such, you can imagine my delight when I finally tracked down a copy The Queen Of Hearts by Brad Clayton. Sadly, that delight was fleeting, as I really did not enjoy this, and actually had some significant issues with it.
First of all, despite the title, there's nothing romantic about this book. It's a self-indulgent bit of fiction about a sex-obsessed stalker and a transsexual prostitute who never even warrants a name - she is simply the Queen of Hearts. What erotic elements there are to be found here are brief and clinical, without any real passion behind them, but I can appreciate that Jack eventually overcame his own homophobia to love all of the Queen's parts.
Where the book really began to go off the rails for me was with the switch to a first-person narrative, detailing Jack's early years. I already didn't like him, and reading about his youthful dalliances, his inability to commit, his lack of emotional attachment, and his inability to connect without sex just sealed the deal. There's just no romance to be found in the man, no matter how much he deludes himself.
I admit it, I merely skimmed the rest of the book. Clayton really tries hard to convince us that there is a romance there, but I didn't see it. A secretive, no-strings attached affair, conducted entirely in her apartment, without so much as a midnight stroll in public is not romantic. It's no great surprise when the Queen declares she doesn't love him, and can't give herself to him the way he desires. Jack blames it all on her inability to be loved, but that's a bit hypocritical coming from a man who uses her to satiate his sex addiction, and never once tries to include her in his life.
If you’re a regular reader/visitor, you’ll know I don’t normally interject a lot of hyperbole into my reviews. Generally, I try to keep them well-grouIf you’re a regular reader/visitor, you’ll know I don’t normally interject a lot of hyperbole into my reviews. Generally, I try to keep them well-grounded and professional, with just enough personality to add a little colour and (hopefully) make them a more interesting read. With that in mind, I beg your indulgence for just a moment, as I try to sum up Tristan Taormino’s Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica in a few words:
I could go on – after all, there are 22 letters I haven’t alliterated yet – but you get the point. On a list of my top 10 reads for the year, Tristan is looking down upon her peers from a very high perch indeed!
As she states in her introduction, this is a collection of “erotica by, for and about transfolk, FTMs, MTFs, genderqueers, gender outlaws, as well as two-spirit, intersex, and gender-variant people.” Almost immediately, you notice these are stories where gender (in all its forms) is almost taken for granted, without the ‘surprise confession’ or ‘shocking reveal’ common to mainstream erotica/porn, and without the arbitrary focus on simply passing or being acknowledged. This is a collection where trans lovers can feel intimately and comfortably at home amidst stories of being treasured, loved, desired, and adored.
Considering the wide variety of authors, genders, and subjects explored, I’m pleased to say there’s not a single story here that didn’t, on some level, resonate with me. Indeed, they are all wonderful, but there were certainly some stand-outs that I must call attention to:
"The Therapist and the Whore" by Giselle Renarde - Giselle at her romantic and thought-provoking best, turning the tables on our expectations with a kind, lovable, transsexual whore who serves as a remarkably effective bedroom therapist.
"Shoes Are Meant to Get You Somewhere" by Dean Scarborough - Plays to the clothes fetishist in me, complete with ballet slippers, stockings and garters, and a tightly laced corset, but it's also a remarkable literary dance of gender exploration.
"Taking the Toll" by Kiki DeLovely - Deliciously naughty and provocative, a tale of a young woman who is aroused by Sunday morning church bells, and her genderqueer lover who is only too happy to put her in a schoolgirl uniform and hear her confession.
"Dixie Belle" by Kate Bornstein - A gloriously genderqueer sequel to Huckleberry Finn, with young Huck settling quite contentedly into a new career as Miss Sarah Grangerford, high-class N'awlins whore. It's been years since I last read Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, but Kate recaptures the magic perfectly.
"The Visible Woman" by Rachel K. Zall - This is a story that begins with an in-your-face fantasy of public confrontation, settles into a lovely domestic scene of transsexual bliss, and ends with the lovers playing to the voyeuristic public outside their apartment window.
"Canadian Slim" by Shawna Virago - Still erotic without being overtly sexual, this is the heart-warming story of a transsexual who has tired of being the fetish/freak secret partner, and who has found love with a fellow transsexual who fits her perfectly.
"Self-Reflection" by Tobi Hill-Meyer - Trippy and bizarre, this is one I'm cautious of saying too much about, but it doesn't get much sexier or self-aware than a post-op transsexual visiting her pre-op transsexual self for a little show-and-sell.
"Face Pack" by Penelope Mansfield - This is a bold, blatantly sexual story that challenges the pornographic mainstream, claiming the bukkake experience as a visual validation of the narrator's new-found femininity. It takes an act most would seem as vulgar or degrading, and transforms it into something cleansing and rewarding.
Not only are the stories contained here erotic, imaginative, and exciting, but they are also beautifully written. As Tristan asks in her introduction, “our language is severely limited when it comes to describing the bodies of transpeople,” and there is a significant challenge in writing stories that are both erotic and respectful. Fortunately, the authors here have the words to do so, and the talent to use those words well.
I’d like to leave you with a brief passage from Rachel K. Zall’s "The Visible Woman" that sums it up better than I ever could:
A stranger looking at us now would call us “MTFs” instead of women, would name us by our genitalia—“pre-op,” “nonop”—would call us trans before they called us anything else, if they did call us anything else. A stranger would call our bodies gender ambiguous: her cock about to enter me, my clit poking out of her fist, her tiny breasts on her large rib cage and the shadow across my cheeks and chin. A stranger would say that, and that stranger would be wrong: our bodies aren’t ambiguous at all, only the meanings people misapply to them. She’s a woman and her beautiful body is a woman’s body; I am a woman and seeing how beautiful her body is makes me think my body might be beautiful too.
Take Me There indeed . . . I just hope, somewhere down the line, Tristan chooses to take us there again....more
Letters for My Brothers is one of those books that I agreed to read, but wasn't really sure I wanted to review. It's not that I didn't expect it to beLetters for My Brothers is one of those books that I agreed to read, but wasn't really sure I wanted to review. It's not that I didn't expect it to be good, or that I felt obligated, or anything negative. Instead, it's that I didn't expect to relate to it, and I was concerned that disconnect might be hard to keep out of a review. After all, when you're going one way on the gender spectrum, it's hard to imagine anybody wanting to go the other way.
Much to my surprise (and delight), I found that connection early on, and realised that many of the themes and concepts being expressed are universal. You don't have to be FTM (female-to-male) to appreciate the struggles and triumphs of the authors here. Heck, you don't even have to be transgendered to appreciate them - we all have at least one significant aspect of our life that we struggle against and worry about, as well as a few secrets that we keep from those we love (as often to protect them as ourselves). On top of all that, the central theme of body image is one of those things that we never really stop thinking about, no matter who we are or how old we get.
These are stories about curiosity, discovery, and realization. They're also stories about exposure, revelation, and condemnation. Each of these authors has truly "been there, done that" and their words of advice and encouragement to the next generation are all the more welcome for it. Some entries are reminiscences on the past, while others are letters written to their past selves. Some are more self-aware than others, but they all demonstrate a tenderness and understanding (and, in many cases, clear frustration) with the young women who once wore their shoes.
There is a strong spiritual presence to the collection - three of the contributors hold a professional role within their respective religions - that initially made me uncomfortable, expecting the worst in where they were heading, but I'm pleased to say their entries were some of my favourites. In fact, if I could have the chance to sit and talk with any of the contributors here, it would be Raven Kaldera, an FTM shaman who lives quite happily with his MTF wife and his FTM partner. His story, and his approach, really spoke to me, and made me pause a number of times to ponder the questions being asked.
It's entirely fitting that the collection ends with a piece entitled Enjoy the Journey by Matt Kailey, because the book itself is a journey, and clearly it's the shared experience that matters. We all have regrets, things we wish we could have done differently, and things we wish we could change about our past selves, but Matt reminds us that those things are part of who we are today, and should be honoured, not discarded. Without them, we wouldn't be who we are today, and for many of these contributors, where they are is precisely where they need to be.
Wise words, from a wonderful collection. Think of it as It Gets Better for the transgender community . . . a message that is always welcome. ...more