You know the old adage about never judging a book by its cover? Well, this is one of those instances where that adage can (and should) be extended to...moreYou know the old adage about never judging a book by its cover? Well, this is one of those instances where that adage can (and should) be extended to the first chapter. The novel opens with a significantly condensed tale of Vanessa Hudson’s all-too-convenient transition from male to female. It’s abruptly formulaic tale of twin siblings, tragic accidents, mistaken identities, and family wealth. To be honest, it was so clichéd, it left me questioning whether or not to continue. Fortunately, once that torrent of exposition is dispensed with, Marquez settles into a well-told, and completely compelling tale.
As the story beings, Vanessa finds herself struggling with dual fears of exposure. Although she has kept her transsexual identity a secret from most of the world – including her husband – the impending death of her personal surgeon has put her in a situation where she must trust somebody else with her identity. Compounding the risk involved is the fact that her husband is a man who can afford no secrets – not as Attorney General, and certainly not as a man battling for a seat in the US Senate.
While he may have been quick to establish her identity, Marquez does a superb job of exploring the first real challenge to Vanessa’s situation; making us feel the dread, the sorrow, and the sheer terror involved in the prospect of being exposed. It’s a story that really keeps you on a mental and emotional edge, especially with the introduction of friend who knew the ‘real’ Vanessa well. When it is finally revealed that the two women were not just close friends, but lovers, the situation gets increasingly complex. Not only does Marquez juggle the consequences of that revelation, but he does an admirable job of looking at sexual prejudice from an unusual angle, with Vanessa’s discomfort with her sister’s past making an already awkward situation potentially explosive.
Ultimately, what makes the story so interesting is the way in which Marquez parallels the themes of gender and sexuality. While Vanessa is struggling with personal questions of gender, her husband is struggling with professional issues of sexuality. As a staunch supporter of the LGBT community – who, ironically, has no suspicions as to his wife’s place in that community – Martin is unwilling to sacrifice his principles for political success.
As the story races to a conclusion, with new secrets and potential betrayals weighing Vanessa down from all angles, Marquez carefully brings all the threads together and crafts an entirely satisfying conclusion. While it did leave me with a few lingering questions, I quite appreciated the fact that he avoiding making the resolution of the story hinge upon some huge, shocking, public spectacle of revelation for Vanessa.
Despite an awkward beginning, this is a story that handles itself admirably, and with compassion. I still would have liked to know more about Vanessa’s past, to learn more about the struggles that compelled her to slip into her sister’s identity so easily, but it’s an excusable absence since this is less a story about fitting in, and more about survival after-the-fact.
Oh my goodness, what a story! I had high hopes going into this one, and I was delighted to find that it did not disappoint. Not having read Gods of Lo...moreOh my goodness, what a story! I had high hopes going into this one, and I was delighted to find that it did not disappoint. Not having read Gods of Love, I'm not sure if I missed any nuances, but the mythological element paired very nicely with Gina's gender identity. It was passionate, physically and emotionally satisfying all the way. I would have loved for it to be longer, but that's a wish, not a complaint.(less)
Nearly 5 years and a pair of young adult fantasy novels later, Jennifer Finney Boylan makes a triumphant return to the subject of gender. Having previ...moreNearly 5 years and a pair of young adult fantasy novels later, Jennifer Finney Boylan makes a triumphant return to the subject of gender. Having previously written about her own transition in She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders, and having revisited her childhood home (and memories) in I'm Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted, she takes a step back this time and reflects on her role in nurturing the next generation.
Anybody who has ever given it even a moment’s passing thought knows that it is not easy to step outside the so-called ‘norm’ and embrace a gender identity or expression that lies beyond the traditional gender binary. There’s a world full of fear and prejudice out there, and the sad truth is we all too often have to accept the loss of friends and family in order to find peace and happiness within ourselves.
When there are children involved, however, the situation gets even more complex. Fortunately, Stuck in the Middle with You does a wonderful job of exploring the role that gender (and gender change) plays in parenting, and demonstrates that the health and happiness of one’s self and one’s children can coexist peacefully. That’s not to say it’s all fluff and laughter – there are some deep thoughts and some painful tears involved, but time, love, and caring heal most wounds.
As a second-time parent, going though the infant/toddler stage all over again, I was really struck by her doubts and fears regarding what secrets her boys might be hiding. I do wish we could have heard more from her children, and learned more about their rough edges. Maybe it’s a matter of being blinded by love, or just being protective of her family, but Boylan does paint an almost too-perfect picture of her children. Even the best-behaved children will lash out in establishing their individuality and challenging authority. Glossing over those episodes creates more of a problem than it solves, especially with readers who are coping with adolescent rebellion, and who are looking for comfort that it’s not their fault.
Overall, however, it’s comforting to know that our children can take after us, and can learn from us, without actually becoming us. Like Boylan, nothing could ever make me love my children less, but I would give almost anything for them not to have to face the emotional and psychological pain I dealt with in my own youth.
At first I wasn’t sure what to think of the ‘Time Out’ Conversations that take place between chapters. It felt like she was trying to force the issue a bit, to really drive home the point that this was a story about parenting first, and gender second. Before long, however, I began to see how their placement enhanced the story, adding a new perspective to things. The more we heard from other parents, the more it becomes clear that so many parenting experiences are universal, and not unique to any gender.
What’s more, she doesn’t play it safe or censor the discussions. Alternately touching, amusing, inspiring, and even confrontational, they provide those rough edges that were missing from the stories of Boylan’s own children. Furthermore, she takes the bold step of concluding the book with an interview of her partner and herself, conducted by novelist Anna Quindlen. Jennifer and Deirdre talk about stereotypes and secrets, about Maddy versus Daddy, and even answer a few difficult questions. It is Boylan, of course, who gets in the last word, but not before her partner has a chance to pull all the threads together in a family portrait that’s not much different from any other.
While not as ground-breaking as her first two novels, Stuck in the Middle with You is a welcome addition to the shelves upon shelves of parenting books out there, and one that offers a unique perspective for all genders.
As the title of Renee James debut novel suggests, coming out as a transsexual can be murder – both literally and figuratively. The story opens on a ra...moreAs the title of Renee James debut novel suggests, coming out as a transsexual can be murder – both literally and figuratively. The story opens on a rather grim and graphic note, with a scene of murderous obsession that leaves you feeling like you need a shower to wash the hatred away. It’s immensely powerful, and it serves to put the reader in an emotional place similar to that of Bobbi Logan, our transsexual heroine.
Bobbi is an amazing character, realistically drawn, possessed of both human flaws and attributes. Hairdressers are often talked about as confidants, if not therapists, but rarely are they put in a position quite like hers. She finds herself caught between the bona-fide therapist who confides in her about the murder’s identity, the community leader who confides in her about the victim’s identity, and the cop who confides in her about his desire to connect with the community he protects.
Spurred on by the injustice of it all, she takes the next step in her own transition, coming out at work, and then watching helplessly as her career begins slipping away from her. Forced to become something of an amateur sleuth, she forgoes the safety of anonymity and visibly immerses herself in the underground transsexual community, only to be singled out as the murder’s next target.
While it might be a bit clichéd, Renee presents us with a story where the marginalized outcasts of society earn our respect and admiration, while the leaders of society earn nothing but our contempt. As befitting the genre, corruption is a significant them here, and one that extends deep into the human psyche. Her killer is not some faceless, mindless sociopath - he’s a conflicted individual who rationalises his actions, justifying them to himself so well, we have to admit to a grudging understanding even as we loathe him for it.
The story here is equal parts coming out drama, hard-boiled murder mystery, and political thriller. Even though she begins the story as an effeminate hairdresser, Bobbi is about as far removed from a stereotype as you can imagine. She is a breath of fresh air, a source of light and joy amidst the darkness of the streets. Although the story could have worked with a cisgendered protagonist or out-and-proud transsexual heroine, Bobbi’s personal transition is just as important as the investigation she’s pursuing, and Renee manages to do justice to both aspects of the story.
What struck me most vividly about the read is the contrast between fear and hope that is woven into the story. This is not a serialised crime drama where you know the protagonist has to survive into book number twelve or television season number thirteen. Bobbi’s situation is a dark one, and we honestly fear for her safety. Physical and sexual abuse, stalking, taunting, and police persecution are just a part of what she has to face in order to get at the truth. The more she suffers, however, the more she reaffirms her sense of self and grows into her womanhood. It’s an exhausting, difficult journey, and one that has a few very dark twists before the end, but it’s also one you can’t step away from for long.
Of course, no character, no matter how strong, can carry a story this intense alone. Fortunately, Bobbie is surrounded by a solid cast of friends who seem to come alive in her presence, and who serve to remind us that love and acceptance are more powerful that hate and disgust.
Although Everett Maroon's Bumbling into Body Hair is subtitled "A Transsexual's Memoir," he initially comes across as genderqueer (as opposed to trans...moreAlthough Everett Maroon's Bumbling into Body Hair is subtitled "A Transsexual's Memoir," he initially comes across as genderqueer (as opposed to transsexual), which adds a rather unique aspect to both the story and his development. There's a sense of self-discovery, self-definition, and (ultimately) self-recognition that accompanies the story, providing us with insight into the doubt and confusion that so many transgendered individuals experience, but are reluctant to share.
Make no mistake, by the end of the tale, Everett does successfully transition from female to male. That's not a spoiler, just an acknowledgement of the author's place within the story. It's okay if you're not quite sure what a transsexual is, or how one goes about becoming one, because for much of his life he didn't know either. It's only through his interactions with others, his often ill-conceived attempts at self-expression, and his conversations with a therapist that he comes to understand and accept the boy inside the geek.
This is an honest, heartfelt, and often self-depreciating journey, full of humour and heartache, marked by an awkward relationship triangle that seems to do as much to hold him back as it does to propel him forward. It's often a frustrating read, making you want to pull him aside for a heart-to-heart, but the way in which he bumbles through those challenges is what makes the read. There's no narrow-minded focus or pinpoint goal being pursued here, no realization of a lifelong dream. Instead, what we have is a personal journey through what makes a man . . . even if he wasn't quite born that way.
As I was reading it, I kept thinking that the book's only real failing was its lack of emotion. Everett comes across as upbeat, friendly, and optimistic, but I felt as if he wasn't being entirely open about the negative emotions in his life. Things like being rejected by family, being spit on by strangers on a bus, and breaking up with friends and lovers are almost shrugged off. The expressions of pain and sorrow that we know he must be feeling simply aren't shared with the reader. It wasn't until the last 50 pages or so, when he has a conversation about how differently men express their emotions, that it all clicked. That emotional detachment isn't a failing on his part, but a representation of his true gender.
Overall, an interesting story, and a unique perspective on the journey of gender. I think what I appreciated most was that while Everett may question his gender and his gender expression, he never wavers in his sexuality. He raises some interesting question as to whether being seen as a 'straight' couple negates his being a lesbian, but he never lets those questions interfere with his affections. All too often it seems the issue of sexuality gets all muddled up and confused with gender, the two intricately tied together, but Everett's journey is definitely one-sided . . . as it should be.
I'm not really sure what can I say about Kate Bornstein's new memoir, A Queer and Pleasant Danger, other than WOW! This an amazing, intense, heartfelt...moreI'm not really sure what can I say about Kate Bornstein's new memoir, A Queer and Pleasant Danger, other than WOW! This an amazing, intense, heartfelt read that's goes far beyond questions of gender and sexuality to examine, really, what it means to be human.
Written in a casual, conversational, sometimes rambling manner, this is a very easy book to enjoy. One of its many quirks that I found so delightful was the way in which Kate would tell a story, swear it was the honest-to-gosh truth, then turn around a page or so later and admit that it was a lie. In most cases, they were stories she believed wholeheartedly for years - until she shared them and was promptly shot down by her brother. It's a quirk that not only adds a bit of a comic feel to some chapters than definitely need a pick-me-up, but it's also a playful element that ties into Kate's personality.
Really, this is three memoirs in one, as the extended title suggest:
A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The true story of a nice Jewish boy (1) who joins the Church of Scientology (2) and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today (3).
Let's start with the nice Jewish boy. Kate (then Albert) realized at the tender young age of four-and-a-half that she wasn't a boy and, therefore, must be a girl. With that self-realization, a youth of lying to the world, putting on an act, and hiding her true self began. She doesn't spend a lot of time wondering why she was different, or looking for answers (biological, psychological, theological, or otherwise), but there's one passage early on where she talks about her mother's previous miscarriage that ably demonstrates how she has so creatively imagined herself:
"Now here's what I think: I think no one knows what the previous tenant of my mom's uterus had left behind for me to pick up and use. I'm sure that girl body had been meant for me."
It's clever and simple, and the kind of imaginative leap you can only make if you are well-and-truly comfortable in yourself.
The Church of Scientology occupies a significant portion of the book, but as interesting as it is to peek behind the curtain, it does tend to wear thin quite quickly. The attraction of Scientology, her life within it, and (most importantly) it's continuing impact upon her life is important, though, and it frames perhaps the saddest, most heartfelt element of Kate's memoir . . . but more on that later. To me, the appeal of Scientology has always been inconceivable, but I can't say there isn't something beautiful and profound in its appeal to Kate:
"...they [the Church of Scientology] said I'm not my body, and I'm not even my mind. They told me I am a spiritual being called a thetan - from the Greek letter, which we were told meant perfect thought. Male and female is for bodies, they told me. Thetans have no gender."
Definitely an interesting thought, and you can clearly see how the theory so hooked a confused young transsexual. What follows is, no matter how you want to put it, a life inside a very closed cult, including an extended period where she lived at sea, with nobody around but other members of the Church. It was a life of spiritual, mental, and financial slavery (although Kate never uses that word), and one that ultimately cost her the love of two ex-wives, her daughter, and the chance to ever see the grandchildren that would come later. The chapter in which she describes her Excommunication made me so furious, I literally threw the book across the room and let it sit on the floor for a good week and a half before I could pick it up again without feeling the urge to tear it to pieces.
It's definitely the low part of her life's story, but it's true what they say - at least when you hit rock bottom there's nowhere to go but up.
The third part of Kate's story is the most fascinating aspect of the book, and even if it's filled with pains of its own, the sorrows of her transition are both honest and (largely) self-inflicted. Really, Kate begins her entire life over again (several times, in fact) finding what should have been solace and support though the medical community, except she chose the wrong doctor, one who held her back rather than helped to guide her forward. It's not entirely clear what an impact the unprofessional nature of that relationship had on her transition until she moves on to a new doctor, one who has her best interests at heart.
"When I was a girl, I was a thirty-eight-year old man and I had to make up for lost time. It wasn't easy. I had to learn girl from the ground up, just as I'd had to learn boy. It wasn't pretty."
When Kate says it wasn't pretty, she's right. Her transition is marked by stories of self mutilation (cutting), drug and alcohol abuse, anorexia, and more. She clearly struggled hard to become the woman she is today, and even if we know she's a stronger person for those struggles, they are still hard to share. Relationships were, as you might expect, particularly troublesome for someone struggling as much with her gender as her sexuality. While some may argue she simply traded one cult for another, Kate's immersion in the BDSM lifestyle was absolutely fascinating for me, and probably the point at which I began to first notice real, genuine, powerful emotion coming through her story.
As ultimately uplifting and inspiring as her story may be, however, it's framed by a sadness so deep, it's difficult to experience. She begins and ends the book with a virtual shout-out to her daughter, a heart-felt plea for understanding, acceptance, and simple acknowledgement. It's a testament to the intensely personal nature of her final passage, the raw openness of her plea, that she was able to so completely overcome those feelings of rage and betrayal I originally felt over her excommunication. Instead of throwing the book across the room and wanting to tear it to pieces, I instead clutched it to my breast and cried for what might have been . . . and for what, if there is any justice in the world, still might be.
The third in the Red Satin series (following Red Satin and The Night Before Red Satin Christmas), this is another wonderfully well-woven tale by one o...moreThe third in the Red Satin series (following Red Satin and The Night Before Red Satin Christmas), this is another wonderfully well-woven tale by one of my all-time favourite romance/erotica authors. Fulfilling the promise of family drama hinted at in the last volume, this story reunites us with Regan and her transsexual girlfriend, Maisie, for a little holiday romance. I've been wondering for almost a year now who Jerry's mysterious companion was, and I'm delighted to say my guess couldn't have been more wrong. Their arrival (and subsequent news) turns up the family drama quite a few notches, while the surprise arrival of Regan's father cranks it all the way up to ten.
Normally, I'm not one for stories of family drama, since I try so hard to avoid the very same dramas in real life. Giselle has done such a fantastic job of developing her characters (and their relationships), though, that I had to make it through to ensure they were all right. Of course, it helps that Regan and Maisie get more intimate alone time than in either of the first two novels, bringing an entirely different rosy glow to my cheeks.(less)
Truly a woman who has seen, done, and survived it all, Christine Beatty is a writer, musician, and a transgender activist. She was one of the first tr...moreTruly a woman who has seen, done, and survived it all, Christine Beatty is a writer, musician, and a transgender activist. She was one of the first transsexual women to openly perform as a heavy metal musician (which is what originally brought her to my attention), and the founder of Glamazon Press, an independent publisher dedicated to TS/TG authors.
Not Your Average American Girl is a story that opens from a rather tenuous state, beginning with a rehab diary, and looking back at the events that ultimately pushed her to the brink one time too many. We meet her at her most vulnerable, and that really sets our expectations for the story to follow – no matter the ups and downs, we know that it’s going to be the downs that define it.
It sounds strange to describe the act of reading a book as physically and emotionally exhausting, but that is precisely the case here. As we follow Christine through the first few decades of her life, we bear witness to one painful challenge after another, to one crippling setback after another, and to the ways in which she escapes (rather than surmounts) each one. In reality, there’s only one challenge at the heart of it all, but her inability to successfully cope with being transgendered continually places her in situations where bad decisions almost seem inevitable.
Whether it’s attempting to hide her femininity behind a military uniform, avoiding it with the pretence of a 'normal' heterosexual marriage, or flaunting it with a prostitute’s fetish attire, there’s a common theme to Christine’s pre-rehab life of looking for solace in all the wrong places. Given the obstacles in her life, it’s no mystery that she would so often look for a means of escape, even if her steady decline into a life of drugs does make for a frustrating journey. What makes that journey so much harder to follow is the fact that she’s such a charming, captivating personality – the kind of woman who encourages feelings of friendship, even in her darkest moments.
By the time she has her (literal) sword-swinging break with reality, we realise that being condemned to the forced detoxification of a prison cell is probably the best end to which she could have come. By the time we, and the story, catch up with the diary-writing Christine, out of prison and on the eve of graduation from rehab, the story begins the process of redeeming itself (and her). Despite family rejection, a failed marriage, the alienation of friends, lost jobs, and the looming spectre of HIV, Christine seizes the opportunity forced upon her and begins dealing with (rather than escaping) her gender issues.
The challenges never stop – more than once she’s forced to abandon her hormone treatments and postpone surgery because of her HIV status – but she learns to deal with them without escaping into the oblivion of drugs. That's not to say every decision is the right one, or that she doesn't continue to struggle with the harsh reality of integrating her true, feminine self with society, but we see her rapidly maturing before our eyes. In many ways, the latter part of her story is even more exhausting than the first, but only because we know how hard she’s trying, and we know that, outside of a few lapses, it's all without the safety net of chemical oblivion. We can see a glimmer of feminine hope on the horizon, and even if it seems to keep teasing her by moving further away, we can’t help but share Christine’s determination to pursue it.
What's more, we can't escape the absolutely certainty that she absolutely deserves to achieve it.
In the end, Christine’s story is one of hope . . . of triumph . . . of a spirit that refuses to be broken. It’s not the easiest journey in the world, but the challenges makes the destination that much more important. A large part of what makes the book work so well is that she has such an engaging voice, and writes with such honesty and candor. There is a wide range of emotion captured here, but every one is both deep and sincere. In the end, Christine is most definitely not your average American girl but, then again, neither are we.(less)
The Butterfly and the Flame is a book I’ve been anxiously awaiting for over a year now, ever since Dana began teasing it under the title of Emily. Equ...moreThe Butterfly and the Flame is a book I’ve been anxiously awaiting for over a year now, ever since Dana began teasing it under the title of Emily. Equal parts dystopian fantasy, social commentary, and transgender drama, it’s the kind of novel that both enlightens and entertains.
The story is set in a future America where the devastation following an act of Divine Retribution (a series of asteroid impacts) has prompted a return to Puritanical ways. With democracy deemed a sin, and Christianity recognized as the only true faith (although Mormon rebels and Mexican guerrillas might have something to say about that), America suffers under religious tyranny of the Seven Pillars of Faith of the Dominion. The concepts of sexism and homophobia are not only alive and well, but they are mandated by the Dominion, just as works of imagination and scientific progress are prohibited.
If it sounds a little too heavy-handed for comfort, understand that the story itself is not a commentary on faith, but does deal with the abuses of religion. Some of the most wonderful people in Emily’s world are those whose faith is strong enough to survive, and even thwart, the prejudices of the Dominion.
Our window into this world is Emily, a fifteen year-old girl who just happens to have been born a boy. Questioned, challenged, and forcibly denied the expression of her true self by both family and society, Emily is not out to cause trouble, to change the world, or to right the injustices of society. Instead, all she wants is the freedom to be who she is – a young woman, with the same hopes and dreams as any other girl her age.
Emily’s story is an emotional one, a tragic tale that contains just enough hope to make the heartache and the sorrow palatable. She’s a wonderfully well-rounded character, but one who is plagued by the dual angst of being a teenager and being transgender. Only a transgender author could so accurately portray the depths of Emily’s emotion, whether it’s her suicidal despair as she fashions her own noose, or her blissfully innocent joy as she is gifted with her first dress. Throw an arranged marriage into the mix, with the intended's family wholly ignorant of Emily's secret, and you have the makings for a complex take of human relationships.
Dana pulls no punches in exposing us to the depths of human depravity, but doesn’t neglect the heights of human goodness either. Love comes from the most barren of places, accepting Emily without question, while it struggles to take root in what should be the most nurturing of environments. There are definitely some surprises along the way, but I daresay the pleasant ones - especially those connected to motherhood - carry a far greater impact, even if they are outnumbered by the unpleasant ones.
Although largely a tragedy, fuelled by human prejudices and religious justification, there are also moments of triumph to be found in Emily’s story. As the story shifts from Period drama to something more akin to Wild West action in the final act, we get to experience just enough of the wider world to provide context to the Emily’s struggles. The further we get from Emily's Puritanical homestead, the more we realise the world may change, but human nature stays the same. A barren field of 20th century industrial ruins provide a subtle reminder of the past, while the poverty and lawlessness of Lewis Bend serves as a blatant reminder of just how powerless the Dominion is to enact the kind of change that matters.
Delicately balancing heroism and tragedy, hope and despair, Dana takes the novel to a satisfying – if somewhat sombre – conclusion that lingers in your imagination long after you’re done reading, and which ultimately provides the hope for a better tomorrow.(less)
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 be...moreLetters 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. (less)
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-grou...moreIf 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.(less)