Reviewing Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica

When Cleis Press contacted me about reviewing this book, Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica, I responded immediately. I’d been waiting for this to come out and had been kicking myself over not knowing about it in time to submit something.  Reading it was a pleasure and reviewing it is a privilege.

What am I looking for, as a reviewer?  Not surprisingly, when I read erotica, I want to be turned on.  I’m pretty sure that’s what most of us are looking for as well.  Beyond the “home run hit”, however, I’m also looking for creativity, humor, sexy context, a good story and something interesting, a twist or some turn of phrase that catches in the crook of my eye.  With this anthology especially, I was also trolling for ideas.  I’ve been writing stories with characters (including myself) who are outside the binary for a couple of years now, but I still have a lot to learn.  So I opened this book full of curiosity about how genderqueer and trans characters were being portrayed and how other writers set the scene for gender discovery.

What I found was a lot of variety.  Sometimes gender and sex were revealed very bluntly, in plain language and other times writers came to it from unexpected angles.  I appreciated the creativity and variation on the theme.  Beyond the research angle, just a couple of stories in, I felt at home.  Not that all the characters are masculine identified or genderqueer, but I could relate to all of them in some way, regardless of our differences, they are all members of my tribe.  In a way, reading this book and getting to know these artfully created characters, showed me, even more than I felt it before, that I have a tribe.  There is a place where ‘one of these things doesn’t belong here’ doesn’t apply, and that’s among other gender benders, stretchers and breakers like me.

I was also struck by my sense of voyeurism while reading through the anthology, more so than when I read cis-gender centered erotica.  The sex scenes were more intimate, somehow, maybe due to the relative lack of stories exposing gender binary non-conforming people currently available in print (though I predict that’s going to be changing in the coming years).  The characters, the sex, the situations and conflicts were very relatable to me.  Not only are these my people, sometimes these characters are me, or I’m them.  Something like that.  You get the point, I hope.  There are no poorly rendered stories in this book, but I do have some favorites to share with you.

The Hitchhiker, Sinclair Sexsmith:  I read this first on Sugarbutch Chronicles, and again (I think) in one of Sinclair’s chapbooks.  Reading it again in this anthology was a pleasure.  What I didn’t realize until recently, because of something Sexsmith said, was that the story is written without using pronouns to refer to the character of Jack.  That’s not only a helluva challenge, but it’s done so smoothly, I didn’t realize even it after several readings.  One of my favorite erotic stories.

The Boy the Beast Wants, Skian McGuire:  oh man… you ever read something that reached in and grabbed you?  This story did that to me, reached into  my abdomen and grabbed something essential in me and didn’t let go even after I’d finished the story.  The story arc reminds me of a the serpent swallowing its own tail.  I know this boy and I know that beast.  I’ll be coming back for this one again.

Dixie Belle, Kate Bornstein:  Wow.  An entirely unique and wildly imaginative telling of the life of Huck Finn after the stories of Mark Twain leave off.  Highly enjoyable and worth repeat reads.

Self-Reflection, Tobi Hill-Meyer:  I’ve read this one before, in another anthology, but that didn’t diminish my happiness in seeing it here.  Wonderfully written characters and a creatively speculative romp with the future.  I really love this story and it reminds me of some fantasizes I’ve had of my selves meeting up with each other in an alternative reality where we aren’t sharing the same body.

Big Gifts in Small Boxes, Patrick Califia:  I’m a long time fan of this writer, but I realize that it’s mainly due to one very dog-eared and well loved anthology of his writing.  Maybe that’s why I was surprised by this story.  I was expecting something darker, something a bit more menacing.  What I found instead was sweetness.  And, you know, I didn’t mind at all.  The story of a trans guy being accepted by a very cis-male identified gay bear is near and dear to my own fantasies of acceptance.

Somebody’s Watching MeAlicia E. Goranson:  two of the most interesting characters in the anthology, well rendered and highly visual, excellent descriptions of sex, something to go back to in order to ‘take notes’.

There are common threads woven through all the stories:  the fear of rejection and the frustration of being mislabeled and misunderstood; the way being recognized is at once a source of shock and exhilaration; how hard it is to trust and be open, when you are always guarding your self against assault of one kind or another.

Here are some more notes taken as I read through:

Cocksure, Gina De Vries:  so familiar, like something I’d write about Roxy and I.

Now Voyager, Rahne Alexander:  sweet courting, shy reluctance, happy surprises.

Shoes are Meant to Get You Somewhere, Dean Scarborough:  genderfucking couple, like reading stories from my own imagination, gender and sex wonderfully expressed but not dependent on each other

On Hys Knees, Evan Swafford:  strong masculine submission

Tel Aviv, Jacques Le Fargue:  urgency and hunger, reminds me of the plans Roxy and I make for our visits and how we temporarily toss out those plans in the heat of our hunger for each other.

Sea of Cortez, Sandra McDonald:  destruction, mayhem, death, discovery, sex and despair, transgendered in wartime.

The Perfect Gentleman, Andrea Zanin:  great story of a first time, told honestly

Payback’s a Bitch, S. Bear Bergman:  excellent twist to a common porn plot; very, very hot and close to some of my own fantasies.  One to dog ear for future … examination.

Femme Fatigue, Anna Watson:  Femme invisibility within a relationship with a trans man.  Road weariness turns into hot sex with an admiring stranger, and the femme becomes visible again.

Punching Bag, Rachel Kramer Brussel:  The fact that the main character’s name is ‘Kyle’ is just icing on a very compelling cake.  Trans man discovers his manhood through masochism and submission and his attraction to other men.  Will revisit this one, it’s another that hit home with me personally.

You Don’t Know Jack, Michael Hernandez:  great story, one of the hottest, great character, very well written.

From Fucktoy to Footstool, Zev:  made me miss my Sir something fierce.

The Man with the Phoenix Tattoo, Laura Antoniou:  not your typical love story, fierce and painful.

A hearty thank you to all the writers and to Tristan Taormino for contributing to this collection and to Cleis Press for publishing it.  I  am now nurturing quite the fantasy of meeting all of you for drinks and nibbles and great conversation about writing and gender and sex.

My rating for this excellent collection of erotic stories and sexy gender renderings?  The full five boots and my enthusiastic recommendation that you buy this for yourself and maybe some close friends.



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3 Responses to Reviewing Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica

  1. Jonathan says:

    Nice review, Kyle 🙂

    A couple of things: I notice you don’t mention Helen Boyd’s story (the shortest in the book). This one read as very steamy to me, even though it’s not especially explicit. I dunno; perhaps it’s a femme thing? 😉

    Secondly: “Not surprisingly, when I read erotica, I want to be turned on. I’m pretty sure that’s what most of us are looking for as well.” Actually, no. That would be called “porn”, I think – whereas “erotica” is just fiction whose subject matter is sex. Of course it’s important in erotica that the characters’ desires come through on the page (the same as any other feelings in any other book), but I don’t need the stories to turn me on myself.

    Ok, OK, not sayin I need erotica, porn, pictures or anything to turn myself on but when I read erotica one element is the ‘turn on’. I have the same criteria for my own stories. If they don’t turn me on, they aren’t good enough. Might be semantics, but ‘turn on’ isn’t the same as ‘get off’. And ‘turn on’, at least for me, is a pretty broad term. That turn on could be physical, emotional or intellectual and if a story can’t do at least one of those, I’m not having a good time. I did follow up that line with the rest of my criteria, which may be something you could agree with, no?

    I agree the Betty Boyd story, All Girl Action, is hot and very well written. I could have written a much longer review, with a breakdown of my reactions to each piece, but I chose to call out ones that particularly spoke to me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy, and relate to, all of them in some way. It’s a great anthology, through and through – K

  2. Roxy says:

    Cleis clearly loves your reviews, and I understand it completely – you write passionately about the things that fire you up and turn you on, and, in turn, gets you itching to write more of your own. You write your reviews from both an author’s and a devotee’s perspective, at once respecting and devouring the dishes served up. And I agree, a story that lies back and impresses me with its vocabulary and craft is akin to a boyfriend with a “good personality” – everyone is welcome to love the ones they love, but I adore the way you consume erotica as if it were your last meal.

    We’ve talked about passion before and how it permeates my life and all my activities. I don’t want to just love something, I want to consume it. I don’t want to just do something, I want to excel at it. I’m sure that might make me difficult sometimes, I know it makes me difficult for me sometimes, but I don’t know how else to be. I’m glad you like the kinds of stories I like, sure makes it fun to share with you 🙂 And yes, Cleis does love my review, so much so that they’ve decided to start sending me books to review, on a regular basis — I’m on the list.

    I think I consume everything like it’s my last chance, and that may be the subject of an upcoming post… like, where does that come from?

    Thanks for supporting me, love, it means so much to me – K

  3. I still intend to write a review of this book, because I thoroughly enjoyed reading the copy I won – and Big Gifts in Small Boxes is one of a few in the anthology that really, really hit me hard. In the hot, wow, and intensely moving all at the same time sense. I am glad you mentioned it as well.

    It’s always interesting to see what stories work for different people, and we have a lot that doesn’t overlap – that actually pleases me! But I will be giving it very high marks as well. It’s bloody awesome.

    xx Dee

    As another commenter pointed out, I swung toward the transmasculine in my call-outs. Those are the ones I particularly related to and found affirming. Each reader will have a different set that they resonate with, that’s the beauty of an anthology, even if there’s not something for everyone, there’s a lot for most of us.

    I’ll watch for your review – K

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