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 Me, Alicia 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:
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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