Saturday, December 31, 2011

Take Me There edited by Tristan Taormino

Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica
edited by Tristan Taormino


When it comes to artistic portrayals of frisky business, it's easy to talk about "hetero-normative" viewpoints versus same-sex concerns, and even the stereotypes faced by bisexuals as they try to navigate their relationships. Less often does anyone talk about the people who don't fit into neatly defined gender categories and their physical needs. Beyond male-to-female or female-to-male transgendered folks, there are also those who prefer to hover the line, either in an androgynous way, or in a way in which certain traits fit certain situations. Being a born a cis-woman who feels just fine being a woman, I won't pretend to know all the intricacies of being trans or genderqueer, but I do know that those who identify otherwise are both misunderstood and often ignored. With all the progress being made for non-straight people, legally and socially, it's also great to see trans/genderqueer visibility inching away from salacious daytime talk show material.

Take Me There is an erotica collection, yes, but it's also a very literary exploration of desire. I haven't read a lot of erotica, but this book seems to be out of the ordinary in that the stories aren't only about the act itself. Between all the "fuck me," body parts, toys, and "that feels good," there are also lines like, "It's an old Georgia suburb with porches covered in sand pails, beer bottles and boxes slumping from humidity." ("Somebody's Watching Me," Alicia E. Goranson)

One of my favorite stories was Sandra McDonald's "Sea of Cortez," in which a South Pacific-stationed sailor during WWII longs to be "the woman denied to you by biology." Supposedly straight men on the boat are known to "blow off steam" with other shipmates, but some men know it's more than that. Some try to fight against their sexuality, while others give in and hope that the officers look the other way.

You go find Williams. He's upright, exhausted, his face dark with stubble, a cigarette burning unnoticed in his hand. He's talking to one of the Two Fruits. When he sees you, his face gets all tight. You think he doesn't want to be seen with you. But then he pushes you into his rack and crawls in right after you, an impossibly tight fit, his body crushing yours. You want to be crushed. You want to be held immobile and safe, a woman held safe in the arms of her man.

Some of the stories are better written than others. Though I'm not familiar with a lot of the writers, some of the writing styles come across as "activist/personality first, writer second." As in, they can come up with a serviceable enough piece of writing from a queer perspective, but their main skills lie elsewhere.

A few complaints: Look, maybe it's incredibly square of me, but the few stories that used alternative pronouns like "ze," "hym" and "hir" were harder to get into because I was distracted by those words. I understand why they are used — as our language does not naturally provide a singular gender-neutral pronoun — but reading them felt clunky. Maybe one day our language will have a more commonly used and recognizable alternative, but I'm just not acclimated to seeing it yet.

Also, I could do without the "Daddy"/little girl dynamic presented in more than one story. It's just not arousing to me at all — in fact, it's very off-putting — to see the words, "She's good at giving head, my girl," in that context. There's all sorts of fucked-up psychology underneath that, and it's not my thing. The bondage-heavy scenes are not as much for me either, but I better understand why that gets people off. While there's pain involved, of course, they don't have the same abusive/creepy undertones as the "Daddy" stories.

But I'm no prude — the book still has plenty of hot moments and lusty language, and for the reader who is not personally familiar with trans-sex (as I'm not), the mechanics of it are also somewhat eye-opening. As an erotica collection, I don't know if it will suit the reader who wants to dip in only for a one-handed read because some stories are more "romantic" than "erotic." The line is fine, but it's there.

However, I think Take Me There is an important and necessary contribution to how we talk about and consume sex through media. There are so many varieties of people in these stories that I think most readers, genderqueer or not, will find at least one story that works for them.

(Sidenote: If any of you are on GoodReads, I noticed that they're taking giveaway entries for this book until January 13, 2012, so if this sounds interesting to you, you can enter here.)

#53/53

Full disclosure: Cleis Press sent me this book. I thank them for the gesture, and I will continue to be fair in my reviews.

This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read III, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. In order to make up for last year’s 51 books, I aimed for 53 AND I DID IT. The challenge ends today, December 31, 2011.

6 comments:

  1. Before you condemn Daddy / little girl stories, you should probably understand the dynamic a bit more. To call them creepy and abusive is not accurate, it is merely your opinion. Should you decide to spend actual time learning about that dynamic, you would understand that it's a dynamic beyond role-play and it isn't 100% of the time for everyone. You might be surprised at how nurturing and healing some of those relationships are.

    And hey, that's just great that you're slamming the gender neutral pronouns while you're at it! Ze, hym, and hir were really that difficult for you to catch onto? You phrased your dislike for those terms in such a way that you make it ok for your readers to snub their nose at it too.

    This book, is nothing short of excellent. Your review, was full of stereotyping - from mentioning the activist angle, to bashing the DD/LG dynamic, to saying the gender neutral pro-nouns were clunky, and of course condemning BDSM kink. You would have served yourself and your readers better by phrasing this in a much more respectful "your kink is not my kink" manner. But thanks for piling on your opinions.

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  2. You're right, I don't understand the dynamic. I was only reporting how it felt for me to read it. I'm the first to admit that I'm not well-versed in it.

    I am not condemning the BDSM kink either -- If you read what I wrote again, you'll see that I said, "The bondage-heavy scenes are not as much for me either, but I better understand why that gets people off."

    Short of literally saying, "your kink is not my kink," I think I implied that sentiment.

    As far as the gender neutral pronouns -- I am not saying that I didn't understand them. I said, "Maybe one day our language will have a more commonly used and recognizable alternative, but I'm just not acclimated to seeing it yet." MEANING that I'm just not used to reading them yet, and so while I UNDERSTAND them, and I understand their purpose, I was taken out of the story itself.

    By THAT, I mean that instead of thinking about erotica or how good this hot-and-heavy story was, instead I was thinking about the English language and its deficiencies regarding gender neutral pronouns. That is not the fault of the writers. I am not criticizing the writers for using them -- just saying that they are clunky for me to read because I am not used to them and that MAYBE OVER TIME they will not seem so clunky. It would be nice if that would happen.

    I hope this better explains things for you. Thank you for reading.

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  3. And I wasn't using the term "activist" in a derogatory way. My point was that some people's skills lie in bringing social change, and they are more talented at that than the actual craft of writing. However, in order to further affect that social change, they have taken to writing are still developing as writers. Meaning, the sentiment is there, but the writing itself could be better.

    If we're being real here, some of the stories were better written than others, and that happens in just about any story collection with multiple authors (hell, even with one author sometimes), no matter the subject matter.

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  4. "They have taken to writing AND are still developing as writers," that should read. It is the law of the internet that when talking about writing/grammar/spelling, you'll manage a typo.

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  5. Yes, and some reviews are better written, too.

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  6. I'm not infallible? Fancy that. I had no idea...

    Of course some of my reviews are better written than others. That's how it goes. This one was written during a double ear infection, so that I was even conscious enough to write anything is a win for me. I stand by this review.

    An hey, if you liked the book, good on you. You do not need my opinion to confirm your own thoughts. (Though, if you look a little closer at the review, you'll realize that I didn't dislike the book.)

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