Posts Tagged ‘books’
The Butch Voices Regional Conference in New York City (and then in Portland and LA) is coming up in just three weeks. And in honor, I’m counting down the Fridays with classic and modern butch book titles that I highly recommend.
Butch Is A Noun, S. Bear Bergman’s first book, has been re-released by Arsenal Pulp Press just in time for the fall series of regional Butch Voices conferences. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a personal collection of essays about what it’s like to live outside the binary gender system, in more ways than one, and what the identity, word, noun, verb, and adjective “butch” means to Bear.
The first chapter of Butch Is A Noun, “I Know What Butch Is,” is one of my favorite essays that I think I have ever read. Bear has a PDF of it over on hir website, if you’d like to read it as a preview to perhaps buying the book, and there’s also a great video of Bear reading the first chapter (that I have posted before, but it’s time to post again):
(Just ignore the girls in the background. Seriously.)
One of my favorite comments about the book comes from Kate Bornstein, who says: “Butch Is A Noun is a book that… a) should be required reading in any gender studies curriculum, b) femmes should read whenever they’re feeling unloved, lonely or misunderstood, c) butches should read, d) all of the above. The answer, of course, is d. Thank you, dear Bear.”
There’s lots in there for not just butch-identified folks, but also for folks who love butches, regardless of your gender.
Here’s the description of the book from Arsenal Pulp Press:
Butch is a Noun, the first book by activist, gender-jammer, and performer S. Bear Bergman,won wide acclaim when published by Suspect Thoughts in 2006: a funny, insightful, and purposely unsettling manifesto on what it means to be butch (and not). In thirty-four deeply personal essays, Bear makes butchness accessible to those who are new to the concept, and makes gender outlaws of all stripes feel as though they have come home. From girls’ clothes to men’s haircuts, from walking with girls to hanging with young men, Butch is a Noun chronicles the perplexities, dangers, and pleasures of living lifeoutside the gender binary.
This new edition includes a new afterword by the author.
In case you don’t know about it, Bear also has a new anthology, co-edited with Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation just released from Seal press. Pick that up directly from Seal Press, at your local independent queer feminist bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.
Pick up a copy of Butch Is A Noun directly from Arsenal Pulp Press, or head out to your local independent queer feminist bookstore, or, as usual, if you must, from Amazon.
I’m still on vacation. But I wouldn’t deprive you of the Butch Voices countdown! Sugarbutch will resume regular posting on Wednesday, September 1st.
The Butch Voices Regional Conference in New York City (and then in Portland and LA) is coming up in just four short weeks. (And as someone who is part of the organizing committee, can I just say: GULP. So much to do!) And in honor, I’m counting down the Fridays with classic and modern butch book titles that I highly recommend. Just in case you want to start that butch library you’ve always been saying you might.
Dagger: On Butch Women edited by Lily Burana and Roxxie Linnea Due is, heartbreakingly, out of print. But it still exists out there in the world, especially with all the online booksellers. It was published by Cleis Press in 1994 and remains one of the only anthologies about butch identity out there … in fact, it’s the only one that I know of. There are other books on butch identity (as I’ll feature in the next few weeks!), but nothing quite like this.
I came across it when the Femme Top loaned me her copy and I immediately went out to pick up my own. It remains something I flip through and contemplate frequently, full of interviews, personal essays, analysis, gender dynamics, love letters to femmes, and touching stories of female masculinity out of compulsory femininity.
Pick it up at your local bookstore (who does used book searches, hopefully) or online, if you must, through Amazon.
And don’t forget, there are lots of great events coming up in September around the Butch Voices conference, starting with Butch Brunch on September 18!
It’s happening right now! Well not quite right now, since it’s earlier in New York City than it is over in Oakland, on the other coast where the sun sets over the water just like it’s supposed to.
The hashtag for the conference is #femme2010 if you’d like to follow along on Twitter.
How do you like that collective noun, by the way? An extravagance of femmes? Not bad really. There’s a fascinating collective noun site connected to Twitter so that when you tweet your suggestion for the collective noun with the hashtag #collectivenoun it gets automatically updated and counted on the site. Plus, you can “like” other people’s suggestions (which also goes to Twitter). So what say you—what’s the best collective noun for femmes? Tweet it, or leave it in the comments. And check them out as they come in.
Okay, enough of that. You’re dying to know what the femme book is for today, right? Since we’ve got the Butch Voices regional conferences to count down to now, in NYC (September 25), Portland OR (October 1-3), and LA (October 8-10), I figured I’d do a butch/femme joint anthology.
- Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity edited by
Chloe Brushwood Rose & Anna Camilleri (Arsenal Pulp Press; 2003)
- Femme: Feminists, Lesbians and Bad Girls by Laura Harris and Elizabeth Crocker (Routledge; 1997)
- The Femme’s Guide to the Universe by Shar Rednour (Alyson Books; 2000) (And did you see? Shar has launched a blog How Great Sex Made Me a Good Mom and is now on Twitter as @SharRednour)
And there’s Glamour Girls: Femme/femme Erotica by Rachel Kramer Bussel (Harrington Park Press; 2006) and With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn by Amber Dawn and Trish Kelly if you’re into erotica. Which, you know, you might be.
So now that I’ve recited pretty much every femme book that I know of and think are worth knowing, let’s get back to today’s feature. The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader edited by Joan Nestle, published by Alyson Books in 1992. It looks like it’s out of print, but you can probably still get it used in various places, like Powell’s online or, of course, Amazon (but only if you have to. Don’t you want independent bookstores to stay in business?).
The description of The Persistent Desire from Library Journal is as follows:
This anthology of stories, poems, and nonfiction accounts pays homage to a host of femme and butch lesbian relationships that have flourished over four decades. The narrators recount their experiences, describing how they met, how they took care of one another, and how they tried–or defiantly tried not–to fit in. The selections themselves bubble with passion and pain. Some dive beneath the surface to explore the varied meanings of gender roles, but most describe highly ritualistic manners of dress, hairstyle, and gesture that at times left the protagonist open to ridicule. In collecting these pieces into one volume, Nestle has made sure that the integrity and diversity of femme-butch relationships will not be lost. She has included narratives from women of many backgrounds and ethnic groups and from outside the United States.
This book was for me, as it was for many people, eye-opening, validating, breathtaking. I found it while I was still trying to articulate my own butch identity, and come into my orientation of dating femmes, and it blew past most of my doubts as if doing 80 on a motorcycle. I wanted to be part of that, I felt so connected to it. It changed the way I thought about myself and the way I thought about femmes.
It’s dated now. It was published almost two decades ago, and it reflects a different era of thought about gender identity and alignment assumptions. And while the trans movements were alive by then, much has happened on that front in the past 18 years since it was published and much transgender theory has affected gender theory deeply in wonderfully deliciously complicated ways.
We’re really due for an update.
And how about that, one is just on the horizon! Partners and butch/femme couple Ivan E. Coyote and Zena Sharman have been working on an anthology titled Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme (see the connection to the first anthology’s title? Smart!) that is due out from Arsenal Pulp Press soon. Not sure what the exact date of publication is yet, but you can be certain I’ll be mentioning it here again. It looks like Ivan just picked up the postcards for the book from her publisher the other day, so it must be coming fairly soon! I will report back as I know.
There are more books, especially more butch/femme books, and more books just on butch identity by itself (look for more of those featured on the upcoming Fridays as we countdown to the Butch Voices NYC conference). I’ve made a new section in my Amazon Store exclusively for butch and femme books, so if you’re curious what else is out there, that’s a good place to start. And if you’ve got suggestions for what I missed, I’m glad to hear ‘em!
UPDATE! Persistence: All Ways Butch And Femme has a webpage on Arsenal Pulp Press, a description, and is due out in the spring of 2011. Isn’t that cover great? It’s done by Elisha Lim, who also has a book of her own newly out from Alyson, 100 Butches, Volume 1.
If you see Zena at the Femme Conference, she supposedly has postcards for Persistence, so that’ll give you an excuse to say hi. She’s aka “The Silver Fox” because (guess) of her hair, so that should narrow it down for ya.
(Don’t you just love the Internet? I do. Thanks, Arsenal, for answering those questions.)
“When I finally realized that I didn’t want to be a butch, I wanted to sleep with a butch, a whole new world opened up before my eyes.” —Lesléa Newman, from the Introduction: I Enjoy Being a Girl
The Femme Conference 2010: No Restrictions in Oakland is just one week away! And in honor, Sugarbutch is counting down to the Femme Conference, featuring some important femme books that I highly recommend if you haven’t read them already. Femme is part of an ever-evolving, big, knowable lineage, and if you love this identity in any way—if it’s yours, or if it is the gender to whom you are oriented, or if you appreciate it—you should know where it comes from, where it’s been.
News from the Femme Conference this week: the Femme Conference Schedule has been announced, and in addition to Kate Bornstein’s keynote, Moki Macías, a queer femme organizer and community planner in Atlanta, will also be doing a keynote.
And the Conference is only one week away!
It was the first book on femme identity that I came across, and I picked up a copy at Powell’s when I was in Portland in July. Re-reading parts of it is kind of like re-reading my own journals from ten years ago, so familiar are the words and perspectives. So I’m particularly fond of this book because of the nostalgia, because of how formative this collection was for me.
One description says, “A fascinating and insightful look at the world of femme identity within the lesbian community. Written by femmes, former femmes, future femmes, femme wanna-bes, femme admirers, and of course, femmes fatales, The femme Mystique explores what it means to be a femme and a lesbian in a society that often trivializes the feminine.”
Coming out into communities which were ruled by queer femmes (well, at least, they sure seemed to be from my perspective), I think I’ve been a little blind to the ways that the queer scenes can trivialize the feminine, but as a women studies student and as someone who is simply aware of sexism and misogyny in this world, obviously that is entirely true and relevant. It continues to surprise me. Like, the doctor at the queer health clinic gave you a pregnancy test, even after you told her you were gay? Really? That just doesn’t even make any sense. But hey, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
The more recent anthologies are much higher quality, I think, both in the choice and arrangement of the essays and the quality of writing, but every once in a while there is a serious gem. Some folks have criticized this as being repetitive, which I also do understand, but that also speaks to how common and communal these perspectives on queer femme identity are. You’re likely to recognize some of the authors—Chrystos, Tristan Taormino, Kitty Tsui—but there are plenty more I’m not familiar with. The book is peppered with photographs, many of them very clearly 1980s versions of femininity (press on nails, lace, extensive makeup) which is interesting, that femme can be so closely tied to female fashion trends. There is a lot of identity alignment assumptions in this collection—a lot of women talking about cooking, cleaning, “traditionally female” activities. It’s interesting how much we as a culture have broken that in the last fifteen years, even.
Even though the women in these photos are probably in their 20s and early 30s, which is my age, they seem so much older … probably because my brain automatically does the calculation: “If they are 25 in 1990, they are 12 years older than me and are now in the early 40s.” It takes some intentional undoing to think, these people in these essays, in these photographs, are my age, and were at that time figuring out the same things I am now figuring out.
Though it’s not my favorite collection, it is a classic, and was very important to me personally (and to many, I’m sure, since it was one of the first collections on femme identity). I also really recommend Lesléa Newman’s essay collection Out of the Closet and Nothing to Wear, which is a collection of the femme column she wrote for many years. More information about Lesléa Newman can be found over on her website, lesleanewman.com. (Did you know she also wrote Heather Has Two Mommies?)
Have you read this? What did you think?
And also … are you ready for the Femme Conference!? I can’t wait to hear all about it on Twitter and other blogs! Who’s going to be writing about it? Who’s going to be live-Tweeting? Keep me updated, please!
The Femme Conference 2010: No Restrictions in Oakland is two weeks away! And in honor, Sugarbutch is counting down to the Femme
Conference, featuring some important femme books that I highly recommend if you haven’t read them already. Femme is part of an ever-evolving, big, knowable lineage, and if you love this identity in any way—if it’s yours, or if it is the gender to whom you are oriented, or if you appreciate it—you should know where it comes from, where it’s been.
I met Ulrika Dahl at the Femme Conference in 2008, and was excited to get my hands on this lovely book when it came out. It features profiles and essays about femme identity, photographs of femmes with all sorts of varieties of presentation, and discussions of what femme is like in different contexts. It’s a beautiful book, almost a coffee table book, that you can flip through and stare at all the beautiful photographs of femmes. Or you can delve deeper into the text for complex depictions of queer gender identity.
From the synopsis:
What is femme? French for woman? A feminine lesbian? A queer girl who loves to dress up? Think again! Going beyond identity politics and the pleasures of plumage, “Femmes of Power” captures a diverse range of queerly feminine subjects whose powerful and intentional redress explodes the meaning of femme for the 21st century. “Femmes of Power” features both every-day heroines and many queer feminist icons, including Michelle Tea, Virginie Despentes, Amber Hollibaugh, Itziar Ziga, Lydia Lunch, Kate Bornstein and Valerie Mason-John. “Femmes of Power” unsettles the objectifying “male” gaze on femininity and presents femmes as speaking subjects and high heeled theorists.
The Femme Conference 2010: No Restrictions is happening in Oakland, CA in just three short weeks. There’s still time to register!
I attended in 2008 in Chicago and it was a pretty amazing experience. I took away so many conversations about identity development and expression, about visible physical markers and femme fashion. I would love to attend again, maybe next time.
Recently, I was chatting with a femme friend who was in from out of town about being in leadership or facilitator positions within this gender world, and how many baby femmes and baby butches feel lost and alone when they’re coming to these identities. “I always tell them, read your history!” she said. There are lots of books out there, actually, that discuss the same things we are going through. Sure, they might be a little dated; sure, we might have a better sense of how to break identity alignment assumptions than those writing thirty years ago. But we do not have to reinvent the wheel: much of this work has already been done for us, and even has already been recorded and written about.
So, as a countdown to this fantastic conference, I’m going to feature a couple of different femme tomes that are really important in the heritage of the femme world—or that have been to me. If you haven’t read them, I highly recommend it.
The first, and most recent publication about femme identity (as far as I know) is the two-volume set Visible: A Femmethology edited by Jennifer Clare Burke and published by Homofactus Press.
Visible: A Femmethology is a collection of personal essays from over fifty contributors who explore what it means to be a queer femme. Award winning authors, spoken-word artists, and totally new voices come together to challenge conventional ideas of how disability, class, nationality, race, aesthetics, sexual orientation, gender identity, and body type intersect with each contributor’s concrete notion of femmedom.
Though the book launched more than a year ago, the book’s website still has some very valuable stuff, including a large list of contributors, if you’d like to look up some inspiring writers, and mini-interviews with them about what it means to be femme.
The cover was a bit controversial, when it came out, but there are some male authors in this book who explore their femme identity, so I can understand that they intended to show that femme is not something that exclusively belongs to cis women.
I’ll admit, I’m a little biased with this book, because I have a piece in Volume II called A Love Letter to Femmes. Dacia recorded it for me last year, when the book was coming out, so there’s an audio recording of me reading it, if you’d like to hear it. But even if I didn’t have a piece in it, the collection is a great read and will I think inspire any femme to feel less alone. Most of the focus in this anthology, probably because of the title, Visible, is on the invisibility of femme identity and the ways that, particularly, straight folks assume femmes are also straight. I have my own thoughts about invisibility, mostly about sovereignty and the outsider complex that many of us feel, but regardless of my own opinions, I know visibility is something that pretty much all femmes feel at various times, so it’s an important thing to study and bring light to and discuss.
Order the two volumes directly from Homofactus Press (if you’d like the small indie press to get the most benefit), from your local independent queer feminist neighborhood bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.
Laid: Young People’s Experiences with Sex in an Easy-Access Culture Edited by Shannon T. Boodram. Seal Press, 2009
Perhaps I had unrealistic high expectations for this book. “The basement smelled like sex,” the book starts. “That thick, musty scent that sits in the air and clings to everything it touches. I inhaled deep and hard, thinking about the heated moments that had just passed. The moments when I was too busy creating the odor to even notice its sticky presence.” Maybe I thought it’d be a bit more upbeat, positive. I have a skewed perspective of sex education and what’s going on with sexually active youth, after all, consuming places like Scarleteen.com and attending queer and kinky events occasionally open to young people.
Laid is separated into five different chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of sex: hookups, positive experiences, physical consequences, date rape, and abstinence. I expected “consequences” and “date rape” to be harder chapters to read, but in truth they were all hard. I kept cringing from the negative, stereotypical information being given out at every turn. But because these stories are full of people’s real experiences and opinions, they can’t exactly be “wrong;” but I cannot recommend this book as any representation of sexual education, as it sells itself as being. The honest, real experiences expressed are valuable to read, but I clearly do not agree with these contributor’s value systems, and many of them I would disagree as plain old bad information.
As I got further into the book, I even doubted the values and knowledge of the editor, as each chapter wraps up with a series of questions about that chapter’s content from the contributors. Questions from Boodram such as “What does lesbian sex include, since it’s not possible to have traditional vaginal/penile intercourse?” (p55), asking a bisexual woman, “Do you have a preference?” (p110), and asking a woman who authored a piece on her abortion, “Why did you decide to abort your child?” (p178) all got me hot under the collar, for both the content and the phrasing.
Boodram admits that a book agent wrote to her, “This book is too negative. Despite having some good information I think the chapter on rape really drags things down” (p185). First, including a quote from an agent’s rejection letter in your book seems like a bad idea. Second, the book is too negative: but not just because of the rape chapter. The “physical consequences” chapter reads like a warning: Don’t Have Sex Or This Will Happen To You. And while it’s true that there are real consequences to sex, and that young people need to be educated about safety and caution, sex is not all bad! Despite the “positive experiences” chapter, the prevalence of scary, negative, and frightening stories was so pervasive that I can’t help but think I would be all the more inclined to agree with Boodram’s encouragement of abstinence after reading through these stories. Boodram used to run the site SaveYourCherry.com, which seems to be down now, and knowing that bit of information makes it even easier to see Laid as an advertisement for her philosophies about waiting to have sex because the consequences are too risky. Save it for the one you love! every chapter seems to shout. Or you’ll end up like me. It seems like a cheap way to use the honest, rare stories that these teens and young adults shared about their sex lives.
Boodram did include some men’s voices and perspectives in this collection of stories, but I found myself disappointed in that, too. In the introduction to the date rape chapter, Boodram admits, “My biggest regret about this chapter is that it does not include the voice of a male who experienced rape or sexual abuse. Twice I was contacted by different men … both expressed that they were interested in sharing their stories, and neither ended up submitting. … I had to give up” (p186). There must be more than two young men out there who have experienced sexual assault and who may be willing to share their stories around it. Rape is more complicated than women as survivors and men as perpetrators, and while that is the most common scenario, I wish she’d looked a little harder to include multiple perspectives.
But that’s the problem with a “sexual education” book based on real experiences: it is much harder to include content to create a full, varied, and wide representation of experience, since the editor may be limited to the contributions she received. And it’s difficult, as a critic, to disagree with someone’s personal experience.
Contributor Anthony writes in his story, “Teenage Pregnancy,” that he “never saw abortion as an option. I also know how selfish it may seem because I wasn’t the one carrying the child, but I don’t regret how firm a stance I took” (p180). This is a tough position on which to take a stance, controversial even, and while perhaps it makes sense to include multiple perspectives on the same situation, there was no corollary young woman with a feminist stance, saying she has the right to choose over her own body and that her boyfriend (or one night stand or hookup) was supportive, but understood that it was more her choice than his. In fact, there was kind of the opposite: another abortion story by Lorie who writes, “I did not include my partner in my decision. This I regret. I truly felt that the child was as much mine as it was his: thus, the decision should have been as much his as it was mine” (p178). I’ll skip over the part where she calls a fetus a “child,” and give her the benefit of the doubt that he was a great guy who would have listened and negotiated with her about what to do after they both got into this situation together. Hopefully, he would not have taken such a firm stance as Anthony, described above, forcing upon Lorie that abortion was not an option for her.
Perhaps abortion decisions are never so simple. Perhaps if Lorie had had a partner she could trust and confide in, she would have felt that pregnancy and birth was an option. Perhaps she wouldn’t say things like, “I get sad when I see a little girl who looks like me, or when I see pictures of a fetus. … I almost feel as though I’m not worthy to have another child because I let one go” (p179). But what about the flip side of that experience? What about when women have abortions and they feel okay about it, even good about their decision? What about the women who do not feel guilt? What about the right to exercise one’s choice? Those women are out there, that perspective on abortion is out there, but the sad regretful stories are far, far more prevalent in cultural narratives.
These experiences are clearly important, valid stories, real scenarios that these real people have gone through, and their real thoughts and feelings about them. I wouldn’t tell Lorie that her response to her abortion is “wrong” any more than I can tell someone else that theirs is “right”—I can only say that I know there are other responses out there, too, and when a book like this is touting itself off as an educational resource, I am not impressed.
There was one part I quite enjoyed: at the very end, almost as an afterthought with no bolding or italics, Boodram includes Ten Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier, and those points were right on. Those ideas, concepts, and general content I could get behind. “Sex is not just put it in, take it out. … Everyone thinks they’re good at sex without even really knowing anything about it. … Demand the truth about sex from your teachers and make sure they take adequate time to talk about myths verses reality. … Be confident and deliberate, especially when it comes to your personal life” (p278-279). She even includes Things the Contributors Want You To Know, a similar list of inspiring statements and personal revelations. Now this, this is useful. What would a book based on those ideas look like?
If it were simply a collection of essays on young people’s experiences with sex, it would have been an interesting essay collection. If it had been only a sexual education book written by Boodram, it may have stood up a bit stronger, and not had to answer to the long, real-life scenarios by her contributors. Regardless, there are better essay collections and much better sexual education books available; skip this one.
Good Porn: A Woman’s Guide by Erika Lust, translated by X.P. Callahan. Seal Press, June 2010
It’s difficult for me to critique this book: Lust consumes porn in similar ways that I do, and we have a similar history with viewing porn, so most of my responses to this consist of, “yeah, so what?” It’s not new information to me, nor would it be to anyone who is aware of the ways that the porn industry is rapidly changing to include more female directors, more perspectives from and by and about women, and more woman-oriented pornography.
Really we’re talking about films here. Porno films, from kink and gonzo to erotic documentaries: Lust writes about ‘em all.
If you’re a woman who doesn’t like porn, or who has seen some porn and thinks that it is all the same, icky, unrealistic, performance-y, useless, and not even sexy, this is a great guide to finding directors, stars, and content that you may enjoy. There is a world of new porn available, even in the last five years, and if you can suspend your judgment for a bit to open up to the new materials that Lust describes, you might be greatly rewarded, discovering some new ways to explore your own sexuality through finally some videos of sex that are actually made for your consumption.
I can’t imagine that readers of Sugarbutch—or Carnal Nation, where this review will be cross-posted—will find this new information, however. In my experience, most of the readers understand this new world of porn films, as I might argue that both Sugarbutch and Carnal Nation are part of that new world, perhaps on the fringe, as we don’t produce video content, but as cultural commentary, certainly.
So who needs to pick up this book?
Those women who, though they have already made up their minds about something, are willing to be surprised. Women who believe that porn could possibly be good, that the definition of porn is not “exploiting women” but that the industry has had a lousy history in the hands of repressed men who will sell any act of a penis pounding a vagina to make a quick buck, and that if women or queers or respectable men were making porn, it could be better. It possibly could be interesting, even. Women who believe that it is not porn itself that is the problem, it is not taking video of people having sex, enjoying their sexuality, and getting off that makes porn bad, it is the perspective and the industry in which most of these videos have been made that is problematic. And look—there is a whole industry and perspective popping up, thanks to the feminist movements, queer movements, and the rise in sexual information, sex education, and the Internet.
Ah yes, the Internet. It’s a challenge to write about the Internet in a book. Books are somewhat fixed documents, the Internet changes all the time. Long lists of web addresses in books are not so appealing, since they aren’t hypertext and I can’t click on them, and I have to be really inspired to actually go look up the URL on my computer from a book. Plus, I spend a lot of time online, reading information about sexuality, keeping up with the feminist- and queer-positive directors of porn, and following the new big releases from Blowfish or Good Releasing, so the information in Good Porn wasn’t new or shiny or opening my mind in any major (or minor) way. I was hoping Lust would tell us more about the worlds of women’s porn in Europe, since she’s Swedish and in fact this book is translated into English for it’s release on Seal Press, but there was very little content and description of films that I wasn’t previously aware of. It seems that the major impetus for this new women-centered porn world is here, in the US.
If you need some convincing that porn for women is real, happening, and, yes indeed, valuable, check out what Lust has to say on the subject. But if you are already part of this world, while I recognize that it’s good, solid information and important to write about, it may not keep your interest.
Please, Sir edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago and I was thrilled to see it. Right away I noticed how luscious and vivid the cover image is … Rachel always has great covers, but it’s one of my favorites. Her bright, open eyes and the colors of her skin and corset (!), digitally smoothed no doubt, but stunning.
And Cleis Press does such a nice job with these titles of Rachel’s. She’s got like a million published by now, I’m sure you’ve seen them if you’re an erotica reader, which you probably are, since you’re reading this site. Most of them are pansexual—written from various orientations, gay, straight, bi—and focused around a particular topic or theme, like shoes or spanking or short-short stories or, in the case of Please, Sir, “erotic stories of female submission.”
They are strictly from the perspective of the female submissive, and so the stories are written by women. Most of the contents are heterosexual, with the dominant in the story being a guy. They are not so gender-forward or radical, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t lovely: they are. And that doesn’t mean that a queer like me didn’t enjoy the book: I did, very much.
It’s kind of like Kate Bornstein’s WALL-E theory—that it’s possible to superimpose your desired gender combination into stories and songs and art, even if it isn’t what the author initially intended. And in this case, it’s not so hard to consider that this “guy” is a butch who goes by male pronouns (at least for this scene), and to read it with a queer eye, imposing my own desires and orientation and gender identities on top of the dominants.
Reading it this way makes the stories really hot, actually. Whereas it’s still kind of a challenge for me to read stories of male dominance and female submission, since I suspect so easily and quickly the ways that dynamic is prescribed and unquestioned, when I imagine it a butch and femme, or more of a queer dynamic, I can quickly see the dynamic as a parody of itself, an intentional play upon the prescribed roles, and that is, for whatever reasons, precisely what I like.
A couple stories stand out: the one by Kissa Starling, about the brat, the woman in a little girl role acting out by flirting with other guys while her Daddy is observing her, then punishes her, ultimately asking her what it was she really needed, why she was acting out. There were a couple rather complex concepts explained in there that I connected with. (I didn’t love the end, where it seemed like the girl didn’t actually learn anything but was going to simply continue acting out, but the rest of it had some good stuff.)
I really appreciated Rachel’s introduction, too. Here’s a snippet:
Introduction by Rachel Kramer Bussel: Risk and Reward
If you ask me, submission is an art form. It requires dedication, focus, commitment and desire and there’s no single way of doing it. It’s about unlocking something within yourself so you can reach beyond your normal limits, exposing your body and soul in order to go somewhere you cannot get to alone.
I had a lover who always told me that the key to life is “High risk, high reward.” The same is true about kink, and this is evident throughout the stories in Please, Sir, which explores female submission and male dominance from the sub’s point of view. When these characters take risks, they are rewarded…even when those rewards look like “punishment.” They are rewarded in all kinds of ways, from being bound to being praised to being choked, spanked or put on display. They are rewarded by being tested again and again.
Hot, eh? This whole book is like that, intentional and beautiful in its descriptions of submission and surrender. Sometimes I don’t get enough of that perspective in my own work, I get so involved in topping and in describing the topping and dominance that sometimes, it feels strange that anybody would not want to be the top, or be the dominant, since that is so clearly what I want and what I like. It feels deeply validating to be reminded that there are people out there who need to submit in similar ways to how I need to dominate, that our desires run parallel and complimentary, that we fit into each other. This book is a really lovely validation. I’ll certainly pick it up again and thumb through it on occasion, finding more gems of stories, connecting to new ones each time I read or re-read.
Kristen and I brought it on our camping trip a few weeks ago, and read a few stories aloud to each other, which was a lovely way to spend an evening curled up in a tent. I also love reading erotica aloud on road trips (though Kristen can’t read while in a car, and I tend to drive, so we don’t do that often).
As if that isn’t enough to encourage you to check out this new publication, here’s the amazingly sexy book trailer that Rachel put together:
Yeah, okay, so that’s all that needs said.
Check out the rest of the Please, Sir blog tour on pleasesirbook.wordpress.com, and buy it at your local, independent, feminist, queer activist bookstore, or, if you must, on Amazon.
One of the first things I procured when Kristen and I decided to undergo an anal sex educational adventure was Tristan Taormino’s book The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex For Women. It is clearly THE definite guide on the subject, she is, as Time Out New York quotes on the cover, “the go-to girl on anal sex,” and she is a fantastic writer.
So we picked it up. Kristen tore through it quickly, absorbing what she needed to, but I took longer, picking it up and reading a chapter here and there for the past few months. I’ve been around in sex positive circles and sex education circles long enough that none of the information was particularly new, but regardless, it was really helpful to see it all laid out clearly again, in a quick and easy guide type of style.
It’s really well-constructed, too. It starts with Myths About Anal Sex and moves into Anal Anatomy, both very specific basics to cover. And since Kristen and I both are pretty (okay, extremely) analytical, we like to do our research. We like to have all the information.
Tristan’s third chapter was especially a good one for me, which is “Beyond Our Bodies: Emotional and Psychological Aspects of Anal Eroticism,” and covers talking about it, fear, and trust. I think some of what Kristen and I come up against is some hesitation around this, the fear and trust, and struggling with wanting to do something (like take a cock up the ass) and having that actually be uncomfortable, but feeling bad that it doesn’t feel better. Well, it’s certainly possible that it won’t actually feel better, that you just don’t like that sensation, that you don’t come more easily from anal than from vaginal penetration (unlike Madison Young, for example). But it’s also possible that we just keep going slow, and I know some of the things we do are very pleasurable, and perhaps eventually we’ll build up into something even more so.
I’m writing a little cryptically in the plural and second person here, but probably you already know that what I’ve been talking about is me fucking Kristen’s ass. And she (and everyone else on the entire Internet) knows that I’m interested in doing that … but I am, first and foremost, interested in it feeling good. (I know some of the things we play with don’t directly “feel good,” like getting slapped, but there’s a release there that is not about discomfort. That’s not the same thing.) I don’t care how soon, or if EVER, we get to the point of playing where I can actually be strapped on and fucking her ass.
On the other hand, I know she likes it, sometimes, when she’s really turned on and I work just one knuckle of my finger in … and I know she’s interested in exploring more, she’s told me such explicitly. I’ve got to remember to be clear that this isn’t about the destination, but about the journey, and about the exploring.
I’ve kind of successfully avoided talking about the, perhaps, elephant in the room surrounding anal week: what about my ass?
That’s actually really hard for me to write about! Which is why I haven’t yet really gone there. Even with my review of Tristan’s Anniversary plug (ooh la la) last year, I avoided talking about how I actually used it and how it felt.
It feels pretty intimate to reveal, I guess … and you all know that I do bottom, sometimes, or at least, I used to. I have, in the past. Quite a bit, in fact. And I have a lot of experience with anal sex, my high school ex-boyfriend of five years (whom I think I’ve referred to as Mike here on this site?) used to love it and we had quite a good time with it.
I know, I know! Wait, what? Not only am I talking about things going into my own ass, I’m talking about being fucked by a cis guy! Maybe I’m deflecting. You know, “Hey Mom, I have cancer. Just kidding, I’m gay!”
My own ass has been pretty much left out of the equation here, mostly because, these days, frankly, I’m a little bit stone. Not entirely, and I don’t have specific rules about the parts of my body that she can or cannot touch, but usually I actually ask for things done to me, and she doesn’t usually assert what she wants to do or make requests. Which I very much like. Nine times out of ten, or maybe more like ninety-five times out of a hundred, I don’t want to be touched, don’t really want the focus on me. Or, I want it to be directed by me, and focused on me in the ways that I choose it to be. It’s taken me a while to get here, and I like it. I’ve never been so sexually satisfied with a partner.
But … that’s not to say that I wouldn’t like something in my ass on occasion. I wonder if having a butt plug in while wearing a harness would make me come easier, in fact. It’s a subject I haven’t talked to Kristen about much (ahem, really, at all), but something worth playing with.
Speaking of trust, and fear.
Back to the review:
Tristan covers freakin’ everything. Hygiene, shaving, enemas, safer sex, lube, toys, masturbation, analingus (or, as Dylan reminds us, rimming), penetration, anal pleasure for men, BDSM, long-term butt plug wear, anal fisting … everything! She has nice little sidebars featuring questions from readers, which she answers expertly and clearly. AND it has great cartoon-y drawings of toys, people doin’ it, gloves, and all sorts of things that need visual representation.
So nice to have such a great resource available, eh?
If you’re interested in anal sex, either a beginner or a frequent lover of the activity, this will deepen your play, offer you lots of support for any questions or qualms you’re having, and maybe even give you some new ideas of hot things you can incorporate and play with. Absolutely worth reading.
I hear she’s also got a great DVD series, Expert’s Guides, featuring The Expert Guide to Anal Sex, which I’m going to do my best to get my hands on next.
The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women (2nd Edition) was sent to me for review by Eden Fantasys. Get more books, anal toys, or other sex toys over at Eden. Thanks!