Posts Tagged ‘seal press’

Gender, Poetry, and Smut: Current Recommended Reads

December 17, 2013  |  reviews  |  4 Comments

I have stacks of books on my lists to tell y’all about, and so many other things to write to you about that I often don’t update you with what I’m reading. But, I know some of y’all are book nerds, so here ya go. Some beginnings of my attempt to get through this backlog.

And hey, who knows, maybe it’ll be a perfect last-minute dark-time-of-the-year holiday gift for somebody.

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Butch Geography by Stacey Waite (Tupelo Press). A poetry collection … I read the review over on Lambda Literary and ran out to snag my own copy. It really is as beautiful as the review says. Waite writes with precise language and beautiful turns of phrase and enjambment about gender, navigating the world as a masculine of center person, and love. If you’re into gender and butch things and poetic words, this is for you.

Troubling the Line: Trans & Genderqueer Poetics TC Tolbert & Tim Trace Peterson (Nightboat Press). This anthology includes a wide range of poets, some examples of their work, and some statements (“poetics”) of their purpose and intentions behind their poetry. I find those essays in particular so compelling. The whole thing strikes me as very academic, so there is a lot of theory and big, fancy words that I feel like I could squint and strain to understand but I just kind of don’t bother (unless, you know, I really want to), but even so, I love reading the words and seeing two of my favorite genres—genderqueer theory and poetry—come together. Fascinating—and, as far as I know, the only book of its kind.

Poets include Samuel Ace, Julian Talamantez Brolaski, Micha Cardenas, kari edwards, Duriel Harris, Joy Ladin, Dawn Lundy Martin, Eileen Myles, Trish Salah, Max Wolf Valerio, John Wieners, Kit Yan, and more.

Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive By Julia Serano (Seal Press). I’ve said for years that I consider Serano’s first book, Whipping Girl, required reading, and this, her sophomore publication, is likewise just as essential. Feminist and queer movements can be so exclusive, can reproduce all sorts of misogyny, racism, transphobia, transmisogyny, classism, and dozens more -isms—I have experienced and witnessed so much of that first-hand, and it frustrates me, as someone who is deeply committed to feminist and queer movements. And yet … sometimes I have no idea what to do about it. Serano puts forth all kinds of theories and concepts that I really like—the first one that comes to mind is explaining feminism through the concept of double standards. Keep up with Serano through her blog, where she’s got information about book signings and readings, and where she’s been posting excerpts and definitions of terms she coined or is using extensively in this book. It’ll give you a good sense of the tone and concepts included in Excluded (see what I did there? Ha ha!).

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Best Bondage Erotica 2014 edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel (Cleis Press). Oh! It looks like this is technically released January 1st, though I did just see that Rachel received her box of copies to send out to Amazon reviewers (get in touch with her and get a copy of the book in exchange for writing it up on Amazon!). I’m not sure what the last Best Bondage Erotica collection was that I read … maybe I haven’t read any of them? I’ll be honest, I’m not very into bondage—but that’s partly why I absolutely loved Laura Antoniou’s introduction to this book, which basically said, “Uh, I’m not that into bondage.” Hah! Cracked me up, and also, I identify with that. “I’m much more into power,” Antoniou writes. Yeah, me too. And yet … and yet. She goes on to explain the value of these stories, and I admit they kept me turning pages. I particularly loved Kathleen Delaney-Adams story “Tart Cherry,” but that’s because I am a sucker for a kinky femme bottom who knows what she wants. Still, it’s beautifully written and sweet and dirty, and it stood out.

Best Lesbian Erotica 2014, edited by Kathleen Warnock (Cleis Press). There was a bit of news about this year’s BLE collection, and while I have a lot of questions and confusion and thoughts from that article, I don’t really need to go into that here. I mean, I am kind of the lesbian erotica cheerleader (despite having complicated relationships with both the words “lesbian” and “erotica”). But still, I come back to BLE year after year, I submit my stories, and I always, always look forward to reading it. This year, the story I submitted is the kick-off piece, the first one in the book (thrilling!), and I was lucky enough to be part of the release party here in San Francisco and hear almost ten of the stories read aloud. I think this year’s is a good collection, well-written and well collected, though there aren’t very many stories in here that I’ll be going back to for jerk-off material, mostly because they aren’t Daddy/girl or heavy BDSM based (which tends to be what I seek out these days—I know, SHOCKER). Still, Cheryl Dunye & Sarah Schulman’s script for the full length campy porn Mommy is Coming is included, and that’s fascinating.

Actually, speaking of Mommy is Coming, here’s the trailer:

Um yeah. Definitely recommend that one.

Aaaand that concludes this current book round-up! What have you been reading lately? Anything good to recommend?

Friday Reads: Favorites from 2010

February 11, 2011  |  reviews  |  2 Comments

2010 was the first year I was pretty diligent about using GoodReads to record what I’ve been reading, and it tells me I read about 50 books in 2010—I think that’s not quite right, but I’m going to try to be even better about it this year. In fact, I’ve made it a “goal” on GoodReads to read 100 books—given that I’m reviewing lesbian erotica for Lambda Literary Foundation, editing two books, am a judge for a literary contest, and my monthly book group, and just that is more than 50 books, I think I can make it.

2011 Reading Challenge

Sinclair has

read 16 books toward her goal of 100 books.

hide

Looking over the books I have listed on GoodReads as read in 2010, these are the ones that stand out. Not all of these are queer explicitly, though queer novels remain my favorite thing to read. And not all of them were published in 2010.

All are linked to Amazon for research purposes, but please do order and buy them from your local independent bookstore—Support booksellers! Support local culture!

In alphabetical order, because it’s hard to compare:

Aud Torvingen trilogy: The Blue Place, Always, & Stay by Nicola Griffith. I remember when Stay came out while I was working at the bookstore in Seattle (where I worked for almost 5 years as a bookseller), many people recommended it to me, saying I would like it. I think they assumed I would like it because I’m queer and it has a queer protagonist, but whatever. I (mistakingly) thought it was science fiction, and wasn’t so inclined to pick it up, but I finally picked up The Blue Place a few years ago (GoodReads says I read it in June 2009) and I was impressed. Well, first I kind of hated Aud Torvingen, the know-it-all, independently wealthy, accomplished-at-everything ex-cop turned private investigator who was trying to get her life together. But the end of the first book is so heartbreaking and good, I couldn’t just leave the characters suffering, so I had to read the other two in the series. I got hooked. And they just kept getting better. Easy, deep reading that I got lost in. I would read all of these again from the beginning.

Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser. I’ve been a little obsessed with books about healing and trauma the past few years, and I ran into this in a bookstore and picked it up from the library right after. Frequently my favorite books in about this kind of thing take a very Buddhist perspective (like When Things Fall Apart, Radical Acceptance, and When the Past Is Present), and while I love that, I also know that until I had a pretty strong base in Buddhist philosophy, I didn’t quite understand what they were talking about, and I found them difficult to read. Not this one, though. Broken Open talks about trauma, loss, grief, and healing from lots of different perspectives, weaving in stories and techniques from her workshops over the years. Very readable and very inspiring.

Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done by Susan J. Douglas. It’s not out in paperback yet, so I’ve still got the hardback copy from the library and have renewed it about 25 times now. I keep thinking I’ll get to a full review of it on Sugarbutch, and so I should go back and look through my notes and dog-ears to figure out exactly what I want to say. So here’s the paragraph version: I have thought about this book often since I read it. The descriptions of the 1990s especially made me realize I grew up in a unique time, full of the closest we’ve gotten to the manifestation of the feminist and gender equality movements, and the 2000s have brought plenty of backlash—but in a more subtle, twisted way than the backlash of the 1980s and early ’90s. Now, the backlash makes feminism look like it is outdated. Feminism? Pshaw, who needs that, women are equal now! But through various examinations of entertainment, celebrity, films, TV, and other pop cultural artifacts, Douglas argues that it’s far from over. It changed the way I am looking at feminism, and gave me some new ways to talk about what’s going on now. Now excuse me, I want to go re-read it.

Lynnee Breedlove’s One Freak Show by Lynn Breedlove (Manic D Press, 2009). Just, awesome. I’m a fan, but I had no idea Breedlove is so funny! And readable, and smart, and clever. I identified with many of the struggles within the queer communities about gender, and loved the bits about cocks and sexuality. It was more than I expected, and made me feel like Lynnee is my buddy. I was able to be there when Lynn won the Lammy for in the Transgender category last year, and it was a thrill to hear a few of the best lines in the book delivered in person. My full review is up on LambdaLiterary.org.

Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation edited by S. Bear Bergman & Kate Bornstein (Seal Press, 2010). Things have changed since Kate Bornstein’s book Gender Outlaw, and this is the updated proof of the celebration and liberation that’s happening within the trans landscape right now, and the proof of how much further we have to go, and what else we need to work on. I would put this on my “required reading” list, and I bet a lot of other people out there would too. It’s a beautiful anthology. I especially love Bear and Kate’s introduction, which is a conversation via internet chat. My review on Sugarbutch and my companion piece, Ten Ways I am a Gender Outlaw.

Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son by Michael Chabon. A personal account of gender and masculinity insights throughout life, with illustrations of various relationships—friendships, marriage, kids, parents. I really love his writing, he has such a beautiful way of constructing a sentence, and I was really moved by his descriptions of feminism. Though maybe I shouldn’t be, I was surprised to find a straight white cis man writing so eloquently about gender dynamics and providing insight into so many of the difficulties that are imposed upon us in gender roles, and I think his accessibility brought these concerns to a lot of people since this book was published. It’s a great starting place for examining masculinity in more depth (which is one of the things I hope to do this year, and I have about five books waiting for me).

Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel. I didn’t expect to like this one as much as I did—I thought it would be pretty elementary, but it had some great insight into American culture and relationships. Perel is not American, and that outsider perspective was at times really interesting and useful. Of course, it is 99% heterosexual, and when she tries to include queer couples it doesn’t really account for any sort of difference in culture, but glosses over the difference and goes right to “all relationships have their difficulties, doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight,” which I get, but I think there’s a little more to it than that and it’s a little bit of a privileged position to be able to dismiss the queerness as just a personality trait akin to liking sports or being into cooking. Nevertheless, the tips and consciousness around building a long term relationship that remains sexual are important, and I’m glad I read it. My full review on Sugarbutch.

Missed Her by Ivan Coyote (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010). It wasn’t until I was telling a friend about the book that I realized that “Missed Her” is often mistaken as “Mister” in speech. What can I say about Ivan? She’s a masterful storyteller. She and I grew up in a similar region, and her tales about her childhood and her extended family feel so familiar and nostalgic and articulate in such a beautiful way. I love the descriptions of her new relationship love. I will continue picking up every book she puts out, and I’ve never been disappointed.

Mr. Benson by John Preston (Cleis Press, 2004). How is it possible that I did not read this book until last year?? I can’t believe I missed it. And now that I’ve read it, any time I mention it to queer folks—especially ones older than me—they all know about it, and know it well. So: It is a gay men SM novel first published as a serial in 1979, and then in full in the early 1980s. It’s from a time before the AIDS crisis. More good stuff on John Preston over at GLBTQ encyclopedia, if you want to know more context. The book is dirty and full of power and strength and dominance. The actual storyline is a little boring (I just wasn’t as invested in the human trafficking/exploitation part as I was in the beautiful D/s scenes), but the book does need something to keep it going. Apparently the book was so popular that there were both “Looking for Mr. Benson” and “Looking for Mr. Benson?” tee shirts all over in the ’80s, though of course they are not around now, at least not that I could find. I handed the book to Kristen as soon as I was done and she zoomed through it, then had a “Looking for Mr. Benson?” tee shirt made for me for winter solstice. It prompted me to think a lot about how I play with dominance, especially in my domestic life with Kristen, and we have talked about it frequently while trying to iron out difficulties between us in that play. And who knew piss play could be so awesome?

Origami Striptease by Peggy Munson (Suspect Thoughts Press, 2006). I’ve had this one on my shelf for a few years, not sure where I picked it up but I didn’t know much about it. I started reading it and was hooked: It is so ethereal, so surreal, at times it reads like poetry. The intention and clarity behind the word choices are so specific. It reminds me of Rebecca Brown or Jeanette Winterson, two of my favorite authors. I love getting lost in words and images like I did while reading this. Looks like it’s a little bit out of print now, which is too bad. Maybe the publisher still has it directly.

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue. Historical fiction that recounts a divorce trial in the 1860s. I’m not so in to historical fiction, though on occasion I find it fascinating—particularly when I find it relevant, which, for the most part, I don’t find the genre, but I have found some of the recent books, like Sarah Waters’s novels, with lesbian content. I read this one for my book group, and I was skeptical—it took a while to really get into it. The first half of the book is elaborate descriptions of the two women’s friendship, and the details that lead up to the divorce, then the divorce trial happens for another 1/3 of the book (which I found terribly dull, though my lawyer friend thought was fascinating)—but the very end made it worth it. Though I was a bit triggered by all the psychological manipulation one of the characters continues to exhibit, I have still been recommending this quite a bit. It’s pretty fascinating to hear about the politics of marriage, family, cheating, and legality from 150 years ago—really not that long ago, but it exposes some of the ways we have directly evolved from those cultural standards.

Sometimes She Lets Me: Best Butch Femme Erotica edited by Tristan Taormino (Cleis Press, 2010). Call me biased if you like, because I have a story in this book, but this is my favorite erotica collection to come out for a long time. Not only because it’s butch/femme, but also because the stories are just good. Editor Taormino had a decade worth of Best Lesbian Erotica collections to pull from, and she picked the best of the best of the best, in my opinion. Plus, there aren’t very many explicitly butch and femme erotica anthologies, so I’m glad we’ve got one more. This one is still on my nightstand. My review on Sugarbutch.

Toybag Guide to the Taboo by Mollena Williams (Greenery Press, 2010). I’m a fan of Mollena‘s work in general, and when I saw her at the Lesbian Sex Mafia for her workshop Taboo Play and Working Through Extremes in early 2010 I admired her even more. This book is kind of the written version of her workshop, with many of the same stories and philosophies about what it’s like to be exploring the “taboo” sides of sexuality, like incest play, bestiality, force, and race play, and it is thoroughly thoughtful. Obviously Mollena has been thinking about these things for a long time, and it shows with her respect, care, and detail.

Follow my author profile over at GoodReads if you’d like to see more of the books I’m reading.

So let’s hear it: What were YOUR favorite books of 2010? What are you reading right now? What else do you recommend that I read?

Friday Reads: Dear John, I Love Jane

January 28, 2011  |  reviews  |  12 Comments

Seal Press recently released a much needed addition to queer identity narratives in the anthology Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women edited by Candace Walsh and Laura Andre.

What do you think of when you think about a coming out story? Typically in this culture, the main character of a coming out narrative tends to be a teenager, either pre-teen or late teens, someone who either has always been a bit different or is suddenly hit with the sexual revelation that they might be gay. Despite that coming out as a teenager seems, to me, to be actually a somewhat recent phenomenon, and that people coming out even ten or fifteen years ago were more likely to be college-age rather than high school age, which I would largely attribute to the rise of the Internet and the vast amount of information easily accessible by just typing “gay” into a search engine or, at this point, speaking one word into a search program on a smart phone, there is still a significant lack of literature available about people who come out later in life. Though the coming out process continues to happen younger and younger, the dominant stories are still about people in their tumultuous twenties, which is frequently when we formulate and articulate our adult sexual identities, often for the first time.

But what about someone coming out in their late thirties, forties, fifties? What about someone who has spent most of their life heterosexual, married and raising kids? Often, these stories are not reflected in queer literature and culture. We tend to value and legitimize the folks who express that we “always knew” that something was off about us, queer identities that started giving hints in childhood and were full-on signs by our adolescences.

Which is why this anthology is a much needed addition to the body of work on queer identity; we have so few stories about what it’s like to form these identities later in life. In this book, “later in life” is defined quite broadly, as some of the participants are still quite young and have, in my mind, had fairly typical coming out experiences.

While I was reading through these essays, I felt that it was important to keep in mind that they are personal reflections about the authors’ own experiences, and while there is great value in telling those stories, and this book is beginning to fill a neglected gap, they are not necessarily radical or particularly theoretical, and in fact perpetuate many stereotypes about lesbianism and gender in particular. In fact, the consistent commentary on gendered lesbian stereotypes in so many of the essays made me wonder if those stereotypes were a reflection upon the editors’ beliefs. Perhaps the reader was meant to assume that these were former stereotypes that the narrators held, and that their understandings have deepened and become more complex, but none of the essays directly addressed the vast inaccurate outsider observations toward the lesbian communities and none of the essays directly took on any sort of understanding of how complex gender identity and expression is in the queer and lesbian worlds.

I know that a complex understanding of gender is a lot to expect, and that I am particularly critical of representations of gender that are heteronormative and perpetuating stereotypes, but I was disappointed in the consistent portrayal throughout this book. I do think it is an important to add to the dominant paradigm of coming out and coming to queer identities, and certainly it gives a solid base on which others can now build. But I am cautious in recommending it, since I think it perpetuates more stereotypes than it challenges.

Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation

October 8, 2010  |  reviews  |  1 Comment

You’ve probably read Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein, published in 1995. (If you haven’t, you should.)

To follow it up, fifteen years later Kate Bornstein has teamed up with S. Bear Bergman for a new anthology, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, published by Seal Press.

Kate’s premise in the original Gender Outlaw is that ze is neither a man nor a woman, and discusses hir stories in forming a trans identity. It was one of those books that sunk into my stomach like a stone, that I gobbled up in a weekend, thinking, oh my god there are people like me out there. Not only that, but there are mentors on this path, there are people who have been deconstructing these identities—and building them back up in our own ways, let’s not forget that part—and changing the ways we perceive gender to work in this culture. That book was a revelation, for sure—it is widely used in college classes and read by all sorts of gender outlaws.

But now, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation picks up the premise of the original Gender Outlaw and runs with it, telling stories of the many, many ways that gender outlaws struggle, celebrate, and live.

I could write something about each individual piece, what it meant to me, what I thought about it, how meaningful it was, what I liked or (occasionally) didn’t like. I could mention Katie Diamond and Johnny Blazes’s graphic essay about the many meanings of “trans,” like transgress, transcend, transpire, transform, translate. I’d love to mention pieces by Sassafras Lowery and Tamiko Beyer (both of whom have read at Sideshow), and my friend Fran Varian’s piece about gender and class and respect. I could say something about every piece in this book—even the introduction, a smart and sassy IM exchange between Bear and Kate about the contents of the book, what it’s been like for them to edit it, and the state of gender outlaws in general.

Julia Serano’s piece has been sitting in my head for days as I chew over it. She’s such a genius, I am seriously crushed out on her brain. In her piece, she takes that entirely too commonly heard phrase, “all gender is performance,” and explodes it:

Instead of trying to fictionalize gender, let’s talk about the moments in life when gender feels all too real. Because gender doesn’t feel like drag when you’re a young trans child begging your parents not to cut your hair or not to force you to wear that dress. And gender doesn’t feel like a performance when, for the first time in your life, you feel safe and empowered enough to express yourself in ways that resonate with you, rather than remaining closeted for the benefit of others. And gender doesn’t feel like a construct when you finally find that special person whose body, personality, identity, and energy feels like a perfect fit with yours. Let’s stop trying to deconstruct gender into nonexistence, and instead start celebrating it as inexplicable, varied, profound, and intricate. —Julia Serano, from Performance Piece, published in Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation and reprinted in full by Jezebel

Just, chills. I love what she’s saying here. I feel like I have my own piece in conjunction or response to that one. In fact, I feel like I have twenty pieces about gender that I’m itching to write, after reading this book.

I’m so glad I had the chance to check out this book, it’s definitely going to be something I recommend all over the place and mail as gifts. It belongs on my essential reading list, for sure. I’m excited to contribute to the virtual blog tour, as well! It has been amazing—just check out Riot Nrrd Comics’ graphic review, as a great example, and read through the rest of them if you like.

Just in case you haven’t seen it, and if you can’t wait to pick up this book and you want more Kate right now, check out Kate’s contribution to the It Gets Better Project. And you can always follow @katebornstein & @sbearbergman on Twitter. If you’re in the New York City area, you can also come in to Bluestockings Bookstore tonight, Friday October 8th, for a reading from Gender Outlaws!

Pick up a copy of Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation direct from the publisher, Seal Press, from your local independent feminist queer bookstore (if you want them to stick around), or, if you must, from Amazon.

Review: Laid: Young People’s Experiences with Sex in an Easy-Access Culture (Seal Press)

July 9, 2010  |  reviews  |  No Comments

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.

Thanks to Seal Press who sent me this book for review. Order it from them or from your local, independent, queer, feminist bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.

Review: Good Porn: A Woman’s Guide by Erika Lust (Seal Press)

July 6, 2010  |  reviews  |  No Comments

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.

Thanks to Seal Press who sent me this book for review. Order it from them or from your local, independent, queer, feminist bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.

Reconciling the Identities of Feminist & Butch Top

December 18, 2009  |  on butches  |  16 Comments

I received quite a few questions about my recent post, Kristen’s Homework, especially around how the power imbalance asymmetric balance of power works when adding our gender dynamics into the mix. It’s really hard to explain, and sometimes hard for me to feel like what I’m doing is in question. I do want to keep writing about how my relationship with Kristen is evolving, and this is precisely one of the reasons I haven’t been writing about the sex we’ve been having as much as I used to – because we have entered into some domination and submission in lots of aspects of our relationship, and I’m just not sure how to express that well, yet.

But I would like to try. I’m working on an introduction to what we do, and our basic relationship assumptions, as we explore d/s more and more, so hopefully that will fill in some gaps.

Meanwhile, here’s some more back story to how I got to where I am.

I wrote this piece for Shira Tarrant‘s recent Feminist Sex reading for her book Men & Feminism (Seal Press, part of Seal Studies) at Bluestockings radical activist bookstore here in New York City. In brainstorming about the concept of “feminist sex,” most of what came up for me was the conflict around being a feminist and being someone kinky, specifically someone masculine, a top, and a sadist. This piece begins to try to explain how I’ve reconciled those identities. I do feel like I’ve made peace with their coexistence in me, but I am still struggling with how to articulate how that happened and what it means now.


Feminist Sex: Reconciling the Identities of Feminist & Butch Top

A few years ago, a girl I dated wanted me to slap her. To hit her face. She asked for it specifically, I still remember the conversation on the subway and the precise way that she looked over at me and said, I want you to hit me. Something big swelled in me and I wanted to, I wanted to feel the sting of impact on my palm and see her recoil, to do it again before she was ready, to push something so sensational onto her experience that she was jolted to the edges of her skin and had to feel, to feel herself, to feel me, to be fully present.

This girl and I had already done some other light percussion play, using my hand, or even a paddle, me hitting her ass and thighs, the fleshy parts that I couldn’t possibly do damage to beyond some light bruising. She liked it, we both did. It made sense to escalate, at the time, to something new; we were deepening both our romantic relationship – our trust in each other – and our power dynamic, and it was time to push a little, to see where we could go.

I was terrified. After she asked, after we talked about it extensively, I even tried, a few times, when we were in bed and she said, hit me, now, please, and I couldn’t, I’d bring my hand up and chicken out.

I was terrified of what it would mean for me, as a masculine person, as a butch, to be more dominating in bed. To like it. To like to cause someone pain. To like to cause a woman pain. To hit someone in the face. To hit a woman in the face, to sexualize that act and that power dynamic specifically.

I was paralyzed by that terror – I wanted to do it, the idea, the very thought of it, the discussions with her, turned me on, the girl I was dating wanted me to do it, but I couldn’t.

Beyond wanting to do it, this was the kind of sex act that was in the sex life I was dreaming of having. This was what haunted my fantasies and what I looked for in porn that I watched and erotica that I read. And I was on a very serious quest to figure out how to have the sex that I wanted. I’d just gotten out of a bed-death relationship; I felt like I barely escaped a noose. I was committed to studying sex hard, to figuring out: what I wanted, how to get what I wanted, how to build a relationship with that as an element, how to maintain something sane and hot over a long period of time. That’s precisely why I started this site, Sugarbutch.

I’m a sadist, and a top. That means I like to dominate. And already there are conclusions being drawn by those of you out there who think well of course you like to dominate, you’re masculine, and that’s prescribed for you or in other words you misogynistic asshole, I already knew you were one of “those” butches who needs to make up for your inadequacies by dominating women. Because that’s what we think, isn’t it? Maybe not consciously, but a little bit, somewhere in our brains, we associate these particular identity alignments – butch equals masculine equals top equals dominating equals men’s prescribed gender role. We’re relieved when they line up how we think they will, or maybe we are challenged and uncomfortable – though perhaps in a stimulated way – when they misalign.

There’s something supposedly anti-feminist about wanting to dominate. There’s something in the feminist rhetoric which says we are all equal especially in bed, so that means I-do-you-you-do-me, or that means we have sex neither above nor below each other, and with no reproduced heteronormative misogynistic patriarchal power dynamic.

But I didn’t want that. I’d had that, in early girlfriends, but it didn’t keep things hot enough to sustain a relationship. And secretly, I want to dominate. In bed. I wanted to top and control and hit and demean and humiliate.

Power dynamic theory has many similarities to gender theory. Like the gender identities of butch and femme are not reproductions but pastiche copies at best of prescribed societal gender roles, putting on and taking off power roles in power sex play is a pastiche reproduction of power in our lives, of which there are thousands of examples of interaction on a daily basis. And when we can put on and take off these roles intentionally, the act of adopting becomes further proof that the power positioning in our lives is not inherent, or “real,” or immobile, or prescribed, or “normal,” but part of a hierarchical society of social power that can be deconstructed.

As in my experience with coming to a butch gender identity, when I finally came to a power identity that really deeply aligned with something inside me that just clicked and make sense, I felt like I was coming home to myself in a way I hadn’t experienced previously. Through my personality and tendencies and psychology I have my own set of quirks and workings and functions, and for whatever reason, it makes a lot of sense to me to let out some of my power and control issues in the bedroom by being dominating. It is deeply satisfying the way a glorious meal or a delicious book is satisfying, one of my life’s greatest pleasures. I’m not sure I understand why I like what I like, but what I like does not harm others, and is consensual, and I know myself well enough to accept what I like as what I like – and to let that be a simple truth.

How did this change for me? What happened between the time when I was terrified to slap a girl in the face and today, now, where I am fairly comfortable in my identity as a top, and even as a sadist, as someone who enjoys hurting someone else?

Little by little, I had lovers who pushed me, lovers who were more experienced as bottoms than I was as a top, lovers who wanted more from me and who could take more than I was able to give who made enough space for me to walk into a bigger version of myself and occupy it, try it on.

I did come to a reconciliation with my feminist self and my top self. Phrases – like men should not hurt women or rather masculine people should not hurt feminine people, or even more broadly that people should not hit each other and violence is bad bad bad – I had accepted those phrases as Ultimate Truths, and I started to understand deeper the ways that sensation was not violence, and hitting was a way to be sparked into the present moment, to release whatever our musculature was holding onto, and to deepen trust between people and in a relationship.

I didn’t realize how little trust I had in others until I started playing deeper with BDSM. Because I would tell myself, it’s okay, she wants to do it, but then I would think, does she really? Maybe she wants to because I want to. Maybe she wants to because society tells her she should want to. Maybe she wants to for fucked-up reasons, like she thinks it’s okay for her to feel humiliated and less than me because of her own internal misogyny … but that was me not trusting that what she said was true. That she wanted me to hit her face. And that was me, further controlling both myself, her, and our relationship, in unhealthy ways, because I didn’t trust her.

When I started playing out my control issues in BDSM, in the bedroom, in sex play, the control issues I had in my relationships began to heal.

This was an issue of agency, in feminist terms – my not trusting my lover to communicate with me what she wanted, to explain to me how far I could go, and my not trusting that she would let me know if I was going too far or too hard, either with her physical communication or her words or both, was me not trusting in the agency of my lover. I have to trust that she will tell me, she will let me know, if I am going too far. And I have to listen, apologize, understand what I did, and trust that she will accept that it was an accident, a mistake, and that I’ll do whatever she needs to feel safe again.

In learning my way into being a top, I had many, many conversations about consent and intention and communication, I talked to my lovers when things broke down or didn’t seem to work and I learned more about my own tendencies when things went well. I figured out that sometimes, it was really hard for me to be with someone who bottomed so well, and who I trusted so deeply, that I did harder, scarier, bigger things with them that took me even deeper into my topping and dominance and sadism and power, and sometimes that meant I needed to be comforted afterward, to be told I liked that, and that wasn’t too much, and you didn’t hurt me, and that was what I wanted and thank you. Hearing those things is always a relief.

(I give good aftercare too, of course. But top aftercare is less common in the BDSM world – we don’t usually talk about the toll it takes for the dominant to dominate.)

I practiced, a lot, to be bold and trusting through my topping. I tried scary things and it turned out they weren’t so scary, they were in fact incredibly hot. I got to know myself, and I learned more about the things I wanted to play with, and I talked to smart people whose experiences were similar to what I was going through and who assured me it was possible to come out the other side of it a masculine, queer, butch, sadistic top feminist.

And whatdayaknow, here I am.