Entertainment » Books

Rainbow Reads :: Love and Other Indoor Sports

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Monday Jan 23, 2012

The thermometer may be dropping, but inside, things are just starting to heat up! With this bumper crop of new collections of romantic and erotic stories, gay and lesbian readers can devote those dark winter mornings and 4 p.m. sunsets to love, and other indoor sports. Cleis Press wins with "Best Lesbian Romance 2012," "Best Lesbian Erotica 2012," "Best Gay Romance 2012," and "Best Sex Writing 2012," and Hanne Blank chronicles the short history of heterosexuality in "Straight." So snuggle up under those covers and start stoking that fire!

"Best Lesbian Romance 2012" (Edited by Radclyffe)

Radclyffe assembles more than two dozen stories of lesbian couples finding love and romance, from passionate one-night stands to the enduring candle of long-time romance. Radclyffe opens the collection with "Vanilla, Sugar, Butter, Salt," the romantic flirtations between a baker and a woman who prefers things salty, until a car accident awakens her sweet tooth. Through salted caramel, both find satisfaction. Two federal agents find love in Radclyffe’s "Training Ops." And renowned smut peddler Rachel Kramer Bussel escapes the small-town mentality of New York’s lesbian community with a French Fry-gobbling Parisian. Cheyenne Blue breaks her own "Rule 4" by sleeping with her housemate, and recovering from ex sex and best friend sex is the memo in "Note to Self." Newcomer Geneva King writes, "She hasn’t shed the dress and I don’t want her to. I want to fuck her in the dress that was meant for Merrill, the dress that self-centered bitch wouldn’t be able to appreciate, make her come and leave my mark on it so that every time she wears it, she’ll think of me." A lesbian electrician finds sparks with a client in "A Time and Materials Job," and a classy chick sets to woo an S&M slut in "What No One Else Has." In "A Prom Story in Three Parts" and "Misty and Me," a girl finds herself falling for her friend. The collection does a good job capturing the dizzying sensation of falling in love, and Radclyffe’s curating does a nice job slowly raising the heat to a culminating sizzle. (Cleis Press)

"Best Lesbian Erotica" (Edited by Kathleen Warnock)

Talented editor, reading series curator, and longtime friend Kathleen Warnock edits this year’s anthology of saucy erotic stories about lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified women. In her intro, she self-identifies as a writer first, and a lesbian second, and uses it as a springboard for her discussion on labels. She closes by dedicating the book to Cheryl B., her longtime friend (and, full disclosure: my ex-girlfriend of several years), and her surviving partner, Kelli Dunham. This is a touching memorial, and one that Cheryl would have appreciated. "Best Lesbian Erotica 2012" charges right in to the passion with "Touched," the story of two Boston Catholic schoolgirls, one who feels God shining through her lady lust, the other which feels only shame. Kiki DeLovely thrills with her frantic-paced "Heartfirst," and "Bloods Lust" explores cutting and S&M. Treasure Sapphire bends gender 180 degrees with her double-trans hookup in "Hush," while Ann Grip goes for pansexual, queer, voyeuristic thrills in "Hot Yoga". "The Produce Queen" looks at self-stimulation with an avocado - watch out for taco night at her place! Elena Shearing’s "Stubborn Ache" makes a sizzling strap-on scene between partners seem almost sweet. Role-play is explored in "Maid for You" and "On My Honor," and two lovers say goodbye in "The Last Time." A boi enjoys her lady in her Corvette in "My Femme," and two butch dommes share a sub in "How He Likes It." In "Come to Me," a ’strictly dickly’ former straight girl learns from a gender-bending boi how to get herself off. Lea Delaria even takes a turn in "The Elevator," a story of "the last butch in New York City" and the pragmatic neighbor girl with who she shares an intimate scene in a stalled elevator. Warnock does a nice job curating this "Sapphic sampler" of stories that touch on love, lust, and longing, and spans the spectrum of lesbian experience, from genderqueer to butch/femme and everything in between. (Cleis Press)

"Best Gay Romance" (Richard Labonté)

Since 1996, Richard Labonté, one of the founders of A Different Light Bookstore, has edited the Best Gay Erotica series. In "Best Gay Romance 2012," he tackles the spectrum of themes dealing with masculine love, from young love to lost love, rough love to "straight" schoolboy crushes. The stories in this collection cover a lot of ground, starting with the first story, "Gomorrahs of the Deep, a Musical Coming Someday to Off-Broadway." This whimsical story of schoolboy love is written charmingly in rhyme, and performed in the story via classmates. It is followed by "Charming Princes," the face-off between a rich shoe shopper and a militant eco-activist, with a Disney Prince twist at the end. "To Brandon, With Love, Justin" balances sweetness with sadness in the tale of two longtime best friends who can’t seem to find love until beyond the grave. Two men find romance backstage in Anthony McDonald’s "The Curtain Store," and C.C. Williams delves into love in the barracks - and anti-gay hazing in the ranks -- in "The Prisoner." Two headbangers find love in "Splatterdays," and a young servant romances his Master in the historical erotica piece, "Precious Jade." And one guy gives another a blowjob in the mosh pit of a Scissor Sisters concert in "Hello, Young Lovers." Although the stories chronicle gay romance, there is plenty of gay sex to be found, in pleasingly varied forms. Labonté does a nice job presenting a balance of sweet and sexy, ensuring that readers won’t be disappointed. (Cleis Press)

"Best Sex Writing 2012" (Rachel Kramer Bussel)

Sex meets academia when editor Rachel Kramer Bussel and judge Susie Bright present the year’s most provocative nonfiction articles on sex from sources including "The Village Voice," Salon.com, and "Playboy." The topics covered include porn star celebs and slut walks, teen sex laws, female pleasure workshops, sex and aging, and many more. Bussel even includes her own piece, "Penis Gagging, BDSM, and Rape Fantasy: The Truth about Kinky Sexting," which opens with texts from disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner and warns against making sweeping judgments about people’s consensual sex acts. Other interesting pieces include Amanda Marcotte’s opening article, "Sluts, Walking," about the new trend of SlutWalks, the modern-day "Take Back the Night" walk that tackles the idea that women dressed provocatively are "asking for it" when they are sexually assaulted. Marty Klein investigated a San Francisco ballot measure outlawing male circumcision, and the "grass is always greener" argument around it, noting, "The ballot box is not the place to work out your self-loathing." Amber Dawn sends out a letter to all the butches she’s ever loved, renegotiating the text as her perspective changed from neon-orange haired dyke to "feminist slut" sex worker. Lynn Harris looks at the blame-the-woman mentality present in "Dating with an STD". And Radley Balko tackles the strange divide between the age of consent and the conviction of "child pornography" in the legal relationship between a man and his teenaged lovers, but his incarceration for photographing them. Reading the essays will get you thinking, but Bussel hopes they will also get you writing, noting in her forward that, she hopes the book will "Inspire you to write and tell your own sexual story, because I believe the more we talk about the many ways sex moves us, the more we work toward a world where sexual shame, ignorance, homophobia, and violence are diminished." (Cleis Press)

"Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality" (Hanne Blank)

"Sexuality is a complicated alchemy that mixes biology, gender relations, hierarchy, resources, and power," writes historian Hanne Blank as she outlines a history of heterosexuality, one that, surprisingly, was unprecedented prior to the 19th century. Heterosexuality was first established as a medical term in 1886 in the pages of Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s "Psychopathia Sexualis." Prior to that time, the idea of "straight" or "gay" didn’t exist; nor did even the concept of "sexual identity". Blank traces centuries-long trends in love, marriage, pleasure, economics, politics, science, and medicine, including the work of Sigmund Freud, whose sexual formation theories established heterosexuality as the proper, normal sexuality. Even the idea of "sodomy" was rooted in the Catholic Church’s definition of all "sinful" sexual behavior that didn’t lead to procreation. The "Truth" or "doxa" of heterosexuality succeeded because it was useful to society, law, and the church. This normalizing theory has ruled since the early 20th Century, despite the fact that science has not proved heterosexuality (or any sexuality) relevant to material science, nor has either neurologists or endocrinologists found a "heterosexual brain" or "straight gene". Perhaps this prompted Blank to begin her research, as she notes in the introduction that her partner, while appearing outwardly male, has XXY chromosomes, the signature of Kleinfelter Syndrome. Even if one were to define "heterosexual", there is no particular type of sexual desire or activity that can be unequivocally tied to it. Blank investigates all these issues, and also looks at the role of culture in cementing the idea of heterosexuality. Everything from Disney films selling the idea of romantic, heterosexual bliss to Viagra -- a drug intended for heterosexual penetration - figures into her analysis. Even class had its role, as the "middle and upper classes, who prided themselves on their moral rectitude (and had the additional advantage of enjoying all the discretion money could buy), had no trouble ascribing disproportionate, even innate, degeneracy to their socioeconomic inferiors." Unfortunately, society still sees in male/female terms, as does the law, which sounds the "old familiar religious gong of morality and sin". Using wit and wisdom, Blank substantiates her argument that love and passion are not defined by biology. As she notes, "Words and the ways we use them are always rooted in time and in place." She uses hers to provides examples from the early 19th century all the way to the "wide stance" position of not-gay Republican Larry Craig, who Blank (hilariously) writes, "straddled the border of what was permissible for a man in a position of power, with every expectation that his power, position, and privilege would insulate him from criticism." (Beacon Press)

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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