Not Your Whipping Girl

My erotic story in Taormino’s Take Me There, which is an anthology of trans & genderqueer erotica, got slagged in a review in Original Plumbing recently, and after reading it, & reading how much the reviewer didn’t seem to get it, I feel the need to explain a few things.

First, reviewer Stephen Ira mentions, upfront, that there is an expectation that Taormino, as a cis woman, won’t get it right — which tells me at least a little something about the reviewer. Ira does redeem Taormino for pulling off an erotica anthology that is “for cis readers . . . not just a lesson in sexual allyship, but a heaping spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down”. Still, it’s worth noting his surprise that she has.

He has a few main complaints about my piece, namely:

  1. “Helen Boyd’s story is titled ‘All-Girl Action,’ but includes several trans guys.”
  2. “The main thread of the story, in which a queer cis woman brings a trans woman to her first play party, centers on the cis woman giving the trans woman ‘real girl guidance.'”

In the first case, “all girl action” was meant to mock the way heterosexual men fetishize lesbian sexuality; that is, the title of the story is not the name of the queer/female play party.

And that, of course, is beside the point that, ahem, trans men are welcome in queer female spaces all the time. The problem is that trans women, especially those who have not had genital surgery, are not. I was trying to affirm inclusion of trans women in queer women’s spaces, but: oh well.

“Includes” might be better expressed as “mentions in passing” moreover.

2. As for the cis woman/real girl guidance accusation: puh-leeze. First, “real girl” is in quotes in my text, and is meant to imply that the trans woman used the term, not my cis narrator.That raises the issue of course, of whether all trans women are empowered about their own identities, but let me say: I have personally been asked by far too many trans women, at trans conferences, if I am a “real girl”. Surely scare quotes are not too sophisticated, and most people seem to understand that they mean the phrase is suspect, being questioned.

Aside from that, there’s a little joke in my piece: my cis narrator doesn’t know how to do femme; she admires the emerging trans woman’s native femininity. She volunteers to go shopping with her friend but hates shopping herself; the trans woman has had a lot of pedicures but the cis narrator hasn’t — and that’s despite working in a beauty salon.

So much for having a sense of humor, I suppose, but the idea is that the cis narrator isn’t a “real girl” at all – <snark> but wait! no one is allowed to interrogate the category ‘cis’, dammit! <\snark> – but she does know how to appreciate another woman’s beauty, passion, and sexuality.

I’m never surprised at being misread by anyone who refers to me as “cis”.

For a trans woman who identifies as a heterosexual man before transition, having a female friend embrace her femininity is a cool thing. But having that same female friend desire her – that is a rarer occurrence, sadly. And that, of course, is at least some of the point of erotica for me: it is not always about what does happen, but about what we wish would. And for that, I admire Ira in wanting to see a world where the fetishization of trans women doesn’t happen, and where lesbian and queer female spaces openly embrace the inclusion and participation of trans women with their original plumbing.

But I’d also like to see a trans community that doesn’t assume “cis” means trans ignorant, and that maybe, just maybe, a decade of working in trans feminine spaces means I know a little something about what might turn some kinds of trans women on, and that I am well aware that the kind of trans woman I was writing for is exactly the kind rejected by too much of the trans world in the first place: the trans woman who has lived in the world as a heterosexual male and who doesn’t get why on earth she is demonized for using terms like “real girl” in the first place, but who, by god, is beautiful, in love with women, and whose very tentative femininity is amazing, precious, and redeeming.