...From the Bisexual Backpack
Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers
Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
reviewed by Linda Howard
I must confess that when our reviews editor first tossed Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers at me, my reaction was more exasperation than anticipation. "Not another anthology to review!" I thought. "Doesn't anyone write actual novels any more?"
Some 22 stories and 300-odd pages later, editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have changed my mind.
Kudos first and foremost to Kelly Eskeridge for "Eye of the Storm," in my opinion the most impressive story in the book. Set in a war-ridden fantasy world, Eskeridge introduces a totally androgynous, bisexual main character, Mars, a "war bastard" whose sexuality and skill at fighting are completely intertwined. Without ever disclosing the main character's gender, Eskeridge charges Mars with an intense eroticism that totally envelops the reader by the end of the story. It is a truly marvelous piece of writing that utterly summarizes the true topic of Sirens: overwhelming, ensnaring, fantastical, seductive and totally irresistible passion.
All of the stories in Sirens have something to do with magic and obsession, from a female ornithologist who falls in love with an anthropomorphic hawk to an artist who makes an unusual bargain with the Queen of Faerie. The latter, "The Faerie Coney-Catcher" by Delia Sherman, would have been trite were it not for the ingeniously creative twist she gave her otherwise-traditional plot. In fact, Datlow and Windling appear to have gone well out of their way to avoid including traditional fantasy erotica clichés in this collection; when the standard plots appear, as in the obligatory vampire story that every erotica collection seems to have these days, they are always a step above average and dexterously twisted toward some new, unexpected angle. Many of these tales employ bisexuality, transsexuality and unexpected gender fluidity to accomplish this feat, a fact ATM's readers will undoubtedly appreciate.
Fans of fantasy will enjoy the many well-known authors whose work appears in Sirens: Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carol Oates, Tanith Lee, Edward Bryant, Jane Yolen, Ellen Kushner, and Storm Constantine, to name just a few.
The anthology's overall quality undoubtedly owes much to the caliber of authors included within; most of these authors have won awards in the fantasy field, and many in the traditional fiction field as well.
I was completely satisfied with Sirens. There is, it seems, room for one more erotic anthology in the world, especially one as passionate and enchanting as this one.
The Edge of the Bed:
How Dirty Pictures Changed My Life
by Lisa Palac
(Little, Brown and Company, 1998)
reviewed by Kevin McCulloch
"The last sexual frontier isn't some intergalactic tactile data fuck: it's your ass," wrote editor Lisa Palac in the second issue of Future Sex magazine back in 1992. These words -- as visionary now as then -- pushed Future Sex just barely past its techno-foolery into semi-revolutionary territory. Now in her memoir, The Edge of the Bed, Palac shares the story of how it all came to pass.
Born in the early '60s to Catholic parents in Chicago, Palac began her journey at age 20 when a vibrator fell, like Newton's apple, out of a closet and hit her on the head, inspiring her to masturbate for the very first time. Thus awakened, her subsequent adventures in the sexual laboratory of San Francisco in the early '90s seem inevitable. She wrote an erotic short story that caught the attention of Susie Bright, who included it in 1988's Herotica anthology (the tenth anniversary edition of which was published last year by San Francisco's Down There Press). Soon, Bright offered her a job at the lesbian sex magazine On Our Backs, and Palac was headed for California.
At first, she was unsure of the job. "I feared that steady exposure to sexual words and images would make the delicate rubber bands that held my personality together snap, and I'd go shooting off in some extreme direction, becoming either an insatiable sex maniac or a religious nutcase." Neither of these things happened, but it's clear from her account of her childhood and her unforgiving father that her newfound career as a pornographer was a serious break from the culture in which she was raised. Palac's "coming out" struggle had little to do with sexuality. (Of her work at On Our Backs, Palac, who is straight, observes reasonably enough that "people who are interested in sex and who choose to pursue their interest professionally tend to appreciate sexual expression in all of its forms. Sexuality itself is what's fascinating and sexual preference is, in many cases, less relevant.") Instead, it was all about the demystification of sex itself. After ten years of sex-positive queer politics, "do-me" feminism, Monica Lewinsky and Jenny Jones, it may seem obvious to us that a dirty picture is sometimes just a dirty picture. For Palac in 1989, this was a major revelation.
Enter Future Sex. Although the short-lived magazine made Palac's career, it was a struggle from the start. The original business proposal, put together by a personal injury lawyer and a doctor looking for something "fun" to do with their extra cash, called for "a sex magazine for men, complete with service articles about high-tech gear, science fiction, a sports car review section titled 'Auto-Erotica' and an exclusive pictorial focus on naked Asian women" -- porn for nerds. Palac, finished with her work at On Our Backs and in need of a new forum, sensed a greater destiny. She took on the assignment and struggled for four issues to steer the magazine beyond its publishers' infatuation with techno-wankery into territory that was truly ahead of its time. The result was a mess: a sex-soaked Mondo 2000 look-alike that mixed high-gloss porn and features on cyber sex-ware and "smart drugs" engineered to make you horny with Palac's pro-sex/anti-Republican feminism.
Palac's personal life wasn't going so well, either. An immature relationship and an Internet romance both ended in heartbreak. Palac found herself sinking into a depression. "Romance? I was ambivalent. I adored it, I despised it. I yearned for it, yet felt so betrayed and humiliated by it. With the same intensity that it had once inspired me, it now devastated me, shattering my confidence not just in relationships but in life itself." This, and not masturbation or pornography, turned out to be the real puzzle in Palac's life. How, in a sexually permissive, post-Christian, post-feminist world, does a nice Catholic girl from Chicago find true love?
"My mother bet all of her chips on beauty, married a man she didn't love and lived her whole life believing that suffering is love," writes Palac. "I've always been terrified of making those same mistakes." Happily she doesn't, but she avoids them not through the nirvana of radical sex but through building a caring and communicative relationship with her eventual husband.
And what of her career as a pornographer? "When I ask myself if I've been desensitized by the excess of sexual imagery that surrounds me, the truthful answer is yes. Looking at pornography has desensitized me -- to pornography... But I haven't become desensitized to the actual experience of sex itself. Not one bit. On the contrary, my critical examination of sex has sensitized me to the fragile complexities of real-life, in-the-flesh sexual encounters. My perception of sexual situations and feelings is more acute. I've learned to be more tolerant when it comes to other people's sexual choices, even when it's easier to stay on my high horse. I feel greater empathy toward anyone who mistakes a powerful sexual connection for love and suffers because of it. And through it all, I've gained tremendous faith in my own personal erotic boundaries because I've slammed into them so many, many times."
A happy ending! It turns out that Palac's journey wasn't so radical after all, but what difference does it make if she's not a polyamorous, bisexual, gender-bending outsider?
The real revolution is made of simple insights like these.
Sex Spoken Here:
Good Vibrations Erotic Reading Circle Selections
Edited by Carol Queen and Jack Davis
(Down There Press, 1998)
reviewed by Jim Ausman
Here is a book that has something for everyone: boy on boy on girl on girl, with whips and chains and cigars and even a dog thrown in for good measure. Sex Spoken Here is a collection of the best stories read over the years at the Erotic Reading Circle, a group that meets periodically at the San Francisco-based sex accessory store Good Vibrations, and shares their most intimate fantasies with each other. Having been to a few of the ERC's meetings, I was not surprised at the diversity and perversity of the stories here. What I was surprised at was the general quality and hotness of what I encountered. While not every story is going to appeal to every person, there is at least one or two in here that will make you squirm, leaving you panting for more. It sure worked for me!
Directed by Hermine Huntgeburth
(Attitude Films, New York, 1997)
Tiger-Striped Woman Waits for Tarzan
Directed by Rudolf Thome
(Moana-Film, Berlin, 1997)
reviewed by Raven Usi
Bisexual themes prevail in two recent films from Germany. In 1997's The Trio, by director Hermine Huntgeburth, a father-and-daughter pickpocket team is joined by an ambitious younger man after their original partner, the father's lover, dies in a car crash. Soon both father and daughter have the hots for their new teammate, and a love triangle develops.
The film is funny and entertaining, but unfortunately the characters are very stereotyped. The homosexual father who is verbally abusive to his lover, the heterosexual daughter who decides almost instantly that the new young man is the love of her life, and the bisexual man who never states who he really wants -- the girl or her father -- were all a little too depressing for me. Fortunately, an early scene where the father's
original lover dances in blue sequins and, later, a scene in which the father, daughter and new young boyfriend get so drunk that the girl falls over backwards add enough charm to almost make up for the disappointing roles they all play.
Much better, despite its atrocious title, is director Rudolf Thome's 1997 Tiger-Striped Woman Waits For Tarzan. With overtones of The Man Who Fell To Earth and Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land, the hero of this film, Frank, is a man from a time in the future when women are an endangered species and men are immortal. Frank has returned from the 5th millennium to meet the author Laura Luna, whose picture he has fallen in love with. Before he can find her, he meets newlyweds Luise and Theo, who give him a ride into town. Much to Theo's irritation, Luise is obviously attracted to Frank. While Theo is at work, Luise and Frank go dancing, but Frank rejects Luise to continue his search for his dream girl.
He finds Laura and wins her over, but soon attracts unwanted attention when she helps him exchange one of the gold bars he's carrying into cash. Afraid it is not safe for them to go back to his hotel room to get the rest of the gold, Frank asks Luise to fetch it and the three of them escape to Laura's country home. This is where things get interesting. At first Laura makes it clear that Frank is hers and Luise respects the fact that they are "in love." But Luise makes herself indispensable by being the cook while Laura takes time to write and Frank takes time to explore Earth in what is, for him, the past. So Luise methodically seduces Laura, who has never had sex with another woman. Eventually the two women invite Frank into the "family" bed.
Everything is idyllic for several weeks. (The music at this point is so soft and soothing it could almost put you to sleep, everything is so perfect!) Both women end up pregnant. Laura's father, who owns the property, shows up, sees how happy his daughter is, and deeds the property to the three lovers. Unfortunately, Luise's husband Theo finds out about the situation and begins to stalk the property, leading to a violent end.
It was refreshing to see not only one strong bisexual woman, but two. Luise actually knew what she wanted and went about getting it without creating any jealousies within the trio. And it was equally nice to see Laura's emerging bisexuality and how it obviously inspired her creativity as a writer. What, exactly, they saw in Frank is beyond me... I thought Theo was funnier and more attractive. This movie would have worked even better if it followed Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land more closely and made Frank an alien from another planet instead of just a man from the future.
It's refreshing to get away from Hollywood and see films where people still have a chance to do some real acting with real dialogue, even when it is all in German with English subtitles. I would recommend both The Trio and Tiger-Striped Woman Waits for Tarzan for entertainment value, but especially the latter for positive queer images.
The Leather Daddy and the Femme
by Carol Queen
(Cleis Press, 1998)
reviewed by Anne Killpack
In Carol Queen's first novel, The Leather Daddy and the Femme, San Francisco is everything you ever wanted it to be: Harley-riding leather daddies, beautiful tranny sex workers, cross-dressing, leather, bondage, kinks, and bisexuals are everywhere; there's a sex party every week; and no one has to worry about a day job. As the tranny girl says to the heroine, "I love this city. You just found a leather daddy to fuck. I just made a hundred bucks letting a guy walk around in my high heels. This town is a real Mixmaster."
It's not really like that here, of course. We all have day jobs, and we don't all get as lucky as the book's heroine, Miranda/Randy. But it'd be lovely work if we could get it. In Leather Daddy, the femme Miranda cross-dresses as a boy, Randy, to snare herself a leather daddy, and is happily surprised not to be kicked out when her catch, Jack, discovers her gender. Instead, their liaison blossoms into a sweaty "science project," and eventually a deep emotional bond grows between them and a third man, Demetrius, her daddy's daddy.
With Leather Daddy, Carol Queen knows exactly what we want, and she delivers it expertly in this pocket-rocket of an erotic novel. Her characters are all perfect representatives of the San Francisco scene, but none are clichés. They are so expertly real that I often wondered if they were modeled on anybody I knew (or might meet at the next play party). Even the minor characters are sensitively and carefully crafted, and quite real.
Each chapter illustrates another sexual adventure. Some of these stories have already been featured in magazines like Black Sheets, and they're more than worthy of the attention. They range across the sexual landscape from heavy dominance to simple bathroom-stall bangs, creating situations that are smutty or tender or just plain bizarre, but always highly erotic. The characters' differing views on bisexuality, both the label and the behavior, again reflect what I see in the scene all the time: a sad tendency for the "practicing" bis to be too busy partying while the "political" bis work to overcome the swinger stereotype by being relentlessly normal and even sexless. Randy's bisexual-behaving leather daddy refuses the label, saying he doesn't feel like he resembles the men in the bi community.
When asked why she didn't go hunting for bisexual men, Randy explains, "When I'd go to bisexual events, I didn't usually find that the men there had that certain something that fags, especially leatherfags, have. Most bi men's style is just... well, it's different. Except yours, Demetrius, and I didn't run into you at any of those Bi-Friendly meetings." Demetrius' reply? "No, dear, I skipped those. I was too busy being sodomized." This really hit home to me -- although I think that Bi-Friendly does a lot of great work for SF's bi community, I have to admit that I, too, would love to see more butch-leather energy visible in the bi scene, and I know I'm not the only one!
My sole objection to the book was the ending, which felt abrupt and unfinished and left me wanting more -- so I simply started the book over from the beginning. All in all, I give The Leather Daddy and the Femme the highest recommendation I know -- I liked it so much, I'm buying my own copy!