Friday, March 25, 2016

Labels: Soup cans and Sexuality

There has been so much written, tweeted, blogged and posted about romantic tropes and how they affect people of various sexualities and identities.  I have heard people vehemently defend the tropes they love and write, while others express their feelings of hurt and erasure by the lack of reflection of their own identities.

I've written about my feelings on GFY/OFY story tropes, but something that has come from this debate that still lingers with me is the way we talk about sexual labels.

When I pick up a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup, the label is pretty clear and straight forward.  I mix it with water (or milk, if I'm being indulgent- which I usually am) and it's the same every time I grab for a can.  Human sexuality and identities are not that simple.

One of the best posts I read about the discussion of GFY pointed out that we don't necessarily mean the same thing when we are using this term.   Jamie Fessenden wrote a very thoughtful post about the use of GFY in Slashfiction,  gay porn, and the romantic trope of a person discovering their sexuality.  (here)  In all three of these, people have very different interactions with their sexuality, and the one area I think we are still running into trouble is when we label someone else's sexuality based on what makes us comfortable.  Another area where we are using the same word but don't necessarily mean the same thing is when we use any sexual labels, but especially the term bisexuality.

In the midst of the many discussions one author posted a reply to a reader and asserted that anyone who ever has had sex with someone of the opposite sex, and now has sex with someone of the same sex is definitely bisexual, and to not admit this is a form of bisexual erasure.

I replied that I found that an absurd assertion to make, and reminded her that many, many queer people discover their sexuality after having opposite sex relationships, but they may not identify as bisexual.  (Consequently she refused to address this, and blocked me after calling me deliberately obtuse- which I find an ironic way of dealing with concerns over silencing queer voices, but I digress...)

Over and over again I kept returning to this idea of naming someone else's sexuality, and the complex and varied ways that we each approach our own sexuality.  Many young people experience homosexual attractions or explore same sex experimentation before deciding they are heterosexual.  Does that mean they are not correct in their identity?  A friend of mine was married to a man and had two children before she came out as a lesbian.  Does that mean she is not a lesbian?  I had a boyfriend in 8th grade, but I broke up with him when he asked to kiss me, and then came out as a lesbian in my late teen years.  Am I a lesbian?  I love to look at pretty boys, and even watch them do very naughty things, but I haven't engaged in relationships with any men.  I use the term lesbian or queer for myself, but sometimes I prefer one over the other, and sometimes I don't care which one I pick from the air. 

Sexuality, like gender for some, is fluid.  There are a myriad of sexual identities and gender identities, and I sometimes feel like Eddie Izzard when I learn a knew one (Do you have a flagggg?)  In the end, I think its only a movement in the right direction that people are more free to explore these identities and to find commonality with other people.  For some of us, once we find these identities we claim on and own it day in and day out.  One of my friends came out at 10 and has identified as gay ever since. Despite my love of looking at boys, I call myself a lesbian, and probably will until I get an old dyke haircut and maybe a motorcycle and ride off into the big queer sunset.

For some people their sexuality changes.  Most queers identified as straight at some point in their lives, whether to fit in with society or because they didn't have the ability to explore their sexuality.  Some people meet another person who sweeps them off of their feet.  

I have loved seeing the romance genre diversify over the past few years.  We are seeing characters with mental health issues, physical health challenges, autism, and more.  MM romance books are just filled with pretty white boys, and several authors have even explored asexuality and more.  Though there is always more than can be done, I think these are great steps in the right direction.  I hope we see more characters who have fluid sexual and gender identities, and I hope that we keep up the dialogues around how we label our stories, and who feels let in and who feels left out.  

In the midst of these advancements, what we have to be careful of is not labeling each other's sexuality.  If you are talking to a real queer person, ask them if they have a term they'd prefer you to use.  (Even as I type this I recall a recent set of posts on the word queer, and Kade Boehme pointing out how hurtful that word is in the Bible Belt, so ask before you use that word too!) Just like we ask trans people their PGPs (preferred gender pronouns) we need to listen to the labels people use for themselves and not label them based on our own comfort.  When a lesbian friend of mine began dating a man I asked her what she wanted to be referred to as for her sexual identity.  She told me she would always consider herself a lesbian, since that was where her primary attraction laid.  I don't have to get it to respect it, and I am not the lesbian police.  

When I tried to explain this the author who posted the piece above, she replied with a definition of bisexuality from an online dictionary.  I tried to explain to her that we are more complex than Merriam Webster (its why they add words each year!) and in order to have these discussions we have to start from a place of respect.

You know who is the best decider on someone's sexuality or gender?  They are.  Every time.

I also read an awesome post by a gay man who slept with a lesbian, and I loved the open way it explores love, attraction and identity.  I'll post the link here because it does a better job than I could in explaining how awesome identities are, and how labels can be on soup cans, and they can be on sexualities, but we can't police them for each other.

(Thanks to Jay Nortcotte for sharing the link)

5+ Star Book Review: A Gentleman's Postion by KJ Charles

Title: A Gentleman’s Position (Society of Gentlemen #3)- Releases April 5th

Author: K.J. Charles

Publisher/GR Link: Loveswept, GR

Genre: MM Historical

Vice: Regency, redheads and tight breeches

Rating: 5+ DIK

Lock this book up: 4 keys.  This one will fog up your glasses!

Length: Novel

Satisfaction: HEA+

Cover Impressions: Love it.

Best Line: “I should learn my place…”

Synopsis: Among his eccentric though strictly principled group of friends, Lord Richard Vane is the confidant on whom everyone depends for advice, moral rectitude, and discreet assistance. Yet when Richard has a problem, he turns to his valet, a fixer of unparalleled genius—and the object of Richard’s deepest desires. If there is one rule a gentleman must follow, it is never to dally with servants. But when David is close enough to touch, the rules of class collide with the basest sort of animal instinct: overpowering lust.

For David Cyprian, burglary and blackmail are as much in a day’s work as bootblacking—anything for the man he’s devoted to. But the one thing he wants for himself is the one thing Richard refuses to give: his heart. With the tension between them growing to be unbearable, David’s seemingly incorruptible master has left him no choice. Putting his finely honed skills of seduction and manipulation to good use, he will convince Richard to forget all about his well-meaning objections and give in to sweet, sinful temptation.

Impressions: I don’t think I have ever felt this way before….I am at a loss for words.  That nevr has happened to me before?  My review may be coherently expressed as: hsjfhdjkfhorogjkj!!!!jkjlkljlak;s!!!!

It was, simply put,  a gem and a joy.  I could not put it down, and I could not get it out of my mind.  I have heard reviewers say that they finished a novel and immediately began reading it again, and I could not imagine anything like that ACTUALLY happening.  This book ALMOST made me do that, except I closed it and began book 2 again and read right through to book 3.   This is one of the best  Regency romances that I have ever read.

The connection between Davic and Richard has been slowly building, and while I knew who Richard was, I was so excited to see David’s internal thoughts and growth.  He was such a perfect match for Richard, and the romance gave me goosebumps.

This book was SO hot and sensual.  I know that I will come back to these gentlemen over and over again.  I could go on for pages and probably not make much more sense.  This book gave me the most exquisite book hangover and I loved every single second of reading and remembering it.

Friday, March 18, 2016

5* Book Review: Patchwork Paradise

Title: Patchwork Paradise   

Author: Indra Vaughn

Publisher/GR LinkGR, Riptide

Genre: MM Contemporary (in Belgium)

Vice: Loss, children

Rating: 5 stars

Lock this book up: 3 keys.  The sex builds off the plot, but isn’t the focus

Length: Novel

Satisfaction: HEA

Cover Impressions: It doesn’t really suit the story, but I can’t imagine one that would

Best Line: “I was always there for you, Ollie.”

Synopsis: Oliver and Samuel’s relationship is fairy-tale perfect. They share a gorgeous house in Antwerp, go out with their friends every weekend, and count down the days to their dream wedding. But their happy ending is shattered one late night, and just like that, Ollie is left bereft and alone.

The months that follow are long and dark, but slowly Ollie emerges from his grief. He even braves the waters of online dating, though deep down he doesn’t believe he can find that connection again. He doesn’t think to look for love right in front of him: his bisexual friend Thomas, the gentle giant with a kind heart and sad eyes who’s wanted him all along.

When Thomas suddenly discovers he has a son who needs him, he’s ill prepared. Ollie opens up his house—Sam’s house—and lets them in. Ollie doesn’t know what scares him more: the responsibility of caring for a baby, or the way Thomas is steadily winning his heart. It will take all the courage he has to discover whether or not fairy tales can happen for real.

Impressions:  I had to let this book settle before I could attempt to do it justice.  This book was not what I expected, and I couldn’t get it out of my head.

I thought this would be a sweet, low angst read, but in fact it was a complex, sometimes heart breaking read that left me feeling a sense of satisfaction that stayed with me for days.

I knew going into this that Ollie would lose Sam, but I didn’t realize that we would get to see their love, and Ollie’s loss, so completely open for us to experience.  It was heartbreaking, but so realistic.  The author covers a lot of time in Ollie, Sam and Thomas’ life.  About 30% in I wasn’t sure if this would be the book for me, but I was enchanted by Thomas and connected to Ollie (and really their whole friend group) that I kept with it, and I am so happy that I did.

It’s really difficult to put into words why this book works so well, but I hope you will trust me that it does.  The love between Ollie and Thomas is always there, but watching it grow from friendship to love was simply beautiful. 

I really enjoyed this book, and I ended up staying up WAY too late to finish it, and when I did I had a terrible (read: wonderful) book hangover that lasted for days!

Don’t miss this amazing read, and don’t underestimate it they way I almost did!