Review: Trans Figures

Issue 81

This originally appeared in BCN issue 81, Sept 2006

Trans Figures
Edited by M. Christian
pub. Harrington Park Press
£6.59 (Amazon), £9.99 (Libertas)

I’m often quite sceptical of the distinction that lots of people make between pornography (noun, DISAPPROVING – books, magazines, films, etc. with no artistic value which describe or show sexual acts or naked people in a way that is intended to be sexually exciting but would be considered unpleasant or offensive by many people) and erotica (noun – books, pictures, etc. which produce sexual desire and pleasure).  As those dictionary definitions suggest, porn is something we’re supposed to disapprove of, whilst erotica is for Art’s sake, which apparently makes it OK for us to get off on it.  Unfortunately, this division can mean there’s an awful lot of crap porn out there, which can be pretty dull because there’s nothing going on apart from badly simulated shagging; but also some pretty crap erotica too, which can use lots of long words or arty photography, but somehow forget along the way that it’s actually supposed to be sexy.

However, it’s fairly easy to see why the editors of Transgender Erotica: Transfigures decided to go for the ‘erotica’ label.  A collection of stories by, for and about trans people and their lovers, this book sets out to give them a voice in a realm where until now they’ve mostly appeared as a one dimensional stereotype in porn for straight men (‘chicks with dicks’ being as much of a cliché as ‘hot bi babes’).  Fortunately, they’ve also avoided the potential pitfalls of erotica by collecting together a load of stories that are, well, very hot.  There’s a massive range of experiences here, from the perspectives of people adapting their gender physically, psychologically, spiritually and imaginatively, and from the people they fuck. The latter also show quite how much those of us who take gender and sexuality for granted can learn from those who’ve had to think a hell of a lot about these things.

One of the very striking things about these stories is how intensely they convey the sensations, feelings and sheer sense of ‘being there’ of sex, with others and inside your own head.  Many of them explore themes of exploration and acceptance, vital for people who almost by definition aren’t comfortable in their own bodies, but again this is something that speaks to all of us, no matter what identities we use.  This book made me smile, laugh, cry, and yes, it did turn me on (quite a lot), but it was also just plain interesting, and that’s something you don’t see every day.  It’s also very full-on, and certainly contains things that might “be considered unpleasant or offensive” to some, but personally I think that’s all to its credit.  Thoroughly recommended.