Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Review Tuesday: Show Yourself To Me by Xan West

Show Yourself to Me: Queer Kink Erotica by Xan West
Go Deeper Press, 2015

I am not the target audience for this very personal book. I’m not transgendered, or disabled, or a person of color. I’ve never been abused, sexually or otherwise. My real world experience with kink is limited to a single, long-ago relationship, though dominance and submission permeate my sexual fantasies and much of my writing. Although I’m strongly attracted to women and label myself bi-sexual, in practice most of my relationships have been straight. My reality has little in common with the world portrayed in this collection.

Nevertheless, Xan West’s tales speak to me at some fundamental level. The stories in Show Yourself to Me evoke emotions that I recognize, even when the activities are foreign to the point of being disturbing. There are truths here, shining against the dark background of extreme sadism, articulated with glorious clarity. They linger long after the visceral impact of Xan’s rough sex has faded.

Many of these tales were familiar. I’ve always appreciated both the intense eroticism and the subtle interplay of complementary desires one finds in any story authored by Xan West. Gathered together, these tales are almost overwhelming—each one a punch in the gut, with no time to recover before the next. This book is not for the faint of heart.

Although the sexual activities involved in these stories tend to be quite similar, the moods vary. The book begins with the plaintive and nostalgic “Missing Daddy”, a top’s reminiscing about his first dominant.

I miss Daddy. It’s that simple. Not just him—I miss who I was back then. A chubby cub novice, eager, hungry, open. We’re supposed to graduate, you know. Those of us whose path to the top begins at the bottom. We’re supposed to grow from boy to Daddy in a way that is so fine, so right, where we pay our dues and never look back with longing.

The secret truth of it is this: many of us that moved to the other side of the whip did it to approximate what we had longed for and rarely received. We did it not because we grew up slowly, nurtured by Daddy, but because we decided to grow up on our own and stop yearning for that kind of Daddy. To instead get our pleasure from being that Daddy to some lucky boy. No one tells those stories. It would not do to talk of the ways we suffered from neglect, betrayal, abandonment, and flat-out abuse as bottoms. It would rip open our mythology and make our boys doubt our desire for them.

Theo was before all that. When I was fresh-faced and barely 24. When I still thought that the hard part was figuring out I was a Daddy’s boy. When I was hopeful and certain in my desires. When I still felt whole.

This passage made me ache. It’s so rare that erotic authors chronicle the process that leads someone to become a top, or consider the vulnerabilities that might remain beneath the facade of absolute power.

First Time Since” portrays loss of another sort. After releasing a submissive from a long-term relationship, the narrator stops wearing the boots that symbolize the D/s dynamic.

We build these intense relationships, fill them with ritual and intent and all of our full selves, and even if they end honorably (as this one did), that doesn’t stop us from feeling ripped in two. Like a vital piece of self just walked out the door, never to return.

Rebuilding came first. Reclaiming all the tasks I delegated to him. All of the opportunities for service that I created led to this sense that we were one unit—interdependent.

So I began to take them back. From the preparation of food to putting away my clothes precisely as I require. From keeping my glass full to shaving my head every week.

But not my boots. They gathered dust as I tried to imagine feeling powerful enough, strong enough, whole enough to wear them. They were patient. More patient than I was with this grieving.

Eventually, this dominant finds a new bottom, someone eager to bathe those boots in tears and cum, then polish them to a perfect shine. The fact remains though, that sex is only an expression of deeper needs—for connection, for control, for reverence.

That is perhaps one of the primary messages in this book. Kinky sexual activities abound in Show Yourself to Me: ass-fucking, cock-sucking, fisting, piss play, knife play, breath play, fire play, floggings, canings, pretty much any extreme you might imagine. Still the author is very clear—physical sex is not the point. These stories aren’t just wildly transgressive fuck-fests (not just...). They’re parables about admitting who you are, owning your desires even when they’re socially unacceptable, searching for partners whom you can trust enough to show your true self—dark as that might be—and who will be equally open in return. The release that comes from that sort of connection (which might just as easily be found in an anonymous alley fuck as in a committed relationship) goes far beyond pleasure.

One story that beautifully illustrates this point is “The Tale of Jan and Tam”. Jan is new in town, kinky and queer, a novice bottom looking for a place to call home. Tam is an experienced top of legendary sadism who has just split with a boy who allowed that cruelty to get out of hand. At a workshop, Jan and Tam negotiate a scene of “transformative play”.

Jan continued, “I don’t want the transformative part to be about me and what I need. What I need is pain. If that can be a path to your transformative experience, that would be my choice.”

Tam was silent for a few minutes. Who was this person? How could they have arrived offering exactly what ze had just realized ze needed? Ze couldn’t even really believe it.

You’re talking about me being the focus of the transformative play?”

Jan was glad ze finally spoke. It had been so hard for them to get out. But they had come to Carter Hall hoping for more. The only way to get what they wanted was to name it.

Yes,” Jan said quietly. “What kind of transformation do you seek?”

....

I want to unleash my sadism, go deeper than I have in a long time.” Tam swallowed. “What I need is for you to hold on to me as I do that. To be the anchor to this world. To accept what I show you, however scary, and keep holding on.”

That’s a big job.”

Yes. And. I need you to really be able to hold space, during and after.”

Jan nodded. Was this something they could do? They knew they wanted it. But it was important not to make false promises. Tam would be counting on them. Jan swallowed. Time to take the risk.

Yes. I can do that. I want to do that, for you.”

The scene that follows is intense, but for me, this negotiation, this naming of one’s desires, was the most arousing part of the story.

Another message common theme in Show Yourself To Me involves the fluidity of gender. Physical anatomy doesn’t determine maleness or femaleness, and indeed, there exist infinite variations between these two apparent poles. In many stories, I wasn’t sure of either the biological or the psychological gender of the protagonists. After a while, I decided it didn’t matter. A strap-on cock is as real as one of flesh and blood. Indeed, the fact that one has chosen a cock as opposed to being born with one can make it sexier.

Xan begins the story “Strong” with a candid admission of this fact:

For both of us, gender is complex identity and elaborate sex toy. But not just that. It is not easy to grow up breaking the gender rules, to live lives visibly nonconforming. Gender is a dangerous and delicious edge in which we play, knowing that we may inadvertently step on the minefields of our gendered histories and present struggles. Part of the thrill is that danger. We push gender to its own edges, play its sharpness against our throats, fear in our mouths, ache in our guts, building armor against becoming what we fear.

In this tale, the submissive plays as both male and female. Ultimately the sub is more than either.

This is already much longer than my typical review. There’s a lot more I could say. I could go on posting exquisite snippets from Xan’s tales more or less indefinitely. I have many more bookmarked.

Instead, I’ll just tell you flat out. If you’re intrigued and aroused by gender ambiguity—if you’re looking for erotica that’s both brilliantly insightful and blazing hot—if you believe, as I do, that sexual interactions are a path to healing and self-awareness—go get yourself a copy of this book.


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