LGBT Love: 10 Queer, Trans, Bi, Lesbian & Gay Romance Stories
By Giselle Renarde
These days it’s common for reviewers to note that they received a book for free “in return for an unbiased review”. In the case of Giselle Renarde’s LGBT Love, I bought the book. I shelled out the cash at least partly because Giselle is donating all proceeds to non-profit organizations serving lesbian, gay and transgender people. Like most of us, my book-buying budget is a lot smaller than I’d like. I’m always glad when a purchase can support a worthy cause.
Meanwhile, I can hardly claim to be unbiased about Giselle’s fiction. I’ve known her for a long time. In particular, for the past two years, she’s been a fellow contributor to the quirky Oh Get a Grip blog, where every other Thursday she offers her uniquely twisted view on life, love, sex and the state of publishing industry. I invited her to join the blog precisely because I’d enjoyed her stories in the past.
Just a caveat.
LGBT Love collects ten of Giselle’s previously published tales. I liked them all (and surprisingly, almost all of them were new to me), but I have to admit, my favorites were the ones that defied traditional categories.
“Baby Got Bach” is a case in point. A shy young woman who works in a theater obsessively admires a famous gay musician who plays both indie rock and classical piano. When she’s assigned as support staff for the star, he and his boyfriend encourage her to share her odd but arousing fantasies—then fulfill them for her. The story is deeply erotic, without really including sex, at least not in the traditional sense.
Another standout is “Glitter in the Gutter”. This romantic tale features a man struggling against his need to cross-dress, and the woman, his lover, who encourages him to celebrate his sexual duality. Connor’s pain and conflict, his shame and his irrepressible attraction to lingerie, all come through clearly in this sexy yet moving story. When his ex-wife castigates him for his transvestite behavior, he tries to deny what is a fundamental need, to the extent that he labels the more accepting narrator “a bad influence”. Indeed guilt and repression almost triumph—but love eventually conquers.
Perhaps the most emotionally intense tale in this collection is “The Public Life of Private Paulsen”. Set after the Second World War, it chronicles the reunion of two soldiers who served together—one of whom has since transitioned to being a woman. The lovely Pearl—née Howard—Paulsen is wealthy, glamorous, famous, constantly surrounded by a côterie of curious males, but ultimately alone. Meanwhile, George Kensington can finally express the love he’d always felt for his army companion.
After a lengthy pause, Pearl set her hand on his. “Did I ever tell you why I enlisted in the first place?”“To show the Jerries who’s boss,” George replied with a shrug.“Well, yes, I should say so. And we certainly accomplished that much. But there was another reason too—one more sinister and terribly, terribly selfish.”George was all ears. He leaned in close to hear, because now Pearl had her head bent down toward her chest. Her eyes brimmed with tears.“Georgie, I wanted desperately to die.” She rose from the sofa, clutching her hand to her breast. “Every day and every night I prayed the Nazis would shoot me right through the heart. I couldn’t go on living. It was the body that was the problem, you see. Nature gave me the wrong one.”In the time they’d served together, George had seen every conceivable emotion in those eyes, but he’d never fully understood their pain until now. Did God really make mistakes? If the atrocities of war were any indication, he could only conclude yes.
Finally, I want to mention “Everybody Knows”, a story about the love between two transgender individuals in the process of transition, one from the male to female, the other in the opposite direction. With this premise, the story might have been exploitative or glib, but it’s just the opposite. Giselle shows clearly how hard it is for these two people to trust their emotions and their new bodies.
LGBT Love also includes three lesbian tales, one gay encounter, and two bisexual ménages, including the luscious “The Other Other Woman”. However, it’s the less well-bounded tales that will stick in my memory, the ones that bend gender almost beyond recognition. These tales confirm my convictions that arousal doesn’t depend on body parts, and that eroticism is too rich to fit a fixed set of labels.