Wednesday, December 8, 2010

REVIEW: What the Other Half Don’t Know by Peter Edwards

I picked this one up on a whim a couple of months ago. I needed one more book to qualify for free shipping on my Amazon order, and I really wanted it to be transgender oriented (to fit the theme of the overall order). I knew nothing about the book or about the author, but I like a biography or memoir that I can identify with, so I thought it would make for an interesting read.

Now, any book that’s subtitled “My life as a transvestite escort (and how I became one)” is bound to create certain expectations with the reader, so let’s clarify what this book is not. This is not erotic fiction, it’s not a sexualized exploration of Peter/Susie’s transvestite fetish, and it’s not a graphic expose of life a as an escort.

What it is, instead, is a surprisingly vanilla piece of non-fiction. The first half of the book is a casual accounting of Peter’s life and his struggles – family, professional, financial, and personal. 

Peter is very much a self-made man, despite (or, perhaps, because of) the crushing blows the world of finance has thrown his way. The struggle to reconcile his need for feminine expression with his masculine identify certainly colours his life, but it does not define it. More a means of expression than a separate identity, Susie has become Peter’s outlet . . . his release valve . . . his means of escape. She is a part of his life – at times more welcome than others – but this first half of the book really is the story of Peter.

Although the second half of the book is focussed on Susie, it’s as much about her clients and their catalogue of fetishes as it is about her. Being an escort is simply a job, a convenient way in which to earn a living. She clearly enjoys her self-expression, but never connects emotionally or romantically with her clients. If anything, she is more amused than aroused by her role in their fantasies. That initially struck me as odd, until I remembered that this is non-fiction.

As much as we like to romanticize the role of the escort/prostitute, the truth of that matter is that it’s a business – and generally not the first choice, for most people, of how to make a living.

Overall, Peter’s book – much like his life – strikes a careful balance between the two worlds in which he lives. There are clear limits to Susie’s expression, and natural barriers in place between her and Peter. She willingly takes on roles that, he freely admits, would result in violence if they were ever requested of him, but it’s a healthy sense of internal conflict that keeps Peter/Susie separate, rather than blurring the lines between them.

My only complaint about the book is that it could have benefited from a little more editing in a few places. I hesitate to mention it, because it doesn’t detract from the story itself, but when the first 7 pages are 1 paragraph, it’s one of the first things a reader is liable to notice. It does get better, but the few lapses in structure/punctuation will unfortunately distract some readers more than others.

As Peter says in his wrap up, the personal satisfaction he took from sharing his story is worth more than any success that comes from it. Whether or not you agree with how he’s lived his life, you can’t help but admire the sentiment.

Thanks for sharing, Peter.

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