Friday, June 13, 2014

Blurred Lines edited by Kathleen Tudor

Gender. Sexuality. Race. Relationship. For most people these are binary absolutes, simple either/or definitions. You are male or female, gay or straight; human or not, monogamous or not. As far as ‘polite’ society is concerned, there are simply no allowances for people to cross those stark, rigid, lines . . . forever drawn in permanent ink, and never to be questioned.

Well, I say so-called ‘polite’ society be damned, and so does Kathleen Tudor. Her Blurred Lines anthology is one of the most positive, inclusive, delightful collections I have had the pleasure of reading in a very long time.

K. Lynn opens the anthology with Defying Expectations, probably the most traditional of the four stories, but one with a lovely approach to gender fluidity. In detailing the budding romance between a genderfluid bartender and gay male customer, Lynn explores the assumptions and misconceptions that exist even within the LGBT community. There’s some definite tension to the tale, but overall it’s sweet and understanding.

Almost as if she took the title as a challenge, Caitlin Ricci follows that up with Werebears and Water, a fantastic story that blurs all the lines. Here we have a werebear in love with a female-to-male transsexual, who encounter a sea nymph at WereCon. After an act of chivalry on their part, and a little voyeurism on hers, Rayce and Vince invite her to be a part of their polyamorous relationship. There’s so much going on here, I was worried Ricci might have been trying too hard to blur the lines, but it all works beautifully, exploring the joys of openness, acceptance, and love.

Not to be outdone, Sian Hart ups the ante with Of All The Days, probably my favorite in the anthology. Plot-wise, this is an old fashioned fantasy quest tale, with the heroes being forced to make their way past traps and trials to find the treasure and complete their mission. It’s a fun story that would be right at home in any fantasy anthology, but what makes it really interesting is the relationship between Jeric and Vesh. Vesh is a professional thief with an amulet that allows him to magically transform his gender from male to female and all variations in between, while Jeric is a mercenary guard who is more than happy to explore a lover with those variations.

Jasmine Gower ends the story with another traditional sort of tale, but one that hearkens back to an even older tradition – that of the two-spirited wise one. Red Blood, White Blood begins when Chen undergoes the ritual to become a hunter, only to have his spirit guide reject him for being a woman.  It’s an absolutely fascinating story about gender and gender roles in a native tribe, with some really inventive approaches to mental, emotional, spiritual, and even physical transitions. I didn't expect the resolution that Gower provided, but loved it even more for the audacity.

If you’re a fan of stories that are erotic, well-told, and positive in their blurring of gender lines, you’ll be hard pressed to find a stronger collection of stories. Kathleen Tudor is to be commended for putting together such a wonderful collection of authors and stories. Highly recommended!

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