Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Everybody Knows: 15 Transgender Love Stories by Giselle Renarde

Before I get into talking about the collection, I have to be honest and admit to my love for Giselle Renarde. She is one of the first writers I ever really got a chance to know through my reviewing efforts, and she is a woman who I greatly admire. All of Giselle’s transgender stories are born out of experience, appreciation, and affection for the transgender community. Instead of focussing on the fetishistic aspects of gender expression, she writes of friends, lovers, and partners whose gender identity is simply a part of who they are.

Perhaps the most delightful thing about Everybody Knows is the fact that most of the stories contained within are new to the collection. In fact, only 5 have been previously published, which makes this a fantastic collection for long-time fans and new readers alike. I won’t go into detail on all of the stories – readers, after all, deserve to share in the surprises – but there are a few I have to mention.

Hot Oil Treatment is, as Giselle freely admits, a personal story that is blatantly (and proudly) about her relationship with Sweet, her trans girlfriend of 7 years. In it, she recounts all the little things they have done together that allowed them to be sexual, without ever confronting the question of gender. It is sweet and tender . . . and incredibly erotic.

SM, or How I Met My Girlfriend in a Queer Theatre is a story with a message, but it is not about the message. Giselle uses it to say some interesting things about stereotypes and prejudices even within the LGBT community, but the focus is on the passionate discovery of love, behind the scenes of a drag show, between a lesbian and her transsexual girlfriend.

Max Alone in See-Through Panties stands out in that it is not a romance, but an erotic exploration of one man’s fondness for pink panties. Yes, there is a fetishistic aspect to his masturbation, but the final scene reveals a sweet (and familiar) truth about the peace of gender identity.

The Therapist and the Whore is Giselle at her most romantic and thought-provoking best, turning the tables on our expectations with a kind, lovable, transsexual whore who (as it turns out) serves as a remarkably effective bedroom therapist.

Bertie and the Vamp is a fun story that takes an interesting look at gender nonconformity. There is an aspect of cosplay to the story, with a husband and wife dressing up as their favorite competitors from the Gender Nonconforming UnderGround Arm Wrestling Association, but the highlight is the most erotic exploration of tucking that I have ever come across. Seriously.

Eclipse the Stars is a touching story that spends as much time exploring emotions as it does bodies, demonstrating a kind of understanding and compassion so rarely found in erotic fiction. Few authors can comment upon the transformation of a lover's sex while in the throes of passion, and still come across as tender and respectful, but that is precisely what Giselle does here.

Glitter in the Gutter is probably the darkest, saddest tale in the collection, with Dotschy coming home to find Connor purging all aspects of Charlotte from their lives. It provides a glimpse into the fear and shame that so many of us carry inside, but it also reminds us that love is blind, and “gender's between your ears, not between your legs.”

One Woman Show wraps things up with a story that starts out with the promise of risqué fetishistic exhibition, leads into some awkward revelations and confessions, and ends with the exploration of romantic sexual exhibition. The way Giselle develops a purely platonic friendship into something sexual, dressing Wellesley up physically, even as she undresses her emotionally, is just beautiful.

Through these 15 Transgender Love Stories, Giselle Renarde takes us from a world of fear where we worry that Everybody Knows, to one of acceptance and understanding where everybody knows . . . and nobody cares. 

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