Friday, December 22, 2017

Woman as a Foreign Language by Katherine Wyvern (#trans #erotica)

Woman as a Foreign Language is a book I was already excited about reading when I came across an absolutely atrocious review. It was harsh, completely incongruous with the praise I had seen, and did not reflect what I already knew of Katherine Wyvern. Social rebel and literary contrarian that I am, of course, that made me even more anxious to give it a read.

In all honesty, there are only two things wrong with this book, and they are both issues that I bring to it as a reader. The first is that the character of Nina's mother (perfectly described as 'the pudding') is painfully familiar, so much so that she triggered some uncomfortable flashbacks. The second is Julia's chain-smoking, a habit I absolutely detest, which triggered memories of its own. As a reader, I understand that those are my own issues, however, and not a reflection on the story or the author.

Now, having said all of that, I absolutely loved this book. The writing is beautiful, the language perfectly suited to each point-of-view, and the characters wonderfully damaged. At its core, Wyvern twists the usual gender/genre expectations, and that excited me. Here we have a cisgender woman who looks up to her transgender neighbor, from whom she learns to embrace and celebrate her own femininity. That Nina does not initially realize Julia is transgender is both irrelevant and essential to the plot. The fact alone has nothing to do with Nina's admiration, but the way in which it is revealed has much to do with her affection.

This is a book that has a lot to say about gender, gender roles, and gender expectations. It is also a book that is not afraid to acknowledge the difference between female biology and feminine behavior. While readers who come into the story with an agenda may find flaws with its approach, I found it to be genuine and honest. Keep in mind that this a story told through two points-of-view, which means that every statement or observation is that of a character - Nina or Julia - and not that of an omniscient narrator passing judgement. While such a narrator might make a clear declaration that a woman does not have to be feminine to be female, both characters have their own reasons for seeking feminine in themselves, and each other.

As for Julia, I found her character to be fascinating. She is a transgender woman who has not really decided what that means. There is no obsession over labels, no angst over identity, just an honest acknowledgement that Julian is happier, and more comfortable as Julia. As for Nina, she loves both aspects, and sees in Julia a feminine transition to which she can relate. When they do finally become intimate, it is as one woman to another, and the fact that one of them has some extra equipment is happily accommodated, yet never fetishized.

Ultimately, Woman as a Foreign Language is exactly what I look for in an erotic transgender romance. It is gender-positive and sex-positive; erotic and romantic; and painful and funny. It is a literary reflection of life, with two characters I would very much like to get to know, and whom would be welcome in my home (or on my bookshelf) any time.

Katherine is a gipsy soul who lived in Italy, Norway, Germany, France and Spain but mostly in some private universe of her own. She still lives a nomad's life between Dordogne and Catalonia, with a tipi as a home and her boots and a horse as only means of transport. She's worked as a printer, a welder and a gardener, and been writing since she can remember, mostly poetry, fantasy and erotica, sometimes mixed together in weird ways. Nowadays, when not busy with walking, horse-whispering or dream-weaving, she is usually painting, embroidering or working her backbone off in the pastures. 


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