Review of the Anthology "Best Lesbian Erotica 2004"
Edited by Tristan Taormino,
selected and introduced by Michelle Tea
Cleis Press, 2004
by Lisabet Sarai
the orderly sort. So I began my tour of BLE 2004 by reading Tristan
Taormino's Foreword and Michelle Tea's Introduction.
found myself getting excited at Tristan's promise that these stories
would "alter the landscape of sexuality", Michelle's
assertion that queer erotica "shoots up our lives with hot,
crucial meaning and gives us the power to create and recreate
that meaning, even after the girl is gone and your heart is broken
and your sheets are ruined forever."
if this is the best lesbian erotica around, then I'm disappointed.
Don't get me wrong. The stories in this collection are dripping
with hot, slippery, nasty, got-to-take-a-break-and-stick
-my-fingers-in-my-pussy sex. The writing is generally of a high
calibre, offering a variety of voices and styles. The settings,
as Ms. Tea notes, range over the extremes of the queer "mythical
outlaw" landscape: "tattoo parlors and boozy nightclub
bathrooms", peep shows and whorehouses, girl-on-girl play
parties and ritzy townhouses with mahogany furniture.
was generally missing from this collection, for me, was any sense
of challenge, any enlightenment. The majority of stories here
are, quite simply, about sex, and not much else: girl meets girl,
girl fucks girl, end of story. Where are the complexities of loving
a woman in a culture that condemns it? Where are the conflicts,
the twists, the uncertainties? Where, indeed, are the broken hearts?
The women in these stories are driven by desire, and desire is
a prerquisite for erotica, but in my opinion, it is not enough.
I want more than desire, I want passion, insight -- meaning. Many
of these tales felt like one-night stands: physically satisfying
but emotionally void.
shiver as I write this, knowing how politically incorrect it sounds,
understanding that perhaps the simple act of two women having
sex and writing about it is radical and important. I am bi-sexual,
but I'm not a lesbian. I love women, I have had sexual encounters
with women, but I'm not part of the outlaw culture Ms. Tea celebrates.
Maybe I just don't get it.
were stories in this book that I will remember. Possibly my favorite
was Sparky's "Look But Don't Touch", which exquisitely
captures the intensity of unsatisfied desire. In "Stazione",
Sarah Bardeen masterfully plays the old refrain of the stranger
met on the train, with a surprise cadenza. I also loved the dreamy
impressionism of "A Tangle of Vines", by Cheyenne Blue,
a tale of two old friends finding the echoes of long love within
Star's "You Can Write a Story about It" is one of the
few offerings that focus on the ambiguities in a lesbian relationships,
where roles can shift and attraction is twisted and confused.
Meanwhile, in "Does She Look Like a Boy?", Tara-Michelle
Ziniuk spins a slyly satisfying tale of a relationship in which
no one is as he, or she, seems.
there is the lyrical "Soap City", by Kate E. Conlan,
in which a not-so-innocent virgin seduces a jaded, introspective
dyke who has "spent the last eight years traveling, have
sex with fast women in seedy bars, or slow ones that want to make
you theirs", and who after the encounter, at least wonders
if anything has changed. ("Nothing has... Suffice to say
you are wildly disappointed. This is as romantic as you get.")
Finally, though the story mostly fits the mold of basic fuck-tale,
I heartily enjoyed Maria Helena Dolan's "weight-lifting,
tough-assed Latina dyke" laboratory security guard in "Class
Struggle", who does tongue exercises and spies on the researchers
to keep herself from getting bored on the night shift.
of this collection, though, seems to focus almost exclusively
on the physical. I also found it surprising (though I suspect
that this reveals my ignorance of lesbian sexual conventions)
how many of the encounters seemed to play out stereotyped straight
scenarios: butches fucking femmes with strap-ons, femmes giving
blow jobs to silicon cocks, deeper and harder and rougher is better...
I found myself wondering why women who had supposedly liberated
themselves from heterosexual imagery were writing scenes that
seemed to come straight out of classic hetero porn. Is this what
being an outlaw means? To coopt the male-generated myths and make
them our own?
know I'm treading on dangerous political ground once again. I
hope that the editors and authors of BLE 2004 will cut me some
slack for my relative lack of experience. Anyone who has read
my own writing knows that I'm as turned on by power dynamics,
gender twists, and perversity as the next girl writing smut. When
I opened this book, though, I expected to find more varied visions.
I can't review this collection from the perspective of most of
its potential readers in the queer community. Previous volumes
in this series have been wildly successful, and I suspect that
this one will be as well.
hope that this is true, because I do agree with the editors that
erotica can be a path to freedom, for both the writer and the
reader. This, at least, I know from personal experience.
Review of the Anthology
"Best Lesbian Erotica 2004"
2004 Lisabet Sarai