Christina Shelly has been a favourite author of mine for many years, ever since I accidentally discovered a copy of her first book, Silken Slavery, in a Toronto bookstore. Somebody had clearly lifted it from the erotica section, flipped through it, and dropped it on the horror shelf right next to the Clive Barker book I was looking for. Coincidence or fate, I (being the bookslut that I am) bought both.
Unlike so much of the commercially produced erotica available in mainstream bookstores, which usually just pays lip service to the transgender community by mixing in some forced feminization with its female domination, Christina’s books are unapologetically for and about the ready-and-willing transgendered girl.
With The Secret Self, Christina takes that expression to the next step. Her protagonist is already an accomplished, extremely passable transvestite, although one stuck very much in the closet. While there is a femdom element to her past, with a Mistress largely removed from the immediate action, that relationship is more about forcing Adam to overcome his fears and fully embrace the Eve within than it is about forcing him to be something/somebody he doesn’t want to be.
Much of the story revolves around an exclusive, invitation only club (Crème de la Crème), populated by transsexuals, transvestites, shemales, and their admirers. There, Eve is challenged and encouraged to explore her secret self. Christina’s descriptions of how it feels to dress, walk, and act like a girl are absolutely breathtaking. She doesn’t gloss over the preparation, and doesn’t shy away from the confusion of being in transition.
This isn't just a story about sexual fetishism, no matter how hot and delicious those scenes may be. It's also a story about relationships. As the story progresses, Eve find herself involved in a relationship with two Mistresses (one largely off-stage, and the other very prominent in the club); a trans-sister whom she admires, envies, and adores; and a male admirer who pushes her to complete her transformation. The romance that develops between Eve and Richard is one of the strongest aspects of the novel. It’s not something Adam could ever want, but it is something Eve is coming to desire, and Christina handles that emotional conflict between beautifully.
The relationship between Eve and Richard is an intense one. He is the strong, forceful, dominant male that Eve needs if she is to wholly overcome the lingering aspects of Adam's persona. Even though Richard treats her like a woman, the spectre of her dual-persona is always there, and they frequently cross the line from romance to BDSM in an attempt to completely overwhelm those 'drab' memories. Even as we thrill at Eve's seduction, however, we never entirely trust Richard or his motivations.
Fortunately, whenever things start to get too intense, Christina smartly reintroduces Cherry into the action. A long-time member of Crème de la Crème, she serves as Eve's buxom and beautiful (not to mentiuon, very well-hung) transition guide. She is equal parts big-sister, BFF, and bisexual lover. Eve's relationship with her is never casual, but sweet, silly, fun, and even a little bit frantic. Their roles within the club don't allow them much time to play, but you can't help but smile every time they get together.
Without giving away too much, the book's conclusion is as deeply arousing as it is satisfying. Yes, it's very heavily weighted on the fantasy side of things, but that's entirely appropriate for a story about dreams and desires.
Although the Nexus publishing line has been discontinued, here's hoping that someday we get to experience the next chapter of Eve.