Thursday, November 15, 2018

#TransAwarenessWeek: Timeless Dance by Karen Shiffman Lateiner (#transgender #biography)

I think that anyone who has had a child, if they admit it or not, on some level lives in dread they will get that phone call. "Are you the parent of ...?"  In “Timeless Dance: A Story of Change and Loss,” by Karen Shiffman Lateiner, a poignant tale about the death of her child, the author describes and processes her feelings eloquently in relation to her tragic loss.

But this is a story not just about death. It is actually both a love story and a survival tale in the face of the worst possible thing that can happen to a parent. It offers a multilevel view into the love of family and how survivors must go on and live their life, now totally changed, a part of them always honoring the memory of their loved one lost.

And because death is the great equalizer, the author has put into perspective for us all, how a child's gender change, though often a shocking loss for most parents, can be dealt with in an eloquent and graceful manner, and in the final analysis pales by comparison to the death of a child.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

#TransAwarenessWeek: Skirting Gender by Vera Wylde (#biography #crossdressing #genderfluid)

One of my favorite things about being a book reviewer is that I get to meet so many interesting people, hear their stories, and make a connection. It does not happen with every book, but it is wonderful when it does - as it most certainly did with Skirting Gender: Life and Lessons of a Cross Dresser.

The voice of Vera Wylde captured me from the first page. The more she talked about her life, her identity, and her expression, the more I felt like I knew her, and wanted to know her better. She is one of those new acquaintances I would dearly love to sit down, have dinner with, and talk gender, crossdressing, parenthood, performance and all things geek.

Skirting Gender is one of the most positive, life-affirming explorations of crossdressing and gender-fluidity I have ever read. There is no shame, embarrassment, or guilt. There is no talk of regrets, purging, or gender confusion. Vera is a person comfortable in two genders, someone with twin roles to play, twin personas to explore, who is equally comfortable in both.

What I love about her story is that crossdressing is just a part of who she is, a manner in which she interacts with the world. It is not a stepping stone or a mid-point on some larger journey of transsexuality. There is no sexual aspect to it, no exploration of fetishes or submissive role-playing. It does not have its roots in any sort of abuse, childhood trauma, or humiliation. Crossdressing is simply a welcome, comfortable part of who she is, and that example of self-acceptance and personal identity is one that is sorely missing from such stories. Vera stands tall as an example of what life could be like for a crossdresser in a world without judgment or labels.

That is not to say there is no element of self-reflection to Vera's tale. She does look back on childhood games of dress-up, a homophobic stepfather, and the challenge of buying women's underwear in a small town. She shares alternately touching and humorous stories of her life, including the relief of coming out to her girlfriend, and the anxiety of dressing in public for the first time. She shares those memories, but the question of 'why?' that plagues so many of us has no role in her story, and casts no shadow on her happiness. To touch on the performance aspect, her experiences with drag and burlesque are absolutely fascinating, two very different worlds that she explored for different reasons, finding something unique in each. It may seem odd that is the burlesque community with which she feels most comfortable, despite there being nothing sexual in her crossdressing, but that is part of what is so enlightening about her story.

Along with that biographical aspect, Skirting Gender also has a fantastic section dedicated to Practical Advice, in which Vera shares tips on everything from outfit selection to eyebrow shaping, and another on the Philosophical Aspects of crossdressing, which is perhaps the most intriguing. She talks of how and when to come out to your children, pointing out the "simple fundamental hypocrisy" of telling your kids to be themselves, while hiding your own truths. That really struck a chord, and I loved how she talked of normalizing it, of letting her daughter watch the process, making it clear that Vera is still daddy.

She also shares a wonderful "life-changing" celebrity encounter with Tim Curry, which was the first time he shared her birth-name with someone while presenting as feminine or gender fluid. She talks of no longer feeling "the rigid separation of a name" and of how the two aspects of her life "snapped together" allowing her to "feel a sense of joy and pride" in herself, not "as a persona or a performer or a model." It is after that, catching us up to the present, that she talks of allowing the dividing wall between masculine and feminine to fall into disrepair, and even getting a testosterone blocker prescribed to get her "default setting to be something close to a proper neutral" and make the effort to be decidedly masculine or feminine an equal effort. Rather than come across as a betrayal of her identity as a crossdresser, it feels more like the final step in self-acceptance, embracing Vera as fully half of herself, and not just a costume or a performance role.

With this being #TransAwarenessWeek, Vera could not possibly have come to me at a better time with Skirting Gender: Life and Lessons of a Cross Dresser. I fully intend to pick up a copy of the paperback and add it to my lending library of titles I use to help friends and family understand who we truly are inside.

Vera Wylde was born in Northern California and grew up in Northeast Vermont with her mother. After leaving college she moved to Boston and then later New York where she began to perform in drag and burlesque shows as some of her earliest public displays of gender fluidity. Even after returning to Vermont, she has never stopped performing for the last 13 years. In 2011 she began uploading videos to YouTube in an effort to offer support and guidance to any other cross dressing or gender fluid people who were not as far along their path as she was. This would ultimately culminate in the self publishing of her first book, Skirting Gender, in 2018.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

#TransAwarenessWeek: Transgender Biographies & Memoirs: Part Two

In honor of Trans Awareness Week, I want to shift gears for a bit and put the focus on the people, the lives, and the stories of the transgender community. Step away from the fiction and the fantasy and recognize those who have not only lived authentically, but been brave enough, bold enough, confident enough to share their stories.

I kicked things off yesterday with a selection of my favorite titles from nearly a decade here at Bending the Bookshelf. Today we are pulling from the pages of my columns in Frock Magazine.

Confessions of a Transvestite Prostitute by Chris Burrows: As stories go, there is definitely a lot of fantasy and fetish here, so much so that a casual reader could be forgiven for wondering how much of it is real. However, the more you read, the more you realize why that is - Samantha, unlike many of us, seized upon her fantasies early on, not only accepting them, but embracing them. Her story reads like a fantasy because it is one - it's a fantasy she has brought to life, and that is something truly remarkable. What is perhaps most remarkable about Samantha's story is what it reveals to the reader about the customs, prejudices, and attitudes of Asian society. There is such a cultural and religious stigma associated with transcending gender in the West that the simple concept of such public acceptance is hard to grasp. In the end, Samantha's story is a great one, and Chris does an amazing job of not only bringing it to us, but of packaging it so well.

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock: Janet's story has all the hallmarks of the trans experience. She recalls being caught and scolded for wearing a dress at the age of thirteen. She remembers telling her mother that she was gay, unable at that age to separate gender identity from sexuality. With no concept of a trans identity, the idea of a thirteen-year-old boy becoming a girl was nothing more than a fantasy. More than anything, Janet’s story is one of triumph. She acknowledges the challenges, the disadvantages, and the issues she faced, but never dwells on them or lets them dictate her story. There is some darkness to her tale as well, particularly surrounding her life as a prostitute, but she owns that life, owns her choices, and almost justifies them as a means to an end. She doesn’t try to make herself out to be the perfect woman, and makes it very clear she never set out to be any kind of role model. Instead, Janet shares with her past, invites us to reminisce, and promises a brighter future – something to which we can all aspire.

From Darkness To Diva by Skye High: Standing over seven feet tall (in high heels), the aptly named Skye High is one of Australia’s leading drag queen media personalities. Hers is a story that peers behind the glitter and the sequins, strips away the pomp and pageantry, and takes a very human look at the universal struggle against rejection and insecurity. Yes, it is partially a story about a drag queen, but the grand debut of Skye High upon the stage doesn’t even happen until halfway through the book, and she really only gets a handful of chapters. Leading up to that we find an inspirational tale of coming to grips and finding self-acceptance as a gay man, but even that is only part of the story.  More than anything, it is a story about being human.

Tea and Transition by Nicola Chase: Of all the transgender stories I have come across, Nicola Jane Chase’s may be the most fascinating. Not only is it a story of acceptance and transition, but one of recognition. Here is a woman who does not remember ever questioning her gender identity as a child, not even in a momentary innocent or playful manner. There were no doubts, no questions, and no discomfort with her gender. By all accounts, Neil was a happy child and a well-adjusted young man, traveling the world as a professional DJ and radio announcer. She does not remember what prompted it, but her journey began with crossdressing around the house. There is a lot of sorrow to her story, especially with the cold rejection of friends as well as lovers, and her mother’s initial mourning over a lost son. Overall, however, it is a story of optimism and hope, punctuated by far more humor and happiness than sorrow.

Stuck in the Middle With You by Jennifer Finney Boylan: Anybody who has ever given it even a moment’s passing thought knows that it is not easy to step outside the so-called ‘norm’ and embrace a gender identity or expression that lies beyond the traditional gender binary. When there are children involved, however, the situation gets even more complex. Fortunately, Stuck in the Middle with You does a wonderful job of exploring the role that gender (and gender change) plays in parenting, and demonstrates that the health and happiness of one’s self and one’s children can coexist peacefully. That’s not to say it’s all fluff and laughter – there are some deep thoughts and some painful tears involved, but time, love, and caring heal most wounds. While not as ground-breaking as her first two books (I'm Looking Through You is my most well-traveled book, lent to friends and family), this is a welcome addition to the shelves upon shelves of parenting books out there, and one that offers a unique perspective for all genders.

Men Can Wear Dresses Too by Catie Maye: A true story and a cultural exploration of what it means to be a transvestite, this is a story that explores the parallel lives of the cross-dresser, hiding the truth from others, lying to protect that oh-so-necessary form of self-expression, and battling the depression that takes root from the need for deceit. The entire book is largely an autobiographical tale, but one that’s intertwined with the studies and theories. Risks and secrecy are a recurring theme, but it’s sobering to realize how strong the need to express ourselves is, regardless of those risks. Where the story gets really interesting is when Catie talks about taking his cross-dressing public, and about learning to pass as a woman. Rounding out Catie’s story is that of his wife, her discovery of his secret, and how they’ve come to terms with that aspect of his life. So, if you have ever wondered, questioned, debated, and doubted, believe that Men Can Wear Dresses Too.

My Transvestite Addictions by Jack A. Shelia: This is an extraordinarily candid look at the life experiences of Jack/Jacquelina, alternately amusing and horrifying, cautionary and inspiring. The story begins with the harsh contrast between a 10-year-old lying in the comfort of his own bed, full of innocent prayers for God to turn him into a girl overnight, and 47-year-old laying on the cold floor of a jail cell, tortured by questions about what left him broken and bleeding . . . and where he goes from there. Over the course of the story, we see Jack & Jacquelina battle for supremacy, with both controlling aspects of his life, but neither representing the whole of who he is. Jack’s is a difficult story, full of as many highs and lows, and one that may be seen to have a rather open-ended, happy-for-now ending. Like so many of the great stories of addictions, this is a story of a long, winding road-trip through the emotional and sexual psyche. There’s no promise of eternal bliss, no easy answers provided to the question of gender, and no definitive declaration of what makes a transvestite versus transsexual. Instead, it’s simply the story of a journey – one that is not yet complete – and the lessons learned along the way.

Frankly Kellie: Becoming a Woman in a Man’s World by Kellie Maloney: Kellie opens her story with talk of pacing her small holiday chalet, anxiously waiting for her story to come out in the Sunday Mirror, and wondering what the world’s reaction will be. It’s day of extreme anxiety, but also one of unbridled joy at the freedom to do away with the pretense and discard the illusion that was Frank Maloney. From there, Kellie takes us back to the beginning, to the life of a 5-year-old boy who lives as a girl inside his dreams. As we walk through Kellie’s life, experiencing it alongside her, it’s hard not to see it in terms of unending conflicts. There are so many opportunities where, if society had provided her with the tools or the acceptance to come out, you can see how different Kellie’s life might have been. More than once she reaches a point where the truth is on her lips, but where she can’t allow it to escape. It’s almost tragic the lengths to which she goes to outrun the woman inside, even if we’ve all felt it, and all had at least a taste of that struggle. While Kellie’s story may not get the press that Caitlyn’s did, there’s no question that it’s just as dramatic, or just as important that she has shared it so publicly. By coming out on her own terms, she gets to be an April Ashley for the next generation, but without the baggage of that earlier time.

Monday, November 12, 2018

#TransAwarenessWeek: Transgender Biographies & Memoirs: Part One

In honor of Trans Awareness Week, I want to shift gears for a bit and put the focus on the people, the lives, and the stories of the transgender community. Step away from the fiction and the fantasy and recognize those who have not only lived authentically, but been brave enough, bold enough, confident enough to share their stories.

I will have some new reviews coming up this week, but I wanted to kick things off by looking back at some of my favorite reads over the years.

Alice in Genderland by Richard J. Novic: When it first appeared on shelves, more than a dozen years ago now, this was one of the first memoirs to deal proudly and openly with the subject of crossdressing. I had the great pleasure of getting to know Richard/Alice many years ago, and still have my signed copy of the book on my shelves. They not only get what it means to be a crossdresser who craves the full feminine experience, but they don't apologize for the fact or make excuses for how they express such cravings. An empowering read, even if it’s just to find comfort in the confirmation that we are not alone in even our most taboo feelings.

Nails by Emma Johnson: I am pleased to say I knew Emma before she was Emma, and while we have never met in person, I remain a fan and an admirer. Written before her coming out, this is neither a happy book nor a feel-good story. It is a sad and anxious read, full of sorrow, doubt, and pain, but it is a powerful read, one that I could get out of my head, even after I finished reading it. I said in my original review that was not a story of coming out, but a prequel to that life-changing act . . . and I am delighted to say she is proudly living the sequel.

First Year Out: A Transition Story by Sabrina Symington: This is a graphic novel like no other, following Lily's journey from laser hair removal right through gender reassignment surgery, and dealing with a variety of topics along the way, including coming out, self-identity, family acceptance, voice training, hormones, dating, and more. I have since gotten the chance to know Sabrina a little bit, and have become a huge fan of her Life of Bria comics, but this was my first impression . . . and it was a fantastic one. It talks openly and honestly about transgender issues, without coming across as preachy or heavy-handed, and the artwork pulls no punches, never shying away from the struggles we face. Beautifully draw and well-told, however, it is full of more than enough joys to overcome the sorrows.

Am I Still The Victim by M.C. Questgend: I am delighted to call Muriel a friend, and I was both honored and flattered when she asked my advice in bringing her story back to print, with some updates and revisions along the way. Hers is a unique story, in that it is less about gender identity and more about the journey towards gender expression, with a shocking childhood of abuse at the heart of the story. Every reader will come at the story in their own way, and take something different away from it but, for me, it is a story of self-analysis and self-discovery . . . of coping, acceptance, and transformation. Ultimately, we see how she turned horrible negatives into something positive, salvaged the tiny little good parts of an atrocious experience, and found a path to peace, comfort, and understanding. It is not an easy read, but a valuable one.

Confessions Of A Transsexual Porn Star by Meghan Chavalier: This was one of my earliest reads, one of the very first reviews I ever posted, and it still resonates with me today. Meghan’s transsexualism is front and center, coloring her every experience, and influencing each step on her magnificent journey. It is not that she calls attention to it or shoves it in your face, it is just such an integral part of who she is that you can’t escape it. Her life is one of both struggles and triumphs, with an early rape experience ultimately balanced out by true love later on, and bipolar depression is a constant, haunting specter behind even her happiest moments. Whether you are interested in the transsexual experience or just the human experience, Meghan's story is definitely recommended.

Not Your Average American Girl by Christine Beatty: Christine is yet another good friend I have made over the years, somebody I already knew before reading her story (she was one of the first transsexual women to openly perform as a heavy metal musician, which is what originally brought her to my attention), so that made this an interesting reading experience. Hers is a story that opens from a rather tenuous state, introducing us to her at her most vulnerable, and inviting us to share the ups and downs that follow. Whether it is attempting to hide her femininity behind a military uniform, avoiding it with the pretense of a 'normal' heterosexual marriage, or flaunting it with a prostitute’s fetish attire, there is a common theme of looking for solace in all the wrong places. In the end, though, hers is a story of hope . . . of triumph . . . and of a spirit that refuses to be broken.

A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein: This was an amazing, intense, heartfelt read that goes far beyond questions of gender and sexuality to examine, really, what it means to be human. Really, it is three memoirs in one, as the extended title suggests - the true story of a nice Jewish boy (1) who joins the Church of Scientology (2) and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today (3). That third part, of course, was the most fascinating aspect of the book me, and even if it's filled with pains of its own, the sorrows of her transition are both honest and (largely) self-inflicted. Kate clearly struggled to become the woman she is today, and even if we know she is a stronger person for those struggles, they are still hard to share. As ultimately uplifting and inspiring as her story may be, however, it's framed by a sadness so deep, it's difficult to experience. She begins and ends the book with a virtual shout-out to her daughter, a heartfelt plea for understanding, acceptance, and simple acknowledgment, and I still tear up thinking about it.

I Rise - The Transformation of Toni Newman by Toni Newman: This is fresh (and refreshing) addition to the growing realm of transgender memoirs, being the story of someone who is proudly black, proudly gay, and proudly transsexual. What immediately strikes you when reading Toni's story is that it is neither the story of a victim, nor that of a life fashioned out of the need to escape something or someone in her past. Instead, it’s a story of simply becoming herself, of realizing who she always was inside. Toni’s story is exciting, full of drama, celebrity encounters, and a career that could just as easily have sprung from the pages of an erotic novel. It is also a story that is deeply moving, sometimes sorrowful, but always inspiring.

Tomorrow I will follow up with a second selection of titles, gleaned from my years as a contributor to Frock Magazine - reviews many of you may not have had the pleasure of reading before.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

#TGCaption - Just let it happen (#feminization #femboi #gay)

TG Captions are one of my favorite forms of storytelling. There is no narrative fluff, no extraneous details, just the hook, the twist, and the climax.

Feeling rather playful with this one. Is it a happy tale of self-discovery? A darker tale of transformation and control? Can you trust what Rob(in) says? And what's with Glen's final words? You tell me . . . where does this go next?

Saturday, November 10, 2018

#TGCaption - False Impressions (#transformation #transsexual)

TG Captions are one of my favorite forms of storytelling. There is no narrative fluff, no extraneous details, just the hook, the twist, and the climax.

Did you see that twist coming? Were you expecting something darker, more sinister? I know Frank was, and that was the expectation that I wanted to play with. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Freebie Fetish Friday - Putting the TG in TGIF!

Well, if it's Friday, then it must be time to bend our way into the weekend with Freebie Fetish Friday.

Every Friday I search through the weekend's free titles on Amazon, looking for those that might be of interest to similarly bent readers, fans, and lovers. Even if you don't have a Kindle, you can still download the titles through one of Amazon's free reading applications, or covert it with Calibre to load onto a Kobo, iPad, or anything else.

Please do be sure to check the price before downloading anything, as most freebies are limited time offers, and some are specific to certain regions.