[BLOG NOTE: Thanks to Michael Blume, Ryan, Vadim, Aneesh, Myca, and Eric, who have bought me books recently. I would like to encourage readers to donate to Cyborgbutterflies’s Gofundme if they can; she is a trans female rationalist who needs help funding her refugee claim so that she can escape her abusive family and transphobic original country and live in Canada with her husband. Over the years I’ve known her, I’ve always been impressed by her kindness and generosity in the face of adversity. Thank you.]
I’ve decided to write brief reviews of the books I’ve read lately. Unfortunately, I decided to do this halfway through April, so this contains fewer books than most reviews will.
Girl Sex 101. This is, as it suggests, Girl Sex 101— you don’t get anything about BDSM, group sex, fisting, or similar topics, just the basics of strapons, cunnilingus, and finger-fucking. The tone is Standard Sex-Positive Sex Advice Book Tone: friendly, nonjudgmental, like your cool older sister. I appreciate the specificity of its advice: unlike a lot of books, which just say “do what your partner says!”, Girl Sex 101 gives specific techniques for interacting with vulvas. Its scripts for negotiation about sexual turnons and STIs will probably make people a lot less anxious about discussing those topics before they hook up.
Instead of being segregated in their own Trans Girls: They Are Weird section, trans women are mentioned throughout the book whenever they’d naturally come up: the section on strapons covers which harnesses work best for people with balls, while the section on cunnilingus includes advice for giving head to people with penises (both on and off estrogen) and people with user-upgraded vaginas. I also appreciated that they didn’t assume that trans women and cis men have the same relationship to their penises: their advice for minimizing dysphoria during sex was great. Unfortunately, disabled women and fat women are segregated into their own They Are Weird sections, but I appreciated the between-chapter porn interludes having a physically disabled woman whose disability is presented as just another normal part of human variation.
About those between-chapter porn interludes: it felt very non-wankable to me, like the author was writing things they endorsed ethically rather than things that made them squirm in their seat. Porn should be written from the id, not the superego. That would be forgivable if not for the mind-boggling decision– particularly in such am otherwise trans-positive book– to have the protagonists repeatedly misgender a trans character and call them by their birth name. Why would anyone think that was okay?
Nevertheless, a solid if intro-level read I’d recommend to people of all genders who want to have sex with girls.
This book is upfront about what it is: a book for vanilla, allosexual cis women about improving their sex lives, grounded in sexological research. If you’re not a member of one of those categories, the book is probably not For You, but you might be able to apply its concepts anyway. Come As You Are is the rare book which engages with the reality of sex differences from an unapologetically feminist perspective. One of its main theses is that society tends to assume the sexuality men are more likely to have is “real” sexuality: spontaneously getting horny, orgasming from PIV, not being turned off by a messy room, your genitals reliably indicating how turned on you are. That means that both atypical men and typical women feel broken or nonsexual when they’re just different. Nagoski tends to favor the psychological side of things rather than the medical, and to prioritize self-acceptance over changing one’s sexuality; it feels to me like this is partially the product of the evidence, and partially the product of her own pro-“natural” biases.
A lot of the material will be familiar to you if you’ve read Nagoski’s blog in the past, but I still recommend buying it as an easy reference and for the worksheets.
Trans Bodies Trans Selves. Extremely comprehensive trans 101 book for trans people, covering everything from the cost of medical transition to trans history to traveling in airplanes while trans to the experiences of trans people in prison. It pays careful attention to not erasing the differences in the trans community– for instance, it incorporates both “being trans is a medical condition and I am no different from any other woman” and “I am a RAINBOW GENDER WARRIOR” perspectives. If you’ve been trans for a while, a lot of this will be old news to you, but new trans people should definitely check it out. My favorite fact this book taught me is the existence of Reed Erickson, a millionaire trans man who funded a lot of the early research into trans people as well as the early homophile movement.
How To Talk So Kids Can Learn. Mostly contains the same material as the authors’ previous How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk. I am suspicious of the claims of an effect on children’s personalities, because Judith Rich Harris, but I also figure it can’t damage anything, because Judith Rich Harris, and the advice is broadly in line with my ethical system. I appreciate the emphasis on validating children’s feelings and giving children language to talk about their emotions. And I like emphasizing problem-solving instead of punishment: it seems both more effective and more ethical (a rare combination!). The advice on “roles” seems pretty shitty to me, though: while one reason children are forgetful might be that their parents or teachers are putting them in the role of “forgetful person”, another reason is that they’re, well, naturally forgetful. I worry that that would end with a complete denial of neurodiversity and failing to teach children coping mechanisms for the different ways their brains work.
[HERE THERE BE SPOILERS]
Stories of Your Life and Others. I told Topher I was going to throw this book at him. He thought I meant it metaphorically until it went whizzing past his head.
A lot of these stories are simultaneously clearly science fiction while having very few of the trappings one might associate with SF. Division by Zero, for instance, is about the consequences of a new scientific discovery– but the discovery is a proof that math is inconsistent, and the consequences are mental illness and marital trouble. Seventy-Two Letters and Tower of Babylon are science fiction stories as if written in, respectively, a world where Renaissance mystics were right about science and ancient Babylon. Others, like Understand and the titular Stories of Your Life, are much more clearly SF in both genre and trapping; Understand, in particular, is a tremendously evocative story about being transhuman that left me yearning.
Chiang is the modern master of the SF short story. Highly recommended.