Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Review: PoMoSexuals, Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality



I picked up the book PoMoSexuals because I wanted to read more about sexually fluid identities. I thought it would be an interesting read and a good addition to my sexuality library. The book proved to be much more.

In the Preface for this book, Kate Bornstein declares “I dare you to read any one of these pieces in here and remain exactly the same person as you were before.”

Well, I was skeptical because this is the sort of experience I crave in reading and this is so rarely delivered in a book.

But this book… did. You win, Kate, my brain is fried.

PoMoSexuals:Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality is a collection of personal essays on queer identity published in 1997 by Cleis Press. It was edited by Carol Queen and Lawrence Schimel (who both also contributed as writers) and is comprised of 15 essays.

So, what exactly, you might ask, is a “Pomosexual”? Well, in the context of the book “PoMo” is a shortened version of Post Modern and the book defines PomoSexual as “the queer erotic reality beyond the boundaries of gender, separatism, and essentialist notions of sexual orientation.”

In short, this book explores a plethora of “grey” areas in body identity and sexual orientation. In these stories are the lives of people being sexual with or toward those they aren’t “supposed” to because of concrete definitions in both society at large and the queer community.

This book explores gay men who long for a sexual encounter with a woman, dykes who fall in love with fags, and what it means to be a “real girl” – online and off.

With chapters such as “Don’t Fence Me In: Bi-/Pan-/Omni-Sexuals” and “Hermaphrodykes: Girls Will Be Boys, Dykes Will Be Fags” there truly are no limits set on sexuality in this collection.

Because of this, many of the essays focus on the social construction aspect of body/gender/sexual identity which can be controversial. But showcasing the fluidity of sexual identity brings to light just how many times there are “no rules” and that can be disconcerting for many. But more people are embracing this no-man’s land, the Wild West of identity. As D. Travers Scott comments in his essay, “I don’t want to be identified named, pinned down, understood. Those are all the first steps toward manipulation and control.”

Several reviews have voiced distain for the fact that the book is dated. At nearly 20 years old, many things have changed in the realm of sexuality and the LGBTQA community, including the LGBTF that is used in the book. I for one had no idea what the F was for. I freely admit I had to Google it.

I, however, found the language and “datedness” of the book to be an asset. Sure, I was around in 1997, but I was prepubescent and had no idea what was going on in the world, let alone the queer world. I need perspective outside of my own eyeballs and that means reading work that was written by and for generations besides my own. I find this valuable in my understanding and exploration of sexuality and sociology.

I also feel that in many ways this book was more honest than newer books I’ve read. I can’t properly explain it other than this book has a bite that left a mark. So many times I feel people are trying to say things in the realm of body identity that will light people on fire and the effort leaves me cold. This isn’t because what was being said in the book was so super radical for 1997. The words and stories were impacting on me even with my exposure to the current happenings and expressions of body identity. There is a certain timelessness to this work, or perhaps there is still an ache in the sex-positive world that is soothed by the types of stories showcased in this work. Either way, I feel this is a very important book in the discussion of sexual orientation and body identity. I learned a lot and found some answers and peace with my own body identity/sexual orientation dynamic.

I am not the same person as I was before I read this book, and for this I am infinitely grateful.

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