This review is part of our Gay Writes celebration. Don’t forget to comment on the original post for a chance to win one of those prizes as well as commenting on this post for a chance to win a copy of this book.
I wanted to review a Trans romance for our Gay Writes Week but that proved more difficult than anticipated. Maybe I just don’t know where to look, but I could only find yours. (If anyone else has suggestions, I’d love to hear them.) You suggested your 10K word short in the anthology Cocked and Fully Loaded, so I read it and enjoyed it, despite some questions.
First, can we please acknowledge that the title of the anthology is just…awful? Right. Thanks.
The story itself is very cute. It’s set in some nebulous past, in the wild wild West. The first-person narrator, Chuck Samms, tells his story in western dialect. It’s pretty well-sustained throughout, both his thoughts and speech, but I know that’s an issue for some readers, so it’s worth mentioning. He gets home from 10 days on the range and wants nothing more than a hot bath, some hot food, and his partner Mitch. Except he discovers that bath and partner have both been co-opted by Carmen, a prostitute from town. Chuck is disconcerted to find himself attracted to Carmen and throws a pretty spectacular misogynistic tantrum that Mitch calls him on with his fists. Considering I’ve labeled this a trans romance, I’ve pretty much given the plot twist away, of course, but the reveal is humorous and well-handled and the ensuing sex between the three characters is hot.
What I really like about the story is that the story is not just about the sex, as many shorts are. Fundamentally, it is about the romance between Mitch and Chuck, about their commitment to each other. And I love that it’s told in the roundabout way men tend to use to tell themselves things:
I stopped, dead cold in the dark. Felt kind of odd without my welcoming committee of one, but I reckoned Mitch had maybe gone into town for the night. He did sometimes. Well, a lot, actually, but I couldn’t blame him. What were he supposed to do, sit around and wait on this old man?
I turned up the lantern beside the door then knocked the dust from my hat. In the dim glow, I wandered into the kitchen and hung my hat on a chair before rummaging in the cupboard for matches. After lighting the lantern in the center of the table, I looked around. The room set spotless. My second indication something weren’t quite kosher, not a dirty dish in sight. There sure as hell weren’t any warm meal to stave off the pain that hit me all at once and recoiled my guts, either. Had he used the kitchen at all while I were away?
“Mitch?” I called again, this time louder. But as before, I received only a ballad from a solitary cricket holed up in the pantry.
His pain is not, of course, hunger. It’s his feelings. And the story deals with them as obliquely as he does, and I love when a first-person narration can get that right.
The problem I have with the story is precisely in the dealings with Carmen. Romance tends to have what I call the Victor/Victoria trope: if one character is cross-dressing, the other character’s body and libido instinctively knows about the cross-dressing because of their attraction to the cross-dressed character. This is usually used in squickily heteronormative ways: it’s proof that the cross-dressed character MUST be their actual sex, because God forbid any character ever be attracted to a member of their own sex. So, the fact that Chuck partakes a bit of this trope is…interesting to me. He’s depicted as a violently misogynistic good old boy (who happens to be gay, of course) and he’s attracted to Carmen when she’s a woman, but only because she’s really a man?
Then again, when he discovers that Carmen “has a pistol,” he’s perfectly happy to deal with her as a woman and she’s certainly depicted as fully transgender, as much as anyone could have been in a nebulous past. But…better transgendered than being attracted to a woman? And I’m also…vaguely uncomfortable with Carmen’s status as pure vehicle for sex. She only speaks Spanish and at one point, Chuck tries to figure out a translation:
“Hey Mitch.” I glanced behind me and found him stripped to his drawers.
Thumbs under his waistband, he paused. “Yeah?”
Guess he were about as ready as Carmen and me was. “Um . . . how do you say, bed, in Spanish?”
“Just say, sex.” He shucked his drawers to his ankles and stepped out, cock stiff and swaying. “Pretty much all she understands.”
Um, okay. So in a m/m romance, the one woman is, of course, a prostitute, and is quite literally, the purely sexual conduit for the two men to express their feelings. She is, again quite literally, incomprehensible and is used solely for sex (after all, she’s a prostitute). So, while I appreciated the writing, the emotions, the twist, the story as a whole, this kinda made me a little uncomfortable. I understand that for the plot to work, she couldn’t be able to explain herself to Chuck. But it still made me uncomfortable.
That aside, though, I was impressed with the writing, the character construction, and loved having a trans character in the story. And I’m actively looking for more romances like that.
-Joan, Sarah F.
We have a DIGITAL copy of Bryl’s first story, If I Were a Lady…, a fully transgender romance, to giveaway. No geo-restrictions. Comment by 6am EST on Thursday to win! (One win per person for the week of our Gay Writes giveaways, but feel free to comment on all posts to increase your chances of winning!)
And feel free to recommend some more trans-romances for me. I’d love to read them.