Best Lesbian Erotica is an annual anthology first launched by Cleis Press of San Francisco in 1995 to fill a gap in the published erotica of the time. This year’s edition includes fresh stories with the hallmarks of the series: much sensory description, including juicy metaphors and a high concentration of explicit sex, gender-play, and more-or-less realistic plots (few fairy godmothers or other supernatural elements and no guaranteed happy endings).
As this year's guest editor explains in her introduction, these stories are a departure from a certain school of lesbian erotica, especially poetry, which sprang from the lesbian-feminism of the 1970s and was loaded with "tons of dolphin and mango imagery." There is not a dolphin or a mango in sight here, nor do any of the characters in Best Lesbian Erotica resemble cats or flowers: two other worn-out cliches in lesbian written and visual erotic art.
Several of these stories blend intense sex (often with a Dominant/submissive flavor) with vividly-described physical and cultural settings into a gestalt which is greater than the sum of its parts and which seamlessly combines plausible action with symbolism. Certain stories feature specific settings which are integral to the general effect.
Catherine Lundoff's "Spoonbridge and Cherry" (reprinted from her own lesbian story collection, Crave: Tales of Lust, Love and Longing) is about a three-dyke sexual adventure on a whimsical, giant sculptural image of a spoon with a cherry, designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen for an outdoor sculpture garden in Minneapolis.
Isa Coffey's "The Bridge," despite having an over-used title, is a fiercely distinct description of an encounter in a car on the Coronado Bay Bridge in San Diego, which seems to have a magically aphrodisiac quality. The two women in the car are a white femme and a black butch who passionately explore each other’s limits before they learn each other’s names, and they are soon joined by a police officer and two interested onlookers. The excessiveness of the multi-woman pileup on the bridge is made convincing by the narrator's response to the sounds of traffic, the full moon above and the restless water below.
Aimee Pearl's ironically-named "Where the Rubber Meets the Road" is about the allure of rubber and leather at the Folsom Street Fair in September in San Francisco. In keeping with the setting (a daytime display of fetish and BDSM paraphernalia, available to all onlookers), Pearl’s story is about playful exhibitionism and experimentation, not high-stakes challenges or compulsions.
"And the Stars Never Rise" by Missy Leach takes place in the media-conscious culture of West Hollywood; it involves being stalked, “hosed” (secretly photographed without one’s consent) and photographed in a sexually-compromising situation as punishment. It would work well as an X-rated episode of “The L Word”, the lesbian soap opera set in Los Angeles.
D.L. King's "A New York Story" is a haunting tale (literally), set in a brownstone in the Greenwich Village of yesteryear, and it refers to a history of closeted lesbian desire. The building, which feels like home to a single woman who lives there for most of her adult life is essential to a relationship which could actually last forever, in extreme contrast with the immediate, get-it-while-you-can flavor of the tricks in many of the other stories.
Peggy Munson's "The Storm Chasers" is set in an atmospheric small town where Pennsylvania meets Ohio, where Amish teenagers plunge into a "storm" of extreme sexual experience during "Rumspringa ('running around'),” described as: “the window of time when they can break the Amish rules before deciding if they want to get baptized."
Munson's stories have appeared in Best Lesbian Erotica every year since 1998, and her style has come to seem characteristic of the series. Here she demonstrates her ability to capture characters in a few deft sentences by describing Ellie, an Amish girl hell-bent on worldly knowledge, from the viewpoint of the baby dyke who wants her:
". . . suddenly, she puts the tip of her sneaker over mine, rubbing the rubber together. Burn, I think. Burn rubber. I'm thinking about masturbating in my bedroom with the plastic handle of this big pink makeup brush I fuck myself with, listening to albums she has never heard: I want to bring her into my world. But we just stay there, poured into molds of ourselves hardening, our breathing startled by its perpetuity."
These girls are simultaneously rebellious and representative of their generation and their backgrounds. Like the other characters in this volume, they want more than simple sexual release, and they are more than their demographics.
As usual, several other veterans and rising stars of lesbian erotica are here: Rachel Kramer Bussel, Radclyffe (owner of Bold Strokes Books, a lesbian press), Betty Blue, L. Elise Bland (Mistress Elise, former pro-domme and stripper from Texas), D. Alexandria, Shanna Germain, Jacqueline Applebee, Alicia E. Goranson, Roxy Katt, Tamai Kobayashi, A. Lizbeth Babcock, Valerie Alexander, Anna Watson. Amazingly, several other stories in this volume are first publications by novice erotic writers with talent. Each story has its own appeal, and all deserve to be carefully read—assuming that readers can be intellectually pleased by the kind of fiction which is intended to distract the mind.
Best Lesbian Erotica has spawned imitative series from other publishers and helped to inspire the cross-fertilization of lesbian fiction in various genres (erotica, romance, mystery, suspense, fantasy, sci-fi, history, biography, etc). These stories can’t satisfy every taste or adequately address every issue that arises in real-life lesbian social space, and some readers would undoubtedly have made different selections from the mass of submissions which pour onto Tristan Taormino’s desk every year. However, the series continues to be innovative and genuine, and the stories tackle the raw, messy stuff of lesbian life with exceptional literary skill. Ya gotta read this stuff.
Best Lesbian Erotica ’09 is to be the final collection of lesbian-focused erotica to come from under Tristan Taormino’s editorship. Taormino founded the Best Lesbian Erotica series back in 1995 and has repeatedly thrilled readers with short stories from a collection of gifted writers who can best be described as world-class. Best Lesbian Erotica ’09 is no exception and, once again, she presents an anthology of stories that are hot, heady and filled with all the thrills that readers have come to expect.
The anthology kicks off with Jean Casse’s splendid story “The Virgin of G.” “The Virgin of G” explores a relationship between a couple from different religious backgrounds. Ordinarily religion can drive a couple apart but Jean Casse uses it in this vibrant and vivid story to bring her protagonists closer together.
Lisabet Sarai’s “Velvet” is a wicked tale of attraction and satisfaction at a software convention. Lisabet has the ability to bring her characters to life and present them in glorious and rich detail. This story of headhunting, seduction and burgeoning romance is as typically exquisite as is to be expected from the divine Lisabet.
The inimitable Shanna Germain, “On Snow-White Wings,” is equally capable when it comes to pushing all the right buttons. “On Snow-White Wings” is the bittersweet story of love found and lost and replaced by hope. Powerful writing.
Jean Roberta does not usually approach her erotic scenes in a way that can be described as “gingerly.” However, with her excellent story, “The Placement of Modifiers,” it’s fair to use that word as a vague description without giving too much away.
Teresa Noelle Roberts’, “Tough Enough to Wear a Dress,” reveals a tender story that remains hot and horny whilst addressing the artificial differences we all employ through our choice of clothes.
The thing that always startles me with these collections is that they are such an undiscovered talent of treasure. I have had many friends say to me, “Why are you reading a book of lesbian erotica when you’re not a lesbian?” (NB – They don’t use these exact words. I’m paraphrasing for the sake of clarity).
Most of the people I’ve encountered (that is, those people who haven’t read any of the Best Lesbian Erotica anthologies) assume that the stories within are either a collection of lurid masturbatory fantasies or a canon of extreme feminist propaganda.
The truth is, the Best Lesbian Erotica series is (and has always been) a collection of outstanding stories told by outstanding storytellers. It’s true that the focus is on lesbian relationships and the erotic content is invariably arousing. It’s also true that the stories lend themselves to positive feminist criticism because the absence of traditional male roles in these erotic stories leads to a direct usurpation of the stereotypical male taking over his supreme position in the narrative’s patriarchal hegemony. But that doesn’t mean the anthologies are nothing more than lurid sex stories. And no honest connoisseur of these collections could dismiss them as pro-feminist propaganda.
If you’re unfamiliar with Best Lesbian Erotica, rush out now and order your copy. If you are familiar with the series, convert a friend by buying them the latest edition. Good storytelling is always an absolute. Good storytelling transgresses the arbitrary conventions of typical gender roles. Best Lesbian Erotica ‘09 shows exactly what good storytelling looks like.
There is an awful lot contained within the pages of Best Lesbian Erotica ’09. This is a wonderful collection of girl-on-girl stories that will warm the winter for every reader and start 2009 with a very enjoyable bang. The only problem I can see is that Taormino has raised the bar pretty high for when Kathleen Warnock takes over this series with Best Lesbian Erotica ’10.
In her introduction to Sometime She Lets Me: Best Butch/Femme Erotica, editor Tristan Taormino states:
Butch/femme is a perfect centerpiece for erotica since it is recognizable and meaningful to many people. It’s also incredibly multilayered – creating opportunities for characters to play with gender in a sexual context, do unexpected things, challenge conventional wisdom and assumptions, and explore taboo desires.
A theme that comes up often in this anthology is that Butches are supposed to be stone, meaning that they don’t accept reciprocal sex, and that to do so is shameful. Alison L. Smith’s “Sometimes She Lets Me” explores this with such precision of craft that she’s able to deliver a deeply touching portrait in only two pages. When an anthology opens with a story that fine, expectations move up a notch.
If you fear that your fantasies make you a freak, reading about them in erotica can be comforting and liberating. In her story “Anonymous,” I felt as if Amie M. Evans peeked into my storehouse of frustrated desires. While I’m long beyond caring if I’m freak, it’s still good to know that other women long for, “No exchange of numbers or first-date sex; but rough, hard, no-name sex: the stuff of gay boy novels and urban myths.” Her femme narrator boldly sashays into a bar in search of just that, but not before a ‘laugh-out-loud and nod your head in recognition’ observation of how difficult it is for women to break past the real and imagined barriers to NSA (no strings attached) sex. Once the narrator shoves all that aside, she finds a butch with the same fantasy. From there on, things get hot and dirty, the way every good sexual fantasy should.
Lynne Jamneck’s “Voodoo and Tattoos” hit a few of my buttons – voyeurism, and two hot butches. The narrator works the bar at a conference as a favor for a friend. A power femme hits on her, but the scene that follows isn’t exactly what she expects. This story got me worked up in all the right ways.
In “Look But Don’t Touch” by Sparky, a boi watches a peep show. If the girls dancing for him know he’s passing, they either don’t care or like showing off for him. The glass that separates the girls from the boi works on a metaphorical level for the bittersweet envy of gender diaspora. Hot, and well crafted.
Elaine Miller’s “Fee Fie Foe Femme” hits the right balance between a great BDSM teasing scene and sexual frustration. The femme doesn’t want to kiss because their lipstick colors clash. You know at some point that glittery raspberry pink is going to get smeared, but like the femme in this story, you have to wait for it.
While it might seem that gruff butches have the power, femmes aren’t sitting around waiting for rescue, or sex. They’re boldly going after what they want. In “Gravity Sucks” by Skian McGuire, a butch is trapped under a car she’s working on as someone – she hopes it’s her lover - yanks down her pants and uses them as a budget bondage device to good effect. The power dynamics are turned, or maybe that’s the truth behind this relationship.
Toni Amato’s words are so powerful that it’s difficult to discuss “Grand Jete” without quoting long passages from it. On the surface, it seems so simple. A genderqueer narrator is talking about his lover. But there’s nothing simple about this story. The vulnerability of Toni’s character is breathtaking, and the longing palpable.
There are many other wonderful stories in this anthology. Peggy Munson, S. Bear Bergman, Kristin Porter, Tara-Michelle Ziniuk, D. Alexandria, Joy Parks, Samiya A. Bashir, Rosalind Christine Lloyd, Anna Watson, Shannon Cummings, A. Lizabeth Babcock, Isa Coffey, Jera Star, Sandra Lee Golvin, and Sinclair Sexsmith contribute to one of the most consistently strong anthologies I’ve had the pleasure to read in a long time. Two thumbs way up.
This was the first piece of latex I ever bought, the first one I
ever tried on. Its tightness around my narrow waist, rounded
hips, and plump ass makes me look and feel space-alien exotic,
and draws attention to the fullest part of my body. Yes, my
butt has stopped traffic. Who doesn’t like to look at a black
diva in red rubber?
From "Where the Rubber Meets the Road" by Aimee Pearl
When an anthology opens with a scene like this one from Aimee Pearl's "Where the Rubber Meets the Road," my contented sigh rolls across the room and I nestle into my chair because I know I'm not going to set the book down until I've read every tasty word.
So what comes next? "Jubilee" by Quinn Vertiz in which a daddy takes his boi to a brothel for his first time in a sweet, hot gender bending tale that's just pure delight from word one through to the end.
"Butches don’t do this. Butches DO NOT do
But apparently they do in "Butches Don't" by D. Alexandria, and you'll be glad they did.
At this point, I realized I was only three stories into this anthology and had marked each one as a story of note. That's a great sign for a reader, but a bit of a quandary for a reviewer since I usually only mention a few standout stories from each anthology I read. Would the anthology be able to keep up this pace of quality? Yes, absolutely yes. From the delicious twists and turns of "Tori's Secret" by Andrea Miller to the sensual overload of Jai T.'s "Detention" to the voyeuristic thrills of Lynne Jamneck's "A Case of Mistaken Identity," every story in this anthology was enough to spark my writer's envy. And I haven't even mentioned the many other incredible stories by Deborah Hyde, Jean Roberta, Kathleen Warnock, Peggy Munson... Leaving anyone out feels like a slight because these stories are all wonderful. So here's the table of contents:
Where the Rubber Meets the Road • Aimee Pearl
Jubilee • Quinn Vertiz
Butches Don’t • D. Alexandria
Tori’s Secret • Andrea Miller
The Break • Cheryl B.
The Plow Pose • Sinclair Sexsmith
Ripe for the Picking • Kristina Wright
After Lunch • Kathleen Warnock
Touchée • Jean Roberta
No More Secrets • Chuck Fellows
The Woman Upstairs • Tara Alton
Only A Woman’s Touch • Debra Hyde
Detention • Jai T.
Clinical Trial • Radclyffe
Naked Rusted Plumbing • Eric Maroney
Bésame • Gina Bern
A Case of Mistaken Identity • Lynne Jamneck
Riding the Waves • Rose William
Puppy Slut • Michelle Brennan
Planet 10 • Catherine Lundoff
Phoebe’s Undercover Bon Voyage • Skian McGuire
Taking Steps • Thea Hutcheson
Phone Corrosion • Julian Tirhma
Gone • ViolyntFemme
Virgo Intacta • Anna Bishop
Into the Baptismal • Peggy Munson
It's like a greatest hits compilation by all your favorite artists. And if any contributor isn't a favorite yet, now is your chance to discover their work. Can you tell I'm still giddy with reader's delight? I swear it's like I'm drunk on words. Two thumbs way up.
I live in Los Angeles, where earthquakes are, while not common, part of the experience. Some people take them in stride, but others are - forgive me - shaken to their cores when they realize that terra firma isn't always so firma. Language is like that. We think we understand the ideas words represent. But language is fluid. Lingua firma it ain't.
This is something you're going to have to wrap your head around when you read Take Me There. Gender is an even more fluid concept, seemingly shifting even within some of these stories, unless you give up on the idea of gender all together and just roll with it. Because if you waste every moment while reading this book trying to deduce who has what genitals and how to categorize the characters, you'll miss some damn fine stories.
While all that should matter is the story, not the writer, glancing down the list of contributors and trusting Tristan's vision put me in a confident mood before I even read the first story in this anthology. Maybe someone wants to read erotica where trans and genderqueer people are treated like disposable sex toys, useful only as fetish objects and without any human depth or feeling, but not me. On the other hand, if I want hours of lectures about gender politics... hmmm, I've never wanted that. Talk about a mood killer. The great thing about this anthology is that it deftly avoids either of those extremes and gets down to very human stories of desire.
From Skian McGuire's “The Boy the Beast Wants”:
Aren’t they [other lovers] enough? They ought to be. But the problem is, I care about them. I could never bring myself to do to them any of the things I see myself doing in my mind’s eye to the boy that my Beast has invented.
As Skian's narrator pours out this fantasy of the perfect boy, it hits really close to home.
“Femme Fatigue” by Anna Watson was all kinds of wonderful, one of those stories where you nod in recognition at passages. It was so hard to pick just one to show how brilliant it is.
How can a femme walk out in the world and have people know she’s queer when she looks to most people like she’s just a regular straight girl? It’s like I have a storehouse of queer energy somewhere in my belly, and it runs out—it runs out all the time. Mitch does what he can, but he’s got so many of his own complicated feelings about queer and straight and man and woman—things aren’t as straightforward with him as they were before he transitioned (although, as it turned out, they weren’t even straightforward then, we just didn’t exactly know it). Per queered me.
Many of the stories in this anthology are about claiming sexual identify, but for me, Anna Watson put it best.
“Hold Up” by Ivan Coyote speaks to the desire to skip conversation and get right down to sex:
I know I can be a complicated creature. I know this. I know it cannot be easy for a trick to figure out my body on the fly, and I understand that often the kind of tiresome questions and trepidation and fear that a femme feels when feeling me up for the first time is born from a desire to not trample where she shouldn’t, and to step lightly through possibly painful territory, but that doesn’t make it any hotter for me to discuss do’s and don’ts in the dark, when I would rather be fucking or fisting or tangling tongues or pulling each other’s hair and deciding by willpower and whim just who is going to suck whose what, and when and exactly how.
Luckily for the narrator, such a lover does exist.That's only a small taste of the wonderful stories that fill the pages of this anthology. With contributions by Gina de Vries, Rahne Alexander, Ivan Coyote, Helen Boyd, Giselle Renarde, Dean Scarborough, Evan Swafford, Jaques La Fargue, Kiki DeLovely, Kate Bornstein, Toni Amato, Sandra McDonald, Andrea Zanin, S. Bear Bergman, Anna Watson, Julia Serano, Rachel K Zall, Alicia E. Goranson, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Michael Hernandez, Shawna Virago, Sinclair Sexsmith, Arden Hill, Zev, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Penelope Mansfield, Skian McGuire, Laura Antoniou, and Patrick Califia, you're bound to find several that speak to you. From BDSM to sweet romance, Tristan brings you a wide range of stories. I wish we had a rating for thumbs up plus, but I'll have to be content telling you that this anthology is not to be missed.
To be honest, I deserved this book. After a few rough months of reviews, it was definitely my turn to read something wonderful. I perked up the moment I saw Tristan Taormino’s name, and Ali Leibegott? Oh man. I’m such a fan of her work. Reading her introduction, “Dumpster Diving” was a bonus treat- the dark, sweet Luxardo maraschino cherry on top of some rather delicious tales.
Hmm. Which ones to pick to talk about?
If you’re one of those readers who can be seduced by technique alone, “Paradise” by Valarie Alexander will have its way with you and you’ll love every moment of it. Revisiting old lovers in stories usually feels like opening a box with cabbage roses printed on it and gently tugging at faded ribbons around old letters. Not this one. Time hasn’t dulled anything about this all-consuming affair. You’re going to have to fight to slow your reading pace and enjoy the luxurious writing while the story tugs on you to rush along with its frantic glory.
Peggy Munson. The name brings back several fond memories. Her short stories are in so many of the annual Best Lesbian Erotica anthologies—with good reason. But her novel Origami Striptease was where I first encountered her writing and it still holds a special place in my heart. (Although she really, really didn’t like my review of it.) In her contribution to this anthology, “The Storm Chasers,” she captures complicated lives. It seems like an odd way to describe a story, but it struck me like a film in black and white, a panoramic vision of a vast space with roiling Constable skies overhead, where characters are together but still isolated. There’s something beautiful about the starkness of this tale. You may get a completely different vibe off it, but you won’t be unmoved.
Since I’m obviously getting off on the literary quality of these offerings, I have to mention “Angie’s Daddy” by A. Lizabeth Babcock. The dynamic isn’t anything that interests me, but the way this story was written was so tantalizing that I didn’t care. It teeters toward poetry and stream of consciousness, but it’s kept firmly focused. Need and desire are rarely shown so raw that it almost hurts. Excellent piece.
But wait! There’s more!
How do I limit myself to talking about only three when there’s such a wealth of stories here? Are there women out there like in Betty Blue’s “When She Was Good?” I want to meet her. In Roxy Katt’s “The Ant Queen,” the BDSM dynamic was refreshingly original, and she aptly pulled off one of the most difficult approaches to erotica with a story that was funny and arousing. “Native Tongue” by Shanna Germain will linger with me for a while, as will Anna Watson’s “Chronic.” These aren’t happy stories, but the emotions are honest in these two tales that explore something most people would rather die than admit to – selfishness is therapy, self-defense, and sometimes necessary to happiness.
I am such a happy reader right now. So many good stories to choose from. But you’ve been good, right? So you can have them all.