I must declare my prejudice: Patrick Califia is my favourite erotic fiction writer. The spine of my tatty copy of Macho Sluts needs reconstructive surgery. That said, I gathered that the new-era Califia writing was going to present a challenge. To say that the new collection is dark is to state the obvious. And that’s what we want; dark is why we’ve bought it. But, as I’m sure that most of Califia’s readers are not transgendered, the real challenge he presents is, for the most part, the sense of complete otherness. By Patrick’s own admission, he has gone out on a limb by including so many stories about transgenderism. But, hey, if you can’t push boundaries within the BDSM and fetish community,where can you?
So: I could have started with Gender Queer, about a female-to-male master who runs a transgender support group: funny and wonderfully tender. Or I could have pushed other personal boundaries and dived straight in to one of the vampire tales – Learning the Alphabet or The Only One Who can Save Her – both of which I enjoyed far more than their subject matter suggested that I might. Or I could have stuck to the more familiar ground of straight BDSM with Making Honey; it turned out to be my least favourite story in the book.
But… I started with Flannel Nightgowns and White Cotton Panties. Its theme of Daddy Love and Age Play was an area of recent intrigue for me, but it had an air of familiarity about it. Political correctness – yes, even in our supposedly open-minded community – is thrown resolutely out of the window and this most difficult dynamic fully explored and portrayed in a sexy, sensitive way. I loved it and have re-read it more than a dozen times. It remains my favourite.
The acid test of short story writing is whether the writer can persuade the reader to care about the characters in a very short space of time. I fell in love with both Doyle – erudite, calm and quirkily stylish – and Kip – educated, funny and in re-hab – in It Takes a Good Boy (To Make A Good Daddy). This tale, with a Domme who uses the word “pedagogical”, a boy who can recite poetry on demand and the serving of a meal as its central scene setting feature two of Califia’s most endearing creations.
Patrick’s dictum in life seems to run along the following principle: if it seems like you shouldn’t do it, then go ahead and do it anyway. So: my next challenge was the transgendered-pronouns in Who Casts The First Stone. This device, problematic for me at the time of reading, was very successful: at the end of the story I couldn’t quite recall whether Tam was a man or woman. Or was that just me?
The title story The Boy in the Middle is perfect, perverse porn: probable narrative featuring a threesome with a transman sadist, his gorgeous new AIDS activist femme, Gaby, and a transman boy in mourning for his recently deceased Master. Engaging characters, including a despairing dungeon-monitor being winked at reassuringly by Gaby and full of quirky asides, such as the benefits of Pilates in a BDSM lifestyle, made this one of my top three stories.
Tamping Down the Dirt is the final story and in many ways should have been the most disturbing. It deals with the last taboo: incest. Gay incest. Gay BDSM incest. Gay BDSM incest fostered during an abused childhood by a violent father. However, in Califia’s hands it becomes heartwarming as we learn of the comfort that these two brothers
have taken from their physical relationship.
If ever a collection of stories reflected where the writer is in his life, this is it. This book is a celebration of a decision taken and the resulting happiness gained. Patrick Califia has exposed the humanity of a community in a manner which makes us really want to examine it: as erotic fiction which not only entertains and titilates, but also educates and enlightens.
BOY IN THE MIDDLE