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review 2019-04-22 02:35
Intersex (for lack of a better word) by Thea Hillman
Intersex (For Lack of a Better Word) - Thea Hillman

I picked this up because I’m confused by the whole concept of nonbinary gender identities (don’t most people vary in some way from the stereotypes of their gender?), and so I’m trying to read about it. This book taught me something about intersex, though nobody in it uses non-standard pronouns, but more than that it’s about the author’s sexcapades, a bit about her childhood, and a platform for half-developed arguments.

This short book is a collection of very short (typically 2-3 pages) personal essays, from the perspective of a queer activist who lives in San Francisco and has a lot of sex. And I mean a lot. Sex parties, S&M, exhibitionism, threesomes – if you want a bunch of descriptions of an adventurous sex life, some of them graphic, this is your book. Attending sex parties seems to have been the author’s primary after-work activity for a good chunk of her life, and that chunk gets a lot of focus here.

She starts talking about intersex about halfway through the book, where it turns out the author is not in fact intersex by the most common definition: someone born with ambiguous genitalia. She is physically a woman, though as a child she developed a minor, borderline version of a hormone disorder (Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia) that can cause intersex in girls, but she had hormone treatment that forestalled the most noticeable effects. As an adult and an activist, she was recruited into intersex activism, and reasoned that:

Here is a seemingly tailor-made issue for me: it’s about sex, it’s about breaking down boundaries, and it’s cutting edge – because who else do I know working on this issue?

So then she decides to start identifying as intersex and advocating for that group’s issues. Which I’m glad to have learned a bit about. Based on this book, intersex activism seems to be primarily focused around preventing doctors from performing medically unnecessary plastic surgery on the genitals of infants born intersex. Hillman’s opposition to this is based on first, her belief that people’s natural bodies and genitals are beautiful and that she feels cheated out of her natural body by the hormone treatment she received as a child, and second, the fact that many of her intersex friends lost feeling in their genitals, and/or the ability to experience orgasm, due to the surgery done to them as babies.

This is of course a terrible result, but I wanted to know more: how often do the surgeries go wrong in this way? (After all, lots of transgender people choose to have surgery on their genitals.) And I think the author, living in a queer enclave where having a threesome with her girlfriend and a transgender woman with a penis at a sex party is just your average Tuesday night, doesn’t recognize that for most people, there is significant value in being physically normal. Not everyone has either the opportunity or the desire to live a life like hers. And it’s easy for her to say – as an adult in her milieu, and having had childhood medical intervention – that she wishes she’d had her natural body. She might have felt very differently if she had in fact gone through puberty at age 6, grown body hair and had a maximum height of under five feet. Now even if the risks are low, it sounds like surgery should wait until the patient is old enough to weigh the risks and make an informed personal decision, but I don’t buy Hillman’s simple anti-medical-intervention stance.

Finally, while the writing is good and at first I felt it showed a generosity of spirit, at later points I questioned whether she was hiding pettiness behind a socially unassailable exterior. She uses one essay to settle scores with a woman who invited her to a party and then decided she didn’t want a date; another to insist that she made a thoughtless joke offending another conference attendee because “I simply just misunderstood” the situation, and not deliberately or just thoughtlessly; and she writes condescendingly about her parents, forever surprised when they understand her or do anything right.

At any rate, overall I did learn a bit from this book, which is well-written, short, and kept my attention pretty well for the most part. But it’s not one I would recommend.

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review 2017-07-12 16:01
Book Review – Waiting for Walker, by Robin Reardon
Waiting for Walker - Robin Reardon

I read an amazing review of this book by Sammy Goode, and bought the book straight off. Ah, the power of word-of-mouth.


Loved, just loved this story, about people we so seldom see. With beautiful language and turns of phrase that hit me just so.




”You came back to that rock and looked for me, out on the water. I think you want a new friend, too.”


Courage, when you realize you can no longer do nothing – but you still haven’t figured out what you can do.


We need more stories like this one, to lift us up, to see that it is possible to change, it is possible to take a road less traveled.


And that it is possible that other people’s truths are just as valid as your own. Only different.


Simply loved it. Warmly recommend it, especially as there was next to no sex in there, and sweet and slow, what was there.





*** Bought this book with my own monies after reading a smashing review.*** 

Source: annalund2011.booklikes.com/post/1578399/book-review-waiting-for-walker-by-robin-reardon
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review 2015-09-17 08:41
None of the Above/I.W. Gregorio
None of the Above - Andrea Di Gregorio

A groundbreaking story about a teenage girl who discovers she's intersex . . . and what happens when her secret is revealed to the entire school. Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.

What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant?

When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She's a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she's madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she's decided that she's ready to take things to the next level with him.

But Kristin's first time isn't the perfect moment she's planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy "parts."

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin's entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?


This book was a solid read that was great at explaining a new perspective, but I felt like the only element to it was that Krissy was intersex.


I was excited to read this book upon reading the description, and indeed this did a brilliant job of explaining to me what it meant to be intersex and to have AIS. I learned a lot from reading this and was able to experience a new perspective from doing so.


It was very sad to see how Krissy's classmates treated her upon discovering her diagnosis, but I found it uplifting to see the unexpected people who reached out to her and who made a difference and showed they care. Seeing how her relationships with various people changed was very telling. However, a lot of the characters felt a little bland--they had potential to be more exciting and more engaging, but they didn't reach it.


However, I felt like there were a lot of moments where I wanted this book to have more depth. Krissy was working so hard to show how being intersex was an absolutely normal thing and how she hadn't changed at all, yet the book in a way having few other plot tropes was showing differently. There was a romance, yes, but other than the intersex aspect, this book had very little plot.


By the end, she had finally gotten herself together, but I wanted her to put on a brave face earlier. At some points, Krissy really annoyed me because it felt like she did a lot of self wallowing instead of going out and educating the world. But hopefully that comes following the end of this book.


I'm really glad this book was written and that I was able to gain a little more understanding from it, but I think there could have been more substance to it.

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review 2012-01-08 00:00
Amaranth & Ash by Jessica Freely
Amaranth and Ash - Jessica Freely

This book sat in my wishlist for months because 1) it's kind of expensive and 2) I had some feelings of trepidation over how the author would handle the intersexed characters. In the end, I'm glad I bought and read it.

I was surprised at how often Amaranth & Ash made me think of Ariel Tachna's The Inventor's Companion. I wouldn't have guessed that the two books had very many similarities, but both star a character who is basically viewed as a high class whore by others (Lucio is a courtesan, Amaranth heals through sex, dealing primarily with patients who he feels aren't in need of healing and just want the sex) and both feature a caste system and a cross-caste romance. As far as how the romance was handled, I found I enjoyed Amaranth & Ash more.

The romance between Amaranth and Ash was very sweet. This book was published by Loose Id, so of course the sex scenes were explicit, but Amaranth and Ash didn't fall into bed right away. Ash was still recovering from a brutal gang rape (which was fade-to-black – no worries about reading an explicitly described rape scene), so, initially, all Amaranth worried about was healing him and convincing Ash to trust him. Even after he started to feel attracted to him, he was hesitant about acting on his attraction. Amaranth and Ash's relationship began more as one of mutual comfort rather than sex – Ash allowed Amaranth to sleep with him and learned to trust that Amaranth wouldn't do anything that made him uncomfortable, while Amaranth finally had someone around to help relieve his loneliness. The one thing I can think of that might make some people uncomfortable about Amaranth and Ash's developing relationship is that it occurs while Amaranth is acting as Ash's healer – even though I thought their relationship was sweet, I couldn't help but think of the Florence Nightingale effect.

The caste system was another area where I thought this book was well done. I particularly liked finding out more about how things worked in Chelon (the area where chel live), and I found the idea of soul sellers fascinating. The vasai, too, were interesting. They weren't all perfect little angels – although they were healers, there were still jerks among them. Also, although some characters put them on a pedestal, not everyone did. I had wondered what would happen after the lower castes found out there was a vasai among them. Some people reacted almost worshipfully, but in some cases things did turn darker.

Speaking of the vasai, I liked how Freely handled them as well. The vasai weren't just an opportunity for Freely to write sex involving different combinations of male and female genitalia without having to incorporate menages. I liked finding out more details about vasai life, and I was fascinated by the idea of hidden vasai. In an author's note, Freely writes about the thought that went into pronouns and, now that I've finished the book, I have to say that I'm relieved that Freely chose to use gender neutral pronouns for only one of the vasai – otherwise, the book would have been a slog to get through, since my brain couldn't see to adjust to seeing “sie” and “hir.”

Those of you who hate the soulmate trope may dislike one of the minor romantic relationships that pops up later in the book.

Grail, Amaranth's friend, ends up in a soulmate-style relationship with one of those hidden vasai I mentioned. It was definitely an insta-love situation, and it made me wonder if Amaranth and Ash would be explicitly identified as soulmates as well (I don't think they were).

(spoiler show)

Although I did really like this book overall, that's not to say that it didn't have its weak points. The first one I noticed was that characters voices weren't as clearly defined as I would have liked. At first, I thought Amaranth spoke in a more refined way than Ash, which, considering their castes, made sense. Then Amaranth had a scene in which he started cussing, and he once berated himself by calling himself a “perv.” It didn't seem to fit in with his usual speech patterns. I would have preferred for characters' voices to be more consistent.

Some of the things I disliked about this book were tied in with things I liked about it. For instance, while I was happy that Freely did not write about rape in detail, her vagueness when it came to darker moments in the story sometimes made it difficult to figure out what, exactly, happened. There is a scene later in the book where Amaranth is being forced to heal others. Although it's stated that most of the people just touch Amaranth, I had a difficult time figuring out whether one of the characters had gone further and actually raped him.

Also, while I appreciated that the dream scenes allowed for Amaranth and Ash to continue to have scenes together even after they were separated, I'm one of those readers who tends to prefer fewer sex scenes in my romance novels, and those dream scenes were nothing but sex. It's a personal preference, but those scenes got to be a bit much for me.

I mentioned earlier that some aspects of the world-building could have used some work. It wasn't always clear to me what people did or did not know about vasai. Amaranth had to explain to Ash that vasai are technically neither male nor female and that some choose preferred gendered pronouns while others wish to be referred to using gender neutral pronouns. You'd think this would mean that other chel would be as clueless about vasai as Ash, and yet, later in the book, not one chel stumbled over the gender neutral pronouns and everyone seemed to know which were the proper pronouns to use. The pel that Amaranth encountered were as clueless as Ash had been, sometimes referring to him as “it.”

Then there was the feeling I had, that this book was similar to a video game where the environment seems to be rich and well-defined, until you bump up against the invisible edges of the map and see that there's nothing out there. I found myself wondering about things like whether Amaranth and Ash's entire world was just one big city and whether there was some kind of purpose to character names (chel seemed to have earthy names, like Ash and Soot, pel had task names, like Push and Pull, Elai got more familiar names, like Darien and Elissa, and vasai got...I'm not sure - “Amaranth” and “Grail” both have meanings, but I don't think “Evanscar” does). One of the reasons why I hated that the book ended with a “four years” later epilogue was because I felt a sequel could have opened up the world a little more.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, although I'm not sure it's one I'll ever reread. Amaranth and Ash's relationship was sweet, but there was some quality missing from the book that kept me from really connecting with it. That said, I plan on reading more of Freely's works and would jump on a sequel to Amaranth & Ash if she ever wrote one.

Other Comments:

For as much as Loose Id charges for their e-books, they should edit them more carefully. I caught one verb tense error and one misplaced comma. There may have been other editing errors I didn't catch.


(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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