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Up For Grabs: Exploring the Worlds of Gender by Lauren P. Burka


Way back in 1996, Cecilia Tan, the founder of Circlet Press, edited an amazing anthology called Genderflex: Sexy Stories on the Edge and In-Between. The book remains one of my all-time favorite erotica titles. (It’s out of print now, as far as I can determine. Perhaps Circlet should bring it back as an ebook.)

The theme of the collection was gender ambiguity. The characters in those stories were not content with the sexual pigeonholes offered by society. In their worlds, gender was a matter of choice and personal inclination, not necessarily a biological fact. The book featured cross-dressing, packing, surgical gender mods and as I recall, some alien sex as well.

When I was offered the opportunity to review Lauren Burka’s new Circlet title Up for Grabs, I eagerly agreed. The focus appeared to be similar, but after more than a decade, things have changed. Genetic modification, vat-grown artificial organs, immersive virtual reality, routine gender reassignment surgery, all the stuff of science fiction in the mid-nineties, are no longer surprising. If they’re not commercially available now, they will be within a few years. I was extremely curious to see how Ms. Burka’s contributors handled the brave new world in which we live today, or envisioned the worlds we might inhabit in the future.

After reading Up for Grabs, I have one complaint. It’s much too short! The collection includes only five stories. They are good stories, to be sure, but there’s so much more that could be said on this topic. I don’t understand why Ms. Burka did not cast her net more widely. However, I enjoyed the tales she did select.

“Only for Myself: Japan 2043” by Zachary Jernigan, gives a new meaning to the term auto-eroticism. The main character is a female author who is obsessed with herself as a man. Advanced technology allows her to experience orgasms inflicted by her male alter-ego. She’s not interested in the equally augmented young admirer of her work who wants to participate in her solipsistic orgies.

David D. Levine’s “Fair Play” is a humorous tidbit communicated entirely in dialogue. What if your girlfriend suddenly whipped out her new custom penis, tank-grown from her own genetic material? “Just change an X to a Y, and ― voila!” Imagine the possibilities…

In Ellen Tevault’s “Transplant”, the country has split into the conservative, totalitarian Right Republic and the queer-loving New Republic. The New Republic offers Gender Reassignment Transplants. People with gender dystopia like poor Katrina (née Lance) can exchange genitalia with someone equally dissatisfied with his or her biological equipment. “Transplant” includes a marvelous scene in which Katrina and her GRT match Chad make love, aroused by the bodies they hope will be soon their own.

“Passage” by Anya Levin mirrors my own convictions that most people have both male and female aspects and that love and desire transcend gender. In the world of this story, people live part of their lives as women and part as men. Sira bids farewell to her female lover Maya and welcomes back the same soul in the male body of Merrick. This may be the most erotic story in the collection, celebrating sex in all its guises.

The final story in the book in Vinnie Tesla’s bizarre and hilarious pseudo-Victorian opus, “The Ontological Engine, or The Modern Leda”. This bawdy tale, which reads like The Pearl on acid, seemed to me to have little connection to the book’s theme, but it is so funny that it’s worth the price of the book all by itself. Here’s the first paragraph:

It is imperative that I make this utterly clear from the start: my motives in the affair of Miss Pertwee were the very highest. Desire for personal gain, worldly fame for the name of Daedalus Tesla, or selfish pleasure of any sort were absent from my mind at all junctures. I hope that my setting down the bare facts of the case will suffice to clarify that the dreadful outcome which resulted arose despite the noblest intentions on my part, and could never have been reasonably foreseen.

It continues in this vein, a delirious marriage of Frankenstein and Thorne Smith, until my stomach hurt from laughing and my husband begged me to stop dragging him away from his own book to read him juicy snippets.

At seventy two pages, Up For Grabs is too brief to be a definitive statement on the topic of gender bending. It is worth reading, nevertheless.

Up For Grabs: Exploring the Worlds of Gender
(Cleis Press, 2009; ISBN: B002CGSY8K)
Available at: Amazon Kindle Edition

© 2009 Lisabet Sarai. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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