I saw beautiful masculinities today


I saw beautiful masculinities today.

The moment shouldn’t have been beautiful. It should have been wholly unremarkable. Normal. Quotidian.

But in a world that teaches men to be hard, to conduct themselves with swagger and violence, it’s a rarity to see such tenderness.

First of all, Trey is a shit-talker.

He goes home for the holidays and comes back decked out in White Sox and Bulls gear. He knows which teams other students support, and harasses them when their teams lose.

Trey thinks he’s got game.

He challenges our other young employees to pick-up games, and goes on and on about how he’s going to kick so much ass. The games never come to fruition. On the one occasion a young lady called his bluff and actually took him to the court, he rolled his ankle 30-seconds in and was laid up for weeks.

Trey brags about his work.

If his output is good, he’s a total boss. If it’s bad, it’s cause he didn’t really try. Or so he tells himself (and everyone else).

Trey tells stories about his many varied friends. The only people I’ve ever seen him around are in his assigned work group. Whenever I run into him elsewhere at work or around town, he’s alone.

Trey is like many of the young men who come through our doors: bravado without backbone. He’s still trying to figure out how to be a man, particularly when he’s a man who is insecure about his athletic ability. He’s short. He’s thin. He’s not especially coordinated.

But today Trey wrote a holiday card for one of my coworkers, Rafael, who asked me to read it. In the card, Trey told Rafael that he appreciated him and that he was going to miss Rafael when he leaves to go back to grad school next year. It was a heartwarming sentiment, and altogether surprising, given that Trey and Rafael don’t have a particularly deep relationship and that 21-year-old cis straight men rarely take the time to handwrite emotional holiday cards for their coworkers.

As I read at the card, Rafael began to cry. It was a heartwarming sentiment, and altogether surprising, given that 27-year-old cis straight men rarely are moved to tears by a greeting card.

We must normalize men and boys loving one another, appreciating one another, expressing themselves in caring and healthy ways. This little exchange shouldn’t be worth writing about; it should be so ordinary and commonplace that it wouldn’t register as interesting.

When my partner transitioned more than fifteen years ago, I began watching men closely, so that I could help him identify the rules of how to conduct himself, as he taught himself how to do gender “correctly.” I’ve watched the spectrum of acceptable masculinities change greatly, even in the last ten years, and for the most part, I’ve seen it change for the better.

We still have so far to go, but today I saw beautiful masculinities, and for now that is enough.

E.L. Axford is an angry, Roller Derby DykeTM who would prefer to keep her identity a mystery before her online persona gets her real-world persona into more trouble than she can handle. When she’s not angry (which is rarely) she enjoys drinking loose-leaf tea.


It’s Been a Rough Week

To all the cisgender gays, lesbians, and bi folks who lobbied for adding sexual orientation to state or workplace non-discrimination policies but didn’t fight for gender identity/expression because you were worried it wouldn’t pass…

To all the cisgender gays, lesbians, and bi folks who lobbied for marriage equality while trans women were being murdered and said you’d come back for us once you got your rights…

I have two things to say to you:

1) We told you this would happen, and

2) Fuck you.

E.L. Axford is an angry, Roller Derby Dyke who would prefer to keep her identity a mystery before her online persona gets her real-world persona into more trouble than she can handle. When she’s not angry (which is rarely) she enjoys drinking loose-leaf tea.

Dreams and Nightmares

Editor’s Note: We would like to acknowledge that the content of this piece may be difficult for some readers. Content note: depictions of ICE raids, depictions of death.

I don’t dream about dragons or fantastic beasts. I don’t have nightmares about vampires or werewolves or ghosts. I taught myself not to.

Last night he came to me in a dream. His once round face was pale and gaunt. His skin was yellowed and covered in thick, red lesions. He was thinner than he was when I met him at 18. His once lustrous golden curls were brittle and broken.

He warned me not to touch him; so afraid he was of his own blood.

I held him and caressed him. I poured every ounce of love I had into the body that had so failed him.

As a child, I used to have vivid, detailed nightmares about all manner of terrifying creatures—murderous monsters that would chase me through castles and strange, alien worlds. I spent nights crying myself back to sleep on the floor of my mother’s bedroom.

I learned to shut these things out, to force my rational mind to recognize that I was dreaming and to wake myself up. Since then, I’ve never had fantastic or unrealistic dreams. I still wake up at the first hint that something unreal might occur.

Last week I awoke to a deafening pounding on my front door. They can’t know that she’s here, I thought. As I scrambled out of bed, she met me in the hallway wearing a visceral fear that I will never know on her face. I’ve never even seen her worried.

“I’ll handle them, just go hide,” I whispered. “They don’t know that you’re here.”

She nodded, her wild curls falling over her brown shoulders, her dark eyes glistening with tears. I crept to the window to see three ICE officers crowding my front porch.

I faked a vibrato I did not feel, “Who’s there?”

“ICE. Open up!” A booming voice returned.

I leaned against the wall to keep my shaking legs from collapsing. “Do you have a warrant?”

No response except the continuous pounding of his fist against the door.

“Do you have a warrant!?” I yelled louder.

“Yes. Let us in!” Called a second voice.

“Slide it under the door.”

“No, just open up.”

“Slide the warrant under the door!” I commanded again. Then, “I’m calling my lawyer!”

The scrape of metal against wood jarred me to my core as they rammed the door open with the butt of a rifle.

I woke up, tears streaming down my face. I was empty, gutted by sheer terror and violation. And my inability to protect my best friend.

The consequence of my younger anti-nightmare training is that my dreams are boring and predictable with realistic timelines and dull, quotidian activities.

But my nightmares are likewise appallingly realistic.

I wake up tangled in sweat-drenched sheets after watching car accidents or murders I am powerless to prevent. In my dreams I attend funerals that are so accurately detailed that when I wake, I believe they truly happened. I cry, mourning the loved ones I lost during the night, and am flooded with relief when I finally realize I was only dreaming.

Thankfully, these nightmares are few and far between. Or, at least, they used to be.

I saw your body on the cold cement. Your blood slowly pooling into the gutter. Your dress was a little ripped, scuffed in a way you would never permit.

You, a pillar of strength and dignity, were killed for the crime of your own existence.

Your makeup was flawless, as always. Your teal eyeshadow and luxurious lashes were perfectly applied. The highlighter on your cheeks glimmered in the light of the street lamps above.

It looked like you were resting—exhausted from a day of catcalls and harassment as you went about your grocery shopping, your errands, your life—as though you just decided to lie down on the sidewalk and take a nap. You could have been sleeping if it weren’t for the blood.

I’m not a superstitious person. I’ve never put much stock into interpreting my dreams. I know that they are just my brain’s way of organizing my subconscious thoughts.

Yet the fact that I am having these dreams, these nightmares, all the time says something astounding about the current state of affairs.

Each night, my queer brothers are dying, once again, from AIDS, unable to access the preventative and ongoing healthcare they need for preexisting conditions.

Each day, my undocumented sisters are making safety plans, continually having “the talk” with their children and younger siblings who are citizens, who will be left behind and alone if they are deported.

And my trans siblings continue to be mercilessly murdered.

Since childhood, my dreams have never once been far-fetched. Everything about each of these dreams is possible, is probable, is happening daily.

These nightmares do not wake me, and try as I might, I cannot awaken from the nightmare in which we are currently living.

E.L. Axford is an angry, Roller Derby DykeTM who would prefer to keep her identity a mystery before her online persona gets her real-world persona into more trouble than she can handle. When she’s not angry (which is rarely) she enjoys drinking loose-leaf tea.

Hypersexual by Rory Aiken

I’m always a little apprehensive when asked to review self-published books. Don’t get me wrong: indy books are often fantastic, and in a world where only five major publishing houses rule the market, independent and self publishing is necessary. This is particularly true for transgressive titles, and let’s face it: most queer writing isn’t intended to be mainstream.

Yet navigating the vast library of self-published works is a taxing journey for readers. One must slog through a veritable thicket of typos and grammatical errors, plot holes and unrelatable characters, narcissistic autobiographies and uninspiring erotica. But often the persistent reader finds merit in an otherwise overlooked title.


Enter Hypersexual

Rory Aiken’s Hypersexual is an exploration of a category of people “…who want/need/have sex, of some kind, almost every single day, every time [they] can, often multiple times with multiple different partners per day, every week, every month, and every year of our lives.”

Sometimes a medical condition, sometimes an identity, the protagonist’s relationship to hypersexuality vacillates between burden and joy. His hypersexuality leads him to both euphoria and despair as he explores the very boundaries of sex and sexuality. His incredible sex drive borders on desperation, and jeopardizes his autonomy and safety on more than one occasion. As he navigates the relentless drive to find new and interesting sexual experiences to satiate his lust, he’s met with misunderstanding and prejudice at every turn. But he persists, explaining that for hypersexuals, “…sex is not an addiction, it is a sustenance.”

This struggle of misunderstanding harkens back to the early queer literature of the 1900s and particularly the lesbian pulp fiction of the 1950s. While reading Hypersexual, I was at times reminded of The Well of Loneliness and other early works that depict queer sexualities as inevitably tragic. It seems that Rory’s hypersexuality is an internal struggle, destined to a catastrophic end.

The impending sense of disaster the reader feels throughout the book is a salient reminder that while gay and lesbian fiction and film (and even the occasional trans or bisexual character) is no longer always depicted as inexorably doomed, less mainstream sexualities still fall victim to the inevitabilities of intolerance. That is, hypersexuality isn’t accepted, so hypersexual characters are condemned to live in the shadows of society, their lives replete with tragedy.

The Challenge

Hypersexual does not fall victim to most of the usual pitfalls of self-published books. The mechanics are fairly crisp, and the characters are generally likable. Fitting for a novel that defies sexuality norms, Aiken pushes boundaries when it comes to rhetoric, switching back and forth between novel and critical essay.

Yet, some challenges cannot be ignored. Aiken clearly has an important idea, but he falters with the challenge of making his message succinct. Commonly (mis)attributed to a great number of famous folks (Twain, Churchill, Pascal, to name a few), the quote, “If I had more time, I would have written less” is applicable here. Great length is often the mistake of the first-time author, and while Stephen King can get away with publishing hefty tomes, the average author cannot. I say this to nearly all aspiring writers who approach me: if you tell the story in half the time, you’ll have twice the impact.

While Aiken experiences his own challenges as a new author, he also issues a challenge to readers. Hypersexual demands more of readers than most non-academic titles, in that it asks the reader to reflect on their own biases around sexual norms and conventions.

It’s difficult for the casual reader to want to sit with their own discomfort and examine their prejudices around sexuality, but I would encourage readers to ask why they are uncomfortable or disturbed, and to reflect on what their discomfort says not just about their own views, but also about society at large. Aiken explores and pushes back on ideas of deviancy in a way many writers would be too afraid to attempt.

Part erotica, part social commentary, the book is as sexually explicit as you’d expect a novel about hypersexuality to be. The accounts of the protagonist’s sexual encounters are often graphic and occasionally disturbing. The frankness with which Aiken describes sex and sexuality is refreshing, but this same blasé attitude can leave the reader feeling jarred and uncomfortable.

The Upshot

In the thorns of discomfort we also find beauty. Aiken includes a candid exploration of the sexual abuse Rory endures both as an adult and as a child. When he questions how the sexual abuse he endured as a child influenced his relationship to sex and sexuality, his words are particularly powerful: “In my case, pedophilia and incest are so intertwined into my sexual origins the braid of them feels like my own spinal column.”

Due to the sexual nature of this book, Hypersexual isn’t for everyone. But if you, like Rory, have struggled with the isolation and silence around hypersexuality, you may find yourself reflected in these pages. Even if one does not relate to the woes of hypersexuality, the right reader will accept the challenge that Aiken issues to confront one’s preconceptions around the politics of sexual acceptability, and gain insight into a community that is rarely discussed.

Ultimately, in a world where sexual representation caters to heterosexism and monosexism, Hypersexual is candidly refreshing. After all, what Aiken wants is a world that will, “[e]mbrace us, and give us a culturally acknowledged, safe, accessible, and an honorable place to be hypersexual.”

If you are looking for a read that will challenge norms, challenge conventions, and challenge you as the reader, Aiken delivers.

Purchase Information:

Hypersexual by Rory Aiken


Paperback and Kindle Editions

454 pages

ISBN-10: 1539143473

ISBN-13: 978-1539143475

If you would like to write a book review for Gendertrash Café, submit your review here.

If you would like to have your book reviewed by one of our editors, contact us for shipping information.

Reviewer: E.L. Axford is an angry, Roller Derby DykeTM who would prefer to keep her identity a mystery before her online persona gets her real-world persona into more trouble than she can handle. When she’s not angry (which is rarely) she enjoys drinking loose-leaf tea.

Still, We Keep Dancing

Editor’s Note: Systemic violence can be just as devastating as interpersonal violence. Large swaths of the media have resorted to victim blaming. They point to issues of building codes, while failing to acknowledge the rampant poverty and structural violence that leads to the necessity of living, working, and otherwise using condemned spaces. We’re strongly reminded of the victim blaming that occurred after the UpStairs Lounge arson in the 1970s. This piece helps to contextualize the idea of safety in the face systemic violence.

For the fallen Ghost Ship warriors

We used to have places where we could love. The bars were ours. The bathhouses were ours. The clubs, and the studios, and the bookstores were ours.

The places where we fell in and out of love, where we learned what it meant to be hard or soft, where we could let our hair down (or shave it off) have all been coopted now. Still, we keep dancing.

Apparently, since some of us can enter into monogamous unions, “We no longer need the old bars.” You heard ‘em: Hang up your sequins and eyeliner, and let’s find ourselves a great accountant. (Our taxes have just gotten too darn complicated to do ourselves ever since we bought the summer home in Boca.)

“But some of us didn’t wrap ourselves in red, white and blue even though SCOTUS said we could.”

But some of us didn’t wrap ourselves in red, white and blue even though SCOTUS said we could. Instead, we lost our friends amidst the centerpieces and cake toppers. And when their honeymoons were over and they moved to the suburbs, their apartments were rented out to the woman who called the cops when she smelled marijuana in the building, to the man who harassed the trans women on the first floor, to the couple who would feel safer raising their son in the building if there were a neighborhood watch so let’s just get a petition going around the building to implement our own self-sanctioned surveillance, okay?

Our buildings got remodels, and so did our rent prices. Our neighborhoods turned into high rise apartments—mixed-use developments with washer/dryer in unit, a 24-hour yoga studio (for residents only), and great views overlooking Whole Foods. Our neighborhood clubs (well, those that survived) started catering to “anti-racist” white boys with dreads and no sense of irony, to straight girls who thought gay boys were “adorable” but who were uncomfortable at the sight of dykes, and to the sort of queers who don’t call themselves “queer.”

As the established clubs were appropriated before our eyes, we formed new clubs. Informal clubs. Raves at discreet locations.

We kept dancing still.

Friday nights became a blur of loud music and wild dancing. Hookups and free love. Hugs and screams when we saw old friends. Drinking and party drugs. Hey grrrl and love your shoes and stay safe out there tonight.

When the news of Pulse broke, we reminded each other to keep dancing, and dance we did. We danced to remember and to forget. We danced until our feet hurt. We danced until we wore tracks in the floors of whatever condemned warehouse, or old barn, or rented gymnasium we were in that night.

And we keep dancing still.

For the artists, the underground musicians, and the queers, dancing is harm reduction. We dance any chance we get. We dance to celebrate and we dance when we don’t have anything left to celebrate. We dance whether or not it’s safe.

“When you’re queer, safety is relative. We keep our bouncers on the lookout for biggots and cops; no one has time to worry about exposed wooden beams.”

When you’re queer, safety is relative. We keep our bouncers on the lookout for biggots and cops; no one has time to worry about exposed wooden beams.

Our rainbow #Pulse tattoos remind us that in clubs with state-of-the-art sprinkler systems, we still get shot. So we dance where we can, when we can, for as long as we can.

And we’ll keep dancing still.

E.L. Axford is an angry, Roller Derby DykeTM who would prefer to keep her identity a mystery before her online persona gets her real-world persona into more trouble than she can handle. When she’s not angry (which is rarely) she enjoys drinking loose-leaf tea.