As I read these pages, my heart pounds. I can hear my veins pumping, pumping, pumping in my ears. I’m at the brink, the exterior contour of my desire, my limit, so to speak, at every turn of the page. I’m taken and return to that delicious instant when tears spring to my eyes from a hand on my ass, when I switch from grounded presence to floaty headspace. That moment which is my favorite moment. Eyes washed slightly. My safeword gulped down the back of my throat and then it blooms in my stomach. Kind of like the nervous agitation one gets the instant they take drugs. You know you are about to shoot into space. It’s happening, it’s happening, it’s happening.
This is how I feel when I read Show Yourself to Me. It is not a book that I can read in long increments. I put it down to breathe, to return to Earth, after each story.
Because writer, Xan West, drops you into hand-sewn kinktopias that are restlessly sexy. The type of spaces we stitch, reconstruct, and stitch together again. Each time to make room: to expand and include. These are communities that precede the reader. Communities that have both histories and futures. Each sliver of writing exists as the edge of a knife blade, a thin metal slice that is somehow microscopic (you teeter on it, back and forth) and all there is, a universe, in the best way possible.
It’s a spatial text to me in that way. Spatial and profoundly muscular. I don’t mean that all the characters are ripped. Well, maybe I do, just in a different way. It is a book that has an unyielding tense musculature to it. A tension, a breaking open, an intensity, an irreverently graceful resolve. Show Yourself to Me has a bloody, rich life beneath the surface skin, a skin that is ripped open and sewn back together with care and comfort over and over.
There will be consent. There will be blood. And tears. Like a continuous, but always changing perverse baptism ritual.
My definition of “good” erotica comes from reading the diary of Anais Nin. She argues that writing, mystical and magical writing, is both a container and the flight of the content from the container. West pulls up, conjures, unearths pulpy, gushy content and creates a container that draws around itself a limit. Because Show Yourself to Me is a book with limits, a book with topographies, a book with boundaries. These boundaries are stretched and pulled like doughy, warm flesh always. And for me what it makes it a remarkable and extraordinary work is that it is a book that contains itself and challenges itself.
I have fantasies about a lot of things that I will probably never do in real life. Hard-core resistance play with scissors and crying and just a brutality that reminds me of how incredible my body is. To be used. To be broken open. This will never happen for me in real life. I am a trauma survivor, noncompliant play is difficult to carry out, and I will never play with people I do not know or haven’t known for years.
Show Yourself to Me is a fucking thoughtful book for readers like me. With fantasies that may be much bigger than their environments. Xan West knows how to create handmade safe spaces out of words. In West’s pages I can push myself, and lord knows I love for my boundaries to be pushed, to the most frightening and yet eternally dignified places and I rest easy.
At the beginning of the book, there is a note on content. West files the stories by act to help readers “find what they want” and avoid what they do not want — a practice that immediately tells me “Yes, here. I can go there while I am here.”
There’s also within it a lightness. Sometimes I feel that words like “representation” and “visibility” are clunky and feel heavy on the mouths of some critics. Xan West trusts that you are a human with the capacity to acknowledge the deliciousness of complexity. There’s an ease with which West acknowledges difference. A clairty. West uses rich gestures that are sweetly simple: here they are, here are their needs, here is a space in which those needs are acknowledged, let’s see how far we can go.
These characters are people that I have known, people I’ve admired and crushed on from afar. It is okay for me within these spaces Xan has created to “go there,” “to go farther,” and to break open. Let the musculature pour out.
And together we go. We keep going, never satisfied and intensely contented at the same time. I open the text. My heart begins to pound. Where will we go?
Because this is queer writing: heterogenous, expansive writing that slips away, around, and in between any demarcation it draws. Writing that queers; writing that bends and pulls. Show Yourself to Me jumps along stepping stones that may or may not be there when your foot presses down. The points of view change, and change, and change again. The bodies therein change and change and change again. You will switch tracks suddenly and laugh and remember where you now are.
It is unapologetic in its vulnerability. Everyone in these pages is stripped down, vulnerable, and unsure. They question themselves, they wonder, they are nervous. While the dominant characters are undoubtedly and often ruthlessly so, they are not “domly doms.” I don’t know where I heard that term first, so I apologize. By that I mean they are not broody, unavailable, or incapable of recognizing their own vulnerability.
And I, like the characters, find myself asking the same questions: “Am I ready? Can I take this? Could I do this?” There is voice on my breathe.
I realize that I have up until this point not mentioned a single story. To me, this book while made of many moving and different parts, is a whole breathing text. I found all the things I have discussed so far in each of the stories.
There is a beautiful negotiation scene in “Waiting for Essex,” around the relationship between the language of BDSM and its connotations of a racist past and tumultuous present. There is rage, honesty, and a genuine warmth to it. It is a hot story because you know how the characters arrive.
“Sweet Tender Young Thing” is one of my favorite stories. It’s a story about creating space, creating the container, and flying away from it at the same time. It is raw. It pulls me in. I find myself returning to it over and over.
“First Time Since” is a story about loss and the pain and joy of moving on.
“Please” and “The Way He Likes It” are stories about one of my favorite things: begging. They are about wanting and configurations of desire not defined by lack, but by moving towards, by asking. Pleading.
I would teach this book. I would teach this book to folks who want to learn how to cultivate an expansive sexual imagination. To imagine other ways. I would teach it as queer and trans fiction. I would teach it as smut.
There are black and brown characters who are not splashed in for diversity’s sake, they are real and full. There are trans characters who dance with their complexities and differences. There are butches, femmes, daddies, sirs, masters, femme boys, differently abled bottoms, tops, switches.
There are boots on necks. I gasp. I can feel the leather at my own throat.
There are knife blades across backs. I want it.
There is spilling. Spilling of guts, of vulnerability.
It is remarkable. It is inclusive. It is expansive. It draws a landscape of kink that is wide and far. And there are boundaries.
And on a lighter note, I learned just how “into” crying I am. There are many tears, and I fucking love each one that falls.
Thank you Xan West for writing this extraordinary and vulnerable work. Thank you Go Deeper Press for publishing it.
Don’t miss the other posts on the Show Yourself to Me Blog Tour, you can find the listings here.
Want a sneak peak? (YOU DO) Go Deeper Press is giving you one here.
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