Review: Best Sex Writing 2013

It’s time again!

Time, that is, for Best Sex Writing 2013, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. This year’s anthology is just as good as the last one I reviewed, with another eclectic mix of journalist writing, memoir, and quirky pieces that are tough to categorize. This year’s volume covers topics from Jean Harlow to Tim Tebow, and features a number of the big names in sex as contributors–Madison Young, Patrick Califia, Julia Serano, Melissa Gira Grant, Carol Queen. It’s hard to sum up in a word, as the contents are so diverse, but I had a few favorite moments.

Carol Queen’s “Ghosts: All My Men Are Dead” is a must-read that is particularly poignant for me having gotten to know a little bit about Carol through the conference circuit. We owe this woman such a debt of gratitude as a sex-positive community, and this piece will slam into your heart as you read not only about the devastating effects of AIDS on San Francisco but about a much more complicated story with sexuality and identity at its heart. I’m reminded of a number of other essays I’ve read about San Francisco at the time, which taken together lead me to wonder what queer identity and art might have become if our communities hadn’t lost those particular people at that particular time.

Other pieces are gripping in a more humorous way. Seth Fischer writes “Notes from A Unicorn,” picking up on a surge of interest in bisexuality, and one of my favorite comments on queer identity comes from this piece:

The gay rights movement has been so successful because activists like Harvey Milk encouraged people to come out and tell the truth to their families, to their friends and to their coworkers, to be everything they were, to say “We’re here, we’re queer,” yes, but also, implicitly, to say, “We’re here, it’s complicated and probably it’d be good if we talked about this over tea.

While an amusing one-liner, it’s also a great summary of all my complicated feelings about the past decade’s emphasis on “coming out!” as a one-time defining moment in a queer person’s life. Embrace ambiguity, damnit. I also liked a comment from Ned Mayhem, on a similar note, discussing sexual subcultures in Rachel Swan’s polyamory piece “Sex by Numbers”:

Mayhem said that a lot of the people he meets in the so-called “sexual underground” are nerds in other parts of their lives–grad students, engineers, costume-party types, bookworms, live-action role players. They tend to be open-minded and well educated, but always a little to the left of what mainstream society would consider “sexy.”

Accurate! Can 2013 be the year of the sex nerd?

Finally, continuing on the nerdy theme, one of my favorite informative pieces in this anthology was Andy Isaacson’s long-form journalistic piece on the development of JimmyJane vibrators. The piece is very timely in a year of enthusiasm about high-quality, safe, environmentally friendly sex toys, and also just really interesting. It’s cool to think of vibrators as luxury goods on the scale of BMWs and stand mixers. I’m not really one for “normalizing” sex (keep sex weird!) but I found this piece rather appealing.

I’d recommend this anthology as a much more fun airplane or beach read than whatever else you were considering. Enjoy!

This post was originally published on the blog Sex Positive Activism, which has now merged to become the sex & relationships section of Queer & Now.