Review: Show Yourself to Me

show yourself to me by xan west coverI can honestly say that I’ve never read an erotica collection like this before. To me, this book is to other pieces of BDSM erotica as the full, messy, grown-up experience of BDSM play and practice is to the overblown kinky erotica fairytales I read at thirteen in the early days of the Internet, about ravishment as romance and mysterious silent doms who could somehow know everything about their submissives without asking and effortlessly make them fly. As Annabeth Leong writes in the book’s introduction, “[Show Yourself to Me] is about knowing that BDSM really can make you fly, but remembering how sore your muscles may be afterward from the effort of pumping your wings.”

From the first story in the collection, “Missing Daddy,” Xan West’s writing is intense and takes no prisoners. A protagonist waxing nostalgic on his younger days as a bottom describes a fierce initiation scene full of realistic, almost-too-much pain, public sex, and drawing blood, but also gets at a tender core, describing his once-Daddy. “He knew how to reach right in and find that kernel of pride he wanted to grow in me.” The tops in these stories are by no means perfect, but this is some dirty, dirty porn that also brilliantly captures the emotions of D/s play—from fear on both sides to excitement, arousal, protectiveness, contentment, and belonging. It grabs you by the throat and fucks with you relentlessly, delightfully queer as many books in the gender-rigid erotica genre are not and edgier than many volumes out there—one character, for example, plays with the tip of a knife at his partner’s eyelid. There’s plenty of dirty sex, but there’s also a lot of fucking that has nothing to do with genitals, from full-body jarring punches to the eroticism of boot worship.
This is also one of the few collections I’ve read that actually delves into what it’s like to have a scene not go quite like you wanted it to. Téo’s fear and uncertainty in “Tender Sweet Young Thing” sucks the reader right in, and is just devastatingly real. In “Falling for Essex,” I love the moment where a character pauses and makes himself state a language boundary that disappoints the bottom, but they’re able to work around it and come up with alternative language. I so rarely read that sort of thing in fantasy material, and the feelings that come along with it can be so loaded that it’s wonderful to see represented. Other stories play with expectations, and touch on issues that crop up in the kink community like whether the initiation system of the leather community is actually right for everyone or the anxieties of playing with cis gay guys as a trans guy.
I would particularly recommend this collection for those who are already experienced with (or at least experienced with reading) kink, those into Daddy/boy dynamics, transmasculine folks, non-binary folks, femmes, and those into breathplay, face slapping, dirty talk, blood, tears, and/or boots. RACK players will find West’s stories especially hot. It’s also a serious fucking breath of a fresh air for erotica fans whose identities don’t often show up in porn. West personally identifies as a disabled top and is a person without pronouns, while West’s characters run the gamut including fat folks, people with disabilities, various races and genders, many descriptions of trans and queer characters, bears, cubs, and femmes. While some topics are more heavily represented than others, I think pretty much anyone could find someone to whom they can relate and/or someone who looks like them in this book, except perhaps a cis straight white guy. The characters here don’t and can’t separate their personal axes of oppression from their sex — one gets migraines, another thinks seriously about whether he wants to bottom to a white person, and several express anxieties around gender leading up to play. This is the most I’ve seen the scene I’m actually familiar with portrayed in my porn, and I couldn’t look away.

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