Trans bodies are sexy, but why? In mainstream porn, it’s for all the wrong reasons. Trans women are labeled “chicks with dicks,” turning us into sexual objects for the enjoyment of cisgender men. Meanwhile, transgender men are fetishized as androgynous, masculine figures with feminine genitalia, forcing them back into a cisgender worldview where sex equals gender. And nonbinary people are often fetishized as “crossdressers” in “drag,” making it difficult for any and every trans identity to feel represented in pornography.
This problem bleeds over into erotica with transgender characters, too. Hot Tub Surprise features “a couple’s tryst with a shemale.” In the story, the main character, a cisgender man, is surprised by a transgender woman’s genitals, causing him to “[look her] over to see if there was…a prominent Adam’s apple or traces of stubble on her chin.” The two characters proceed to have sex, and it’s not great. The scene does not take into account that many transgender women do not and cannot use their genitalia in the same way that cisgender men use theirs. The transgender character’s junk functions much more like a penetrative vessel, something that not every transgender woman likes. Looking through Literotica reveals that of many similar stories under the “shemale” and “tranny” tags, “Hot Tub Surprise” is just one more bad trans porn example.
But erotica is changing. That can be seen through editor Tobi Hill-Meyer’s anthology collection, Nerve Endings: The New Trans Erotic. In Hill-Meyer’s collection, 30 writers set out to create a new way to think about transgender erotica by grounding the genre in how trans people actually have sex. And as it turns out, trans sex is very different from the stereotypical conceptions found on Literotica.
For instance, in Ahi Wi-Hongi’s piece “Your Average Tuesday,” an unnamed narrator and his girlfriend Mel host an ex-girlfriend named Anita who is “bored and drunk and horny.” Mel, eager to have sex with Anita, soon sees her dreams come to fruition as all three transgender play partners come together to share, explore, and fuck each others’ bodies.
“Your Average Tuesday” isn’t just hot, though. It feels real. Trans women’s straplesses are described as “junk,” “clits,” and “dicks,” mirroring the way trans women actually talk about their bodies during sex. And alongside the juicy sex scene at the end, the story looks at the interpersonal dynamics in threesomes quite well—Mel realizes she’s the “newcomer” in a sexual experience between the narrator and Anita, but the three grow closer to one another as they make love until sunrise. Nerve Endings is trans erotica in the truest sense of the word: it’s sexually charged fiction that trans people can both pleasure themselves to, and think about late at night afterward.
Nerve Endings isn’t all sex, all the time, either. The anthology’s opening story, Morgan M Page’s “Rental,” is just as much about sex as it is about a transgender abuse survivor reflecting on her sexual history. Traveling on a road trip through the southern U.S. on her way to New Orleans, jumping from motel to motel with her lover, everything feels perfect until reality comes crashing down. Explicit sex is featured, but it becomes the backdrop for a much larger question about why trans people are mistreated by their partners.
Most of the stories in the collection meet some happy medium, where explicit sex is featured, but it doesn’t necessarily overshadow the characters’ stories. Allison Kapitein’s “A Clean Shirt,” for instance, is a steamy romp between a questioning boi exploring their gender identity and an older man in a suit who forces the narrator to call him “Daddy.” While plenty of delicious and explicit sex follows, the characters never feel hollow: Kapitein does an excellent job of exploring the narrator’s blooming gender identity. And Isz Janeway’s “Please Don’t Leave” is one of the crowning jewels in the entire collection. Featuring a trans girl’s anxiety with romantic intimacy on her third date with a really cute cisgender girl, Janeway’s story is not just sexy. Her protagonist feels like a living, breathing trans woman whose fears about love, dating, and sexual performance are all too familiar to any trans woman who has ever experienced nerves on a late night date.
Here’s a fair warning, though, Nerve Endings includes stories about the darker sides of trans sexuality: abuse, violence, and sexual assault.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Way too often, erotica avoids addressing trauma’s impact on the trans community, so it’s absolutely important that a trans erotica collection discusses the role that abuse, sexual assault, misogyny, and racism play in trans people’s lives. But for first-time readers, it is impossible to know beforehand whether a story will include these topics or not, which can make Nerve Endings a hard read for someone who simply wants a quick story to enjoy after a long evening.
This problem emerges on a case-by-case basis, and Nerve Endings takes on darker issues in a variety of modes. Ryley Knowles’s “Death You Deserve” is an excellent read as it looks at a trans girl’s fear of death, juxtaposed with her loving partner’s support and care. But other stories might be too violent for trans readers who are looking for a tender, loving read. A short synopsis detailing the premise and content of each story would have been a perfect addition to help the reader prepare for some of Nerve Endings’ explicit erotic material.
But one thing is for certain with Nerve Endings: Hill-Meyer’s anthology is a carefully edited and curated erotic collection by and for trans people. It presents an array of topics—everything from gender dysphoria in trans dating to sex work as a trans man to learning to love one’s body as a trans woman of color. Not every story is erotic, as some stories are more about trans sexuality than they are about trans sex. But with this pioneering collection paving the way for more trans erotica, Hill-Meyer has done for trans erotica what Topside Press’ The Collection did for trans prose. Trans readers, this one is a must-grab, no matter what.