November 2003

Julie Boulanger

la marquise

S/he goes where no man has gone before

Is Pat Califia erotica? I thought he was but now I’m not so sure. When I embarked upon my reading of No Mercy I was under the impression that his (though formerly hers, being a transman himself) writing was infused with pure S/M erotic command. Sex is indeed in every story, if not their raison d’être, yet by the time I put the book down my strongest impression was that I had just received a full-fledged course on sexual politics. Don’t get me wrong; the book itself is very interesting. It’s just not what I was expecting from the man who prides himself in being the author most often seized by Canadian Customs.

One of the aspects I most appreciated of Califia’s writing is how he explores sexual situations through a variety of genres. In “Riding the Tyger," he brings his reader into another world sci-fi style where humans, who once tried to invade the planet Yggdrasil, are now used and exchanged as slaves. With the fictionalized foresight of science fiction, he depicts what human sexuality could become in a slave/animal context, metamorphosing animal qualities to human form. “Skinned Alive” is another futuristic story. It takes place a few hundred years after a major chemical catastrophe happened on earth and starts off as a Star Trek geek fantasy, complete with “beam me up, Scottie” devices, known as the cradle, in which humans have sex. Cradles and their protective film, as well as the hyper-hygienic society humans live in, are analogies to our present safer-sex latex-tooting world. The interest of this short is the narrator’s desire and search to escape society in a dire and fatal way. He is a ‘bug chaser’ and is seeking through the cradle a man who will infect him of the purple plague, a highly contagious and devastating disease. I have heard of gay men who want to be infected of H.I.V. but for the life of me could not figure out why. “Skinned Alive” gave me some insight into this mindset.

“Little Red Ridding Hood” has, as the title hints at, a strong mythological twist. It recounts the childhood tale with a different ending, one in which Little Red Ridding Hood is not eaten by a big bad wolf. Quite the contrary, she is the one who shape-shifts into the form of a wolf and kills the rapist-figure, reclaiming the fantasy in a pro-Dom feminist way. “Frankie and Johnny” is Grease gone bad, but in the best of ways, of course! Califia’s “straightest” story takes place in the 50’s and is also centred on social renegades. “Love Sees No Gender” is his most daring piece regarding gender. It is the depiction of a love scene between a lesbian woman and a FTM (female to male) transsexual. Califia does not shy away from physical descriptions of the transsexual body, the attraction it can inspire and the redefinitions it forces upon the two lovers. For example, if a lesbian is attracted to a dyke gone male, does that make her bisexual?

Not everybody will like everything about Califia’s writing, which he grants to his reader in his Afterword. I must admit that “The Cop and His Choirboy” goes beyond my comfort level of safe, sane and consensual S/M play. The fact is that the S/M featured in this short is not play but true sadism. The story does justify itself in a certain way but it remains too brutal for my liking.

No Mercy is a book populated with gay men, fag boys, FTMs, femme tops, leather dykes and the women, whether gay, bi or straight, who love them. It is a parade of subversive characters who share their hearts and desires as well as their own stereotypes of the world they live in and the intolerances that come with it. Califia has the talent to delve deep into the lives of these radicals, ambushes them and makes their world explode from the inside out, shattering the notions and bodies they hide behind and exposing their human core that is as fraught and fragile as all others. Somehow, as Califia does this to his characters, he does the same to his readers. I find his texts lack a certain sexual build-up that I need in order to define a piece as erotic. Nonetheless, this book is an interesting and intelligent read that I would recommend to all those who wish to broaden their horizons, and to all those who believe that their horizons are way broad as it is. No Mercy by Pat Califia
Alyson Publications
ISBN: 1555835422
280 Pages