Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Book Review: Sex with Shakespeare by Jillian Keenan

I just posted the following review of

"The myth of conventional relationships is a great deal like Leo Tolstoy’s famous quote: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.  The beauty of Jill Keenan’s brilliant little book is that she shows that, if relationship happiness is not as effortlessly forthcoming as advertised, there are a lot of different ways to get there, and she shows you hers.

"Starting with an intense spanking fetish from her preadolescence, she arrives at the ingenious solution of understanding her kink, herself, and how to have a good life using the words of William Shakespeare.  Never mind that he is dead 400 years ago, dead even before his works were written down, and that as Jillian rightly points out, his plays were meant to be enacted and were never intended as literature.  There is a good chance that if you found the Bard dry in high school or college, you will find him juicier here.

"If you are already into spanking, you are going to learn a lot about Shakespeare.  If you are already into Shakespeare, you are going to learn a great deal more about kink.  But the greater learning here requires abstraction beyond the specifics of Jillian’s journey to how it is we learn about ourselves, and how we negotiate the complexities of being an outsider.

"No one grows up with a fetish without recognizing that they are unconventional.  In addition to negotiating stigma, they must learn to fit their satisfaction into a relationship with people who do not fully, sometimes not even remotely, understand their desires.  There are thousands of different kinks, like Tolstoy’s families, and each successful relationship requires blazing one’s own trail, despite therapists, FetLife, or countless self-help books.  I would suggest this may be true of conventional relationships, too.  Those trails have hidden perils: isolation, deeper vulnerabilities, inaccessibility of social supports, hurts that go deeper, and the need to accept risks we might prefer not to take.

"But such trails involve learnings other people can’t reach:  Shakespeare as a bridge between Western and Omani sexualities, how to sneak into a prison, or where the gay bars are in countries that outlaw homosexuality.  In this book you are likely to lean what ‘spankos’ are, new uses for ginger rhizomes, and a brand new perspective on what ‘nothing’ means.  You will become sensitive to the slightest changes in iambic pentameter, and what they tell you about the heart.  You travel to the limit of literary analysis to the edge of the world we can know from the analysis of an author’s words.  And how everything we learn with our heads cannot protect us from taking a ‘trust fall’ with our hearts.

"Jillian is the perfect example of using the communications skills you have to understand yourself and build the relationship you need.  She doesn’t lecture; she enacts her story.   It is the perfect antidote to the fantasy that porn or romance novels can be imitated on the straight and narrow pathway to a satisfying love life."

For those of you who are sex therapists and sexuality educators, there is often a call for books that depict the lives of people struggling with outsider identities.  Sex with Shakespeare is particularly good for this purpose.  It is a short read, is well written, and moves quickly.   Some may have a little trouble with the Shakespeare.  There are also brief moments of magical realism in which Shakespearean characters come to life in subways and taxis.  And as a trigger warning to clients surviving abuse histories, there are episode in which childhood sex abuse is recounted.

© Russell J Stambaugh, June, 2016, Ann Arbor MI, All rights reserved

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