From Issue 3.5 - June 1997

The Second Coming: A Leatherdyke Reader

Edited by Pat Califia and Robin Sweeney
Alyson Publications, 1996

Review by Holly Whipkey

Coming to Power: A Retrospective
"Regarding Wanda B." -- An excerpt from The Second Coming

Fifteen years ago, the leatherdyke support group Samois had the guts to produce a volume, Coming to Power, that rocked the lesbian leather world. Now, Pat Califia and Robin Sweeney have edited another such collection, The Second Coming: A Leatherdyke Reader. The book is not a sequel, despite that claim on the cover, as much as a "descendent" in the spirit of the original--intelligent, sexy, and challenging.

The Second Coming comprises more than fiction. But read the fiction, by all means. Twelve of the twenty-one stories are in the first person, women owning up to their kinks and fears in cocky, full-blown raunch. One story is written from the second person, confronting readers directly with the power of seduction, the ambivalence of lingering passion.

And then there's the poetry. All that fire, lust, hurt, and ache compressed into the language of verse. On top of that, there are pictures, too -- hot photos of women at play, images that transcend the wanton and slide screaming on into a dare.

The Second Coming feeds the brain as well. The anthology contains discussions ranging from transgenderism and the invisibility of disabled women, to cultural identity -- the latter written by a self-styled "Latina combat femme."

The anthology also includes history and queer/gender-fuck/feminist cultural theory. The Second Coming presents a thorough challenge, daring the leatherdyke community and the general readership to grow, to take in new ideas, and to learn from our own diversity.

Several pieces explore just how great that diversity is. The section entitled "Who Is My Sister: Challenging the Boundaries of the Leatherdyke Community" includes essays on transgenderism ("Dyke With A Dick" by Tala Brandeis, "Boundaries: Gender and Transgenderism" by Michael M. Hernandez), bisexuality ("Bisexual Perverts Among the Leather Lesbians" by Carol Queen) and professional SM ("My Life as a Dom" by Liz Highleyman).

The book makes it clear that the leatherdyke world is not all rosy and united in some kind of tribal utopia. Several essays carry on a dialogue with each other. In two separate essays, Alien Nation and Mary Frances Platt chastise the community for ableism and exclusion of "crips" from play parties, while Lamar van Dyke (speaking primarily about transgendered people) argues that "the entire community does not have to be invited to every event in order for us to be politically correct."

Authors explore their own ambivalence, too. "Bloody" celebrates the intoxication of female blood, railing against the enforced loss of ingesting its magic because of AIDS and cancer. Laura Antoniou, in "Electra, on the Rocks," discusses coming to terms with her submissive nature, her resistance, and her final acceptance. Hello, paradigm shift.

While the book was edited by women living in San Francisco and published by a firm in Los Angeles, it covers the whole map -- from Arizona to Austin to Havana -- so don't expect it to focus just on the local scene that we all know maybe a little too well. At the same time, many women who have been active in the San Francisco leatherdyke community -- including several Cuir Underground contributing writers and photographers -- make an appearance in the book.

We have already lost one of the contributors. J.R. Raines, author of "Regarding Wanda B.," co-founded -- along with Wanda -- the Austin-based pansexual women's SM organization Bound by Desire. She lived as hard and as fast as she played, and she died too young. Her fiction in this book is a fine way to remember her.

The Second Coming continues the legacy left by Coming to Power, challenging women who love women to keep living their fantasies, to celebrate, as the introduction puts it, the diversity of our passion."

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Last updated: 6 July 1997