Book Review: Of Sound Mind and Someone Else’s Body

Content note: there are some discussions of nonconsensual sex, transphobia, gender dysphoria, and whorephobia in this post.

Have you ever read the plot summary for a piece of media and immediately thought, “Oh, this is gonna be a shitshow?” That was me when I read the blurb for Of Sound Mind and Someone Else’s Body, by William Quincy Belle.

Picture this: a supernatural body-swap story, à la Freaky Friday or The Hot Chick, with the lead characters being a successful male businessman and a female sex worker.

“This is gonna be transphobic and whorephobic as fuck, right?” I asked a friend when I told them about the plot of the book. They agreed that it would be difficult to navigate the fraught territory this book wanted to tackle without wading into some problematic shit. But nonetheless, I dove in, wanting to see the probable trainwreck for myself.

Of Sound Mind is about Alan Maitland, a nonspecific “businessman” (much like our boy Christian Grey, the exact scope and focus of his work is never quite spelled out), and Hana Toussaint, an escort with ambitions of becoming a sex therapist. The two are strangers at the beginning of the book, but through a neuroscientific mishap explained in somehow simultaneously not enough detail and far more detail than I cared to read, their brains switch bodies one night. Hana’s shrewd, sexy consciousness relocates into Alan’s brawny businessman body, while Alan’s serious, analytical mind flips into Hana’s eye-catching lady-bod. And, as they say, hijinks ensue.

Hilariously – or horribly, depending on what type of person you are – the switch happens while Hana is blowing a client, so Alan finds himself suddenly choking on cock after a lifetime of staunch heterosexuality. I felt conflicted reading this section, because on the one hand, it seemed written for laughs and I got instantly annoyed at Alan’s no-homo bravado in punching the dude in the nads and walking out. But at the same time, gosh, it would sure be traumatic if there was suddenly a dick in your throat when you’d neither consented to that nor ever experienced it before. I couldn’t tell whether I was supposed to laugh at Alan or pity him, which was a frequent feeling for me while reading this book.

Alan and Hana locate each other fairly quickly, figure out what’s happened, and unite in a mission to find the neuroscientist who fucked up and switched their brains. In the process, however, they navigate various challenges, like Hana fielding Alan’s business calls, Alan chatting up Hana’s escorting colleagues, and – all the while – getting used to life in their new, gender-swapped bodies.

I can’t personally speak to what it would feel like to read this book as a trans person. I imagine it wouldn’t feel great. There’s no acknowledgment in the book of transgender identities, which seems a shame, as that would be an interesting take on the somewhat tired body-swap trope.

Some of the gender-based difficulties Hana and Alan encounter seem overblown for comic effect – like Alan struggling to put on a bra, or Hana getting her dick caught in her pants zipper. (She’s a sex worker. There’s no way she doesn’t know her way around a fly.) But though Alan is sometimes incompetent at his coercively-adopted womanhood, overall I get the feeling that he thinks men would make better women than women do, and that women’s “petty” concerns would be easily solved with a small dose of “male” assertiveness. In a couple different scenes, Alan (in Hana’s femme little body) confronts catcallers and subway masturbators, shaming them publicly, and the book seems to suggest that this is the best way to deal with these altercations – completely ignoring the reality that marginalized folks standing up to creeps often results in violence, which is why we don’t do it more often. Duh.

The book is peppered with monologues from Hana about the stigma and oppression faced by women, sex workers, and people who dare to be publicly sexual. While I think these soliloquies are designed to paint Hana as a three-dimensional character, she ultimately comes across as someone who doesn’t so much have a personality as a series of staunch opinions. The effect is Manic Pixie Dream Girl-esque; her narrative function is to open Alan’s eyes and change his life, and she doesn’t seem to have much of an inner emotional life beyond that mission. Further, her impassioned rants are fairly 101-level stuff; anyone who’s familiar with feminism and social justice concepts, even from afar, is likely to read these and go, “Yeah, of course.” I know there are still many people out there who would benefit from basic explanations of gender bias, sex stigma, and whorephobia, but are those people really gonna read this book, let alone learn from it?

The other weird thing about Hana is that she spends almost the entire book flirting with Alan, fawning over him, and trying to fuck him. This is a pretty classic thing for a male author to do: ignite desire in his female protagonist for wish-fulfilment purposes, even if it doesn’t make sense for the characters. We’re shown no reasons why Hana would be attracted to Alan, other than (maybe) the physical attractiveness of his body, which she is in. He doesn’t come across as particularly smart, kind, funny, or interesting – so why does this babely, ambitious, clever woman pursue him relentlessly for the entire book? It doesn’t ring true to me.

The author tries to paint a compassionate picture of sex workers, unpacking some of the stigma they face. But we’re reminded again and again that Hana is educated, volunteers her time for philanthropic causes, and could easily do something else with her life but has chosen sex work. There is nothing wrong with this by itself, but depicting Hana as a “good” sex worker for possessing these qualities feels icky to me. Sex workers are still perfectly legitimate and acceptable even if they don’t have a formal education and/or have chosen sex work for survival reasons.

As a piece of literature, I felt similarly about Of Sound Mind to how I felt about the Fifty Shades books: the writing is okay but the plot is at least fast-paced and interesting enough to keep my attention. It’s often hard to tell characters apart when quotes aren’t attributed because their voices are so similar, and the dialogue is consistently stilted and awkward. (“Man, did I enjoy my orgasm! I love ejaculating,” Hana exclaims after one ostensibly sexy scene. “God, I love a good fuck pounding!”)

I think the premise of this story is fascinating, and could’ve been a good jumping-off point for discussions of gender politics, privilege, and empathy. The author does address this stuff but it’s all fairly surface-level; I would love to read a deeply feminist, nuanced, “woke” take on this story trope. Likewise, I was curious to see how the author would handle sex scenes between two characters inhabiting different bodies than they’re used to – but the writer breezes through the one sex scene in a hurry, without delving at all into what that type of sex would feel like, physically or emotionally. I felt a bit cheated that one of the most interesting questions the book poses was never answered.

If you want something light and silly to read that might prompt some reactionary feminist thoughts, give Of Sound Mind and Someone Else’s Body a try. I didn’t hate it, and it gave me lots to think about – including the question, “Why is this making me roll my eyes so hard?!” There are worse things you could read. Like – by a small but decisive margin – any of the Fifty Shades books.

 

If you like, you can buy this book on Amazon (in Kindle edition or paperback). Feel free to check out the author’s website if you want to learn more! FYI: This review was sponsored, meaning that I was paid to write an honest (not necessarily positive) review.

3 Hot Fantasies I Have About Sex Dolls

Eerie voyeur. Sir is kissing me, and peeling off my clothes, when suddenly… “Hang on, I forgot something important,” he breathes against my lips. My eyes drift open and I watch him stand up, grab the sex doll sitting on her chair, and wheel her around to face us. Her cold eyes catch mine; in them, the slightest hint of undead mirth.

“Is she going to watch us?” I ask uneasily, and Sir nods, before climbing back on top of me and pressing me into the bed with his body.

As long melty minutes tick by between kisses and caresses, I can almost forget the doll is there. That is, until Sir mutters in my ear, “Look at her.”

By then he’s got his fingers in me. I’m self-conscious about my moans, my twisted grimace of pleasure, my wetness seeping onto his hand. And it all seems so much more pronounced when there are two people watching me – even if one of them isn’t actually alive.

“Keep looking at her,” he continues, darkly, his fingers pushing into me in exactly the way I like. He’s going to make me come like this. My face flushes hot. My thighs tremble. The doll’s eyes stare unflinchingly. I’m uncertain. I’m uncomfortable. I’m coming.

Fuck, fuck, fuck. As my breathing slows, I realize my eyes are closed. And there’s Sir, in my ear again. “Didn’t I tell you to look at her?” he warns. I know I’m in trouble, and I can’t stop smiling, and the doll’s still there looking placid and placated.

Learning vulva tricks. “Babygirl, you’re gonna learn something new today,” Sir says, gently pressing me forward over the bedroom threshold, and my heart judders at the sight of a silicone love doll on the bed. She’s spread-eagled, hair pooled beneath her like a yellow-gold puddle, and she looks like she knows what’s up.

“You keep saying you don’t know how to eat pussy,” he continues, and he’s right; this comes up whenever we flirt about threesomes, my incessant fear I wouldn’t know what to do with another vulva if it looked me square in the face. “So daddy’s gonna teach you.”

He pushes me down onto the bed gently, next to her, and pulls up a high-backed chair for a good view. My lesson begins with gentle warm-up – “Kiss her thighs” – before progressing to more insistent teasing – “Lick along her pretty pink lips” – and then to full-on giving her what she wants: “Suck on her clit, little one.”

I melt under his words, eyes sliding shut as I press my face further into this soft silicone vulva. I can almost hear the noises she’d be making if she were alive. I can almost feel like I’m giving someone real pleasure. And when I glance over at Sir, and see the way he’s biting his lip, I know that I am.

Hands off. I’m in trouble, because I made a bratty comment at dinner. I can tell from the stormclouds in Sir’s eyes that I am in for a punishment tonight – but I never quite know what it’s going to be. That mystery itself is part of the punishment.

He shoves me through the doorway, shuts the door, and slams me up against a wall. Instinctively, I reach for him, pining for kisses and warmth, but he pins my wrists over my head and growls, “No. No touching tonight.” I whimper reflexively. No touching? But how?

Guiding me to a chair with firm tugs on my dress, he deposits me where he wants me and then loosens his necktie while I watch. His strong hands guide it over his head and then he’s wrapping it around my wrists and the arms of the chair in quick loops and knots, so fast my eyes can’t keep up, like a con man playing three-card Monte. Find the lady, find the lady. Am I the lady?

No. There’s another lady. Sir pulls the doll from the closet and tosses her on the bed. He climbs on top of her, the way I like. He kisses her lips and then her throat, the way I like. He grazes one hand along the swell of her breast, the way I like.

I don’t like this. And also I do.

Sir makes me watch for long minutes as he bites and smacks his little proxy-me, drags his fingernails along her ribs and hips, presses her thighs apart with his. I like when he treats me like his little fuckdoll. This is not that. This is something else entirely.

He tugs his shirt off over his head and throws it at me, so it lands on my face, obscuring my vision. I’m torn between leaving it there so I can inhale his scent and shaking it off me like a dog so I can see him again. Eventually the latter option wins when I hear him unzip his jeans. If I can’t have that cock inside me tonight then I at least want to see it.

I extricate myself from his fragrant tee just in time to see him pushing two lubed fingers inside his doll, warming her up with slow and deep strokes that make my cunt clench sympathetically. And then he’s pulling his hand out of her and replacing it with his cock, one steady slide all the way inside her. He quirks an eyebrow in my direction, and I realize I’m drooling, quivering, whimpering. Who knows how long I’ve been this way? (Sir does. Sir always knows.)

Eventually, he comes inside her, panting and grunting, and I’m so desperately jealous that there are red welts on my arms from where I’ve struggled to break free of this divine and devious torture.

 

This post was graciously sponsored by the folks at OVDoll, and as always, all opinions and words are my own.

Terrified to Run Into Your Ex? Here’s How to Deal…

‘Cause I know I am! [Laughs a joyless laugh that eventually peters out into sad awkwardness]

One of the ways my anxiety manifested, in the months after my last break-up, was a near-constant fear that I would run into my ex – on the street, in a store, in a coffee shop. This was exacerbated by the unfortunate fact that I moved into an apartment coincidentally near his, mere weeks after the break-up. Worst.

In working through this anxiety with my therapist, talking to friends about it, and journaling about it, I came up with a bit of wisdom on this. Here are a few questions to ask yourself if the thought of running into your ex terrifies you. It’s not much, but hopefully it’ll help you if you’re going through something similar.

What’s the worst that could happen? One of my best friends is a social worker, so she knows all the smart questions to ask me when I’m spiralling into anxiety – and she asked me this every time I mentioned this fear to her.

Here’s my personal “worst that could happen,” with regards to running into my ex: I could run into him while he’s with a partner of his, and while I’m rumpled/makeupless/depressed-looking, and they could both look at me pityingly and/or attempt to talk to me. This could result in me bursting into tears, which would, of course, make the whole situation even more embarrassing and pathetic.

Stating my “worst-case scenario” makes it clear to me that even if the worst happened, it wouldn’t actually be that bad. I’d get through it. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve cried in front of someone it’s embarrassing to cry in front of, nor would it be the first time I’ve seen a former flame with their achingly gorgeous new paramour. I got through those other times. I didn’t fall into a chasm in the earth from pure and total humiliation. I’m still here. And the same will be true if I run into this ex, too.

Do you really have anything to feel bad about? This is another question my social-worker friend posed to me, and she’s so right. She picked up on my feeling that it would be shameful for me to run into my ex – like I should hide from him, because the end of our relationship was somehow a failing on my part. But the thing is, it wasn’t! He ended the relationship, for reasons personal to him, and it wasn’t my doing or my fault. I have nothing to feel ashamed of. I can reasonably hold my head high if I do encounter him.

Even if you did do something wrong in your relationship, it’s likely by now that you’ve either owned up to it and apologized for it or that enough time has elapsed that both of you have moved on with your lives for the most part. If you feel you still owe your ex an apology, maybe you can reach out and issue that apology. But otherwise – why feel bad if you run into your ex? Why hide your face like you’re a pariah to them? There’s no reason for it!

Could you get away if you needed to? A friend reminded me that even if I did run into my ex and he did try to talk to me, I would always have the recourse of simply ignoring him and walking away. I would not be obligated to enter into that interaction if I didn’t want to.

If escaping your ex is an actual safety concern for you – i.e. if they had/have abusive tendencies and/or you think they’re upset enough with you that they might try something violent if they saw you – you could try using a safety app like bSafe whenever you’re in a neighborhood where your ex might be, and maybe consider some self-defense options if that’s your style. (Pepper spray isn’t legal where I live, and sometimes, when random men follow me down the street late at night, I wish it was…)

What would make you feel stronger? A lot of the cognitive-behavioral therapy I’ve done has focused on the practice of accepting the things I cannot change and changing the things I do have control over. In this case, that means figuring out what would help me feel less freaked out about running into my ex, and putting those measures into place.

I used to wear dark sunglasses and headphones when I had to walk in the direction of my ex’s place, so I could plausibly ignore him if I did see him. I’d put on clothes and makeup that made me feel strong. I’d often text a friend about my situation so I felt emotionally supported in what felt like a brave act. I’d listen to music that made me feel happy and badass. And for the most part, it worked!

Have you ever been afraid to run into an ex? How did you deal with it?

Social Media-Era Romance in 5 Vignettes

My unrequited love has changed his Twitter avatar, and just like that, I feel less in love with him. Poof. Pow. Wow.

The old picture was heavy with associations for me, months of misery tempered by sparse endorphin rushes when he would slide into my DMs. It was never the love confession for which I kept hoping and grasping; you’d think I’d learn by now not to expect anything from him but dawdling, awkward friendship. But no; I still want more. More than I’m ever going to get.

The new picture is an instant shake-up in my psyche. It takes a few moments, each time he messages me, for my brain to register that it’s him. Those moments aren’t much but they’re enough to distance me from my knee-jerk love reaction, a pause that is a prism, refracting my crush into questions to be pondered: How much do you actually like him and how much of it is just habit?

Maybe love is always a habit. Always just an addiction you have to kick. Maybe there are tricks that make it easier, like nicotine patches and impotent cloves. Maybe a Twitter avatar is no small thing after all but actually the big thing that kicks off a seismic shift, blessed and unexpected.

The bartender is fumbling with coins, pitchers, and a misfiring computer system. Unhappy customers crowd around the bar, waiting for their drinks, waiting to even be acknowledged. Welcome to Friday night at the Cavern.

“I wonder if we’ll ever get our drinks,” a British accent bemoans beside me. This stranger turns his good-natured smile on me like highbeams, and now I have a face to connect with the warm tweed that’s been rustling against my arm for the past five minutes. He looks like Prince Harry and Fred Weasley’s charming lovechild. Oh, hello.

We strike up an easy, tipsy rapport, and he pulls out his phone to show me a song on Spotify that he can’t get out of his head. My eyes sweep over his playlists, taking in the names. There is something so intimate about peering into someone’s music organization system, digital or physical. You’re seeing the soundtrack of their brain in the way they’ve chosen to arrange it, the way that makes most sense to them. It’s like resting a palm against the slickness of their coiled brain, feeling it pulse with private electricity.

Later, he comes to find me again, weaving through bar crowds to tap me on the shoulder. “I’m getting on a flight back to Britain in the morning and figured I’d seize the day and ask: want to go smoke a joint?” he proposes, and I do. “Great! I’ll be right back. I’m just going to change my outfit.” I nod, and he goes, but he’s gone about an hour before I decide he must’ve fallen asleep in his hostel room, and decide to leave.

I find him the next day by searching some of those Spotify playlist titles. I didn’t even have his name, but I had those. As I scroll through his tightly curated music selections, I feel the echoes of awkward hostel sex that could have been. Swing and a miss. Maybe I’ll meet another Weasley another day.

My habit of fantasizing too far forward about online dating suitors is exacerbated when they’re polyamorous. The way some folks compose their OkCupid profiles, I can creep not only my potential partner, but also my potential metamour.

On late nights with nothing better to do, I comb through these women’s compatibility questions, seeking the places where we touch and the places where we differ. I try to parse what it means that a man is into both me and her, what it says about him, what it says about me. I stack myself up against her obscure favorite bands, the outline of her lipstick, the cool candor with which she speaks of sex and food and Arrested Development.

The sore spots that ruffle my feathers are the spots tainted with internalized misogyny. When I’m burningly jealous she’s prettier than me and think, At least I’m smarter than her; when I hate her pink hair because it renders me a boring brunette; when I snort derisively at the pretentious Wes Anderson movie she’s chosen to quote, I know the patriarchy is whispering bitterly in the back of my brain. I rarely really hate another woman. I just hate the opportunities for which I’ve been told she’s my cruellest competition.

When I’m feeling happier and lighter, sometimes these metamour-creeping sessions turn into fantasies of their own. If I was dating her partner, we could go shopping together, get manicures. We could gossip over burgers and fries about his secret fantasies, his favorite blowjob tricks. We could be best friends who shared everything, and I do mean everything. It would be so cute, so sweet.

But I never quite follow through, both because online dating is exhausting and because I am too awkward and insecure to pursue friendships with metamours without reservations. I hope one day I work through this, because I still dream of that girl beside me at the nail salon, sharing the weight of my heart.

The new boy I’m flirting with asks-without-asking: “I had a crush on you, but I didn’t think I was being that obvious about it. Apparently I was wrong.”

He was wrong. But he probably doesn’t know the exact moment I realized he like-liked me. It was when he left a comment on an Instagram photo of me in lingerie: “I unhearted this, just so I could heart it again.”

He must have written this so that I would know. And I did know. Because people don’t write Instagram comments like that unless they like you. They just don’t.

When my last serious boyfriend first introduced himself to me via Twitter DM, he provided a list of links to his other social media. An Instagram profile, an alternate Twitter handle, a full name so I could Google him. “I don’t use Facebook, though,” he wrote, “because Facebook is the devil.”

He meant this in an anti-capitalist, anti-surveillance-state, anti-terrifying-algorithms sort of way, but Facebook is the devil in a different way, too. Facebook lets people linger in your life who haven’t earned the right, simply because unfriending them feels too aggressive, too unwarranted. What he did was bad, but it wasn’t UNFRIENDING-bad, you know?

What he did actually was unfriending-bad, though, in that he ended our relationship suddenly and unceremoniously, after reassuring me for four months that he had no intention of doing this. But as he didn’t have Facebook, I never had the chance to unfriend him. I had to settle for deleting the messaging app I’d used to communicate with him and unfollowing him on Twitter. (What he did was unfollowing-bad, but it wasn’t blocking-bad, you know?)

What’s nice about his Facebooklessness is that there wasn’t much damage to undo when things went sour. No unfriending to attend to, no photos to untag myself from, no relationship status boxes to uncheck, no mutual friends to bicker over. He never got entrenched in my digital life, so when he left my physical life, he dissolved from the digital, too, like a ghost. Poof. Pow. Wow. And that was all.

Am I Sexy?: An Ugly Duckling’s Lament

Baby Kate trying to be sexy, circa 2006.

I have clear memories of all my milestone compliments. The first time someone called me “pretty,” and then, “beautiful.” The first time someone specifically said they loved my nose, my hips, my labia. All the suitors who’ve called me “cute” and all the different tones in which they’ve said it. These memories form a patchwork tapestry of my self-esteem – a guilty admission for me to make, in this world which tells us you’re not allowed to be loved by others until you love yourself first. It hasn’t really worked that way for me.

But all those words represent a nonsexual admiration – if not strictly chaste, then at least wholesome. I remember experiencing different feelings entirely the first time someone called me “sexy.”

He was an older boy at my high school, not a romantic interest of mine but on my horizons nonetheless, because his crush on me was unignorable. I don’t remember why he said it – what specifically he was referring to, and when – but I remember how I felt. I felt confused.

See, I grew up an ugly duckling. This is a fairly common experience, one with which you’re probably familiar, so I won’t go too much into the pain of believing for your entire childhood and adolescence that you are unattractive and that therefore your life will lack something fundamental. I hated my big nose, my chubby curves, my dull skin, double chin, irrefutable plainness. I wanted to be an exotic, unmissable stunner – like my best friend at the time, who got compliments all day every day on her model-pretty face and model-sexy body. (It did not occur to me then that maybe she didn’t like this type of attention, or that maybe she would’ve preferred to receive the more substantive compliments I received all the time on things like my intellect, humor, and writing. The grass is always greener, am I right?)

So to be told that I was sexy activated some deeply-rooted cognitive dissonance in me. I knew what “sexy” looked like in our culture – I’d absorbed it through magazines and movies and television and general discourse, like we all do – and I knew I did not look like that image. It didn’t occur to me that there could be a spectrum of sexy, not just an acceptable window of sexiness you might happen to fall into but indeed a wide-ranging, almost infinite array of qualities some might consider sexy. I know this now, having spent years writing and reading sex media where folks eroticize everything from chubby bellies to big noses to hairy toes to sharp-toothed giantesses and beyond. But I did not know it then.

So “sexy” was a word that did not apply to me, at least not comfortably. I laughed when the word came out of that boy’s mouth directed at me. He must have been mistaken. He must not have spent much time looking at me. He must not know what “sexy” even meant. How else could this word ever be used to describe me?

Ten years have passed and I am still mildly uncomfortable when described as sexy, hot, arousing, erotic, a turn-on. I can accept that my work is sometimes sexy – that someone’s pants might get tight as they read a flowery description of sex I’ve had. I can accept that certain qualities of mine might be sexy – that someone might fetishize my hips or my feet or my lips, focusing in on those parts to the exclusion of all others. I can accept that someone might want to have sex with me – because they like my brain, they want intimacy and closeness with me, or they simply want to get their rocks off. But it still vexes me to imagine that I, as a whole person, in my totality and weirdness and unconventionality, could be sexy.

It worries me that this is true, because if I feel this way – I, a woman who writes about sex on the internet, and is therefore inundated day in and day out with messages from horny, enamored suitors of various degrees of appropriateness – then, truly, anyone could feel this way. My cognitive behavioral therapist is always asking me to look for evidence of the core beliefs that bring me down – like that I’m not sexy – and though I’m faced with an onslaught of daily evidence to the contrary, I still can’t seem to shake this odd belief. That makes me worry on behalf of everyone who doesn’t feel sexy – which I’d guess is most of you. Not everyone has the (debatable) privilege of constant validation that I do. There are countless incredibly sexy people out there who never get to hear just how sexy they are. And that is tragic.

So I’m here to remind you that you are sexy, by virtue of the fact that any and every quality in existence is sexy to someone. I’ve swooned over bald-headed men who longed daily for their hair back. I’ve fantasized about tugging someone to me by the chubby hips I knew they hated. I’ve obsessed over the beauty of “imperfections”: crooked teeth, asymmetrical moles, big noses, gnarled hands, scarred skin.

And in doing so, I’ve learned to believe – intellectually if not emotionally – that I can be sexy, too. Just like pistachio isn’t my favorite ice cream flavor but I believe you if you tell me it’s yours, I can accept that I might be sexy to someone, even if, when I look at myself in a mirror, “sexy” is the farthest word from my mind.

“Sexy,” as a concept, is subjective, flexible, accommodating. One person’s “ugly duckling” is another person’s “scintillatingly hot.” I hope you’ll remember that, even if it takes you a while to actually believe it.