“Tattooed Love Boys” by Alex Jeffers from You Will Meet a Stranger Far From Home (Lethe Press, 2012). First appeared in GigaNotoSaurus, March 2012.

This time, I really am skipping over the autobiographical essay that is the actual next entry in Best Gay Stories 2009. First of all, it’s exactly as advertised, which means not in any way, shape, or form a piece of fiction. Secondly, events in the real world seem to dictate that the time has come to review this story.

I loved, loved, loved this story. Here’s how much: Each morning I tumble out of bed and walk directly to the Keurig brewer in the kitchen. I flip the power switch on the back and while I’m waiting for it to heat up (it takes about two minutes) I grab my phone and make sure the world is still there. When I hear the little “click” that indicates that the water is at temperature, I stop surfing long enough to brew and then doctor a cup of coffee. I stand for a few more minutes sipping my coffee and perusing the online goings-on, and then I’m forced by the clock to set down the phone, get ready for work, and leave.

It’s the same thing, every morning. Except, that is, for one morning a few months back. That day I hit the button on the coffeemaker, fired up Facebook, and saw that Steve Berman had posted a link to a copy of this story, available free online. Readers of this blog will know I’m a big fan of Steve’s work, both the stories he writes and the ones by other people that he publishes via Lethe Press. Intrigued, I clicked the link.

When I finally looked up again I nearly had a heart attack. Half an hour had gone by. Maybe it was even closer to forty minutes. (It’s a very long story, and this is coming from someone who twice has been able to count on one hand the number of words left to the maximum allowed for entries in the Saints and Sinners New Fiction Contest.) It was time to be out the door and I hadn’t had coffee, I hadn’t packed a lunch, I wasn’t dressed. I had that shifted perception that happens so often when exiting a movie theater or a stage performance. I’d been somewhere else, and suddenly I was back.

Trust me, you want to go there, too.

Emma and Theo are American teenagers living abroad for the summer. They aren’t entirely on their own; their parents are with them, but they are working, so brother and sister must entertain themselves by day. Though younger, Emma is the more adventurous of the pair. She wanders out into the neighborhood and into a tattoo parlor, where she meets the attractive, heavily inked stranger working the counter. Raf appears to be only slightly older than her brother Theo, and Emma’s imagination quickly runs wild. She imagines he’s gay and would be interested in Theo, who she feels would be more interesting if he liked boys.

I have never before seen Emma’s like on the page. Stories with passages similar to these: Emma thought she’d make a better boy than Theo, or this one, when she encounters a gaggle of prissy girls: She had exactly as much use for girls like that as they would for her, always end up going one of three directions. Either the character is lesbian, or she’s gender dysphoric, or (not so much these days, thankfully) she’s a tomboy who simply hasn’t yet discovered/embraced/accepted/resigned herself to her femininity. Emma’s none of those things. She’s the product of a male-dominated society, and she’s attracted to boys. She doesn’t feel she is one, trapped in the wrong body, but she does feel that her life would be infinitely better if only she’d been born male and gay.

Here’s something you won’t often hear me say: the best part about this story is that it’s got magic. Raf tells Emma a story about a trio of witches who, hundreds of years earlier, lived next door. Then strange things begin to happen. Without giving anything away I’ll just say that in this story the Kinsey scale is a Mobius strip. Gender, sexuality, even birth order are malleable, dependent upon the whims of the magic-wielder. It’s a trip, and a really fun one at that. And the best part? It has a happy ending.

Or perhaps the best part is that you can read it for yourself, here:
http://http://bit.ly/1yZybt9

After you do, please consider visiting another site, and giving whatever you can to help out the author, who very recently has suffered some personal setbacks. The link to the Crowdrise campaign is here:

http://https://t.co/fvboXo1myx

Or if that’s not your thing, why not go buy some of his books? The Padisah’s Son and the Fox:an erotic novella won a Lambda Literary award last month, and his Deprivation; or Benedetto furioso, an oneiromancy was also nominated. Steve Berman, whose Lethe Press published both (along with six other Lambda-nominated titles this year alone), has stated that he’s giving Alex a 100% royalty rate.

http://www.lethepressbooks.com