The latest installment of Ripper’s Queers of La Vista series (The Butch and the Beautiful, 2016, etc.) explores the connections, divisions, and wide range of emotions characters experience living in a queer-friendly California town.
Ed Masiello, a trans man who has been on testosterone for a year, is still getting used to passing and gaining the courage to date. In this opposites-attract romance, Alisha is a free spirit and risk taker. Identifying at first as a lesbian, she “wants to be open and exposed and take things in,” accepting with ready aplomb falling for a trans man: “This is so weird. Like, I’ve been a lesbian since I knew what the word meant. And now I totally have a boyfriend.” Ripper writes mostly dialogue, interspersed with Ed’s short interior monologues. While the titles and branding of the series are a cheeky nod to daytime soap operas, this is a somber romance. Ed is a reporter on the trail of a murderer who hunts at Club Fred’s, the queer community’s local night spot. Since Ed is mostly preoccupied with the psychological and social challenges of his transition and solving the murders, the romance is a muted, no-conflict affair, even while the sex scenes are explicit. Ripper writes in a didactic, overtly political voice that can make scenes that should be lighthearted or hot read like a gender studies lesson, as when Ed thinks, during sex, “Sex acts weren’t gendered, dammit. Body parts didn’t feel any obligation to conform to cultural expectations.” The plight of queer homeless youth, the history of gay rights, the AIDS crisis, and the prejudices inherent in social institutions like the police and the press all get at least a mention. While it can be read on its own, readers will benefit from prior knowledge of the cast of secondary characters that populate this book.
An interesting murder plot in a carefully constructed setting is the appealing feature of this uneven, wan romance with too little conflict and zero sizzle.