Janet W. Hardy pulls no punches in her memoir regarding the road less traveled when it comes to sexuality and intimate relationships.

Hardy’s own life story is interspersed with the fictional characters and musical plots which informed it, as well as some historical figures whose stories as told through Hardy’s lens might be surprising.

The book’s style is fluid and almost musical in nature in itself. It is divided into small sections, or movements if you will, which range from one to probably not more than five pages each. This makes the book easy to pick up and put down, with each section retaining its own distinctness while simultaneously connecting to the greater whole.

Hardy talks a lot about identity, and how she came to form her own. How concepts like “man” or “woman,” “gay” or “straight” just aren’t always true or useful for a lot of people.

That it’s possible to be a gay man trapped in a biologically female body.

And that if there aren’t any existing words which you feel describe you, it’s always okay to create your own. Or not to use any at all.

Hardy beautifully crafts the awkwardness coming-of-age stories have for the severely queer, and has had enough time to learn honesty about her own motivations and limitations as a youth. She paints a detailed picture of her past, creating thought-provoking imagery and challenging everything we take for granted about sexuality in the West.

She’s as honest about what she doesn’t want as what she does, challenging the reader to question their own assumptions about what “good sex” can be, should be, and just isn’t.

Hardy also intersperses her kinky coming-of-age story in the narrative, but I wish there would have been a deeper consideration of that component of her sexuality in the story.

Additionally, as a co-author of The Ethical Slut, if Hardy included as honest a discussion of polyamory as there was of queerness, the book could have shed even more light on how to live and love outside the norm.

I have a tendency to want to see these disparate identities (queer, kinky, polyamorous) as vitally inter-connected, but they might be less-so for Hardy. Or, she might have had other reasons to focus more on her struggle to understand and shape her identity as a young girlfag in light of sharing her experiences as a more experienced adult.

Regardless of what might be seen to be missing from the story, what is included is an enlightening and entertaining read.

Blurring the boundaries between sex, gender, and sexual orientation, Hardy reminds us that even L, G, B, and T will never tell the full story.

Girlfag is most clearly a book for women who love men who love men, but it is also a book for anyone who’s felt left out, alone, misunderstood, or just plain confused about where they fit in.

If you like smart memoirs, are looking for a quick and entertaining read, and/or are at all interested in gender, sexuality, identity-politics, or the relationship between fiction and reality, Girlfag is for you.

This review was originally published by The Horn on 01/22/2014.

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