Sundress Reads: Review of Someone Else’s Sex

A smiling, bipedal sheep with a pair of glasses sitting on a three-legged stool. The sheep is holding an open book and a mug of hot coffee, and it is looking directly ahead. On the right side of the sheep is the Sundress logo and the words "Sundress Reads." The entire image is all black lines.

The Titan Prometheus is a popular figure of ancient Greek mythology, but newcomers to his origins in Hesiod’s Theogony may be surprised to find that his contribution of fire to humanity ushered something more explosive, more destructive: binary gender. Besides chaining Prometheus to a rock and forcing his body to be daily consumed and regenerated, Zeus ordered for the creation of Pandora, who is the originator of “the race of women and female kind” (line 590). Though certainly laced with his period’s particular brand of patriarchy, Hesiod’s classification of a strict binary system of gender as one of humanity’s punishments is a surprisingly contemporary assertion, an assertion implicitly echoed in Robin Sinclair’s Someone Else’s Sex (Bull City Press, 2023)

In their newest chapbook, Sinclair’s speaker stitches themself together with the declaration that they are “a Modern Prometheus, / desperate to be real—” (10). Someone Else’s Sex explores trans selfhood and queer survival amidst all-encompassing questions, such as: What does it mean to Sinclair’s speaker to be real? What are the implications of existing as something insufficient for realness, like the Simulacrums of the text’s four poem sequence? And how do queer and trans people live and write and love amidst all this damage? Ultimately, Someone Else’s Sex is as tender of a project as it is calloused, a poetic manifesto interrogating wounds, as well as their public and private origins, while maintaining hope and love for the care and keeping of queer and trans people’s bodies, selves, memories, and desires. 

Sinclair tangles two distinctly Promethean bodies through the speaker of Someone Else’s Sex. This is made evidently clear in “Simulacrum III: Corpse” with the line, “As the body starves, it feeds upon its own heart” (9). The first of these Promethean bodies is the speaker’s outwardly consumed corpus, which is consistently subjected to public scrutiny and holistic damage. The speaker’s flesh-eating eagle and god-forged chains appear in forms as intimate as the unnamed “she,” who takes sexual advantage of the exhausted speaker in “She Asks Why Queers Look So Hard In The Face,” and as public as a kingdom, the allegorized society of “Bone Dry,” whose inhabitants spit and fetishize the speaker’s “dusty and broken” body. Sinclair contextualizes all of this violence with the three-poem sequence “Pink Triangle Park,” the reader’s first introduction to the very real consequences of societal monitoring against the speaker’s queer and trans self. Someone Else’s Sex uses this “absurdity of a co-opted history” and the speaker’s reactions to its commodification to immediately establish the consequences of surveillance upon both the speaker and their community. Throughout these aforementioned poems and moments, Sinclair reflects on the cruelty and damage inflicted upon the body of trans people, as well as trans people’s perseverance to live and survive amidst public and private hostilities. This “Modern Prometheus,” then, is a site of desecration, of pain and longing to be real—that is, to no longer exist as “a caricature of what was expected” (8).

However, the speaker of Someone Else’s Sex contains another Promethean body akin to the one released by Zeus as punishment upon humanity. This body is one subject to sexed and gendered panopticism, as the speaker’s body is constantly under their own surveillance and various attempts to be this aforementioned definition of real. Sinclair represents the speaker’s internal scrutiny through the latter’s cannibalistic self-evaluations. For instance, the speaker says they have a “bottomless gender-belly” in “Did I Fuck Before The Age of Thirty,” and calls themselves “A gender carnivore trying to / eat its way out of a cave as deep as a lifetime / through tunnels of flesh” in “Simulacrum I: Carnivore” (13 & 7). The constant damage the speaker inflicts upon themselves, though, is not their main concern in these moments. Rather, as exhibited in the “Simulacrum” sequence, the speaker is constantly apologizing to their intimate partners for their lack of apparent substance and realness: “I / am sorry / it was only real to you;” “I am sorry / when you felt my body ache for you, / it was… / the pangs of hunger;” and “I am sorry / What, to you, was consecration / was revealed as consumption” (8 & 7). Through the speaker’s expressions of personal and intimate damage, Sinclair reveals the holistic damage caused by gendered and sexed surveillance and further interrogates the implications of queerphobia and transphobia. 

Ironically enough, the speaker’s constant surveillance of their own body—and subsequent obsession with creating themselves real—results in a dissociation from their physical form. For example, the second line of each stanza in “Did I Fuck Before The Age Of Thirty?” reads, “I know there was a body there” (13). This poem showcases both the speaker’s self-surveillance and the consequence of a panopticism that creates an obvious disconnection between the speaker and their body, actions, and agency. “Palatable Simulacrum” reflects this disconnection. Throughout the course of the poem, the speaker decides to create a representation of themself akin to the expectations and assumptions of another. The impetus, the speaker says, is “something simple, like the look of disgust or a longing / for love” (11). These actions of this Modern Prometheus, as well as their straightforward language regarding the creation of this imagined self, reveals what really prevents the speaker from realness: the constant, ceaseless, persistent surveillance of the self and its entanglement with hostile external expectations.

Regardless of the pain throughout their collection, Sinclair does not allow their Modern Prometheus of a speaker to be bereft of hope. Someone Else’s Sex ends with the poem “Fran’s Lace,” a multi-stanza exploration of the speaker’s growth from their kiss from Fran to their latest cry “now with a smile” (14-15). Even the inclusion of the proper name “Fran” indicates a level of love and care absent from the mention of other intimate figures in the speaker’s life. Fran’s lace bookends the poem, starting with the gifting of the lace to the speaker at age thirteen to the twirling speaker thinking of lace with their partner only asking if “we need more hangers” to accommodate it (14-15). Sinclair’s choice to end the collection on a note of personal memory, particularly memories associated with tangential signs of love that are “not / in spite of or because of” circumstances besides the simple fact that the speaker exists and is beautiful (14). The end of Someone Else’s Sex is especially poignant and powerful given the fact that the collection begins with the three-part sequence “Pink Triangle Park,” which explicitly discusses the commodification of queer trauma. Ultimately, “Fran’s Lace” provides the Modern Prometheus speaker with acceptance, hope, and love, arguing that soft, gentle intimacies are always an inherent right of queer and trans people not in spite of but because of their subjection to overwhelming, damaging surveillance.

Following the collection’s initial “end,” one of the most intriguing aspects of Someone Else’s Sex—as well as the most revealing regarding the making and remaking of trans bodies—occurs with the inclusion of “Secret Poem.” When one scans the corresponding QR code/types out the included link and enters the password, they are immediately transported to a piece only available outside the realm of the initial chapbook. “Secret Poem” as a page in Someone Else’s Sex, though, functions as a poem in and of itself, a physical portal necessarily entangled with the piece to which it leads readers. A Modern Prometheus of a poem to go along with the speaker, perhaps? Sinclair both refutes the conception of “endings” and reminds readers that to read Someone Else’s Sex is to actively engage with its themes beyond the scope of the immediate page. 

Someone Else’s Sex is inherently political. Queer writers are inherently political. Trans writers are inherently political. No matter our actions, desires, or beliefs, queer and trans people, as well as our writing, often exist first as a subject of political debate domestically and abroad and second as individuals engaging in actions, desires, and beliefs. Nevertheless, Robin Sinclair’s Someone Else’s Sex balances this duality of existence through the explication of their Modern Prometheus speaker navigating their body, relationships, and general existence as they are subjected to internal and external surveillances. In Someone Else’s Sex, to be real is not to constantly invent and reinvent oneself in the image of oppressive expectations, but simply to be, spinning with love lace and crying real tears from one’s own eyes.

Someone Else’s Sex is available from Bull City Press

All author proceeds from the purchase of this chapbook are being donated to the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.

Surrounded by blurred-out houses, fences, and grass, the author is shown from the waist up in a black compression tank with a gold septum ring and a gold nostril hoop. Their right arm contains a number of black and grey tattoos visible, including fuschia flowers, an American Traditional snake, and an envelope with a heart seal. They have a medium-brown, wavy mullet, dark thick eyebrows, and are looking straight at the camera with a blank stare.

Jillian A. Fantin (they/them) is a poet with roots in the American South and north central England. They are a 2021 Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing Poet Fellow, a 2020 Jefferson County Memorial Project Research Fellow, and the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of RENESME LITERARY. Jillian received B.A.s in English and Political Science with an emphasis in Political Theory from a small university in Birmingham, Alabama, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing with a focus in Poetry and a graduate minor in Gender Studies from the University of Notre Dame. Their writing appears or is forthcoming in American Journal of Poetry, Spectra Poets, Barrelhouse, and, among others.

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