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The Other Side of The Other Side of Desire

 the other side of desire

The Other Side of Desire, by Daniel Bergner

Ecco/HarperCollins $24.99

 

The best part of Daniel Bergner's new book, The Other Side of Desire, is that it very thoughtfully takes an open-minded and open-hearted look at the lives of four people whose sexual desires fall outside of mainstream norms. Through in-depth interviews and time spent hanging out with those he profiles, Bergner gives us a sense of really getting to know these four individuals, and helps us see them in terms of more than just their sexualities. This potentially goes a long way toward destigmatizing unconventional sexual expression.

The Other Side of Desire is broken into four sections, each focused on an individual whose story, Bergner hopes, will help answer questions like "What do we do with the desires we cannot bear, the desires we or the society around us strain to restrict or strangle...?" (Introduction, x). We first meet Jacob Miller, a severely learning-disabled yet successful salesman with a foot fetish that causes him such shame he is sexually alienated from his wife and driven to seek anti-androgen therapy to diminish his desire. Regardless the source of Jacob's foot fetish, his story is one about the destructive power of shame.

The next story, that of the Baroness, a designer of latex clothing and a consummate sexual sadist, demonstrates the satisfaction a person with very kinky desires can have when they are free of shame. The Baroness is all self-confidence and self-acceptance. She has found community with others who share her orientation to sexuality and in doing so has maintained a happy marriage to a man whose sexuality is much more "vanilla." As she walks around her New York City neighborhood she creates an air of acceptance for other "misfits." Bergner writes "The effect might have been due to her flaunting her difference, to their recognizing a champion misfit. But she claimed another power. She said it was because she was willing to look at them" (61-62). The social good that comes from truly looking at each other, and at ourselves, and accepting what we see, "deviant" or not, is the lesson of the Baroness.

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