Review: Love Not Given Lightly by Tina Horn

I won’t be coy. Tina Horn is a big-time favorite of mine. When I interviewed her a few months ago for my column at Nerve, she told me that she was working on a book in which she was profiling people she had known and loved during her time as a pro BDSM worker and porn-maker. This idea made me very excited indeed, given that everything I’ve read by her has knocked me on my ass. She has a poise in her demeanor that comes across in her writing, mixed up with the same amount of grit one catches in her low, sexy voice.

And when she told me that the book’s title would be “Love Not Given Lightly” (you know, like that line in “Venus in Furs”?), I think my exact words were, “Oh my god I love you.”

So there’s that. Basically the chances of me not enjoying Love Not Given Lightly  were pretty much nil from the get-go.

But although I expected Love Not Given Lightly to impress me, I didn’t expect to miss my subway stop while reading it (true story).

A series of profiles of some of Tina’s favorite friends, lovers, clients, and perverts from her mostly-over days as a pro domme and porn-maker, Love Not Given Lightly is a dark but quite well-lit staircase down into the sumptuous and sorta-scary dungeons of Tina Horn’s memory. It takes care to revel in the titillating bits of her erotic exploits but doesn’t shy away from the discomfiting details, all in a confident yet vulnerable voice that feels just shy of raw. The end result is a slim but juicy work that alternates between gleeful retellings of wild adventures and measured memoirs of the difficult realities that surrounded them. It feels like a comfortable, overstuffed velvet chair in the corner of an escort’s apartment, plush and voyeuristic. From the shadows we watch as Horn goes about her business, pulling a few punches only so that the knockout blows will make more of an impact.

The profiles vary from campy and adorable (James Darling, she tells us, “had done a little bit of drag in his youth group [his first act, to the Cure song “Boys Don’t Cry,” didn’t go over well with the pop-loving Christian teens]”); to reverent and meta (“At the Gates, sex is dressed up in darkness but I have never been around so many giggles, so much emotional catharsis, so much evident healing”); to bittersweet and wise (Bianca Stone’s “sex work persona was a flaming costume, destined to be all volume and flash”); to awed and serious (of Nigel Matthews, whose skill is “the enacting of ruthless brutality followed by the application of tender care”); to lusty and gleeful (“It takes more than sex appeal to make a good whore–or, at least, a whore with the kind of staying power Quinn [Cassidy] possesses”). It’s a wild ride, but with the honest and skillful Horn as a tour guide, the journey is cast in the same kind of light one expects in the late afternoon in a sunlit apartment full of weed smoke: glowing but gritty, tender but real, sweet but dirty. “I looked depravity in the face,” you can hear her sultry voice intoning as you read, “and the world never stopped turning.”

Love Not Given Lightly is something of a love letter to sex work and some of its denizens; it’s not exactly a Dear John epistle, but it has an Anaïs Nin-esque tragedy about it that drew me in and kept me firmly planted there until it let me go in a cascade of glitter and bittersweet blown kisses from the stage. This book has an ineffable quality that makes me think of my days in theater during undergrad–the breathlessness, the glamour, the panting exuberance of living life to its fullest and appreciating every sequin and adoring eye, but also the dirty soles of your feet, the let-down after the show, the awful hangovers. It’s not all glitter and orgasms–there’s vice and pain in there, too. But the sparkles and the pleasure might just make it worthwhile.


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