Mae Martin—stand-up comedian, Bette Midler enthusiast and chronic over-sharer—sets out on a tour of sexuality, discussing a wide range of topics and definitions. In between personal anecdotes, quotes from friends and the opinions of experts, Martin covers basically every label in current circulation and also circles back, frequently, to the question of why and whether we should need labels at all.
There’s a definite autobiographical tilt to the book, Martin emphasises throughout how her parents’ casual and completely un-squeamish attitudes towards sex and sexuality freed her to explore her own feelings without pressure, and there are a number of personal anecdotes to illustrate the points being made and keep the book from becoming too much a series of term definitions.
The book assumes almost zero prior understanding of the terms used to describe sexuality, every new term introduced is explained, from homosexual and heterosexual to the concept of gender fluidity and the difference between sexuality and orientation. There are occasional quotes from experts to lend the discussions a little extra credibility, but for the most part Martin takes a deliberately casual approach to the whole thing. After all, the main point the book seems to be getting at is that all of this sexuality stuff doesn’t need to be nearly as complicated as we keep trying to make it.
Everything is dealt with in a very light-hearted way, and while I didn’t always feel like Martin’s humour translated perfectly into writing there were several moments that made me laugh out loud. There was a section with the subheading “Naked Christmas” that had me laughing uncontrollably in a coffee shop on my lunch break, and I’d probably be prepared to recommend the whole book on the strength of those two pages alone.
Sexuality is a topic I’m fascinated by, and my own thoughts on how to best define my sexuality both to myself and to other people are pretty publicly documented, so I was excited to dive into this book. It’s a bit meandering, and there were definitely points where I wondered if Martin was actually heading anywhere with it, but, overall, it’s a highly entertaining and non-threatening exploration of modern sexuality (with a bonus look at some fascinating historical context as well). I think this would be a great book for any young person to read as a primer on some of the complexities of gender and sex, I’d also recommend it for anybody who feels overwhelmed by some of the new terms in use for characterising different aspects of sexuality.
You can find Can Everyone Please Calm Down on Amazon.