“Behind Closed Doors” – Natalie Fiennes

This super short book of just about 150 pages really has the potential to make you question well anchored thoughts & ideas in your mind. Starting from how “virginity” is a purely heteronormative & invented term, which is still being used too often in our society, to how we’re not taught about the diversity of genitals among us human beings or how “gender” is really defined. The content is made up of short chapters of just about 10 pages each, so a really fluid reading flow is created, making you want to go on & on. It felt inclusive, mentioning people of all kind of different backgrounds within the statistics & it has been successfully avoided at being too dominantly white from my point of view.

I felt like the ideal target group of this book would actually be the adolescents who are to receive sexual education. It seemed like a lot of the topics might be really revelatory for them & the book itself could even be used as a base, while going deeper into certain topics. Taken in general terms, the book was quite well written, in a simple & accessible way. Even I myself, having nothing to do with the field of sexual education, found myself writing down thoughts & ideas on how it could be best implemented in schools in a transformed way. Points as in, that “sex ed” lessons should be taught by a guest lecturer, preferably of young of age, who would be invited for multiple sessions. That way the students could see that person as someone relatable, be more at ease to speak with & ask questions.

As I also read it out in one of the 4 reviews for “Behind Closed Doors” on the goodreads website, there is a huge problem with the book…. The fact that it hasn’t been edited properly. While reading it, I felt like I could have done the job of the editor myself & that’s one of the worst signs for a book. All in all there were 6 points due to which I had to lower the rating by multiple stars:

  • Footnotes haven’t been formatted in a uniform way. Some quoted books have a page mention, others don’t:

“J. Ewing, ‘Sex education in schools,’ Health Education Journal 2, no. 1 (1944): 11-18.” (p. 10)with the page mention

“Mallanaga Vatsyayana, Kamasutra (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).” (p. 3)without any page mention

Some websites have a mentioned last access date, some mentioning the day, the month & the year, others just the month & the year; others don’t have any at all… The general formatting of the quoted websites was done in different ways, so that it would literally drive you nuts while reading:

“www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england–25762151 (last accessed 03/2019)” (p. 8)with the access date

“www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/11/30/eitheror Accessed January 2019.” (p. 18)with the access date written in a different way

“www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov./pubmed/28711608.” (p. 19)without any access date

At times, the same name of the website was mentioned twice, one after the other, instead of noting something like “same as above”. In other cases, the mention “Ibid” was used (for the 1st time, on the 32nd page of the book), when the same title was quoted consecutively. Later on in the book, this practice was abandoned once again. Where is the logic??!!

“9 LGBT in Britain: Trans Report (London: Stonewall, 2018) http://www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/lgbt_in_britain_-_trans_report_final.pdf”
10 Ibid. “(p. 32)with the mention of Ibid

“4 http://www.stonewall.org.uk/sites/default/files/stonewall-guide-for-the-nhs-web-pdf.”
5 http://www.stonewall.org.uk/sites/default/files/stonewall-guide-for-the-nhs-web-pdf.(p. 74)web address pointlessly repeated twice in the footnotes

  • The way the titles of the chapters have been chosen was misleading. The strange naming of the first chapter as “Sex: I am fast” was neither explained within the content, nor did it fit to it in any way. You would expect some reference from the animal kingdom, but nope, it was just left as it is. The same goes for the eleventh chapter, Sex work: The oldest job in the world. Here the author actually corrected herself within the text, saying that it isn’t actually the oldest job… It seemed like catchy titles were randomly chosen in order to convince someone to purchase the book while browsing through the table of contents.

“Sex work may not actually be ‘the oldest profession in the world’ (as I’ve called it in the title of this chapter) – midwifery, for instance, is likely far older – but it has been around for a very long time.” (p. 130)

  • There were multiple typos within the text. Below are just a couple of examples but there might have been even more out there.

“We know that people who do not identity with the sex they were given at birth have always existed.” (p. 24)

“What we’re witnessing here, in the words of ‘J’, a 22-year-old trans man and activist, is intentional, aggressive and repeated misgendering:, followed by the title ” ‘J’, 22″ (p. 26)

“[…] If hook-ups are your thing, Tinder and Grinder make it available with a swipe […]” (p. 83)on p. 138 the author did finally manage to spell the name of the app correctly

“I’ll be focussing primarily on the porn that most people watch – free, mainstream, commercial and for heterosexual consumption.” (p. 118)this one could still be open for debate as a “British” writing of the word

  • The formatting of the titles within the text was completely illogical. The same formatting was used for both the regular titles, as well as before a person’s quote, putting their name in bold. You were constantly confused, whether a new topic was introduced or whether that was simply the name of a person.
  • There were multiple repetitions of the same information without any added value. The quote you see below isn’t a mistaken repetition, the exact same wording of information is literally mentioned multiple times within just 4 pages.

“In the piece Turner argued that Travis, and other non-binary and trans-feminine people, were a threat to children and should not be allowed to use female changing rooms.” (p. 25)

” ‘They are just permitting men – any man – to walk into a flimsily curtained space where giggling teenage girls check out a friend’s new dress in their bras.’ ” (p. 28)

“In the words of Turner, ‘[Topshop] are just permitting men – any man – to walk into a flimsily curtained space where giggling teenage girls check out a friend’s new dress in their bras.’ ” (p. 29)

This was a recurring phenomenon, so that just about 30 pages later, you got to experience it again. At least in the case below, both quotes were referenced to the same online article as their source.

“Research shows that 30 per cent of cis-women report pain during heterosexual vaginal sex, 72 per cent report pain during anal sex, and ‘large proportions’ don’t tell their partners when sex hurts.” (p. 68)

“The piece explored the fact that around 30 per cent of (cis) women experience pain during vaginal sex and ‘large proportions’ wouldn’t tell their partner about it.” (p. 91)

Even within these painful repetitions, we were not gifted consistency as a reader. The next time that it happened, only one of the quotes mentioned its source.

“For instance, with 90 per cent of sexual violence cases happening between people that know each other, some have shown that the justice system fails to accommodate the difficulty of bringing the law into relationships.” (p. 60)referenced to an online article as its source

“90 per cent of sexual violence cases take place between people who already know each other.” (p. 96)mentioned by itself as if it’s a given fact

Just when you think that all the variations of repetitions have been exhausted, another one is thrown at you. How about repeating the exact same expression found in a footnote, within the main text?

“6 For the majority of this, we’ll be talking about mainstream, mass consumed and free heterosexual pornography, since that categorises by far the most porn online.” (p. 118) – mentioned in the footnote first

“I’ll be focussing primarily on the porn that most people watch – free, mainstream, commercial and for heterosexual consumption.” (p. 118) – mentioned in the next sentence after the footnote, within the main text

  • The fact that the Resources” part mentioned in the end of the book only referred to various organisations on topics such as Mental Health Support, Sex and Gender or Consent and Sexual Violence instead of the quoted resources, was perplexing to say the least. This meant that an interested reader, wanting to dive deeper into the subject matter would be forced to go through the footnotes on the individual pages, sorting through the mentioned websites & books, in order to find reading suggestions. All this unnecessary work instead of having a simple list in the end of the book to refer to.

All the numerous points that have been mentioned above are simply a catastrophe to me as a reader. Never in my life have I come across a book riddled with so many mistakes & inexactitudes. The success of a well formatted book equals in drawing complete attention to the content, which wasn’t the case for “Behind Closed Doors”. Here, the formatting was so devastating, that it drew way too much attention to itself, instead of staying invisible & letting the text speak.

To still include some positive parts, a good introduction was given on the topic of what being a transgender means in our society & the difficulties linked to it. Even though I’m familiar with the subject matter myself, there were still moments that made me reflect on my existing knowledge. The same goes for the mentioned suggestion of the legalisation of sex work, which helped me think further towards the topic of the legalisation of drugs & to question my opinions.

Two last little points that were not related to the fault of the author but the publishing company:

  • The name of the website of the publishing company printed on the back of the book outspokenbooks.com is not correct. It has been changed into plutobooks.com. Thinking that it’s a new publishing company, I was willing to give them the newbie discount, but then I actually saw on their website that they have been around since 1969! “Pluto Press is a radical political publishing house. Founded in 1969, we are one of Britain’s oldest radical publishers”. They should really know better than publishing inexact information on the covers of their books…
  • The same goes for the name of their Instagram page. Mentioned as “@outspoken.books” on the cover of the book, it has in the meantime been changed into @plutopress.

What I read out from the author’s Instagram page, was that she put in about a year’s work & hundreds of interviews with young people into this book, which unfortunately, wasn’t noticeable enough (or was made less noticeable due to insufficient editing). I wish she would have rather mentioned that in the introduction, the entire work that was involved in order to create this content, rather than only using the history of sexuality to start off the book.

I would have liked to have given the book at least the rating of 3/5 ★ due to the relevance of the mentioned topics but reading through something that feels more like a 2nd or a 3rd draft, rather than the final product, is simply inexcusable. With “Behind Closed Doors” I’ve been taught the lesson to stay away from books published by Pluto Press in the future. I really hope that another edition of this book will be printed at some point, with all the mentioned points corrected. In the meantime, I would suggest you the book “Closer” by Sarah Barmak. It speaks about similar topics as in “Behind Closed Doors”, while focusing more on the female side of sexuality. It was one of my favourite books that I read in 2019 & with it you will get to enjoy an excellent quality of writing.

“Behind Closed Doors” – Natalie Fiennes

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

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