Iwan doesn’t have a whole lot to hope for in his future. He’s unemployed in a dying town and has sexual needs he’s too uncomfortable to pursue, even though Jonah at the docks has caught his eye. Afraid that Jonah might judge him by his body and not who he really is, he decides to pay for his first sexual experience in hopes it will give him the confidence to approach Jonah and ask for what he wants.
Portside is grim reality on paper. The hopelessness and despair of living in a dying town is depicted perfectly here. I really did feel like I was back home in the U.K. for a minute, which is a hard feat to pull off after seven years away. The setting is perfect for the story – Iwan wants to have oral sex with another man, but he’s too afraid to ask Jonah, the man he’s been eyeing up at the barracks. Discontent with porn, he finally takes the plunge and gathers 120 pounds to see a prostitute, who gives him the courage to finally take his desires down to the docks.
Although this is a story with a trans* protagonist, trans* issues are not its focus. It’s a story about a young man wanting what most young men desire – sex – but being too afraid to ask for it. It’s a story that a lot of people can relate to, regardless of gender or sexual orientation – we all remember being young and the awkwardness of our first sexual experience, and Iwan’s is no different.
I liked Tommy as well. It was nice to see a positive depiction of a sex worker. Tommy could have taken advantage of the vulnerable Iwan but instead gives him a positive first sexual experience that boosts his confidence. I was glad this story didn’t take the dark turn it could have.
Portside isn’t about romance, it’s about sex and coming of age. This might turn a few people away but for me it was a positive thing. Smith steers clear of the usual tropes and tells a tale that’s honest in its depiction of poverty and sexuality. I highly recommend Portside to anybody looking for a story about real people and their struggles.
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