Thursday, April 19, 2012

What Feeds Me

by Jean Roberta

1. Animal companions. My spouse & I have 3 dogs and 3 cats who all get along with each other. We’ve seen interspecies snuggling interspersed with play-fights. (Small, female dog barks ferociously at large cat, who arches his back and hisses. Moments later, they curl up together for a nap.) I’m not sure if keeping pets is a distinctly lesbian tradition -- most people we know here on the Canadian prairies have animals, and folks who live out of town tend to have horses, goats, pigs, etc.

However, note the above portrait of writer Radclyffe Hall and her partner Una Troubridge, about 1930. (I have noticed that using animals as accessories is generally not a good idea, much like using children for the same purpose.)

2. Clothes-shopping. Much porn or erotica that is aimed at women uses detailed descriptions of clothing as a kind of foreplay leading to the main event. In some stories, clothes-shopping and sex are a delicious combination of activities that lead to a grand climax in a fitting room, with ridiculous shoes and frothy lingerie as part of the scenery. I try not to carry this motif to a cringe-worthy extreme, but here is the opening scene of “Opening Ceremony,” set in a boutique which hasn’t opened for business yet. This is one of my stories which were published in a “Wicked Words” anthology from the now-defunct Black Lace Books (UK):

Pru’s tall, slim body was coiled elegantly on the leather sofa in her new shop. Her grand opening was scheduled for the next day, but for now we were alone, like two actors on a stage before the curtain goes up. I couldn’t help admiring the glow on my friend’s dark lively face, or her elaborate hairdo. She had learned from a Nigerian woman how to wrap dozens of tiny braids in black thread that caught the light from different angles whenever she moved her head.

“Well, what do you think?” she asked.

“It looks good, Pru,” I assured her.

Pru’s clothing store was decorated to look like a forest, and the effect of the murals on the walls and the indirect lighting was surprisingly convincing, despite the full racks of dresses, suits, blouses and trousers that seemed to be blooming in the unexplored wilderness. The furnishings were in earthy shades of green, gold and brown. “It looks like a sacred grove,” I ventured, running the risk of offending her.


This story was very loosely based on my relationship (so to speak) with an upscale women’s clothing store in my town where I could barely afford the items on the “reduced to clear” rack, circa 1985, but I visited regularly. The owner, a glamorous woman from the Caribbean, often waited on me herself, even though I’m sure she could size me up (as it were) as a low-income wannabe customer. The store did so well that the owner expanded by opening a restaurant next door. Unfortunately, this mini-mall didn’t last long. Both businesses folded, and the owner disappeared. (In spite of this, I still admire her vision and guts.)

3. Surprising myself with my actual skills. On bad days, I don’t really believe I’m good at anything, so discovering that I’m actually competent at something is always a revelation.

3a) Note to all wannabe singers: it is possible. Trust me. If I could sing in a choir, you can do it too. With practice and a reasonably good ear, you can hit the right notes most of the time, and when you don’t, you’ll be drowned out by the rest of the choir (with luck). Practice is the key. So is a good, patient choir director. Even if you don’t have the makings of a real diva (as I don’t), you and a group of other moderately-talented voices can join forces to sound better than the sum of your parts.

3b) I’ve just finished copy-editing 12 essays by a diverse group of academics, all writing on gay/lesbian/bi/trans subjects. Once I got started, I realized that I have much more perspective on other people’s writing than on my own. I could spot awkward or unclearly-constructed sentences at first glance, and typos or (OMG) grammatical mistakes jumped off the screen at me. So far, 11 of the contributors to the book I’m co-editing have responded to me, and they’ve all accepted most of my suggested revisions. Several even thanked me for polishing their prose. Yep, this is something I can do. (Over 20 years of grading student essays must have taught me something.)

4. Actual food. Luckily, my appetite seems to have decreased as I age. (Good thing – otherwise, my ass would have increased along with the years.) I seem to have broken my addiction to coffee, which used to be the fuel I needed to get going every morning. Now it’s a luxury, and I savour one cup on special days.

Chocolate has never lost its appeal, nor has red wine. (I’m not fussy – anything above the level of the cheap stuff sold in gallon jugs suits me fine. My spouse claims that most red wine tastes like tree bark. All the more for me.)

Most kinds of seafood appeal to me, although considerate dinner hosts (who are not female and/or not lesbian) have told me they avoid serving fish to lesbians, because this would seem like a tasteless joke. Not tasteless at all, I say, though a surprising number of my sisters in the local community say they don’t like to eat anything that came from an ocean or a river. (Then how do you --? Oh, never mind.)

5. Sunshine! Despite the general state of the world, there is nothing like a sunny day to give me hope that something good is on its way, even if I don't know yet what it is.


  1. Hi, Jean,

    Great post. My animal companions (just two cats - but more than enough) are part of my family - and I love shopping, or more accurately, the experience of finding bargains!

    And the satisfaction of realizing that you have valuable skills, skills that can contribute something to the world - oh, definitely!

  2. Hi Jean!

    That's a lot of food. I was especially struck by the Nigerian woman and her hair, which is close to something I've been thinking about these days. I suppose the recession damaged her business. I wonder what became of her.



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