Deal Breakers

by | January 31, 2019 | General | 1 comment

By Jean Roberta

I love historical drama, but as someone once said, the past is a foreign country. They did things differently there.

In a recent television spectacle featuring Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth I, the never-married queen is courted by the Duc D’Anjou, a brother of the King of France. Their marriage would make a good diplomatic alliance to help England resist a threatened Spanish invasion. Apparently to her surprise, Queen Bess finds that she has feelings for the Duc, beyond her desire to secure her nation and possibly give birth to an heir. The Duc is in his twenties while the Queen is in her forties, but the age gap doesn’t seem to bother either of them. He praises her beauty in charmingly-accented English. He tells her that he likes “pro-TEST-ants,” and that his Catholic faith is a private matter that wouldn’t have to be an issue in their relationship.

However, religion is a serious matter to the English Parliament, and no one in the Queen’s government wants her to marry a Catholic. The Queen could simply overrule all her advisors, including her long-term admirer, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who wanted to marry her for years, but who was repeatedly turned down. In the film version, Queen Bess claims that “Robin’s” status isn’t high enough to match hers, although the sudden death of his first wife (found dead at the foot of a staircase) and the rumours of murder that circulated afterward would have made it reckless for Bess and “Robin” to rush into marriage. For better or worse, she rejects the Duc d’Anjou as well.

So what were the real deal-breakers that prevented Queen Bess from marrying any of her suitors? The age gap between the Queen and the French Duc (especially if she hoped to produce an heir) isn’t shown as a problem for anyone, including the concerned bystanders. The traditional explanation for her persistently single state was that the Queen was “married to her people.”

The theme of “forbidden love,” expressed in secret trysts, is still a compelling subject in erotic romance. It’s hard to imagine an official barrier between two people who are attracted to each other that could really keep them from sneaking some time together. It’s also hard to imagine any difference which couldn’t be seen as a barrier.

Religious differences, formerly a deal-breaker, don’t seem to keep people apart the way they used to. Does this mean that human society has evolved to be more inclusive than in the past? Probably not. Marriages between cousins were considered desirable in some cultures in the past, especially if there was a fortune that could thereby be kept in the family. On the other hand, marrying one’s deceased wife’s sister was considered so incestuous (or squicky for some other reason) that it was outlawed in England in the Victorian Age. Huge age gaps (mostly older men with younger women, but sometimes the reverse) were accepted, but gaps in social class were not. (At least upper-class men didn’t marry the servants, although they were certainly welcome to, ahem, enjoy their company.)

Before the “Gay Rights” movement of the twentieth century, sexual relations between members of the same gender were considered “crimes against nature,” and punished in drastic ways if not kept secret. (Some secrets were really facts that everyone knew and no one mentioned aloud.)

We are all products of our time, whether we want to admit it or not. For Americans in my parents’ generation (born just after the First World War), racial separation was enforced both by “Jim Crow” laws, and by social traditions that generally kept racially-defined groups apart. A mixed-race relationship was a very big deal in that era, although there were a few exceptional couples who managed to stay together.

I doubt if anyone can honestly claim to be free of prejudice in all forms when it comes to sexual attraction. What are the deal-breakers that have made some people in your life seem attractive but inaccessible, or not attractive at all? I’m tempted to do a survey.

Jean Roberta

Jean Roberta once promised her parents not to use their unusual family name for her queer and erotic writing, and thus was born her thin-disguise pen name. She teaches English and Creative Writing in a university on the Canadian prairies, where the vastness of land and sky encourage daydreaming. Jean immigrated to Canada from the United States as a teenager with her family. In her last year of high school, she won a major award in a national student writing contest. In 1988, a one-woman publisher in Montreal published a book of Jean’s lesbian stories, Secrets of the Invisible World. When the publisher went out of business, the book went out of print. In the same year, Jean attended the Third International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal, where she read a call-for-submissions for erotic lesbian stories. She wrote three, sent them off, and got a letter saying that all three were accepted. Then the publisher went out of business. In 1998, Jean and her partner acquired their first computer. Jean looked for writers’ groups and found the Erotic Readers & Writers Association, which was then two years old! She began writing erotica in every flavor she could think of (f/f, m/f, m/m, f/f/m, etc) and in various genres (realistic contemporary, fantasy, historical). Her stories have appeared in anthology series such as Best Lesbian Erotica (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, Volume 1 in new series, 2016), Best Lesbian Romance (2014), and Best Women's Erotica (2000, 2003, 2005, 2006) from Cleis Press, as well as many others. Her single-author books include Obsession (Renaissance, Sizzler Editions), an erotic story collection, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe Press), and The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella (Lethe, also in audio). Fantasy stories by Jean include “Lunacy” in Journey to the Center of Desire (erotic stories based on the work of Jules Verne) from Circlet Press 2017, “Green Spectacles and Rosy Cheeks” (steampunk erotica) in Valves & Vixens 3 (House of Erotica, UK, 2016), and “Under the Sign of the Dragon” (story about the conception of King Arthur) in Nights of the Round Table: Arthurian Erotica (Circlet 2015). This story is now available from eXcessica ( Her horror story, “Roots,” first published in Monsters from Torquere Press, is now in the Treasure Gallery of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. With Lethe Press publisher Steve Berman, she coedited Heiresses of Russ 2015 (Lethe), an annual anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction. Her realistic erotic novel, Prairie Gothic: A Tale of the Old Millennium, was published by Lethe in September 2021. Jean has written many reviews and blog posts. Her former columns include “Sex Is All Metaphors” (based on a line in a poem by Dylan Thomas) for the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, July 2008-November 2010. The 25 column pieces can still be found in the on-site archives and in an e-book from Coming Together, Jean married her long-term partner, Mirtha Rivera, on October 30, 2010. Links:

1 Comment

  1. shiloh

    Lying eyes; bad breath; and, of course, protestants.

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