The Gift of Time

by Jean Roberta

As I frantically grade student essays from my spring class, which has already ended aside from the exam, I look forward to my sabbatical from teaching, which will last from July 1, 2016 (Canada’s national holiday) until July 1, 2017.

I will have a year to write a book of non-fiction, but I’ll also have time to write new stories and revise older pieces that are unpublished or no longer under contract. I feel as if I have inherited a fortune, counted in hours rather than dollars.

Like most writers of a certain age, I have a large pile of old work. I am usually amazed by the voice of my younger self when I reread something I wrote many years before. When I was in high school, I wrote a surrealistic one-act play about three teenagers: two girls who are very different, the good-natured boy who doesn’t really understand either of them, and their competition for his attention.

When I reread this piece with the intention of bringing it up to date, I was aghast at the retro slang and technology from the 1960s: blackboard and chalk in a high-school classroom with a portable record-player that could be plugged into the room’s one electrical outlet. Rock-and-roll blaring forth from a vinyl record revolving under a scratchy needle. Manual typewriters, like the one on which I first typed this piece.

Hopeless, I thought. This play was written in an era which will never return, and it can’t be made “relevant” (such a sixties term) to Generation Z (or whatever they are called now).

During the recent LGBTgenderqueer/2-spirited Pride Week in the prairie city where I live, I was interviewed in the media as a local Elder of the queer community. This has happened before, and it always amuses me. I was just old enough to drink legally when the first “gay” organization was formed here, but I wasn’t “out” yet. I sometimes point out that I am not one of the first-wave pioneers, the small brave band who are still alive at my age or slightly older (including the few men that survived the AIDS crisis of the 1980s), but who “came out” when this could mean losing everything: parents, children, friends, job, religious affiliation, a place to live.

The search for “roots” in communities that were formerly more marginalized and persecuted than they are now looks to me like a healthy respect for historical truth, and many ordinary people have a piece of it. Youth, in itself, could be considered a disadvantaged and misrepresented life-stage. Someday, the experience of growing up in the early 21st century will be valuable to those who weren’t alive then.

So maybe my older work needs to be “updated” by being presented as historical fiction. (The awkward phrases, like rotting boards in a “character house,” could still be repaired or replaced.)

To give a sample description of the “temps perdu” in my life, here is the opening scene from my out-of-print novel, Prairie Gothic, completed in 1998 and available as an e-book from 2002 to 2006:

The ugly concrete building in the warehouse district looked deserted, and it wore no sign of any kind. If Kelly hadn’t seen glimmers of light from between the shutters at the windows and heard the bass thump of recorded music, she would have thought the address in the newspaper was a misprint.

In her second year of university, the fresh-faced young woman was developing a taste for research. She was learning that you could find out whatever you wanted to know if you looked in the right places. On this breezy spring night, the place she wanted to check out was the Den, more often called the club or the bar by the regulars. It was the only gay bar in town.

As Kelly pulled open the heavy front door, a blast of music hit her in the face, carrying the smell of beer and cigarettes. A spasm of anxiety made her breathe faster, and she wondered again how smart it was for her to come here alone. Bars didn’t attract her as a rule. Booze and guys usually lost their appeal for her by the end of an evening, and hanging out with a horde of increasingly drunk and loud fellow students seemed like a waste of time to her.

However, the girl craved adventure. She hoped that this bar would be more like a decadent jazz club in Berlin in the 1930s than any of the hangouts she knew. She believed that she could best explore this exotic milieu without the burden of anyone else’s fears or desires.

Kelly noticed the huge area in the wall of the entranceway where the plaster had been kicked in during a famous fight. Two months later, it had been badly fixed by a hung-over dyke who claimed to be a drywaller by trade. Since she had donated her time and was currently dating a woman on the board that ran the bar, no one complained openly about the look of the wall.

A very tall, very thin young man asked Kelly for ID, but he looked friendly. Besides, she told herself, she could never be intimidated by a man wearing lipstick and mascara, even if he did apply them better than she could.

The interior of the bar was so dark and smoky that it took a minute for the young woman to notice the eyes watching her. A young man in tight leather pants turned from the cigarette machine to look over the newcomer. Once his cool gaze had skimmed over her breasts, his narrow hips swivelled back toward the faded jeans of a much older, heavy-set man who stood beside him like a guard dog protecting his turf. Both men radiated a sensuality that Kelly had rarely noticed in males, and she felt strangely miffed by their indifference to her. She remembered wishing that guys would leave her alone. In this place, she thought, they just might.

So much has changed since this scene looked contemporary. Yet, considering the recent massacre in an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on “Latino Night,” no one can afford to be complacent.

What do other writers do with older work that expresses a bygone zeitgeist?

They're Taking Over, Again

by Jean Roberta

Earlier this month, there was a thread in the Writers list of Erotic Readers and Writers about whether the association is “straight” in any sense.

Originally, this term seemed to mean conservative or mainstream. People who share a love for (or an addiction to) certain consciousness-altering substances refer to stone-sober outsiders as the “the straights.” People who identify as any shade of “queer” (gay-male, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, bi-curious, etc.) describe heterosexuals as “straight.” Those who are into bondage, discipline, Dominance, submission, sadism, masochism or fetishes distinguish themselves from the “vanilla” mainstream, and this means approximately the same thing as “straight,” even though a sizable section of the kinky crowd is heterosexual, and many have a sensible rule against getting high when they intend to “play.”

Considering that people join the ERWA lists because they like to read and write sexually-explicit literature, and considering that this taste is definitely not conservative, it could be argued that no one in this group is “straight” in the narrowest sense. Erotic writers have been discriminated against in various ways when they are openly identified, and this gives them something in common with all other victims of social prejudices.

By now you can probably see the problem with labels. A person who has one identity which is not universally accepted may be perfectly “straight” in another sense. From the outside, all “queers” may look similar, but I know enough transpeople to be aware that as a white lesbian married academic, I am much more privileged than someone whose sexual plumbing doesn’t match hir (his/her) outward appearance.

And then there is racial and cultural identity. Despite some very real, tangible signs of “advancement” for “the colored” (as in the name of a venerable organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), racism in various forms persists. Are those of us who look white therefore relatively “straight?” Is a kinky, polyamorous brown person who grew up in a privileged family in a Third-World country more or less “straight” than a white vanilla queer professional, raised in an urban slum, who likes crystal meth as a recreational drug and lacy lingerie as a secret indulgence? Does it make a difference if one of them is male and one is female?

In organizations that aim to be fairly diverse, there are always rumors that “they” are “taking over.” When I was on the board of a major, government-funded feminist organization, I heard from my mother, of all people, that someone who didn’t know she was related to me had warned her that the lesbians in the group were taking over. This was news to me. The past president, a married woman with much organizational experience, still seemed to be setting the tone in much the same way that the feminist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was influenced by Emmaline Pankhurst (in England), Elizabeth Cady Stanton (in the U.S.) and Nellie McClung (in Canada) while all three had husbands and children. Anyone who believes that votes for women were won by a perverse, male-bashing cabal of bitter dykes needs to do some reading.

Years ago, someone in “Parlor” here at ERWA complained that the BDSM crowd seemed to be changing the tone of the group – for the worse. The complainer waxed nostalgic for the “good old days” of a few years before when, presumably, everyone in ERWA shared a common view of sexuality, and it did not include leather. Several long-term members referred her to stories and posts with a kinky flavor, some of which dated back to the founding of the group in 1996.

As an old-timer here (since December 1998), I haven’t seen any sudden change of the culture due to the invasion of any particular community. If anything, the charge that the group as a whole is “too straight” seems more credible than the suggestion that a hot chili-pepper clique is quietly spiriting the vanilla beans away and keeping them bound and gagged in a cellar. “Straightness” could be defined as a default category. Anyone who is not familiar with a community or a lifestyle that doesn’t get much airtime in the media is, by default, relatively “straight.” The price of diversity is a shortage of in-group familiarity and the need for education. (Those who don’t understand need to learn, and those who aren’t understood are often called on to teach, for better or worse.)

There are times when those who are alternately ignored and singled out for attack prefer the company of their own tribe, and this is understandable. Some members of ERWA probably feel more at home somewhere else, at least occasionally. However, a diverse group that attracts new members is one that can survive over time. The greatest degree of general acceptance (short of accepting injustice) seems like the key to sustainability.

I think of ERWA as a hub for overlapping categories of writers, some of whom have added sex scenes to their romances, mysteries or literary stories, while some have learned to expand sex scenes into whole plots, or poetic meditations. This place is the Times Square or Speakers Corner of the erotic writing world. Even when I lurk, I can’t imagine dropping out entirely. There is just too much going on here, and I wouldn’t want to miss it.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


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