Anyone who has been enjoying Donna George Storey’s posts about history in this blog knows that, despite what most of us were taught by our parents, our ancestors actually had sex. And even though most sex has taken place in private settings, research can turn up interesting and suggestive facts. Several years ago, when I decided to “make up” a lesbian identity for a woman activist in the women’s rights movement of the early twentieth century, it seems I wasn’t far from the truth. Several of them lived together in “Boston marriages” which may or may not have included sexual activity, but these relationships were clearly more important to the women in them than most friendships.

On the subject of unconventional relationships, an interracial couple, Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter, kicked off the fight for marriage equality when they got married in Washington D.C. in 1958 because their home state of Virginia (seat of the Confederacy during the American Civil War) had racist laws against “miscegenation.” Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the marriage of the Lovings, ruled such laws unconstitutional, and paved the way for same-sex marriage. A movie titled Loving was made about this couple. They could not have had a better name.

Looking up information about the Tudor era, I learned that Anne Boleyn, the tragic second wife of King Henry VIII, was admired by Sir Thomas Wyatt, the courtier who is given credit for introducing the sonnet form into English literature in the 1530s, before Queen Anne was executed on trumped-up charges of adultery, which counted as treason if one’s husband was the king. Sir Thomas was briefly imprisoned, but luckily, he escaped the fate of several other men-about-court, who were accused of being Anne’s lovers and executed with her, including her brother George.  I couldn’t resist writing about a tryst between Anne and Sir Thomas, while her lady-in-waiting Jane Seymour is occupied elsewhere. (King Henry married Jane eleven days after Anne’s execution.) And I couldn’t resist writing a love-sonnet from Sir Thomas for Anne.

My local-colour erotic novel, Prairie Gothic, is finally in print, and it includes real-life local scandals, including the mismanagement of funds that destroyed the Conservative Party of Saskatchewan in the 1990s (when my novel is set), and the murder trial of 1995 in which two young white men from prominent families (aged 18 and 20) were convicted of killing an Indigenous sex worker for sport. This crime has left repercussions in the town where I live to this day. My grown daughter was a teenager in the 1990s, and the killers were in her circle of friends, which still raises the hair on my head. My daughter was born to me when I was married to a Nigerian man, and her closest friend at the time was the daughter of another single mother, an Indigenous activist.

Did the two young white men consider their brown female “friends” to be different from the sex workers they routinely picked up? If they did, that’s a small blessing, but I’ll probably never know.

They say that no news is good news, and of course, records of criminal proceedings reveal a lot about laws that aim to regulate sexual activity. Oscar Wilde, a wildly successful Irish playwright of the Victorian Age, was convicted of “sodomy” in London exactly a hundred years before my daughter’s “friends” were convicted of murder. He had made the mistake of suing the father of his current “protege” for libel because the father referred to Wilde as a “posing somdomite,” which looks like a misspelled version of a word commonly used for man-loving men at the time, as though they were all inhabitants of the sinful city of Sodom in the Bible. This trial opened the door for damaging information about Wilde’s association with other young men to be used against him in a criminal trial. He was sentenced to prison for consensual sexual activity, and it ruined his life. After his release, Wilde (who was fluent in French and even wrote in it) went into exile in Paris, France, where he died before 1900.

My spouse, Mirtha, was hired  on a government grant to organize a group for LGBTQ senior citizens, people over age 55. One member of the group is my retired colleague from the English Department of the local university who used to run a small theatre troupe. He has proposed directing a reading of Wilde’s last play, The Importance of Being Earnest, to be performed in the LGBTQ bar and community centre in October.  This play is a romantic comedy of manners with no obviously queer content, but it seems poignant because of the context in which it was first written and performed.

Anyone who wants to write an interesting plot only needs to surf through social media, watch the TV news, read some historical sources, or sift through their own memories. Sex in various forms runs through history and literature alike. Real life doesn’t need to be embellished—or not much—to be turned into a gripping story. The research can be as much fun as the actual writing.