You Could Make This Stuff Up, But You Don’t Have To

by | September 27, 2021 | General | 2 comments

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.


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. Lisabet Sarai

    Hi, Jean,

    I love your title… and your erudite wanderings.

    I’ve ordered a copy of Prairie Gothic and am now waiting for it to be shipped from the US to Asia.

  2. Jean Roberta

    Thank you, Lisabet! You’ve been patient.

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