Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we've just met.
What do you do for a living?
I am a clinical massage therapist and a full-time student. I study social work.
Are you seeing anyone at the moment?
That depends on how you define "seeing." [laughs] I would say that I'm seeing a couple of people at the moment, but no committed monogamous stuff. It's more like friends that I have fun with — basically two people. And yeah, they're very different, and they're both friends, and it's really fun. I'm never looking for a relationship. Sometimes they show up, and then I can't do anything about them. [laughs] But I'm never actively looking for them.
Does that mean that there's usually an element of coercion in your relationships?
Well, if we're lucky. Just joking. No, usually I just end up… I don't know, I go with what I feel, and sometimes things just happen. I don't try to question, or look, or predict, or force. That's landed me in everything from a marriage to a seven-year relationship before. But I was never looking for it.
You're no longer married?
I'm separated, yeah. Since about six months ago.
How are you feeling in the aftermath?
Great. Absolutely fantastic. Yep. I mean, sad for the breakdown of my marriage, but personally, relieved and liberated.
I can understand why you wouldn't be looking for anything serious right now.
No. And I think I'm reconfiguring what serious is. I'm just not looking to do the same relationship that I've done over and over again.
What patterns have your relationships usually fallen into?
Well, I meet them, and then from the day after I meet them, I see them every day, for years. Then they move in, and we spend a lot of time together, and then at one point, we don't like each other very much any more, and we spend more time together until we decide not to be together any more. And that's the end.
What's the alternative?
I think I'm trying to figure out how to have relationships that aren't constrained by boundaries. You know, where I can feel confident and comfortable with somebody, even if they happen to sleep with other people. Or if I'm sleeping with other people, it doesn't impact the way that I feel about someone else. I'm pretty open to being in love with multiple people at the same time. I think love can be infinite. That's complicated, sometimes, but hopefully there's a way to share sex and intimacy and friendship and support without having to fit into this nuclear construction that, you know, Disney princesses designed.
How did your upbringing influence your sexuality?
Hmm. Well, I was brought up by a group of lesbians, so you can extrapolate from there. It was a lesbian collective. There were five women and three kids, and it was awesome, and I would recommend anybody to be brought up that way. Because you didn't have such intensity — those relationships shifted a lot. Sometimes there would be people coupling, and sometimes they would be with someone else, and as kids, we never had that definition of mother-father-child. It was always sort of like, people who lived there and took care of you, and there was not so much pressure. So I think that makes me a lot more relaxed about things like jealousy, and understanding that relationships come and go, but they can morph. Just because it's no longer a one-on-one thing doesn't mean that there isn't some kind of valuable relationship between those people. I have a very relaxed attitude about how you would define a relationship — and that definitely comes from being brought up by a bunch of lesbian feminists who had unconventional ideas about relationships.
What would be your type, if you had to define it?
I guess somebody who's sexy and funny. Those are the two things I think of. And intelligent. Somebody who's just fun to be with, who's positive and open-minded and has a non-judgmental character, and who's optimistic about things, and who's… did I mention open-minded?
Why is that such an important requirement?
Because if there's anything I'm intolerant of, it's people who are intolerant of other people. So yeah, I need to find somebody who doesn't have a critical nature, who doesn't feed their ego by belittling other people.
Do you have any favorite hookup stories that you'd like to tell?
I was in an all-night bar, and it was about three, four in the morning, and I was waiting in line, and there were these four girls. So I started talking to them, and I thought that they were all lesbians. They were a lot of fun, and it never occurred to me that there was any type of, you know, physical attraction, that they were looking to pick me up — or that they were worried about me picking them up. That's one reason that we just enjoyed hanging out. We got in the club, and I spent half the night hanging out with them, and half the night hanging out with my friends, and then at the end of the night, they asked me if I wanted to go for breakfast. Then they asked me to come and hang out at one of the girls' places, and then we went downstairs into this big room. There was a couple of beds on the floor, and I still didn't think anything of it —
No, honestly, I didn't! I wasn't looking or thinking that anything was going to happen, and they'd obviously known each other for a long time and were comfortable in each others' company. And then two of the girls started kissing each other, and the other two just turned to me and they smiled, and I went, "Now I know why I'm here." And yeah… the insanity ensued. It was a lot of fun. They were really, really great girls.
Wow, a four-to-one ratio is pretty favorable for you.
Two of them were bisexual, and the other two had never been with men before, and I ended up sleeping with one of the girls that had never been with a guy before. That was a pretty surreal experience, to be with her, the fact that she trusted me, and I was just a guy that she'd met that night.
I think that's the pinnacle of male sexual fantasy right there, and you made it happen. I'm impressed.
Yeah, but it's funny how that doesn't really happen if you try to plan it out. A lot of it is spontaneity and chemistry and the energy that you have with each other. I've never really been one to be on the prowl, but I like to feel people out and have fun with them and enjoy their company.
Is there anything that you would like to change about the way women approach dating?
Have a little more empathy for guys who actually make the effort, as opposed to being so standoffish with men, because it does take a lot of courage for a guy. I mean, it's true that a lot of guys don't have tact, and a lot of guys can be too aggressive or too insensitive, or too focused on getting you to like them, and they're not focused on who you are. But please, just be a little more patient and open-minded with guys who make the effort to communicate with you. If they're halfway intelligent, they're going to pick up if you're not attracted to them.
What do you do for a living?
Wait, we're talking about my job? Do I have to have a full-on facial portrait? I'm a freelance… um, entertainment specialist.
Can you be more specific?
My target demographic is lonely middle-aged men in despair. [laughs]
Does your profession ever get you dates?
Where do you generally meet the people you are interested in dating?
Honestly, through my circle of friends. I don't want to date strangers, because it takes too long to get them accustomed to my lifestyle, so it's just sort of easier to meet people who have already been vetted by my friends.
Have you had many problems in the past explaining your lifestyle to the people you're dating?
I've had problems explaining my lifestyle to my roommates, so let me say that if I explain it to someone these days, and they're not comfortable with what I do, then that's the end of the date. How I make my money is a big part of my life — it's how I pay my rent, how I pay my tuition. And I prefer to be around people who are accepting and open-minded about alternative venues of income. Alternative communities.
What kinds of alternative communities have you participated in?
I'd say most of my friends are queer or kinky.
Do you consider yourself queer?
It's about the only label that I think I'd be comfortable adopting. I don't identify as straight. I don't identify as gay. I don't identify necessarily as bisexual, but that's sort of like the lump that I get pushed into. I actually had this conversation earlier today with someone, about how when I'm with straight friends, they consider me gay, and when I'm hanging around with lesbian friends, they call me "the straight girl."
What qualities do you find attractive in a potential date?
Androgyny. Yep. I find it not just appealing, but necessary.
What makes androgyny so important to you?
The ability to encompass the best of both genders without exemplifying either. It's sexy. Girly boys and butch ladies. I want someone who can bake me muffins and put up shelves and let me mother them. To be able to do everything across the spectrum, without feeling like I have to act like a certain example of a female because they're a certain example of a male. I like balance.
Any good hookup stories you'd like to share?
There was one incident in Paris. I picked up this Italian in a bar I was hanging out at, thinking he was some sort of Italian stallion, all hot and ready to go, but it turned out that he was a gelding. Like, not literally, but we get back to his place, with, I think, eight stories of narrow walk-up stairs. We get to the top floor and into his apartment — and he is honestly the worst lay ever. And then he has the gall to ask me, "So, in North America, do you have sex without condoms?" At that point I said something along the lines of, "I was just leaving," and left him naked there in bed at 4 o'clock in the morning. I walked down the stairs and none of the metros were open. It was the most surreal morning, walking through Paris as the sun was coming up over the church spires, and seeing the vomit of last night's partying below, and a beautiful sunrise above.
What is the most outrageous thing someone has done to get with you?
I've had people do incredibly nice things, and that's the best way to get my attention. I think that's the number-one way — be exceptionally kind.
What do you do in life?
I'm the owner of Joytoyz, which is a female-run sex shop. We do workshops and home parties, and I do sex-toy reviews on YouTube as well.
How did you get involved with the company?
I was already pretty much in this field, where I was doing the home parties for a different company. It just so happened that my fiancé is best friends with a guy who knows the previous owner. We spoke, and it turned out that it was a perfect opportunity, and here I am, basically. But before Joytoyz, I was a phone-sex operator. I did that in college, and that was a lot of fun, and it just brought me to understand a little more about sexuality. It was something that really intrigued me.
What's your average store customer like? Or is there no average?
Well, we get a lot of university students who are exploring toys for the very first time. But it's really unnerving to go to, like, a typical sex shop here in Montreal. They like the fact that we offer a space that's really quiet, and it's more one-on-one. And we really, really explain about how things work. So we get the students, and we also get a lot of couples who are coming in together. That's a lot of fun too, because you can kind of see their personalities and what one person would go towards, and sometimes I really get people to start opening up, because we do ask questions in order to fit the customer with the right toy.
Tell me more about being a phone-sex operator. What was that like?
Oh, it was a lot of fun. I would do it from home. I was an independent phone-sex operator, where I would have my own profile online, sort of like a dating profile where you have a description. So customers would go through the main web site, and there was a whole list of different operators that they could choose from. And if they came upon my profile and they liked me, my personality, they would call this 1-800 number and get in contact with me directly. That was fantastic, because I was able to talk to guys who had a lot of different fantasies that got me to explore myself as well. And when you're talking about sex all night long, it's very arousing, especially when you get a guy who has a hot voice, and is able to interact with you well. You really, really get to enjoy it and get paid at the same time.
How have your jobs in the field of sexuality influenced your personal sexuality?
I am less likely to turn things down, unless it's like, bestiality or incest. Generally I'm willing to try things at least once, and I won't shoot something down just because it sounds weird. I mean, I haven't had too many boyfriends or partners in the past who were already into kinky stuff — I was pretty much the person who brought it out of them. They start dating me, and I have this good-girl image on the outside, but in bed, I tend to be a little more wild.
Can you think of a particularly hot experience with your fiancé that you'd like to share?
Whoo! We have many. I'm not gonna go into too many details, okay? But role-play is hot. Role-play is such an amazing thing. We were about to go out to a Halloween party, and he dressed as a pirate, kind of like white shirt opening up a little bit, and just… and then I asked him to speak in his Irish accent, okay? And yeah, that's pretty hot, to hear an Irish accent from your fiancé, and he's able to… needless to say, we didn't make it to the Halloween party after all. [laughs]
Rachel, 38, and Melza, 32
How did you meet?
R: We met through a performance troupe. Well, it was a troupe of, um…
M: Let me tell.
R: Okay, you tell it your way, then I'll tell it my way.
M: So there was supposed to be this professional "performance artist" from Ireland joining our troupe, but to my surprise, she was just a Montrealer with a lot of high hopes. And, you know, I thought she had a really great energy, but I kind of steered clear, because she was a big chatter. Chattered, at me. Until I was bored out of my mind. For about a year. Then she fucked me, and I started to have a change of heart. [laughs] She was so good, and I kept coming back for more, and then she started satisfying me emotionally as well, and then there was no turning back.
R: I have a slightly different story… more romantic. I had been living in Ireland for a few years, and I had dressed up in drag, but I hadn't performed in drag. I returned to Montreal, and I was doing all these different things to try and meet women. I found it very hard to break into the queer scene. I find in Montreal in general, like, if you have a circle of friends, it's really easy, but it was hard, when I returned, to meet people, especially once you're in your thirties, because you don't go to school together or whatever. So I joined this troupe, and I saw Melza, and I could not stop looking at her. She was just sooo gorgeous, especially when she was dressed up in her femme role, with her long, curly hair all tied up. I had to, like, not look at her, because I was worried she was going to catch me staring. I would do my best to endear myself to her by telling her these outrageous stories I had of meeting Sinéad O'Connor and all this stuff — and apparently I was just boring her to tears. The more she lost interest, the more I tried to amp it up, but… yeah. Silence is good, I guess.
M: Just talk in moderation, or let the other person have a turn.
R: Yeah, we've worked on that. We've come a long way.
M: We have.
R: I'm no longer as nervous around you.
Can you tell me about one of your most memorable dates?
M: It wasn't really a date, but this was a very memorable day for us both. I wanted to see Rachel so bad that I went in the pouring rain on my bicycle along the canal just to get a glimpse of her, rowing in her boat.
R: That's when we weren't sleeping together anymore.
M: Well, we still had relations.
R: We were friends. But I said I couldn't give it to you any more.
M: I decided that I had fallen in love with you. And I didn't know what I was doing, but I was determined to go out in the middle of the torrential downpour just to glimpse your wild eyes.
R: I remember that. In rowing, you really have your head down — you just keep pumping — and it was raining so hard that the water in the boat was becoming even with the canal. Then we took a break, and I looked up, and I could see this person on a bicycle, and I was like, "What idiot would be out in this weather?" and it was Melza. You were looking at my boat, and then you saw me, and we waved, and then I had to paddle some more.
Why did you stop dating?
R: Well, because after… we had been —
M: We were never really dating.
R: We were having sex. Which was awesome.
Why did you stop having sex?
M: Because I was having sex with a bunch of other people — not a bunch. I was having sex with some other women.
R: You were trying to have sex with a lot of other women.
M: Yes. I was trying to see as much pussy as I could. And then I started seeing some local variety, and Rachel was too intimidated by that, so she decided that it wasn't what she was looking for. So she let me go.
R: Actually no, you were what I was looking for, but the relationship was not what I wanted. So after six months, I was like, "As much as I'm enjoying this, as much fun as you are, it's not going anywhere, so…" I wanted a serious relationship.
What happened to bring you back together?
R: I don't ask too many questions. [laughs]
M: I tried to get over her. I didn't put up a fight when she decided to leave what we had, but I wasn't really getting over her. And I waited for about a month, and the feelings of missing her began to intensify. So she had some dental surgery, and there was a time when she really took care of me when I was in the hospital, so when she had the surgery I had this moment of epiphany of how much I was denying my love for her, and how I wanted nothing more than to go and take care of her.
Interviews and photography by Jana van Geest. Want to talk to strangers in your town? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.