Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.
Are you from Montreal?
Rosemère. I spent seven years in the States as well.
How is dating in the States, compared to dating here?
It is much more formal. It is dating. Here, it's kind of implied, when you have sex with someone.
Do you mean that there's more of a focus on courting, there?
Yeah, definitely — which is odd, to me. It surprised me. People here — they're open about sex, and they see other people. It's not, like, dating.
Do you think Montrealers are less willing to commit?
Oh, definitely. Marriage is big out there.
What does sexy mean to you?
Intellectual. The intellect, and humour, and geekiness, is what I'm looking for. I really don't have a scale or a survey that I use. It really has to do with the connection. Sometimes, you just see someone, and you imagine how they have sex. Like, "Oh, I wonder how that person has sex," and if it would be sexy to you.
What do you do to get someone's attention, if you're interested in them?
My techniques are not sexy techniques. They're kind of like, just me acting completely ridiculous and doing the Gretzky slide. My techniques, guys don't see them as flirting. They're just like, "Yeah, that girl is pretty cool and funny, and she's probably not interested in me." And then I'm like, "What? I was doing the Gretzky slide for five minutes! That means I'm really serious!"
Can you explain to our primarily American audience what the Gretzky slide is?
It's when you score a goal, and then you just slide on the ice and pump your fists like this [pumps fists]. I've done that many times in bars, in high heels.
So you do it at guys you're interested in? You just go up in their face and…
[laughs] No, they'll say something funny, or I'll say something funny, or we'll discuss something and we'll find that we have common interests that are not normal, and I'll Gretzky slide. I'll be like, "Yes!"
Have you ever done that in the bedroom? You know, after a particularly good session?
I'm sure I have. I wouldn't let the opportunity pass me. I'd go, "That was awesome!" and slide on the floor.
What do you wear when you want to feel sexy?
Lingerie underneath makes you feel sexy, even though guys really don't care. Guys are just like, "Let's get it over with, let's get it off." But to me, it's important, whether they see it or not. You know it's under there. It makes you feel sexy.
I love those, but they're not practical if you're going to do the Gretzky slide. You have to think ahead about these things. I like full panties with a nice cut.
I really like full panties that are sheer, so that you can see through them.
Yes, that is nice. I don't have enough of those. But I can't wear those, knowing that. I get turned on. I tried, once, not wearing underwear. I got turned on. I was on the bus, and I had to put on underwear. I didn't even make it to the venue.
You put on underwear on the bus? How did you do that?
I can get dressed and undressed with no one knowing. Being involved in wrestling, and being in the locker rooms with guys, you've got to find ways. You're just like, "Ta-da!"
You were a wrestler?
Yeah, I trained for wrestling for a long time.
Did that get you many dates?
It got me admiration, and people who wanted to fuck me, definitely.
So we've established that the Gretzky slide is an important part of your dating procedure. Does that mean that your ideal date would include a hockey game?
Oh yeah, definitely. Because obviously I will be talking about Lanny McDonald, as well. That's definitely something you need to know. His mustache traumatized me from early youth.
So you don't like guys with mustaches?
Yeah, I do, but we used to have this joke, me and my cousins, because we used to collect those hockey stickers, and we used to joke that they would put a Lanny McDonald one in every goddamn pack, as though it was a joke at the hockey card place. They were like, "Ha!" so that we would be like, "Fucking Christ, Lanny McDonald again!" But now I wish that I had kept all of them and made some sort of art.
That would be ideal. It would be so hot if someone came home with you and saw your Lanny collage.
Yeah! I bet they'd be like, "Lanny McDonald? Let's get married!"
If you went over to somebody's house and saw that they had a Lanny collage, would that mean that they were your soulmate?
Were you born and raised in Montreal?
Yeah. I was born in the South Shore, and then two months later moved to Montreal. I lived for a month in the States for a fencing thing, and I've spent a lot of time moving around, but I've lived in Montreal my whole life.
Fencing is one of your hobbies?
Yeah. Well, I had actually fenced for twenty years. So last year, or a year and a half ago, it ended. It was time for new things, to grow.
Did you compete internationally?
Yeah, in World Cups, North American Cups. I've fenced in England, Cuba, Mexico — places like that. I have friends who have traveled way more than that for tournaments, but I've been lucky enough that I was able to travel a fair bit.
Are there many women involved in fencing?
Oh, yeah, there are a lot of women! Obviously men and women aren't allowed to compete against each other, but we often assist at the same tournaments, the same weekends.
Did you ever hook up with any ladies through that?
Yeah. Because you spend so much time doing something, obviously a lot of the people that you meet are in that, so I definitely did date some women who fenced. I hooked up with a couple of friends in the States. It's no different from school. You bump into the same people again and again.
What are the advantages of dating someone who fences?
Travel. You get to travel together, often to the same tournaments. It's just like a little social club that travels around the world.
Do fencers have any physical attributes that would be advantageous to dating?
Oh, their legs, their butts. [laughs] Definitely, definitely. When I was about nineteen, I had seen the Hungarian women's team fencing, and, uh… yeah, I was very happy. Very attractive women, but more than that — I mean, just beautiful, solid bodies. Like any sport, things develop in different areas, but fencing is all about the legs and the… backside.
Are those important features for you now? Did that make a permanent impression on you?
Absolutely. I'm not entirely sure if it's specifically because of fencing, but I've always liked a, you know, fairly meaty leg. You know, nice and strong. But I remember, when I was about twelve or thirteen, Salt-n-Pepa was on TV, in those bike shorts. I forget what song it was, but all their little bicycle shorts kind of appealed to me.
Is that the one where they're checking out guys on the beach?
It might have been.
I fucking love that video so much.
I'll tell you, it was a bit of an epiphany for me, because I was so young, going, "I really like this! I love it!"
Has anyone ever tried to use a bad pickup line on you?
You know, I can't be certain if this was a pickup line, or if it was just someone genuinely trying to meet me, but a deaf girl once wrote on a paper, "Would you like to be my friend?" and slipped it to me while I was waiting at a subway station.
And did you want to be her friend?
Yeah, I mean, we spoke a little bit. I was young, and she was young, and things drifted apart. But without having to call it necessarily a pickup line, or cheesy, it was unique.
What do you do in life?
I am a producer — I produce the Montreal Burlesque Festival, I produce the Grand Burlesque Show, and I'm also a burlesque performer.
Does that ever get you dates?
Well, I'm married. But I'm sure I would get some dates, if not. I think I would be able to pull that off.
Did you meet your husband through burlesque?
Not at all. I met him when I was a manager in a restaurant, and he was a customer there — and he courted me for about a year. After about a year of, you know, schmoozing and sweet words, one day he stole a kiss from me, and that was it.
Why did it take him a year to woo you?
Because even though I take off my clothes really easily, I am very hard to catch. [laughs]
Would you describe yourself as old-fashioned when it comes to relationships?
No, not really. It's just that I like the courtship. I like the foreplay. I think we're missing that nowadays.
What qualities do you think are most important in a man?
In general, I like a man to be sophisticated. I like a man who has lots of different interests — you know, not only sports, but maybe arts. A little bit about fashion, a little bit about everything. One who's interested about what's happening in the world, out there. To be open-minded, as well… especially with what I do, you have to be open-minded, and you have to love the arts, and you have to appreciate traveling and meeting new people.
Were you doing burlesque before you met your husband?
I was already married when I started doing burlesque. I've never been involved with anyone else but my husband since then, so I don't know how other men would react. It was a tough pill to swallow for my husband when I started, because we didn't know where it would go. But I'm very professional, and I'm a very driven woman. I like to work really hard to take something and make it bigger and grow. I enjoy the process. So it wasn't only, "Oh, I'm going to get on stage and I'm going to get naked." There's so much more to it than that, and my husband really got involved himself, and gave me a hand, and supported me while I was doing that. If I disrespect him, I disrespect myself. If I make him look like a fool, I'm going to look like an awful person in front of everybody, too, so why would I do that?
How does your involvement in burlesque influence your sexuality?
I don't think it does, much. I grew up in France, and we go to the beach topless, so for me, I don't even think about it — it's normal. Burlesque has always been a reflection of what I already am. But I can understand that for some people, you get to know your body, what part you like most about your body and how to bring it forward, and how to play with it, and how to present it to people. And that can bring confidence in the bedroom. But in my case, I was already comfortable. In France, it's okay — we're really forward with sex and we talk about it all the time.
So you think your performing is a natural extension of your personality?
Absolutely. It's not a character — it's really who I am. I'm not pretending to be somebody else when I step on stage. It's me. Emphasized, a little more extravagant. But it's the same person.
What do you do for a living?
I get a pension from the government auto-insurance agency here, from a car accident I had ten years ago. I was a bike messenger.
Is that how you —
Yeah, I got hit by a taxi driver and broke my neck in the accident. From there, I was a quadriplegic pretty much instantly.
Clearly, you must have had to make a lot of huge adjustments to your lifestyle.
Yeah, the rehabilitation took about two years of being in readaptation centers. Depending on what your situation is, whether they adapt your house or you find an accessible apartment, you have to learn to live by yourself or with whatever support network you can scrounge up. It's a long process.
How has being a quadriplegic changed sex for you?
Oh, it's changed things enormously. [laughs] I'm paralyzed. I mean, I don't feel my penis. So, you know, it works — but in terms of ejaculation, or just like the standard male-female physical sex act, it's completely… it's different. It's not that you can't still be romantic with somebody, it's just, like, the whole core thing of a man and a woman, with the erect penis — ejaculating, boom, finished, done — it doesn't happen that way anymore, so you have to find other ways to satisfy your partner.
Have you been reasonably successful at finding ways to be sexual?
Well, I mean, I'm still learning. I've ejaculated twice in ten years, and that was under research experiments, so it's not an easy task. But in terms of the romantic side, you just kind of focus less on the sexuality and more on the sensuality. I've found that women don't really have much of a problem with that. [laughs] Yeah, it's not a perfect situation, but it is what it is.
Have you derived any unexpected benefits from the situation?
Yeah, in terms of being a more sensual person when it comes to being in a relationship with somebody. Girls are usually quite pleasantly surprised. It's good. It still makes me feel like a man, just in a different way.
How do you generally meet women?
Through all sorts of ways. I've met women through my friends. I met my girlfriend through the internet. I was doing a project last year, an accessibility project in Montreal, and she had just come across that randomly on the internet and sent me a message, and we started Skyping, one thing led to another, and now we're in a relationship. This is the second time she's come to visit me from Germany, and we Skype every day, and we have a good relationship. We're working on being together, slowly. At the same time — it's not that I haven't had any relationships in the past few years, but I… you just have problems letting your walls down, and opening up. But I mean, everybody has those kind of problems, just mine are more — well, I wouldn't say more exaggerated or more pronounced, because everybody's got their own hang-ups to live with through relationships. Now, it's going quite well. I'm learning how to lower those barriers and evolve into a healthy relationship. It's nice.
What qualities are most important to you in a woman?
You know, just somebody I can be comfortable with. I mean, I have two children from a previous relationship before my accident, and we were in a typical, comfortable relationship with two little kids, and after a few years, it sort of gets a little bit boring in the bedroom, but that's the way things go when you have babies. Sex is kind of the last thing on the list. And then suddenly I had my accident, which basically turned me upside down, and it also turned her life upside down. And she just found it really hard to deal with, and I wasn't going to force her to be miserable through this whole thing, you know, when it's just my burden to live with. I mean, if I'm just learning how to accept it myself, how am I going to put that on somebody else? And it's also, too, one the reasons why I've kept people at a distance over the past years. Like I said, it's a process of learning how to bring those barriers down.
So the accident caused the dissolution of the relationship that you were in at the time?
Yeah, pretty much. Because she was left with two young children at home, and me in the hospital, and a full-time job and everything. It's tough. It's not easy to do.
Are you from Montreal?
No, I live in Ottawa right now. I'm the e-communications officer for Oxfam Canada.
Has that ever gotten you any dates?
No, not at all. No one really knows what Oxfam is.
So if you whip that out at a party, it doesn't get you anywhere?
No, people think that it means I run Twitter or something. They say, "Is that, like, Twitter?" And I just say yes.
So what do you do to impress potential dates?
I think… I pick fights. I like arguing as flirting. I wrote speeches for Jack Layton during the 2008 federal election, and people like to hear about that.
That is interesting. Did you ever date anyone you met through that job?
No, but I had a lot of crushes. You work fifteen hours a day for thirty-seven days in a row, and basically you have to have a crush on somebody to brighten up your job.
What do you find attractive in a potential partner?
I like beards, and I like people who are funny, and sincere, and skeptical, in equal measure.
Do you have any dating dealbreakers?
I will never sleep with someone who's anti-choice, or votes conservative. I sleep with people who don't vote at all, but I find that… not ideal.
Have you ever been offended in the bedroom?
One time I was making out with this guy, and I said, "So what do you think about when you think about doing it?" And he said, "Oh, do you mean with you?" And I said, "Sure. Let's start there." That was a little bit offensive.
Did he understand that it was offensive?
Yeah, he looked like he wanted to die.
So did that kill the mood?
No, there was enough flattering, backpedalling and explaining that we managed to push through it.
Have you ever offended anyone in a similar way?
I've definitely said the wrong name. I think that's the worst that I've done.
How did you recover from that?
Um… I married that guy, mostly to reassure him. But it didn't go very well, as a marriage. I don't recommend that approach — I think that's an extreme thing to do.
How long did that marriage last?
About a year.
How did your upbringing influence your views on sexuality?
I think that my boundaries weren't really respected when I was a kid, and I think that made me pretty diligent about making sure that everybody was always on board with everything that was happening, all the time. I think that people often think that they're being really clear, but they're not. So I don't leave anything unsaid, even if it's not super-hot. I think that most quality people will have a pretty frank discussion beforehand about, "Here are my triggers, here's a word I don't want to hear, here's a thing that will make me uncomfortable if you do… but here's a bunch of amazing stuff we can do. Let's do that.
There are too many people who are afraid to say unsexy things in the bedroom.
I mean, it's way less sexy to burst into tears than it is to be like, "Okay, before we do this, here's what I'm comfortable and not comfortable with."
Better to make things awkward for a minute or two than to have to call the whole thing off.
Tell me, what do you do for a living?
I work for a theater company as a scenic carpenter.
Does that ever get you dates?
No, considering that I generally work with a bunch of other guys — no. And thankfully so.
But do girls ever find it hot that you're a carpenter?
Uh… yeah, some of them do. My girlfriend thinks it's kind of attractive. We've managed to work out the relationship so that she's the brains and I'm the brawn. So she has great ideas, and I execute them.
Are you happy with that arrangement?
What else do you do to maintain a happy and equitable relationship?
I just try to be myself. I act as natural as I can around the person I'm with, because if that person doesn't like who I am and what I do, and how I enjoy being happy, then she's probably not somebody I want to spend a lot of time with.
What do you do to make her feel good?
Constant attention. Lots of back rubs and foot rubs. I'm her sounding board, and I'm the one that she can tell anything to, and I'll listen. I basically treat her as the center of my universe, and that seems to work well.
How long have you two been dating?
Can you tell me a story about one of your previous relationships?
I have a story about a girl that I saw for about four years. We lived together for a year in Nova Scotia, and decided that it would be a great idea to move out West. So we packed up everything we owned and put it in storage, and then basically took the equivalent of a suitcase from one end of the country to the other. And when we got out there, for various reasons, we ended up parting ways. It was one of those on-again, off-again breakups, because we knew only each other, and we were in a new place. So we would be separate, and then we'd end up getting back together, and kind of starting the very negative, destructive relationship up again, and separating, and going through that whole vicious cycle. There were awful things involved — you know, drugs, homelessness, fights in the middle of the street at three a.m., screaming at each other. We were both going through a very self-destructive time, and we took it out on each other.
Were you homeless, or was she? Or was it both of you?
We ended up both being at a loss for a place to live — me more than her. I kind of made sure that she was set up with a place to live, and then I left, because I didn't want to be in that situation any more. I didn't know where to go, and I ended up sleeping on the beach in Vancouver a lot, and crashing on kitchen floors, you know, when somebody would give me a place… yeah. So it was a very, extremely negative time, and when I came back to the East, I suddenly ran into this person who was, like, one of the most radiant people I've ever met — never mind the fact that she was a gorgeous, intelligent woman. It was kind of amazing to go from an abysmal, bad place to being happier than I ever thought I could be.
What do you think made it possible to go from being in the worst relationship of your life to the best relationship of your life?
I knew exactly what not to do. I knew exactly where I didn't want to go. Somebody said to me once, "Every time you fall in love with somebody, it's better." That has some truth to it, because as you go through relationship after relationship, you learn things. I'd just been schooled. By that, I mean I'd gone through the absolute worst relationship of my life, and knew exactly what kind of person I wanted to be with, and what I wanted to be like around that person. And I knew what I needed to do in order to make that person happy, and to make me happy.
Do you think that there's one person out there for everyone?
I mean, this girl that I was in this horrible relationship with, it started off being absolutely great, you know? And she was a really cool person, and I thought she was the one, but that turned out to not be the case. In a lot of ways, you make your own reality. The world is a totally flexible place, and you can make it into whatever you want it to be. You can make it a bad place, or you can make it a beautiful place. I think there's something similar with people. I don't think there's any one person who's the perfect "one" for every person. I think that you find somebody who makes you happy, and who's good, and there's a bit of give and take, where as long as it's somebody who's willing to build a certain reality with you, then things will be all right.
Interviews and photography by Jana van Geest. Want to talk to strangers in your town? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.