The Pirate Lesbian

by Jim Ross

After I deposit my fare in the slot and the Sherbrooke bus takes off, I lift my backpack off my shoulders and step gingerly, as if on ship’s deck in rough seas, toward the first available seat.  After I slide my backpack beneath the seat, the bus jolts, throwing me off balance. With my left hand, I grab the pole to my right and launch into a spin. Unsure where I’ll land, I fully extend my right arm and twist my wrist so my hand can cushion a fall.  That works: my hand takes hold of a curved object and I safely find my seat. I take a deep breath. 

The curved object is the shoulder of the woman in the seat catty corner to mine.  

Is she hurt? Am I in trouble?  

“I’m really sorry,” I say, appalled that I’ve struck the stranger. 

“That’s fine,” she shrugs, dismissing my apology with a flick of her wrist.  “We rarely get whirling dervishes around here.”

“It’s the only way I get to dance anymore,” I say, relieved.

“You feel a little chilly?” she asks.

“Yes, as a matter of fact.”

  “You see those little windows across the aisle at the top?” she asks, pointing.  “They’ve replaced the last of them on the 24s.  Now none of them have windows that can open.”

“I like windows,” I say.  I think about adding, in jest I think, “What else could you jump out of if you got desperate?” but repress the thought. After all, we just met.

  “Same here,” she says, “but they had to replace them so they could air condition the 24s.”

  “I’m not a fan of air conditioning.” 

“Me neither.” 

.   The scarf she’s wearing around her hair is predominantly blue, but what draws my eye are the dozens of little red skull-and-cross-bones. She looks like a pirate.   

“You from here?” I ask.

“I’m from Manotick, south of Ottawa. I came to Montreal for college, stuck around, had three boys here, moved back home for a long haul.  Now I’ve been back for seven years. It suits me.  I get a meetup email every day suggesting five things to do for five dollars or less.”

“I get those emails too.  Lately, they’ve all said, ‘resist.’”

“The resistance—it’s gotten pervasive.”  

  “What’d you study?” I ask.

“Psychology with an emphasis on neuroscience and gender.”

  A three-year-old standing in the aisle starts tugging away from his mother’s sure grip.  My conversationalist encourages the child, “Jump, jump, jump.” The child retreats to his mother’s side.  

“I’ve got an almost-three-year-old grandson who does standing broad jumps over three feet.  And he does deep knee bends while flexing his arms and saying ‘flex’ every time.”

“He probably saw it on TV,” she says. “When he gets older, they’ve got great programs in circus arts at the university. I did all of that.  Seven years of ballet too.  I don’t do any of it now that I’m older.” 

In her extra-large t-shirt, she doesn’t look like the typical trapeze artist or ballet dancer, but it’s hard to tell what lies beneath, and bodies change over time—I should know!    

“You’re not older,” I counter.

“I sure am. I’m 43.”  Life’s ridden her hard, but she probably asked for more.  

“Like I said, you’re not older.  What’s your art now?”

She half-turns her body to me.  “I do sculptures, mostly heads.” 

“What’s your medium, stone, clay, or what?”

  “Clay is too finicky,” she says, demonstrating chaos by sending her hands out in every direction. “I mostly use polymers. Easier to work with.”

“I once watched a nun carving a stone head for several hours.  The stone was really patient with her.  I’ll sculpt stone in my next lifetime.”

   “Stone is beyond me,” she says. “Never really gave it a try.”

My eye keeps returning to her skull-and-crossbones scarf.  

“You really a pirate?” I ask.

“My boys call me ‘the pirate lesbian.’  I’m not really a lesbian, though. I’m bi.  I have to wear this because my hair’s gotten awful.” She spreads her fingers from her head in a Medusa gesture. 

“I haven’t had a good hair day in 20 years,” I say.

   “But my hair truly has gotten awful,” she says, almost yelling the word “awful.”

“Be happy you’ve got hair. Look what’s left of mine,” I say, lifting my skull cap.  

She throws her head back in a laugh, then nods.  “I’ve still got awful hair.”

   “Getting back to the pirate lesbian, but really the pirate bi,” I say, “it’s incredible the transformations that have occurred in public attitudes and perceptions about sexual orientation but even more so about gender identity.”

“They taught us decades ago in gender studies that gender identity is fluid. It’s not new.  They’ve known that.”

“But it’s only in recent years entered the public domain,” I say.

“Still, all along, people have been having the experience of identifying with another gender or of shuttling between genders,” she says. 

“But they weren’t enabled to be conscious of it,” I say.

  “Exactly, they weren’t allowed to become conscious of being cross-gendered or gender fluid.  They were told their experience was invalid and to tuck it under and deny it.”

“And now lots of college students take it for granted, that gender is fluid,” I say. “The equation has changed.”

“I knew the equation.  I could’ve told them,” she says. “Back to your grandson, they have really great programs at the Y in gymnastics and tumbling for kids his age.  It would be a shame if he didn’t have experiences that allow him to become who he naturally is.”

“I love the Y,” I say. “I’ll look into that.”

  “I’m Stacey, by the way.  Here, Stacey can be a man’s name too.”  

“Like Lynn, or Sam, or Val,” I say.

“Exactly. You get the feeling we’ve met before?” 

About the Author

Jim Ross jumped into creative pursuits in 2015 after retiring from public health research. He's since published nonfiction, poetry, and photography in over 100 journals and anthologies in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Publications include Barren, Columbia Journal, Ilanot Review, Lunch Ticket, Kestrel, The Atlantic, The Manchester Review. Forthcoming: Granta, Roanoke Review, Typehouse. In the past year, he wrote and acted in his first play; and, a nonfiction piece led to a role in a soon-to-be-released, high-profile documentary limited series. Jim and his wife—parents of two health professionals and grandparents of five preschoolers—split their time between the city and the mountains.