Where I come from, there is a place downtown where some people who are homeless have amorous encounters. To be more specific, where I come from there is a hilltop park enshrouded with trees where the heather is soft and people without beds go to get it on.
Montreal, however, has very few parks like this. As a result, the homeless sex culture is, perhaps, a little less romantically framed.
Meet Velma*, a homeless woman I see almost daily downtown. We spoke recently while sitting on the gritty concrete of a lower-level patio on Sherbrooke.
Velma has been homeless for two years. She is originally from Regina, Saskatchewan, but hitchhiked to Montreal because she’d heard it was easier to make a living on the streets here.
Velma told me she has yet to find a niche. She never feels safe when she’s alone, and when she’s with a group of people (usually men), she feels worse. So there isn’t ever a place she really wants to be. Sometimes there are young couples that move around together and she likes them, but when she’s with them she also feels like an outsider, like she’s getting in their way. She says she’d like to have a dog, but sometimes people out here do bad things to dogs, and she doesn’t want that.
Basically, Velma hasn’t had consensual sex since she began living on the streets. She wanders from group to group of other homeless people, but has yet to really feel secure with any of them. She’s battling alcoholism, and one of the problems with living in a group of pretty consistently horny men is that when she does slip up they see her as open for group sex. Velma doesn’t want to categorize it as rape, because in the encounters she has remembered she doesn’t exactly feel compelled to stop it. She simply wants to feel like she has found a place, and when she’s drunk, sex seems like a natural communion. Except it always leaves her feeling more removed than before, and so she moves on to someplace else.
She believes she was in love a couple of times, but has also heard that you know when you’re in love, so maybe she wasn’t. She also says that it’s hard to cuddle with someone when you’re sleeping on pavement and boxes. When there aren’t walls for privacy it’s even harder to feel like you’re alone, and that the rest of the world doesn’t matter.
Plus, she’s a bit limited in the kinds of men she meets, and says that there aren’t enough women out there to consider lesbianism, though she has thought about it.
Before she became homeless, Velma worried about finding a “someone.” Even now that she is faced with more immediate concerns, she still thinks about it as much, if not more. She says that sex is a basic human need and that the lack of intimacy might be the bleakest part of her life right now. She has a hard time deciding what she misses most about the way her relationships used to be. She eventually decides that maybe it is kisses on the cheek.
Our interview was cut short when a group of men she called “acquaintances” came down the stairs with some 40s of beer. They stood awkwardly in front of us while I said goodbye to Velma and then parted politely for me to leave.
When she was little, Velma had wanted to marry a mailman. She now thinks that she’d settle for something a little less traditional, like a sugar daddy.
*names have been changed
All That Naked Business is a new column on sex, which will be run every other week. Emery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.