Gentleman Jack’s Guide to Flirting With Ladies of Fortune

I’ll never forget the first TV show that tried to show me how lesbians flirt. It was The L Word; I was 19, closeted, and renting the DVDs from Blockbuster Video, sandwiching them between romantic comedies so the checkout guy wouldn’t be creepy. The moment that stuck with me, the first lesbian I truly remember watching flirt on my little RCA TV, was Shane McCutcheon, sidling up to Lara Perkins and asking her if she had “any of those sweet little figs.”

It didn’t work on Lara, it didn’t work on me, and it would be nearly fifteen years before I would finally take notice of a lesbian who knows how to flirt well on television.

That lesbian is Anne Lister.

Anne Lister, looking to us and raising her eyebrows

HBO’s Gentleman Jack is adapted from the diaries of Anne Lister herself, and if you haven’t started watching yet, you should probably do so immediately. The first time I watched Suranne Jones strut across my TV screen as Anne, I gasped audibly just seeing the way she walked. We don’t get to see butch women on TV every day! Especially not lesbians as, well, experienced as Anne. She’s a woman who knows what she’s about, and that is never more clear than when she first sets eyes upon the woman she will soon court as a companion, a young Miss Walker, whose first name is also Ann.

Anne Lister speaking passionately to Ann Walker, as the both of them are seated close to each other on a sofa

“I dissected a baby once.”

From the minute they meet, Anne Lister’s agenda is clear — not only because she tells us as much, with entries in her diary and knowing glances toward the audience — but because she’s just so good at what they used to call “making love.” By the second time the two women meet, Anne is pulling out all the stops, dazzling Miss Walker on what is, essentially, a fantastic first date — without the younger woman even realizing what’s happened. And just when Anne hits the point of no return, she reels it back in, leaving her dear friend always wanting more, until Miss Walker is positively in over her head, and crying each time Anne goes away.

How does she do it? How, in a time when queer women so often had to live beneath the radar, did she succeed so dazzlingly with Miss Walker and all of the women before her?


Step 1: Cultivate a larger-than-life persona

Anne Lister, back to us, looking over Shibden Hall

Anne’s reputation precedes her — especially in her hometown of Halifax. Her passions and quirks have made her such a celebrity that when Miss Walker comes to stay nearby with her cousins, their first thought is to introduce her to Anne, as she “might be a friend to her.” A friend indeed!

Step 2: Light up like the sun when the young heiress comes to visit

Anne Lister beaming upon Ann Walker as she sees her for the first time since they were much younger

“Miss Walker!”

From the moment Anne turns her attention to Miss Walker, her face lights up, truly for the first time since she’s come home. From that moment on, as Anne moves about the room, Miss Walker’s face follows her like sunflowers.

Step 3: Maintain eye contact and casually touch extremities while saying the word “sex” aloud

Anne Lister maintaining eye contact with Miss Walker as she says the word 'sex' in front of their families

“I’ve been excluded from the franchise, BY MY SEX.”

I’m pretty sure this is the 19th century version of a lesbian Jedi mind trick, and it’s amazing. Anne Lister’s Meaningful Eye Contact game is truly next level, throughout the series.

Step 4: Lean in — way in

Anne Lister perched on the arm of Miss Walker's seat

Once Ann Walker enters a room, Anne Lister never breaks orbit, keeping close enough to the other woman that I found myself wondering what personal hygiene was like in Halifax in the 19th century.

Step 5: Share your passions with genuine, infectious enthusiasm

Anne Lister making a face as she talks about how great babies are

I went to Paris to study anatomy.

Anne Lister has a passion for dissection. There may be no topic more difficult from which to segue into flirting than the dissection of the human body, and yet! Anne Lister somehow moves from corpses, to the miracle of life, to the beauty of art and music and love, and she does it very nearly effortlessly.

Step 6: Show a true interest in the lady and her talents

Anne and Ann look over paintings Ann has done

“Perhaps one day, you could paint me.”

Complimenting a lady’s art is an excellent opportunity for intimacy; as she suggests a future in which Miss Walker will have to stare at her for hours, circumstances require her to hover so close that Miss Walker can surely smell the lingering vapors of mercury from her top-hat.

Step 7: Teach the lady about pockets

“Of course it’s true, it’s Paris!”

Anne explains to Miss Walker that pockets are put into men’s pants in Paris so that they may pleasure themselves, which… is that true? I just want somewhere to keep my locks of hair.

Step 8: Tell the lady you want to kiss her

Miss Walker's face as Anne Lister tells her she wants to kiss her "every time I come here"

“What do you mean?”

Step 9: Tell the lady that surely she knows what you mean

Anne Lister touches a thumb to Anne Walker's mouth and says,

“Surely you know what I mean. I think you’re a little bit in love with me.”

Step 10: Come Back Again Tomorrow

“I’ll come back again tomorrow.”

Always good to give a lady time to get used to the idea!

Step 11: Plan a trip abroad

Anne Lister and Ann Walker walking in the woods

“If — I mean, when we go to Switzerland”

Plan a whole future together, as dearest friends. Why not? You’ve nearly kissed, once! You’ve spent a handful of hours together! It’s time to book passage on a ship!

Step 12: Take the lady to a cabin in the woods, where she can tell you she’s not afraid of kissing

Anne Lister kissing Miss Walker's hand in the Snow White fuck cabin

“It doesn’t frighten me.”

Anne thoughtfully closes the shutters before their first kiss, which is gorgeously, elaborately slow.

Step 13: Propose to the lady

Anne Lister proposing to Ann Walker

“It would be like a marriage — quite as good, or better!”

If we hadn’t known that this situation was extremely gay already, confirmation certainly comes when Anne Lister all but gets down on one knee and proposes a lifelong partnership! Harold! They’re lesbians!

Step 14: Go upstairs

Anne Walker and Ann Lister in bed

“Shall we go upstairs?”

Reader, THEY WENT UPSTAIRS!


So there you have it — our heroines go from meeting to contemplating virtual marriage in the course of just three episodes. Anne Lister is a lesbian who knows what she’s about, and personally, I’d take her over Shane and those “sweet little figs” any day of the week.

Queer Girl is your number one fan. She's a fat feminist from California who doodles hearts in the corners of her Gay Agenda. She's working on a children's book, she's on Twitter, and she thinks you should drink more water! She also wants to make you laugh.

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