Book Excerpt: 'We Came First' by Jennifer Wright
What if you could go to Cleopatra for dating advice? Ask Frida Kahlo about maintaining your independence in a relationship? Get Marilyn Monroe's thoughts on female pleasure? We Came First (out now from Laurence King Publishing), the insightful, inspiring, and witty new book from Jennifer Wright (bestselling author and political editor-at-large for Harper’s Bazaar) imagines those interactions, and more, in a playful, "Dear Abby"-style Q&A format; we're pleased to present this excerpt, along with illustrations from the book by Carly Jean Andrews.
Cleopatra on Making the First Move
So, there’s this super sexy barista who works in a coffee shop near my apartment and he’s as hot as my 8 AM cappuccino. I want to chat him up, but I tend to be a little bit on the shy side. Should I just hope he notices me? Should I approach him? Any advice for how to heat things up?
DEAR COFFEE TALK,
Of course you should approach him. I would say do it because it’s the 21st century, but this strategy worked well for me 2000 years ago, too. When people didn’t want me to meet Julius Caesar, I had myself smuggled to him in a bedroll. As that awesome wordsmith Plutarch pointed out— “It was by this device of Cleopatra’s that Caesar was first captivated, for she showed herself to be a bold coquette.” Damn right. When I met Mark Antony for the first time, I made quite the entrance. I went to him in a barge and surrounded myself with handsome young men, dressed as cupids. The word on the street was I looked like—“a goddess in gold.” I understand that barges are hard to come by these days, but bedrolls may
be more widely available. Find what works for you. Maybe that’s wearing your fiercest outfit the next time you go into his coffee shop. Maybe it’s buying him a triple-shot espresso.
Maybe instead of your name, you give him your number. And remember that there’s no shame in making the first move, and there never was. Who makes it happen? You. You do.
I am Isis reborn; I am the living Nile.
Baby, I’m a Queen. More specifically, I was the Queen of Egypt from 51–30 BCE and such was my allure and intellect that I rocked it! I’ve always been into men who can match me—I’ve had affairs with Julius Caesar and his second-in command, Mark Antony. If you think you’re on my level, I’m open to being the more beautiful half of our power couple.
Friends, Romans, countrymen
Frida Kahlo on Having Your Own Space
I love my husband—but I don’t love living with my husband. He’s a slob. I’m very neat. He leaves everything out, and I spend my time cleaning up, because the mess will drive me insane otherwise. We fight constantly these days. This was never a problem when we both had our own separate spaces. I dread turning into someone who nags him all the time. Do you think it’s possible to be close with someone and also have your own space?
Absolutely. I dearly loved my husband, Diego Rivera, but we had a very contentious relationship. We even divorced before remarrying the following year. I’m inclined to think our antagonism was all because of Diego’s numerous affairs and not, as your problem seems to be, sloppiness, but I suppose multiple factors could have been at play. We worked best when we could be close, but not on top of each other. Our architect correctly deduced that I should live alone. But not too alone. That meant the construction of our twin houses in Mexico City, right next to each other. I had a blue one and Diego had a white one. They were joined by a rooftop bridge that led from my studio to his. We could visit one another when we wanted to, and flee one another when we wanted to. Sometimes space is the best thing for a relationship, and for your soul. Find ways to be alone but not lonely.
“You deserve a lover who takes away the lies and brings you hope, coffee and poetry.” As an artist, I deal more with reality than hope, but I can definitely bring coffee.
Flowers, jungles, freedom
Cages, repression, Parisian Intellectuals
Lucy Hicks Anderson on fighting for your rights
I’m transgender, and I live in a country where marriage to my partner isn’t legal. For many people, my very existence is seen as an abomination, and there are still plenty of policies that discriminate against the transgender community. Many people who encounter me don’t know that I’m transgender. I want to speak out about who I am, but I’m afraid it will make life for me and my family more difficult.
In my day, being known as a trans woman made life very much more difficult. I’m still proud to be who I am. I was born biologically male, but that did not align with who I was on the inside. I had wished to be known as a girl since my school days, and I was fortunate to have a physician who suggested my mother raise me as female. I went on to live, dress, and act as what I am, a woman. And I lived like a fabulous woman.I ran a brothel and speakeasy all through the 1920s, patronized by the town’s fanciest folk, and I was a well-liked hostess in my community. It was only after I married in 1944 that my problems began—I was tried for perjury because I’d “claimed” to be a woman when I got married. I went to court and stood up for our right as a couple to be married. I told reporters, “I defy any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman.” But I didn’t succeed and was convicted of perjury. The important thing is that I fought against discrimination. Ultimately, we moved to Los Angeles, where we lived peacefully until my death in 1954. Never give up fighting for love and your right to happiness. Say who you are with pride, and in memory of those who came before you.
A 1950s transgender activist and all-round fabulous lady, I’m all the woman you can handle, and braver than any man you know.
Liberty and justice for all
People who do not believe in liberty and justice for all
Excerpted from “We Came First: Relationship Advice from Women Who Have Been There” by Jennifer Wright. Copyright © 2019 by Jennifer Wright. Excerpted by permission of Laurence King Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.