Finding the courage to strike up a conversation with strangers is a daunting experience for some, but for Val Wilkins, it’s something that comes naturally.
The former psychotherapist and proud flirt is preparing for the annual BOLDFest conference in Vancouver, where long-time attendees have dubbed her the “Flirting Coach.” This year, Wilkins will again live up to the title by running her workshop called Flirting for Fun, to help attendees open up and embrace their inner flirt.
BOLDFest has been drawing mostly older lesbians and dykes from across Canada and even parts of the US together since 2005, to share, learn, laugh, network, and have some fun.
While Wilkins acknowledges that a flirting workshop can seem “somewhat frivolous” to some women, she says learning to embrace a little flirty fun can be beneficial, especially for people with difficult or traumatic experiences around their sexuality. “I’ve always believed it’s so important to do our healing and to celebrate that part of ourselves,” she says.
“As lesbians and queers, that can be a challenging part of our lives and so, in one little way, by bringing flirting to BOLDFest we’re like, ‘hey, we have interesting things to talk about but let’s not forget our sexuality and having fun with that,’” she says.
So, do young and old queer women flirt differently?
“I don’t honestly know,” Wilkins says, laughing. “I know a whole lot more about flirting in my age group.” Like most of the events at BOLDFest, Wilkins’ workshop tends to attract a crowd of people in their 50s or more, with some folks in their 80s.
At the end of the Flirting For Fun workshop, when “the good vibes are flowing [and] the women are excited,” Wilkins gives attendees some homework: “to flirt with at least three people during the rest of the conference.”
It’s to break the ice and work on the art of flirting, she says, “for those of you who are really shy — if you’re having trouble. I’m included in that.”
She says she can offer a safe practice run too.
“I’m a safe person,” she says. “I’ll flirt with you. It’s all good. If you want to practise, I’ll do that. It sets a tone for the rest of the weekend,” she adds. “Like giving permission: Okay, you can flirt, this is fun, go out there and flirt.”
The workshop isn’t just for single women and beginners; couples are welcome, as are folks who are already great flirts.
It’s important to remind ourselves that “sexuality is still alive and well” for older lesbians, Wilkins says, “and we want to celebrate that part of our lives. Flirting is just this tiny little part of that but it’s usually the beginning of something more.”
As for techniques to suggest, Wilkins has got a few exercises to get people started in her workshop.
“Facial expressions are an extremely important part of flirting,” she notes. “It really isn’t what you say, it’s how you say it that makes it flirty . . . just be interested and say something that you like about that person. Show appreciation, because I think that’s all flirting really is, it’s a message that says I appreciate you, I like what I see, I’d like to know you better.”
How about a little eyebrow wiggle?
“Yeah! And you know the voice just shifts a little bit, you slow down your voice, you might lower it a little bit because, you know, higher pitched sounds aren’t that sexy.”
Any final tips for flirty queers?
“Add in leaning forward and touching their arm, and, of course, remembering to always smile.”
Other workshop leaders at BOLDFest 2017 include barbara findlay, Heather Bishop, and Claire Robson, and sessions include a look at getting your writing into print; immigrating to Canada from the US; polyamory and other relationships; evolving LGBT language; and as per BOLDFest tradition, an intergenerational dialogue. There’s even a Zumba workshop — the perfect place to try out your new flirting skills!