Better Than Chocolate: A Lesbian Happily Ever After

Better Than Chocolate is a Canadian romantic comedy directed by Anne Wheeler. Released in 1999, the film was, and continues to be, ahead of the curve in its depictions of lesbian love, life, and community. The film follows the life of Maggie, a recent college dropout who works at a lesbian bookstore, Ten Percent Books, where she lives until she is forced to get a real apartment when her mom and brother move in with her. She also works as a dancer at The Cat’s Ass, a nearby lesbian nightclub. Maggie meets Kim, an artist living out of her van, the same day her mother calls, and Maggie invites her to move in with her as well. Most of the comedic action ensues in the first few days after Maggie’s mother Lila and brother Paul move into the apartment, as Maggie and Kim must navigate their new relationship in secret.

Throughout the film, Maggie has a variety of interactions with other lesbians and queer women, most notably Frances, her boss, who is occupied for much of the film with fighting customs for her confiscated books, and with fellow nightclub performer Judy Squires. Two romances play out during the film, one between Maggie and Kim, and another between Frances and Judy. In addition to the positive portrayal of lesbian love between Maggie and Kim, the film also provides a look at the acceptance and rejection Judy feels as a trans lesbian woman.

Unlike many of the sexualized depictions of lesbians in popular culture, Better Than Chocolate shows that sexual relationships between women are more than steamy sex. Maggie and Kim’s relationship is cute and sexy, not just sexualized, and they are not framed for the “male gaze,” rather, camera angles allow for a sense of privacy without being too far removed to show their intimacy. They do have sex their first night together, but despite their relationship moving along fast, their intimacy is realistic and loving. Not only do they laugh together, but they embrace the awkwardness of getting to know each other, both in and out of bed.

Maggie and Kim blend art, love, and sex on their first day together.

In order for Maggie and Kim’s relationship to work in the end, however, Maggie must be open to the world, specifically her mother, about her feelings for Kim. Ultimately, this is only possible because both characters, mother and daughter, grow during the course of the film. Lila is the one who finally brings the topic up and asks them what is going on, and at this point, she is ready to be open to her daughter. But when Maggie is unable to tell her mother that she loves Kim, the relationship is temporarily broken. Lila’s development is important, however, because it offers an alternative narrative in which a child’s homosexuality can actually bring a family closer together rather than tearing it apart. Lila is willing to open her eyes and accept Maggie’s sexuality and decisions, and the end of the film provides a moment of resolution for mother and daughter.

Even though it is ultimately resolved, this break in their relationship is hard on both Maggie and Kim, and both rely on Judy to vent their feelings and ask for advice and comfort. Judy also supports Lila, befriending her upon her arrival, out of concern for her loneliness. Rejected by her parents and habitually attacked and mocked by some patrons of The Cat’s Ass, Judy lives perhaps the loneliest life of any of them, and yet she never gives up or stops asking to be taken seriously. Even though Judy’s character is not played by a trans woman, her character is not treated as a joke; instead Judy is a character with depth. It is very important for her to distinguish herself from male drag artists, and more than anything she would like to be accepted as a woman and as a lesbian woman by other queer women. After all, she too has hopes and dreams and a desire to love and be loved. Also important is her refusal to forget her rage. She has no sympathy for her parents, and, as her performance at the club shows, no sympathy for those who disrespect her gender.

Judy and Frances find love.

Refreshingly, both relationships end happily. While many queer films culminate in tragic death or focus on loneliness, it is a tragedy that brings them together. In this way, the film provides a happy ending for these four characters while still being able to address issues of violence and hatred that comes both from society at large and from within the lesbian community. The positivity at the end of the film is a stark contrast to the life and death of Willa Cather’s Paul. Written more than 90 years before Better Than Chocolate was released, Paul, like Judy and to some extent Maggie, feels isolated and trapped, but instead of being exiled for their behavior, the two women are able to find love and acceptance. Maggie takes power into her own hands by deciding to protest book censorship and her own personal censorship of herself. Judy decides to be her authentic self and to lung into love. Hopefully this film will continue to shape more recent narratives into ones where this is possible.

Miss Coco Peru- Comedian, Actress, World Savior

“We gender benders understand that if you have the balls to change yourself, you have the power to change the world.”

On any given Friday night, you are likely to find one Miss Coco Peru giving a stand up routine to some crowded theater, maybe throwing in a signature song or two to get her audience laughing. For over 20 years, Clinton Leupp has been putting on his infamous wig and becoming Miss Coco Peru.

During the week, you are more likely to find Coco volunteering at one of LA’s many LGBTQ help centers. Often still donning her red hair, she dedicates her days to making the world a better place. Although for many drag is only an avenue for entertainment, Coco has embraced the role of drag queen in a larger way. 

During her speech at the 38th Gala Event for the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, Coco shared why she got started in drag.

“Drag for me was born out of a calling to be an activist. I was living at home in the Bronx, and although I was fortunate to be out, it was the late 80s and it was a scary time for a young gay man in New York City. It was a time when walking down the street you could see the effect of AIDS on people walking towards you. People you knew were suddenly unrecognizable, and it scared the hell out of me. It also made me feel like I had to do something.”

Miss Coco was inspired to become and activist and help her community. However, she knew that in order to make an impact, she had to be visible. She empathizes storytelling as one of the best ways to educate people on issues that are unknown or controversial. The personal impact of someone’s own story is more likely to resonate with people. Coco employs gender bending as a way to help vocalize her story and the larger story of the community. She takes all the negative that is thrown at the LGBTQ community and throws it right back by celebrating it.

“I always felt the way to educate people who didn’t understand me was to tell my story, but I took it a step further, and I made the choice to embrace everything I had ever been taught to hate about myself and instead glorify it, celebrate it. I would embrace my two spirit nature with the intention that if people could listen to my story and forget all this (gesturing to her full drag), they would realize that despite appearances, it is what is on the inside that matters. And that what every human being wants and deserves is love, respect, equality, and justice. With that in mind, I created Coco Peru, and it became my mission to empower my community while letting the world know that drag queens empower a powerful law of mama nature’s. And that is, if you transform the outer, you can transform the inner, and vice-versa, if you transform the inner, you can transform the outer. Yes, we gender benders understand that if you have the balls to change yourself, you have the power to change the world.”

And so Coco began a long acting career both on screen and on stage. Notably, she starred in “Girls Will Be Girls”, “Trick”, and even “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything. Julie Newmar.” You may remember her as the angry drag queen who missed the opportunity to take the trip to California.

However, the majority of Coco’s career has been her stand up routines. For almost 20 years she has been both empowering and inspiring her audiences, while almost making the laugh out loud. Take a look:

Coco continued her activism work alongside her acting work. She helped create the bullying documentary “Teach Your Children Well” and she spends much of her time volunteering for organizations like the Trevor Project and Aids for Aids. Visibility is a big thing for her, so she shops and goes out in drag. She says this is how she feels most comfortable, and it creates an awareness of the community. You can see one of her shopping experiences here:

Miss Coco Peru just wants to make the world a better place. She says she follows a long history of drag queens making a difference. She recognizes the work that many of the queens have done for the community, which is often overlooked in queer history.

“I want to recognize all the drag queens out there in the world and in the worlds beyond, who despite being the first to start the queer movement at Stonewall and who were also among the first to respond to the AIDS crisis by organizing fundraisers, are often dismissed and their contributions rarely recognized.”

If you would like to listen to her empowering speech, you can find it here: