I’m doing a spot of travel writing at the moment (yes I told you I didn’t just write on bisexuality) and I’m in Avignon, France.
Gay behaviour, or people who look as though the might be gay, are not terribly thick on the ground in France as a whole – so I was rather surprised to find myself in what seemed to be a gay restaurant. Le Brigadier du theatre serves traditional provencal food, and is decorated in high camp style with gold and silver cherubs, red walls, and chandeliery dripping from all vertical and horizontal surfaces. And men (well, one other woman who seemed to be with a gay couple). Tables full of men.
I don’t pretend to understand French culture. Not really. They have a big thing about the naturalness and inevitability of male/female relationships – or rather L’Homme et La Femme. Masculinity and femininity (for men and women respectively!) rule. Then there’s the influence of the Catholic church, the family… In southern or Catholic-influenced Europe, as distinct from Anglo-Saxon Europe, sexuality is considered to be a private matter and not something to shout about. As a result, the gay scene and identity has never taken off in quite the same way.
Can we see you?
The Parisian group Bi Cause (because love is a right) seems to be up and running, though. They meet every week and there’s a lot on their website if you can read French (and I think you can translate sites through some kind of online magic too, no?) Apparently, there’s an article by Catherine Deschamps (who wrote the book Bisexualite Le Dernier Tabou – not translated into English as far as I know) in the newest Journal of Bisexuality - which I can't find an online link for! - talks about Bi Invisibility, something that was discussed a great deal in the English-speaking bi world 10 or 20 years ago. We now have rather a lot of spurious bi visibility – as I said before – so this kind of discussion has died away. Perhaps French pop stars don’t paw each other a la Madonna and Britney.
When in France
I have plenty of previous in France. As I wrote before, I spent part of my yearning youth in Paris. I expected to encounter bisexuality there (why?) but certainly didn’t. Instead, I found men, men and more men – pests that they were. I didn’t know till later that I was living on the edge of an upmarket red-light area.
But in the 1980s, when I worked at an organisation called the Women’s Film, TV and Video network, my colleagues and I went to the women’s film festival that was and is held annually in the Parisian suburb of Creteil. Many of the women at the festival embraced a kind of high femininity which we from the UK found both regressive and baffling. One of the festival programmes showed a woman directing a film while also wearing a ballet tutu. I mean to say?!
When we were there we (my non-sexual friends and I) went to the Turkish baths at the Mosque – and what an eye-opener that was. I’m not saying that there was any actual sex going on there between the women – oh no no no – but what there was was the highest level of sexual tension, rubbing of body lotion into one’s friends bodies, and basic staring that I have ever seen anywhere. Maybe it’s not like that now – the last time I went, I was on my own and it was entirely different – but in the 80s, it was awesome. Literally.
We also went to a then-famous lesbian club Le Monocle (14 blvd Edgar Quinet, in the 14th arrondissement). It was odd. Although there were women there who were obvious couples, there were also men who’d clearly gone there to gawp. Remember, this was at the time when, in the English-speaking world, lesbian-feminism ruled. I just googled the club, and it still exists – the new Monocle – as a swingers club.
That tells you a lot you need to know really. There is a massive swingers scene in Paris (just look at the loisirs section in Pariscop magazine). Man and Woman united –naturellement – but with the saucy naughtiness that stereotypical Frenchness implies.