A European Gay-Caytion: Gays in Paris

A European Gay-Caytion: Gays in Paris
Image: Image: Michael James

As winter sets in across Australia so begins the resurgence of social media pages a flutter with gays departing Australia for warmer shores in Europe.

Whilst many venture to sunny costal cites, the likes of Mkyanos and Napoli to bask in the sun by the ocean, we chose to continue our trip inland.

Following the first leg of our European Gay-Cation in Rome, we headed for our next stop, the streets of Paris for five days, our Mission? Make it as gay as possible.

The Gay Streets of Paris

If you’ve never experienced the streets of Paris you’re in for a sensory overload, the streets and buildings are as majestic and beautiful as they are dirty and busy.

Parisians and tourists alike bustle through the city as they make their way about their days, while others lounge about on corner cafes sipping wine and smoking cigarettes.

There’s a warmth and a magic to the city that makes you feel like something special is around every corner.

Whilst our first stop on any trip is to locate the nearest gay bars and see what international charm their LGBTQIA+ venues have to offer, this time we choose something different. With pride month in full swing, rainbow flags and displays littler the city we wanted to do something to mark the occasion. With so much to see we wanted to discover the history as well as the landmarks and we discovered the perfect guide.

Queer Tours France was the queer tour company we didn’t know we needed.

Meeting our lovely guide Doina outside the Louvre we began our Highlights of Paris: A Queer Perspectives Tour, a 2.5 hour tour of the city, with a queer twist.

Doina and her business partner Alex have a passionate and intricate knowledge of the history of Paris and the people behind it, for every landmark we passed by the provided a story or anecdote.

But more interestingly they were able to tell us the lesser known queer histories behind some of the most famous landmarks in Paris. We discovered fascinating and often salacious stories like how Tuileries and Palais Royal Gardens were historically used as a meeting place for gay men and to this day are still used as a gay ‘beat’ when the sun finally sets at night, right in front of The Louvre.

A stop at the Joan of Arc statue reveals an interesting discussion about the gender politics and identity of the historic figure whilst we are later treated to a history of Philippe d’Orléans the most flamboyant of the gay royals.

Image: Michael James

Our stop outside the Institut de France provides a wonderful history of Marguerite Yourcenar, a lesbian who was also the first woman elected to the academy in 1980. Over the course of our 2.5 hour tour we learn of the gender fluid Chevalier d’Eon at at the court of Louis XVth and later Louis XVIth. We learn of the Henri III & Louis XIII and their male lovers and hear of the bisexual rumours of Marie-Antoinette and her alleged female lovers.

It is Fundamental for us and for the community to see ourselves in historical figures

The tour is an absolutely wonderful unpacking of the city of Paris in hands of two exceptional guides with a thriving passion for the history and giving a voice to the queer aspects of these historical figures that are often overlooked.

As the tour draws to a close they lead us to Les Marais, the local gay district in Paris to share a glass of wine and their stories. “We are historians and the queer side of history was never told during our classes, more than 10 years of studying history and art history and our teachers never mentioned the sexual orientation of famous figures in history or that of the artists” Doina explains.

Image: Michael James

“It is Fundamental for us and for the community to see ourselves in historical figures, to know that we existed since forever, to learn about our own history as a community, the way we were perceived in different time periods, how equal rights were gained.”

As we enjoy our beverages in the thriving chaos of a local gay restaurant, adorned with rainbow umbrellas the two explain how they have grown their small business to now include seven different tours. Other offerings include the LGBT Stuggles and Lifestyle tour, exploring the evolution of queer rights in France, as well as a Queer Cemetery tour. They even offer a tour of the Louvre with insights on the queer history of the art scatter throughout the massive museum. As well as a queer tour of Versailles and a Queer literature tour. They’ll even take you on a queer night life tour or as we Australians explained it, a pub crawl.

Departing our hosts we found ourselves in the heart of Les Marais, at 10:00pm with the sun finally setting the area showed no signs of slowing down,

Cox, the gay bar on the corner is so busy the patrons have spilled onto the streets laughing and drinking. We round the corner and find FreeDJ a small night club squeezed into a corner building. The small club is overflowing with energy and it’s clear the patrons will be here a while. We share a few drinks a disappear for the night.

The Eiffel Tower & The Festival Of Music

It wouldn’t be a trip to Paris without taking in some of the most iconic landmarks, so of course we’ve booked ourselves a trip to the Eiffel Tower.

However as we’ve quickly learned, you don’t take taxi’s in Paris.

Whilst the Tube is a fast and efficient method of getting around, by far the best way to see Paris is by bike. The local Velib bike service is an incredibly handy electric bike service, you sign up and receive a code for however many days you require. From there every time you need to go anywhere find a station, unlock and bike and hit the road.

Nothing quite beats the feeling and flying down Parisian streets in the heat of summer on a bike. Granted the sheer terror of potentially being wiped out by a bus balances out the euphoria, but the experience none the less is thrilling. For the remainder of our trip this is almost exclusively our transport.

We find ourselves at the meeting point for the Eiffel Tower tour with moments to spare and commence the journey in. The process isn’t quick and easy, between security checks, tickets and elevator rides, expect about a 2.5 hour round trip if you’re heading for the top of the tower.

Image: Michael James

The tower itself is incredible to behold and the views from the top are nothing short of breathtaking, being able to take in so much from so high truly is a remarkable feat.

Image: Michael James

We end the evening with a river cruise along the river Sienne, 2 hours on a boat with a 3 course dinner and drinks isn’t a bad way to see sights with a bit less walking required.

As we find our bikes and begin the trip back home via Les Marais we stumble across something completely unexpected.

If we thought Paris was alive before, nothing compares to what we were about to experience.

Darkness finally began to descend as we neared the city centre, the noise suddenly began to increase, fevered yelling was interspersed by the thumping of music erupting from every street corner. Crowds were flooding the streets until it eventually became impossible to move.

Was it a night celebrating the football?

The atmosphere was jubilant and euphoric. speakers were erected outside the buildings, people climbed the steps and windows now served as temporary bars.

Dismounting we continued on foot encountering the same situation on every street corner, the crowds grew larger and thicker, Paris had become one giant street party.

Rounding the corner on Les Marais we discovered the gay centre of Paris was now one heaving nightclub in the streets.

The intersection of Cox bar was thousands of people deep, a giant disco ball reflected up the walls of the streets as the crowd danced and the music pulsed.

Image: Michael James

DJ booths and speakers lined the footpaths, shirtless men climbed onto shopfront windows to dance in celebration. We had unknowingly walked into the streets of Paris on June 21, the night of the annual Festival of Music (Fête de la Musique). Marked by the date of the summer solstice the annual celebration is possibly the biggest event to happen to the city every year as Parisians celebrate until the early hours of the morning.

After partying well beyond the capacity of our weary bodies we stumble back through the never ending crowds to the much needed comfort of our beds.

Our remaining time in Paris spent exploring as much as possible. Opting to plan less and explore proves an effective strategy as we uncover beautiful restaurants and gorgeous boutiques around every corner.

Whilst we’ve just missed the main Pride march event we’re informed there are several other events taking place across the month. These include what the locals describe to us as the “corporate” event, something akin to Mardi Gras, this is preceded by a separate grass roots protest event, meanwhile a more community based Pride event takes based in the suburbs to celebrate the regional areas and communities.

With our hearts and stomachs full we board the Eurostar bound for the next leg of our journey, London.

 

 

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