Here are some notes from my research on the history of homosexuality in France.
The Penal Code has made me laugh as a diversion from doing my research. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_France
The Penal Code was adopted after the French Revolution, in 1791, to establish the general human rights of people in the new French Republic. As part of this penal code, men in France were permitted to put their penises where they wanted to. This seems very forward thinking to me. Vive La Revolution!
The Age of Consent the age of consent has been up and down like a french man’s pantaloons in France over the years. at points in the 18th/19th century it was as low as 11. But the onward march of modernity has meant it has gone creeping up. The homosexual age of consent was 21, then 18, and then Miterrand’s government in keeping with miterrand’s liberal attitudes to sex, reduced the age of consent to 15 in keeping with heterosexual sex in 1981.
The Murky Mind of Paul Mirguet In 1960, Paul Mirguet a member of the Gaullist government, added homosexuality to a list of ‘scourges’ that were to be outlawed in France. A kind of social cleansing if you like. Amongst these scourges were alcoholism and prostitution, transvestism and, thans to Mirguet, public sex acts between men, and cruising. Not quite so vive la revolution as vive La France. Liberte, Egalite, Hipocrisy.
So if we are thinking of Michel Foucault, which, I always am these days, he would have been 34 in 1960 and sexually active. I haven’t decided when his daughter was born, I am pretty sure it is going to be about 1962/3 I want her to witness 1968 though what the fuck I am going to say about it I dont know. anyway. So he is sexually active in the 1960s, albeit married and fucking about. Sorry but this is how he is in my eyes. And public sex acts are illegal and homosexuality is a scourge, and De Gaulle is in power, and France’s precious penal code is under threat, and the people are getting mighty pissed off and there’s a lot of meetings going on, and communism is real, and something has to happen. Foucault was there. Right in the thick of it.
Language and Power Sometimes I think of a word as a unit of power. You can use a word to hit with. Foucault’s daughter learned early how to hit with the old-fashioned term for homosexual: ‘pederaste’. A more colloquial implement was and still is ‘tapette’, meaning carpet beater, fly swatter, faggot. Foucault was a tapette. He won’t have missed the fact that ‘tapette’ describes the passive homosexual in theory, the receiver, the faggot. But thanks to la liberte, egalite and fraternity, and probably Mr Mirguet to some extent, I expect in the 1960 s all gays were called tapettes. I am still trying to work out if Foucault was more of a tapeur than a tapette. I am sure this will reveal itself in due course.
As this book on Urban Gay Spaces says:
‘Frenchmen who have sex with other men have been designated by many words over the years: sodomites, buggers, vile creatures, (infames) and anti-physicals, in the 17th and 18th centuries, pederastes (still the most common term from about 1740), uranians, inverts and homosexuals since the late nineteenth century, and gays from the beginning of the 1970s. As these words indicate, society at large has usually considered these men to be sinful depraved, degenerate, sick or insane. Even today, although two thirds of the French tell pollsters that homosexuality is just another way to live one’s sexuality.the words pede (slang for pederaste and equivalent to the english poof or american fag) and encule (quite literally one who is sodomised) remain common taunts with a particularly harsh sting’
Gay Paris Where did Michel go with his Penal Code and his revolutionary spunk, fit to burst in the 1960s? I had this vision of him wandering round the Bois de Boulogne. I have been there myself and had a bit of a fumble in the grass. That was a long time ago, when I thought I was ‘straight’ and thinking I could go on mini-breaks to Paris with my boyfriend and that would somehow validate me as a young woman, as a sexual being. It all went wrong I don’t have to tell you, or I wouldn’t be here, wondering where Michel put his saucisson. (OK Halperin I have a list of 205 words in French for penis. Can’t you help me out and tell me which one would have been common usage in 1960? Is that under copyright too?) http://www.whytraveltofrance.com/2006/11/29/205-ways-to-say-penis-in-french/
Anyway so it seems the BOis is a gay cruising area. I like this handy map of where to find the whores and the transvestites and the gays, but ‘be careful’ http://www.paris-gay.com/communs/detailsgb-det-31.html
The Marais, a historical and traditionally poor district of Paris, has become the Soho of Paris in recent years. I am pretty sure this was after Michel’s time. I like the way this abstract suggests there have been resistance to a gay quarter from gay people themselves, as it goes against the ‘national’ spirit of France. Liberte, Egalite and, er Homogenity? Or Nationalism? Or just not having a big old gay district in the middle of your city?
I always thought Pigalle would be a cruising area, as that is a traditional haven for whores and hobos. But maybe it has got so touristy it’s not really somewhere gay men would choose to wander about.
So here I am. It is the early 1960s. Les Quatre cent Coups is on at the big screen. Everyone is smoking Galoises. The Republic is starting to look a bit saggy at the seams. Michel Foucault’s life is just about to hit a crisis, and so is that of France. Which one will blow first? And what would a little girl make of the spectacle?