By Kelly Jean Cogswell
You'd think lesbian culture would flower here in Paris, the city that welcomed Natalie Clifford Barney, Janet Flanner, Gertrude Stein, and Colette, who once ran around my current neighborhood half-naked with bliss. But Saturday, we could barely get a dozen girls to march in the Paris Pride Parade as "Goudou explosive," Explosive Dyke.
After all, "There will already be a lot of lesbians at the parade." "Most lesbians in France are perfectly comfortable with themselves." ie. not combustible. "There are already lesbian groups."
We made our banner, bought toy trumpets and marched anyway. A dozen dykes representing five different countries. One of them even France.
The skeptics weren't entirely wrong. Among the half million at the parade, there were hordes of dykes. Of girls, anyway. You would have been hard-pressed to find a single lesbian tee shirt, dyke pin or black triangle that indicated the women were anything but straight females supporting their fag friends. Until they saw us. Then they smiled and waved. Some practically howled with joy at our raucous trumpets and that impolite name, "goudou" paired with "explosive" in big gold letters. Or maybe what they liked was the big, black "BOUM!"
The truth is, individuals can be as comfortable as they like, but generally things are crappy for dykes in France. There are only a handful of women at the top rung of anything. And among visible women, there's maybe one open lesbian, an actress whose name I can't remember. In Paris, the only feminist direct action group, "The Beard," is a recent creation. And the few lesbian groups that do exist are mostly lobbyists or theoreticians, miles away from your garden variety dyke.
If the lesbians here don't blow-up on a daily basis, it's only because their simmering anger is tamped down by the gradual and insidious nature of the assault. It's not like South Africa or Newark where we're murdered and raped in the streets. No, we're tolerated as long as we keep to our place. As long as we're invisible. As long as our efforts for civil rights don't actually make much of a stink.
The problem comes when we step out into public space, not as generic females, but as ourselves, as dykes. The moment you dare to share a kiss like all the slobbering adolescents in the Paris metro you're open to physical and verbal attack. Men'll come down on you like pile of bricks, and women, too, who love to shout obscenities as much as anyone.
Even marching in the parade, Goudou explosive had homos on the sidelines making snide comments about how well we blew our trumpets and what we could do with them later on. Young straight boys trailed around us telling us what gangs they were from and making all kinds of clichéd suggestions. Even the fag marching in front got in on the act lecturing us like we were infants about preparing for the moment of silence. "I asked you once politely to comply," he said, ignoring the big loud float full of men. Meanwhile, the two white guys announcing the participants refused to acknowledge we existed until we took a couple of menacing steps towards them.
Then there's the law where our discrimination is enshrined in a hundred ways. Artificial insemination is entirely off-limits to dykes who all go to Belgium instead. In terms of general homophobia, the pathetic civil union law was met with violent outrage when it passed in '99, and a few years ago, when a maverick (and straight) Green Party mayor in a lowly provincial town decided to perform a marriage for two gay men, he was inundated with physical threats, nasty letters, and packages of human feces from all over the country. Voila, the tolerant French.
Proust and Rimbaud would not be celebrities today, neither would courtesan Liane de Pougy or delicious Colette. Stumble across a lesbian, out comes the eraser, out comes the ridicule and scorn. Like on Sunday when I capped off my Gay Pride weekend by attending a little talk about the Temple of Friendship at 20 rue Jacob which, if you've heard of it at all, is because Natalie Barney held a half century of wild dyke parties and avant garde literary events there.
I expected juicy details about scandals and liaisons. Instead, the guy giving the lecture did his best to characterize her primarily as some rich American most notable for giving literary soirees for important straight men. He entitled the section about her, "The Temple Finds Its Vestal Virgin," and entirely erased her importance as a lesbian pioneer and icon, except for the coy, "Remy de Gourmont called her the Amazon. I'll leave it to your imagination as to why." Thank god, one explosive dyke stood up at the end, and set the record straight.
Even now, writing this column, the free wifi of the city of Paris is blocking every webpage with the word "lesbian" "gay" or "goudou." Even my own articles. Especially them. Turn your back for a minute, they'll shove you in the closet and lock the door.