Xavier, in his own words:“Si je n’avais pas été gay, j’aurais été un homme blanc hétérosexuel. Faire partie d’une minorité m’a donné la possibilité de voir le monde du côté de ceux qui n’ont pas forcément le pouvoir, de ceux qu’on essaie de tenir à l’écart et de ceux qui doivent apprendre à être fiers d’eux-mêmes. C’est une chance inestimable.
Contrairement à certains, je crois énormément à l’idée de communauté. Mieux: je suis heureux d’en faire partie. Ceux qui ne croient pas à cette idée ou qui la rejettent n’ont qu’à étudier l’histoire du sida, pour ne citer cet exemple là. Ils verront ce qu’une communauté peut accomplir.
Mon coming-out familial s’est déroulé on ne peut mieux. Il a même permis de libérer la parole entre parents et enfants et entres frères et sœurs. Dans ma vie de tous les jours, j’expérimente le coming-out permanent. En tant que journaliste dans un media gay, je sors du placard à chaque fois qu’on me demande mon métier. Le plus dur aura finalement été de le dire à ma grand-mère, une vieille paysanne charentaise. Il m’a fallu 10 ans pour arriver à en parler, alors que je suis out auprès de la terre entière. Tout le monde me déconseillait de le faire, assurant qu’elle ne comprendrait pas, qu’elle était trop âgée et qu’il ne fallait pas l’embêter avec ça. Tout le monde se trompait. Elle a réagi de la plus belle des manières: avec amour.
Je vis à Paris depuis 14 ans et la vie gay y est d’une grande richesse. J’aime l’idée d’avoir un quartier gay dans une ville. Hélas force est de constater que le Marais est de plus en plus envahi par les touristes et les prix délirants de l’immobilier font qu’il devient très dur désormais d’avoir de nouveaux établissements. Au delà de l’aspect urbain, c’est le tissu associatif LGBT qui est très riche à Paris. Il y a des dizaines d’associations, à peu près dans tous les domaines. Comme beaucoup de parisiens, je suis souvent tenté de quitter Paris pour aller vivre dans un environnement moins stressant. Il y a une vie gay dans d’autres villes en France, mais aucune d’aussi vivace. Et ça me me manquerait.
Si j’avais une chose à dire à une version plus jeune de moi-même: “TU ES GAY, IDIOTE!”. J’ai compris que j’étais gay à 17 ans. J’aurais aimé le comprendre avant, histoire de ne pas avoir à gâcher une partie de mon adolescence à essayer d’être quelque chose que je ne suis pas. Mais cela m’a aussi permis d’être celui que je suis aujourd’hui, donc tout est bien.”
“Had I not been gay, I would have been a straight white western male. Being gay gave me the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of a minority, to feel what it’s like to be on the side of those who don’t have the power, of those who are marginalized and who have had to learn how to stand tall and proud. That is an amazing gift.
The concept of “community” always raises eyebrows in France, because we are supposed to be “universalists” (it should be “all are equal” but for most people it’s “all should be alike – straight that is). I am proud to be a part of the LGBT community. For those who don’t believe in the idea of a community, just look at the way we responded to the AIDS epidemic. You’ll see what a community can do.
Coming-out to my parents was wonderful. We have had trouble talking to each other in the family for a couple of years. It started a conversation. It’s always useful to be honest with the ones you love. In my everyday life, I have to come out every time someone asks me what my job is (I’m a journalist in a LBGT media, yagg.com. It reminds me that coming out and being proud of who you are is an ongoing process.
I’ve been living in Paris for 14 years. The LGBT community is strong here. We have a gay neighboordhood, the world famous “Marais”. But these days, it’s getting more and more packed with tourists and the rampant gentrification is turning it slowly but surely into a giant designer clothes store. As if we didn’t have enough designer clothes stores already… We have dozens of LGBT groups, from sports groups to activists groups not to mention health groups. I belong to a LGBT tennis group, member of the Gay and lesbian tennis alliance. We get to meet and play with LGBT folks all around the world. It’s like a global family. I sometimes think of moving to another sunnier, less hectic city. But I definitely would miss the gay life.
If a had anything to tell to my younger self, that would be: “YOU ARE GAY, STOOPID!”. I realized I was gay at 17. I wish I got that earlier, so that I wouldn’t have wasted my time trying to be heterosexual in high school. Anyway, that’s a part of me and it made me the person I am today, so all is well!”
Lionel, in his own words:“Je suis né dans une région rurale du centre de la France. Mon premier contact avec l’homosexualité s’est fait par le biais de mes camarades de classe du primaire qui me traitaient de fille manquée, de femmelette ou de tapette à la récré. Mon comportement devait trahir une identité dont je n’avais pas du tout conscience. C’est vers mes 9 ans, lorsque je suis tombé amoureux du garçon qui flirtait avec ma meilleure copine de classe que j’ai commencé à trouver cela étrange et anormal.
A la vérité de cette évidence, j’ai commencé à être conscient de ma propre homosexualité et de l’homophobie latente et omniprésente de mon environnement familial et géographique. J’ai alors très mal vécu le fait d’être homosexuel, imaginant ma vie comme une destinée de malheur et de solitude assurée.
Les années collège ont été très violentes car la construction de ma propre identité était totalement centrée sur cette différence qui me pesait énormément et qui me mettait en décalage total avec mes camarades. J’étais très triste et je me sentais particulièrement seul. La musique et le cinéma sont alors devenus des refuges particulièrement apaisants. Des artistes comme Mylène Farmer, les Pet Shop Boys, Kylie Minogue ou Madonna exprimaient la force d’être différent. Les films « Philadelphia » et « Beautiful Thing » furent les déclencheurs d’une certaine forme d’acceptation de moi-même et de mon homosexualité.
Après le bac, j’ai pu expérimenter l’émancipation du foyer familial pendant quelques mois à Poitiers. Ils ont été révélateurs de mon envie d’exil et de la certitude qu’être diplômé serait la clé de mon indépendance. C’est pendant ces années étudiantes que j’ai fait mon premier coming-out auprès d’un de mes amis. C’était en 1997. Ce fut une libération incroyable, mon ami m’acceptant totalement tel que j’étais. Il était donc possible de vivre réellement homosexuel et en harmonie avec les autres.
L’année suivante, en 1998, c’est auprès de ma sœur que je fis mon coming-out. Nous sommes très proches et nous nous étions rendus à Paris pour assister au concert de Whitney Houston dont ma sœur était particulièrement admiratrice. Ce jour-là, dans la file d’attente, nous avions attendu et discuté tout l’après-midi avec un couple d’homosexuels. Dès le lendemain, de retour à la maison, je lui avais tendu le magazine « Têtu » que j’avais pris l’habitude de lire depuis un an pour m’informer sur la culture homosexuelle. Elle fut soulagée de cette annonce envisagée et notre rapport s’en trouva renforcé.
Lors de ma formation en masso-kinésithérapie, je fis mon coming-out assez rapidement auprès de certains de mes camarades de classe. Tous l’acceptèrent sans problèmes même si certains n’avaient jamais été confrontés à l’homosexualité. Assumer son homosexualité est un geste et un choix militant très important car il permet à l’autre de se confronter à ses propres peurs ou ignorance et d’en discuter si besoin.
L’étape suivante fut celle de le dire à mes parents. C’est la plus dure et la plus stressante. La peur du rejet est très réelle. Cette étape, que j’aimerais que chaque homosexuel puisse faire, est une différence profonde avec les hétérosexuels qui n’ont pas à s’inventer une vie, masquer ou fuir une réalité de façon aussi permanente. C’est terriblement éprouvant d’être dans le contrôle de soi et de son identité face aux autres alors que le conflit intérieur est si grand. Mes parents l’ont très bien acceptée. Ils m’ont toujours soutenu et défendu. Ils ont perdu la plupart de leurs amis à cause de cela. Les plus fidèles, intelligents et humains sont restés. Je trouve cela très dur pour notre entourage qui n’a pas choisi cette différence de se retrouver confronté à la bêtise humaine. D’un autre côté, cela permet de faire tomber les masques et de révéler la vraie nature des liens qui unissent les gens.
Dès 1997, j’ai pu rendre régulièrement visite à une amie originaire de la même ville natale que moi et qui s’était installée à Paris. J’y ai découvert le Marais, la communauté homosexuelle. D’un seul coup, j’ai pris réellement conscience que je n’étais pas seul. Accepter son homosexualité est une chose, envisager de la vivre de façon heureuse en est une autre. J’ai alors côtoyé des garçons et des filles tous ouvertement gays et lesbiens, c’était une bouffée d’oxygène incroyable pour moi et une source de joie très positive aussi.
En 2001, mon diplôme de kiné en poche, je me suis donc installé à Paris. Quelques jours après mon arrivée, j’ai rencontré un garçon avec qui j’ai vécu ma première histoire d’amour qui aura duré 6 ans. Nous nous étions pacsés et avions célébré cette union comme un mariage avec famille et amis dans la salle des mariages du IIIème arrondissement : quelle chose incroyable pour moi ! Ça reste un souvenir très fort.
Aujourd’hui, je ne suis plus en couple avec lui. Après une seconde relation, passionnelle et destructrice, j’ai retrouvé mon équilibre amoureux avec Jean. Nous nous sommes rencontrés en novembre 2013. Il m’apporte beaucoup d’amour et de sérénité alors que je ne pensais plus pouvoir y goûter. Notre relation est profonde, sincère et partagée.
Je suis profondément heureux de mon parcours. Etre homosexuel n’est pas une fatalité aujourd’hui en France. Et ce, malgré le regain d’homophobie assumée, lié au projet de loi de mariage homosexuel qui a fini par être voté en 2013 après des mois de manifestations haineuses et homophobes. Je mesure ma chance d’être dans un pays comme celui-ci. J’aurai pu naître ailleurs et être pendu pour ce que je suis. C’est une phrase terrible à écrire mais une réalité dans certains pays. Etre homosexuel m’a sûrement amené à grandir plus vite, à prendre conscience de la brutalité du monde. Avec le recul et l’expérience, je crois qu’être homosexuel a été une véritable chance pour moi. Cela a fortement construit ma personnalité. Si j’avais le choix, je ne souhaiterais pas changer mon orientation sexuelle. Elle m’a poussé à être un être humain beaucoup plus ouvert et conscient des autres.
Participer à ce projet est un vrai bonheur car Kevin cherche à montrer une réalité qui fait sens pour moi : l’homosexualité ne se conjugue pas d’une seule façon. C’est une différence comme il en existe tant d’autres. Alors même si elle ancre en nous tous des expériences communes, chaque homosexuel est d’abord un être humain à part entière, riche de ses multiples différences et expériences.”
“I was born in a rural area of central France. My first contact with homosexuality was made through my primary school classmates who called me missed daughter of sissy fagot or at recess. My behavior was to betray an identity that I had no conscience of at all. It was around 9 years old when I fell in love with the boy who was flirting with my best classmate that I began to find it strange and abnormal.
The truth of this evidence, I began to be aware of my own latent homosexuality and homophobia and ubiquitous my family and geographical environment. I then felt very badly being homosexual, imagining my life as a destiny of misfortune and ensured solitude.
The college years were very violent because the construction of my own identity was totally focused on this difference that weighed on me enormously and that put me out of step with my classmates. I was very sad and I felt particularly alone. Music and cinema then became particularly soothing shelters. Artists like Mylène Farmer, the Pet Shop Boys, Kylie Minogue and Madonna expressing the strength to be different. Movies “Philadelphia” and a “Beautiful Thing” triggered some form of acceptance of myself and of my homosexuality.
After high school, I was able to experience the emancipation from the family home for a few months in Poitiers. This was indicative of my desire of exile and the certainty that being a graduate would be the key to my independence. It was during these student years that I made my first coming out with one of my friends. That was in 1997. It was an incredible release, my friend totally accepting me as I was. It was therefore possible to actually live as a homosexual and in harmony with others.
The following year, in 1998, with my sister I made my coming-out. We are very close and we had gone to Paris to attend the concert of Whitney Houston, who my sister was a particular admirer. That day, in the queue, we waited and discussed all afternoon with a gay couple. The next day, back at home, I handed her the “stubborn” magazine that I had taken the habit of reading for a year to inform me about the homosexual culture. She was relieved of the proposed announcement and our rapport was given a boost.
During my training in physiotherapy, I had my coming-out rather quickly with some of my classmates. All accepted it without problems even though some had never been confronted with homosexuality. Assuming one’s homosexuality is a gesture and an important militant choice because it allows others to confront his own fears and ignorance and discuss if necessary.
The next step was the one to tell my parents. This is the hardest and most stressful. Fear of rejection is very real. This stage, as is the case for every homosexual, is a profound difference to heterosexuals who do not have to invent a life, hide or escape from a reality as permanently. It’s terribly stressful to be in self-control and identity against the other while the inner conflict is so great. My parents were very well accepting. They have always supported me and defended me. They lost most of their friends because of it. Loyal, intelligent and humane stayed. I find it very hard for those around us who have not chosen this difference to be faced with human stupidity. On the other hand, it allows one to take off the masks and reveal the true nature of the links between people.
In 1997 I was able to regularly visit a friend from the same hometown as me and who had settled in Paris. I discovered the Marais, the gay community. Suddenly, I actually realized that I was not alone. Accepting one’s homosexuality is one thing, consider a life happily lived is another. I then rubbed with the boys and girls whom were all openly gay and lesbians, it was an incredible breath of fresh air for me and a source of joy as very positive.
In 2001, I earned my physio degree, so I’ve moved to Paris. A few days after my arrival, I met a guy I had my first love story with that lasted 6 years. We had PACS and had celebrated this union as a marriage with family and friends in the third arrondissement marriages room: what an incredible thing for me! It’s still a very strong memory.
Today I am no longer in a relationship with him. After a second relationship, passionate and destructive, I found my balance in love with Jean. We met in November 2013. He brings me a lot of love and serenity while I thought being able to taste it. Our relationship is deep, sincere and shared.
I am very happy with my career. Being gay is not a fatality in France today. Despite the resurgence of homophobia assumed, linked to the gay marriage bill that was finally passed in 2013 after months of hateful and homophobic manifestations. I measure my chance to be in a country like this. Had I been born elsewhere I could be hanged for who I am. This is a terrible sentence to write but a reality in some countries. Being gay surely forced me to grow faster and become aware of the brutality of the world. With hindsight and experience, I believe that being gay was a real opportunity for me. This strongly built my personality. If I had the choice, I would not change my sexual orientation. It pushed me to be a much more open and aware human being of others.
Participating in this project is a joy because Kevin tries to show a reality that makes sense to me: homosexuality is not experienced in one way. There is a difference as there are many. Even if we anchor all common experiences every homosexual is first a human being full, rich in multiple differences and experiences.”
Jean, in his own words:“Being gay actually means nothing to me. I never realized I was gay. I realized I was not straight. Being attracted to guys has never been an issue for me. Since I was a child, I always imagined myself falling for the hero, not the heroin. The word “gay” itself only has a meaning today, for our generation, because people are still defined by their sexual orientation. The most commonly accepted orientation being heterosexuality, being gay is still an issue, a pride, a taboo, a reason to love, hate, kill or fight for. If, as I hope, this criteria fades in the future in the way we define ourselves, the words “gay” and “straight” will be outdated.
My coming out was not made to come out as a gay person. It was made to come out in the sense of extract myself. My social surrounding was conservative, religious, wealthy and traditional. Realizing I did not fit the expectations linked to my gender (date girls, be a competitor, practice sports, etc) did not scare me. I was scared by the fact that what was expected from me was the opposite of what I wanted for myself. When I am scared I attack (nothing scares me more than the idea of running away, hearing a predator just after me…)
So my coming out was made as an attack, sudden and sharp. Everybody I knew even from sight including my parents of course were aware of it in a flash. I was sixteen and the word spread extremely quickly. One day I was the shy and lonely boy, the next I was the gay guy who assumed it. It actually made me very popular with many people (mostly girls actually), which was totally unexpected. Those who had a problem with it never expressed it. They were so hard trying to fit in any way possible, than this way of dealing with that subject broke all their codes. They were harmless and I was free.
The gay community in Paris is very sinister and dull. The Marais is probably the shallowest place I’ve ever been to. There are no political or intellectual issues. It is all about appearance, money and cruising. All the interesting and alternative places are shut down to be replaced by tacky and luxurious bars and shops. I am really sad to say that the stupidest things I heard live in my whole life were heard in the Marais. This place is like a bubble protected from any trouble common people face anywhere else. If you are poor, old, ugly, sad, lost (several choices possible) then you are out. If you are able to hide your problems, or if one of these problems is balanced by a quality (poor and lost but cute/ugly and dull but wealthy) you can manage your way through the maze. This description is very sharp and of course it is possible to meet beautiful persons in the Marais, but there is undeniably a thick sadness stuck to this place. Anyway being a Parisian since I was born, I am glad the Marais exists, as a place I can feel totally light with my boyfriend, but I never stay long.
The thing I would teach myself as a younger self would be not to mix erection with affection. It’s taken me a long while to understand this, and I went through a lot of pain.
Going through the Gay men project is a very rich experience. All those very different points of view, all these intimate confidences are very enlightening over others and oneself. Some persons go through very hard times accepting their homosexuality, and their first fight is against themselves. I don’t know how I would have dealt with this issue, but I have deep respect for those who made this journey. After a while reading those stories and watching these very sensitive and intimate pictures, I feel very ignorant and humble. This project helps me opening my eyes, mind and heart. Answering those questions is a very hard task (this is why it took me so long to send the answers).
Kevin, when you came to our place to take the pictures, I had no precise idea of what this project really meant. I had just had a quick look over it, mostly over pictures. We had a very pleasant time with you, talking and posing. You left quite suddenly and I watched you going away from the fifth floor window. When I saw you walking fast in the street, I’ve had the feeling you were lost in yourself. I could not explain why. Maybe the way you moved, in a very intense and restrained way. If felt as if you were both running away and rushing at something you knew nothing of. This made me have a real look at the project. It took me a very long time to read all those stories. And then I discovered the “A personal diary” section. I realized this very strong feeling I’d had about you, watching you from the window was right. What you do is amazing Kevin, and this journey will lead you to yourself, no doubt about it. Your expectations are probably way smaller than what you will actually get from this experience. You do not travel alone, but you take us all with you, the persons who participate to the project, but also those who read it online. This is huge from a man seeking the sense of life. Thank you for that Kevin.”
Sebastien, in his own words:“(Being gay) means waking up when a gay clock rings, having a gay breakfast (including a kiwi), riding a gay bike (and running all the red lights) to go to work, sending gay emails, leaving my office, going to the supermarket to buy a gay bottle of (organic) wine and a gay frozen dish, and going back home. And fucking with the random guy I’ve texted 3 hours earlier. So being gay basically means fucking with men, and I’m happy with that. For some of my friends it means listening to Madonna or Beyonce night and day, or spending 1000€ a year at a gym club or at a psychoanalyst’s. But I listen to Klaus Schulze’s music, I roller-skate and hike, which is not gay, but at least it is free. But I might consider consulting a psychoanalyst because Schulze’s music is insane and hiking in Mauritania too.
Seriously, being gay also means that you should know what happens to your fellow gay men over the world and in your neighborhood. You cannot ignore that thousands of gay people are hung, killed, tortured or raped every day and that homophobic violence is one of the worst problems we are facing and most of the time we cannot rely on anyone to help us. This means that you cannot live your own life without being proud of what you are, without fighting to be respected as a gay man, and fighting for gay people’s rights. You have to be informed about gay history and the struggles of gay activists: gay people should know who Harvey Milk, Matthew Shepard, Edie Windsor or Mikael Sam are, to name but a few, and shouldn’t give a shit about those so-called gay icons such as Britney Spears, Rihanna, Lady Gaga or Liza Minelli for the older of us.
One of my biggest challenges as a traveler was to visit North Korea before this country disappears. I sincerely regret that East-Germany doesn’t exist anymore, so I didn’t want to miss that. I also would like to visit some other countries before they disappear, but not for political reasons, such as Maldives or Kiribati. This means, after going to all the places I want to, I will have very little time left to visit gay spots such as Mykonos, Tel-Aviv, Cologne or Ibiza.
My next challenges are: a) to bald and put on weight as late as possible (because, as you know, gay people are good-looking even when they get old) and b) to get a license in scuba diving.
Oh, I forgot: my biggest challenge would be to meet someone, to fall in love with him and to stay with him a significant amount of time to be selected for a Kooples commercial.
I have no coming out story. My straight brother doesn’t have a straight coming out story. If someone asks me if I’m straight, I answer “no”. If someone asks me if I’m gay, I answer “yes”. If nobody asks me anything, I shut the fuck up… and I go to the gay pride.
However, I have an anecdote to tell you. A few years ago I was invited to my company’s annual party. Family members were invited too. I told my colleagues that I would come with my cousin. The guy supposed to be my cousin couldn’t be my cousin, genetically and visually speaking. When we arrived at the party, two of my colleagues asked me: “Is he really your cousin?” I answered: “Obviously, no!” That could be my coming out story.
Like many other communities, the gay community (in Paris) can be defined as such from an economic and social point of view. And like many other gay communities in Western Europe, we have a so-called gay district called Le Marais, in the center of Paris. But le Marais is different from Stonewall: it is an area where homosexual people shop, go clubbing, eat and drink. To a lesser degree, it is also a district in which they organize demonstrations or other political events. But gay people don’t live in le Marais. It has never been a gay ghetto, or a refuge. However, housing has become so expensive that, eventually, very few people can actually afford to buy or rent an apartment there.
Moreover, the very few gay shops are being gradually replaced with mainstream clothes shops while the regular customers of the gay bars and restaurants are aging. New trendy gay places are outside the Marais: a sauna near the North Station, tea dances in Pigalle or Buttes Chaumont, etc. This is the way I see it, but I might be wrong. For younger gay people, dating or cruising are no longer connected with actually going somewhere. No matter where you are, you can use Grindr or shop online on your iphone. So that shopping and hooking up with someone have become virtually the same thing. However if you are not into shopping or online dating, there are many other gay associations, from gay rugby men clubs to gay entrepreneurs or policemen organizations. As far as I’m concerned I’m not a member of any gay union or association but I’m a member of the Green Party, which is the gay friendliest party in France. Today I’m saddened to see that many gay people no longer respect themselves and are members of the Front National, which is the most intolerant, rightwing (xenophobic, homophobic) party in our country. Others feel comfortable going to church or to the mosque as if there were nothing wrong with the message these religious institutions disseminate.
This makes me say that most people within the gay community are not more tolerant than straight people. Most of the time, they get involved in causes that are linked to the gay issue but do not care about other “minorities” or persecuted people. But things are changing and improving, most notably among far left and ecologists activists.
Now the question is: what is my relation to the gay community in Paris? I must confess that many of my Parisian friends are gay, and many of them are ex-lovers. What a scoop! Being gay determined the biggest part of my social life in Paris, but had no influence on my studies or my job. I have studied geography and urban planning; now I work in construction as an operation manager, which is not the most “faggot job”, except for a YMCA singer.
(With regards to advice to my younger self) It might seem harsh but first I would say: “don’t overestimate the tolerance or the solidarity of gay people”. Over the last years I have been shocked to hear my gay friends asking silly questions such as: “why do you only date coloured people?” or “how can you be turned on by this Chinese man?” or “why do you travel in this or that country? People are poor and homophobic”…etc.
The second piece of advice I would give is: “stop hesitating”. If you like someone, tell him. If you miss someone, tell him. If you want to go somewhere, go. Go to the sauna, go to the cruising bar, go to an orgy. We are almost totally free to go anywhere and to do whatever we want, so there is no place for hesitation.
Finally I would say: “don’t stay alone and don’t let people be alone”. We need more solidarity and more authentic friendship.”