Everybody knows that Paris is a fantastic city to visit, with fascinating historic neighborhoods, amazing museums, fabulous shopping, and of course spectacular food. But many people seem not to realize that Paris is also one of the greatest cities of gay history. But so it is: I think Paris has so many other great sides that people almost overlook this one. France was the first modern country to decriminalize homosexuality—in 1798, almost 2 centuries before the US. And from that time on, it was a relatively free city for gay life, and gay themes appeared more and more openly in French culture.
In the next week, Oscar Wilde Tours will announce its Europe season for 2017, with Gay London/Gay Paris (August 14-22), followed by our first gay history tour of Amsterdam (August 22-25), and then our new Gay Gods and Heroes package, consisting of two back to back tours of the gay history and art of the Classical world: Gay Greece, Homeland of Same-Sex Love (September 7-19) and Gay Italy, from Caesar to Michelangelo and Beyond (September 20-29). There will be lots to tell when we make the announcement, including for instance our first visit to Northern Greece, where we will explore the life of that ultimate gay hero, King Alexander the Great. But first I want to talk about what a great year it is for the Gay London/Gay Paris tour, because London is the gay history capital of 2017!
Oscar Wilde Tours is just about to announce its new season of European gay history tours, with London, Paris, and Amsterdam in August, and tours (which can be combined) of Greece and Italy in September. And as I plan them, the things that stick with me most are the fun new things that I discovered this year or have added to the tour.
In a way, this blog post is a protest against Facebook and its homophobia. I am intentionally writing a post that I will not be able to treat as an ad on Facebook, because (as you may or may not know) Facebook will not allow companies to have any nudity in their ads—even the naked chest of a statue in the Metropolitan Museum. When I first started advertising on Facebook, they claimed that art was exempt, but it wasn’t, if my experience is any guide; now they don’t even claim it is. And yes, as you may already suspect, they are stricter about this when the subject is gay. I know that directly, because I also do tours that focus on courtesans and royal mistresses, and they seem to give my “straight” ads a little leeway. With my “gay” ads, we get none: they tell me (a professor selling history tours) that I cannot advertise ‘adult products’ on Facebook. An obvious case of homophobia—and there is no-one to appeal to.
Paris is of course one of the world’s greatest cities—above all, one of its great cultural cities, with literature and art and architecture and fashion and cuisine and so on and so forth. But I think that Americans easily forget how great a gay city it is as well. They don’t call it ‘Gay Paris’ for nothing!
When Oscar Wilde Tours designs gay history tours, we always try to show people the gay side of famous places. We do for instance “gay secrets” tours of Westminster Abbey, the Louvre, and the Vatican. But we also try to take people to some places that are important in gay history and that they might otherwise never think to visit. Bletchley Park is an example, where Alan Turing (as in The Imitation Game) developed the machine that broke secret German codes in World War II and at the very least hastened the victory over Hitler. Another of these places is the Naples Archaeological Museum. Most people these days seem to skip Naples on their way from Rome to Pompeii (another place with great gay history), but Naples merits a stop for a number of reasons. On our gay Italy tour, we spend 3 days exploring Naples and its surroundings (Pompeii, Paestum, Capri).
People often ask how I went from doing gay secrets tours to shady ladies. How did a gay historian get interested in the history of female prostitution? First of all, a gay historian works on the history of sexuality, so the history of heterosexuality is not very far away from his topic, intellectually speaking. But it has much more to do with my tours of the Metropolitan Museum.
England is a great country for the traveler interested in gay history and culture. London is one of the great gay cities, and there are also places of gay historical interest spread around the country, from Sissinghurst in the south to Castle Howard in the north. The great thing about the gay history of England is that there are a number of famous and relatively well-documented people in English history who loved people of their own sex. These include at least one king, James I, a number of aristocrats of note, and many authors, such as Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Virginia Woolf.
Since I wrote my blog post last week about my gay history explorations, people have been asking me to say something more about gay history in Greece. And this is very much on my mind, as I am leading Oscar Wilde Tours’ gay history and art tour in Greece in only 3 or 4 months (https://www.oscarwildetours.com/gay-greece-travel-tours/)!
Greece is of course one of the great countries for gay history, because some form or forms of same-sex love were customary in the ancient Greek world. And lots of evidence remains—if you know where to look!
This week brought Oscar Wilde Tours a big honor: we won the Travvy silver award for best LGBT tour operator. Pretty amazing, when you think that we are just starting our second season! I think and hope it means that people in the travel industry find our concept exciting—gay travel focusing on gay history and art— and also that they are hearing good things about our tours in New York, Ireland, and Italy. As a result of the prize, I’ve been thinking about what I have learnt in the last 2 years, while starting this company. I’ve been wondering which of all the things I’ve discovered in the cities are my favorites: the things that resonate with my imagination and have enlarged my sense of gay history.