More gay history notes for gay travelers. I don’t think that most Americans associate Paris with gay history, but it is one of the richest cities for gay history, as it is for all other kinds of history. In fact, Paris is the only city that offers a whole series of gay history tours: Paris Gay Village’s “visites inverties” (inverted tours). They are only offered irregularly and in French, but Oscar Wilde Tours will always include them (with translation of course) in our Paris tours.
James Baldwin’s Paris
For instance, you can follow James Baldwin and other LGBT expats on our walking tour of the left bank. Nowadays Americans associate Paris with romance: it’s a place you go to bill and coo, inspired by certain Classic movie views. But that is not the way Americans (or Brits or Irishmen) saw Paris from the 1860s to the 1950s. For Americans of the Belle Epoque, the lost generation, post-War writers, etc. Paris was not about love, but sex.
It was a slummy city of artistic and intellectual ferment, and freedom from the sexual and racial repression(s) of home. For gay people, this derived from one simple fact: unlike American or British law, the Code Napoléon did not ban same-sex relations. This did not mean that it was always OK to be gay. Certainly, gay sex and identities were frowned upon. And the police could and would arrest people for any kind of public sexual behavior, which could simply be prosecuted as an offense against public decency. But sentences were not severe, and above all, sex in private was not criminalized.
It was this freedom that brought Oscar Wilde to Paris after his release from prison. This same freedom brought a long list of Lesbian intellectuals and writers to Paris over the years, including Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, Djuna Barnes, the New Yorker’s Janet Flanner, and Wilde’s mysterious niece Dolly. And the situation was still the same when James Baldwin came to Paris in 1948. See the New York Times on Baldwin’s left bank haunts: James Baldwin’s Paris.
And join Oscar Wilde Tours’ gay history tours for a coffee at one of his—and Wilde’s—favorite cafés!
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