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social sciences

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The Rise of Identity Politics

The 1980s, however, witnessed the start of an important shift in French glbtq cultures. As a response in equal parts to the AIDS crisis, the impact of transnational queer cultures, and the forces of global market capitalism, glbtq people in France fostered an increasing sense of themselves as a distinct community and started to organize accordingly.

The 1980s and 1990s saw, for example, the development of high-profile French gay and lesbian magazines such as Gai Pied and Títu; the popularization of queer community events such as annual Gay Pride Marches; the emergence of visible gay neighborhoods in large metropolitan centers; and the concomitant rise of a widespread, commercialized glbtq scene.

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It must be noted, however, that these developments have been controversial and have met with considerable resistance, even from French glbtq people themselves. Many view the rise of queer communitarianism as a disruptive importation of American-style identity politics and multiculturalism that runs contrary to traditional French values.

In an influential critique first published in France in 1996, gay social commentator Frédéric Martel condemns the newly emergent glbtq communitarianism in France as a damaging "retreat . . . into a gay identity" that "valu[es] the minority at the expense of the national culture," and that thus threatens "to completely dismantle the French model of integrating individuals" into a unified republic.

Yet, as Martel also argues, it would be unwise to exaggerate the apparent rift between the identity "camp" and a more "universalist camp" in contemporary French glbtq life. Both form part of a "complex dialectic" that informs glbtq cultures and politics in variable ways.

How this dialectic will play out in the future is difficult to know. It may, as Martel opines, pass and "have no lasting hold on French society." It may equally give rise to a hybrid or "intermediate position" that combines queer "American communitarianism" and French exceptionalism, "multiculturalism and defense of the republican state."

What is certain is that, as always, France will continue to forge its own distinctive formations of glbtq sexuality that may correspond in some respects with those of Anglo-American societies but differ in many others.

Brett Farmer

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social sciences >> Overview:  Europe: The Enlightenment

Although the advocates of the Enlightenment encouraged free thinking, freedom of action, and frank discussion in sexual matters, the legal penalties for homosexual conduct during the period remained severely repressive.

social sciences >> Overview:  French Gay Liberation Movement

The French gay liberation movement was born during the early 1970s on the foundation of a courageous, if conservative, homophile movement and the thrust of a massive wave of social activism.

literature >> Overview:  French Literature: Before the Nineteenth Century

While evidence from earlier centuries is sparse, from the sixteenth century onward there were several French writers who treated male and female homosexuality.

literature >> Overview:  French Literature: Nineteenth Century

In the nineteenth century gay and lesbian sexuality becomes a significant subject in French literature.

literature >> Overview:  French Literature: Twentieth Century

The contributions of gay men and lesbians to twentieth-century French literature have been closely intertwined with the course of mainstream literature.

social sciences >> Overview:  Identity Politics

Not limited to activity in the traditionally conceived political sphere, identity politics refers to activism, politics, theorizing, and other similar activities based on the shared experiences of members of a specific social group, often relying on shared experiences of oppression.

social sciences >> Overview:  Military Culture: European

Attitudes toward gay and lesbian personnel in European militaries vary widely, from the acceptance of the Dutch to the laissez-faire policy of the French to the rejection of the Greek and Turkish forces.

social sciences >> Overview:  Paris

One of the world's most iconic cities and an influential hub of Western culture, Paris is also a major international glbtq center.

social sciences >> Overview:  Switzerland

Switzerland is a very cosmopolitan nation with a vibrant glbtq community, but it has lagged behind much of Europe, particularly the Nordic countries, when it comes to assuring equal rights.

social sciences >> Aron, Jean-Paul

French writer and public intellectual Jean-Paul Aron is widely credited for giving a human face to AIDS and thereby changing the public perception of the disease and those who suffered from it.

literature >> Baldwin, James Arthur

James Baldwin, a pioneering figure in twentieth-century literature, wrote sustained and articulate challenges to American racism and mandatory heterosexuality.

social sciences >> Baudry, André Émile

André Baudry, as leader of the French homophile movement from the early 1950s into the 1980s, was the principal spokesman for homosexuals in France before the rise of gay liberation in the 1970s.

literature >> Cocteau, Jean

An outspoken homosexual, Jean Cocteau was a prolific poet, novelist, critic, essayist, artist, and filmmaker.

literature >> Colette

One of France's most beloved authors, Colette wrote novels with strong lesbian subtexts.

social sciences >> Delanoë, Bertrand

Although the homosexuality of French politician and Mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë has not been an issue in his campaigns for public service, he was targeted for assassination by a man who hates homosexuals.

arts >> Freund, Gisèle

Though she was an accomplished and respected photojournalist, Gisèle Freund is today best remembered as a chronicler of the vibrant bohemian community of artists and writers that made its home in Paris during the 1930s.

literature >> Genet, Jean

Jean Genet's work has left a powerful legacy to post-modernity and remains a provocation to questions of gay identity.

literature >> Gide, André

André Gide, one of the premier French writers of the twentieth century, reflected his homosexuality in many of his numerous works.

social sciences >> Guérin, Daniel

French leftist Daniel Guérin came out publicly as a homosexual in his late sixties and for the remainder of his life worked to fuse gay liberation and left-wing politics.

social sciences >> Hahn, Pierre

One of the earliest gay militants in contemporary France, Pierre Hahn also received the first doctorate in France for work in the history of homosexuality.

social sciences >> Joan of Arc

Although condemned to death by the Inquisition for her cross-dressing, almost five hundred years later Joan of Arc was canonized by the Church as a saint.

social sciences >> Louis XIII

Louis XIII, King of France from 1610 to 1643, experienced his most intense emotional relationships with a series of handsome men.

social sciences >> Louis XVIII

The case of Louis XVIII, who reigned as King of France from 1814 to 1824, illustrates the difficulty of attributing a homosexual orientation to people in the past.

social sciences >> Napoleonic Code

Although the Napoleonic Code is sometimes said to have decriminalized homosexuality in France, that distinction belongs to the French Revolution.

social sciences >> Orléans, Philippe, Duke of

Known as "Monsieur," Philippe, Duke of Orléans lived in the shadow of his brother, Louis XIV, and is today remembered chiefly for his homosexuality.

social sciences >> Pastre, Geneviève

One of France's leading lesbian theorists and political activists, Geneviève Pastre is a writer and publisher who has made lesbian feminism the root of her political and literary work.

literature >> Proust, Marcel

Marcel Proust is the author of A la recherche du temps perdu, one of the major achievements of Modernism and a great gay novel.

social sciences >> Seel, Pierre

Sent to a Nazi concentration camp because of his homosexuality, Pierre Seel remained silent about his ordeal for decades but finally chose to speak out, demanding recognition of the suffering of gay men and advocating for glbtq rights.

literature >> Stein, Gertrude

In addition to becoming--with Alice B. Toklas--half of an iconic lesbian couple, Gertrude Stein was an important innovator and transformer of the English language.

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One of the most prominent and highly acclaimed figures of contemporary gay literature, Edmund White works in many distinct categories of fiction and nonfiction.

literature >> Wilde, Oscar

Oscar Wilde is important both as an accomplished writer and as a symbolic figure who exemplified a way of being homosexual at a pivotal moment in the emergence of gay consciousness.

literature >> Yourcenar, Marguerite

The prize-winning novelist Marguerite Yourcenar reflected her own homosexuality in her works almost exclusively through male characters, most notably in Memoirs of Hadrian.


Bonnet, Marie-Jo. Les Relations amoureuses entre les femmes du XVIe au XXe siècle. Rev. ed. Paris: Odile Jacob, 1995.

Caron, David. AIDS in French Culture: Social Ills, Literary Cures. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001.

Duyvendak, Jan Willem. The Power of Politics: New Social Movements in France. Boulder, Col.: Westview Press. 1995.

Eribon, Didier. Réflexions sur la question gay. Paris: Fayard, 1999.

_____. Dictionnaire des cultures gays et lesbiennes. Paris: Larousse, 2003.

Huas, Jeanine. L'homosexualité au temps de Proust. Dinard: Editions Danclau, 1992.

Martel, Frédéric. The Pink and the Black: Homosexuals in France since 1968. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Merrick, Jeffrey, and Bryant T. Ragan Jr., eds. Homosexuality in Modern France. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

_____. Homosexuality in Early Modern France: A Documentary Collection. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001

Pasteur, Claude. Le beau vice, ou, les homosexuels à la cour de France. Paris: Balland, 1999.

Van Casselaer, Catherine. Lot's Wife: Lesbian Paris, 1890-1914. Liverpool: Janus Press, 1986.


    Citation Information
    Author: Farmer, Brett  
    Entry Title: France  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated January 25, 2011  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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