A central instrument in the creation of a transatlantic movement for LGBT rights has been urban space. Through participation in urban land markets, gay men have increased their visibility and accumulated political and economic capital. In turn, this has provided a basis upon which to make policy and political demands.
The perceived early successes of Manhattan in appropriating commercial and residential urban space for a gay clientele inspired savvy entrepreneurs in Paris. Indeed,the late 1970s and 1980s witnessed the emergence of New York inspired urban spaces for gay men marked by Americanized symbols, names, and aesthetic sensibilities (Gai Pied 1982).
While France had a long-held reputation of (relative) openness to minority sexualities, it is only in the 1980s that Joel Leroux opened ‘le Vllage’ the first bar to overtly dub itself ‘gay’. This inspired several other entrepreneurs to open similarly Manhattan-influenced spaces.
Yet, with a geographically small centre, a highly regulated housing market, and an infamously and increasingly exclusive bourgeois urban center – the ability to compete and bid for residential property in the heart of Paris and create a sustainable gay neighborhood of the scale and quality of ‘le Village’ of late 20th Century in New York has been more problematic.
Instead, while there is sense of Le Marais being a gayborhood of sorts, it largely functions as a playground with spaces for consumption, while residential location and choice among gay men tends to be distributed across the city and outside of its bounds (Giraud 2009).
Tamagne (2014) partly attributes this relative absence of robust gay urban residential life in the centre of Paris to a tendency for the city’s population – and its gay residents in particular – to ‘liv(e) on its past charms and glory’. The romanticization of Paris is argued to effectively stifle the reality of actually living a Parisian urban life. That is to say, while attention is dedicated to preserving the city’s past charms, the capacity and will to actually maintain a charmed Parisian life becomes weaker, in Tamagne’s view. Her arguments seem to correspond to some degree with David Harvey’s (2012) discussion in Rebel Cities about Disneyfication, i.e. that the ideas attached to fabled and beloved cities could produce a paradox whereby the city’s ‘charms and glory’ lead to the loss of the city’s distinctiveness. Concretely, the romanticized reputation of Paris appeals to a certain type of tourist capable of purchasing a ‘local’ experience of its gay quarters at rates that out-price those living in the metropolitan region.
What appears to be at work in Paris is a property market in which residential location choice is not necessarily driven by a need to live and play within close proximity to the ‘village’. Commercial properties have more wherewithal to establish themselves in the center of the city, if only because they can afford to bid for rent at higher prices. The transportation network in the city also seems to be functional enough to make decisions to enter and exit ‘gay’ urban space easier, without necessarily relocating.
Manhattan has thus served as a viable model and aspiration for New York inspired kitsch and consumption in Paris since the 1980s. Transplanting New York’s neighborhood culture and residential location choice on the other hand has (arguably) been more complicated.
Author: George Katito
Gai Pied. “Guide de Paris”, été 1982
Colin Giraud, « Les commerces gays et le processus de gentrification », Métropoles [En ligne], 5 | 2009, mis en ligne le 18 mars 2009, consulté le 16 décembre 2014. URL : http://metropoles.revues.org/3858
Harvey, David. Rebel cities: from the right to the city to the urban revolution. Verso Books, 2012.
Tamagne, F. ‘Paris: Resting on its Laurels?’ in Evans, Jennifer V., and Matt Cook, eds. Queer Cities, Queer Cultures: Europe since 1945. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014.