It’s been a while since my last post but recently there’s been a topic of conversation which has proven to be a popular point of discussion among my new found friends abroad… my sexuality.
I’ve never officially “come out” to my friends or family, although since starting uni three years ago I haven’t avoided answering questions that people have put to me. I don’t mind being asked questions such as, “are you gay/straight?” so long as people ask politely, and in the current moment of my life, these questions are often asked as I’m always meeting new people. The reason I decided to write about this was because I had been asked by a couple of people what the reactions and attitudes of strangers have been like since coming to France, and if these reactions differ from any that I have experienced back in the UK. So, just clarify for those of you who are wondering, I personally identify as bisexual although I would prefer not to have a label, as the only identifier I need in life is my name.. but that’s a rant for another time.
It’s fair to say that I was nervous about having to potentially explain my sexuality to complete strangers in a foreign language that I was only just getting to grips with, an issue made harder as I didn’t have the physical support of my friends back home who love and accept me for who I am. Before arriving, I was aware that France has it’s fair share of anti-LGBT+ movements, and there had been a number of news articles published on the internet talking about recent homophobic attacks on gay couples in public, so yeah, I was a little concerned for my own safety.
It turns out that my initial fears had been totally misplaced. So far I have not been a victim of any homophobic abuse in the 9 months I have been living in Caen. Studying as an Eramus student, you meet a multitude of people from all over Europe and undoubtedly, I was not the only non-heterosexual to arrive. It soon became clear to me that there openly gay French students too, as one fateful night, I found myself locking-lips with another male student outside of Caen’s “gay scene”. It turned out that he was actually a member of the Erasmus welcoming committee, and although all his friends identified as heterosexual, nobody batted an eyelid.
I can’t say for sure if this is a true representation of French society and tolerance, as Caen is a fairly small town, however I have had many an excursion to Paris for tourist and shopping reasons and I was completely astounded by the number of same-sex couples that confidently walk hand-in-hand down Parisian high streets, the very place where the majority of the reported homophobic attacks seem to have happened. It seems that the French, in all their stereotypical sophistication have more important things to worry about than who is shagging whom, and ironically enough, it’s the native English speakers from the UK and USA that have had the most questions for me.
The majority of questions I have been asked by native English speakers are classics that all bisexuals will have heard: “But which gender do you prefer?…Why don’t you just come out fully?… Are you sure it’s not just a phase?… So do you have a lot of threesomes?” etc. But it seems that the French people I have encountered have had no reason to ask me these questions. Perhaps they understand what it means to be bi, or maybe they don’t care, or maybe that they’ve already made their own minds up about me and think it best to keep it to themselves.
Whatever the case, I’ve found that being LGBT+ or at least bisexual in France is somewhat better received than in England. I can’t be sure if this is true for all LGBT+ members in all French towns and cities, but since the legalisation of civil partnerships in 1999 and same-sex marriage in 2013, perhaps the French have had plenty of time to accept members of their own society who don’t identify as heterosexual.
Again, this post is purely based on my own experience, and I would be interested to hear if any of you have had different experiences in Europe or the wider world so feel free to leave a comment below!
Until next time…