On The Elastic Closet: A History of Homosexuality in France, 1942-Present

11Jan09

In which The Gay Recluse recommends a scholarly work.

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Recently we heard from Scott Gunther, an old friend of ours from college (we also spent a semester together in Paris) and law school. Scott is now a French professor at Wellesley — i.e., he’s practicing as much law as we are, lol — and it turns out that he’s just published a book on the history of homosexuality in France.

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Our memories of Scott are not extensive, due to the fact that we did so little to cultivate the relationship when we had the opportunity, a result of our own closet-case insecurities. But what we do remember was his startling ability to speak French perfectly — actually, it was beyond perfect, somehow even better than most native speakers — so that his thick-tongued classmates (and sometimes, the professors) were left with their jaws on the floor. By some fluke of scheduling, we ended up in the same class during our first year at Cornell, and despite having taken the language since seventh grade, we could barely say our name and count to ten; Scott, meanwhile, could hold forth on complicated, esoteric (but important) subjects such as what you will find within the pages of his new book.

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Although we can still only dream of speaking French with the grace of Scott Gunther, we have learned to love and appreciate the country to an extent that we like to think — at least in some ways — parallels Scott’s devotion. When we were younger, we used to say that there were people — Scott was a good example — who were more French than American, and it was only a fluke that they had been born in this country; we now understand that we were really describing an unconscious (at least at the time) desire of what we wanted to become, i.e., more French than American. (Though we would no doubt say the reverse if we were living in France.)

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It’s for this reason that we look forward to buying and reading Scott’s book, and encourage everyone else to do the same. We welcome any book that promises to shed light on a society that’s both more and less evolved than our own, and thus has much to teach us in both respects.

“Like any good closet, the French Republic has served both to protect and to restrain its gay citizens, keeping expressions of both pro-homosexual and anti-homosexual sentiment within a narrower range than has been the case in places like the United States – where both ‘gay pride’ and homophobia tend to be expressed more aggressively. The Elastic Closet examines the interconnected realms of law (from legal discrimination under Vichy to anti-hate speech legislation in 2004), politics (from the homophiles of the 1950s to distinctly French articulations of queer radicalism now) and the media (from postwar journals like Arcadie to Têtu and PinkTV today), with a focus on the relationship between French republican values and the possibilities they have offered for change in each of these three spheres. It is a reminder that in foreign places, other logics produce different, yet equally legitimate, strategies adapted to the constraints of their particular environments.”

For more info, see Scott’s website, or buy here.



2 Responses to “On The Elastic Closet: A History of Homosexuality in France, 1942-Present”

  1. Well, I bought it. But $59?!? And 184 pages (which works out to something like 32 cents per page)? ! There goes about three months of my discretionary Netflix spending money. So it better be good. The subject matter itself sounds so terrific — and something that few of us over here know anything about or have even considered at any length. I get most of my knowledge of French gay life from the country’s films, which — as good as many of these are — is of course only a partial view. I’ll weigh in with you, post-read. Your friend Scott sounds a lot like my ex-wife Rae, whose knowledge of French and France has always amazed me.

  2. THIS WAS A BRILLIANT POST!! I have my own longe and tangled francophile ostory myself. I adore all things French and someday hope I get to live there…

    I’m definitely going to buy the book, but when I have some more moola…sorry things are kinda tight for me at the moment. But seriously thank you for posting this! You really covered some ground on your European Holiday! Bravo.


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