On The Elastic Closet: A History of Homosexuality in France, 1942-Present
In which The Gay Recluse recommends a scholarly work.
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.
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.
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.)
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.”
Filed under: Gay, Landscape, Language, Letters, Writers-American, Writers-French | 2 Comments
Tags: Academic Works, France, Homosexuality, Scott Gunther, The Elastic Closet