For almost everyone I talk to, France represents love, romance, French kisses and sexual liberation. Everything and everyone here is just so carefree…But being a black gay man in the Paris region, I have to say that’s only a half-truth. France, believe it or not, is an extremely rigid society, more so (dare I say it) than the US. During the debates to legalize same-sex marriage, French politicians used every ridiculous excuse under the sun to prevent it, whereas in my own home state of Pennsylvania, the judge simply ruled it unconstitutional for us not to have that right and that was it. Being gay in France is considered outside the norm and when you travel beyond the borders of big cities, you can find yourself surrounded by people who have never (though is becoming very rare) even heard of homosexuality. For many French people, especially the older generation, homosexuality belongs in the closet.
My daily experience in France of being a «double minority» is in itself unique; if there’s not a comment about my sexuality, it’s a comment about my ethnicity. My French husband can probably trace his «Frenchness» farther back than I can trace my American heritage (given the fact that my mother is a nationalized US citizen i.e.: she wasn’t born in the United States). His family is all white and I love them just as if they were my own blood relatives, but at every family gathering I do stand out (through no fault of theirs, of course). For his family, me being black has never been an issue. On the contrary, people find it very interesting when I start to explain my origins (do you have a pen, paper and two hours?) With acquaintances, or even people he knows well, it’s sometimes a bit of a surprise when I say «Yes, I’m American» or «Yes, I’m gay», because I’m not what they are expecting.
One topic that I believe isn’t discussed enough, is what life is like for black gay men abroad (especially in France). Being gay and black in France has caused my experience here to be a mixed one – sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always different. We who identify as black and homosexual, whether in France or in the United States, are victims of ignorance and sometimes downright hatred, even within our own communities (homophobia in the black community and racism in the LBGT community). Sure, we have come a long way but there’s still more road left to go.
Contrary to popular belief, France does have a problem with racism. There have been many times when my husband told people that I’m American and they have honestly admitted to imagining a «white guy with blond or brown hair», only to find that I’m just a short, light-skinned black guy, lol. There have been questions like «Yes, you’re American now but where are you really from?» or «Were you born there or somewhere else?»
Even though France scores very highly in various polls related to LGBT acceptance, homophobia remains a problem here. Even though I live in the Paris region, I have still experienced latent homophobia in subtle gestures or words. When my husband and I were married, I took my husband’s last name and dropped my own (I’m not a fan of double names at all. To each his or her own, but personally, I don’t like it). There were comments like «Oh so you’re the woman then» or «No REAL man would do that». I must constantly state that I’m his HUSBAND and not his PARTNER or COMPANION (I’m not a pet). My most vivid memory of homophobia in France was the day I went to validate my French spousal visa at the OFII office. When I told the doctor examining me that I had a husband and not a wife, he actually said «That doesn’t sound right».
Is it harder to be gay and black in France than in the United States? I cannot honestly answer this question because both countries have similar issues but also both deal with those issues differently. I know it’s not easy in the United States, but I would also be lying if I said that it was easier in France. Being a double minority in France or the US is unique in both cases. Regardless of that, I still call France my home, just as I do the US.
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