The city’s major gay district, the Marais, is slowly turning into a boutique shopping centre with Givenchy and The Kooples next door to its many gay bars.
It’s hard not to be a bit nostalgic for the 1990s and early 2000s when the Parisian gay scene was arguably at its best. The gay community, however, has faced change before, and it’ll take more than a Prada shop to snuff out the city's gay scene – plus, who buys Prada anyway?
With that in mind, here are ten things you probably didn't know about Gay Paree:
1. Gay memorial stone
In 1750, a gay couple was burned to death in front of the Hotel de Ville for being gay. They were the last to be punished for homosexuality in France. A memorial to them has been laid at the intersection of Rue Montorgueil and Rue Bachaumont, where the two were caught by police.
(The memorial near Rue Montorgueil. Photo: Bryan Pirolli)
Decades later, in 1791 during the French Revolution, the new government decriminalized homosexual relations. “Only” 222 years later, in 2013, France finally legalized same-sex marriage.
2. Paris's original gay scene
There was no one gay location throughout the 1800s, but gays would hang out in the gardens (and still do by the Carrousel du Louvre), along the Champs Elysées, by the Bourse, and elsewhere.
(A marcher at the Pride parade in Paris. Photo: AFP)
When sexual liberation began to hit, Rue Sainte Anne became home to the original gay scene with some of the best nightclubs of the 1960s and 1970s. While few of these venues remain, replaced largely by Japanese restaurants, you can still visit the sauna TiL'T and the nearby Club 18.
3. The golden age of lesbian nightlife
There are few lesbian bars in Paris today, though in the early 1900s lesbian couples often congregated around Montmartre and Montparnasse. In one popular ladies-only nightclub, Le Monocle, women would dress up in tuxedos alongside other women sporting traditionally feminine garb. It was a sort of golden era of lesbian nightlife that Paris hasn’t seen in the past decades.
(Rosa Bonheur. Photo: Rosa Bonheur/Facebook)
While we're in the Marais… did you know there is a bakery selling penis shaped baked goods? Check out the aptly named Legay Choc bakeries in the Marais which are stocked with penis-shaped edibles. If it’s not bread, it’s the galette des rois, a raspberry tart, or a brioche in the shape of men’s privates. How’s that for pride?
(Photo: Legay Choc/Facebook)
5. Homophobe to the end at Notre Dame
After marriage was legalized for all couples in France in early 2013, there were still plenty of protests from conservatives. None, perhaps, were as shocking as that of 78-year-old Dominique Venner.
(Inside the Notre Dame Cathedral. Photo: Dennis Jarver/Flickr)
In May 2013, he entered the popular tourist attraction of the Notre Dame cathedral, left a letter on the altar, and shot himself dead in front of shocked visitors.
6. The last 'gay urinal'
In the 19th century, gay men were arrested for indecent exposure in the many public urinals installed during the 1830s. While the structures evolved over time, these vespasiennes (public urinals) were generally known as meeting points for homosexual and male prostitutes across the city.
(A vespasienne in 1865, left, and the last one left today, right. Photos: WikiCommons)
Today, just one such urinal still exists in Paris, down on Boulevard Arago in the 13th arrondissement. It’s less of a scene these days though.
7. Kitsch drag in Montmartre
Drag shows may not be huge in Paris’s gay bars, but head to the nearly 60-year-old Cabaret Michou in Montmartre for some true kitsch. It’s not quite on the level of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, but it’s still entertaining drag, if you speak French.
The owner, openly gay octogenarian Michou, is still very much a part of the establishment. You’ll know him by his signature blue glasses.
8. Powerful gay community
Former Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë was (and is) openly gay, and he is just the most recent of a list of powerful LGBT figures in France. For example, King Henri III in the 1500s was allegedly more interested in his male entourage than his own wife.
(Bertrand Delanoë and Liza Minelli at Paris Pride. Photo: AFP)
Violette Morris was a lesbian who collaborated on secret projects with the Germans during World War II. And the Chevalier d’Eon was a famous transvestite who worked as a spy and diplomat in the 1700s under Louis XV. More recently, former cultural minister Frédéric Mitterand is openly bisexual. The current ambassador to Rome is a gay man, as is the assistant mayor of Paris, Bruno Julliard.
9. French text speak
There is a whole set of French LGBT lingo to know, for gays and lesbians alike. You may hear a French gay men throwing around words like tante (literally “aunt”), papa gâteau (“sugar daddy”), or crevette (literally “shrimp” but describing a twink).
You may hear lesbians referred to as a gousse (garlic clove), but that might be a bit dated. Much of the gay slang is now found on online dating sites. You’ll have to ask if he’s TBM (très bien monté, or “well hung”) and dispo (“available”) to sound really French when meeting gay men. Voltaire would be proud.
In global lesbian lingo, the word “femme” (a lesbian with particularly feminine attributes) actually derives from the French for “woman”.
10. The oldest gay bar in Marais
Today, the Marais in the third arrondissement is the centre of gay life in Paris, but it only became so fairly recently.
(Rue des Archives during Pride 2015. Photo: Bryan Pirolli)
The first gay bar opened there in 1978, and today, the oldest existing bar, the Duplex, which opened in 1980, is still a popular watering hole. Before that, the Marais was far from rainbow washed, acting instead as a hub of Jewish life and Chinese immigrants.
These tips were provided by the folks at The Gay Locals, gay guides in Paris offering private tours to all travelers, LGBT or other. Check out their website here.