LGBT+ in Paris: Three Campaigners Tell Their Stories

HEREYOUARE sat down with French LGBT+ campaigners to discuss their role in the fight against LGBT+ discrimination.

With the resurgence of the right-wing group La Manif Pour Tous, France has seen a steady increase in homophobic acts [Fr]. In rare form inherent in the LGBT+ community, activists and campaigners have responded with equal vigor. Today, more and more LGBT+ associations are mobilizing to fight back against the homophobia, the stigmatization, the hatred, and the violence.

After our discussion with Sister Rose, we decided to sit down with three other campaigners who have lived or currently live in Paris. For more insight into the ongoing battle in France, we asked them why it’s important to fight for LGBT+ rights today, in France.

Romy is a photographer, occasional porn actor, and identifies as queer. Soa is a burlesque dancer who grew up in a suburb of Paris, and Kael is a transgender photographer who published an artistic/political photo booklet on the Female to Male (FtM) transition.

Romy Alizee

Romy by Adlan Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Could you introduce yourself briefly?

My name’s Romy Alizee, I’m a photographer, model, and sometimes a pornographic actor.

Could you explain, how you personally, are involved in the fight for LGBT+ rights in Paris and France?

I campaign everyday by talking to people who are more or less concerned, by getting involved with events in Paris that promote the work of LGBT+ artists, and when I can, I help with my photography.

Why, in 2017, is it important to affirm this fight, and to campaign for LGBT+ rights in Paris?

It’s important because the inequalities still exist. And we can’t let homophobia or transphobia get any worse in France. If you don’t fight, no one else will. Simple as that.

We’re in 2017, and still, homosexual and transgender people are being harassed in the streets. In your opinion, why are people still afraid?

Our sexuality is an intimate part of our lives and it should never be a motivation for hate. Whenever a homophobic person approaches me, I always ask them: “What are these people doing to bother you?” Most of the time, I don’t get an answer. I feel some frustration on their side, rejection and projection all mixed together into one big feeling of existential malaise. In my opinion, if you’re doing fine in life, feeling good, then it shouldn’t matter who’s fucking who; you shouldn’t be wasting your time hating someone who’s changed their gender.

Romy by Adlan Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Romy by Adlan Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Could you tell me any safe places that there are for LGBT+ people in Paris?

Shemale Trouble and The Playnight are a couple of parties I know of.

We’ve seen what’s going on in Chechnya: LGBT+ people are being killed and sent to camps. Do you think we’re protected from things like that in France?

Yes, I think so. Unfortunately, with La Manif Pour Tous, homophobia has come back strong–but as for Chechnya, I have faith in our citizens to stop something like that before it endangered the existence of LGBT+ people in France. Still, we have to stay vigilant and not sleep on what we’ve got. The events in Chechnya are a wake-up call for those who say that everything is “fine and dandy in the global LGBT+ community.”

Is it necessary to be an activist to affirm the rights of the LGBT+ community?

I think that if you claim to be part of the LGBT+ community, then that’s already an act of campaigning. People know what LGBT+ stands for. Activism though, that’s something else, something concrete. But you can still feel part of the community without having to join an association or manifestation, etc.

Romy by Adlan Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Do you think Paris can become a leader in the rights of the LGBT+ community? Do you feel like things are progressing here, or getting worse?

I think Paris has a pretty cool queer scene: it’s active, but could probably be a little more flamboyant. For sure, La Manif Pour Tous didn’t help, and as for that type of hate, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We need to do more, be stronger, with more people. We need to rip ourselves out of this Parisian shyness, strap on our dildoes, and truly express ourselves through this movement.

You told me that you consider yourself more queer than LGBT. Could you explain to me a little more about what you meant?

Queer people are part of the LGBT+ community. In the “+,” you have “Q,” for “Queer”. For me, it’s just more appropriate because it erases any type of conventional order, not just sexual preferences.

Follow Romy on Instagram

Kael Block

Kael by Adlan Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Could you introduce yourself in a few words?

My name is Kael T Block. I´m a photographer. I’m transgender. I’m 38 years old.

Could you explain, how you personally, are involved in the fight for LGBT+ rights in Paris and France?

I helped out by showcasing some of the next generation of transgender FtMs (Female to Males), between 2003 and 2013 with a series of photo portraits. They were written up by a couple of magazines like Les Inrocks, Têtu, and Philosophie Magazine, and I displayed them in a few Parisian exhibits. The series of portraits, called The XX Boys, was displayed in a lot of Parisian festivals, LGBT+ identified places, and also in some places who’d never displayed pictures like that before. The photos challenged the public and made them discover the images, the existence of FtMs outside of prejudice.

It is important to campaign to have the same rights as any other French citizen, and to show that sometimes our society plays a role in endangering the LGBT+ community

They were displayed at a Transgender Conference at Harvard Law School; at the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg, and in alternative Parisian galleries that were into the human body and body-modding. But also they were displayed in public places like for the Parisian contest “Parole Photographique,” which had them displayed on the Parisian subway and in the heart of the Parisian neighborhood Le Marais. The images have usually been well-received by the public and opened up a lot of discussion about transsexuality, gender, the human body, and the masculinity of these young men, who were all so different. Some were very masculine, others more feminine, some having just begun their transition and some just finished. And they were all displayed side by side in order to break down stereotypes and to affirm the existence of these men on the road to a non-biological transition.

Why, in 2017, is it important to affirm this fight, and to campaign for LGBT+ rights in Paris?

Just to have the same rights as any other French citizen, and to show that sometimes our society plays a role in endangering the LGBT+ community.

What are some efforts that we can still be doing in the fight for LGBT+ rights?

I believe that energy is constant and always renewing itself, that actions come in a thousand different shades, whether it’s political or artistic.

Could you explain how your campaign for LGBT+ began?

When I was 20 years old I started unraveling my identity. The whole process took place without words, without images. The internet wasn’t what it’s like today. Facebook didn’t exist, Instagram didn’t exist, and what I knew about transsexuals was that it was something monstrous practiced only by experimentalists, or people who committed suicide. It was an impossibility. Of course, the more it became obvious who I was, the more I got stuck in the stereotypes I grew up with, amplified by shows on TV, or the daily insults I heard on the street. I soon realized I could never go back to what I once was–no matter the cost, be it solitude, rejection, or marginalization–so I started doing my research. I looked up blogs of FtM people who shared their experience of transition. All the blogs were American. It was so touching reading these blogs because everything was so detailed, step by step, shot after shot of testosterone: the evolution of these men; and it completely got rid of any fear I had of making my own transition.

I’m very close to my community, being somewhat of a dinosaur among many of the young people who are only just beginning their transition–and there are so many!

Around this time I really started to get involved, artistically. I was the first one to march shirtless in 2003, to showcase my scars and to affirm my pride in being a trans male and to show that my body is as beautiful as the next and I should have no reason to hide or disguise it. It was an important message for the other people in the march who have trouble “spotting” the FtMs, which are far less visible than female transsexuals. It was also important for FtMs, because we need to accept ourselves, and we can’t hide ourselves and we need this next generation to be at ease with our bodies. Right now, I’m not “actively” campaigning. I’m very close to my community, being somewhat of a dinosaur among many of the young people who are only just beginning their transition–and there are so many! I campaign in my everyday life, giving advice, reassurance…

Would you be able to tell me some of the places that are secure for LGBT+ in Paris?

I’m sure that throughout these interviews the same places will be suggested, so I’d rather say that I think it’s really important to go outside of LGBT+ spaces. We all have different lives on top of our Lesbian, Gay, Bi or Trans life. And speaking from my experience as a trans man, I’d say that we probably have a greater need to go out to places that are non-LGBT+: we shouldn’t go out to places based solely on our sexual identity, because many of us identify as hetero, and many of us have desires considered “mainstream.” Whenever someone begins their journey, being in LGBT+ safe places helps to construct their identity, to blossom, to jump into the world, to make experiences, and to know they’re not in danger. But you can’t stay in that bubble forever. You have to be able to continue constructing your identity outside of those spaces. It’s in “testing” these non-LGBT+ spaces that you acquire a certain confidence in who you are, and a feeling of safety.

To truly affirm the rights of the LGBT+ community, is it necessary to be an activist?

It’s pretty difficult sometimes to tell someone “I’m gay/bi/trans.” You’re often subjected to intrusive questions, which can be harmful depending on how well-prepared you are for these types of interactions. Often people asking these questions are not objective or warm, but some of them are, and it is for these people that it’s worth making an effort, and answering their questions because these people will increase the respect for the LGBT+ Community.

Follow Kael on Twitter

Soa de Muse

Soa by Adlan Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Could you briefly introduce yourself?

I’m Soa, a burlesque dancer, and a dream engineer for whom gender is indefinable. Honestly, I don’t want to define my gender. These days, it doesn’t really matter anymore. I mean, at least, I don’t care. Gender just isn’t something that I want to subscribe to.

Can you explain how you personally participate in the fight for LGBT+ rights in Paris and France?

I don’t just fight for LGBT+. When I have someone’s attention, when I am on stage, I tell them about my history, my origins, and the things that make me different. Really it’s just society that says I’m different. But I see that as a good thing. Whenever I meet people who look at me and listen to me, I just try to let them know where I’m from, what I feel, and what I see in my daily Parisian life.

Soa de Muse by Adlan Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Soa de Muse by Adlan Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Why, in 2017, is it important to affirm the fight and campaign for the LGBT+ community in Paris?

I grew up, I evolved, and now I want to feel like I’m useful in this fight. And not just showing off, but telling stories. If I can get a message across, why not kill two birds with one stone? That’s what I do, in my own way, through burlesque dancing, singing, and sending messages with my body and movement. Sometimes, I’m invited to do an artist residency somewhere. Last time it was in Lebanon where I performed for two weeks. It was an amazing opportunity to talk to new people.

Soa de Muse by Adlan Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

We are in 2017, but still transgender and homosexual people are being harassed in the streets. In your opinion, why are people still afraid?

People have always been afraid of a lot of things. Especially when it’s something they’ve never seen. People think they’ve been given this divine mission, and then they feel like they’re on a big witch hunt. Honestly, it’s kind of funny. I mean, it’s super sad, but like, it’s kind of funny too. It’s probably a little utopian what I’m about to say, but we can’t shy away from this stuff. One day we WILL play an important role in society and we’ll have a hand in governing this crazy fucking world. Do you hear Xena’s music that plays in the background while I am saying this?

Adlan Mansri is a young Berlin based photographer. Through his lenses, he brings his sight of the world and the humans he meets with a reporter's eye.
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