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Queering the City

Queering Gay Tourism as Activism: Guy Hocquenghem’s Political Journey in the United States

Thomas Muzart


En conformité avec la réticence de Guy Hocquenghem à s’identifier totalement à un homosexuel tout en en étant un dans Le désir homosexuel (1972), son guide Le gay voyage (1980) s’appuie sur le phénomène du tourisme gay tout en dénonçant sa contribution au capitalisme et à la normativité. En se concentrant sur les entrées consacrées à New York, San Francisco et Los Angeles, cet article montre que le guide politise les façons dont les homosexuels ont inventé aux États-Unis de nouveaux modes de vie qui, d’après Jack Halberstam, élaborent des perspectives queers du temps et de l’espace qui peuvent inspirer l’après révolution sexuelle tout en résistant à l’homonormativité.

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  • 1 In her introduction of the summer 1991 special issue of differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural (...)
  • 2 Hocquenghem’s legacy includes many aspects, some of which are perceived today as highly problematic (...)

1Considered by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick as a “queer theorist avant la lettre” (175), it has actually taken Guy Hocquenghem quite a bit more time to become a reference in queer theory than the popularization of the term queer after feminist scholar Teresa de Lauretis first used it in a scholarly sense in 1991.1 Despite a few studies in the United States such as Bill Marshall’s biography, Guy Hocquenghem: Beyond Gay Identity (1996), or Lee Edelman’s No Future (2004), Hocquenghem’s work and ideas as a gay activist and intellectual from the 1970s had been left out of French LGBTQ studies until the recent rediscovery of his important legacy thanks to the sociologist Antoine Idier’s Les vies de Guy Hocquenghem. Politique, sexualité, culture. In his essay, Idier analyzes the several positions Hocquenghem occupied in the social sphere, which, following Bourdieu’s insight, he characterizes as “placements” and “displacements” (2017 13). This mobility across various spaces, temporalities, and contexts, Idier argues, represents an opportunity to understand how Hocquenghem’s homosexuality influenced his subjectivity and his way of thinking in multiple directions that influenced minority struggles in the 1970s and early 1980s, and can further inspire contemporary political reflections and actions.2

  • 3 All translations from the French are mine.

2Following Idier’s impulse, this article proposes to examine Hocquenghem’s literal placements and displacements in order to determine how the author’s apprehension of space and travel derives from his non-normative sexuality and informs his views on queer politics. According to the foreword from the 2018 reedition of his book Race d’Ep ! Un siècle d’images de l’homosexualité, Hocquenghem’s activism helped design a counter-world for homosexuals who resist the idea of social integration: “there is no promised land for homosexuals. Someone needed to invent one, a promised land that does not establish itself as a State nor appears on a surface which can be captured. A counter-world with neither a map nor a compass” (12).3 Hocquenghem’s Le gay voyage (1980), I argue, participates in the elaboration of such a counter-world. Unlike conventional gay travel guides describing locations as safe promise lands for homosexuals, Le gay voyage represents a political exploration of homosexual life and communities and organizations around the world in the late 1970s that challenges the emergence of gay tourism and the collusion between the gay movement and capitalism.

3In The Twilight of Equality, Lisa Duggan argues that, instead of embodying a subversive position, gays and lesbians at the end of the twentieth century fell into the trap of homonormativity by defending an ideal of fluidity which works hand in hand with the values of the free market. Despite the legitimacy of such an insight, it is important to also underline the coexistence of a transnationalism “from above,” made of multinational corporations, global media, and macrostructural processes, with a transnationalism “from below,” which, according to Françoise Lionnet and Shu-mei Shi, corresponds to the practices and actions of ordinary people who resist capitalism and refuse assimilation to the nation-state. Despite its intended desire for a unifying world order, transnationalism, Lionnet and Shi observe, has produced multilayered spatiotemporalities that ultimately challenge the divide between the local and the global, and provided minoritized cultures with opportunities to create networks within and across national boundaries (7). I consider Hocquenghem’s encounters with gay subjects and groups through his travels, especially in the United States, as a form of minor transnationalism elaborating new forms of cooperation and identification among sexual minorities. As early as 1972, Hocquenghem was very critical of the inability of gay activism to maintain its subversiveness in French society and questioned his own position within this revolutionary movement that was gradually becoming institutionalized. Using Max Weber and Pierre Bourdieu’s respective terminologies, Idier considers this issue as a typical one in the social sciences, which can be summarized by the question: “what does the ‘prophet’ or the ‘heretic’ become once the ‘symbolical revolution’ is (partially) accomplished?” (2017 171). During this critical juncture experienced by gay subjects in the late 1970s and early 1980s, between subversive resistance and normative inclusion, Hocquenghem sought answers to this question abroad, particularly across the Atlantic Ocean. Even though New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles saw the development of a gay culture siding with capitalistic and normative inflexions, these large US cities simultaneously represented experimental spaces where Hocquenghem discovered gay subjects who, like him, sought to preserve the subversive or queer aspect of their identity group by reconfiguring modes of living, belonging, and political practice.

Traveling the Minor Way Instead of Gay Tourism

4A year before the publication of Le gay voyage, Hocquenghem had already started expressing interest in the influence of travel and geographical displacements in La beauté du métis (1979). While the title might suggest that the essay is a tribute to the notion or practice of métissage, the subtitle “réflexions d’un francophobe” reflects more accurately the content of a pamphlet against France and its hegemonic culture, which he defines as “france-thinking” (la pensée-france). Hocquenghem extensively develops his thoughts on the ways in which France has historically been unfit for métissage:

Because of its concrete idealism, france-thinking cuts out its “reality” by eliminating the tensions on which other peoples live: tensions between territory and language, between ideology and reality, between past and future. All is continuity, since only representations deriving from national premises are admitted. (1979 45)

5Instead of considering tensions as the basis for what makes cultures relate to each other and thrive, france-thinking arbitrarily cuts out reality in a way that creates an artificial sense of continuity. The politics of assimilation during the colonial period as well as those of integration for immigrants in the postcolonial context illustrate this desire to extend French identity as a universal ideal and, therefore, a norm to embrace. Self-proclaimed as one and indivisible, the French Republic denies particularisms and discredits any form of alterity by considering it a threat. The hegemonic tendency that derives from cutting out one’s own reality and imposing it on others echoes Hocquenghem’s critique of sexual categories, which he accuses in Le désir homosexuel (1972) of cutting into the uninterrupted and polymorphous flux of desire (12). Like the division between French and other cultures and identities, the division between heterosexual and homosexual desires is a social construction that effects power, whereby homosexuality is a negative umbrella category that excludes any sexual subject deviating from the heterosexual norm. Therefore, it is possible to connect Hocquenghem’s will to dissociate with France with his reluctance to identify as a homosexual. While he is both, he refuses such terms to overdetermine his social subject position. The urge to undo oneself comes from the dissatisfaction of just being oneself.

6One of the solutions Hocquenghem identifies to remedy this condition is to expand one’s horizons and sense of self by traveling. However, Hocquenghem is well aware that flying across national borders is not enough to get rid of one’s own cultural prejudice and sense of superiority. He gives the example of travel journals, which have become a literary trope whereby various authors all visit the same places and are mainly interested in comparing each other’s impressions. In doing so, they elaborate an image that keeps the unknown at a safe distance and apprehends it according to French standards: “Lands abroad are not embraced but plucked with tongs, like sugar. They are dispensed in small little cubes of literary foreignness that are found in books in the ‘travel’ section of france’s library” (1979 152). Influenced by these writings, travelers encounter foreign locations as places that they have already read about and can therefore immediately read like an open book. Hocquenghem criticizes here the correlation between national superiority and the development of the tourist industry, which disturbingly takes the form of a neocolonial undertaking.

  • 4 The guide still exists under the name Spartacus International Gay Guide and is now owned by GayGuid (...)

7Far from being exempt from such tendencies, homoerotic writings historically participated in this tendency to reduce the Other as an Orientalized fantasy, a sweet delicacy to consume while traveling or reading travel literature. Hocquenghem undoubtedly refers to André Gide whose L’Immoraliste (1902) and Journal de voyage (1939) have made him a prominent illustration of a traveler taking advantage of the supposed greater moral freedom abroad (particularly in North Africa) to experiment with his sexuality (Boone 3-50). The French homosocial group Arcadie capitalized on such insights to promote the Maghreb as a region where homosociability guaranteed easy sexual encounters with Arab men. In the 1970s, several tourist guides started to target gay men and to promote various destinations providing sexual opportunities. Spartacus, which was available in English, French, and German, is one of several popular guides for sexual tourism (Shepard 121). Published every year since 1970, initially in the United Kingdom, and after 1972 in Amsterdam in order to avoid censorship, Spartacus is symptomatic of the rampant commercialization that accompanied gay liberation.4 This complicity of homosexuality with capitalism represents exactly what Hocquenghem had feared from the beginning of gay liberation activism: by relying on a fixed identity category, homosexuals have lost their subversive qualities and have been turned into a group of happy consumers whose international traveling contributes to mass tourism and the reinforcement of the very hegemonic forms of powers they used to oppose.

8Consistent with Hocquenghem’s reluctance to identify fully as a homosexual while being one, Le gay voyage as a travel guide plays with the ambiguities of sexual tourism. Indeed, while referencing the various gay places to visit for each destination, Hocquenghem explains in the prologue that his book is not addressed to the rushed homosexual tourists who might as well read Spartacus. He specifies that if Le gay voyage is a guide, it is first and foremost a personal one. It does not profess to be exhaustive and derives entirely from his arbitrary decisions to include this or that destination. Unlike the homosexual guides of the time, it is particularly striking to notice the absence of the Maghreb. Moreover, among the seven places chosen by Hocquenghem, one is a movie theater in Paris and another is a fantasized and mythological version of the Egyptian city, Alexandria. The author’s claim to personal freedom further expands to the readers who, after reading Hocquenghem’s subjective accounts on each place, are invited to create their own itinerary. The guide does not act as a model but rather as an approach to follow, which consists in visiting a city from a minor point of view. The term “minor” derives from the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, who inspired Hocquenghem’s thought from the very beginning. While Le désir homosexuel owes a lot to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Œdipe, published a few months after Hocquenghem’s essay in 1972, Le gay voyage dialogues with Kafka. Pour une littérature mineure (1975) and Mille plateaux (1980). The minor in minor literature involves challenging the representational system of a dominant language by introducing linguistic and syntactic elements that disrupt stable meanings and orders between categories of things and people. Interestingly described by Deleuze and Guattari as a form of deterritorialization, the minor use of language may be applied to space and, in the context of Hocquenghem’s journey, implies traveling off the dominant path and apprehending the places he visits based on his own peculiar desire.

9Deleuze and Guattari’s distinction between striated space and smooth space is also helpful to understand Hocquenghem’s minor travels. Striated space represents the homogeneous, hence normative understanding of space, which falls under the authority of the state apparatus. Various walls, enclosures, roads, and borders guarantee a sedentary way of life in which a fixed vertical ruling prevails. On the opposite, smooth space promotes a nomadic understanding of space, where multiple departure points enable a wide array of paths. As Deleuze and Guattari explain, the quality of a space is not inherent, but instead depends on the perspective adopted by subjects, who can either embrace homogeneity or heterogeneity. Following an undetermined trajectory, Hocquenghem indulges in deviations that lead him to turn spaces initially perceived as striated into smooth ones and to move from connection to connection. According to him, the night is the most appropriate time, and cruising the most successful way to engage in such a process:

A map of a city is a hunting ground. And cruising, a way to read this map, which soon covers it up, scribbles over it, makes it unreadable to anyone but myself, until it slips away, crumpled and damp for having been held for so long, through the window of a pop tram or yellow taxi. (10)

10Because desire is singular, a subject who is cruising will necessarily make the space of the city his own territory. The physical map becomes obsolete once the cold and rational space has become affectively charged by the singular experience of the traveler who created his own internal sketch.

11Through this transition from striated to smooth spaces, the metropolises described in Le gay voyage are no longer cities from several distinct countries, but ghettos forming a network interconnected by the drive of desire:

I do not know cities, I only know ghettos. Ghettos that succeed each other, barely interrupted by train stations and airports. City of Night, the great American writer John Rechy once said: the Lungotevere ends up at West Street, the Tiber plunges into the Hudson River, the back door of this Amsterdam sauna opens up to the dark room of a movie theater in Pigalle. (9)

  • 5 In addition to Rechy’s and Hocquenghem’s “literature of cruising,” to use Dennis Altman’s expressio (...)

12Beyond the reference to John Rechy’s City of Night (1963),5 Hocquenghem’s apprehension of space imitates the novel’s narrator, who thinks “of America as one vast City of Night stretching gaudily from Times Square to Hollywood Boulevard” (9). Describing this continuous space as a ghetto, Hocquenghem proposes a new understanding that differs from the two conventional definitions of the term. The first and broad meaning of ghetto refers to a portion of a city in which members of a minority group live because of social, legal, or economic pressures or actual strictures. The second definition, specifically used in the context of homosexuality, describes the neighborhood in which the gay population deliberately chose to live. This particular form of ghetto not only includes housing, but also businesses and community services which provide a safe space for homosexuals. Whether forced or chosen, the isolation of a population, for Hocquenghem, is something to ultimately resist. That is why his version of a ghetto is not a specific portion of a city, but potentially everywhere given that it is not a physical but an interior space: “Each one of us carries our own ghetto with him” (10). From this perspective, it is possible to understand that bringing the Lungotevere close to West Street or the Tiber close to the Hudson River does not derive from a French tourist’s claim to superiority, a hegemonic position that subsumes all that is foreign to inherently the same, but rather from the fact that every experience of space derives from a singular perspective, a minority position. This phenomenological approach shares similarities with what Bertrand Westphal coins as geocriticism. Challenging ideas of continuity and unity, geocriticism recognizes the significant role that subjects and their discourses play in the understanding of space, which interrogates the very idea of “reality” by revealing its relativeness and plurality (3). This focus on singularity does not necessarily amount to alienation or isolation. Westphal describes how a space turns into a place once it has acquired a specific meaning for a given group of people. In Le gay voyage, Hocquenghem similarly considers that a minor way of apprehending space is enhanced by encounters with others who, from their position as minorities, produce forms of knowledge that reveal the multilayered, conflictual, and therefore political aspects of spaces and participate in the elaboration of new places.

13The deconstruction of space in a minor way further echoes what Jack Halberstam calls the queering of space. Halberstam uses the term queer to refer to non-normative logics and organizations of “community, sexual identity, embodiment, and activity in space and time” (6). A queer space, according to him, implies practices which do not conform to the logics of reproduction, longevity, non-risk-taking, or inheritance (6). Presenting the consumption of alcohol and drugs as one of the best ways to disrupt one’s own boundaries and certainties, Hocquenghem similarly elaborates a “gay voyage” that is not a safe trip to the Club Med at some gay-friendly destination, but rather an exploration of minor or queer subcultures opening to the experience of the city as being simultaneously “malevolent and marvelous” (11). Reluctant, yet not in denial of the normalization and commercialization of gay life in his travel guide, Hocquenghem politicizes subcultures and individuals that have developed strategies to preserve their irreverent specificity.

The United States as the Land of Queer Experiments

  • 6 In Quartiers gays (2014), Colin Giraud corroborates such an observation by stating that the notion (...)

14Even though Hocquenghem dedicates a few entries of his guide to European cities (Berlin, Amsterdam, and Rome), he mostly considers them as dormant locations where the growing tolerance toward homosexuality has contributed to the development of bars, nightclubs, and public cruising places for gay people that have made their activism obsolete. While Europe might have constituted a proper place to develop a queer way of life in the past, the United States appears to be a more promising land in Le gay voyage, with half of the guide focusing on New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In an interview with Mark Blasius published in the Christopher Street Reader (1983), Hocquenghem explains his interest in the United States by the fact that the gay movements have spawned gay communities. Despite the creation of “Groupes de Libération Homosexuelle” (GLH) that aimed to generate a communal sense of belonging through social and cultural activities in France’s major cities, such a transition, he noticed, had not taken place as it had in New York and San Francisco, where people felt part of a community and lived together in certain parts of the city.6 Dennis Altman’s essay The Homosexualization of America: The Americanization of the Homosexual (1982) corroborates Hocquenghem’s observation by explaining how gay identity and culture found an opportune environment in the United States because of the American liberal politics that favor social groups over class belonging (ix). On the contrary, the prevalence in France of class-based ideology is an obstacle to the political formation of other minority groups, which Hocquenghem himself extensively criticized in L’après-mai des faunes (1974) after distancing himself from communist ideologies following May ’68. While praising the development of a specific gay identity in the United States, Altman nuances this very assessment by claiming that American society accepts gay culture as long as it fits with its dominant values (ix). The capitalistic turn taken by the gay community is undeniably problematic and explains why Le gay voyage’s depictions of American gay culture often alternate between admiration and revilement.

15Nonetheless, Hocquenghem views this particularity of “not only having a ‘movement,’ but having a sense of community, even if it takes the form of ‘ghettos,’” as a crucial step for gay subjectivity and collectivity “because it is the basis for anything else” (355). This positive view on community, as Idier observes, seems uncommon for an author who usually vehemently criticizes the respectability and conformism sought by gay subjects (2017 191). However, by refusing to determine the outcome, which could be “anything,” Hocquenghem offers an understanding of community-building that is more nuanced and opened to subversion. Still, it represents a significant shift in Hocquenghem’s perception that, I argue, actually corresponds to the shift from a European to an American theoretical tradition on homosexuality. Altman describes the European approach as Freudian because of its reliance on the psychoanalytical understanding of sexual desire as inherently polymorphous. The American one, he observes, is more sociological due to its focus on identity, culture, and lifestyle. Referring to Hocquenghem and placing him on the radical liberationist side of the European tradition, along with the Italian activist Mario Mieli, Altman reproaches him with ignoring the “day-to-day experiences of homosexual people” (x). In documenting the lives and practices of the gay community, Le gay voyage demonstrates Hocquenghem’s adoption of an approach to homosexuality that complexifies his tendency to correlate homosexual desire with systematic subversion.

16In this respect, his position is reminiscent of Michel Foucault’s, who underlined the queer potential of American subcultures. In his essay on the French philosopher, David Halperin reflects on the normalization that operates in queer culture, especially the consumerist lifestyle displayed through clothing, tattoos, haircuts, body-building, and so on. According to him, Foucault’s response is that, while these homosexual groups cannot claim a queer status, their search for new practices and styles nonetheless shows queer potential. Consistent with Foucault’s openness, Halperin considers the term queer as “an empty placeholder for an identity that is still in progress and has yet as to be fully realized” (112). It promotes a state of becoming, of an identity that never settles or a community that never fixes its limits. That is why Halperin is also wary of the idea of determining what is truly queer or queer enough, given that setting particular criteria would, ironically, turn queerness into a normative category. I consider that Hocquenghem demonstrates a similar state of mind when he meets homosexual subjects and groups whose increased visibility and participation in urban life place them somewhere in between normativity and non-normativity.

  • 7 In addition to this majority of clones, Hocquenghem explains that men from the leather community pa (...)

17Starting with New York City, Hocquenghem observes with interest how liberalism allows a peculiar mix of homosexuality with Christian humanism. Visiting a gay Catholic church, he notices the presence of many couples of gay clones, i.e., men with short hair and moustaches wearing blue jeans and jackets with sneakers.7 While his use of the term clones is somewhat sarcastic, he nonetheless credits them for creating a new form of masculinity: “a downplayed virility: because the singularity of ‘clones’ is this slightly ironic acceptance of their own cliché, this indifference to their own conformity” (50). It is this supposed self-awareness which, according to Hocquenghem, allows them to navigate the ambiguous relation between gender norms and sexual marginality. Similarly, the gay-friendly Church of the Beloved Disciple, which he visited, had found a way to accommodate the religious texts and traditions with a gay lifestyle. The three gay priests that Hocquenghem interviews explain to him the existence of a fifth gospel allowing a carnal interpretation of Jesus’s famous commandment “love one another” and a festive approach to the holy mass. They also sanction new practices that subvert both marriage and priests’ mandatory celibacy. For example, Hocquenghem discovers that two of his interviewees, Fathers Victor and Timothy, are actually engaged. In the face of what would seem a step toward normalization and heteronormativity, the two partners specify that their sense of fidelity concerns love rather than sex (48). Along with the renunciation of the obligation of carnal fidelity challenging traditional marriage, Monsignor Clement, the only openly gay Catholic bishop in the world in the late 1970s, advocates for the expansion of sexual practices including acts beyond sodomy. As an adept of fist-fucking, he participates in the recent development of BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) which experiments with sexual acts unsubordinated to genitals and conventional power dynamics.

18As Monsignor Clement’s own experience suggests, the sense of community generated by a church is not far from the one that gay men may find in sex clubs, which is the other main source of socialization that Hocquenghem explored in New York. Samuel Delany’s distinction between “contact” and “network” in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue is nonetheless helpful to demonstrate how the church and the sex club actually represent two distinct forms of socialization. On the one hand, the church, which gathers people who share more or less the same background and social skills, is a space of network. On the other hand, sex clubs and other facilities for casual and public sex, whose patrons may come from all walks of life and have nothing in common but their interest in same-sex sexual encounters, are spaces of contact. Because an urban environment needs both forms of socialization for “a relaxed and friendly sexual atmosphere in a democratic metropolis,” Delany strongly defends the preservation of sexual places of contact that tend to disappear in favor of networks, because the interclass relations they make possible are increasingly perceived as unsafe and a threat to social order (127). While in 1979 Times Square’s sexual scene had not yet been dismantled by urban revitalization policies, Hocquenghem already observed this pattern that favored network over contact. Embracing the latter for its sexual and interclass intermingling, he offers a description of the Mineshaft, a club resembling what Gayle Rubin had observed in her study of the S/M club The Catacombs in San Francisco during the late 1960s. Despite the extreme sex acts practiced by patrons, the club contributes to the elaboration of collective practice and community formation where kindness and fraternity prevail (Hocquenghem, 1980 62). Hocquenghem enthusiastically considers such a discrepancy as an opportunity to challenge conventional views on sexuality: “Our views on sex are perhaps inadequate to conceive this mix of innocence and perverse obstinacy. No, those people are no brutes thirsty for sex, they are its very theatre” (63). The idea of theatralization does indeed correspond particularly well to what takes place in these sex clubs given that, due to their ingestion of alcohol and drugs, S/M practitioners, as Hocquenghem observes, focus on the dramatization of sexual acts using fists and urine, rather than actual sex acts involving genitalia and leading to orgasm.

19Paradoxically, the social creativity of the gay community in New York coexisted in the 1970s with legislation particularly hostile to homosexuals. While sex clubs were developing, Hocquenghem underlines how the antigay sodomy law still applicable in New York at the time could send any of their customers to jail (Blasius 359). Even though New York’s sodomy law was actually struck down soon after Hocquenghem gave his interview in 1980, his distinction between being a social movement and having political power remains relevant when one considers the scarcity of openly gay public officials at the time. San Francisco, on the contrary, appears in Le gay voyage as a promising location to challenge such an inconsistency. Hocquenghem explains that 200,000 or 300,000 homosexuals in a city of 700,000 inhabitants have more of an impact than a million in a metropolis of 12 million like New York. It is thanks to this ratio that San Francisco has become the gayest city in the world. Whereas Hocquenghem claims that this demographic trend results from the 1969 Stonewall events, gay presence in San Francisco actually dates back to the end of World War II after soldiers deployed or discharged in large US coastal cities decided to stay in these places guaranteeing greater sexual freedom (Bérubé; D’Emilio; Marche 27). Arriving three decades later, Hocquenghem discovered with curiosity the social and political organization generated by a movement of population so significant that it has been characterized as a gay migration (184). Interestingly, Hocquenghem considers geography as one of the factors explaining why gay people, like other disenfranchised groups, chose San Francisco and the initial inhabitants welcomed them: “If all those excluded from America chose San Francisco, it is because the city seems perpetually on the verge of unmooring” (173). The city’s location on the San Andreas Fault nourishes fantasies of separation from the continent which correspond well to the utopian dreams of unforeseen horizons that attracted the beatniks, the hippies, and other groups along with the homosexual community. More than a spatial particularity, the San Andreas Fault affects San Francisco’s conception of time in a way that, according to Hocquenghem, particularly fits with the gay community. Under the constant threat of an earthquake, the inhabitants of San Francisco have developed an indifference toward the rhetoric of catastrophe by intensely living “a continual interim” (177). The impossibility of relying fully on the long term challenges the reproductive futurism through which the heterosexual family has built its legitimacy as a superior social structure. An inspiration to Lee Edelman’s “no future” queer state of mind, Hocquenghem explains that focusing away from reproduction further lends itself to a vision of society that is no longer about making history and preserving one’s own heritage (180).

  • 8 In addition to L’après-mai des faunes, La dérive homosexuelle (1977) addresses Hocquenghem’s confli (...)

20While the position toward historical time appears subversive, it does not prevent the gay community from participating in the overall social and political life of San Francisco. Hocquenghem notices how the city has allowed homosexuals to occupy key positions in all sorts of institutions including the police or city government. His interview with gay city representative Harry Britt offers him an opportunity to reflect on the rise of the gay vote under the leadership of Harvey Milk, who owed his 1977 election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to a recent change in the municipal election system, from a city-wide constituency to a decentralized system with 11 districts, each representing more or less homogeneous neighborhoods and demographics. Consequently, the city government better reflected the diversity of its population with a gay supervisor for the gay district, a Black one for the Black district, a Chicano one for the Chicano district, and so on (192). Even though this form of multiculturalism, which acknowledges and respects different cultures while separating them, logically differs from his earlier advocacy of métissage, Hocquenghem does not criticize it in the least. Instead, he underlines that his interest in Britt not only comes from his homosexuality but also his Marxist affiliation, which created tensions with the more conservative branch of the local gay community (193). This conjunction of homosexuality and Marxism suggests that what happened in San Francisco at that time could lead to a more radical change than a mere access to power of a homosexual fringe that defends bourgeois consumerist interests. This American experience also significantly challenged the pessimism of Hocquenghem’s earlier works, where he could not imagine French homosexuals collaborating with communists and occupying a position of power within any political institutions.8 Britt further shares Hocquenghem’s reluctance to consider homosexuality as a pre-determined category: “Homosexuals, homosexuality, these things do not interest me. I am only interested in gays. Being gay, like being Black, is not a racial or a sexual category. It is about experiencing a certain oppression and struggling against it” (193). Britt’s preference for the term gay shows he understands homosexuality as an embodied experience of oppression that simultaneously politicizes subjectivity and makes room for alliances with other disenfranchised groups.

21Despite this promising political horizon, Hocquenghem could not ignore that the creation and recognition of the gay community in the United States derived, in significant part, from the fact that it represented a flourishing new market. According to a study in Business Week that he quotes in his guide, homosexuals represented 19% of overall consumption in the United States in 1980 (199). In San Francisco, gay businesses developed so much that the existing gay bars and clubs in the Castro asked for a halt to opening new establishments. At the end of his interview with Arthur S. Lazere, the director of the Golden Gate Business Association, the first gay chamber of commerce in the world, Hocquenghem cynically concludes: “If there is no ‘hard’ racketeering in San Francisco, it is perhaps, if I may be mean, because a gentle ‘new racketeering’ was born: that of the professionals of gay capitalism” (201). It is in Los Angeles, specifically in West Hollywood, that Hocquenghem claims to have fully measured the power of money in the gay community. Extremely critical of this wealth, which he finds absurd, extreme, and even insulting, he notes that when they cruise, gay men in fact cruise each other’s cars, meaning that the main criterion for selecting sexual partners is the brand and the price of their cars: “It is gay homo-automobilization. The fusion, the symbiosis between the gay figure and his car have reached here their ultimate level” (208). It is important to specify that what bothers Hocquenghem is not the process of dehumanization itself through the fusion of men with their cars, but rather the fact that such dehumanization is a sign of submission to the laws of capitalism. In L’après-mai des faunes, he celebrated the potential of motorbikes as desiring machines through which new forms of connections and pleasures were possible. Described by Hocquenghem as unhinged, these fiery machines are the opposite of the well-functioning cars that represent compliance to utilitarianism (182). While the mating dance of cars in Los Angeles could at first appear similar to the machine-like desire of motorbikes, it actually reveals the ways in which capitalism has shifted from a utilitarian to a consumerist perspective. I contend that through this observation, Hocquenghem was quite visionary in realizing very soon how moral liberalism can easily be co-opted by economic liberalism and produce new forms of alienation.

22In a city where even gay political figures act as lobbyists and power-brokers rather than advocates for change (211), Hocquenghem manages nonetheless to end his entry on Los Angeles on a hopeful note by interviewing Stephen Lachs, the first openly gay judge in the United States. The author acknowledges his surprise to identify Lachs right away at the Los Angeles Superior Court because of his effeminate look and “fairy demeanor” (213). Hocquenghem’s reaction translates how, even for an activist like him, it was still uncommon to observe gay people in institutional positions traditionally occupied by heterosexual men, where they are open and therefore visible about their sexual orientation. Beyond the mere question of representation, the interview reflects the ways in which being a gay man modifies the exercise of power. By sitting on the bench, Lachs embodies a form of authority that can prevent homophobic remarks and behaviors in court. While acknowledging his own privilege as a middle-class white man who attended a prestigious law school, the judge nonetheless considers that his non-normative sexuality increased his sensitivity to issues affecting other minorities, especially racial minorities. This particularity deriving from a shared experience of oppression is not superficial, given the high proportion of Black and Chicano citizens in Los Angeles (215).

23Hocquenghem’s encounter with Lachs and other gay subjects and groups throughout his transatlantic travel allowed him a glimpse of what José Esteban Muñoz has coined as “anticipatory illuminations of queerness” (21), which contrast with the gay-rights-based political approach and the development of gay capitalism Hocquenghem simultaneously observed in the United States. Reproaching the inefficacy of the former for its indirect lobbying, which keeps gay politicians and politics in the closet, and of the latter for its assimilation to a consumerism limited to the gay community itself, Hocquenghem has more ambition for the gay movement. Going back to his interview with Blasius, it seems important to note that Hocquenghem does not view the community merely as the scope of action of the gay movement, but as the potential basis for “anything else.” The power that emerges inside the community might be important, but is relatively weak when observed from outside. Instead of finding satisfaction from the protective communal sense of the ghetto and accepting to “hide ourselves from the outside world” (Blasius 361), Hocquenghem sees the internal ghetto that every gay subject carries within himself as a better option to transcend geographical, economic, and political boundaries and challenge the hegemonic structures they support. By giving precedence to the ghetto as an interiority over the ghetto as a physical space within a city, and therefore conceiving politics as something that has yet to be achieved, a horizon moved by the desire of sexual subjects dissatisfied with the social order of their time, Hocquenghem is not just any “queer theorist avant la lettre,” but indeed a queer utopian, as Muñoz would later define in response to Lee Edelman’s antisocial thesis in No Future. While Edelman uses Hocquenghem’s Le désir homosexuel to illustrate queer negativity as a threat to society and its future, my interpretation of Le gay voyage nuances such an antisocial tendency by showing how Hocquenghem, like Muñoz, praises negativity, or the resistance to normalization, not for its own sake, but as the basis for rethinking notions of subjectivity and sociality, which do not contradict or romanticize forms of community, and therefore maintain an open itinerary that might be one the best options for gay politics to remain queer.

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1 In her introduction of the summer 1991 special issue of differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies entitled “Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities.”

2 Hocquenghem’s legacy includes many aspects, some of which are perceived today as highly problematic. The most recent controversy is about his stance on the age of consent, a question which was extensively discussed in intellectual circles from the 1970s and early 1980s, particularly among feminists and gay activists. Because this article focuses on Hocquenghem’s experiences in the United States and his travel guide, which makes no mention of the age of consent or sexuality involving underage individuals, I do not engage with this debate. However, I recommend Antoine Idier’s text “Faut-il brûler Hocquenghem” and Michelle Guerci’s answer “L’autre face de Guy Hocquenghem,” both published in Mediapart in September 2020, to learn more about this contentious issue.

3 All translations from the French are mine.

4 The guide still exists under the name Spartacus International Gay Guide and is now owned by GayGuide UG, based in Berlin, Germany.

5 In addition to Rechy’s and Hocquenghem’s “literature of cruising,” to use Dennis Altman’s expression in The Homosexualization of America: The Americanization of the Homosexual (175), it is worth mentioning Edmund White’s journal States of Desire: Travels in Gay America, which, a year after Le gay voyage, similarly explored the cultural creativity and political innovativeness of gay communities in the United States. Jean Genet’s Journal du voleur (1949) could also be considered a proto form of queer traveling in Europe, even though his individual trajectory as a marginalized subject has more to do with nomadism than the sexual tourism that developed in the second half of the twentieth century.

6 In Quartiers gays (2014), Colin Giraud corroborates such an observation by stating that the notion of “gay neighborhood” did not appear in the Marais until the early 1980s, despite the presence of gay bars and night clubs in the 1970s.

7 In addition to this majority of clones, Hocquenghem explains that men from the leather community participate in the life of the church and he amusingly notes that some of them even wear their leather pants during the religious office.

8 In addition to L’après-mai des faunes, La dérive homosexuelle (1977) addresses Hocquenghem’s conflict with communist organizations in France. For example, he recalls how, as a member of the Jeunesse Communiste Révolutionnaire (JCR), he had to hide his homosexuality in a political group that considered homosexuality as a petit-bourgeois deviance and effeminacy as a despicable behavior (31).

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Thomas Muzart, « Queering Gay Tourism as Activism: Guy Hocquenghem’s Political Journey in the United States »Transatlantica [En ligne], 2 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 novembre 2023, consulté le 22 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Thomas Muzart

Pomona College

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