IN PARIS I CONTRACT DIARRHOEA AND WE LEAVE BEFORE THE MARCH. HAPPY PRIDE.
Tuesday night, 8:30pm. From 100 Rue Ordener we walk to the Simplon Métro station and get on line number 4. We stand up in the carriage, talk quietly, then get off at Étienne Marcel and walk to the lesbian bar on Rue Saint-Martin, La Mutinerie.
I’m wearing low-rise blue jeans and a black fitted t-shirt; black low-rise Doc Martens, black sunglasses and a black leather bag. I smell like Margiela Jazz Club. I feel stronger and skinnier than usual from all the walking around. We’ve been in Paris for a couple of days now and I’ve gotten a tan.
My girlfriend is holding my hand. She thinks we’ll get hate crimed so she’s scared, but I’m making her do it anyway. She is also wearing low-rise blue jeans and a black fitted t-shirt. Her Doc Martens are brown. Her hair is done and she smells of Comme des Garçons Wonderoud. She feels good about herself too—I know this because she tells me. We’re having a nice time. We drink coffee, sample all available viennoiserie, sweat, and sometimes even fuck.
In the lead up to the trip we discussed what would happen if we found someone at a bar, or elsewhere, who we were attracted to, and perhaps wanted to sleep with, together or separately. If together, would they stay the night? Would they be masculine presenting, like my girlfriend, or a little more futch, like me? How do we not be the “we saw you from across the bar and like your vibe” kind of couple? Would we go cruising, or at least attempt to?
The processing of the potential situation, for us, happens more frequently than the actual situation. Processing group sex: 1000 times. Group sex actually occurring: never.
We do this in an attempt to manage risk and arm ourselves against life’s uncertainties; if every happening and outcome is accounted for, prepared for, processed, there will be little to no room for gaps in which non-consensual, non-prepared for, ugly feelings can sneak in. Like Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal, but for sex. To become jealous while your girlfriend has her fingers in someone else’s vaginal canal, signalling you to “come kiss me baby”, would certainly poison an otherwise sexy situation, n’est-ce pas?
We agree to tell each other if we find someone else attractive. I have a thing for masculine presenting people with curly and/or dark hair. This is a known fact. I call it “the way my brain is wired”. My girlfriend has a thing for me. She says the chances of her seeing someone and finding them attractive are so slim, almost non-existent, that I would certainly be the one to find someone and initiate things.
We approach the bar. It looks busy; the terrace is full. We walk inside. We say “excusez-moi” quietly to anyone who’s in our way, or whose way we are in. We don’t say “bonjour”. We’re afraid of failing to pronounce the nasal “on”, missing the guttural, fricative “r”, and outing ourselves as tourists. We say hello.
We buy beers. The bartender is a masc-presenting curly-haired non-binary lesbian. I know this because they’re wearing a badge that says “they/them lesbian”. I point them out to my girlfriend when she asks me if I find anyone attractive. She says “of course, but don’t you think she looks like Courtney Barnett?” I recoil.
As the night goes on, we get progressively more drunk. I go to and from the bathroom to pee. When feeling more confident, I say “pardon” instead of “excusez-moi”.
We go outside to smoke. It’s raining now, 11pm, and it’s dark. Someone approaches us. “T’as du feu?” We apologise for not understanding. ”Do you have a lighter?” She’s American. We begin to talk. She’s with a 5’3” Parisian girl. They met on Tinder—they are on a Tinder date. My girlfriend is talking to the Parisian and the American is showing me her gay boy best friend’s Instagram. I had mentioned in passing that I was a sex worker—that’s why she’s showing me. “He’s a sex worker and he works in corporate” she says. “He fucks so much.” A photo of him shirtless on the edge of an infinity pool. A photo of him shirtless on a beach. Veneers. Balenciaga sunglasses. “He just bought an apartment in Brooklyn, which is funny, because so did I.”
The American goes inside to use the toilet so I join in on the conversation with my girlfriend and the Parisian. She grew up in the 7th, and recently bought an apartment near the Eiffel Tower. We talk about being on the 6th floor with no elevator and living through the current heat wave without air-conditioning. She says there’s not many lesbian bars in Paris. She seems panicked, furiously chain smoking—her date has been gone for thirty minutes and isn’t answering texts or calls.
I go inside to use the bathroom. I see the American talking with another girl. I come back out and let the Parisian know that she’s okay, she’s out of the toilet, she’s just busy chatting. The Parisian goes inside. We watch them argue through glass front doors.
There’s someone else I find attractive. They have dark, shaved hair. I first saw them inside and now they’re outside too, smoking and talking with their friends. I let my girlfriend know.
1am. We leave and walk to find another lesbian bar called 3W Kafé, on Rue des Ecouffes. Le Marais is wet and yellow. When I ask, my girlfriend says she hasn’t found anyone else attractive. We never find the other bar.
We return to La Mutinerie some afternoons later with our friend M. Lesbians are having first dates; one couple seem to be really hitting it off. They’re sitting next to us, speaking English, drinking Sangria. I feel jealous. I tell my girlfriend it looks exciting and we think of ways to replicate the first-date experience. We think of too many options, which somehow means no options at all. M asks if we’ve tried role play. We shake our heads. No, we have not.
Our legs swell in the heat of the aprés-midi. Back at the Airbnb, I struggle with my knee high boots.
Maybe it’s impossible to account for everything and we can process forever—to the point of eliminating any kind of future.
It’s as though the group sex actually occurs, in some form or other, in our discussions of it. We fail to act, take risks, and put ourselves in situations wherein something, anything, might happen.
Houellebecq says that these days it is impossible to make love with abandon (which makes for a good time) as we have become cold, rational and acutely aware of our individual existence and rights. We are obsessed with health and hygiene and we are no longer as willing as we once were to be temporarily dependent on someone else for pleasure, for fear of becoming weak. That is to say, something cannot be an agonisingly methodological and committed attempt at dealing with unruly information, feelings and affects, and make one feel horny. So how are we to fuck?
CRUISING (OR, BEING A BUM) AT CAFÉ DE FLORE: LESBIAN PROCESSING OR LACK THEREOF IN CONSTANCE DEBRÉ’S LOVE ME TENDER
Constance Debré’s Love Me Tender is so popular because in it she tells you how to blow up your life (be radically minimalist) and have a lot of (girl) sex. I read it in five hours.
I purchased the text after seeing a video of Debré talking with Elieen Myles on youtube—“The Cost of Freedom” at Albertine Books in New York. I thought, who is this incredibly hot person, did some research, and purchased the only text of her’s that has been translated from French into English.
It begins with a self portrait of the narrator: “I go swimming every day, I have a muscular back and shoulders … I wear jeans … the cologne I wear is called Habit Rouge, sometimes I feel like switching to something else but the girls like it … I smoke Marlboro lights … I live in Paris”.
She has given up her life as a mother, wife, and lawyer. She has a child who she no longer sees, or sees in bouts, and an ex-husband who’s seizing custody on the premise that the narrator is a paedophile and unfit to look after a child (because she is gay now and owns a copy of Guibert’s Crazy for Vincent).
She is committed to swimming, fucking and shoplifting. The text presents a clear philosophy of life (R.I.P John Ashbury, you would’ve loved Love Me Tender). She is a kind of flâneur—strolling, lounging around, mooching off the girls she sleeps with (the “I’m going to eat whatever’s in your fridge for breakfast then leave without a word” type). She is in Female Manipulator Mode.
“An old leather jacket and my old Rolex just for a laugh, a single espresso to go, a baguette, a pack of cigarettes, my swimming pool pass”. As I read I wonder what is so attractive about this lifestyle. Do I want to throw away my things, renounce my current mode de vie, go swimming chaque matin, get a muscly back and enjoy gay sex without attachment?
The narrator fucks as a gay man might: freely (sans attachment), but in a state of complicated anxiety. She cruises but makes it seem like she isn’t. Her intentions on being somewhere public and the outing resulting in sex aren’t always clear: “Number one … number two … I met them both in the same week, in the same café just below my flat”. Her want is always veiled (albeit thinly) by nonchalance, a little idgaf about these women: “They were the ones hitting on me. The girls. Now I’m a lesbian it’s always the same. They must be able to see from a mile off that I’m up for it.”
Love Me Tender is exciting in the way that Andy Griffith’s The Day My Bum Went Psycho is—it’s drama. We can’t stop reading because we want to know what the main character, who is a bum, does next. So why is it so popular?
Love Me Tender is so far away from lesbian processing, which leads itself to an inevitable dead end, hits a wall and turns around again, only to repeat the process, all the while asking: why is nothing happening? It’s a reprise. It has a seething horniness to it that (my) life doesn’t really have. The lesbian FuckBoy Shane McCutcheon archetype (always hot and always having sex) bypasses almost any erotic disappointment one might feel as a lesbian. Desire is an affective force but why is it that, since Sappho, it moves and does not move The Lesbians? If I had a dollar for each time I’d felt “stuck”, I’d have maybe 30 dollars. (Does she like me? She’s spooning me and caressing my thigh, actually she’s touching my labia majora now, but aren’t we girl best friends?). I also wonder; do lesbians (some of them, sometimes) sublimate animal sexual impulses into processing (having a chat)?
Debré writes about an emancipated (almost, though maybe just illusionary) form of lesbian desire. Despite her relationship with her son being completely in the hands of the judicial system, she writes as though she’s free—from women, kids, men, belongings, feelings and processing. Just a lesbian and her pool pass. C’est la vie!
Another reason for the fame—Debré is hot. And you can write anything when you’re hot. The Lesbians will swoon. In the New Yorker, Alexis Okeowo writes: “Debré is hot in her old leather jacket and Rolex.” I thought, this has nothing to do with the text, that Debré is hot, and then I remembered—that is exactly why I bought the book.
In the undergraduate subject “Modernism and Avant Garde” at the University of Melbourne, Justin Clemens told us to read Italo Svevo’s Zeno’s Conscience, because it’s about girls and blowing up the world. Now we have Love Me Tender. Maybe I’ll go cruising at Café de Flore.