Queer Paris, day one

parade branding

parade branding

We began our week of “Queer Urban Geography” in Paris on an unusual note: following the predefined path of two marches against the recently passed vote to legalize same-sex marriage. Several bouts of violence had plagued the city earlier and we were warned repeatedly of this possibility, though mercifully this proved not to be the case. What we encountered were two distinctly different, yet similarly confused “manifestations”.

The first was “Le Manif Pour Tous”, or “the demonstration for all”, which seemed to pride itself on not being “anti-gay,” but rather “anti-a-bunch-of-randomly-imagined-scenarios.” To get at the heart of this “manifestation,” an analysis of the event’s branding is in order, (and a much needed vent from a designer’s point of view.) From the derivative name to the overt use of bright pink, this gathering appropriated so many successful signifiers of queer culture that a person passing by just might think it was a “pro” rally. Alas, this holds up only in peripheral vision, for as things came into focus, they just as soon fell apart. The pink, a shade too light and a bit too saccharine, was paired with bright blue to reinforce gender identity. Lacking the bite of the ironic queer pink, it also clashed with the other graphics as well as the French flag, which was a prominent element.

Upon entering the rally (one of three, diagrammed onto the city like a battle plan), I first noticed the organized group of “security” and “hosts” in red and yellow t-shirts. They stopped one man we befriended, Bruno, who was wearing a t-shirt which said “GAY OK”. He politely said that the march was not about homophobia, and so his t-shirt was reminding people of this. They politely agreed and we bid each other civil good-byes. This is indeed Paris.

What is at stake, according their website, how the law will “jeopardize the foundation of human identity: sexual difference.” How inspiringly reductionist. To further clarify, we spoke with many people along the way, wondering what their core message was, if it wasn’t to tell gay people they don’t have the right to marry. A typical response was, “We believe that children need a mother and a father” or “We don’t think that women should rent out their bodies to make babies” or “The family means one father and one mother”. One wonders about all of the many complicated versions of family that already exist, which have nothing to do with the prescribed image of “family” emblazoned on their flags: man, woman, boy, girl…..all holding hands.

I asked a group of girls if they took issue with the way that many heterosexual couples use technology in reproduction, but none of this seemed problematic. It’s only when gays do it, then it is a problem. Most incredible were the signs these polite, friendly “protesters” were holding. Referencing some of the best protest graphics of yesteryear, the branding strived for a certain hipness and currency the message itself lacked.

A few of my favorite banners:

“Notre Existence Tient A 2 Fils” (our existence hangs by two threads), showing a man holding a pink and blue marked kite strings.

“Nos Enfants Ne Sont Pas Des Cobayes” (our children are not guinea pigs), as a topless man raises his arm in protest.

“La Maternité C’est Pas Automatique” (motherhood is not automatic) showing a headless woman’s body with a washing machine in her abdomen.

“Qi Est Mon Père?” (who is my father?) as Darth Vader looms in the background.

This is truly a science fiction of imagined existential crisis. Most signs we deciphered elicited a collective “whaaa?” I was able to score a few posters, feeling the need for a deep crit later this week with our group. At the heart of this is the deep-seated need to control women’s bodies, there are simply so many interesting ways to say this graphically. As we moved along in the procession, music blasted–ironically mostly what you’d hear at a gay bar–though no one was dancing. Yes, missing was the joie de vivre that you see in a real pride march.

From here we departed to see the more “radical” march of traditionalists soon to descend on the Opera. Based on descriptions, I had anticipated an angry mob; “be careful”, we were warned. What awaited us was a motley crew of older catholics who haven’t changed their wardrobe since 1967, their gloomy charges and a few angry looking neo-nazis grouped in the middle. Some carried brooms, which signified a “cleaning up of the city” they evidently aspired to do. In contrast to the noisy if flatly branded march, this one had a mournful tone, almost like a funeral procession.

Underneath both marches was a core message of underlying economic anxiety. “We want jobs, not this law” a group of young men chanted. Ah, yes, well we all know how bad gays are for the economy.


holding protest graphics

Jane (looking angry), Sarah (looking like she has no idea she may soon become a washing machine) and me (looking scared for my existence).