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The Lives of Guy Hocquenghem, Gay Activist and Gifted Author

by Gert Hekma in Films & Books , 23 mei 2017


Guy Hocquenghem (1946-1988) was a radical gay activist of the “Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire” (FHAR) who became a precursor of “queer theory” and a novelist who focussed on AIDS and spirituality, combining these themes with left-wing ideals. He was from a well-to-do bourgeois background of teachers in the virtuous years preceding 1968.

Hocquenghem and SchererIn spite of the large number of children, the family was secular. Guy was fortunate enough to have a philosophy teacher in middle school, René Schérer, who took him under his wings both intellectually and sexually. It would be friendship for life: together they taught, wrote books, had sex (not mentioned in Antouine Idier’s recent biography) and had a second home in a former station in the Berry.

Hocquenghem studied at the best schools and universities in the country, and immersed himself in the leftist movement of the French capital that was dominated by Maoists and Leninists, but he was more of an anarchist himself. Part of Idier’s biography reads like a history of French “leftism” with its many, often dogmatic movements, that were not too keen on queers in those days.

In the late sixties, homosexuals at best were losers in the eyes of ordinary citizens, or decadent scum for the left. Within Arcadie, the French COC, and the women’s movement MLF however, a group of women such as Monique Wittig, Christine Delphy, and Marie-Jo Bonnet wanted to become politically active and get out of the black books of sin, crime and disease homosexuals were in. In 1971 they founded the FHAR with veterans such as Françoise d’Eaubonne, Daniël Guérin, and Pierre Hahn. They wanted to step into the political arena to defend the homosexual cause with spontaneous campaigns.

Hocquenghem immediately joined the protest lesbians and gay men organized in, and against, a TV program in which the “suffering” of homosexuality was discussed. It’s seen as the start date of the FHAR. It was a struggle against dominant psychiatric ideas, such as the ideas of Marcel Eck.

Soon there were manifests and weekly meetings in the École des Beaux Arts, which were less and less about discussion, and more and more about sex. Women and trans women, of whom some had started the transverse group Gasolines, had less and less business at these meetings, which increasingly turned into orgies.


A ‘Social Plague’

In spite of the “spontaneous” structure of the FHAR it did come to a series of publications. There were short-lived movement papers, such as “Tout!” with the slogan “we want everything,” “L’antinorm,” and “Le Fléau social” (as the French Penal Code designated homosexuality, a “social plague”).

Hocquenghem played an important part in this. In 1972 he wrote about his coming out in the “Nouvel Observateur” confirming his gay star status, also because he had a splendid head of curls. This coming out was criticized because as a rule articles were written anonymously as a group, not under one’s own name.

Anonymous were writings such as “Rapport contre la normalité” (1971), which should be obligatory for all young homosexuals, or the famous issue 12 of “Recherches” about “Trois milliards de pervers: Grande Encyclopédie des homosexualités” (1973), which was prohibited, and was abbreviated (but nothing illegal was stricken). The themes were sex with Arabs, paedophilia, SM, cruising and cottaging, personal stories, and a protest because a teacher had been fired.

Half of post-modern Paris contributed: anti-psychiatrist Felix Guattari was the publisher responsible, and Michel Foucault, Jean Genet, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-Paul Sartre, Guérin, Hahn, Hocquenghem, and friends such as Michel Cressole, as well as women and young people, were also involved.

Amidst all the excitement, the FHAR saw a decline throughout 1972, with an end to its demise in 1974. The group had made an indelible impression on Paris and beyond. Hocquenghem immediately started working on his own academic and journalistic career. He published “Le désir homosexuel” (1972, translated in 1978 by Daniella Dangoor as “Homosexual Desire”), an anti-psychiatric treatise that can be compared to Deleuze’s and Guattari’s book “Anti-Oedipe: Capitalisme et schizophrénie” (also 1972), the post-modern sex study on fluctuating desires from before Foucault’s “The Will To Knowledge” (1976).

In the book Hocquenghem defended an anal and non-normalised homosexuality. The book appeared in several languages and is still in print. He established his name with this early text on Queer Theory. Shortly afterwards “L’après-mai des faunes” (1974) appeared, followed by volumes on children and sex he wrote with Schérer, such as “Co-ire” (1976), and with others such as Schérer, Foucault, Gabriel Matzneff, Bernard Faucon and Jean Luc Hennig, “Fous d’Enfance: Qui a peur des pédophiles?” (Crazy about children: Who’s afraid of paedophiles? 1979), issue 22 and 37 of “Recherches.”


Scandal

In 1982 they had to learn a hard lesson about paedophilia: what they supported had become unmentionable in France. Prosecutor Salzmann started the “Coral” trial (in the Provence) against alleged paedophiles, first against Sigala, who was an educator taking care of maladjusted boys and who had been inspired by Schérer and Guattari. Charges were made against Schérer and Matzneff and then, in a right-wing battle with leftist ideas about sex, against prominent politicians - Mitterand had just come into power and had sections of the law against homosexuality abolished (“the social plague”), but not against pedosexual contacts.

It was based on the slander by a crook and the usual zeal of those who had it in for paedophiles, like in the Netherlands in Oude Pekela - people were convicted, but for very different facts, and the only one who was finally sentenced because of the scandal was the crook, and none of the suspected paedophiles. Hocquenghem supported his friend Schérer, who briefly had been falsely incarcerated, but others were not so forgiving (Foucault was in the USA and at first kept his distance). Hocquenghem wrote the roman à clef “Les Petits Garçons” (1983) on this vice case. It would be his second grand novel.

Before this publication and following in the footsteps of Foucault (his book on working out sexuality) he had written a long article about gay history in the left-wing daily “Libération,” followed by a collaboration with Lionel Soukaz in the book “Race d’Ep: Une siècle d’images de l’homosexualité” (1979), also a movie. “Race d’Ep” was used as a derogatory term for homosexual in France, a reversal of pederast and therefore a “double insult.” Film maker Soukaz liked the bodies of young guys, often depicted in vague images, in another part Schérer played Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden, the famous photographer of boys and young men, and a third part was devoted to the work of gay doctor Magnus Hirschfeld. Not everyone was enthusiastic about this movie, but in those days it was a product gay film festivals needed. It gave the two men the opportunity to travel the world.


Versatile Author

Hocquenghem had many different jobs in the 1970s. He worked as a reporter at “Libération,” the newspaper written and run by left-wing activists, and just like Schérer was a philosophy teacher at the University of Vincennes (the 1968 school now in St. Dénis) where they taught together, and he had a programme for sexual contact on the French radio with Jean-Luc Hennig.

He had already attempted writing literature with “Fin de Section” (1975) and the short story “Oiseau de la nuit” (1977). He wrote a book on race, “La beauté du métis” (1979), and a collection of travel stories, “Le Gay Voyage” (1980) in which he calls Amsterdam “the widow of the 1960s.”

In 1986, one of his most controversial essays was published, judging the sixties generation that had betrayed their ideals, “Lettre ouverte à ceux qui sont passé du col Mao au Rotary.” In the last decade of his life he mostly wrote novels on Christianity and AIDS: “L’Amour en relief” (1981, about the adventures of a blind Tunisian boy), “La Colère d’Agneau” (1985, about John the beloved disciple of Jesus, who, unlike Paul, did not manage to build up a church), “Ève” (1987, on AIDS), and “Les Voyages et avontures extraordinaires du Frère Angelo” (1988, about a student of Saint Francis of Assisi).

After his death some snippets followed, like the book with the lovely title “L’amphithéatre des morts” (1994). In 1987 he lost his good friend Copi to AIDS, and in 1988 his friends lost him to the disease. “Gai Pied Hebdo” soon stopped after his death. Was this because of all the editors who died of AIDS, or the normalization of homosexuality Guy sharply rejected as adjusting to “respectability” and a lack of criticism and opposition to “acceptance” and “integration”?

What I missed in the biography is a chapter on love and friendship. There are some notes on his partners, but they are sparse and often quite dry. Of course Schérer is often discussed, but Hocquenghem lived and wrote with him in their country house, and Roland Surzur, his last lover, is as well.

But there was a whole network of friends and like-minded people with whom he debated and dined: Michel Cressole, also a journalist at “Libération” and writer of “Une folle à sa fenêtre” (1990), the French-Argentine theatre maker, actor and artist Copi, author of books such as “La guerre des pédés” (The War of the Queers, 1982) and publications such as “L’homosexuel ou la difficulté de s’exprimer” (1971), Matzneff who wrote about the love for little girls, and Hennig who published many titles such as “Les garçons de passe” (1978, about hustlers), “Brève histoire des fesses” (1995, a history about asses), and with Guy “Les Français de la honte” (1983) and on the contact opportunities they created on the radio together. The names of the friends are mentioned in the biography, but what their friendship actually meant is not discussed.


Transverse Thinker

We now have a good and detailed biography (Antoine Idier, “Les vies de Guy Hocquenghem: Politique, sexualité, culture,” Paris: Fayard, 2017) that is overloaded with details, making the reader somewhat loose track. The book has an academic tone and Idier, who promoted on the book, kept a lot of unnecessary pedantic quotes. There is a comprehensive index of names, but not of organizations or themes, which makes looking for a specific topic like searching for a needle in a haystack. Also, Hocquenghem does not come into his own as a transverse gay man and even less as a novelist. He was a charming man who stimulated a lot of people to do their own thing, cooked well, was accessible, stayed radical, kept the course, and let his left-wing peers really have it in the “Lettre ouverte” for bargaining away their ideals (as Komrij did in the Netherlands, both standing up for gay culture and history). He wondered what left-wing and right-wing actually meant, as things that were considered left-wing often became right-wing and vice versa, and denounced the way the media licked the boots of politics.

His life and work meant recognition and discovery for many people who saw him as an example as a gay man and an activist. His attitude was brave as he steadfastly defended public and promiscuous sex, and paedophilia, in short a black versus white (standard) homosexuality, and freedom of sexual expression. After him and the glory years around 1970, France would become another country entirely concerning homosexuality.

Besides this book, a collection of his journalistic work, especially from “Libération” and “Gai Pied Hebdo” was published, edited by his biographer Idier: “Un journal de rêve: Articles de presse (1970-1987),” (Paris: Gallimard-Verticales, 2017). “Gai Pied Hebdo” certainly was the best gay weekly that appeared in the 1980s in Europe. These are documents that speak of a distant past as on Sartre, the auction of Roger Peyrefitte’s erotic art collection, the whole business about drugs but also about film censorship in France, soccer, the political left and right, the coming into power of Mitterand and the Socialists, the large gay and lesbian march on Washington in 1979, on a time in which when gay men were still damned (gay sex with fifteen to eighteen-year-olds was punishable in France up to 1982) or, after 1981, the wretched sick, who suffered from AIDS and died from it, as he did.

He deeply regretted the normalization of homosexuality, as in gay literature, marriage, and church attendance, and wrote, with a great sense of humour, about the leather bars of New York and the gay murders that took place there. He showed a preference for controversial film makers, such as Pasolini, Fassbinder, and Frank Ripploh (“Taxi zum Klo”). He was and remained a transverse thinker who chastised his generation for its sexual and political cowardice and gay men for their sick goody-goodness - they were a cursed group of rat-like animals.

Antoine Idier received an award from the Institute François Mitterrand for his book on the abolition of the special criminalization of homosexual relations with minors (fiftteen-eighteen years of age): “Les alinéas au placard: L’abrogation du délit d’homosexualité (1977-1982)” (Paris: Cartouche, 2013) and wrote about the queers of Lyon: “Dissidanse rose: Fragments de vies homosexuelles à Lyon dans les années 1970” (Lyon: Ed. Michel Chomarat, 2013).



Gert Hekma teaches Gay and Lesbian studies at the University of Amsterdam



 







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