Welcome to the LGBTQ Getaway series! Readers are constantly asking, “What is it like in ______ country for LGBTQ travelers?” I haven’t been everywhere in the world (yet) and find that experiences traveling vary with identities. Each week I’ll focus on a different place and highlight the experience of LGBTQ people. Sometimes I’ll write about my experiences, but because of my gender conformity and whiteness I represent a very small proportion of the LGBTQ community. In an effort to bring a variety of voices to the table, I’ll have guest writers talking about their experiences as well.
If you’re interested in guest blogging on this series, let me know!
This week, we’re headed to Brest, France with Emily Stewart of BASEDTraveler.
I stand in line at a café in the SNCF terminal in Brest, Brittany, France. I can’t take another step without caffeine. I’m suffering from the lack of vente coffee, psychologically unable to sip espresso like the French. I am temporarily distracted from my cravings when a cute lesbian couple begins canoodling in from of me.
Brest must be a liberal French town, I muse. Here is an out gay couple and I’m headed to meet another. I travelled from Plymouth, UK, via Brittany Ferries. After spending a rainy 24 hours in the port city of Roscoff, I was now bleisure travelling in Brest.
Next stop: meeting the gay Couchsurfing host who had gladly offered to take me in. In fact, the girl in front of me looks kind of looks like my host, I think. My reverie is breaks: It’s my turn to order.
Two hours later I am back in the station staring at the same cute couple. Typically French, they are totally unperturbed by the situation. But I am 10 Euros poorer and 10 times as caffeinated.
Why, why didn’t I just say “bonjour?” I rue. Because I was dreaming of ménage-à-tois. After getting my beverage earlier, I hopped in a taxi to what I thought was my hosts’ address.
Upon arrival my phone promptly died. When I rang the bell to what I thought was my host’s French apartment, I came to the realization that I am in the wrong place.
At which point I discovered the quintessentially French tradition of the PMU, or Pari Mutual Urbain. PMU’s are betting shops. Proletarian with a mainly male clientele, they’re also called bar-tabacs. They are populated at all hours of the day by people casually reading and chatting. Best of all, they usually have WiFi.
The bartenders were excellent at charades. They pour me a tea, find me an outlet, type the WiFi code, and I’m saved. Eventually I connect with my host and take the local bus back to the train station.
Wearing the same brown leather jackets there stand The Host and The GF. Oh well. I’d made a few friends, figured out the transit system, and am going home with two sexy girls, one of whom speaks no English. In a city named Brest, none-the-less.
My host lives on Rue Jean Juares, the main drag of Brest. Like all the best city backbones, Jean Juares is like a see-saw. It’s lined with posh shopping, arts, and culture at one end and gay shopping, arts, and culture at the other. The Host lives in a cheap and French fab apartment a shimmy away from the Happy Café gay bar.
Upon entering I am introduced to The Friend, a skinny French boy who hitchhiked two days across the country to live on a mattress on The Host’s floor.
Is there a French term for “cock-block?”
“Are you gay?” I ask him.
The group laughs. “No, but every one of my girlfriends is gay. Every girl I fall in love with turns gay.”
You’re gay, I think. “Are you gay?” they ask me, wide-eyed and breathless. I hesitate. “I’m bi but I’ve never dated a girl. I’m trying to.”
The Friend throws up his hands, exasperated. “You were supposed to be different!”
After a phenomenal tapas dinner at La Guardia we party at an Irish pub (obviously, The Dubliner). Except we drink Bretagne beer with images of bent-over gnomes (they must be gay) and dance the traditional Bretagne style, in circles holding pinkies (is the whole region gay?).
We play “guess who’s gay,” lighting upon a blond mulleted French girl with a cute smile. The Host and The GF alight, spinning French words with her. What am I thinking, letting them handle my pick-up for me? They say she’s not gay but that she thinks I’m pretty.
“Talk to her!” Being a good American, I forego any calculating and instead lean over the table, pointing to my lips.
Unfortunately, “no” means “no” in France, too.
I am embarrassed so we pour out of the pub into the cool evening, chortling. What was I thinking, that I could somehow turn a straight girl gay? Hell, I wasn’t even good at being gay.
I looped my arm through The Friend’s, giving him a little tease. I felt a little proud. I’ve done well by Brest, I think.