Lesbian Travel ‘Ho
Originally published 12-8-06
When Maison de la France, the French tourism board, invited me to Midi-Pyrenées on a junket for gay journalists, all expenses paid, I hesitated, for about four seconds, then I packed my bags.
The French are smart, just like the folks from houseboat haven Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas, who are currently offering Rainbow Packages for gay visitors; and Tourism Vancouver, which recently hosted a Gay-Fabulous Media Reception at Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel to promote gay tourism in BC; and Plymouth Gin, which invited me to tour their distillery England, so that I might spread the news about their world-renowned spirits to gay and lesbian readers.
The savvy PR people know that gays spend money where they are wanted; and overall the U.S.’s estimated gay and lesbian population of 19 million comprise a demographic of predominantly DINKS (Dual Income No Kids) who are loyal and affluent, with a medium income of $57,000 and buying power of $800 million. Furthermore, gays are known to love to travel, and gays are trend setters.
So I examined my ethics, and I concluded that by going to France, I was doing my duty as a lesbian, representing our community and supporting those businesses that appreciate our patronage. So I bunkered down for the 11-hour flight in Air France’s Business Class and sipped complementary champagne between restful naps in my 26-positon reclining chair and watched Brokeback Mountain on my private LCD screen. All for the cause.
For the next week, I and my fellow gay journalists (Dylan from New York, Jeannie from Boston and Duane from West Hollywood) were treated to a gay ol’ tour of this region of France, including the 12th century Cistercian abbey of Flaran at Valence-sur-Baise, the canals of Castres, quaint village of Lectoure, and Bastide of Cordes, a fortress town dating back to 1222. In many places we were steered to local gay-owned businesses—in fact, our tour guides seemed to be working this angle a bit too hard, as if trying to present the Gers the region in the pinkest, gay-friendly light
I appreciated that our hosts were trying hard to please by showing us every remotely gay site in the south of France, but as I clicked away on my digital camera capturing the magnificent Grand Fauconnier houses hewed out of stone, I was not admiring them from a gay perspective. When I savored my umpteenth entrée of braised duck, it was not my gay taste buds that were delighted. When I marveled at the Millau Vaduct, the world’s highest bridge, it was not my gay awe that was struck; and when I was under whelmed by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec celebrated paintings of turn-of-the-century Parisian prostitutes at his namesake museum, it was not my gay art sensibility that was discerning.
Despite the best attempts by our guides to show us everything gay about Le Tarn, éclats de vie, my impression was that, in fact, the area was not very gay at all, which made it all the more a desirable destination for me. While the people were gay friendly in every city we visited, we did not encounter, to my relief, drag queens, gay parades, sex shops and gay ghettos around every corner. Certainly, if one wanted to, one could find gay life in the region. For instance, Gers was fabulous, but I can visit the likes of Le Kléo, a hole-in-the-wall smoky karaoke lesbian bar, our final stop of the tour, in any town.
Then there was the visit to the tannery-turned-art-workshop where the pigment of the region’s ubiquitous weed, called “woad,” is extracted to create a splendid blue dye used for clothes, candles, jewelry and many other things, including ancient shutters that are still brilliantly blue after four centuries. The prospect of importing woad to West Hollywood to become the latest gay sensation kept Duane chattering excitedly the rest of the trip, until we all begged him to stop.
As my fellow lesbian travelers and I peddled on rented bicycles along the canals of Toulouse, dodging pedestrians in the market place and taking in the sites of one of Southern France’s greatest undiscovered jewels of a city, I was glad we were on a less-traveled road, a refreshingly short jaunt away from Gay Paree.