Le Marais has evolved throughout the years and many are surprised to learn that the neighborhood is not only the center of Jewish life in France, but it is also the home of the LGBTQ community. During the rebellion of May 1968, students and the younger generations protested against traditional values and consumer culture, while expressing their discontent with the Gaullist regime (Poggioli 2008). Following this uprising, the nation shifted towards more liberal ideals and utopian dreams. Furthermore, the 1970’s were also marked by several uprisings and finally, in the early 1980’s, the LGBTQ movement was popularized. There are many theories as to why Le Marais was chosen as France’s gayborhood, but most scholars agree that the expansion of cultural globalization, increased commerce, and low real-estate prices were the decisive factors.
In 1978 a gay bar called Le Village was inaugurated. This was the first official commercial building open to the gay public. (Gunther 332). One of the most appealing factors of this bar was the fact that it was open throughout the day and it allowed the LGBTQ community to freely roam around the area without the fear of possibly facing segregation. “The gay flag did not appear in individual apartment windows on the first Lesbian and Gay Pride Day but, instead, in the windows of stores, and it stayed there for the rest of the year” (Gunther 331). Many business owners saw the influx of LGBTQ individuals as business opportunities, which caused a period of commercial expansion within Le Marais. As the LGBTQ community continued to expand, the neighborhood’s identity was forever changed. Furthermore, the expansion of the community led to the creation of many LGBTQ owned businesses that still operate to this day.
In 1980 Jean-Pierre Meyen–Genton opened what is now considered one of Le Marais most famous businesses, a small gay bookstore called Les Mots à la Bouche (“Les Mots à la Bouche”). What started out as a small-scale bookstore intended for “academic exchange and dialogue” among the LGBTQ community slowly became a popular tourist attraction and is now recognized as the oldest gay bookshop in Paris. Alongside, Jean-Pierre Meyen-Genton started out as a young lawyer who was part of the Memory of Sexuality Association (MSA) (Association Memory of Sexualities, “Son Projet, Son Histoire”). This group’s goal was to preserve the memory of other LGBTQ individuals who had paved the way for the LGBTQ movement. In order to increase LGBTQ presence within the French community, the MSA promoted homosexual militancy, which at the time meant opening establishments, participating in LGBTQ demonstrations, etc. (Martel, 232). Wishing to make a change, Jean-Pierre Meyen–Genton came up with the idea of creating a bookstore that would hold LGBTQ literature works and preserve them for posterity. Meyen–Genton, supported by business partner Yves Clerget, opened the bookstore in 1980 in the 18th arrondissement of Paris with funds he inherited from his family (“Les Mots à la Bouche”).
According to the bookstore’s website, after the inauguration financial trouble struck the owner and it became difficult to keep the business going. Not only was this a bookstore, but also a teahouse, a gallery, and a restaurant. Nowadays, the bookstore simply sells books and holds a large collection of images and videos and it no longer doubles as a dining facility. There is no background information on why Meyen–Genton chose to name the bookstore Les Mots à la Bouche but considering that this literally translates to “Words in the Mouth,” it is speculated that the name may be related to the bookstore’s early days when it served food and tea along with literary works. In the early days of the bookshop, Meyen-Genton also hosted the magazine “Masques” in the back of the building, allowing the team to work on a few of their quarterly editions with the goal of promoting more LGBTQ visibility in France (“Les Mots à la Bouche”).
Although the bookstore had a rough start it continued to flourish and introduced many LGBTQ writers into the French community. Meyen-Genton invited some of these authors to participate in meet and greets and continued working towards his goal of increasing LGBTQ visibility in the country. In 1983 the bookstore moves to Le Marais when the owner manages to get a cheap lease near other LGBTQ owned businesses (“Les Mots à la Bouche”). Scholars have argued that Le Marais became the center for gay life because of economic factors, such as low rent and low real-estate prices (Sibalis, 1740). This bookstore is proof that cheap rent was one of the key aspects that attracted the LGBTQ community to Le Marais. Once established in this new neighborhood, the website states that, “The success was not immediate” and it took time for the business to flourish. A possible explanation for this could be the fact that the neighborhood was in its early stages of becoming a “gay ghetto,” therefore, there was not a strong LGBTQ presence at the beginning of the 1980’s. However, as more LGBTQ friendly businesses were established and more LGBTQ individuals moved into the neighborhood, the bookstore experienced a great increase in sales (Gunther, 333).
Le Marais provided the LGBTQ physical territory in which they could develop a stronger and more unified gay movement. Les Mots à la Bouche plays a key role in the expansion of LGBTQ presence in Le Marais. The bookstore’s website talks about how it was hard for American LGBTQ members to find literature that interested them in conventional bookstores. Since its start in 1980, Les Mots à la Bouche has strived to create a safe haven for the LGBTQ readers, as well as a welcoming space for people of all backgrounds and literary interests.
To this day, Les Mots à la Bouche is home to one of the biggest collections of LGBTQ works. Not only does it sell a vast amount of books by famous LGBTQ authors, but it also houses a large collection of images and DVDs. Additionally, the bookstore has expanded and the basement now includes an image exhibition that is open to the public. Although Jean-Pierre Meyen–Genton passed away in 1996 and the bookstore was taken over by his partner Walter Paluch, many of the components he instilled are still present in Les Mots à la Bouche today. The bookstore continues to host LGBTQ events, such as author meet and greets and LGBTQ celebrations. The creation of the website in 1998 allowed the business to expand and adapt to change. The public now has the ability to order books directly from the bookstore and get them delivered to their doorstep (“Les Mots à la Bouche”). Additionally, the bookstore has strived to incorporate more international LGBTQ authors and to recognize the community’s works abroad. Les Mots à la Bouche continues to be a special place for LGBTQ members as it marks the beginning of their struggle towards greater recognition in France.