Sunday, I squeezed into a Mexican Irish bar in the Village with a bunch of French Socialists to watch their presidential election results. It was a little weird, since the day before was Cinco de Mayo, when the Mexican army topped their French colonizers in the 1862 battle of Puebla. But, whatever. Things change. We’re all friends now.
Waiting around, they drank lime margaritas and coffee and beer, and when the official reports came on that Socialist candidate François Hollande squeaked past incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, they erupted in cheers. Even I joined in when Hollande said, in his acceptance speech, that he would judge every issue in terms of justice and “jeunesse,” or youth. It was time to end all the ruptures and wounds, award everyone the same rights and responsibilities, refuse to abandon or discriminate against anybody.
Including queers. Hardly anybody got a specific mention in his speech, but during his campaign Hollande promised marriage equality, so we have that to look forward to unless the Socialists blow the upcoming parliamentary elections. Which is a real possibility because a fair amount of people only voted for Hollande because they suffer from such an extreme form of Sarkophobia, their only treatment was to vote for his ouster. Even if they’d habitually vote to the right.
Still, Hollande joyously claimed his victory, and I was clapping with everybody until he started making a big deal of the fact that it was the first time in a generation that the presidency would go to the Left –– and only the second time since World War Two. And I remembered a little bitterly that he and his minions were part of the reason the Socialists had such a long drought.
In 2007, their candidate was Ségolène Royale, who was then Hollande’s longtime partner. Unlike Hollande, she was incredibly charismatic, but she had a similar platform. Pro-Europe, pro-Green, anti-discrimination. She wanted reasonable immigration policies and expressed support for same-sex marriage. The rank and file loved her. She packed stadiums with devoted young voters, people of color, and immigrants, even dykes who had been skeptical of her stiletto shoes, four kids, and Catholic upbringing.
Then as now, Nicolas Sarkozy courted the extreme right, blabbing about traditional French values, and fanning fears about illegal immigrants and new EU members that would snatch French jobs. He also used his powerful position as interior minister in the Chirac government to send out goons to grab presumed undocumented immigrants, no matter if they were eight years old or 80. Or had left the proper papers at home in a drawer.
The only real difference between 2012 and 2007 is that the Socialist candidate then was a woman, and her party, run by Hollande, was so full of macho assholes that they gave her very little support, even though the presidency was on the line. Former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, a Socialist bigwig and homophobe, actually went on the record saying he’d vote for anybody but “La candidate,” the female candidate.
I guess I should let it go. Grudges don’t accomplish much in politics –– or anywhere else. Look at how well the French and Mexicans get along these days. And no matter what happened before, Hollande’s saying the right things now. We can always hold him accountable, pretend his promises aren’t just cynical manipulation to get queer, lefty votes.
Let’s face it. Politicians are not good people. Every time they open their mouths, a lie falls out. But their psychosis is not that simple. They often seem to believe their own speeches, at least while they’re giving them. What we have to do is encourage their delusions. In that flush of victory, Hollande no doubt did believe he was going to champion all of France, unite everybody with the valued ideas that the French are all supposed to share –– liberty, equality, and fraternity.
For a moment, in that cheering crowd, I believed, too, and felt like I belonged, at least as a former citizen of Paris, where I lived for years, participating in civic life. In 2007, I even handed out flyers for Ségolène despite my fear somebody would hear my accent and attack, “Who do you think you are? Go back where you came from.” The phrase seems to be a standard for bigoted idiots across the globe. And for immigrant pranksters.
The day before the French election, on Cinco de Mayo itself, I got stuck at a crosswalk behind two drunk, sombreroed white girls on 20th Street. And this guy in a compact car saw the hats and shouted out the window, “Go back where you came from, you Mexicans.” Which puzzled them, but I thought was pretty hilarious because he had a round brown face and Mexican accent. He howled with laughter as he peeled away. Claiming his own space, his own city, as we all should, no matter what the voters or politicians say.
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