Cote d'Azur Queers

Undertaken in October 2019 in 8 towns along the French Riviera 

 

Suzy Solidor

(1900-1983)

Cimetière Ancien -  Cagnes-sur-Mer 

You became a sensation in Paris clubs by suggesting the audience open their two trembling knees. Everyone desired your aesthetic and risque ambiance. You offered Tamara de Lempicka your body in return for visual immortality. Bacon, Cocteau, Picasso and Ray followed, helping to make you the “most painted woman in the world”. Holding on to your images you adorned club La Vie Parisienne with your narcissistic presence. When the occupation came the audience changed, sullying your reputation. Later, as you lost your looks, the performativity of a uniform transferred you into ‘the admiral’. Finally fading into old age by the Riviera. 

 

Witold Gombrowicz

(1904-1969)

Cimetiere de Vence - Vence 

Born into the dying Polish gentry lifestyle you began to study law but quickly rejected its stifling restraints to pursue a life of letters and lust. Ferdydurke launched you into the literary world with a battlecry against phoniness and an ironic take on the humiliation of accepting cultural norms. While on the maiden Chrobry voyage bound for South America, your ‘homeland’ was invaded leaving you stranded in Argentina with no Spanish and no money.  Becoming a diarist, your coded sexual adventures with soldiers and paper boys were published in Paris but pariahed in Poland. Returning to Europe after two decades of self-exile, fame and recognition was finally closer. But at the end, illness halted your writing and reduced you to a life of marriage and consumerism in Vence. 

 

Jean Marais

(1913-1998)

Cimetiere de Vallauris - Vallauris 

A turbulent childhood of divorce and your mother’s incarceration for her kleptomaniac adventures forged your independent spirit. Being expelled from school for dressing as a girl and flirting with a teacher hinted at your theatrical future, but drama school rejected you.  After some bit-part work a chance meeting with Jean Cocteau changed everything. Double your age, Cocteau adopted you as his muse, lover and friend, giving up his addiction to opium for a new dependence. Stardom came your way as a swashbuckling heartthrob and a charming man. Later in life after adopting Serge your attention moved towards art. Dying in the department of film stars, grave robbers may have stolen your beastly bust but your beauty will live on. 

 

Klaus Mann

(1906-1949)

Cimetière du Grand Jas - Cannes 

Always under the weighty shadow of Thomas, your father didn’t like you, but he did fancy you. He had the gravitas but you had the bravery to be open sexually and politically. Jaunting around the world with your “fellow traveller” Erika, you always found rough trade along the way. Joining Erika on stage for the Pepper-Mill put you under the spotlight of the Nazi’s, sending you into exile where you became a prominent German Exilliteratur author. Your Nazi collaborating ex brother-in-law inspired your best work in the pre-war years, but Mephisto wouldn’t reach a German audience until decades later. Moving to the U.S, you lived it up with your lover Tomski, eventually becoming a citizen and joining the army as ‘The Professor’. Your life-long obsession with both drugs and your own mortality came together in Cannes for the final time. 

 

Aubrey Beardsley

(1872-1898)

Cimetiere du Trabuquet - Menton 

Illustrating your way to infamy by being a foppish dandy artist who satirised Victorian morality, you once proclaimed, “If I’m not grotesque I’m nothing”. Becoming entwined with the British Decadents, Wilde saw you as a ‘kindred spirit’. Your big break came when he commissioned you to illustrate Salome. When Wilde went down for being a sodomite, guilt by association resulted in losing your job and standing. Rumours about your personal life were numerous, including an incestuous relationship with your sister Mabel, who became pregnant then miscarried. With tuberculosis taking hold you converted to Roman Catholicism and moved to Menton with your mother. On your deathbed, she might have forged a letter trying to destroy your obscene legacy but your publisher thought better saving your work as you passed away under the hill.  

 

Josephine Baker

(1906-1975)

Cimetiére de Monaco - Monaco

Surviving poverty and two teenage marriages you taught yourself to dance and sing, shuffling to Broadway during the Harlem Renaissance to become a chorus line girl. Touring Paris performing almost naked in a Cocteau banana skirt sent the European cultural elite into hysterics. Your star kept ascending becoming the first African-American to feature in a major motion picture, and  the highest paid entertainer in Europe. A disastrous return home, where audience couldn’t handle a black woman with sophistication and power, led you to renounce your American citizenship. You used your celebrity power to access the political establishment during the war, collecting and passing notes hidden in your underwear for the French resistance. Back in the U.S you refused to play to segregated audiences and provided a powerful voice to the civil rights fight. Wanting to prove the possibility of racial utopia, you adopted 12 children from around the world calling them your rainbow family. Despite your possible relationships with Kahlo, Coletter and Bricktop, internalised homophobia prevailed and you deported your son for being gay, afraid that he could infect his brothers. After being evicted from your chateau, Princess Grace offered you a place in a Monégasque abode. You kept touring and performing until the final curtain call.

 

Magnus Hirschfeld

(1868-1935)

Cimetière de Caucade - Nice 

Born into a Jewish medical family, you followed the family profession. Traveling after medical school, seeking out homosexual subcultures you where struck by the similarities in different parts of the world, developing your theory of universal queerness. Greatly affected by the trial of Oscar Wilde and because many of your gay patients killed themselves you became an outspoken advocate for sexual minorities, founding the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, the first group for advocacy of homosexual and transgender rights. You made your name trying to repeal Paragraph 175, managing to get Einstein, Mann and Tolstoy to sign your petitions. You also felt a solidarity with the women’s rights movement, taking up the fight for abortion law reform.Testifying in court by outing a Prince and a General you had hoped that exposing high ranking gay individuals would help advance your cause, but instead it caused public outrage.  Incurring anti-semitic and homophobic attacks that eventually resulted in near-death beating by a group of völkisch activists. After the war, in a more liberal atmosphere, you opened the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft in Berlin where your life-partner Karl Giese became known as it’s ‘woman of the house’.  Later that year you co-wrote and acted in the film, Different from Others, the first to have a leading homosexual character. But the open times didn’t last long and just months after the Nazi’s rise to power, the SA stormed the Institut attacking your staff and burning your research, leading you to exile to Paris. While touring in China you met Li Shiu Tong and brought him back to Europe, settling in the South of France with Karl in an uneasy ménage à trois until Karl got deported for public promiscuity. You worked until the end, dying on your birthday still as an outsider to both society and the academy.