On Monday our group traveled to the apartment of a leading scholar who specializes in the history of sexuality and LGBTQ+ studies. It is amazing how much our perception of sexuality has changed over time. In ancient Greece and Rome, there was considered to be only one sex: male. Female was not a separate sex; rather, the female sex organs were considered to be the opposite of male sex organs. The vagina was an inverted penis. What we know as the ovaries were an unformed version of testicles. This one sex model was used until the 18th century, and we can thank the clitoris for challenging this model. In the single sex model, the vagina was viewed as a backwards penis, but the clitoris was also found to be vaguely penis-shaped. This caused a problem because it was impossible that they both were the penis; such an idea disrupted the mirroring of sex organs and that women were men who were not fully developed. To resolve this issue, the two sex model slowly came into being, removing the idea of the sex organs mirroring each other and giving the world a model that expressed more variability.
After discussing many more fascinating ideas that would take many pages to fill, the scholar (who requested that her name not be listed) served us croissants to whet our appetites for lunch. We were all hungry, so we graciously accepted – one would have to be very full indeed to turn down a fresh croissant! Merci beaucoup – c’était délicieux!
Beautiful view from the scholar’s 7th floor apartment!
Soon after having croissants, we broke for lunch. I had une crêpe sucree au beurre – a delicate pancake with sugar and butter. I didn’t have a chance to take a picture of it, but it was delicious – you’ll have to take my word for it. We had some time to wander around, so a group of us looked through some shops, then walked around enjoying Paris until it was time to meet with ACT UP Paris, where Hugues Fischer gave us another fascinating discussion. The room we met in was much smaller than the room at ACT UP New York, but it was cozy and welcoming, not cramped. Though it was smaller, it did not feel any less safe. There we discussed some actions ACT UP Paris has taken and how it differs from ACT UP New York. One of the most striking actions ACT UP Paris has performed is covering the Obelisk with a giant pink condom, which was placed on the monument with a crane. The condom sported ACT UP’s logo and was designed to increase AIDS awareness. Since it took several days for city officials to remove the condom, it likely accomplished its task.
Passionate Hugues Fischer.
Obelisk au préservatif
A large difference between the two ACT UP groups is that ACT UP New York must fight to lower drug prices to make them more accessible to individuals who need them, while individuals in France have free healthcare that covers the needed drugs. However, an obstacle towards getting Truvada, the only drug that can prevent HIV and AIDS, on the market in France is the poor studies done to test the effectiveness of the drug. ACT UP Paris deemed the studies unethical and so fought against them until more humane methods began to be used, causing a rift between the groups in New York and Paris. However, with new, more humane studies underway, ACT UP Paris has begun to support them, and the rift is healing. Both groups are dedicated to ending the AIDS epidemic and supporting individuals living with HIV/AIDS as well as individuals who are at risk for contracting it.
Today we started our journey at the Musée d’Orsay. It took a while to get through the line of people waiting to get in, but the museum was worth it. My first stop was the fifth floor – home of the impressionists. We saw many beautiful paintings by Monet – I love his water lilies. I also spent time in the sculpture garden on the ground floor, where we also saw a few more Monet paintings. Sculpture is beautiful, but Monet has been my favorite for many years, so seeing his work was what I enjoyed the most. We also saw paintings by Van Gogh, Seurat, Renoir, Degas, and many other famous painters. All of us enjoyed the museum and had differing favorite artists. Our varying tastes made the museum experience that much more enriching as we tried to understand why art made each of us feel emotions (or not feel them).
Waiting for the d’Orsay to open!
Our second stop was the Musée de l’érotisme. All of the objects there were fascinating. My favorite artwork was a series of sketches that showed someone drawing a nude portrait or carrying it on their backs. The artists’ hands blended seamlessly into the sketches they drew. My favorite of these was of a hand grasping the breast of the woman he was drawing. It was tender, not possessive – it was as though the artist was saying, “I made you, and you are good.” Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain a photograph.
Silent films added to the air of authenticity of the museum. Some were filmed videos, passionate and loving, others cartoons, funny and silly. I enjoyed being able to hear the movies without sound – though sound has huge and often useful effects on emotion, it was refreshing to be able to watch a video and let myself feel rather than have music set a tone for me.
Our final stop was to meet with the Paris order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The Sisters is an organization that seeks to bring recognition to the problem of AIDS and other issues facing the LGBTQ+ community – for example, they were the first group to print pamphlets encouraging safer sex and sex positivity, the idea that sex should be seen in a positive light as something enjoyed between two or more consenting adults, not something that should be feared or looked down upon. The Sisters dress as nuns when performing activism. Through this gesture, they created a memorable and shocking picture of themselves. Nuns are seen as kindly and celibate with a desire to do good, stereotypes which complement, and sometimes clash with, the Sisters’ ideals. While both groups want to create a better world, nuns are abstinent, while the Sisters promote having safer sex. Individuals of any sex, gender, or other identity may join the Sisters. This reinforces their idea of inclusivity and creating a better place for all individuals
The Sisters we met, Sister Rose, Sister Mary Nyctalope, and Novice Sister Stephanie, were all wonderful people. Each was sweet, charming, intelligent, and passionate. It’s hard to say whether our group was more excited to meet them, or they us – a humbling feeling for both parties. The Sisters were kind enough to prepare us dinner as we discussed their organization – they provided a spread of bread, cheeses, butter, and meat. It was all delicious, and we were in love with the Sisters by the time we left. Some of us may even choose to become Sisters ourselves one day so that we may continue their important work. Our time with them was precious, and I hope that one day we may meet again.
Our group with the wonderful Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence! On the far left is Sister Rose, on the far right, front row is Novice Sister Stephanie, and behind me (the person with the orange and blonde hair) is Sister Mary Nyctalope. Thank you so much for letting us meet you and take pictures!