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1This book by Sylvie Tissot is the fruit of an original study of residents of two neighbourhoods that have been the site of a gentrification process marked by the presence of a large gay (the Marais, Paris) [1] or lesbian (Park Slope, Brooklyn) population. ‘Gay-friendliness’ refers, first, to a set of positive attitudes towards same-sex sexuality and gay and lesbian people. The book’s interest lies in its demonstration that these attitudes remain ambivalent, linking acceptance with control. Far from erasing hierarchies of sexualities, they contribute to redefining socially acceptable and legitimate expressions of same-sex sexuality, notably valuing its partnership and family forms.

2Second, Tissot analyses gay-friendliness as a norm promoted by a group situated at the top of the social scale: the progressive bourgeoisie. The book continues Tissot’s research on this fraction of the upper classes, who live in today’s gentrified neighbourhoods and defend progressive positions, notably on issues of gender and sexuality. [2] Taken together, her findings show that gayfriendliness works to establish and maintain social distinction. It plays a role in the habitus of ‘good neighbours’, allowing members of this group to stigmatize the supposed homophobia of the (racialized) working classes, but also of the conservative grande bourgeoisie, as a matter of ‘poor taste’ (p. 221).

3The study is built on observations, archival materials, and interviews with 95 residents of the two neighbourhoods, most of whom are white, heterosexual, and highly educated property owners. Tissot shows, first, that behind the apparent gay-friendliness prevailing in these neighbourhoods, relationships to same-sex sexuality remain heterogeneous. The first chapter focuses on the role of generation. Residents born between 1930 and 1955 continue to express some reticence concerning the visibility of same-sex sexuality and continue to expect discretion. The next generation (born 1955–1975) is characterized by greater recognition of same-sex sexuality, as well as more and closer relationships with LGBT people. For the youngest (born 1975–1990), the dominant attitude is indifference, accompanied notably by a rejection of ‘categorizing’ people by sexual orientation. In addition to the generational factor, Tissot shows that at the scale of life trajectories, some individuals learn or even ‘convert’ to gay-friendliness (p. 47). This occurs mainly via personal contact with gay men and lesbian women, and thus increasing familiarity with same-sex sexuality, whether through work, neighbourhood life or, even more markedly, with the coming out of a loved one.

4Chapter 3, on gender effects, shows greater acceptance among women, which is manifested by more friendships with gay men and reflected in one of the common representations of gay-friendliness: the ‘fag hag’ [fille à pédé] (p. 174). Beyond this observation, Tissot attempts to capture the social logics at work. Behind the discourse of gender equality in the milieu studied here, the division of labour within couples remains gendered. Care work and the maintenance of social relationships are mainly handled by women, who are socialized from a very young age into an altruistic ethos. This in turn feeds into empathetic attitudes towards gay people; gay-friendliness may thus be understood as a part of their prerogatives. For some, friendship with gay men also constitutes a means to take some distance from male domination, which they specifically associate with heterosexual relationships. In addition, there is the difficulty, for men, of ‘constructing a non-homophobic masculinity’ (p. 165).

5Tissot uses qualitative analysis to examine the effects of generation and gender, previously identified in other studies, [3] in interaction with class membership. In the book, other factors involved in gay-friendliness, often grouped together as ‘atypical’, emerge: heterosexual women perceived as tomboys [garçons manqués] or who are in contact with LGBT+ people through work (pp. 39–45), ‘atypical’ partnership and sexual trajectories (p. 149) among divorced or polyamorous women, an ethos of low virility among some men (p. 161), etc. In other words, gay-friendliness is also explained by relative distance from dominant norms on gender and sexuality.

6Chapters 2 and 4 seek to shed light on the common basis of this gay-friendliness. Same-sex sexuality is accepted above all when it takes the form of the monogamous couple or the family and parenthood. In the United States, in particular, many neighbourhood institutions (schools, synagogues, food cooperatives, etc.) value ‘diversity’ and support same-sex marriage, which became a ‘cause’ for some heterosexual ‘gentrifiers’ (pp. 81–110). Whereas in Park Slope the predominant legal register has been linked to demands for equal rights and non-discrimination, in the Marais it has been that of ‘sexual freedom’. It is somewhat unfortunate that Tissot’s analysis of these mobilizations—and, more broadly, of the respondents’ relationship to politics—is only briefly sketched out the book.

7While the norm of gay-friendliness has contributed to the normalization of same-sex sexuality, it has also generated forms of control and exclusion at different levels. In public space, the visibility of same-sex sexuality is policed: when it is too strong, it is associated with ‘communitarianism’ (p. 244); when its sexual dimension is too obvious, it is qualified as ‘sleazy’ [crado] (p. 250). In the sphere of friendship, sociability can be mixed in terms of sexual orientation, as long as it is not mixed in class terms: ‘good friends’, in the end, are gay men and women who have a similar lifestyle and who share the same class ethos. Gay-friendliness is also expected not to blur gender identities: ‘good’ gay men and women conform to gender norms and thus do not present as effeminate gay men or masculine lesbians. In the domestic sphere, finally, children are educated about gay-friendliness through the transmission of a taste for ‘diversity’ by families who dread the possibility that their own child might come out. Being gay-friendly, in many respects, helps individuals to articulate and construct themselves as heterosexual.

8Overall, the goal of shedding light on the considerable ambiguity that attends gay-friendliness runs through the entire structure of the book, with some redundancies. That takes nothing away, however, from the pleasure of reading it or the accuracy of its conclusions. Besides enriching the analysis of relationships to homosexuality, the book makes a strong contribution to the study of contemporary social classes.


  • [1]
    On the process of ‘gaytrification’, see Giraud C., 2014, Quartiers gays, Paris, PUF.
  • [2]
    Tissot S., 2011, De bons voisins: Enquête dans un quartier de la bourgeoisie progressiste, Paris, Raisons d’agir.
  • [3]
    Rault W., 2016, Les attitudes ‘gayfriendly’ en France: entre appartenances sociales, trajectoires familiales et biographies sexuelles, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 213(3), 38–65.
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