GAY PARIS | LGBTQIA+ bookshop Les Mots à la Bouche 

Paris! I haven’t been to the Ville Lumière since my January 2019 visit with Bert and Wim. Also, this March 2022 getaway in Paris marks the first overnight excursion with Thanh since our 2012 visit of the capital of France. Ten years ago! 

Facade of Les mots à la bouche.

While in Paris, Thanh wanted to search for a book explaining gender diversity and contemporary views on gender, gender identity en gender expression , in French, for his mother. So I suggested paying a visit to Les Mots à la Bouche, Paris’ dedicated LGBTQIA+ bookshop

Les Mots à la Bouche could be translated as ‘Word to mouth‘. “Arracher les mots de la bouche” is also an idiom indicating someone says what you want want to say before you had the chance to say it. 

History 

Les Mots à la Bouche was founded in 1980 by Jean-Pierre Meyer-Genton with Yves Clerget. Its first home was Rue Simart in the18th Arrondissement. During the day, it was a bookstore. After office hours it was a tea house and even a restaurant. This gastronomico-literary cocktail lasts only a few months, but the name remains. 

Bookstore, art gallery, publishing house. Even the home of the gay / queer / LGBTQIA+ magazine Masques and home of the Frequence Gay radio station. 

Le Marais

In 1983, Les Mots à la Bouche moved to the Rue Sainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie in Le Marais. At the time it wasn’t the gayborhood it would become in the second half of the 1980s.

In July 1996, Jean-Pierre Meyer-Genton died of cancer and the bookstore was taken over by his companion Walter Paluch.

In 2016, the books in the library represented approximately 12,000 titles. The bookstore also sells videos and DVDs, more than 400 films in original version) as well as the French and international gay press, life-style magazines as well as books on the subject of fashion, design or architecture. In 1998, it set up a website.

In 2019, everyone’s favourite city villain struck: gentrification, some say ‘gaytrification‘. The lease became unbearable. The city authorities helped to find a new and present home at 37, Rue Saint-Ambroise in the 11th Arrondissement

Kartonnen Dozen

Reading about Les Mots à la Bouche, I can’t help but think about Kartonnen Dozen (Cardboard Boxes) and its predecessor Boekhandel ‘t Verschil in Antwerp

In both cases the bookshop is so much more: bookshop, other media, community meeting point, publishing house. Both have had financial and real estate challenges. Both are concerned by health issues. The Les mots librarians keep wearing face masks. Johanna M Pas of Kartonnen Dozen is a high risk person and is also wary of COVID-19.

Vibe

The shop itself has a similar vibe to Kartonnen Dozen in Zurenborg and the late Boekhandel ‘t Verschil at Minderbroedersrui. Everything cramped together, a slightly uncomfortable atmosphere as you slightly feel watched. Or maybe that’s just me. 

I just want to sit there and read ‘Heartstopper‘. 

Anyway. We found a book for Thanh’s mum quickly. So we didn’t stay long. Thanh bought ‘Unique en mon genre‘ by Alex Iantaffi and Meg-John Barker.

‘Unique en mon genre’. Photo by Thanh.

Important

Places such as Les Mots à la Bouche or Kartonnen Dozen are important queer safe spaces. They’re non-sexual, but offer – homo, bi, pan, trans, queer … – sexual content. Not only the gentrified, bourgeois, married and monogamous kind, but also the erotic kind.

They are community building and are to be cherished. 

Queerness and art

Paris 2022

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