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The new generation shuns them, preferring dating apps; municipalities dress them up and invade them with shops and cocktail bars. Despite everything, the followers – often naturists – of gay beaches are resisting.


GAY BEACH HOLIDAYS – It’s an Atlantic beach like any other, nestled between two of the most popular villages on the Ile de Ré. Vegetation grows on the dunes and, from the first fine days, multicolored towels bloom on the sand. But the difference is that here, unlike the bike paths that crisscross the island, you won’t see navy blue sweaters wisely tied on your shoulders. At Les Petites Folies, the only nudist beach on the island, which also serves as a gay beach, you don’t even wear underpants. And, as is often the case in seaside resorts, even in this bourgeois Catholic bastion, gays have kept a little place in the sun.

Strangers at the lake

“Out of season, of course, it’s not very lively ,” says Christian, a 56-year-old local crossed on a dating site, who systematically gives appointments to his virtual conquests on this beach. Marriage (hetero) obliges. “On weekends, sometimes, there are Parisians, Rochelais, and even people from further afield in Charente-Maritime,  he explains.  It’s the only gay beach for miles around so, inevitably, it attracts people.  As on the edge of this lake whose unknown had  made us fantasize, where men of all ages come to sunbathe, flirt, and even slum in the adjoining wood.

“The average age is higher than before, that’s for sure. But I am not getting any younger either!”  writes Christian, punctuating his remarks with a smiley who cries… with laughter, of course, but who cries all the same a little the advent of applications, virtual dating and scripted sex by messages on the sofa in the living room. And summer? “ In summer, for sure, there are a few more people ,” he notes.  But I go there less. It’s less discreet”.

An unforgettable experience

For men like Christian, gay beaches are cruising spots that lose their charm once the fine weather arrives and the tourists arrive… But for others, they are necessary and liberating places of conviviality.  “We remember all our life the first time we set foot on a gay beach” , tell us Ludovic* and Matthias*.

Ten years ago, this couple, who are now approaching their forties, traveled to  Lisbon on vacation. Like many other visitors to the Portuguese capital, the two men boarded the little train along the beaches of the Costa da Caparica to Praia 19, the last of them, where they got off. This naturist beach has become, over the years, the unmissable meeting place for Lisbon gays and European tourists looking for sun, sea… and outdoor plans.

“If you go into the pine forest, there is a good chance that you will take off your underwear…”

“We only had a very literary idea of ​​what cruising was and we had never been naked in a public space,  recalls Matthias. I was super intimidated. Ludovic, who is a little more comfortable than me, quickly took off his bathing suit. Me, I kept it. I felt better that way. And I wasn’t the only one. Praia 19 is a place where you also come to spend the day at the beach with your friends: there are plenty of guys who keep their underwear on. Afterwards, if you go into the pine forest, there is a good chance that you will kidnap it…”.


Without jersey, without constraints

“Gay beaches are not necessarily naturist and, if they can promote sexual encounters, it is not systematic,  abounds Emmanuel Jaurand, geographer who has been interested in naturist spaces on the coasts and, de facto, in gay beaches. , in his book  Sexualities and Public Spaces: Identities, Practices, Territorialities .  The holidays are a time of leisure where one traditionally escapes the pressure, the usual constraint of social life. Gay beaches are, of course, a public space, but we nevertheless escape them from the gaze of the other – a gaze that can be stigmatizing.”  This avoids what the sociologist Didier Eribon calls  “heterosexual interpellation” .

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Plus, while Grindr, Tinder, and all of the location-based apps don’t let you step out of your way, you never know who you’ll bump into on a nudist beach. It is therefore another constraint that jumps: that of social belonging. And then no one will comment on your brand of jersey, since you will not have one.

Textiles, yes, but LGBTQI+ nonetheless

But in many countries – which may or may not allow naturism – gay beaches are intended to be “textile” and commercial, especially when they are in town centres.  “We notice that even in Sitges, in Catalonia – perhaps the most gay seaside resort in Europe –, the beach which is located in the city center does not welcome the naturist public, notes the geographer  . It is a space of sociability, of meetings between people having a common identity. The beach can be a place for sexual encounters, but it is not a space dedicated solely to sexuality.” Speakers spitting out eurodance, neon speedos and festive gays stopping at chaste kisses or a stealthy package hand then replace this sex that you wouldn’t see in a seaside resort, no matter how gay. .

Perhaps the most famous examples of these stretches of fine sand are Farme Beach in Ipanema – between lookouts 8 and 9 – Muscle Beach in Venice, Los Angeles, as well as stretches of beaches in Seminyak, on the Indonesian island of Bali, or in Phuket, Thailand. Unlike naturist beaches, they have the particularity of being clearly identified as being gay or LGBTQI +. The surveillance post has been repainted in  rainbow  and rainbow flags are flying to delimit the contours. Anyway, to play the card of the gay-friendly seaside resort, you need a beach. And some municipalities have understood this.

gay disneyland

The model to follow? In the 1950s and 1960s, Fire Island established  itself as a destination for New York gays in search of a freedom that the Big Apple stubbornly refused them. In the 1970s, the gay beaches of Cherry Grove and the Pines became the rallying point for a golden gay youth who, for a weekend or a congress, practiced naturism, cruising, and participated to  pool parties  immortalized by Andy Warhol or Tom Bianchi.

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This recklessness will come to a dramatic end with the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. But it is gay tourism that will have the skin of the spirit of freedom of this mythical place. The cocktail bars and  beach houses  rented at exorbitant prices have now made it a kind of homosexual Disneyland more than a destination for savages from all walks of life. Moreover, the transformation of licentious beaches into  open-air rainbow supermarkets  has never threatened gay shores so much.

A tourist bet

In France, Cannes and Nice, for example, focus on gay tourism and take great care of their LGBTQI + clientele. In 2016, Nice set up its Nice iridescent label, which lists hotels, restaurants and LGBTQI + or friendly clubs. But also, beaches: two private textiles – paying deckchairs, cocktails, catering… – in the city center, and a public nudist, Coco Beach, a little away from the Lympia port.

For many years, this discretion allowed the people of Nice and tourists to have fun facing the sea. But, for the locals, the place has lost some of its flavor.  “Now that there are applications, there aren’t many people except outdoor enthusiasts,”  explains Kristof, a local.  And then, during the day, there are only a few crimson old Niçoises left” , he says with a laugh full of affection.

Law enforcement rounds

For Emmanuel Jaurand, gays are interesting for municipalities because  “it’s a clientele with a holiday rhythm different from the family public. It is a more spendthrift clientele, which comes more in June, in September… This fills the less frequented periods of the seaside resorts. But, obviously, the municipalities do not highlight the transgressive aspect that can exist in the public space”.

Some therefore consciously choose to turn a blind eye to cruising. The geographer cites Playa del Inglès, in the Canary Islands, where the municipality is  “completely aware that this contributes to the attractiveness of the place” . But others are much less comfortable with what sometimes happens on the beaches of their towns and send the police to make rounds during the summer to ensure that the law is respected in dunes or pine forests, or even install street furniture to reduce privacy spaces. Several town halls that we contacted did not wish to answer our questions on this subject.

Haro on cruising

But cruising also regularly revives a war as old as the world, or almost: that between hard-core naturists and gay nudists. It must be said that, most of the time, when a naturist beach closes or is reduced to a trickle in a tiny space, it is because a municipal decree condemns ”  inappropriate behavior”  or  “exhibitionists ” – prohibited by the law. And if cruising between guys is not the only reason for these bans (there are also gentlemen who come to fiddle around while watching ladies on the beach without asking their opinion), some hold it partly responsible.

levantine paradise

“The cohabitation is most often courteous and benevolent,  however tempers Cédric, flamboyant forties and gay naturist.  I had a few sideways glances on the beaches in the south of France, but that was because I had gone a little overboard,” he admits with a knowing smile. This Parisian with blue eyes and golden skin – he returns from a few days post-confinement in the countryside – has since calmed down and has become in a few years a regular on the island of Levant, a mecca for naturism in the Hexagon.

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Located between Toulon and Saint-Tropez, this naked enclave of freedom welcomes hundreds of tourists every year, and more and more gays. However, here, there is little (or little, according to its regulars) question of cruising. There is also no dedicated beach.


Mixed places

“This shift towards more mixed places is a general trend,  observes Emmanuel Jaurand.  It’s the same thing with places of conviviality”.  Vice and virtue of society’s wider acceptance of our sexualities, the younger generation doesn’t see the point of the gay beach.  “I don’t need this between myself,  explains Jordan, 20 years old.  If I want to meet a guy, I go on Tinder, and if I go on vacation with friends, I want to be quiet. I don’t want old people to look at us like pieces of meat.

“As you get older, you get closer to what makes the salt of gay culture: cruising, bars, beaches and even saunas”

What about outdoor sex? “I’ve never tried it, but it doesn’t appeal to me at all” , he says, categorically. Are gay beaches therefore doomed to be only gay-friendly?  “I think I would have had exactly the same reaction at his age,  answers Matthias when TÊTU tells him the answer of this young guy. But, as you get older, you feel the need to reconnect with the community, with the practices that are the salt of gay culture: cruising, bars, gay beaches and even saunas… If only to try, so as not to die stupid”.


Get rid of the weight of the representation of bodies

And the observation is the same with Cédric, the convinced naturist:  “This generation seeks a lot to free itself from the weight of the representation of the body. And that’s exactly what you do on a naturist beach. I’m sure they can take a liking to it.”  Maybe also that they will realize, one day, that Instagram and Grindr take away some of the charm of the meeting, which can lead to love at first sight… and to holiday romances.




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