As a child Didier Eribon knew that he felt different. Growing up in a socially deprived suburbs of a French town riven with racism, misogyny, toxic masculinity, domestic violence and homophobia all he wanted, was to escape.
As he hit adolescence he became increasingly aware of the constant shame that the insult 'Faggot' evoked. He realised that, for him, ‘this dizzying word, arising from the depths of time immemorial’, and words like them, represented the dreadful presentment that such words, and the violence they carry, would accompany him for the rest of his days.
He realised that this stigmatised identity preceded him and he would have to step into it and embody it. He would need to somehow deal with it in one way or another. He would have to find some way out in order to avoid suffocating.
With the charm of his gay youthfulness he entered the cruising scene of his town. Men wanting sex with men would hangout around the Public Toilets near the Theatre in the centre of town. And little by little, at great personal physical, and emotional risk to himself, through a process of repeated sexual emissions and co-incidental social cultural transmissions, he gradually began to assimilate a sense of how to be a young gay man in a small-town-world hostile to his existence.
He was a bright kid and began to dream that, by some miracle, if he were to study hard and read lots of books, he might somehow become an intellectual living in the big city where he would be free to live an open life as a gay man.
His extensive reading of communist tracts, Sartre, Gide, Foucault and Simon de Beauvoir would provide the stepping stones towards an intellectual existence which would ultimately lead to a position as a world renowned academic sociologist, journalist, and author. However, those thousands of informal initiatory gay discussions and discoveries in queer space and time, became the medium through which a cultural heritage was transmitted to him. One which would ultimately allow him to thrive.
In Paris his intellectual friends and colleagues were not wholly welcoming of his sexuality and he began to understand what characterised a queer life, for him, was both the capability and necessity of moving regularly back and forth between spaces- from ‘normal’ to ‘abnormal’ and back again. What was most shocking to him however, was the extent to which, having left behind his working class background and having entered the bourgeois world of academia, the shame he had been made to feel for his sexuality was substituted for a deep shame of his background of poverty and deprivation.
He would later read 'What is important is not what people make of us, but what we ourselves make of what they have made of us'
So let's keep talking and socialising and having sex- giving ourselves the queer space to fabulously re-make ourselves from what they have made of us!