Expat and gay….where are the guide books?

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This article was written by Languedoc Living reader, Karen George.

Karen made her home in the Languedoc with her partner in 2003.

“Becoming an expat is a challenging experience. There are funny books and serious advice books, but how to be a gay expat here is not written about much.

My experience is that the language you thought you’d mastered can let you down in the face of exploding drains or a medical emergency, or a row with EDF.

What does the neighbourhood make of you? Whatever your motivation for moving here – from a desire to immerse yourself in the culture, to a simple wish to enjoy the climate, or find your dream home, you can be sure it will not be quite what you expected. It will be challenging, and unless you are very lucky and bilingual, it will be confusing, and you will probably need help at some point.

This is especially true when you move in later life. You won’t have the ready network and reference group that you perhaps took for granted at home. If you’re not working, it will be even harder to find people to interact with.

You will miss certain people. Over time we develop a support-group of friends and family members, one that is tried and tested. We have connected to people with whom we share common issues, opinions, and experiences. They become part of defining our world, and all of a sudden we have left them behind.

This of course holds true for everyone, but for gay men and lesbians, there are additional elements. The group reaching retirement now have lived and worked in a world where rights, opportunities, and acceptance were not as they are now, so their reference group is even more important to them.

It is sometimes referred to in Britain as “the gay community”, a catch-all phrase for your gay friends, clubs, bars, advice lines and a general sense of knowing where you are and who to turn to.

Of course you could choose to go to a city like Montpellier, where there are identifiable bars and activities. However, you may be a gardener, a builder, a walker, and you may be searching the tranquil Languedoc rural dream just like your hetero neighbours.

Most of us are skilled at judging who to tell what to, and when, but we still have to make a choice about” telling” even in this day and age. If a man and a woman move somewhere together they are assumed to be a couple. Unless lesbian and gay couples conform to extravagant stereotypes, they may be assumed to be relatives or friends, and if they’re on their own it is even more complicated. Previously when l had had an accident in Spain, my partner was described as “Su hermana ” (your sister), by the hospital, and she signed consent forms for my surgery in this manner.

Across any language barrier, nuances are more difficult to pick up. After l had been here 6 months my neighbour asked me if l knew “les autres dames anglaises qui habitent ensemble pres d’ici” . I knew l had understood her, but what precisely did she mean?

It was in fact only when my partner died that l discovered that all my neighbours knew exactly the nature of my loss – “l am a widow too”, one said; “come to me when you are distressed”.

So what would make a difference, what would fill those gaps? You can get a lot of information about living, and resettling in France. There are funny books and serious advice books, but how to be a gay expat here is not written about much. Perhaps we should start here?”

What are your experiences?  Would you like to share any of them with us?