By Gilles Dauvé
On a gender-fluid childhood, May 68, women’s lib, radical gays and Lesbians, identity, #MeToo, and a bit more: an interview with Lola Miesseroff
This year PM Press is publishing Fag Hag, by Lola Miesseroff (b. 1947), a story of troubled rebellious times.
In the following interview, begun in 2017 and completed in 2021, Lola focuses on the Homosexual Front of Revolutionary Action (“FHAR” in French), one of the 70s groups that aimed at blasting sexual codes. But first, let’s go back in time.
Pre-68 sentimental education
Lola: From early childhood, homosexuals have been part of my family and social environment. Near Marseilles, my parents had a naturist camp, which one could describe as libertarian, and there were always quite a few male and female homosexuals in that environment, and girl couples and boy couples. (1)
Two Lesbian friends were very close to us: one had woman lovers but also a long relationship with a married man, until she finally lived with a woman at the end of her life. It was fairly obvious to me that sexual orientation required no classification. It seemed quite normal that somebody could go with a girl or a man at different periods of their life, or possibly at the same time.
I was very young when I had friends who – often later – turned out to be homosexuals. Truth is, I’ve always been fond of feminine boys. Just as I have always disliked over-feminine girls – in the traditional stereotyped meaning of the word of course. Which does not imply that I don’t wish them to be beautiful as girls: I’d say I’m a girl too, but I’m a boy as well.
From an early age, I was what could be called “a fag hag”. My father used to say: “There’s Saint Rita, the patron saint of Lost Causes and the Riff-Raff, and there’s Saint Lola for fags”. It did not take me long to have some knowledge of sexual matters: abortion was still illegal in those days, my mother did volunteer work for the Planning Familial organisation, she supported abortion rights, and every now and then women would come to us to terminate their pregnancies, I don’t know where, then they stayed in our home to rest. So I was quite young when I knew about abortion. (2) And I also knew at an early stage that sex did not always come with women’s pleasure. My parents could not stop laughing when they were told that I was delivering scholarly speeches on sex for the benefit of my pals at the naturist camp at the age of 12 or 13… despite my complete lack of experience on the subject.
Then I was no longer a schoolgirl. I became a student in Aix-en-Provence, and I associated myself closely with a milieu where homos mixed with heteros. Little by little, there gathered around me a tribe of boys, plus a few girls, including Mireille, my best school mate who’d come to Aix with her woman partner met in a religious school. Mireille was what’s known as a tomboy, not the butch type, but in those days I had no idea she could be a Lesbian, she was a bloke, that’s all. I was very fond of Mireille, we came from the same town.
We were an appalling crowd, we messed around big time, we loved insulting everybody !
G.D.: What year was that ?
Lola: 1965. We were students. Not that we studied much. Already we lived in this milieu of homosexual men and women. Around me there was this mixed tribe, boys and girls of any gender, of any sex, as the French singer Charles Aznavour used to say. We were conscious of what was not yet called homophobia. We were professional provocateurs, sex-wise particularly but not only. We raised hell, we were subversive, yet without any grand political discourse. Some of us later became Maoists of the most dogmatic type, one of us even found himself a great fan of Althusser. (3) As for me, I was an anarchist of sorts.What we knew for sure, was that this world was not made for us. We hated everything in this world. We spent our time stealing and messing things up. If we happened to be invited to some classy party, we behaved like real bastards, we went because of the food and booze, that was OK with us, and the more we misbehaved, the more invitations we got. That was great fun. Lots of us had a working class background, and were helped by the homosexual milieu to get a veneer of “good manners”. The homosexual milieu is very formative. It provided me with an out-of-school education. I learnt a lot: to read a “quality paper” every afternoon, to drink tea without sugar, to go to the opera, where I enjoyed showing off with my friend Alban, how to read Jean Genet… a truly educative milieu.
We were familiar with one or two Marseilles prostitutes, and two male hustlers. Sometimes these streetwalkers were young bourgeois women. A strange brew indeed. One day, I was near the Opera, a well-known red-light district, there were whores in a hotel lobby, and one of them called out my name.
– Sorry, but I don’t think I know you.
She removed her wig and said:
– Look, I’m Jacques !
A friend from my home town, Aubagne, who plied his trade as a transvestite. There were lots of encounters like that. It was a mixed crowd, it was bound to be. In Marseilles at least. The prostitution milieu – not the more or less established one ruled by pimps – mingled with ours. For instance, one of my best pals was a big hefty guy who performed what was then called a transvestite burlesque act under the name of Lady Jane. He would now be known as a drag queen. Except he was only a drag queen when he was performing. The rest of the time, he was simply Jean, a gay guy dressed like a boy. I sometimes met him with his father and his brother – a true Marseilles macho… though clearly Jean’s behaviour was not an issue in the family.
G.D.: You weren’t what people call politically aware.
Lola: I was. But not in a “political group” sense. Not via theories or ideologies. First because I could only be anti-USSR and anti-Stalinist. My parents were both Russian refugees, and my father had lived in the USSR until 1925. I had read Kravchenko’s 1946 I Chose Freedom. I was quite knowledgeable about Russia, but I’d also read stuff on the Algerian war like Henri Alleg’s La Question about torture by the French army. (4)
My parents were surrounded by anarchists, they’d even belonged to an anarchist group. There would be lots of anecdotes worth telling, for instance about our Lesbian friend who was part of the Draguignan libertarian group. She told us that when she was an apprentice hairdresser in her youth, out of the blue she realised she was in love with her woman boss ! She did not know what it meant, she was uneasy about it. By chance, she bumped into this Draguignan group, and from then on her predicament was over, she enjoyed a sort of communal life with those people, and being a Lesbian was no longer a problem. The snag was, it was understood that she had to go to bed with every member of the group, men included ! It was a “harmonist” community, which meant sexual relationships functioned on a rotational basis.
“No point in going on living by night”
Lola: All of a sudden, with the advent of May 68, hope is now, and I tell myself: “There’s no point in going on living by night !”. Everything I had been refusing… I could now reason why I was rejecting it. In April 68, I told my parents I was done with the university. In 67, I had already read On the Poverty of Student Life, then at the beginning of 68, Debord and Vaneigem. Needless to say, I was more attracted to Vaneigem than Debord. I had read anarchist stuff, a bit of Marx, not much, I didn’t really know him, and not his early writings, and the concepts of formal subsumption and real subsumption. (5) I had not realised that that was what “the spectacle” was about: I had not grasped the connection between the two. I managed with whatever intellectual landmarks were available. I had written to the Situationist International to get a copy of the S.I., but there I was, on my own, alone with my woman friend of the time whom I had converted to these ideas. I was isolated, walking around with my copies of the S.I., my Vaneigem texts, etc. I was no “pro-situ” – pro-situs were still to be born in the 70s – but at long last I had found my political home, so to speak. Those were really foundation times. Before, I’d read a lot, Armand, Pouget… but nothing had ever spoken to me in that way. (6)
If I had been asked to define myself, I would have answered I was an anarchist, but nothing to do with the official Anarchist Federation: I was an anarchist in complete agreement with situationist ideas.
In May 68, in the action committee in my small town, I had become quite close to a very young man, Christian. I was 20, he was 15 and the younger brother of a female school friend. Christian was in the [Trotskyist] Revolutionary Communist Youth [“JCR” in French], homosexual yet totally disconnected from the gay ghetto. Because those were the days of the homo ghetto… a closeted life with all that it entailed. I also had flamboyant male friends and flamboyant female friends who did not mind coming out and speaking out, though. Christian preferred fucking heteros, anyway. So we went through May 68 together, him in the JCR, and me keeping away from far-left politicos, with the emerging Marseilles radical milieu. Eventually, the JCR expelled him, on the pretext of his “association with anarcho-Maoist elements” – me basically ! – but he was not the only JCR member who associated with me: the real reason was his being gay. Actually, Christian was unashamedly gay, he had no idea how much same-sex was repressed, which is odd because he was the son of a bricklayer, and brought up in a strongly Stalinist (i.e. homophobic) environment.
Lola: In Marseilles, we practised group sex, completely unplanned, nothing to do with orgiastic bacchanalia, nor what is now known as a gang bang. Everyone simply went with everyone, homos and heteros combined. This even enabled me to meet a man who initiated one of my greatest love affairs: he came with a boy and left with me. This was uncontrolled and cheerful sex, tender and friendly. I must add that boys were far more numerous than girls. A funny thing was, we borrowed a word from sociologists based in Bordeaux : “to make a heap” (faire un tas). But originally, making this “heap” did not include fucking, only feeling the bodies, brushing against each other and, as far as I remember, homosexuality was not on the agenda.
In the autumn of 1970, ten or so people moved into a 3-room Paris flat: two bedrooms, and a room where no-one was allowed to sleep, because it was reserved for those who wanted all-night discussions. We favoured what was later called polysexuality, though we were neither zoophiliacs nor paedophiles, neither were we Sado-Masochists. Other similar flats appeared, there was a vast interchange, everyone met and mingled, we talked till dawn, we went to demos, always as a group, on the grounds that we were neither a commune nor a community, because community equals a community of misery. We lived as a group to be able to act together. Those were intense days of sparkling debate, action, sex and polemics. And of course our friends who were basically homos were particularly involved in fighting for the end of the repression of homosexuality. Just as we took part in the fight against the repression of women.
Women’s Lib & the Homosexual Front of Revolutionary Action (“FHAR”)
Lola: It all began for us in the early days of 1971. A woman friend invited us to a meeting of the Women’s Lib Movement [“MLF” in French]. The whole group went, but the boys had to stay in the café next door. Three of us walked in, plus that friend. We started by saying:
– Sorry, but, as far as we’re concerned, we live as a group with boys, some are gay, others aren’t totally gay, and we’d rather not be separated from the boys who fight these battles.
– We stand for gender-non-mixing.
– OK then…
I wouldn’t say we were pleased. Then we took a look at ourselves: “Shit, see how badly dressed we are, don’t we look down and out !!…” As a matter of fact, we did look like tramps compared to all these young women. And then we heard absurd statements such as “I am a Lesbian by political choice”, until one of us, me probably, cried out:
– And not for pleasure, you idiot !?
Some time later, we heard about the birth of the FHAR. Of course we rushed in headlong. We went there with our bunch of friends, we threw ourselves body and soul into this struggle: what attracted us was that it was not a homosexual liberation front, but a homosexual front for revolutionary action. We thought the same about Women’s Lib: it’s positive for groups to organise for specific causes, provided the specific is not there to stay, provided it eventually merges into the general revolutionary course – remember we believed revolution was round the corner. We were sure the existence of Women’s Lib was important and positive, if it worked as a specific tool within a broader range of activities, i.e. if it was gender-mixed. Similarly, we thought the existence of the FHAR was important and positive, if it was also gender-mixed.
G.D.: Mixed in the sense that it was open to non-gays ?
Lola: That’s right: open to all walks of life. In fact, the early FHAR supported polysexuality. At the time, we moved into a flat rue Charlemagne (in the Paris 4th district, the Marais area): lots of people would live there or come to sleep over, and the place became a sort of annex of the FHAR. This was where I met the very young man who later became Hélène Hazera. The FHAR had district committees, so we created the FHAR Marais committee. In those days, the Marais was a working class neighbourhood where you heard Yiddish on every street, we had no idea that the area would later morph into a hub of homosexual commodification. Our place became an awful mess where people debated, smoked pot, had mescaline, made love and intermingled, where the district committee held its meetings and prepared its actions. We kept proclaiming how free our sexuality was. I remember, I used to go out wearing big boots, naked under a cassock – a gorgeous dress. In short, we were engaged in permanent no-holds-barred provocation. We fucked in public places – we’d been doing it for a long time.
G.D.: What actions did you prepare ?
Lola: For instance, creating havoc in the ghetto. The gay ghetto, I mean: the specialised homo clubs. We’d go to the club door and tell the guys: “Get out of the closet !” Other actions too. One day, we heard that gay-bashing was taking place in the Buttes-Chaumont park. Some of our friends went. Suddenly gay-bashers were faced with a troop of screaming fairies – even those who weren’t fairies overdid it a bit – and the homophobes got beaten up. That was fine. Bashing gay-bashers. (7) Just as we enjoyed acting as “agents provocateurs” in relation to the gay ghetto.
Not doing things by halves
G.D.: The FHAR has this reputation of very messy general meetings, which doubled as pick-up and fuck places.
Lola: That was rather at the end of the FHAR and as far as I could see, it did not actually take place in the meetings themselves. Some people did fuck on the premises, or not far away, in the Arts College nearby. During the meeting, well… people got chatted up, things happened, but I remember a rather good-natured atmosphere. I can’t remember anyone I know fucking while a FHAR meeting was in progress. There was some flirting, some chatting up, some clowning. We had fun, it was quite festive, let’s face it. All the more so with the future Gazolines bunch – Hélène was one of them – they didn’t do things by halves. I think their slogan was “Le fard avant tout”, ‘FHAR above all” – a pun in French, “fard” meaning make-up. Hélène had a major interest in the S.I.
G.D.: Hélène is Marlène.
Lola: Yes, she was nicknamed Marlène for a while. (8)
Petty bosses & Red Dykes
Lola: In the FHAR, we quickly ran into people who liked to boss others around. Petty bureaucrats who we realised knew how to manipulate a meeting so that a lot of things were already decided in advance. This led us to join forces with those who later became the Gazolines. And we started protesting.
G.D.: Who were the petty bosses ?
Lola: Guy Hocquenghem, Alain Fleig… I could not remember why we weren’t friends with Fleig who was close to us politically. I recently asked Hélène and she said: “Because he was one who liked to boss people around !” (9)
G.D: Did those “bossy” guys have a different political line from yours ?
Lola: Basically, they were gauchistes. (10) Hocquenghem came from the Trotskyist Ligue Communiste. Also, the FHAR started being invited to art galleries, to socialite events, which we objected to: this was like going back to the ghetto. My friend Jacques Desbouit went to an art opening show and wrote on the paintings: “Fags Are Vandals”. We enjoyed creating scandals, we got in touch with new people, boys mainly, because at that time there weren’t that many girls.
G.D.: Because many women had left ?
Lola: At the beginning, there were lots of women.
G.D.: And there weren’t any more ?
Lola: There still were, but a lot had already started leaving. At one time I found myself in a love relationship with a girl who took me to a Red Dykes meeting. An utter catastrophe… A caricature. You could visually spot the guys and the girls. Virile women side by side with very feminine women. And you could feel the virile ones were in control. I thought that divide was a bit strange. The debate proceeded. All of a sudden, there was an incident. Just before, a FHAR group had held a meeting in the same room. In walked a boy, a FHAR member, a fairy if ever there was one. He said:
– Hi, girls ! I left my coat in the room. Can I just have it back ?
– Ahhh ! A man! Out ! Out !
Then I said:
– You’re joking. You don’t want him in here because he’s a man ? I’m sorry, but among us here, some are more boy than him. And he just wants his coat back. That’s crazy.
I stood up, took the coat, went out with my friend, so did several girls, and we had a drink with the guy.
G.D.: Those you call the petty bosses, Hocquenghem… Did they act out of a need to be recognised, to be accepted… a desire for respectability ?
Lola: No. Hocquenghem was not responsible for the FHAR hobnobbing with artists, but he didn’t mind. They behaved as bureaucrats: they maintained the bureaucratic attitude they’d already had in their Trotskyist or Maoist past. There was a crypto-Trotskyist or crypto-Maoist influence in the FHAR, expressed through their actual practice. Laurent Dispot, for instance, was not openly Maoist, but one day, as we were talking in a café, just the two of us, he was explaining how to “organise” the homosexuals, until he finally said: “Basically, I am a Maoist, I’m still a Maoist”. (11)
That was it. A very Leninist way of doing things, very centralised, top-down. When you had a meeting, you had to manipulate the participants. Those were ingrained bureaucratic habits from their gauchiste and Leninist background. At heart many of them were Leninists. And some simply wanted to be leaders. Not all were up to it. Hocquenghem was: he had an amazing charisma, he was extremely brilliant.
That being said, at the same time, the FHAR acted as a major meeting place, rich in experience and sharing, and it’s true it was a fantastic liberation.
Blasting sexual codes
Lola: And then another divide came up, a more theoretical one.We witnessed the rise of a discourse that described homosexuality as inevitably revolutionary, as if by nature, and bisexuality as inevitably “recuperated”, a cop-out. Hocquenghem was one of the proponents of this view. So polysexuality went down the drain. In contrast, we explained that we weren’t interested in fitting into the category of a specific sexual orientation… and Nazi fags did exist, didn’t they !! We regarded the “homosexual as revolutionary” view as theoretically flawed, absurd. FHAR meetings turned more and more into shouting matches. We kicked up rows, other FHAR members sided with us, and we ended up leaving the FHAR with a statement calling for people to join us outside of what was growing into a new ghetto. And our communal flat became a meeting place and a discussion centre, outside the FHAR, outside any organisation, yet extremely active.
G.D.: The statement was titled “And Here is Why Your Daughter is Mute”, signed by Jacques Dansette, Patrick Deregnaucourt, Jacques Desbouit, Karen Gautrat, Philippe Pellen, Jean Schwartz, Roland Simon, and you. Signing was a commitment. (12)
Lola: Yes. In the FHAR, usually, everyone would sign “A FHAR member”, or something similar, but for once we decided to put in our names and surnames.
G.D.: Not all signatories were gay, nor bisexual. Actually, in the FHAT, some members were straight. A small minority.
Lola: For us, no-one was “straight” by definition (or for ever), and Philippe and Roland, for example, did not have sexual relationships with men.
G.D.: How was your statement received ?
Lola : I don’t know how the FHAR reacted, because we left after distributing our statement, but a number of people joined us, which was to be expected as our proposal was to meet outside “the FHAR ghetto”. After we left, people knew of our district committee, and our rue Charlemagne flat started having many regular visitors.
G.D.: The text is not dated.
Lola: We wrote it in 1971, I can’t remember if it was before or after the summer.
G.D.: Which means you did not stay long in the FHAR.
Lola: Only a few months.We created a hell of a mess. Anyhow, after that, the FHAR folded pretty quickly.
G.D.: So you left and people joined you. What did you do ?
Lola: Bear in mind that since 68 we’d been living in non-stop agit-prop. We were very active, we did lots of things in the street. Usually not in an organised way. We walked around like a wild bunch, we stole, we got involved in everything, we were provocateurs whenever we felt the urge, like a lot of people in Paris at the time. We spent our time messing things up, interfering with everything. Sometimes people called upon us, we went to a demo, supported a strike or engaged in some action. There was no separation between life and what could be called our political activity, but on the whole we focused on daily life.
G.D.: And what about class struggle ?
Lola: For us that was part and parcel of our life and activity… When friends happened to be working, we were involved in whatever occurred in their work-places. I personally was doing surveys. We’d become part of a sort of informal gathering of casual data-collectors – similar to what is now called a coordination – which met once a month. As all data-collectors were in intermittent employment, that gathering helped them register with the social security system, get unemployment benefits, etc. And it also provided information about the companies which mistreated us, how they tried to screw us, and how to fight back.
We also took action. We invaded the premises of survey companies, IFOP and Makrotest for example. Funnily enough, the bosses gave us too much credit: we were far less powerful than they sometimes believed. Once, the day we attacked Makrotest, which was located in Puteaux [a suburb east of Paris], friends of ours working for IFOP heard the management say that data-collectors were on the march towards IFOP: while in fact, IFOP, in the Paris 10th district, is miles away from suburban Puteaux ! We scared the bosses. We acted where we worked. Unlike the gauchistes, we did not take action everywhere, we acted if we were called upon. When a friend of ours was employed somewhere and needed some help, we were ready. Wherever we worked, we were of course involved in struggles as soon as they occurred. That was our class struggle. In the post-68 situation, everything was being challenged. And as (despite our anti-work stand) we had to work now and again, we weren’t inactive in the work-place.
We also did a lot of shop-lifting, we did “free check-out” actions. Often on the spur of the moment. We would decide “Let’s go !”, and we went. We were always on the go because our purpose was to exist as a group in order to be able to act. We helped abortions to take place, we provided shelter for very young people, one who’d run away from social services, another from a seminary, we housed various kinds of homeless guys. Daily life was a big issue.
For us, summer 71 was like an incredible Summer of Love. (13) Anyone could land on our door-step, debate, fuck and use drugs a lot. This was when the Gazolines came into being: the following year, we marched together for the funeral of Pierre Overney, with the Gazolines dressed as merry widows. (14)
G.D.: This was 1972. The FHAR was launched at the beginning of 71, and you left…
Lola: …after about 5 or 6 months…
G.D.: …so this was all happening…
Lola: …in the blink of an eye.
G.D.: A year, at the most.
Lola: Less. Our communal life and all the rest of it… it was all in the blink of an eye.
Lola: In the summer of 71, in Bordeaux, I had met Christian Marchadier (later known as Arthur (15) ), we saw each other again in Paris and he introduced us to René Lefeuvre, for whom I contributed to the translation of Otto Rühle’s Brown Fascism, Red Fascism. (16)
We started visiting René, and his flat was familiar territory to me: it was as cluttered as my parents’, with even more books, and René was fond of boys. We often talked sex. René was a member of Arcadie. (17) I knew Arcadie via my parents, I had read their magazine, and to me it seemed reactionary. There was an episode which later I was ashamed of. I told him: “René, you should have been part of the FHAR. Why the fuck did you belong to Arcadie !”. He shed tears and replied: “Arcadie was the first place I could dance with a boy: don’t you realise what that meant ?”
We were good friends with René, and only began visiting him less when his publishing house, Spartacus, also developed into a group and magazine. We went to a couple of meetings, but a number of things did not suit me. Our situationist mind-set prevented us from really fitting in. I only wrote one article in Spartacus, on my father’s book. (18) Still, we kept close. He told us a lot about his life. When René and I talked, he knew he was with someone who was well aware of what it was to be a closeted homosexual forced to live in shame – and my attitude was not that common in the radical milieu in those days. It was Daniel Guérin who had helped René free himself. (19) Before that, he had kept quiet, he dissembled. When a young bricklayer in Brittany, it was awful, and only when doing his national service did he realise he was fond of boys. You can imagine his predicament.
Reich, Rühle, Korsch, Marx
G.D.: How did you react when Fleig’s Fléau Social came out in 1972 ?
Lola: By then, we were helping Arthur with his pirate editions of Reich (he had a good command of German), and I was busy discovering the ultra-left. Otto Rühle’s biography of Marx had a tremendous impact on us. (20) Also, we’d made friends, we traveled… in Italy we got acquainted with the comontists. (21)
G.D.: That’s a bit odd. I met Fleig in 73-74, we saw each other a lot, we had discussions, I contributed to the Fléau Social. (22) Like you, he was critical of a discourse that described homosexuality as revolutionary in itself, so in his way, he was doing what you’d done before, except he hadn’t done it then because in the FHAR he was what you call a petty boss. A couple of years later, like you, he was discovering the S.I. and the ultra-left: that should have raised your interest.
Lola: We thought the Fléau was OK, but we’d moved on to something else. Homosex was no longer our main concern, nor was it with our homosexual friends. As I said, at the time our deep interest was Wilhelm Reich. It started with Arthur, who had met Michel Jacob, who himself was in touch with Constantin Sinelnikoff, the completely unauthorised pirate publisher of Reich’s writings of the German period, when Reich was still a Marxist. (23) To be hunted by the cops, just for the sake of books, that was hard to believe ! Reich, Rühle, Korsch… we explored all those avenues as they were emerging. As well as the early Marx that I hardly knew at all, the 1844 Manuscripts… We were immersing ourselves in all that.
G.D.: And the milieu you used to be part of, did it immerse itself in all that too ?
Lola : That milieu had mutated into a slightly different strain. We’d lost a lot of friends, and made new ones. The flat community was starting to disintegrate: some visitors did not come any more, and were replaced by others, of various genders as before. Most of the bonds established round the FHAR were coming undone. Whenever we met with ex-FHAR members, we were happy to see each other, but the intimate connection was gone.
We focused more on theory and less on agit-prop, because there was less opportunity for action. It did happen sometimes though. When my partner worked for the publisher Larousse and staff were made redundant, we wrote and distributed a leaflet in the work-place. We took part in actions and demos, sometimes we initiated them if there was an opportunity. But we were more interested in reading and having fun.
G.D.: Nearly five decades later, how do you look back on those years ? And how do you perceive all that’s happened since then: the advance in gay and Lesbian rights, same-sex marriage, LGBT groups everywhere… ?
Lola: I see the rise of identities developing and closing in on themselves. The very notion of “the homosexual as revolutionary” was already an identity category. But we could not predict it would grow into a general identity regression. LGBT groups are born out of separation and maintain separation: they cut off class struggle from the dimension I’d rather call daily life, the liberation of life. Little by little, people have given up on the class struggle. If that’s what sexual struggles turn into, most of my interest is gone, as is that of my friends. When sex becomes a divided – and divisive – struggle, whether it’s the category of women, gays, whatever, now a racial category, I can’t be part of it.
As transgender person Hélène Hazera – I mentioned her earlier – keeps repeating: “Let’s get our priorities straight. The plight of migrants, for instance, matters more than the binary vs. non-binary issue.” She still supports class positions – which does not prevent her from being deeply involved in the fight for transpeople’s rights. I agree there are several fronts of struggles, but I’d rather not have them separate. To me, it’s like going back to the ghetto.
G.D.: It’s Helène who once said: “The queers are the Maoists of gender.” (24)
Lola: She understands those people act like the gauchistes forty or fifty years ago.
G.D.: How do you feel about queer as a movement ?
Lola : How can I put it ? The concept itself… I think everyone is queer, somehow.
G.D.: Why ?
Lola : Simply because we’re all yang and yin, male and female, boy and girl.
G.D.: Which takes us back to polysexuality.
Lola: Exactly. It’s still a basic tenet of mine. Now, when transgender people are murdered, it goes without saying I’m all for protesting and taking to the street. For example, in France, Kara, a transwoman arrested in the Spring of 2016 during the movement against the Labour Law Reform, was detained in prison and kept without her hormone therapy for a long time. I’m always concerned by such forms of oppression and repression, but I won’t be part of separate struggles or identities. Besides, changing the law has never been on my political agenda.
G.D.: What do you mean ?
Lola: Of course, I’m happy that abortion is now legal, and homosexuality decriminalised. But fighting for rights is just a small part of generally endeavouring to liberate all forms of sexuality. I’ve never shared the belief that transforming the Law was a priority. Let’s not fight the wrong battles. Our fight is part of the general fight for the emancipation of humankind. To free ourselves from work is also freeing ourselves from the division of labour, which also implies freeing ourselves from the sexual division. It all connects.
G.D.: And finally, whatever rights or better rights we get, it’s the State that guarantees them.
Lola: Of course. And we expect nothing from the State ! So we don’t fight for rights. There’s something highly positive in Gay Prides in so far as they express a rejection of the shame and stigma that so oppressed René Lefeuvre, but for me a Pride that only gets together gays – and all sorts of LGBTs – or in the best of cases LGBTs plus their friends… I’ve never taken part in any of them. (Besides, their music sucks…) The gays and their friends, they say. Though they present it as something open, it’s still confined within that particular fight. If people do not shout “Down with sexual division !”, “Down with wage-labour society !”, to me it’s meaningless, it does not bring about the meaning I wish for.
G.D.: That’s asking for a lot.
Lola : Indeed, I’m asking for a lot, but… An LGBT front against capitalism, I might agree with that. A front for the liberation of LGBTs doesn’t interest me. As I said before, a homosexual front for revolutionary action is fine by me, but not a front for homosexual liberation. I’ve always held this position, and I wasn’t the only one. My homo friends did not define themselves as homos, but as fighters among us, who happened to have an additional repression to face, one that certainly made their situation worse, but one to be fought as we also fought my repression as a woman, or my repression as a worker. Everything is related. And what I’ve learnt from the S.I. is to oppose separation. I did and I still do. Which does not imply that I disapprove of special struggles, I understand why they exist, but I’ve always felt them to play a counter-revolutionary role.
G.D.: I’d say non-revolutionary.
Lola : Granted, non-revolutionary. But they can turn anti-revolutionary when they put forward democratic demands that have to be approved and implemented by the State, so democrats end up supporting the State. Even if they initially act for good reasons. Take the example of transpeople’s rights for IDs: I fully agree that we must support the right for them to have identity documents consistent with what they really are, and therefore the right to update their IDs, that’s necessary, but basically I am against identification and IDs. It’s the same with demos for undocumented people that demand “IDs for all !” My friends and I were shouting: “No IDs for anyone !”, “Down with IDs !” There’s a logic there.
G.D.: I agree, but that leaves you in a really minority position.
Lola : Of course. As we’ve always been. But there are times in history… I remember the Paris demo in 1996 after the police had violently expelled several hundreds of illegal immigrants who had taken refuge in St. Bernard’s church near Montmartre. In protest, thousands demonstrated in support of the immigrants. We marched in Vincennes in a spontaneous demo, and when we started shouting “No IDs for anyone !”, lots of people took up the slogan, including immigrants who understood the logic of what we were saying: End all borders, end official records… Everyone can make out what it means. It’s not because we’re a minority that we must refrain from saying what is difficult to express. And then others can join us, as they did on that particular day, as they do in times when something real is happening.
G.D.: Something’s happened since the first part of this interview in 2017: the rise of the “#MeToo movement”. What do you think it is achieving ?
Lola : I was hoping it could help working women, factory or office workers, especially the unskilled, precarious and low paid, to fight back against sexual harassment in the work-place. I’m not losing hope, but this is far from being the case. Freeing speech on those exactions is necessary, but extremely difficult on the shop-floor, more generally in the context of wage-labour.
In the work-place, it is inevitable for cases of rape and harassment to be mostly handled in court, because labour implies a contractual relationship. Elsewhere, I seriously doubt that prioritising the judicial handling of rape and harassment is a good way of dealing with these matters – it certainly is not the best. The State’s restorative justice never restores much, mainly because it tends to keep the victim in the condition of a victim.
I admit that the media attention caused by these cases and the subsequent trials can have a considerable impact on social behaviour. “Making shame more shameful by publicising it”, as Marx wrote, and later the situationists. (25)
However, though incest, mistreatment, rape and violence take place in all social milieus, it’s those happening in the intellectual, artistic and political elite that get media coverage. In non-privileged groups, they are dealt with by the social services or the law courts without people hearing about them, even those close to the individuals involved. In the office, no-one knows that the Mr-Nice-Guy accountant is a wife-beater, in the restaurant that the cook rapes his kitchen-help, or that the well-mannered man next-door abuses his daughter. We live in a world of separation where everybody is supposed or required to mind their own business. It should be the exact opposite: we’ve got to mind other people’s business: fuck “private” life !
On the other hand, symmetrically I could say, a perverse effect of #MeToo is to generate an endless flow of denunciations. To such an extent that we are becoming unable to make the difference between a rape and a failed sexual relation, between an aggression and a tension involving two individuals, so that someone can use these accusations for their own purpose: for instance, accusing a father of rape to remove custody of his child, or accusing an ex-lover of rape for revenge. Such things have always existed, but they are exacerbated when we decide that the victim necessarily speaks THE truth and that this truth must not be disputed. Not forgetting how the Internet exaggerates and distorts everything. So I can only approve of #MeToo, but I worry about some of its consequences.
G.D.: Is “cancel culture” one of the consequences that worry you ?
Lola : Of course. First of all, banning a book, a film, a writer, or a website, makes them attractive, it’s silly and counter-productive, among other effects it plays into the hands of conspiracy addicts. Deleting a character or an artwork reminds me of the time when Stalin had people he got rid of also erased from official pictures. Who would dare publish Lolita (which actually was not an apology of paedophilia, rather the opposite) if it was written today ? Or Lautréamont ? Or Flaubert who had the nerve to say “Madame Bovary is me” ? Soon anything deemed deviant or incorrect might be banned: men who dare write by putting themselves in women’s shoes, “Whites” who dare translate books written by Blacks. Manet and his Olympia, Tintin, Astérix now expelled from Canadian public libraries, Céline of course, Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and Taming of the Shrew, Sade needless to say, plus countless titles of blues songs or French songs. It’s more than worrying: it’s downright infuriating.
G.D.: You’re critical of “identity politics”. Since you mentioned it four years ago, it’s become even more fashionable, influential in the university and media, but is it a social force ? Does it bolster those movements that try and challenge capitalism, or does it confuse fundamental issues ? Simply put, how important is it ?
Lola : I wouldn’t call identity politics a social force, but it certainly has gradually invaded the public space. Positively, it contributes to the emergence of a reflection on gender assignations, and what is known as gender non-binarism and fluidity. I’ve always been fascinated by Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, where people move freely from one gender to another. However, I do not think that each specific struggle on account of being a woman, a gay, a person of colour, a trans-person, an invalid, etc. can be first and foremost fought by each category fighting its own specific oppression. On the contrary, I believe that these struggles can only succeed if they involve all those who are subjected to the general oppression that is the common condition of all of them. Solidarity and self-defence against homophobia, transphobia… are everybody’s concern. Such struggles are only meaningful if maintaining their specificity does not prevent them from taking place within the common struggle for everybody’s emancipation from our common enemies: capitalism and the State.
G.D.: Gender non-binarism, fluidity… What about inclusive language ?
Lola : The French language does not have any neutral gender: it uses the masculine also for the neutral (to indicate something neither “masculine” nor “feminine”). To avoid this, inclusiveness produces something very difficult to write, to understand and usually to read aloud. It seems to me better not to be lazy and to use both genders whenever needed; or to create new words instead of all this gibberish. On the whole, I very much doubt that language cleansing can be beneficial to our necessary fight against discrimination. Words express the world, they don’t make it, so they can hardly protect us from an exploitative and oppressive world: only going to the root of the system will. Changing the words is in any case a poor compensation for our extreme difficulty in really changing the world.
When freedom is an illusion
G.D.: Some would argue the world is indeed changing – to some extent. It’s much easier to live our sexuality (or sexualities) today than in 1960 (granted, not everywhere, not much in Nigeria, and more in France than in Poland, but even in Kracow gays now have more ways to express themselves and organise than they used to). At the same time, “surveillance capitalism” and “a control society” are growing, and reinforced by the way the Covid crisis is being managed. A freer lifestyle and more scope for the individual on the one hand, stronger social constraints on the other. How do you explain that ? Are these trends contradictory… or compatible ?
Lola : Freedom of lifestyles… that’s an illusion. Firstly, it only applies to the Western world, and not all of it: just take a look at the repression of homosexuality in Hungary, or of abortion in Poland and Texas. As for being openly gay in a suburb of Kracow, I’m not so sure… Secondly, on the one hand pornography is now a common consumer product, the market for minorities – sexual minorities particularly – is booming, advertising sometimes displays transgressive behaviour, online dating is widespread, but on the other hand, homophobic and transphobic assaults have never stopped, all the more so because the Internet provides them with more resonance. Capitalism will turn anything into profit, including sexual freedom. Social constraints are born out of exploitation, and control aims at increasing the productivity of populations to force them into docility and submission. Covid is just giving States the opportunity to control even more. I don’t see any contradiction here. The only deep structural contradiction is the one inherent to capitalism: the class antagonism that capitalism is based on.
G.D. : You mention polysexuality earlier – also in your book on 68. What do you mean by that ?
Lola : Polysexuality is the ability to love whom we want and fuck freely with whomever we want without any gender distinction, but also, if we feel like it, to do it with several people at the same time, separately or together – now known as polyamory. We used to call it pansexuality, a term which now seems to include zoophilia, paedophilia, undinism, coprophelia and heavens knows what else… not my cup of tea. So I’d rather stick to “polysexuality”.
(Interview conducted in 2017 and 2022)
Lola Miesseroff, Fag Hag, PM Press, 2023, with an Afterword by Hélène Hazera. (In French: Fille à pédés, Libertalia, 2019)
We first interviewed Lola Miesseroff in 2017 for a series of articles on (homo)sexuality on the French blog DDT 21. (See “La Série Homo” on DDT 21’s homepage.) In 2018, these articles were made into a book by Niet! : Homo. Question sociale & question sexuelle de1864 à nos jours, which was translated in a modified version published by PM Press in 2022: Your Place or Mine ? A 21st Century Essay on (Same)Sex.
A shorter version of this interview was published by The Anarchist Review of Books, Issue 4, Summer/Fall 2022.
In French, Lola Miesserof also authored:
Voyage en outre-gauche: Paroles de francs-tireurs des années 68, Libertalia, 2018. One of the best books on the radical aspects of that period.
Davaï ! Une lignée d’insoumises juives, russes et apatrides, Libertalia, 2022. From 19th century Russia to Marseilles in the 1950s and May 68, the eventful lives of bold defiant women.
Editor’s notes :
(1) On the naturist camp: Comment peut-on être naturiste ? Textes et tribunes libres 1968-77. Annotated by Lola Miesseroff, L’Harmattan, 2023. Lola’s father (1907-1992) wrote an account of his part in the armed resistance in France during World War II: Oxent Miesseroff, Au maquis de Barrême: souvenirs en vrac, Ed. Egrégores, 2006.
(2) France only legalised abortion in 1975, albeit with restrictions, some – not all – lifted over the years.
(3) Louis Althusser (1918-1990), Marxist-structuralist-antihumanist philosopher, member of the French Communist Party from 1948, highly fashionable in the 60s-70s. He strangled his wife in 1980.
(4) Two very different inspirational books.
Victor Kravchenko (1905-1966), a Ukrainian official, defected from the USSR, and I Chose freedom, his highly critical book on the regime, became a Cold War best-seller. In France, when the Stalinists accused Kravchenko of being a liar in the pay of the US, the author sued for libel, which resulted in a much publicised “Trial of the Century”. Kravchenko won his case. Years later, when he was found shot in his flat, his death was ruled a suicide.
In 1958, during the Algerian war, Henri Alleg (1921-2013), a member of the Algerian Communist Party, wrote a testimonial book, La Question (in Ancien Régime France, “la question” meant torture), describing his torture by the French army. He later became a French CP cadre.
(5) In the formal subsumption of labour, capital functions “on the basis of various earlier processes of production and other conditions of production”. Whereas “the real subsumption of labour under capital, the capitalist mode of production proper, only takes place when capitalists of a certain importance have directly taken control of production.” (Marx, “Results of the Direct Production Process”, Draft chapter 6 of Capital, 1862-64) Schematically, formal subsumption implies the extension of the working day and extensive exploitation. Real subsumption can reduce working hours that have become more intensive: capitalism fully dominates a society which it tends to rule and reproduce according to its own logic.
(6) E. Armand (1872-1962) was an “individualist” anarchist, a proponent of free love and of the “Armandist” or “harmonist” practices mentioned earlier. Emile Pouget (1860-1931), anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist, is the author of the classic Sabotage (in English on marxists.org).
(7) An event described by Lola in Un Paris révolutionnaire, L’Esprit frappeur/Dagorno, 2001.
(8) She later became Hélène Hazera, and has written the Afterword to Fag Hag.
(9) After being briefly a member of the Trotskyist Ligue Communiste, Guy Hocquenghem (1946-1988) became a theorist of sexuality and homosexuality, an academic, journalist, and writer of essays and novels. His Homosexual Desire (1972) is available in English (Duke University Press, 1993). On the 68 period, gays, leftists, etc., an informative excerpt from his Amphitheater of the Dead, written on his death bed (he died of AIDS), was published by Pinko, issue 1, 2019 (pinko.online).
After the FHAR folded, Alain Fleig (1942-2012), influenced by libertarian communist and situationist ideas, developed a critique of gay reformism (i.e. limited to acceptable demands for sexual equality) in his resolutely provocative Fléau Social (“the social plague”, 1972-74). Le Fléau Social was “queer” in all but name, yet without the attempt to advocate a new subversive identity. Fleig never fitted in with the nascent “LGBT community”, and later his deep interest in art led him to become a photographer, art critic and historian.
For a short history of Le Fléau Social in English: blastemeor.noblogs.org. Misère de l’amour, a selection of articles from Le Fléau Social, can be read in French on the quatre.zone site. See also note 22.
(10) In those years, the French word “gauchistes” meant something different from “leftists” or “left-wingers” in English: it referred to the mostly Trotskyist and Maoist far-left of the time, so to be clearer we have kept the French “gauchistes”. As Hélène Hazera points out in her short Afterward to Fag Hag, the gauchiste milieu, though mostly indifferent or hostile to homosexuality, was not without its own contradictions: part of “the gay movement” originated in the Vive la Révolution group and its magazine Tout !, “both of which were of the Maoist persuasion” (in this particular case, however, a Maoism blended with doses of libertarian spirit).
(11) Before co-founding the FHAR, L. Dispot was a member of the Gauche Prolétarienne, the most active Maoist group at the time, which self-dissolved in 1973. Later a journalist and writer.
(12) Et voici pourquoi votre fille est muette (can be read on blastemeor.noblogs.or). A title borrowed from a well-known phrase in Molière’s play Le Médecin malgré lui (1666), often applied to abstruse meaningless discourse. The text argued that “The problem of homosexuality is only a partial aspect of the general problem of relations. [..] We demand the whole question of relationships to be posed, and solved in a way that can only be revolutionary.”. One of the signatories, Roland Simon, is one of the main writers in Théorie Communiste.
(13) A reference to the American (especially Californian) 1967 Summer of Love, with the difference that in the US it was mainly a hippie phenomenon.
(14) In 1972, Tramoni, a security guard at the Paris-Billancourt Renault plant, shot Pierre Overney, a Maoist taking part in an action by the factory gates. About 200.000 people attended his funeral, one of the largest events of the post-68 surge, and arguably its swan song. For the Gazolines, marching disguised as provocative mourners was a way of deriding the respectability of the left and far-left, and of disrupting its rituals. Needless to say, the gauchistes thought such behaviour totally inappropriate, as did a number of others: for instance, anarchist and gay Daniel Guérin, member of the FHAR, disapproved, and this was one of the reasons why he left the FHAR.
Tramoni stayed two years in jail. In 1977, he was shot by Maoists as an act of revenge and retaliation. The killers were never found.
Libertarian-communist and gay, Daniel Guérin (1904-1988) was a prolific writer on fascism, the French Revolution, the Popular Front, colonialism, the US, anarchism, and sexuality. In the mid-20th century, he was one of the very few active members of the left and far-left who dared come out of the closet despite contempt and opposition within these milieus, but only after 68 did he feel safe to be fully open about sex. Among other works available in English: Fascism & Big Business (1936), on libcom; and Anarchism. From theory to Practice (1965), on theanarchistlibrary.
(15) Christian Marchadier (1947-2014), a.k.a. Arthur, “ex-vandalist from Bordeaux” (Debord), was a proof-reader, writer, translator and publisher. See Arthur est mort on the lexicomaniaque site.
(16) Fascisme brun, Fascisme rouge is one of several versions of an important text by Otto Rühle (1939). In English : The Struggle Against Fascism Begins with the Struggle Against Bolshevism (marxists.org). It was translated into French in 1975 for Spartacus publishers led by René Lefeuvre.
Lefeuvre (1902-1988), first bricklayer, then proof-reader for most of his life, was a member of the SFIO (French socialist party), then of the PSOP (1938-39, a breakaway from the SFIO). Back to the SFIO after the war, he left in 1955, in opposition to the socialists’ support of the colonial war in Algeria. He was more of a fierce anti-Stalinist Rosa Luxemburgist than a Left Communist in the Bordiga or Pannekoek sense, but his open mind resulted in Spartacus publishing a wide range of critical thought (Bordiga and Pannekoek included). See also note 18.
(17) In the days when homosexuality was shameful and repressed, Arcadie (1954-1982) was a non-political association that held regular indoor meetings and published a magazine. It aimed at breaking the forced isolation of gays, while requiring its members to be discreet and respectable. Exactly the opposite of the high visibility later practised and claimed by the gay movement, and of course by the FHAR. Daniel Guérin (see note 14) was a member.
(18) Between 1975 and 1979, Spartacus was also a magazine that published 15 issues. Lola’s article was in n°12, December 1978. In French on archivesautonomie.org (a rich extensive library on the “radical left” in France).
(19) See note 14 on Daniel Guérin.
(20) Otto Rühle’s Karl Marx. His Life & Work (1928) is on libcom. A decidedly nonconformist Marxist biography of Marx.
(21) This group was influenced by the S.I. and council communism. The name “Comontismo” is the Italian translation of the Marxian Gemeinwesen. Comontismo published leaflets, pamphlets and books in 1972-73. It was close to Invariance, which published the first French translation of Apocalypse & Révolution by Giorgio Cesarano and Gianni Collu (no complete English version that we know of). A little information here:
(22) I wrote an article on feminism, available in English: Feminism Illustrated, or Diana’s Complex:
For more on Le Fléau Social and this essay, see Your Place or Mine :
(23) After Reich died in an American jail in 1957, his copyright was managed by a Wilhelm Reich Trust, which only authorised a depoliticised and sanitised version of his writings (published in France by Payot). For his part, with the the support of a few friends, Lola Miesseroff included, Constantin Sinelnikoff was translating into French and illegally publishing texts faithful to Reich’s “class + sex” outlook. Among others, a translation of The Function of Orgasm (1927), a 1975 pirate printing by the Editions du Nouveau Monde (located 17 Impasse Lénine in Parisian red-belt Montreuil, “impasse” meaning dead-end street in French).
(24) Hélène Hazera’s interview, 2012, “Les queers sont les maoïstes du genre”, on radiocanut.org (in French).
(25) Marx’s phrase “Making shame more shameful by publicising it” comes from his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843-44), and was taken up by the situationists in On the Poverty of Student Life (1966).
Editor’s end quote:
“Girls will be boys and boys will be girls
It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world, except for Lola.”
Lola, The Kinks, 1970. Lyrics that raised controversy at the time.