When I was a child, I took a trip to Paris with my grandma (or “Memere” as I call her), who originally emigrated from France to the US in 1956. Just a few months pregnant with my mom, she spent more than a week onboard a military ship to make the journey across the Atlantic. After starting a family in the US, it was always her dream to bring her children and grandchildren back to her home country to show us where she came from. Though she only returned to France every 5 or 10 years, she always maintained close contact with her family. And nearly 40 years after leaving, she again returned to France, this time with me as her companion.
On my first trip abroad, we flew from Phoenix to Paris spending one week there before traveling two hours east to her home town of Nancy. But during the flight, Memere became terribly sick and ended up in the hospital for three days upon arriving in Paris. Since she couldn’t look out for me, her close friend Gisele took me in. My French was non-existent just like her English, so these first days in a foreign country were a bit awkward and strange, especially for an 11 year old kid. Finally, Memere got better, she left the hospital and we began exploring the city together. Knowing that I could only be so entertained by sightseeing in the city, Memere took me to Disneyland Paris which had newly opened at the time in the early 90’s. Even today, if you’re looking for things to do on a Paris holiday, its a great option for kids or Disney-loving adults. Though smaller than its counterparts in California and Florida, I remember my excitement while riding the train, anxiously awaiting our arrival. Apart from this, my memories of being in Paris as a kid are not so much the city itself, but instead about the experience I had, both exciting and traumatizing.
Then in the winter of 2003, I took another trip to France, this time with my entire family. In addition to Memere, my grandpa (Pepere), mom and two brothers also joined to celebrate Christmas and New Years. Before heading to Nancy to visit family, we again spent several days exploring Paris. Now I was 22 and enjoyed this experience on a much different level. After four years in college, my view of the world had changed significantly. My knowledge of architecture, art and culture were much more developed and I had gained a sense of appreciation not possible as a child. But while it was a great experience in the moment, there was still something that wasn’t right in my life. Even at the age of 22, I still had not admitted to myself that I was gay. As each beautiful French man passed me while I strolled the streets of the chilly capital city in December, I looked, noticed, but seemed to ignore the emotions that I was feeling. This was a difficult time in my life so enjoying my trip to its full extent was difficult because I wasn’t open about who I was. Why I waited so long to come out still confuses me but my time was soon to come. And as it turned out, just weeks after my visit to Paris this time, I finally accepted myself and began coming out to friends and family.
Now almost 10 years later, I will be traveling to Paris again for the third time. But this time the trip will be different. I’m not a kid anymore. I can make my own decisions and indulge in activities reserved strictly for adults. Unlike my first experience drinking wine in Paris at 11, I will most certainly partake in enjoying good French wines with a nice meal on a terrace. I’m no longer in the closet or traveling with family so enjoying the gay nightlife in Paris and stumbling down the street at 3am to our hotel is most certainly in the picture. That’s right…this time I’ll be going with my husband and a friend from Phoenix who’s on a two-week trip from Madrid to Paris.
It’s difficult for me to predict my feelings or what will happen. This city has had such an emotional impact on my life. It’s strange for me to think about Paris as a destination for three gay men because my memories are just eating crepes and ice cream as a young kid or taking the tour bus around the city with my mom at 22. But now times have changed. It’s a place with nightlife where I can be myself and do what I want. Paris is the city of love and even France is now embracing gay marriage with the recent law that has passed. I’ve traveled to 40 countries and countless cities in just a year and a half. But even with all the traveling I’ve done, this trip will be different because of my history there. I’m grown, out of college and out of the closet. This time Paris is mine and I know I’m going to love it.