From the stage of an open-air theater in the Bois de Boulogne, Heden, Claudia and Samantha, sex workers, tell « Le Bois de Boulogne » as their workplace. Beyond their tales, the landscapes of the Woods welcome stories of a queer narrator. Starting from its creation under the Second Empire to better return to our present, her voice makes it possible to understand the Bois as a private preserve of French high society where sex workers have made a name for themselves for over a century.
I grew up in Epinay sur Seine, a suburban commune northwest of Paris. As a child, I often
heard people talk about the Bois de Boulogne. At the time, I imagined it as a place without
locality, without roots, a legend. Although my friends and I had never been there, the Bois was familiar to us from its use in our childhood languages. Taking the form of a series of forbidden words, it gave rise to fearsome associations in our heads: Bois de Boulogne = Transvestites = Fags = AIDS. We told ourselves about the Bois like a scary story.
In mid-December 2016, for several nights, major police raids directed against undocumented
sex workers took place in the Bois de Boulogne. At the same time, the streetlights that usually illuminate the main thoroughfares of the Bois and the alleys near Porte Dauphine remained unlit. On social networking sites, sex workers recount what happens in the Bois during these raids. Stories are circulating about the panic heightened by the sudden and unusual darkness. The sex workers are scared. Many were undocumented and placed in detention centers after being taken into police custody. The raids last ten days, then stop. The streetlamps lit up again. In the meantime, the Bois had ceased to be an abstract and distant place. The testimonials posted on social networks had been like tiny windows onto what was happening there. I wanted to definitively break the truncated image of the Bois, and after all, I'd never been there before. At first, I went to the Bois with one question in mind: why had the streetlights gone out? Other questions quickly overtook this one, which would remain unanswered in any case. What's going on in the Bois de Boulogne? What is the history of power relations there? How do we tell this story? How to tell it?