The strange, sad story in France of the hashtag meme, #MeTooGay, took a tragic turn on Tuesday, February 9th.
It all began a few weeks ago when, on January 21, a 20-year-old activist within the French Communist Party (PCF) tweeted an accusation that he had been raped two years ago by one of Paris’ city council members. Yes, the communists in France are actually a thing, and together with most of the other small leftist parties form a governing coalition in Paris behind the mayor of Paris, Socialist Anne Hidalgo (who is expected to run for president in 2022).
The alleged victim, Guillaume, came to Paris at the age of 18 from the provinces, like most students. His family background wasn’t ideal, like many students, and it isn’t clear from media reports whether, when he arrived and began studying at the university he had a side job or an apartment with roommates, or if he had gotten one of the government-provided scholarships and financial aid most French students take advantage of. At some point, he began living with a gay couple, fellow activists with the Paris headquarters of the PCF.
Maxime Cochard is no ordinary young communist activist, however. Elected to the city council at the age of 33 from Paris 14th arrondissement in the southern part of Paris, Cochard was viewed as one of the young, dynamic leaders within the party and had a rising profile in Paris city politics. With his boyfriend, also university student, the couple began a sexual relationship with Guillaume.
This is where there is a divergence in the narrative. During that time the #MeToo movement began in earnest in the United States, with women who had been taken advantage of and, in many cases, abused sexually by men in positions of power stepping forward to accuse, name, shame, and ultimately bring about a change in how women are treated in the workplace. The moral strength of the movement eventually brought to light the endemic sexism within many businesses and organizations, leading to the criminal convictions of media mogul Harvey Weinstein and others.
In January 2021, a parallel movement began in France for incest survivors following the revelations that several powerful figures had sexually abused family members. The #MeTooInceste stories began popping up not just on Twitter, but in the media as well, and the spotlight shed new scrutiny on how these cases have historically been swept under the rug by France’s justice system. As the number of incest stories swelled in the weeks that followed, into this maelstrom stepped young Guillaume.
Two years following the “throuple” with Cochard and his boyfriend, Guillaume made his accusation using the improvised #MeTooGay. In his tweet he named Cochard and said that he had been raped at a period in his life when he was vulnerable. Cochard denied having raped Guillaume, saying their relationship was purely consensual and the accusation came as a complete surprise to him. Cochard lawyered up, and his attorney stated that she had viewed all of the phone texts exchanged between the two of them and saw nothing more than a sexual relationship that transitioned into a friendship.
Guillaume later stated that he came forward because he was concerned about the growing power of Cochard within the PCF and Paris city government (where Cochard was focused on, ironically, solving the affordable housing crisis within Paris) and didn’t want him to take advantage of any other vulnerable kids. The leadership within the PCF reacted with concern, offering psychological counseling for Guillaume as well as the services of an attorney and removing Cochard from leadership positions while it conducted its own investigation.
The Twitter mob and public opinion joined into the “discussion,” with partisans of Guillaume screaming “RAPISTS” in all caps, with photos of Cochard and his boyfriend and tossing on the requisite hashtags of #Guillaume and #MeTooGay. Local newspapers and media gossips began trolling, and it all reached a tragic crescendo on Tuesday afternoon, February 9th, when Guillaume was found hanging in his university dorm room, the victim of suicide.
Grief-stricken, those close to Guillaume organized a memorial vigil in the snowy, frozen cold in front of the headquarters of the PCF, accusing the party of everything from moral negligence to facilitating Guillaume’s death.
Meanwhile, everybody on the political left tut-tutted about what a tragedy his suicide was. A lot of the public posturing is, I’m sure, play-acting — aside from the genuine sorrow of Guillaume’s closest friends — as political actors seek opportunity in the misfortune of others. There are calls for more financial and housing aid from the French government, to prevent other “Guillaumes” from being sacrificed in the future.
But the underlying rape accusations at the core of the story are still unanswered. Guillaume apparently never filed a police report during his three-month relationship, nor did he make any formal grievance with the PCF at the time. Yes, there was a power imbalance between him and the couple, with Cochard having the advantage, but without neutral, objective documentation, how does one ever prove (or disprove) such a claim?
As with the original #MeToo movement, this sordid tale has forced an uncomfortable reexamination of gay sexual relationships.