A Violent World of Difference: Magnus Hirschfeld and the Shaping of Queer Modernity

Lead Research Organisation: Birkbeck College
Department Name: English and Humanities

Abstract

This research will examine how violence, death, hatred and persecution affected the development modern queer identity and culture. It focuses on the work and reception of the prolific Jewish sexologist and activist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), who is best known today for his homosexual rights activism, foundational studies of transvestism and opening of the world's first Institute of Sexual Sciences in Berlin. But Hirschfeld was also a chronicler of the effects of hate and violence against lesbians and homosexual men and other groups of people. Publishing both in German and English and influenced by his literary as well as medical training, he wrote, for example, about the death of Oscar Wilde and how it affected homosexual men at the turn of the last century; he conducted the first statistical surveys of lesbian and homosexual suicide; and he published books on war, nationalism and racism in which he collated evidence of different forms of collective discrimination and their impact on individual lives. A well-known figure amongst contemporary writers and artists, he was instrumental in the production of a series of films about aspects of sexual discrimination, famously starring in Anders als die Anderen [Different from the Others], a silent movie about homosexual blackmail released in German cinemas in 1919. Hirschfeld's homosexuality as much as his Jewishness, and his cultural activities as much as his political activism, were at the centre of several verbal and physical attacks on his life. Having travelled extensively between the 1890s and 1920s, he eventually left Germany for good in 1930 because of the increased threat of Nazi persecution. When he returned to Europe from a world lecturing tour two years later, Hirschfeld witnessed in a cinema in Paris news of the destruction of his Institute, which culminated in his bust being paraded through the streets of Berlin before it was set alight in the first of the Nazi book burnings.

A Violent World of Difference excavates this complex archive for the insights it provides into the role of violence in the shaping of modern queer identity and culture. Engaging with the recent 'negative turn' in queer history - the focus on difficult experiences in the queer past and their legacies - and current scholarship on cultural politics, feelings and modernity, the research examines the narratives about lesbian and homosexual death, suicide, injury and persecution in Hirschfeld's work to show how such suffering was understood at the time. It brings together analyses of sexological literature, literary and popular culture, film and photography to demonstrate that traumatic experiences had a significant impact not only on the individuals subjected to them but also on the shaping of a wider modern queer culture. By paying attention to Hirschfeld's travels and the translations of his work, the project further traces the transnational contours of queer suffering, revealing that violent attacks on lesbians and homosexual men created emotional shockwaves that rippled far across the geopolitical boundaries of the modern world. In so doing, then, this research also tells a broader story about how 'identity' was experienced, transmitted, damaged and sustained in the transnational shaping of modernity.

Planned Impact

A core objective of this research is to engage with potential users and disseminate its findings beyond academia. The Fellowship begins and closes with two events aimed specifically at engaging 1. non-academic and 2. professional audiences (see also Pathways to Impact; Workplan):

1. In February 2014 I will present a public talk on Hirschfeld hosted by the Raphael Samuel History Centre, a research and educational centre devoted to encouraging the widest possible participation in historical research and debate. Aimed at the local lesbian and gay community and the wider public, the talk is timed to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the LGBT History Month campaign, a UK-wide initiative that fosters public understanding of the diversity of queer life in the past and present. My talk will discuss Hirschfeld's contribution to the emergence of an international lesbian and gay rights movement and his role in pioneering transgender and intersex rights. It will use Hirschfeld's work to reflect on debates about equality and sexual rights, which are once more at the forefront of public and political discussions in the UK (where they focus on the recent introduction of gay marriage) and worldwide (where the criminalization and active persecution of homosexuality in over seventy countries remains a vital political concern). The Raphael Samuel History Centre has close links with London's queer communities and regularly attracts audiences of around 200 people to its public talks. According to feedback conducted on a recent queer themed event, 70% of its audience are non-academics. My talk will further be advertised via the BiGS mailing list, which has links with non-HEI networks such as Gay's the Word bookshop, the Birkbeck Alumni network, and the LGBT History month website. I will pitch a journalistic article based on this talk to the THE and propose shorter write-ups to the gay online magazine Polari, and the UK's popular lesbian magazine Diva, for which I have acted as a consultant in the past.

2. In December 2014, the last month of the Fellowship, I will organize a workshop on Queer Suicide for health professionals and educators. Suicide was a major concern for Hirschfeld. From the evidence I found, he was the first modern doctor to pay detailed attention to lesbian and gay suicide, gathering statistical information and collecting an archive of suicide notes, many of which were directly addressed at him. The workshop will discuss this difficult archive with professionals whose job it is to provide advice and care for lesbian and gay people suffering from depression, anxieties and suicidal thoughts, or who teach the medical professionals dealing with these issues. It will draw on the Department's existing links via its MA in Medical Humanities (for which I have given guest lectures) with the Kent, Surrey and Sussex Deanery, and the links I developed with health professionals through my contribution to Critical Sexology (a seminar for humanities scholars and health and legal professionals). The workshop aims to initiate dialogue between humanities scholars and medical professionals to consider the usefulness of knowledge about the history of lesbian and gay suicide for health workers today (see Pathways to Impact for details of proposed contributors). I will submit a write-up of the event to the medical journal The Lancet, which in its 'Perspectives' section publishes brief non-medical papers on issues related to medical practice and research.

The Fellowship would allow me to organize these activities while completing the research and writing for the monograph. The book will publicize an important archive of social, cultural and political attitudes towards queer women and men and document the emotional impact of the hate and persecution they experienced, 1900-1950. It will provide a valuable resource for academics and non-academic wishing to engage with the cultural history of violence against queer women and men.
 
Description My AHRC-funded study, A Violent World of Difference: Magnus Hirschfeld and Queer Modernity, has enabled me to complete and publish a monograph, The Hirschfeld Archives: Violence, Death, and Modern Queer Culture. The book examines little known and forgotten writings by Magnus Hirschfeld, the influential sexologist who is best known today for his homosexual activism, transgender work and founding of the world's first Institute of Sexual Science in 1919. It shows how violence impacted on queer lives around 1900, but it also reveals the gendered and racialized limits of the emerging homosexual rights movement in the West. Winner of a Knowledge Unlatched award, the book was recently reviewed in the THE. It is available open access as well as in print and electronic format.
Exploitation Route Publication of my book prompted invitations for me to give talks at the Schwules Museum* Berlin (2017) and at LGBT History Month events in Oxford and York. This shows how my research influences current thinking about queer history in academic and non-academic contexts.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

URL http://violentworldofdifference.wordpress.com
 
Description My research has recently started to receive wider public attention, especially in terms of my findings about the obliviousness of the early homosexual rights activists to racial injustice and colonial violence. I presented public talks at major museums and cultural institutions such as the London Metropolitan Archives (2014) and the world famous Schwules Museum* in Berlin (2017). The latter talk was scheduled to coincide with the exhibition Odarodle - An imaginary their-story of naturepeoples, 1535-2017, which for the first time reassesses the museum's collection and history from a postcolonial perspective. The recent activities build on the public engagement work I did during the funded period when I organises a series of events for public and academic audiences and health professionals. They included: 1. a screening of the first 'pro-homosexual' movie, Anders als die Andern/Different from the Others (1919), a silent film featuring Hirschfeld which was followed by a public discussion about the role of queer history in the C21st; 2. an academic conference, Homophobia Rewritten: New Literary and Cultural Perspectives of Sexuality and Violence, which brought together PhD, ECR and established academics working on the cultural representations of homophobia and forms of resistance to it; 3. a workshop, Violence in Queer and Trans Lives: A Dialogue Between the Humanities and Health Profession, which, by explored how a dialogue between the humanities and the health professions may take shape.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Wellcome ISSF symposium funding
Amount £4,400 (GBP)
Organisation Birkbeck, University of London 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 06/2018
 
Description LGBT History Month talk (York) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact York St John University: LGBT History Month speaker on The Hirschfeld Archives. 26 February 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Museum talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public talk: 'Wanted: a history of homosexuality. Found: an 'archive of ordinary racism'. Public talk about The Hirschfeld Archives organised by the Schwules Museum* Berlin as part of the exhibition Odarodle - An imaginary their-story of naturepeoples, 1535-2017, which reassesses the museum's collection and history from a postcolonial perspective. 15 September 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Public Talk LGBT History Month (Oxford) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Oxford University: invited lecture, 'Racism and Modern Homosexual Rights'. LGBT History Month Workshop, 2 February 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Public film screening + panel discussion 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I organised a public screening of Anders als die Andern/Different from the Others (1919), 'the first homosexual movie', at the Birkbeck cinema. It was followed by a panel discussion. Held during LGBT History Month, the event introduced my Hirschfeld project to a wider audience, including members of the LGBTIQ community. The event opened an important dialogue with wider LGBT constituencies. It was booked to capacity (70 seats).

Several people came up to me after the talk, or emailed me later, to ask for further details about my research and share their own stories of growing up gay or transgender during the fifties, sixties, and seventies. It turned out that for many of them Hirschfeld's work had played a real role in developing understanding of their bodies and desires.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://violentworldofdifference.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/17-feb-2014-and-again-with-feeling-thought...
 
Description Public talk at London Metropolitan archives 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk provoked lively discussion about archives and LGBT lives, and the role of the past in understanding our lives today

After the talk, participants reported a better understanding of how the assumptions we make about other people shape, and are shaped by, official documents such as birth and death certificates.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Workshop with humanities scholars and medical professionals 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Violence in Queer and Trans Lives: A Dialogue Across the Humanities and Health Professions
I organised this workshop on 8 October 2014 to bring into dialogue researchers in the humanities and health professions, who, like me, work on the difficult aspects of queer and trans lives with one of the world's leading psychiatrists and expert on trans and intersex children and adolescents. The event aimed to explore what humanities and health researchers on queer and trans lives might learn from each other. The number of participants was deliberately kept small to maximise the potential for discussion and enable the identification of possible ways in which to develop this conversation further. Next to me, invited participants included:
--Vernon Rosario, a leading, UCLA-based, clinical psychiatrist - and trained historian of medicine - with special interest in trans, intersex and issues of gender and sexuality more broadly.
--Monalesia Earle, a social worker and PhD student working with me on a thesis about contemporary queer women of colour representation.
--Peter Hegarty, professor of psychology at the University of Surrey with special interests in gender and sexuality.
--Katherine Hubbard, a PhD student working on a project about Rorschach tests and the 'hidden' homophobic history of psychology
--Churnjeet Mahn, a literary scholar from Surrey's English Department, who is working on an AHRC funded project with young queer refugees.

We discussed the potential for future collaboration across the humanities & health sciences
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://violentworldofdifference.wordpress.com/2014/10/08/precious-critical-time-a-workshop-on-violen...
 
Description academic symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation workshop facilitator
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Homophobia Rewritten: New Literary and Cultural Perspectives on Violence and Sexuality, Keynes Library Birkbeck, 13 June, was a symposium I organised. It brought togetherr postgraduates, ECRs and established scholars from the UK whose work investigates cultural representations of homophobia and forms of resistance to it. The keynote was presented by Professor Alison Donnell (Reading University).

The event stimulated academic discussion and led to the exchange of papers.

One of the issues that came up in the lead up to the event is that someone with a conviction for homophobic assault contacted me, expressing a wish to attend the event. In consultation with the university registrar, head of security and support from my School, we decided to close the event to the public to make it safe to attend. This sparked lively debate about homophobia in everyday and academic life including in relation to strategies on how to deal with it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://violentworldofdifference.wordpress.com/tag/homophobia-rewritten/