2 Oct. 2014: Travels with Hirschfeld

Taking stock after a busy summer of writing, researching and travelling, I realised that since starting this project I have now been to quite a few of the many places Hirschfeld visited during his lifetime. My map of these places excludes those cities I visited in pursuit of Hirschfeld archives but which had not been visited by him during his lifetime (the Kinsey Library in Bloomington Indiana is one such example).

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Of course is it well-known that Hirschfeld was an avid traveller. For most of his life, his journeys focused on Europe and North America. But in 1930, under increasing threat of attack from the rising Nazi party, he left Berlin to lecture in the United States. The trip formed the beginning of a journey that would lead Hirschfeld to circumvent the globe as he travelled across the US, Asia and the Middle East before returning Europe where he died in exile in Nice in 1935.

Hirschfeld published an account of this journey, entitled Die Weltreise eines Sexualforschers, which was translated into English by O.P. Green and published under the title Women East and West: Impressions of a Sex Expert in the U.K., while the title of the U.S. version stayed somewhat closer to the original with Men and Women: The World Journey of a Sexologist.

The book is of particular interest for me, not primarily for its depiction of foreign places, although I always make sure to read what he has to say about a city I’m about to visit. Instead I am intrigued by the evidence of Hirschfeld’s many international connections and friendships with reformers around the world. This material indicates the many links that existed in the 1920s and early 1930 between social reformers, medical researchers,  writers and artists from around the world.

My autumn task is to write-up research on Hirschfeld’s international links and what they reveal about the development and reception of his ideas at that moment in time before the events of World War II so brutally reconfigured the boundaries of intellectual exchange and collaboration. I aim aided in this task by a new, less violent, shift in scholarly boundaries: the insights gained from the work of scholars of sexuality in Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East.* Then and now, it seems, studies of the constructions and representations of sexuality, its politics and the everyday realities attached to sexual categories necessitate interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches that look across time and space to explore how bodies and desires are normalized and instrumentalized and well as collectively affirmed and celebrated in the name of ‘sexuality’.

* Click here for a special issue on ‘Transnational Lesbian Cultures’  I edited with Churnjeet Mahn for the Journal of Lesbian Studies. I also includes an article by me on books, difficult feelings and the graphic memoirs of Alison Bechdel.

 

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