Monthly Archives: November 2014

A Queer Will: Exploring Queer Inheritance at the London Metropolitan Archives

On 6 December, I will take part in Lines of Dissent: The Twelfth LGBTQ History and Archives Conference at the London Metropolitan Archives. Co-organised with the Raphael Samuels Centre and open to everyone – you can get tickets here – the event aims to open up the archives’ queer holdings via a series of talks and workshops that examine how ideas about LGBTQ families are formed, and how such ideas in turn inform (what we think we) know about issues of inheritance and genealogy.

I am particularly interested in the historical look back at wills and related materials that document queer relationships in the past. For this material offers unique glimpses at the everyday lives of individuals whose bodies and desires did not conform to the social norms of their day, and who were often criminalised for it, but who nevertheless made use of available legal processes such as the writing of wills in a bid to secure the future of their loved ones.

Hirschfeld’s Testament

Magnus Hirschfeld’s testament is an example of a queer will, written at Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 11.03.13a time when homosexuality was illegal and Hirschfeld’s own life and work were about to fall victim to the rise of Nazism. While Hirschfeld was close to some of his relatives – Ernest Maas, grandson of Hirschfeld’s uncle Julius Mann, was visiting him when he died in Nice in 1935 – Hirschfeld’s will clearly lists Karl Giese and Li Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 11.33.54Shiu Tong as his main benefactors. Giese had been Hirschfeld’s partner for many years, assisting him at the Institute of Sexual Science and taking on more responsibilities when Hirschfeld’s left Berlin to undertake a world lecturing tour in a bid to avoid Nazi persecution. Hirschfeld met Li Shiu Tong  – known as Tao Li – during his travels in Shanghai, and their relationship continued until Hirschfeld’s death.

In the will, Hirschfeld describes both men as his ‘students’, using language which may have homosocial connotations, but is ‘mainstream’ enough not to put his lovers in danger of persecution. That the two men were his lovers is well documented in other surviving evidence from the time. The will thus mainly reveals what kinds of provisions Hirschfeld made for Giese and Tao Li, and it also indicates the obligations he placed on them to look after his sexological legacy.

Queer Lines of Dissent

The workshop I will lead at Lines of Dissent turns to wills to examine less familiar stories from the queer past. In contrast to Hirschfeld will, which can easily be understood with the help of surviving contextual materials, we will explore documents whose authors are not necessarily well known. Considering how to read such documents, we will examine what this material can tell us about queer lives in the past: how queer wills inserted themselves into societies that marginalised, criminalised and ostracised their existence.

25 November 2015

Graphic Details Programme out Now!

The programme for the conference Graphic Details: Communities of Experience it out now. Organised by Sarah Lightman and me, it will take place on Wednesday, 12 November at JW3 in London. Click here for tickets and details about how to get there.

The conference is based on the first touring exhibition of comics and cartoons by contemporary Jewish women, whose autobiographical comics confront issues personal and global. The event brings together academics and some of the artists whose work is exhibited, thus offering a unique opportunity to discuss and explore the diverse body of works by Jewish women today.

Participating artists include Sarah Lightman, Miriam Katin, Diane Noomin, Corinne Pearlman, Ariel Schrag, Ilana Zeffren. Plus there will be a special Laydeez do Comics evening session featuring Nicola Streeten, Janis Goodman, Denise Torrance, and Sam Cowan!

Please spread the word! Looking forward to seeing many people comics lovers as well as those with an interest in autobiographical narratives and contemporary culture at the event.

3 November 2014.

NB: This post was amended on 12 November 2014 in response to a demand by a participant who withdrew from the event and asked for their name to be removed from all publicity.