Tag Archives: anarchism

6 January 2014: Emma Goldman and the Insidiousness of Anti-Homosexual Sentiments

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 10.19.22Source: The Emma Goldman Papers

Emma Goldman, the famous anarchist, was arrested in New York 106 years ago today, on 6 January 1907. Goldman was vocal about the oppression of women including in terms of women’s subjugation through marriage and what she calls the ‘rearing’ of women as a sex commodities. She was also connected to reform-oriented sexologists including Magnus Hirschfeld.

I’m still in the process of working through this material, but what strikes me already is Goldman’s contradictory views about homosexuality. In some of her writings, she appears as one of the early ‘defenders’ of homosexuality and an astute critic of homosexual persecution. Yet in other writings she expresses anti-lesbian sentiments and a strong dislike of what she calls ‘the practice of claiming’  – publicly discussing someone’s homosexuality – because according to Goldman homosexuality must not be ‘falsely’ ascribed to people.

But why not?  Goldman is an example of those difficult figures in queer history who both overtly challenge expressions of homophobia while also perpetuating many negative stereotypes about lesbians and homosexual men.

I turn to this archive for the insights it provides into how queer existence was habitually denied or denigrated and rendered as the unwanted other of an implied normality. Excavating this material also gives a political shape to individual forms of queer suffering for it allows insights into the conditions made queer lives feel unspeakable and, sometimes, unliveable.