Tag Archives: homophobia

A Violent World of Difference: One Year On.

A year ago I started this blog as a way of publicising the work I’d be completing as part of an AHRC-funded project entitled A Violent World of Difference: Magnus Hirschfeld and Queer Modernity.  I set out to discuss any issues that would come up in the course of my research but also to put together a record of the activities I planned to organise as part of the Fellowship.

As it turned out, the blog proved to be more expansive but also more productive than I had anticipated. It now covers topics that range from my encounter with casual racism during the difficult time when my dog went missing in the woods to discussions of queer soldiers during World War I and an account of Oscar Wilde’s (Prison) Friends. All of these entries are in some way connected to my Hirschfeld project. Some of them explore, for instance, how stereotypes are perpetuated and the damage this causes. Others consider possibilities of resistance, not least because Hirschfeld’s work is most famous today for its innovative and radical aspects including his homosexual rights activism and groundbreaking conception of what he called ‘transvestism’.

Below I outline some of the findings of my project to date. This is not a final or fully comprehensive account. A book will follow in due course. And I’m also planning to continue the blog with occasional posts on issues relating to the history of sexuality and anti-queer violence. The examples I discuss below give a sense of what my project is about. They have been especially important for the direction of my research as they changed my understanding of Hirschfeld’s work and the issues that define the modern history of same-sex sexuality more broadly.

A Deadly History

Over the course of the last year I found many examples that indicate that the history of modern homosexuality can, or should, not be understood as a simple progress narrative. This insight is of course not new. Many existing histories of same-sex sexuality have focused on the importance of affirmative cultural production and representation for the emergence of lesbian and gay identities and subcultures from the latter nineteenth-century onward. However, my research shows that direct experiences of violence, and the witnessing of
violence against others, equally shaped a collective sense of modern queer existence.

Magnus Hirschfeld’s own sexual reforms politics were partly motivated by the suicide of one of his patients, a young man who left him a series of letters in which he described as unbearably shameful his desire for other men. The death prompted Hirschfeld to undertake what became one of the earliest statistical surveys of homosexual suicide, conducted during the first two decades of the twentieth century. The material he collected offers specific insights into the reasons given – mostly fear and shame – by the women and men who killed themselves. It furthermore indicates the traumatic impact of these deaths, as Hirschfeld records his on emotional responses to the suicides as well as documenting how other women and men reacted to them. While it may ultimately be impossible to determine why some people kill themselves, this archive nevertheless demonstrates that there is a collective shape to queer suicide: that social isolation as much as the active persecution of bodies and desires that do not fit specific norms plays a role in why some people end their lives.

A Violent Omission

A main aspect of my research on the ‘missing’ and neglected parts of Hirschfeld’s archive thus deals with the shaping of queer subcultures. Another key finding has been that the history of the emerging homosexual rights movement in Europe cannot be understood as separate from the history of European colonialism. Scholars have paid considerable critical attention to the intersections between race, sexuality and colonialism across time. Yet we know surprisingly little about the impact of colonialism on early sexual rights politics and the work of sexologists such as Hirschfeld.

By paying close attention to what it meant that Hirschfeld came of age, professionally and politically, during the period of Germany’s ‘official’ reign as a colonial power, which lasted from 1889 to 1919, I have been able to gain a better understanding of the violent conditions that shaped whose bodies and lives became part of the homosexual rights movement, and on what terms. This research re-contextualises the development of Hirschfeld’s own understanding of racism. He famously completed one of the first modern studies racism, which was published posthumously in 1938. The study was no doubt prompted by Hirschfeld’s own persecution by the Nazis. Yet I found that Racism can also be read as the belated product of Hirschfeld’s experiences of German colonialism, further supporting my argument that emergence of the modern homosexual rights movement is entangled with the traumatic realties of colonialism and racial oppression.

Precious Critical Time

I recently went to an AHRC Leadership conference where someone described the new Fellowship scheme as a double deal: a combination of the previous fellowship award, which primarily provided research time, and a network grant, which aims to facilitate research collaboration by providing the means for organising and hosting a series of meetings between experts.

My own experience certainly supports this description. The AHRC Fellowship has enabled me to
focus on completing research for a book by providing time away from my usual teaching and admin duties and by making it possible for me to visit some of the key Hirschfeld archives, which are spread around the world. But the award has also enabled me to organise a series of events ranging from a public film screening to an academic symposium and a specialist workshop for humanities scholars and health professionals (see my Events page for further details).

I’m looking forward to developing these links and exploring new research that is beginning to emerge from this project. Watch this space for more information!

h.bauer@bbk.ac.uk

5 January 2014.

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Precious Critical Time: A Workshop on Violence in Queer & Trans Lives

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As part of my AHRC Fellowship, I hosted a workshop yesterday on ‘Violence in Queer and Trans Lives: A Dialogue between the Humanities and Health Professions’. Following on from Homophobia Rewritten, a thought-provoking symposium I had organised earlier in the summer, this workshop brought into conversation diverse gender and sexuality scholars and professionals whose work focuses on the difficult, and frequently violent, experiences of people whose bodies and desires do not conform to narrow socio-cultural norms and expectations.

Unlike Homophobia Rewritten, which featured formal paper presentations on the literary and cultural representations of, and responses, to homophobia, the format of this workshop was more open. In line with the event’s main aim – to facilitate explorative conversations between experts who do not normally find themselves in dialogue with each other – the number of invited contributors was deliberately small.

Next to me – I’m a senior lecturer in English & Humanities at Birkbeck currently working on a project that explores how violence shaped the emergence of modern sexual identities and subcultures – the participants included: 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 psycholoIMG_2656gy at the University of Surrey with special interests in gender and sexuality, and Katherine Hubbard, a PhD student working with Peter on a project about Rorschach tests and the ‘hidden’ homophobic history of psychology; Churnjeet Mahn, a literary scholar from Surrey’s English Department and former collaborator of mine on Transnational Lesbian Cultures, who is now working on an AHRC funded project with young queer refugees, and Vernon Rosario, a UCLA-based clinical psychiatrist  – and trained historian of medicine – with special interest in trans, intersex and issues of gender and sexuality more broadly.

Critical Conversations

It was a privilege to have Vernon in our middle. His experience with children and adolescents who feel in need of medical help because of their gender – or are send to him by parents who think that such help is needed – provided important insights into the everyday realties and difficulties faced by some of the young people whose bodies and desires may be the subject of much social and critical scrutiny, but who do not (yet) take part in these debates.

Much of our discussion focused on how ideas become truths and how to challenge rarefied misconceptions about what science knows about bodies. We argued about the relationship between ‘discourse’ and ‘experience’, ‘theory’ and ‘everyday reality’, and agreed, broadly, about the need for stronger links – new bridges of intelligibility – between the humanities, social sciences and medical practice.

I came away energised and full of new ideas, and with plans to build on the links forged during this event. But it also made me acutely aware of what a rare opportunity it has become in UK Higher Education to be able to engage in critical group conversations that neither revolve around the presentation of polished existing research nor work towards producing a specific new outcome. Yet such speculative debates, and dialogue across fields, are absolutely vital to academic work: for transformative research is never forged in isolation.

8 October 2014. Thanks to the AHRC for funding this event, and to the School of English and Languages at the University of Surrey for providing the venue.

It’s been a little while since the last blog post. I’ve been busy organising and hosting the AHRC-funded symposium IMG_2045Homophobia Rewritten: New Literary and Cultural Perspectives on Violence and Sexuality.

This one-day event brought together a wide range of speakers to examine literary and cultural representations of, and responses, to homophobia. It took the term homophobia to mean all kinds of denials of, and attacks on, queer existence including, for example, heteronormative practices as well as verbal and physical attacks. Some papers examined historical examples of homophobia and their legacies (e.g. how homophobia shaped modern state politics, questions about the emergence of homosexual visibility in Europe), while others examined 21-century examples of homophobia and anti-homophobia in and across different countries and regions such as India, China, Sub-Saharan Africa, Canada, the US, the UK, and, in the case of Alison Donnell’s exemplary keynote, the Caribbean.

The papers dealing with historical contexts explored the links between politics and sexuality as well as the creation of popular images and stereotypes about the body that sometimes supported and sometimes undermined queer existence. Here the discussions ranged from the influence of Carlyle’s homophobic writings on Frederick the Great to British dandyism, from suicide in fin de siecle fiction to the impact of Section 28 on young adult fiction in Britain.

Presentations on contemporary contexts in turn indicated the usefulness of historical and cultural perspectives for understanding present-day science and Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 16.23.09politics. Discussing topics as diverse as sub-Saharan presidential narratives, transsexual marriage legislation in China and Taiwan, femme representation in the UK, and and the role of graphic novels in popularising Anglophone psychological theories about homosexuality, these papers made clear that despite the advances in equality legislation in many countries, homophobia remains part of the everyday experience of people whose bodies and desire do not conform to particular sexual and social norms. For instance, next to interpersonal encounters homophobia is perpetuated vial cultural representations that insist on portraying queer existence in terms of inevitable suffering. Negative stereotyping also continues in scientific and political debates about same-sex intimacies in and about non-Western contexts, which frequently deploy a racist rhetoric and fail to address real concerns with how to end anti-queer violence.

IMG_2044 - Version 2

Some papers explored how queer subcultures police their own boundaries and are complicit in the creation of new norms (e.g. in relation to marriage, or gendered assumptions about what certain sexual identities should ‘look like’). Others discussed queer representations that explictly challenge social norms. The papers on First Nation fiction and Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place, for instance, turned to literature to explore the intersections between racial injustice and violence against women. Issues of violence against women also informed the discussion of the Canadian-Indian film Fire. It took the recent attacks on women in India and the reintroduction of Section 377 in the country as its prompt for re-examining the complex representational strategies by which Indian women-who-love-women challenge cultural, social and religious norms.

The day concluded with a keynote on queer Caribbean literature, which illustrated beautifully the importance of fiction Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 14.59.56and poetry for understanding and reshaping sexual politics. Shifting the focus from dancehall homophobia to a wide-ranging literary archive of desire, the keynote offered an affirmative reading of nonnormative intimacies in the region. In so doing, it also modelled the benefits of what we might call a ‘literary approach’ – an imaginative, archival, critical analysis – to sexual politics in the Caribbean and beyond.

My own investment in putting together Homophobia Rewritten is linked to my project on Magnus Hirschfeld, which tries to gain a better understanding of the violent shaping of queer modernity. When planning the symposium, I deliberately introduced the notion of  ‘rewriting’  to encourage contributions that record and critique homophobia in its different manifestation, and in so doing partake – perhaps willingly, perhaps not – in a project of transformative criticism. In its broadest ambition the symposium aimed to contribute to research that addresses what Judith Butler has called the question of ‘how to create a world in which those who understand their gender and their desire to be nonnormative can live and thrive not only without the threat of violence from the outside but without the pervasive sense of their own unreality’.

There are no easy answers or solutions to this question. But what emerged during Homophobia Rewritten, as the individual contributions looked across time and space and across disciplinary and generic contexts, was a sense of the importance of collective engagements with how to make lives liveable.

 

 

 

19 May. Update: Homophobia Rewritten no longer open to all

Due to venue constraints we had to make the difficult decision to limit attendance at the Homophobia Rewritten symposium in June to speakers only.

The door policy will be strictly enforced. Please spread the word about the changed registration process so that people don’t make wasted journeys.

I realise that this is disappointing news for those of you who had planned to attend the event as audience members. However, do keep an eye out on this blog. I will post an update after the symposium has taken place.

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1 May 2014: Homophobia Rewritten programme out now!

IMG_1437 - Version 2This update is no longer accurate. Due to venue constraints we had to limit attendance to speakers only. I have updated the post accordingly. HB

 I’m really pleased to announce that the programme for the Homophobia Rewritten symposium I’m organising at Birkbeck is now available. The line-up of speakers includes a fantastic mix of literary and cultural critics, historians and gender studies scholars – and, of course, the brilliant Alison Donnell, who will present the keynote.

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HOMOPHOBIA REWRITTEN: 

New Literary and Cultural Perspectives on Violence and Sexuality

 Friday, 13 June 2014

Birkbeck, University of London

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PROGRAMME 

9.30: Welcome & Introduction

         Heike Bauer (Birkbeck): Dead Queer.

 9.45 – 10.45: Dead Ends

Conny Wächter (Paderborn), ‘Internalised Heteronormativity

and Suicide in E.M. Forster and Victoria Cross’.

Lucy Iwamoto (Roehampton), ‘Hate and Homotopias: Young Adult Fiction,

Before, During and After Section 28’.

 11.00 – 12.30: Questionable Visibilities

David R. Sorensen (St Joseph’s University), ‘“An Unnamable Object”:

                     Carlyle, Frederick the Great and the Love that Dared not

Speak Its Name’.

Dominic Janes (Birkbeck), ‘Caricature and Images of Same-Sex Desire

Before the Trials of Oscar Wilde’.

Caroline Walters (Middlesex), ‘Femme Anthologies: Making Femme

Identities Visible’. 

1.30-3.00: Popular Injury

Katherine Hubbard (Surrey), ‘Psychology, Homosexuality and the Graphic

Novels of Alan Moore’.

Monalesia Earle (Birkbeck), ‘”Gutter”: Gloria Naylor’s The Women of

Brewster Place (1982)’.

Harriet King (Nottingham), “A Special King of Suffering”: First Nations

    Sexuality, Gothic Tradition and Trauma Theory in Tomson

      Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen’.

3.15- 4.45: Present Tensions

Churnjeet Mahn (Surrey) & Diane Watt (Surrey), ‘Incendiary Sexualities:

Setting Light to Lesbian Bodies in Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996)’.

Howard Chiang (Warwick), ‘2013: Queering Marriage in Sinophone Communitiies’

Benjamin Eveslage (SOAS), ‘Contemporary Politicisation of

Homosexuality: Presidential Narratives in Sub-Saharan Africa’

 5.00 – 6.00: Keynote   

Alison Donnell (Reading),

Caribbean Queer: Impossibility or Inevitability

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The symposium is supported by the

AHRC, BIGS & the Department of English & Humanities, Birkbeck

Contact: h.bauer@bbk.ac.uk                                               

4 March 2014. Update: Homophobia Rewritten Symposium

Call for Papers — deadline 31 March 2014.

HOMOPHOBIA REWRITTEN:

NEW LITERARY & CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES ON VIOLENCE AND SEXUALITY

An AHRC-funded Symposium
https://violentworldofdifference.wordpress.com/cfp-homophobia-rewritten/

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Date:    Friday, 13 June 2014
Venue:  Birkbeck, University of London

Keynote: Professor Alison Donnell (Reading)

This one-day symposium examines literary and cultural engagements with, and
responses, to homophobia. It explores representations of intimate lives
lived with and against the threat of violence, and documents anti-homophobia
and other forms of resistance, to ask new questions about the interlinked
cultures, histories, experiences and politics of violence and sexuality
across time and place.

Papers may address, but are not limited to:
Literary & Cultural Histories of (Anti-) Homophobia
(Anti-) Homophobia in Fiction /Graphic Novels/Film/Popular Culture /Music /Visual Culture/Sport
Hate / Racism / Antisemitism/ Colonialism / Postcolonialism
Identities / Bodies / Gender / Class / Race
(Pre)Modernity / the Contemporary
Medicine / Law / New Knowledge Formations
Translation / Migration / Poverty / Wealth

Please email 300-word proposals for 20-minute papers, and a short  biographical note, to the organiser, Dr Heike Bauer, h.bauer@bbk.ac.uk, by 31 March 2014.

11 Feb. 2014: Words for ’77 Countries Where Being Gay is a Crime’

Reading the news over lunch, I was drawn to a BBC news item entitled ‘Banned Love: 77 countries where being gay is a crime’. Clicking on the link led me to this short article and the following world map (click on the link for a better view):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-25927595http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-25927595

As it happens, I had been spending the morning thinking about Jasbir Puar’s work on homonationalism. Puar coined the term to develop a framework for exploring ‘how “acceptance” and “tolerance” for gay and lesbian subjects have become a barometer by which the right to and capacity for national sovereignity is evaluated’ in the contemporary world. Or, to phrase this differently, homonationalism describes a historical shift in the treatment of homosexual bodies, as the question of whether or not homosexuality is a crime has come – for certain nation-states and in certain contexts – to be seen as indicative of a nation’s degree of ‘modernity’ or ‘civilisation’.

The critical concept of homonationalism has been taken up in particularly contested ways in relation to debates about Israel-Palestine where some anti-occupation campaigners have accused Israel of ‘pinkwashing’ – using LGBT rights rhetoric to legitimise its occupation of Palestine – while in turn being taken to task for problematic conflations of Jewishness with Israel (see Judith Butler’s thoughts on the topic here).

As modern notions of sexual identity have been shaped by colonialism and the racialised ideas ideas and practices that have become ‘knowledge’ in Western (post) enlightenment thinking, and as words such as ‘homosexuality’ were coined specifically in relation to political debates about state-formations in Europe, I think it is right that we should be cautious about using the language of lesbian and gay identity in global terms. At the same time, however, I also think it is important to make speakable and to speak out against the prosecution and the denial of lives that are lived against the (sexual and gendered) norms of the societies in which they are located.

Looking back to Magnus Hirschfeld’s ‘gay rights activism’ a hundred or so years ago, I’m trying to trace some of the conscious and unconscious ties between sexual reform debates and racialist thinking at the time. I am helped along the way by the words of Stuart Hall, the influential cultural theorist who died yesterday. Hall once suggested that the metaphor of theoretical work is ‘the metaphor of struggle …. [for] the only theory worth having is that which you have to fight off, not that which you speak with profound fluency.’ As someone working with and across languages, times and contexts, the struggle for words lies at the heart of my own research. The stakes are high, for in debates about inequality, injustice and persecution, the process of struggling-for-words is intimately connected to individual and collective existence .

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