Tag Archives: queer history

21 Feb. 2014. Musical Inversions: Ethel Smyth

Ethel Smyth and her Old English Sheepdog, Pan: http://www.52composers.com/ethel-smyth.html

Ethel Smyth and her Old English Sheepdog, Pan: http://www.52composers.com/ethel-smyth.html

The queer past has an extraordinary sensory presence in the twenty-first century.  Last Wednesday, I went to an excellent event dedicated to the life and music of Ethel Smyth (1854-1944). Organised by the University of Surrey as part of LGBT History Month, the evening paid particular attention to the musical career of Smyth, a composer, writer, suffragette and dog lover whose ‘The March of the Women‘, written for the Women’s Social and Political Union, became the anthem of the British suffragette movement.

The event started off with an informative and entertaining talk by Dr Christopher Wiley on the relationship between Smyth’s music and her lesbianism – her most today best known relationship was with the famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. With the help of violinists Sophie Langdon, pianist Maureen Galea and members of the University of Surrey Chamber Choir, Wiley brought to life Smyth’s music. He demonstrated the breadth of Smyth’s oeuvre, which included, for example, operas, orchestral works and chamber music; and he also explained how the music reflected developments in Smyth’s own life such as her love for Elisabeth ‘Lisl’ von Herzogenberg, the wife of Smyth’s teacher, the composer and conductor Heinrich von Herzogenberg.

I was particularly interested to learn that one of Smyth’s early pieces, which was composed during her time with the von Herzogenbergs in Germany, makes use of a technique of ‘inversion’, here meaning that the closing notes appear in reverse order of the opening notes. While I have written a book on ‘inversion’, this is the first time that I have come across the use of the concept in a musical context.

‘Inversion’ emerged as a concept associated with what we would now call sexual identity in 1860s, in the affirmative writings on same-sex love by the Hanoverian lawyer Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895). Ulrichs argued that men who desire men have ‘a female soul’ within their male body. Women who desire other women in turn were seen to have a ‘male soul’ inside their female body (it tells us something about the gendered contexts of these debates that Ulrichs felt prompted to note that he assumed that female same-sex love existed but did not personally know any women who love women).

While the terminology of the ‘invert’ would eventually give way in the early twentieth-century to the ‘lesbian’ and the ‘homosexual’, inversion itself has become one of the most pervasive concepts in modern debates about sexuality. Indeed, ideas about ‘mannish lesbians’ and ‘effeminate gay men’ continue to circulate quite widely in twenty-first century debates about sexuality.

Virginia Woolf and Dame Ethel Smyth. New York Public Library IMAGE ID: 484383

Virginia Woolf and Dame Ethel Smyth. New York Public Library IMAGE ID: 484383

Today, ‘inversion’ is often invoked as part of negative stereotyping. In the late 1870s and 1880s, however, when Ethel Smyth was falling in love with a woman in Germany while honing her skills as a composer, many women and men whose desires ran against the heterosexual grain happily self-identified as inverts. Most famously, perhaps, the rebellion against gender and sexual norms was expressed through dress – Virginia Woolf, Smyth’s unrequited love when the latter was in her early 70s, once described the composer’s dress affectionately as ‘tweeds and spats [with] a little cock’s feather in your felt, and a general look of angry energy’.

Chris Wiley’s talk has alerted me to the existence of a whole new dimension to modern sexual
Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 16.31.03politics. For Ethel Smyth’s composition suggests that sexuality and gender were reshaped in and through music as well as literature, art and politics. From now on, then, I will be listening out for Smyth’s musical inversions and the queer echoes that follow them across time.

 

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3 Feb. 2014: LGBT History Month: NOW!

February is LGBT History Month. During this time, a diverse range of events take place throughout the UK – in schools, universities, grass root organisations and many other places – which have in common that they focus on the LGBT present and past.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 10.09.09http://lgbthistorymonth.org.uk

As part of my own project, I am organising a screening of Anders als die Anders/Different from the Others (dir. Richard Oswald, 1919) in the Birkbeck Cinema on Thursday, 13 February, 6pm. The film, a homosexual love story, deals with anti-gay legislation and its isolating effects.

I’m particularly looking forward to this event, for the film is a captivating, moving and sometimes surprising document of queer life in the early twentieth century. Moreover, I’m hoping that – as in previous LGBT History Month events I took part it – it will attract non-academic audiences as well as academics.

For, as Claire Hayward notes in a recent blog post, while LGBT History Month is an important initiative, it is absolutely vital that ‘LGBT histories [are] integrated into wider public and national historical discussions and narratives’ throughout the year. So let’s not confine lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer culture, lives and politics to one month in the year, but let’s take LGBT History Month as a prompt for on-going collective debate and engagement.

I’m hoping that the Different from the Others event will bring together many people with all kinds of interests in the histories of inequality and discrimination, and in forms of resistance. The event will start off with a drinks reception and conclude with a panel discussion featuring my brilliant colleagues Silke Arnold – de Simine, Justin Bengry, Daniel Monk and Chrystanthi Nigianni.

You can register here to secure a place. The event is free -come and join us.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 11.05.38

22 Jan. 2014: This Archive is Empty

Research is a serendipitous business, and sometimes mystery prevails.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 09.47.12I learnt a while ago that there is a mystery around the later years of Li Shiu Tong, known as Tao Li, Magnus Hirschfeld’s partner. The two men had met in Shanghai in the early 1930s when Tao Li was 24 and Hirschfeld 63 years old. Tao Li subsequently accompanied Hirschfeld on the remainder of his world journey; and he stayed in Europe until Hirschfeld’s death in 1935.

Hirschfeld bequeathed the younger man his personal effects including diaries, photographs, books and other papers that had survived the Nazi attack on his Institute in Berlin. Historians know that Tao Li took care of these belongings, for there are records of his crating up the materials and moving them with him on his postwar journeys. The last of these records is from the late 1950s. After this time Tao Li drops off the critical radar.

The Hirschfeld belongings eventually re-materialize in Vancouver in 1993, where they are found after Tao Li’s death, dumped in suitcases near the rubbish bins of an apartment block. A tenant finds them, realises that they may be important and posts a notice on the Internet which comes to the attention of Hirschfeld scholars in Berlin. The director of the Berlin-based Magnus Hirschfeld Society, Ralf Dose, flies out to Canada to collect the items.

My own encounter with this archive began with a notice I found recently in the 2007 newsletter of the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies at the University of Minnesota. The article announces that the Collection had purchased the Magnus Hirschfeld Li Family Estate. I immediately searched the collection for further details, but to no avail.

On contacting the – as it turns out – extremely helpful archivist I was told that the materials have once more gone missing. For when the Tretter Collection opened the boxes sent to them by the Hirschfeld Society, they found that the content had been removed during the journey.

I think it is fair to say that these missing materials do impede the development of my project, partly because my focus lies on violence and Hirschfeld’s Anglophone reception. Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 10.53.45 Furthermore, Hirschfeld’s legacy is already significant, comprising more than fifty major books and articles plus countless photographs, other writings and even a series of films. Unlike many other historical figures, then, the legacy of his life and work, while fragmented, exists in more than mere fragments. But a missing archive nevertheless captures the imagination, not least because it symbolises the fantasy of scholarly completeness. So do contact me if you have any news about the whereabouts of this material: h.bauer@bbk.ac.uk

17 January 2014: Free Film Screening of First Homosexual Movie during LGBT History Month

More exciting project event news!

On Thursday, 13 February 2014 at 6pm there will be a screening of the film Anders als die Andern/Different from the Others (dir. Richard Oswald, 1919) in the Birbeck Cinema, 43-46 Gordon Square, WC1 0PD, London.

Featuring a guest appearance by Magnus Hirschfeld,  Anders als die Andern is the first film in the history of cinema to deal explicitly with homosexuality. It tells the story of Paul Körner (Conradt Veidt), a gay pianist who is being blackmailed because of his homosexuality. When the blackmail threatens his budding relationship with a young musician, Körner seeks legal help but finds that Paragraph 175 of the German Code – which criminalizes homosexuality – turns him into the accused.

Conrad Veidt in Anders als die Andern

Conrad Veidt in Anders als die Andern

Anders als die Andern shows the precariousness of queer life in Weimar Germany and documents first attempts at resistance. It will be shown with English intertitles.

Heldo during LGBT History Month, the event aims to remember and reassess the difficult history of homosexual persecution. The screening will be introduced by Heike Bauer and is followed by a panel discussion featuring Silke Arnold-de Simine, Justin Bengry, Daniel Monk and Chrysanthi Nigianni.

Programme:
6.00pm: Drinks Reception

6.30pm: Film Screening

7.30pm: Panel Discussion

Free. All welcome, but please register to secure your place by clicking here

This event is funded by the AHRC and BiGS.

16 January 2014: Announcing Queer 1950s Book Launch in February!

I’m really pleased to announce the informal launch event to celebrate the publication of

queer 1950s

Queer 1950s: Rethinking Sexuality in the Postwar Years

Edited by Heike Bauer and Matt Cook.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014, 6.00-8.00pm. Keynes Library, 43-46 Gordon Square, Birkbeck,

Examining queer lives, literatures and cultures in Finland, France, Germany, New Zealand, the UK and the USA, the collection brings together scholars from across the humanities to reassess what we (think we) know about sexuality in the first full postwar decade and its legacies.

Free. All Welcome.

Supported by BiGS and the Departments of English & Humanities, and History, Birkbeck.

Queer1950sLaunchInvitation[smallpdf.com]

4 January 2014: Magnus Hirschfeld

Why turn to Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) to reexamine the difficult aspects of modern queer history and culture?Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 10.12.40

Hirschfeld is a well known figure, especially in the German history and historiography of sexuality, and he continues to inspire a number of German sexual reform organisations. My own reasons for turning to his work are, however, emphatically not about recuperating him as a ‘role model’ for queer activism. Like others, Hirschfeld was not free of the prejudice of his time. While his achievements should not be diminished, I think it is equally vital to pay attention to the norms that underpinned his thinking. For if we want to understand how prejudice is perpetuated and how norms work themselves into basic assumptions about what it means to be human, then we need histories that are attentive to the often paradox and difficult aspects of the queer past.

My project examines how violence, death and suicide shaped modern queer culture. Hirschfeld is of interest to me because his many activities place him at the centre of modern sexual politics. He was a sexologist and homosexual rights activist who, in 1919, founded the world’s first Institute for Sexual Sciences in Berlin. He is best known today for his concept of ‘sexual intermediaries’ (sexuelle Zwischenstufen), the idea that there exist infinite variations in gender and sexuality, and for his campaigning for the abolition of Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code, which criminalised homosexuality. Hirschfeld is also remembered as one of the first transgender theorists. At the same time, however, like so many of his contemporaries, he promoted eugenics, pursuing the problematic belief that humans could be ‘improved’ via carefully managed reproduction, a belief that seems to jar with his equality activism and anti-racist politics.

ImageHirschfeld’s political activism, his Jewishness and homosexuality made him a target for rightwing attacks from the 1920s onward. In May 1933, while he was in exile, the Nazis destroyed his Institute and burnt many of its books in the first of the infamous book burnings.

While Hirschfeld’s activities were shaped by the German contexts in which he mainly worked, he also forged many international connections. I am particularly interested in his hitherto under-examined contributions to British and U.S. culture. Hirschfeld not only travelled regularly to the States, where he gave popular lectures, but he also collaborated with, for example, English sexologist Havelock Ellis, wrote about writers such as Oscar Wilde and himself entered literary history via the work and private papers of figures such as W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood.

While Hirschfeld’s main influence was in the male scientific and artistic circles of his time, he also collaborated with leading feminists such as Helene Stoecker, with whom he worked at the Institute, and the writer Franziska Mann, Hirschfeld’s sister with whom he wrote a pamphlet about women’s suffrage. These collaborations offer new insights into the – often problematic – intersecting histories of feminist and gay politics

Hirschfeld’s work, then, provides insights into the role of sexology in the international literary and political reform cultures of the early twentieth century and it helps us understand better the transnational contexts that shaped modern sexuality debates. Most of all, however, his writings contain an archive of little known writings on verbal and physical attacks on homosexuals, writings that document the range of difficult experiences that shaped modern queer life. Over the course of the project, I will research, collate and critique this material – and publish my findings here and, ultimately, in book form.