Tag Archives: Tao Li

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

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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