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History & Politics

What influence did all those innovations on the subject of homosexuality we discussed last month have? The old narrative of sodomy, fornication, pederasty and tribadism disappeared and gave way to a new view of homosexuality, uranism, the third sex, sexual psychopathy, sexual inversion by those who themselves were authors, wrote novels and letters, and of doctors working on articles and books.

by Gert Hekma - 29 April 2019

length: 9 min. Printer Friendly Page  
Standing Up for Male Love II: from Hirschfeld and Schorer to Kinsey


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length: 9 minuten


A party at the Institute for Sexual Science with Magnus Hirschfeld, the one with the moustache and glasses (second from right)
There was silence when it came to gay and lesbian love - sodomy was also called the “silent sin” - but slowly, more and more articles surfaced in newspapers about facts, crimes, scandals, murders and suicides, illnesses, and historical facts related to this kind of lovemaking. Those who started to speak out on the subject told of other places where sex was to be found, such as in the southern European countries, what happened there, what words they used, and what they knew and thought of it.

A Parisian medical doctor was certain he was able to recognize pederasts, as their penis had the shape of a dog. For this, the men had to take of their clothes. In 1858, forensic doctor Johann Ludwig Casper quoted his client Baron Cajus who recognized gay men because of their particular glance. “On the Swiss Righi mountain, in Palermo, at the Louvre, in Scotland, in Petersburg, when arriving at Barcelona, whenever I encountered people I had never seen before, I ‘knew them’ in one split second.”

The doctor was jealous that the baron could pick out these men so easily. This fact was also mentioned by other doctors: why couldn’t they do the same? Because they wanted to recognize homosexuality. But did they succeed? The baron was confident he knew who he was and therefore could recognize other homosexuals. A nice thought, but how realistic was this recognition of homosexuality?


Mediterranean Paradises

The enticements of Italy, captured before 1895For a long time, the best places for men and boys to have sex and find love was Italy. On Sicily, in Naples, Capri, in Rome, Florence, Venice and also in Ancient Greece there were places of classic antiquity and old gods, which unlike the Bible and Christianity, offered erotic inspiration. According to the study “The Seduction of the Mediterranean: Writing, Art and Homosexual Fantasy” (1993) by gay historian Robert Aldrich, many a wealthy man from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century on undertook long tours through Europe and the Middle East. Such a “Grand Tour” served to teach and entertain, and had the advantage that certain tourist attractions, such as Naples, could be visited. “Florenzer” (Florentine) was a German term for men who liked men, looking to find similarly minded in those cities and regions.

More and more networks were established in the nineteenth century of such men who got to know each other and exchanged news. In the beginning it was often just trying out what there was for the taking and how you named it, but they developed skills in the end. Where to stay, where to find other men, as well as the best places and bars. Baron Cajus, who had to deal with the police, thought he could find gay men everywhere. They also discovered new terms for this. Recently, a diary of an collaborator of Hirschfeld, Eugen Wilhelm (1866-1951) was found. Wilhelm used the pseudonym Numa Praetorius. He was born in Strasbourg in 1866 just before the Franco-Prussian War, was as Alsatian French 1866, German from 1870 and then French again in 1919.

Magnus Hirschfeld (right) and his lover Li Shiu Tong in Nice, ca. 1934When reading law, he visited prostitutes at the end of the 1880s with fellow students and called himself a sexual psychopath because of his deviant desires in the terms of Krafft-Ebing. Then, he discovered the work of Ulrichs in the early 1890s and saw himself as an “urning,” a man on the outside and a woman on the inside who was not attracted to women but to “real” men. He slowly got to know more urnings as well as their meeting place in Strasbourg.

A fellow townsman received him in other cities, and in the late 1890s he was introduced to the Berliner Wissenschaftlich-humanitäre Komitee (Scientific-Humanitarian Committee; WhK) and its staff. Hirschfeld made him understood that he did not want to be a feminine urning, but that he was a bit of both sexes, a sexual in-between (a “Zwischenstufe” in German). It was a true quest for him to find out who he was, and what had been unmentionable finally was named in slow steps and became an identity.


Emancipation Organizations

Numa became a judge and member of the WhK that was founded by Hirschfeld in 1897, together with publisher Max Spohr and Eduard Oberg who worked at the German railways. From the very beginning they were actively fighting for gay rights and against Paragraph 175 which stated that homosexual fornication was a criminal offence. There was no reason to treat homosexuals and heterosexuals unequally and regard “fornication” as unnatural and making it especially punishable for them: it is the argument that Karl-Maria Kertbeny used in 1869 against the article that was introduced into the new German penal code in 1871.

The 2nd volume (1900) of Hirschfelds Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen
As did the Dutch esquire Jacob Anton Schorer and physician Lucien von Römer, Numa became a member of the board of the WhK and wrote, alongside Hirschfeld, a huge number of articles for WhK’s publication, the “Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen” (Yearbook for Intermediate Sexual Types; 1899-1923), not the first but certainly the thickest gay magazine before 1980. In its early stages, the German gay scene consisted of two fractions, the “Gemeinschaft der Eigenen” that published a magazine of the same name, was focussed more on youth, and the more adult-oriented WhK.

They split up in 1906. In 1907 Hirschfeld lost much of his reputation in a big scandal around the German emperor when Hirschfield first proved that one of the emperor’s of homosexuality accused friends, prince Philipp zu Eulenburg, was actually homosexual, but then had to retract his statements and admit that he had been wrong. Such ambiguity on the matter of who was gay made the WhK lose many members and much trust.

Eduard von Mayer and Elisar von Kupffer (av. 1900)In the course of time, the gay world slowly expanded: more magazines, bars, clubs, networks, and more debate. In the Netherlands, the WhK established a Dutch branch in 1912 after the moral law of 1911 was introduced. The law was specifically introduced to counteract prostitution, pornography, abortion and gay sex, and introduced a new age limit for sex. It was sixteen for everyone, but became twenty-one for gays and lesbians through the infamous article 248bis. This led to the establishment of a Dutch chapter of the WHK by Schorer, Von Römer, physician and writer Arnold Aletrino, and author M.J.J. Exler. This branch became independent in 1914 at the start of the First World War as the Dutch WHK. A British branch with its own name was also established.

There were various branches in other German cities. In France, philosopher Georges Hérelle began to tamper with the sexual norms and, in his opinion, men were not attracted to other men but to boys, just like in Italy. Hirschfeld surveyed many homosexuals and lesbians and concluded in 1914 that half of the “urnings” and “urnindes” were virile or feminine, and that forty-five percent of them were either attracted to men or women (21-65 years), and an equally large part to boys or girls (14-21 years). He also had such figures on sexual traffic in which each group performed forty percent oral or mutual sex with the hands, and the other twenty percent between the thighs or anal. Don’t ask me how reliable this was. That these figures are different from what they are now, is certainly likely.


Progress and Persecution

Hirschfeld was the frontman of the study of (homo)sexuality in the world before the outbreak of the Second World War. He stood for a gay man with a congenital identity and a female character, which was reversed in lesbian women. Sexual preferences could differ, even between homosexuals and heterosexuals: there were many “sexual perversions,” as doctors in the footsteps of Krafft-Ebing discovered and named. After the collapse of the German empire and thanks to a left-wing Weimar Republic, Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexology was founded there. It soon gained world fame, and its employees organized conferences, a clinic, informative sessions, lectures, demonstrations and the like.

Painting by Elisar von Kupffer (1900)With such organizations and initiatives, Berlin was more like a gay capital than Paris, London or New York in those days, but with the arrival of the Nazis it was no longer a gay party city for clubbing and celebrating holidays after 1933. Despite several attempts, not much was changed to German gay legislation before 1933, after which things rapidly deteriorated for homosexuals under Hitler’s rule, and Nazi persecution began.

During the years following 1919 the sex parties in Berlin became ever livelier and life increasingly cheaper after the stock market crisis of 1929 - see the books by English visitors of Berlin, such as Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden, who feasted their eyes and enjoyed the things they did not encounter in their home country. The assumption of power by the NSDAP put a damper on the sex life in the city. Tens of thousands of men were arrested, sometimes more than once, and 15,000 disappeared in concentration camps. Approximately 7,000 men did not survive the camps. It was nothing compared to the regime’s other victims, such as Jews and Russians, but still far too much.

After Hitler’s assumption of power, homosexuals and sexologists (who were often Jewish, as were Hirschfeld, Freud, Bloch, and Moll) fled Germany and went to the Netherlands, Palestine, Great Britain, the United States or other countries, and with their knowledge at times founded gay German students and Nazi SA plunder the library of Magnus Hirschfeldmovements and sexology associations. There was little opportunity for this in the 1930s and 1940s.

After 1945 in Europe and after a brief outbreak of joy, a political move to the right took place. With this move, police surveillance was reinforced. In countries such as The Netherlands, Belgium, France, England and even in West Germany, there were now even more homosexuals persecuted then before, and new anti-gay legislation was introduced in France and Belgium.

In West Germany article 175 was not even abolished. The situation for homosexuals became harsher with the judges who condemned gays under the Nazis often staying in place, and officers who had hunted homosexuals were not discharged. Many homosexuals remained locked up in prison. After 1945, liberation from the Nazis had come for most, but not for everyone. One of the black signs of a new world was the United Nations. It held the family in high esteem, with negative consequences for homosexuals, as the last thing they could boast of were marriage and children.

The American sexologist Alfred Kinsey (left) and the underground gay filmmaker Kenneth Anger  (1955)The sexual revolution changed everything, for instance with forerunner Kinsey and all those names and concepts that emerged from the sixties: free spirits, pop singers, sexual activists, women who no longer wanted to be under the thumb of men, such as Simone de Beauvoir, Beate Uhse or Mary Zeldenrust-Noordanus, and writers such as Jean Genet, the Dutch novelist and activist Gerard Reve, and others. Homosexuals arose from dark times as sodomites with their “silent sins” and death penalties, and this forcing open of the discourse about homosexuality brought enlightenment and more recognition. This took place in a culture of silence, but the middle of the twentieth century brought a glimmer of hope with the arrival of the 1960s.


  to be continued...




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