Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and Magnus Hirschfeld: Queer Patriots?

Friday, January 4, 2019: 10:30 AM
Williford C (Hilton Chicago)
Tom Butcher, University of Virginia
Given the historical criminalization of same-sex sexual activity in Europe and the United States, there is an unsurprising tendency to view “out” people in the past as dissidents against their country who braved legal and cultural oppression to achieve a better life for themselves and their fellow queer persons. But such a narrative, though often accurate, can obscure the degree to which historical LGBT activists were motivated, in part, by considerations of nationalism or patriotism in seeking legal changes for sexual minorities. This tendency can be seen in recent work on Magnus Hirschfeld and Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. Important studies from such authors as Charlotte Wolff, Laurie Marhoefer, and Ralph Leck—as well as translations by Michael Lombardi-Nash—have restored Hirschfeld and Ulrichs, after decades of neglect, to a prime position in the histories of sexology and LGBT activism. Such scholarship has focused upon the role of Enlightenment values in motivating Ulrichs and Hirschfeld to establish a science of sexuality upon rigorous empirical grounds and to advocate for a liberal philosophy of law. However, this focus upon individualist (or particularist) motivations has tended to leave undeveloped the potentially beneficial relationship these sexologists saw between homosexuals and broader society. In this essay I will compare Ulrichs’s work in the late nineteenth century with Hirschfeld’s work in the early twentieth, focusing in particular upon the way that both authors combined scientific and social analysis to cast the homosexuals not only as people who posed no threat, but also as people whose (as Ulrichs and Hirschfeld understood it) sexually intermediate status allowed them to make unique contributions to society, creating a stronger Germany. As the example of these men shows, the relationship between patriotism and queer dissidence is not always oppositional. Indeed, for Ulrichs and Hirschfeld, the two went hand in hand.
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