Was There a Lavender Scare behind the Iron Curtain? Sexology, Politics, and Homosexual Personhood in 1950s and 1960s East Germany

Friday, January 4, 2019: 10:50 AM
Williford C (Hilton Chicago)
Erik Huneke, University of Central Oklahoma
Sexual deviance connoted political nonconformity on both sides of the Iron Curtain during the 1950s and 1960s. The East German press, for instance, pilloried Günter Litfin, the first East German to be shot while trying to cross the Berlin Wall in 1961, as a gay man who had been motivated to breach the wall by his desire to seek the company of his allegedly degenerate brethren in the West. Valuable studies by Jennifer Evans, Dagmar Herzog, Josie McLellan, Günter Grau, and Samuel Clowes Huneke have shed new light upon homosexual personhood in East Germany, but the question regarding the extent to which East German sexology contributed to the stigmatization and pathologization of sexual deviance remains largely unanswered. Despite the valiant efforts of an East German psychiatrist by the name of Rudolf Klimmer, East German sexology was unable to pick up where its pre-Nazi antecedents had left off. Instead, East German officials and experts characterized sexology itself—and not merely the sexual subjects whose lives it sought to explain—as an ideological aberration. Klimmer’s advocacy of the restoration of German sexology after the depredations of Nazism was in itself a kind of patriotism, albeit one that was at odds with the self-understanding of the nascent East German polity. During the 1950s, preoccupation with sexual matters was seen as a legacy of bourgeois Freudianism that would be overcome by the embrace of a materialist approach to scientific inquiry modeled on Pavlov’s theory of conditioned reflexes. While the Pavlovian phase came to an abrupt end with the repudiation of Joseph Stalin in 1956, its legacy would remain salient in East Germany until the late 1960s.