Trans Identities between State Coercion and Self Assertion: New Histories of 20th-Century Germany, Israel, and Britain

AHA Session 208
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 13
Sunday, January 5, 2020: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Gramercy West (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Pieter M. Judson, European University Institute
Paisley Currah, Brooklyn College, City University of New York and Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Session Abstract

In his influential study Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918-1957 Matt Houlbrook describes how one example of modern queer selfhood emerged from the interaction between urban gay men and regulatory institutions and information networks. Police, courts, newspapers, and medical discourses all attempted to construct these nonconforming subjects in a certain way, while the latter appropriated, challenged and utilized these constructions to create an identity more aligned with their own desires and sense of selfhood. Although the existence of distinct trans identities – expressed in a myriad of concepts and through various practices – was observed already in the latter part of nineteenth century and most famously in Magnus Hirschfeld's Die Transvestiten (1910), trans identities were most often subsumed under the "invert" or "homosexual/lesbian" paradigm. This is often also the approach of historians who have written on the subject in the past three decades.

This panel proposes to examine comparatively the articulation of separate trans identities from the 1930s to the 1980s in three different places: Nazi Germany, the state of Israel between 1953-1986, and Britain in the 1970s. We will show that the regulatory mechanisms deployed to suppress gender transgression differed quite often from those used to maintain heterosexuality. So did the oppositional tactics employed by gender non-conforming individuals. The outcomes of these struggles had implications on the lives of individual transgender people and on basic concepts of sex and gender in these societies. The three panelists rely on various sources to present the individual cases: ego documents, oral interviews, police and court files, and contemporaneous press reports and literature.

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