CRUSEV’s postdoctoral researcher Benedikt Wolf (Berlin) has been spending time working with Felix Rexhausen’s archive. He wrote the following report about his research.
The life and works of German gay satirist and journalist Felix Rexhausen (1932-1992) provide a fascinating perspective on the German gay 1970s. After becoming quite well-known to the German general public through a satiric polemic against the reactionary structures in the federal state of Bavaria (‘Living with Bavarians’, 1963) and the fierce and partly hateful reactions to it, Rexhausen published political and/or satirical articles in newspapers and journals and positioned himself in the field of pre-1968 leftist and liberal critique of postwar West Germany. His first novel with homosexual content, ‘Lavender Sword’, published in 1966, imagined a future homosexual revolution. His satiric depiction and critique of both the homophobic majority and the conservative mindset of gay men on the eve of Gay Liberation, pioneered crucial conceptions of the German Gay Liberation movement, namely the twofold critique of homophobic society and male homosexuals, as conducted by Rosa von Praunheim (‘It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives’, 1971) or Martin Dannecker and Reimut Reiche (‘The Ordinary Homosexual’, 1974). His pioneering stance became manifest once more with the publication of the first male homosexual pornographic novel in post-war Germany, ‘Touches’ (1969), published under the pseudonym of Stefan David.
While basic research on Rexhausen’s published gay themed novels has been done already, his other publications have not yet been analyzed for their treatment of homosexuality. These publications include both contributions for non-gay media like newspapers and radio broadcasts and contributions to the post-1969 gay magazines ‘Du & Ich’ (‘You & Me’) and ‘him’.
Next to this published material exists a huge corpus of non-published texts that has not been visible until recently. Rexhausen’s estate is, for the most part, held by the Gay Museum* Berlin, which received most of the materials from the publishing house Männerschwarm. When I asked Wolfgang Cortjaens, the head of the archive of the Gay Museum* Berlin, if I could access Rexhausen’s estate, he told me that no one had looked into it thoroughly and that it had not been sorted and indexed yet. When I expressed my desire to do this work, he was very happy that these important materials would be researched and made accessible for public use.
The materials provide opportunities to examine the complicated ways in which Rexhausen transformed from a closeted homosexual man and politically conscious critic of post-war West Germany to an openly gay intellectual and writer. While he had not yet come out when publishing ‘Lavender Sword’ in 1966 and he published his pornographic ‘Touches’ under a pseudonym, he went on to publish articles in the gay press both under various pseudonyms and under his real name. On the title page of an unpublished manuscript titled ‘Fences: Scenes from the Bushes’ (written in 1964), parts of which were eventually included in ‘Lavender Sword’ and ‘Touches’, he crossed out the typewritten pseudonym of Hans Rudolf Ahrengall and replaced it with his real name. This apparent gesture of pride cannot be dated exactly, but has to be located in the context of change both in the situation of homosexuals in the FRG and in Rexhausen’s private life. In Rexhausen’s literary oeuvre he continued his play with authentic vs. fake authorship throughout the 1970s, for example by presenting himself as the collector and translator of poems he had in fact written himself (‘Lavender Steps’, 1978). In his unpublished texts from the archive, this play with names and literary identities is ubiquitous. There are characters like the strange countess Eckböhnel, presenting her memoirs and poems, including a drawing of her portrait. Most erratic is the character of the mysterious Selma Ada Hotop, from whom even a nameplate has survived in the estate and to whom various texts and drawings are ascribed. The play with this kind of personae leads to Hamburg’s cabaret scene, where Rexhausen seems to have played quite a distinct role, but about which little is known until today.
From the perspective of his estate, Rexhausen’s path from a closeted homosexual to an openly gay writer and journalist can be traced by looking at his play with names, fictitious characters and the strategic use of published vs. private or performative and ephemeral materials. The fact that this did not stop with the emergence of Gay Liberation, but rather transformed from a necessity dictated by the structure of the closet to an ironic tool used to satirically reflect on gay sexuality, opens up a fresh perspective on the German gay 1970s.