‘A Golden Age for Queer Sexual Politics?’ – Report

Heiner Schulze wrote a report on the CRUSEV conference ‘A Golden Age for Queer Sexual Politics?’, held in Berlin in July 2017. The report is reproduced here in full.

In issue 55 of the Bulletin-Info of the Zentrum fur transdiszplinare Geschlechterstudien, Humboldt-University Berlin, Heiner Schulze wrote a report on the CRUSEV conference ‘A Golden Age for Queer Sexual Politics?’. The report is reproduced here in full.

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A Golden Age for Queer Sexual Politics? Lesbian and Gay Literature and Film in 1970s Germany

20-22 July 2017, HU Berlin

A common narrative states that the 1970s was both the start and high point of much of gay and lesbian life. The decade is hailed as the mythical pre-AIDS era: the time when queer movements emerged as political forces and queer havens in which they could live, love, and fuck were developed.

A recent conference at Humboldt University examined this narrative. A Golden Age for Queer Sexual Politics? Lesbian and Gay Literature and Film in 1970s Germany was organized by Janin Afken, Andreas Kraß, and Benedikt Wolf from the Research Center for the Cultural History of Sexuality. The conversation sought to trace the alleged revolutionary potential as well as the political and aesthetic strategies in the creation of such a “legendary decade” and questioned what is remembered and what is marginalized. Additionally, it showcased the importance of taking a closer look at the spatial and temporal context when talking about the construction of a “golden age of queer sexuality”.

The conference, which ran from July 20 to July 22, began with welcoming speeches by Ulrike Vedder, Andreas Kraß, and Glyn Davis, followed up by a screening of Ulrike Ottinger’s movie Madame X – Eine absolute Herrscherin with a short introduction by Michaela Wünsch. The movie made clear that the conference was not exclusively about (gay) men, who still dominate the discussions on this era.

After an introduction by Benedikt Wolf, the conference began with a keynote by Susanne Hochreiter. With the help of David Bowie’s song The Bewlay Brothers, which framed the keynote, Hochreiter shed light on aspects of 1) melancholy, 2) time and narration, and 3) queer memory and transformation. Hochreiter illustrated the often cited connection between melancholy and queerness, and discussed the complex layers of memory and narration. Here memory is not simply a reflection of “facts” from the past but ripe with influencing contexts which can be written, re-written, and erased.

The first panel under the title “The Canonized Queer 1970s” featured three Berlin-based speakers: Janin Afken, Patsy l’Amour laLove, and Benedikt Wolf. Janin Afken focused on Verena Stefan’s 1975 Shedding; which according to Afken is a story of transformation, in which the protagonist goes through a long process of developing an increasing awareness to the realities of (her) sexuality, eventually leading to a shift to become an emancipated “I”. Afken focused on aspects of 1) sisterhood and solidarity and 2) motherliness and menstruation in Shedding. Patsy l’Amour laLove discussed Rosa von Praunheim’s seminal movie Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation, in der er lebt. Contextualizing the movie production and drawing on interviews, l’Amour laLove illustrated the huge importance the movie had on queer activism. According to l’Amour laLove, von Praunheim presented the movie as a foil of what society should not be. L’Amour laLove suggests viewing the movie as the cinematic version of a manifesto, which affected gays (as well as lesbians), even if they had not seen the movie itself. Afterwards Benedikt Wolf invited the audience to examine the “language of desire” in the work of Hubert Fichte. Wolf argued that Fichte’s “vivid language” should be understood as standing besides the language of sexual oppression of the time on the one hand and the alienated language of sexology on the other hand.

In a second keynote presentation, Marc Siegel discussed how many markers of the 1970s as “legendary” leave out a variety of narratives and used film to show how one could analyze the (re)construction of the 1970s. He emphasized the strong connection between the political and artistic worlds in this decade and the importance of New Queer Cinema. Siegel stressed how important it is to look beyond the well-known narratives, for instance by taking a closer look at representations of and the role of public rest room (sex). He explained how queer politics back then could be characterized as “being out”, not just meaning coming out, but also going beyond. He also emphasized the role of New Queer Cinema, a genre not only concerned with the LGBT community, but also with critical potential and one that should be applauded for its questioning and rejection of norms, generalizations, and representation.

Chris Auld opened the next panel, “Contesting the Canon”, with the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the role of camp and melodrama in it, using The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant as an example. According to Auld, melodrama and camp can be used for political analysis as both help to illustrate ideological contradictions and tensions. The next talk discussed the radical-feminist journal Die Schwarze Botin. Vojin Saša Vukadinovi? presented the origins of the controversial journal and described its rise and demise. According to him, the journal represented a persistent radical stance in times of decreasing radicalism and increased “navel-gazing”. He situates the journal as having been influenced by Critical Theory and as an attempt to highlight the effects of “wrong thinking” as well as ideological dead ends through (harsh) critique. Peter Rehberg followed, examining the contemporary Butt Magazine, the aesthetic roots of which he sees in the gay historiography of the 1970s. Rehberg went on to showcase the aesthetic of the 1970s and the mobile and transnational character of queer erotic imaginary. Influenced by new technologies and AIDS, new aesthetics developed, which Rehberg called Clone I and Clone II. Butt Magazine can now be seen as a Post-Clone with links to the 1970s Pre-Clone. Butt Magazine, said Rehberg, seeks to present a continuity of Gay culture after the erasures of AIDS as well as a renewal of queer imagery.

The final panel of the day, “Retrospections”, featured Maria Bühner and Sebastian Zille. Bühner presented research on two books from the 1990s which dealt with the experience of lesbians in the former German Democratic Republic. She showed how both books emphasize “authenticity”, offer a historical record, create meaning, and allow us to see feelings beyond factual history. She also pointed out the limitations by stressing how those books represented only a slice of the lesbian population and left out a wide range of other experiences. Additionally, Bühner explained the importance of contextualization and emphasized how in the context of the GDR the 1980s, and not the 1970s, should actually be seen as a potential Golden Age. By doing this, she radically questioned the dominant narrative of the “legendary 1970s”, opening up the perspective beyond this specific time and place. The last panelist of the day, Sebastian Zille, gave a presentation on two HIV/AIDS-related German books and how they discuss the 1970s in retrospect. In his talk, which looked at different constructions of temporality and spatiality, he said that literary knowledge operates as an alternative form of knowledge; for him the 1970s were not simply a Golden Age, but it depends, the answer is not “either-or”.

The next day widened the perspective beyond Germany to “European Perspectives”. Alejandro Melero talked about the proliferation of German-Spanish film production at the end of the Franco regime, especially common in sexploitation movies. Melero pointed out the futility of the censorship attempts of the regime, censoring the Spanish version of the movies, just to see them get re-imported in the more permissive German version. Those movies pioneered the representation of sexual minorities, in particular of lesbians. Melero talked about the relationship between normality and the Other in those movies, with the latter, often racialized or homosexual, as a threat to heterosexual, patriarchal capitalism. Afterwards Krzysztof Zablocki gave a somewhat meandering talk about Wolfgang Jöhling, whom he called an important bridge between East German and Polish gay men. Jöhling, having grown up in East Germany, came to Poland in the 1970s, became a part of a network of gay men in arts and culture, and worked as a writer, poet, publisher, and cultural organizer. Juan A. Suárez brought the panel to a close with a presentation on three examples of the 1970s Queer Cinema: Werner Schröter, Adolpho Arrieta, and Teo Hernández. These three experimental film makers represented an important take on what queer(ness) can be in cinema. According to Suárez, their work dealt consistently with gender representations; it was ripe with “pregnant moments” full of artistic tableaus “bleeding meaning”, which were political, but were in particular about instability, remoteness, and ambiguity.

The concluding event of the conference discussed if there is a shared history of lesbians and gay men in the 1970s, featuring Tomasz Basiuk, Michael Bochow, Antke Engel, Laura Guy, Agnieszka Koscianska, and Alberto Berzosa. The general tone was that it would be too easy to assume shared history and allege the 1970s were a Golden Age. It was generally agreed upon that much more work is still needed, that researchers should attempt to unearth more different voices as well as do the work of proper contextualization.

In general the conference was successful in shedding a light on a rich cultural archive. At the same time it became clear that our knowledge and our narration of the 1970s as a potential Golden Age of Queer Sexuality is limited, a simplistic view on this decade would not do its complexity justice. The conference pointed out how cultural artifacts can function as archives, how important proper contextualization is, but also how there is still the need to (re)discover new voices from the past. Especially the contributions from/on East Germany and Poland made clear that in different contexts, other eras, not the 1970s, could be considered their Golden Age.

 

A Golden Age for Queer Sexual Politics? Lesbian and Gay Literature and Film in 1970s Germany – Programme

Thursday 20 – Saturday 22 July 2017
Humboldt University, Berlin

This conference aims to explore the queer appeal of the 1970s by both highlighting their legendary aspects and questioning the historical construction of the decade.

International Conference
Thursday 20 July – Saturday 22 July 2017

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Institute for German Literature
Research Center for the Cultural History of Sexuality

Conception and Organization: Janin Afken, Andreas Kraß, Benedikt Wolf

Click here to view the complete programme

 

Historical accounts of the German 1970s lesbian and gay movement(s) often draw the picture of a legendary decade, a golden age for queer sexual politics and culture. This view is dependent not only on the historic facts themselves, but also – and significantly – on the way in which they are narrated in literature and film, both of the 1970s themselves and of our times. However, what exactly made the 1970s a “legendary decade”? What was its revolutionary potential and what were its path-breaking political and aesthetic strategies? Which elements, movements and memories had to be marginalized in order to facilitate the historical construction of the “legendary decade”?

This conference aims to explore the queer appeal of the 1970s by both highlighting their legendary aspects and questioning the historical construction of the legendary decade. The conference focuses on the representation and construction of the queer 1970s in literature and film and highlights the process of cultural canonization and the differences between male and female homosexual expression.

 

Thursday, 20 July 2017, Kino Arsenal, Potsdamer Straße 2

6.30 pm: Welcoming Speeches by Ulrike Vedder, Andreas Kraß, Glyn Davis

7 pm: Madame X – Eine absolute Herrscherin Madame X.  Film screening (German original with English subtitles) with an introduction by the director Ulrike Ottinger

 

Friday, 21 July 2017, Festsaal der Humboldt Graduate School, Luisenstraße 56

9:30 am: Introduction by Benedikt Wolf

9:50 am: “We were so turned on”. Reflections on Queer(ing) Past and Memory. Keynote by Susanne Hochreiter (Vienna). Chair: Tomasz Basiuk (Warsaw)

10:50 am: Coffee break

11:10 am: Session 1: The Canonized Queer 1970s, Chair: N.N.

  • Janin Afken (Berlin): From Sisters’ Skin to Womb Ego. Solidarity and Corporeality in Verena Stefan’s Shedding (1975)
  • Patsy l’Amour laLove (Berlin): A Legend of Gay Emancipation: Rosa von Praunheim’s Movie “Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation, in der er lebt” (1971)
  • Benedikt Wolf (Berlin): Hubert Fichte’s Language of Desire. From “the Unchaste” to “Oymeln” in the Hamburg novels

12:40 pm: Lunch break

2 pm: Queers Give Me Pause. Keynote by Marc Siegel (Frankfurt a.M./Berlin). Chair: Juan Suárez (Murcia).

3 pm: Coffee break

3:20 pm: Session 2: Contesting the Canon, Chair: Hannes Hacke (Berlin)

  • Chris Auld (Ormskirk): Camp Subversion in the Films of R.W. Fassbinder
  • Vojin Saša Vukadinovic (Zurich): Aesthetics, Critique, Satire. Die Schwarze Botin and the Promise of Revolution
  • Peter Rehberg (Berlin): Bärtige Männer nackt auf Matratzenlager“: Post and Pre-Aids Representations of Gay Masculinity

4:50 pm: Coffee break

5:10 pm: Session 3: Retrospections, Chair: Patsy l’Amour laLove (Berlin)

  • Maria Bühner (Leipzig): How to Remember Invisibility: Documentary Projects on Lesbians in the German Democratic Republic as Archives of Feelings
  • Sebastian Zilles (Siegen): The 1970s in Retrospective. HIV/AIDS-Discourses in German Literature

 

Saturday, 22 July 2017, Festsaal der Humboldt Graduate School, Luisenstraße 56

9:30 am: Session 4: European Perspectives, Chair: Todd Sekuler (Berlin)

  • Alejandro Melero (Madrid): LGTB Representation and Film Censorship in German-Spanish Co-Productions During the Last Years of Franco’s Dictatorship (1970-1975)
  • Krzysztof Zablocki (Warsaw): Wolfgang Jöhling – a Builder of Bridges Between German and Polish LGBT Scenes
  • Juan A. Suárez (Murcia): The Operatic Tableau in Seventies Queer Cinema: Werner Schroeter, Adolpho Arrieta, Teo Hernández

11 am: Coffee break

11:30 am: Panel Discussion: Is There a Shared History of Lesbian Women and Gay Men in the 1970s? Antke Engel (Berlin), Michael Bochow (Berlin), Laura Guy (Edinburgh), NN., NN.; Chair: Fiona Anderson (Newcastle)

 

The conference is free to attend.

Contact and Registration until 7 July 2017: kulturgeschichte-sexualitaet@hu-berlin.de

 

Venues
Kino Arsenal, Potsdamer Straße 2, 10785 Berlin
Festsaal der Humboldt Graduate School, Luisenstraße 56, 10117 Berlin
Both of the venues are wheelchair accessible.

Conference Language is English

Image – still from Madame X.

A Golden Age for Queer Sexual Politics? Lesbian and Gay Literature and Film in 1970s Germany

Friday 21 – Saturday 22 July 2017
Humboldt University, Berlin

Call for Papers

Friday 21 – Saturday 22 July 2017
Humboldt University, Berlin

Call for Papers

The German Gay Liberation Movement began with a work of art. Rosa von Praunheim’s film It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives (1971) was the trigger for the formation of homosexual emancipation groups all over West Germany. With its fierce critique of the approaches to assimilation of the 1960s homophile movement and with its revolutionary impetus, the film marked itself as a threshold towards a new time of liberation.

From the very start of the movement, women took part in the various emancipation groups. Nonetheless, gay men were dominating these groups. Since the early 1970s, homosexual women also formed up all-female lesbian groups, inspired by the women’s movement’s critique of the patriarchy. Verena Stefan’s book Häutungen (Shedding, 1975) played a substantial role in the process of shaping a political lesbian identity and eventually turned into a cult text of both the feminist and the lesbian movement.

Historical accounts of gay liberation movements have often been presented in the form of a saga, as Scott Bravmann has pointed out in his 1997 book Queer Fictions of the Past. This certainly applies for the 1970s in Germany: the period between 1971 (Praunheim’s film) and 1982 (when the term AIDS was coined) has regularly been constructed as a Golden Age of German queer history. This view is dependent not only on the historic facts themselves, but also – and significantly – on the way in which they are narrated in works of art, both of the 1970s themselves and of our times. Individual memory and historical construction are fundamentally structured by narration – and literature and film do not only participate in this process of shaping an intelligible past, but are also spaces of reflection on this process.

In the last few years interest in the more recent past of LGBTI movements has increased in the humanities. In particular, the period that is characterized deeply by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the politics of activist groups such as ACT UP! and Queer Nation in the US context has been reread in the frame of concepts of trauma, loss and temporality. The German context did not see mass movements against the social, political and ideological consequences of HIV/AIDS like in the USA. The media reactions to AIDS nonetheless brought about a homophobic climate of repression and hatred, and German queers found effective strategies for self-aid. It seems that LGBTI activists as well as academics have only started the work of mourning the deaths of the AIDS epidemic in the past few years.

Against the backdrop of this rather dark and negative decade, its predecessor, the 1970s, begins to appear as a heyday of Gay Liberation, radical politics and sexual freedom. In Germany, the 1970s are often seen as a “legendary decade”, as the editors of  a collection of essays about the so-called Rosa Radikale (‘Pink Radicals’) write – being aware of the historical construction this understanding is based on [1]. The years after the students’ revolt of 1968 were a departure for queers both in the FRG and in the GDR. Sodomy laws were liberalized in both German states in 1968 (GDR) and 1969 (FRG). Important homosexual emancipation groups such as Homosexuelle Aktion Westberlin (Homosexual Action West Berlin, FRG) and Homosexuelle Initiative Berlin (Homosexual Initiative Berlin, GDR) were founded in 1971 and 1973 respectively. When the catastrophe of the epidemic hit the movement in the early 1980s, it was desperately estranged and almost incapable of united action.

However, what exactly made the 1970s a “legendary decade”? What was its revolutionary potential and its path-breaking political and aesthetic strategies? Which elements, movements and memories had to be marginalized in order to facilitate the historical construction of the “legendary decade”? Have the 1970s been narrated differently by the heterogeneous groups involved in LGBTI movements – especially by lesbian women in contrast to gay men? Why has the lesbian movement often been made invisible in academic discussions about both the Women’s movement and the homosexual movement [2]? Can the movement of the 1970s Pink Radicals not only be seen as an unreachable and irretrievable past, lost forever because of the AIDS crisis, but also as a foundation and inspiration for the AIDS movement of the 1980s?

In recent years some artists, film makers and writers have created works of art reflecting the queer 1970s in complex ways. In her 2014 novel Sisterhood, Claudia Koppert turns toward the early years of feminist and lesbian activism by staging the generational conflict between the protagonist and her adolescent daughter. By focusing both on the mother’s and the daughter’s perspectives, the novel creates a highly intricate reading of the ‘legendary’ feminist and lesbian past. Yoni Leyser’s film Desire Will Set You Free (2015), tells the story of a migrant to Berlin who discovers her trans identity. Both the plot of the film and some of its scenes are reminiscent of Praunheim’s 1971 film, and Praunheim finally appears in the film along with other ‘heroes’ of the 1970s such as Blixa Bargeld and Nina Hagen. The queer 1970s seem to exercise quite a strong appeal for contemporary reflections of queer culture.

The conference aims to explore the queer appeal of the 1970s by both highlighting the legendary aspects of the 1970s and questioning the historical construction. It also seeks to unearth marginalized, erased or ephemeral cultural expressions of the time and to investigate to what degree women, marginalized masculinities (proletarian and migrant) and the reality of the GDR have been excluded from historical narratives. The conference will focus on the representation and construction of the queer 1970s in literature and film and highlight the process of cultural canonization, the differences between male and female homosexual expression, the characteristics of trans* and racialized experiences, and the queer culture of East Germany.

We invite papers that focus on literature and films of the 1970s as well as papers that investigate contemporary cultural expressions that reflect the 1970s. Papers may scrutinize either individual authors and film-makers or thematic aspects in various works of art. We invite papers on ‘serious’ as well as experimental, avant-garde, underground, trivial and pornographic texts or films. Papers that analyze German culture in a broader European context are especially welcome.

Possible contexts and topics include:

  • lesbian and gay literature
  • lesbian and gay film
  • heteronormative works referring to LGBTI issues
  • works referring to trans issues
  • works referring to issues of race
  • Punk and Glam Rock
  • Drag Culture (Tunten)
  • Pornography

The conference will take place from July 21-22 2017 at Humboldt University of Berlin.

The conference language is English.

For individual proposals, please submit a one-page, double-spaced abstract in English with a short biographical note before 31 December 2016 via kulturgeschichte-sexualitaet@hu-berlin.de.

The accepted papers will be published as a collection of essays after the conference.

Unfortunately, we are not able to fund travel or accommodation costs.

The Conference is organized as part of the HERA-funded research project “Cruising the 1970s: Unearthing Pre-HIV/AIDS queer sexual cultures” by the Research Center “Cultural History of Sexuality” (Institute for German Literature, Humboldt University of Berlin).

Janin Afken, Andreas Krass, Benedikt Wolf
Forschungsstelle Kulturgeschichte der Sexualität
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Institut für deutsche Literatur
Unter den Linden 6
10099 Berlin
References

[1] Andreas Pretzel/ Volker Weiß: Die westdeutsche Schwulenbewegung der 1970er Jahre. Annäherungen an ein legendäres Jahrzehnt, in: Pretzel/ Weiß (eds.): Rosa Radikale. Die Schwulenbewegung der 1970er Jahre, Geschichte der Homosexuellen in Deutschland nach 1945, Vol 2, Hamburg 2012, p. 9–26.

[2] Gabriele Dennert/ Christiane Leidinger/ Franziska Rauchut: Lesben in Wut. Lesbenbewegung in der BRD der 70er Jahre, in: Dennert/ Leidinger/ Rauchut (eds.): In Bewegung bleiben. 100 Jahre Politik, Kultur und Geschichte von Lesben, Berlin 2007, p. 31–61.