German gay literature’s use of suicide to make political points



A still image from the 1919 German film Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others) depicting a concert violinist who killed himself because of adverse publicity about his homosexual orientation | 15436

Historian Samuel Clowes Huneke has discovered that gay suicide is a historical phenomenon, with a distinct and varied past. Huneke is the first scholar in the field of modern German history to examine the relationship between suicide and gay identity. He is also the first to historicize gay suicide and trace the ways in which it pervades the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“A striking trend of gay suicide evolved in German culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” he said. Through a close examination of German suicide notes, letters, diaries, medical records, gay literary magazines and novels, Huneke has identified clear connections between the suicide trope and the development of gay identity in modern Germany.

“In the late 1860s, just at the moment when the earliest texts on homosexuality began to appear, German doctors, activists, and writers also began to discuss and depict gay suicide with increasing frequency.” This phenomenon of linking homosexuality with suicide sparked the beginning of what he sees as a trend in poetry, plays and novels in which suicide is a recurring theme. This group “pointed to a handful of gay suicides in order to claim that there was an epidemic of gay men killing themselves because of anti-sodomy laws and fear of exposure.”

Klaus Mann, the first prominent German gay novelist in Western history, was the son of writer Thomas Mann. Klaus Mann published in the 1920s, and his work treated homosexuality openly. The suicide of gay characters recurs in most of Mann’s books. In his novel Treffpunkt im Unendlichen (Meeting-Point at Infinity, 1932), the unrequited love of a gay man for a heterosexual man leads the gay character to take his own life. Mann chose to make the suicide appear romantic and gentle: The gay man committed suicide in the straight man’s bed, in what Mann describes as a wedding-night scene. “It’s seen as a romantic fulfillment of life … instead of depicting something like suicide as a brutal, tragic act, it is depicted as a grand capstone to a miserable life. As if the best thing this character has done with his life is to kill himself.”

Klaus Mann himself committed suicide in a hotel in Cannes, in 1949.



Long Beach, 1914: When actors entrapped cruisers and cottagers



A scene from the play | O&M Co | 15147

A new play, “The twentieth century way” by Tom Jacobson is reviewed by The Daily Beast.

In 1914 the Long Beach Police Department recruited the services of two actors – one rugged, one more delicate – to act as bait to entrap men who had sex with men.

The actors recruited for the job were W.H. Warren and B.C. Brown.

The two would encourage their targets to show their penises through ‘glory holes’ between walls or stalls, after which they would score a cross on the men’s penises with a permanent marker. The men and their marked penises, indicative of their ‘guilt,’ would then be hauled down to the police station, and the men would be prosecuted for ‘social vagrancy.’


Magnus Hirschfeld



Magnus Hirschfeld | Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld | 14475

Magnus Hirschfeld was born on 14 May 1868. He was a German physician and sexologist who founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft which many regard as the very first gay rights campaigning organisation.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Peter Tatchell notes that

At medical school, he was traumatised by a lecture on ‘sexual degeneracy’, where a gay man – who had been incarcerated in an asylum for 30 years because of his homosexuality – was paraded naked before the students like a laboratory animal. Hirschfeld was the only student revolted by such mistreatment. All the others, even his best friend, viewed it as normal and justified.

Further trauma ensued when, soon after setting up himself as a doctor in Berlin in 1893, he was waylaid outside his apartment at night by a soldier who was deeply disturbed by his homosexuality. Hirschfeld resisted the soldier’s pleading for a consultation there and then, telling him to come to his surgery the next day. Overnight, however, the soldier committed suicide.

He moved to Berlin in 1896, when he published his first pamphlet, and founded the IFS in 1897. His nickname on the Berlin gay scene was Aunt Magnesia.

The group was formed to undertake research to defend the rights of homosexuals and to repeal Paragraph 175 of 1871 which had criminalized homosexuality. They argued that the law encouraged blackmail. Hirschfeld believed that a better scientific understanding of homosexuality would eliminate hostility toward homosexuals. The group’s petition to overturn Paragraph 175 managed to gather over 5,000 signatures from prominent Germans. Unfortunately success in the German Parliament did not come for many years. There were attempts to change the law in 1921, 1925 and 1929 but all failed.

His views were that homosexuals were like disabled people and that male homosexuals were by nature effeminate. These views eventually caused the organisation to split, and some members left to form the ‘Bund für männliche Kultur’ (Union for Male Culture) which argued that male-male love is a simple aspect of virile manliness rather than a special condition. The Bund did not survive long.

Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld notes that:

Between 1899 and 1923 Hirschfeld and his staff compiled a 20,000-page anthology. The “Yearbooks For Sexual Intermediaries” were intended to show that between the “full man” and the “full woman” there are an infinite number of gradations and combinations. Hermaphrodites, transvestites, homosexuals are the necessary natural link between the two poles of man and woman. The homosexual is a kind of “third sex”.

On 6 July 1919 he opened his new Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research), which housed his archives and library on sexuality, provided educational services and medical consultations – and included a Museum of Sex.


The Institut für Sexualwissenschaft | Archive for Sexology | 14476

In 1921 Hirschfeld organised the First Congress for Sexual Reform, which led to the formation of the World League for Sexual Reform. He co-wrote and acted in the 1919 film Anders als die Andern (“Different From the Others”), a film which made the case for decriminalisation, which starred Conrad Veidt as one of the first homosexual characters ever written for cinema. The authorities banned the film in 1920 but by then many gay and lesbian people had seen the film and described the experience as “liberating”.

The Nazis attacked Hirschfeld’s Institute on 6 May 1933, and burned many of its books as well as its archives.

Hirschfeld died on 14 May 1935 in Nice, France.

Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld

Huffington Post: Magnus Hirschfeld advanced LGBT rights in the 1800s – his pioneering work mustn’t be forgotten


The Long Beach Bath House



Frontiers Los Angeles | 14046

Frontiers LA reminds us of the history of The Long Beach Bathhouse which was a popular cruising spot in 1914, and of the tragic consequences for some customers.

The bathhouse attracted all types of beachgoers, including men who thought a rendezvous was worth the risk of arrest. In November 1914, a police sting netted dozens of cruisers. Curiously, the state’s sodomy laws did not cover oral sex, so the majority of men were charged with ambiguous “social vagrancy” misdemeanors. While one person, a florist named Herbert Lowe, fought the charges, most pleaded guilty and paid a fine. Tragically, two of the arrestees committed suicide, including a respected banker named John Lamb.


Alfred Redl



Alfred Redl | Public domain | 14147

Alfred Redl was born on March 14, 1864 in Lemberg, Galicia, which was then in the Austrian Empire and is now known as Lviv, Ukraine, He died by his own hand on May 25, 1913. Openly homosexual and from a poor background, he became the head of the the counter-intelligence organisation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

At the same time, Redl spied for the Russians. Russian military intelligence in Warsaw discovered Redl’s homosexuality as early as 1901, and blackmailed him into revealing classified information. There are also unproved allegations that he also spied for France and Italy.

On May 9, 1913, a letter for Redl sent Poste Restante (to be collected) was intercepted and was found to contain money. After a number of days Redl collected the letter. Redl committed suicide by gunshot.


Lytton Strachey



Lytton Strachey | Daily Telegraph | 14225

Lytton Strachey was born on 1 March 1880 and died on 21 January 1932 of stomach cancer (which had not been diagnosed). His mother was a Suffragette.

Openly gay, he was one of the founders of the Bloomsbury Group. He studied at Liverpool and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was at Cambridge with Keynes. Strachey regarded Keynes, a fellow homosexual, as a close friend, although they often chased after the same men. He believed in a complete freedom and integrity of the private life, unfettered by conventional prejudices. The implications of this were shocking enough, but it was expressed in a camp, frivolous style which was unfashionable in an age when gay sex was illegal.


Smithsonian, Washington DC | 14226

From 1904 to 1914 he wrote book and drama reviews in The Spectator magazine. On the onset of World War I he tried to register as a conscientious objector, but was granted exemption from military service on health grounds.

In 2005 publication of Strachey’s letters revealed he had a sado-masochistic relationship with his last lover, Roger Senhouse, who became a book publisher.

Daily Telegraph, 14 Mar 2005: Bloomsbury’s Final Secret
The Independent, 28 Aug 1994: For consenting adults: ‘Lytton Strachey: The New Biography


Remembering Robbie Ross



Photo of Robert Ross age 24 | Wikipedia | 14294

Jesse Monteagudo writes about Robert Ross, Oscar Wilde’s friend and now largely forgotten with the passage of time.

“…Very few are acquainted with Robert Baldwin Ross, affectionately-known as “Robbie” Ross. Still, unlike Whitman or Wilde, Ross was openly gay for most of his life, which caused him many problems.

Ross, who was born in Toronto to a prominent family that helped to lead Canada for much of the 19th century, moved to England in 1888 where he studied at King’s College in Cambridge. As an out gay man, Ross was the victim of bullying, leading him to drop out of Cambridge and move to London where he became a journalist. There he met Wilde, who at the time was married to a woman. The two became lovers and eventually best friends, proving once again that a common sexual orientation often transcends boundaries.

Among other services, Ross introduced his friend to London’s gay underground. Sexual acts between men were illegal in England at the time and being gay was often dangerous. Ross himself got in trouble when he had a relationship with a 16-year old boy. The boy told his parents of the relationship, but fortunately for Ross, the boy’s parents were persuaded not to go to the police.

Ross’s open homosexuality continued to give him trouble. Because of his friendship and loyalty to Wilde, Ross won the enmity of Wilde’s jealous lover Douglas. Douglas, who after Wilde’s death repudiated his youthful homosexuality, tried to have Ross arrested and tried for homosexual conduct. In 1918, the last year of the First World War, right-wing Parliament member Noel Pemberton Billing, published “The Cult of the Clitoris” in which he accused Ross and his circle of friends of leading a cadre of 47,000 homosexuals who betrayed Great Britain to the Germans. Though not much came out of this stupid allegation, it proved embarrassing for Ross and his friends.

Ross died suddenly in 1918, just before the end of “The Great War.” In 1950, on the 50th anniversary of Wilde’s death, Ross’ ashes were added to Wilde’s tomb in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, where they are ignored by the throngs who visit the great writer’s tomb.”

Good feature.

Robert Baldwin “Robbie” Ross (May 25, 1869 – October 5, 1918) was a Canadian journalist and art critic. He is best known as the literary executor of Oscar Wilde, a dear friend and mentor. He was also responsible for mentoring several great literary figures, such as Siegfried Sassoon.