B.If Ms. Schmidt was able to live her love, decades passed. She married early, had a crush on work colleagues and girlfriends, was beaten, persuaded her second husband to move out of the overwhelming constraints of village life, had two children, found it strange when two women kissed in front of her eyes, protested against that The incapacitating pocket money that she received from her husband, made up for her degree and joined a women’s group. She didn’t tell anyone about her feelings. It wasn’t until years later that she did what she felt like: she separated from her husband, moved out, and began to follow her inclination.
Ms. Schmidt is one of the thirty-two people born between 1935 and 1970 in different milieus and regions who are either gay or lesbian – and with whom the historian Benno Gammerl had long conversations. Her experiences in the Federal Republic of Germany mark the contemporary historical context that Gammerl, who teaches the history of gender and sexuality at the European University Institute in Florence, interprets in his book “To feel differently”.
The procedure is based on the subject: How do you want to research human feeling historically without making it individually accessible in conversations? How to trace the complex history of queer life in Germany, which has little to do with the current narratives of emancipation from shame that turned into self-liberation? The interviews are combined here with a meticulous collection of sources from contemporary documents.
Escape and moments of awakening
There are many tremors worth remembering: the post-war years, when all efforts to recognize homosexuals persecuted by the Nazis as victims failed. Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code, which, tightened by the National Socialists, contributed to the criminalization of gays even years later and created the basis for their prosecution. Between 1950 and 1965 approximately 45,000 men-loving men were convicted. German courts justified violence against gays with the so-called affective shock moment of heterosexual observers – and imposed mild sentences.
Gammerl divides his analysis into three phases: the post-war decades of secret encounters and suppressed inclinations; the spirit of optimism of the 1970s, when the first reforms of sexual criminal law took effect and one no longer went to prison for same-sex sex; the new normal of the 1980s, which brought with it other problems such as conflict within the community, AIDS, the debate about gay marriage.
Affected people have their say who assured themselves that mere physicality without kissing does not make homosexuals out of them, and those who report comforting thoughts of suicide. Your emotions were and are still shaped by the social and cultural circumstances. At the same time, the reports reveal ways out of stigmatization, open protest against homophobia and a great self-confidence in the conviction to stand up for a life freed from the constraints of the convention.
The depth in which Gammerl analyzes motives, decisions, intellectual escapes, evasive maneuvers, moments of awakening, the role of homophiles and the mass media as well as the absurdity of the conflicts between the urge for liberation and the longing for convention is always surprising, the claim behind it is also a sociological one: So For example, the realization that even the stereotypical sayings about same-sex lovers, which homosexuals had to listen to at the regulars’ table or at the garden fence, helped to develop one’s own self-image and to articulate desires for themselves.
In a time of unswerving convictions, reading “To feel different” is pleasantly differentiated. It almost gives rise to hope for a new generation of writers whose theses are not exhausted in their book titles. Or at least on the professional dealing with a fact that leaves room for doubt. And it gives courage to those who, remembering the emancipation movements of the seventies, believe in politics with emotional means that succeed beyond identity battles.
The author describes one of his interlocutors, Mr. Schumann, as a true antagonist. The old man confidently takes the view that his feelings have grown unimpressed by the world around him, and vehemently questions Gammerl’s point of view. Finally, the author notes that different theories of emotion collide at the meeting with Mr. Schumann. Gammerl, born in 1976, has internalized that external circumstances cause emotional problems that can be solved with pragmatism. Born in 1935, Mr. Schumann approached his homosexuality in a time of emotional emphasis and inwardness. Both men rub against each other as representatives of their respective generations. A realization that should not only make him and Mr. Schumann think. You seldom read so much that is illuminating about feelings.
Benno Gammerl: “Feel differently”. Gay and lesbian life in the Federal Republic. A story of emotions. Hanser Verlag, Munich 2021. 416 pp., Hardcover, 25 euros.
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