Archive for the ‘Thesis Project’ Category

Well staying positive and keeping your head up really pays off like you’d least expect it to some times.  Since I won’t be able to return to the Magnus Hirschfeld Society, I had to turn to alternative means to acquire the information I need, after all, this is my research project and I want to do some quality work, can’t give because of one unfortunately discouraging happening.  So I took Mr. H’s advice and went to the Schwules Museum (Gay Museum), which has an archive full of information about homosexuality in history, among many other things.  This experience was simply wonderful: quiet, small, comfortable, the gentleman who runs the library and archive was super helpful, showed me where I can find all of the materials they have about my topic; it’s very interesting, intriguing, you definitely can’t hide the feeling of being in a small research institution.  I’ll post some pictures…the museum and archives are also in an interesting, hip part of town, about 1.4 miles away from my apartment (walking distance? hellsyeah. and the walk there is just beautiful). So the first day I only had about an hour and a half two max to check some things out, but I got through a whole envelope of articles and materials about his graveyard (seeing the name of one of the authors who wrote a biography on Hirschfeld was pretty sweet – a man mentioned her and the integrity of her research in a letter to some other researcher back in the 80s, apparently she did good work, or at least verified her information before publishing it – always a good sign, haha).

The most exciting part of this initial, brief visit was reading an article published in the 30s in Munich, by a NAZI newspaper – pretty cool stuff to see such an article before you, reading through the words and feeling the hate, sarcasm, fiendish nature of it all.  Also exciting was to see how active Hirschfeld really was at that time.  He wasn’t just some doctor who sat in a lab all day and invited gay people to him so he could take measurements of their extremities.  The word activist probably comes closest to describing him best, or maybe a truly dedicated advocate: Hirschfeld was a resource for anyone and everyone in terms of sex, sexuality, sexual tension in marriages, etc. etc., the list goes on.  The article published by the NSPD ridiculed, mocked, demeaned Hirschfeld for visiting a local school to talk about sexual issues.  When I think about how uptight, prude, uncomfortable some of these topics were for many of my classmates, even myself at times, I am astonished, impressed, so much all at once, that this man had taken so many great strides himself to clear the murky waters that had been brewing for many years.  And that was a hundred years ago.  Remarkable, really.

On my way there and back, I passed a small park, atop its hill stands an interesting monument…haven’t figured out yet what it is, I’ll get back to you on that. Either way, this location offers a great view of the city, and a nice place for people like me to escape the city life for a brief moment and see some green space.

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So I have finally just finished the book by Hirschfeld I have been (unfortunately) taking too long to read.  The book is his first big work on homosexuals, Der urnische Mensch, published in 1903.  I am going to quote the last paragraph (starting in the second to last paragraph, though) in the book, and of course provide a translation, because it is absolutely phenomenal:

“Das Leben absolut schön zu schaffen, reich, reif und rein, das ist der Arbeit Ziel, des Daseins Zweck…Nur der Tatenlose ist nutzlos, zwecklos nur, wer nicht am gemeinsamen Werke der Erziehung, Weiterbildung, Vervollkommnung mitarbeitet.  Der Wert eines Menschen hängt von den Werten ab, die er erzeugt…Groß sagt einmal: ‘Heute sperren wir die Homosexuellen ein und geschieht es ohne Berechtigung, so wurden eben so und so viele Menschen ungerecht ihrer Freiheit beraubt und etwas Ärgeres können wir überhaupt nicht tun.’  Und ich füge hinzu, – indem ich vor meinem Geiste noch einmal die vielen hunderte von Uraniern vorüberziehen lasse, vom Prinzen zum Tagelöhner, die ich in sieben Jahren sah, diese hülflosen Ärzte und Priester, diese angsterfüllten Staatsanwälte und Richter, diese bedeutenden Gelehrten und Künstler, die braven Offiziere, die pflichttreuen Beamten, die tüchtigen Kaufleute, Landwirte, Studenten, Arbeiter alle, alle stigmatisiert, verstümmelt, getroffen in ihrem Heiligsten, -: Solange Staat und Gesellschaft in diesen von der Fortpflanzung, nicht aber von der Liebe Ausgeschlossenen Verbrechen sehen, hat das Mittelalter sein Ende noch nicht erreicht.  Ich für mein Teil werde nicht aufhören, für das Recht dieser Unterdrückten zu kämpfen, nicht aus Ruhmbegier, sonder weil ich es nicht ertragen könnte, untätig Mitwisser eines so gewaltigen Unrechts zu sein.”

ok, so now for the translation (hope you like it, it’s well worth the effort from my end):

“To create life as absolute beauty, rich, ripe and pure, that is the goal of labor, the purpose of existence…only the inactive is useless, those are without a purpose who do not work together toward upbringing, advanced education, refinement.  The worth of a man depends on the values (worths) he constitutes himself…Gross once said: ‘Today we are imprisoning homosexuals and it happens unwarranted, thus unjustly bereaving so many people of their freedom, something more horrible than this we could not achieve.’ And I add to this, – as I allow the many hundreds of homosexuals pass by before my spirit,  from royalty to working class, those who I have seen in seven years, these helpless doctors and priests, these fear-filled lawyers and judges, these distinguished scholars and artists, the brave officers, the dutiful civil servants, the proficient salesmen, countrymen, students, and workers alike, all, all of whom I have seen stigmatized and maimed, stricken in their most sacred, -: as long as the state and society see misdeed in these people, and not those who have been debarred from love, the middle ages has yet to see its end.  In this regard I will not stop fighting for the justice of these repressed people, not for the sake of desired glory or fame, but because I simply could not take being an inactive accessory of such an enormous injustice.”

Sadly, Magnus Hirschfeld would still be fighting against this injustice today.  Hirschfeld was also Jewish, which means he would certainly have applied this philosophy to the heavily anti-semetic views of his time.  However, I feel that Hirschfeld himself had an affinity toward the equality of the “sexual deviants” because of the raw human nature of it all: humans may or may not have simultaneously advanced with the insight of religion, that is a debate I wish not to discuss here; but humans certainly have not made it to a staggering seven billion and growing without sex.  That’s a big number: 7,000,000,000.  As Hirschfeld, among countless others, suggests in this work, perhaps nature has its intentions with everything, including homosexuality.  Is it worth another seven billion on the planet today to rob people of their happiness, of love, or should we really turn to that which, at least during one point in each of our lives, we hope to achieve, a shot at it ourselves.

Have a great weekend and don’t forget to love who you are and everyone you know (unless they really don’t deserve it, then you should be asking yourself, why do I put in the effort?).

So, I’ve been for most a week now, posted three times, and haven’t really talked about my project.  This is long overdue.  But brace yourselves, that’s all I can say at the moment (I need to brace myself, too, and make an awesome playlist so I have energy to write all of this! You should make a playlist as well, and post the music you’re listening to in the comments section, I need new tunes!).

The agenda for this post:

1.Summarize what it is I am researching (the topic), why I am researching it (the reason), and what I am doing with it (the significance).

  1. Some of the interesting things I’ve learned so far, related and not-so-related to my paper (but still related to the topics I am covering).
  2. Before, during, and after points 1 and 2, I will be talking about the general significance of it all, why I chose this, why it is important to me (and you, and you, and you, and every one else), how I got from having no topic to this crazy, obscure, wild adventure I am on.

Don’t expect numerals from this point on, I just wanted you to know what to expect 😀

OK, so it all started about 4.6 billion years ago, the creation of the Earth, namely. There was a giant ball of gas, lots of gas, space rocks, the whole shebang. Hahaha, just kidding, not going that far back.  Two years ago I made an awesome friend at Ohio State who told me about a research project he did on a German dialect that boarders Poland and Germany.  The experience sounded awesome, so I decided I wanted to do something similar, research that is.  I started to play around with potential ideas, looked into something, but nothing really grabbed me. IMPORTANT ADVICE: If you want to research something, make sure it grabs you, because otherwise you won’t enjoy it, and you won’t want to do it again, what’s the fun in that?  So I went to Germany, figuring something would grab my attention. Sure enough, that happened. I took a course about Fetishism in Literature (German literature of course).  Fetishism isn’t what you’d necessarily think it is, it doesn’t always mean whips and chains, or leather boots and sniffing underwear. Sure, all of that falls in there somewhere, but it’s a much bigger picture.  Long story short, the class allowed me to look at literature differently and certainly opened my mind to having MANY different outlooks on something like literature.  So I wanted to do something with fetishism, but was greatly discouraged by a professor at OSU (jerk).  However, I had awesome encouragement from the chairperson, who opened the idea of doing something with sexuality.  Considering my opinions and views on human sexuality and sexual orientation, I had my reservations, hesitations, all that jazz.  But, I gave the material a look, and fell in love, with a completely different topic.  That’s how research works sometime.  SO, six months after returning from Germany, still didn’t have a project. I began discussing this other topic (about three gay men who fled to Switzerland from NAZI Germany, only to write mystery novels under a pseudonym – pretty cool, no?), with a few professors, and doing some probing into other topics on my own.  Eventually I read a short paragraph about a man named Magnus Hirschfeld. Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld was a German sexologist (a person who researches human sexuality and gender, we don’t have this term anymore, get your head outa the gutter!), and founder/co-founder of an equality movement fighting the good fight for the the liberation of homosexuals during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  You see, at that time Germany and England had actually instated laws that outlawed homosexual relations (mostly between males, although I’m sure females would have received similar treatment).  Basically, if you were gay or had a significant other of the same sex you could go to jail, pay a fine, deal with extortion and oppression, public and private ridicule, rejection from family and religious affiliations (gee, it doesn’t sound like we’ve made too much progress in this department over the past hundred years, does it? Significance of project! Well, a part of it at least), the list goes on.  (FYI, you can still legally lose your job, among other consequences, in many states for being anything other than heterosexual, I rest my case).  Sure, you may not understand or agree with homosexuality, but that doesn’t mean it should be punishable by law, or even seen as something worth ridicule, slander, extortion, or grounds for judgment.

So I thought it was pretty amazing that this man started all of this, a HUNDRED years ago, before the world wars, even before the discovery of the X and Y chromosomes (about 5-10 years before); I think the specific word I chose the other day while explaining it was “ballsy,” because it was indeed ballsy to tell the world they were seeing everything in the wrong light (the reason!).  Of course there were a few other scientists who had been trying to say similar, but also slightly different, things as Hirschfeld.  I am a German Studies student though, gotta represent ma roots, yo.

All in the same small paragraph I was reading, I read of another man, an author by the name of Robert Musil. Musil is not German, but Austrian, however is now considered one of the times most important German-language authors (if you couldn’t guess, he grew more significant after his time). Musil, however, had a different idea of homosexuality, which I didn’t discover until later.  The original intentions I had though were to look at the research Hirschfeld was doing, how he “classified” and described homosexuals, what was “typical” back then and how he portrayed them (he claimed to have interviewed and researched thousands of gays, which made him the top-dog in the day, as many researchers occupied with gays hadn’t even met one, ever.  Now how are you going to write and report on something you’ve never actually even encountered?  One of the many crazy things I have learned); I then wanted to take a relevant piece of literature from the time (aaaand cue Musil) that portrayed homosexuals, so I could make a comparison, see how far the scientific research was from the social portrayal in literature.

So the shorter version, just to recap and get everyone on the same page (glad you’ve stuck around! It get’s better from here on out): I am researching the origins of sex/sexuality/gender research, so that I can write a literary analysis and compare then with now.  The book is called Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß [The Confusions of Young (Pupil) Törleß], and it is a coming-of-age novel about a boy in boarding school/military school (which is more or less an autobiographical report of Robert Musil’s own experience in school, but with fictional elements).   It’s a great novel, a hefty read though.  I recommend it, but it is very philosophical/psychological, as Musil was in Berlin (which is where Magnus Hirschfeld did his research, the reason why I am in Berlin) when he wrote the novel while also writing his doctoral dissertation in psychology; the book makes you think, but still incorporates every-day elements (like finding school a bore as a young student, or deeply-seeded disputes between schoolmates).  Musil views homosexuality, or at least his experience with it, as a transitory phase, something that was a product of his environment and had no real significance in his life.  If you ask me personally, it sounds an awful lot like denial.  Poor guy.  He couldn’t really help it though, after all, if you could “choose,” why would you choose something that could send you to jail or have you disowned by your family, friends, and community.

So I am here in Berlin to gather more information on Hirschfeld – there is an entire archive here with all kinds of information.  I am looking for anything he used or wrote to describe, quantify, and qualify homosexuality, letters that the thousands of homosexuals sent him, everything really, even though I won’t have time for everything.  I will have the opportunity to visit the archive in a week or so; needless to say, I am quite excited!

Here are some things I’ve learned from Hirschfeld (note: I’m gonna use some sarcasm here, as it get’s pretty ridiculous aka obviously false at moments)

  • Hirschfeld and a small community of other scientists / supporters of the cause believed that there was actually a “third sex.”  Hirschfeld later concluded that there are actually many variations and types of gender, not just man and woman, that’s a pretty progressive idea for this time period.
  • Homosexuals could be identified by the size of their waste compared to their shoulders, by the handwriting, by their gestures and interests, or get this, by the choice of clothes they wear, and we aren’t talking cross-dressing, that comes into the picture shortly (haha)
  • This is my personal favorite: if you like deep-sea exploration, or expeditions, say, to the jungle or dessert, you’re probably gay.
  • If you talk a lot (a gabber), and you’re a man, you’re probably gay
  • Soft, small hands for a male, larger, more muscular hands for a female, was indicative of being a homosexual
  • If you occupy yourself with things that are typically “feminine” (for males) or “masculine” (for females) in nature, you probably like the same sex.  This touches on the significance of the project as well – we live in a world of stereotypes and standards, societal norms, all of which affect our daily lives and how we interact and perceive others, as well as ourselves.  If you are a man who likes sewing and fashion, cleaning the kitchen, or (thank you, Captain Obvious) dressing in women’s clothing, you’re certainly not heterosexual.  These are all stereotypes that have followed society for generations now, unfortunately, none of them are 100% indicative of someone’s sexual orientation.

So why did I decide to stick with this project?  Well, the answer should be pretty clear: modern cultures have made great strides in equality and human rights, but only in small proportions.  More people need to think about prejudices, discrimination, hate, we all need to think of how we interact with others, how we perceive each other and ourselves.  Is it worth it (or even important) to judge Sam Whatshecalled (that’s intentionally ambiguous…did you catch that? If you did, you’re catching on!) because they have a different preference? People need to have an open mind and learn to communicate for the sake of communicating, learning, bettering themselves as well as society as a whole.  OK, I feel preachy right now and that scares me, a lot.

It’s really late, and I’ve already written quite a bit (sorry if you’re bored, but you stuck through to the end, that makes me smile!).  I didn’t get to everything, so PLEASE, if you have ANY questions, comments, corrections (I don’t really proofread, lazy, I know) concerns, ANYTHING on your mind about what you just read, post a comment! Or send me an email or skype message (skype is davide0518).  I’ll definitely be posting more about my project, since I am in Berlin for that one reason, so stay tuned (or tune-out if you really didn’t enjoy this, but not all the time! I promise to keep things spunky and not always academic).  Geez, I just used the word spunky. That reminds me of Rocko’s Modern Life, what a great show.