The Weimar Republic was home to the first gay rights movement, led by well-known sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld. It also inspired many literary and cinematic representations of sexual liberation in legendary 1920s Berlin. In her ambitious book, Sex and the Weimar Republic: German Homosexual Emancipation and the Rise of the Nazis
(University of Toronto Press, 2015), Laurie Marhoefer
revises several assumptions about the sexual politics of Germany during the 1920s and 1930s. She examines how the sexual freedoms fought for by many reformers often came at the expense of a minority perceived as too non-conformist even by the left. Critically exploring explosive personalities, such as Hirschfeld and Ernst Roehm, and political turning points, such as the Venereal Disease Law of 1927 and the Vote on Repealing the Sodomy Law in 1929, this book demonstrates the profound ambiguities of the era. Marhoefer suggests that a Weimar Republic political settlement between diverse factions simultaneously saw emancipation of those who could claim a new respectability based on scientific reasoning and increased criminal control over the sexual lives of individuals who could not. Combining dynamic individual stories with several revisionist arguments, this book is one that will appeal to many listeners.
Michael E. O'Sullivan is Associate Professor of History at Marist College where he teaches courses about Modern Europe. He will publish Disruptive Power: Catholic Women, Miracles, and Politics in Modern Germany, 1918-1965 with University of Toronto Press in August 2018.