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Old people still like sex

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Sex educator Jane Fleishman says intimacy improves life regardless of age

Bodies change, but they don’t necessarily become less beautiful.

Jane Fleishman

Erectile dysfunction is a factor for many men, but it can be dealt with.

Aging doesn’t have to mean the end of intimacy.

Sex is part of living and you don’t have to be young to enjoy it, sex educator Jane Fleishman of Deerfield told a group gathered to hear her talk at the assisted living facility Christopher Heights in Northampton recently.

“I am on a mission to change the way continuing care communities treat end-of -life care,” she said following her talk in mid September. “I don’t want to wait around, I want to see change happen in my lifetime.”

To that end, Fleishman, 63, a fast-talking native New Yorker, has been traveling the country holding workshops to spread her message.

“There is no expiration date on sex,” she told the crowd of about four dozen people, mostly residents, at Christopher Heights. Sharing intimacy is an important contributor to good quality of life, she says. Older adults who are more sexually active have a lower instance of heart disease and dementia, she added. “We know that people’s well-being is affected.”

One study that seems to support that was done by a team of researchers from Coventry University in Britain who found that having an active sex life leads to less mental deterioration as people age.

In 2010 researchers surveyed men in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, and found that they continue to live sexually satisfied lives, according to a study in the medical journal the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Sex makes you feel alive – it makes you feel sensually connected to yourself,” said Monica Levine, a clinical social worker who runs a private practice in Northampton and is a certified sex therapist.

Edie Daly, 80, of Northampton, a petite woman with short white hair who was at the talk, says sex continues to be an important part of her life. In fact, she says, the best sex of her life started only after she met her wife at age 60.

“We have a deep abiding love,” she said, adding that she can’t imagine life without sex and other intimate touch. “Sex is another form of communication.”

Getting creative

But sex doesn’t always come easy —  and that’s OK — sometimes it takes a little creativity for older adults to reach satisfaction or to accommodate their changing bodies, Fleishman says.

Joint pain from arthritis, for instance, can make sex uncomfortable. Warm baths or changing positions might make intimacy more comfortable and ease any pain, according to the National Institute on Aging, a federal government organization in Baltimore which researches health in older people.

In cases of erectile dysfunction, massage is one approach that can help, says Fleishman. For vaginal dryness, there are lubricants.

Another woman who came to the talk, Mae Lococo, 93, who lives at Christopher Heights, says her husband was “quite vigorous” in bed up until he passed away two years ago. He was also an excellent ballroom dancer, she adds. She wouldn’t mind meeting another man now, she says, but notes there is a shortage of them at her age.

Consent always a factor

There can be a dark side to sex for those who are residents of nursing homes or other facilities, says Fleishman — the possibility of sexual abuse. She encourages younger people to talk to their parents to make sure they aren’t being victimized in some way. It is important, she says, that they feel free to approach a family member or other advocate for help. Just as younger people need to be aware of the boundaries of consent, older people need to understand them too, she says. Sometimes, as people age, they may experience some cognitive decline or dementia, which can make consenting to sex more difficult. That, she says, makes it particularly important for advocates to look out for them. “Consent is complicated when you get older.”

Aging adults also must continue to be aware of sexually transmitted infections, she says. “Sometimes people say, ‘I’m not going to get pregnant, so why does he need to wear a condom?’ While older adults face the same risks as other populations, sexually transmitted diseases often aren’t on the radar of their doctors, she says.

“They might be thinking the same way their patients’ offspring are: ‘Oh, that’s granddad, he can’t be having sex’ or ‘That’s grandma, she can’t be doing it, she can barely get down the stairs.’

“Well, even if she can’t get down the stairs she still might be able to have some fun upstairs,” Fleishman said.

Get over it

At age 55, Fleishman retired from her 30-year career as director of staff development at Connecticut Valley Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Middletown, Connecticut and went back to school to get a doctorate in human sexuality from Widener University in Pennsylvania.

In addition to holding sessions on sexuality, she is writing a book about LGBT elders. She wants people to get over feeling squeamish about sexuality among the older generation.

“When I talk to young people about what they think old people do in bed and they get all nervous,” she says. “They say, ‘Too many wrinkles’ or ‘eww.’ Well, if you are lucky enough you will get there and you will realize, it isn’t so bad.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How to talk to kids about sex

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“I do know how babies are made,” my then-8-year-old son recently told his 13-year-old sister. She ignored him. “Mom, he really doesn’t,” she said. “You better tell him before he goes to camp and hears it from older kids.” She was right. I had talked to him about love for years, but I must have glossed over the mechanical piece.

According to Deborah Roffman, a teacher and author of “Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ ‘Go-To’ Person About Sex,” I was late to the game. “If we’re not deliberately reaching out to kids by third grade, almost everything they learn after that is going to be remedial,” she says. “Sexual intercourse in the service of reproduction is thoroughly age-appropriate for 6-year-olds.”

Not long after I got my son up to speed, I taught middle school health and wellness for the first time. No amount of parenting readies you for a roomful of curious 13-year-olds. To prepare me, my principal showed me questions kids had asked in the past. “How many times can you ask a girl out before it becomes sexual harassment?” “Is it possible for a boy to put his privates in the wrong hole?” “What are all the different sex positions?”

Well, okay then. I could do this. As Roffman notes, these conversations are simply part of the nurturing process, and we miss the big picture when we focus on “the talk.” “That’s where I start with parents. It’s about how we can raise sexually healthy young people from birth,” she says.

Kids have five core needs when it comes to sexuality, Roffman explains. They need affirmation and unconditional love; information about healthy and unhealthy behaviors; clarity about values such as respect and integrity; appropriate boundaries and limits; and guidance about making responsible, safe choices. Within that framework, here are seven tips to help parents raise kids who know how to make well-considered decisions.

Fill in gaps and debunk myths

Karen Rayne, a sex educator in Texas and author of “GIRL: Love, Sex, Romance and Being You,” says that parents shouldn’t make assumptions about what their kids know. She recalls a student who avoided trampolines because she believed that every time a girl is jostled, an egg dies. Another girl sobbed in a bathroom at a water park when she got her period for the first time. “She was being raised by a single dad who never talked to her about it, and she thought she was dying,” she says.

Yuri Ohlrichs, an author and sex educator at Rutgers Netherlands, says that kids are picking up information from peers and the Internet and that parents need to debunk myths. One boy told him that if you clean your genitals with a medical disinfectant after sex, you can’t get a sexually transmitted disease. “Some of the misconceptions are disturbing, and as responsible adults we can take away the tension they create,” he says.

Admit discomfort and stay calm

For parents, acknowledging discomfort is a good first step. “You can begin the conversation with, ‘This is going to be awkward, but we’re going to talk about it anyway because it’s important,’ ” Rayne says. Even if parents are fine, it doesn’t mean their kids are. “Parents need to normalize the dialogue and provide a space where kids can ask anything,” she says. “If young people say something shocking, it’s okay to say, ‘That’s surprising to me.’ ” Still, she recommends parents stay calm and delay their gut reaction. “Process with a friend, partner or religious figure, and then respond in your best emotional state,” she says.

Talk about your family’s values

When Roffman talks to parents, she asks them to list at least five values they want their children to bring to all sexual situations they encounter in their lives. She then urges them to name those values to their kids as young as possible.

By taking this approach, parents can teach the importance of compassion, honesty and respect long before they broach them in a sexual context. “Parents can say, ‘You’re standing too close to me. You’re not respecting my boundaries,’ and talk to children about how no one is allowed to touch them without their permission,” Roffman says.

Last year, her eighth-graders wanted to teach fifth-
graders about consent. They showed an image of the prince kissing Sleeping Beauty along with nonsexual examples of consent. By the end of the presentation, the students understood why Sleeping Beauty was incapable of agreeing to the kiss.

Share personal stories with caution

Before sharing personal information, parents need to think deeply about why they’re sharing it, Roffman says. “There should be a point to the story. What do they hope their child will learn?” She notes that trying to steer a kid’s behavior is not a good motive. “The goal should be to help your child think through decisions they’re going to make,” she says.

Parents also can draw a line when kids ask intrusive questions. “The act of drawing boundaries is powerful, and parents can say, ‘That’s a personal question, and maybe I’ll answer it when you’re older,’ ” Rayne says.

Address stereotypes and gender differences

Ohlrichs encourages adults to take a positive approach to both male and female sexuality. “Not all boys or men are going out there to have sex as much as they can,” he says, noting that boys have insecurities but may struggle to express them. “We have to make sure that boys understand that you’re just as much a man if you’re not experienced sexually as if you are.”

He also urges parents to explain that although there are no hard-and-fast distinctions, males and females might approach sexual scenarios differently. “Boys don’t always understand that a girl might stop kissing because she’s focused on what’s going on around them,” he says. “Boys might be all green lights, but if a girl hears someone in the house or the boy says something that reminds her of a negative experience, it’s over.” Parents can explain that it’s not necessarily a rejection and that the couple needs to work together to make it comfortable. He also suggests that parents tell teens that if someone is giggling or nervous, “it might not be a positive situation for them.”

Ohlrichs urges parents to address stereotypes about female sexuality, noting that girls throughout the world internalize the idea that they need to protect their reputation. “They’re getting the message that they need to conceal excitement and avoid taking initiative, and it’s still one-sided,” he says.

Use media and other sources to start a conversation

“Everything in life can be connected to human sexuality,” Roffman says, and parents can find natural segues in a variety of topics, such as music and sports. Sexetc.org, a website that is run by teens and affiliated with Rutgers University, features polls that parents can use to start a dialogue. Scarleteen.com also has a parenting section and an adult-moderated dialogue board for teens.

Rayne has used the movie “Wonder Woman” and the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy” to talk about gender issues with her own children. She also talks to her kids about sexting and shares other Internet cautionary tales when they unfold publicly. Books about sex, gender and reproduction are readily available in her home.

Complete Article HERE!

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Fun sex is healthy sex

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Why isn’t that on the curriculum?

by Lucia O’sullivan

Damn—we forgot to teach our kids how to have fun sex.

Most news covers the sex lives of young people in terms of hookups, raunch culture, booty calls and friends with benefits. You might think that young people have it all figured out, equating sex with full-on, self-indulgent party time.

Despite my decades as a researcher studying their intimate lives, I too assumed that the first years of consensual partnered sex were pleasurable for most, but got progressively worse over time. How else to explain the high rates of reported by adults? I was wrong.

Our research at the University of New Brunswick shows that young people (16 to 21 years) have rates of sexual problems comparable to those of adults. This is not just a matter of learning to control ejaculation timing or how best to have an orgasm. Their sex lives often start out poorly and show no improvement over time. Practice, experience and experimentation only help so much.

This project came to be after a former colleague at my university’s health centre told me that many complained of pain from vulvar fissures (essentially tearing) from intercourse. The standard of care is to offer lubricant, but she began to ask: Were you aroused? Was this sex you wanted? They would look at her blankly. They had been having sex without interest, arousal or desire. This type of tearing increases a young woman’s risk of STIs, but also alerted my colleague to a more deep-seated issue: Was sex wanted, fun and pleasurable?

What emerged from our first study was verified in our larger study: Low desire and satisfaction were the most common problems among followed by erectile problems. Trouble reaching orgasm, low satisfaction and pain were most common among young women.

Was this a select group? No. Overall, 79 per cent of young men and 84 per cent of young women (16-21 years old) reported one or more persistent and distressing problems in sexual functioning over a two-year period.

Parents focus on disaster

Despite what you might think from their over-exposed social media bodies, today’s youth start sex later and have fewer partners than their parents’ (and often their grandparents’) generation did. A recent U.S. national survey found that young people have sex less often than previous generations.

Did years of calamity programming in the form of “good touch/bad touch,” “no means no,” and “your condom or mine” take a toll? Perhaps that was intended as so much of our programming is designed to convince young people of the blame, pain and shame that awaits them in their sexual lives. If we really believe that young people are not supposed to be having sex (that it should just be reserved for adults in their reproductive years and no others, thank you), it might as well be unpleasant, dissatisfying or painful when young people have sex, right?

Young people are over-stressed, over-pampered and over-diagnosed. They are also under-resourced for dealing with challenges in their sexual lives. This is how a bad sex life evolves.

Parents make efforts to talk to their children about sex and believe they get their messages across. Yet, their children typically report that parents fail to communicate about topics important to them, such as jealousy, heartbreak, horniness and lack of horniness. Parents’ messages are usually unidirectional lectures that emphasize avoiding, delaying and preventing. Young people dismiss these talks, especially in light of media portrayals of sex as transformative and rapturous.

Sex in Canada’s schools

Canada’s schools deliver fairly progressive sex education across the provinces. But they do not resemble the comprehensive approaches offered in countries such as The Netherlands and Switzerland. Those countries have teen pregnancy rates as low as 0.29 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19. Canada’s rate is 1.41 per cent, far higher than many European countries (such as Italy, Greece, France and Germany) but consistently lower than the United States. Thankfully.

These rates are a general metric of youth sexual health and key differences in the socialization and education of young people. They reflect the extent to which we are willing to provide a range of sexual information and skills to young people. More progressive countries reinforce messages that sex can be a positive part of our intimate lives, our sense of self, our adventures and connection. Young people in those countries have healthier and happier sexual lives. They know how to enjoy sex while preventing infections and unwanted pregnancy.

Many countries, including Canada, are swayed by a vocal minority who strongly believe that teaching young people about the positive components of sexuality will prompt unhealthy outcomes, despite all evidence to the contrary. When parents and educators fail you, and peers lack credibility, where else are you to turn?

Porn – lessons in freak

Enter porn. Young people turn to porn to find out how things work, but what they learn is not especially helpful. Porn provides lessons in exaggerated performance, dominance and self-indulgence. The relationships are superficial and detached. Producers rely heavily on shock value and “freak” to maximize viewer arousal, distorting our understanding of what is typical or common among our peers.

Of course young people turn to porn to find out how sex happens. It’s free, easily accessible and, for the most part, private. One young man in our interviews said, “I learned a lot about what goes where, all the varieties from porn, but it’s pretty intimidating. And, I mean, they don’t look like they’re loving it, really loving it.”

Our research makes painfully clear how few messages young people have learned about how to have fun, pleasurable, satisfying sex. They may seem self-indulgent to you, but then nobody took on the task of saying, “Sex should be fun, enjoyable and a way to connect. Let’s talk about how it all works.”

Fun sex as safe sex

Did anyone teach you these lessons? A friend and esteemed fellow researcher told me that he learned how sex worked by viewing his dad’s porn magazines. The only problem was that in his first sexual encounter he did not realize that there was movement involved.

Without a platform of positive communication with our youth about sexuality, and specifically about how sex unfolds and can brighten life and improve health and well-being, there is no room for them to address new challenges in the sexual realm. The World Health Organization’s alarming report of the rise of antibiotic resistant gonorrhea, for instance, will sound like another dire warning from an endless stream. Nobody is consistently motivated by threats.

We must talk to young people about how to have fun sex. This will help to offset the chances that struggling with problems in their sexual lives now will develop sexual dysfunctions and relationship strain that distress so many adults. These lessons will arm them with the information and skills required to keep them safe and to seek effective solutions when problems emerge. Best of all, they will be healthier and happier now and as adults as a result.

Complete Article HERE!

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A new way to love: in praise of polyamory

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Polyamory isn’t monogamy and it isn’t swinging, it’s being open to having loving relationships with different people of different sexes at the same time, and in that way learning to love yourself, too

‘It’s like any normal relationship, except with more time management’: Elf Lyons.

By Elf Lyons

I have never enjoyed typical monogamy. It makes me think of dowries and possessive prairie voles who mate for life, and historically all monogamous relationship models have owned women in some way, with marriage there for financial purposes and the ownership of property.

For the last few years I’ve defined myself as a polyamorist. Friends before defined me as a “friendly philanderer”. I love to kiss people. Friends usually, or women who wear polo-necks. Polyamory is consensual non- monogamy. It’s a philosophy. Rather than the active pursuing of multiple partners in a lascivious way, it’s the embracing and understanding that it’s possible to fall in love, and have relationships, with more than one person at the same time.

Alongside developing CEO-worthy skills in multitasking, polyamory is the most empowering way of loving that I have encountered. It gives women more autonomy than other relationship models ever have. Although monogamous relationship models work for many, they’re not the only way to have relationships in society. In non-monogamous relationships, their success relies on everything being on the table from the start. I believe that it could be the huge relationship revolution that the feminist movement needs.

Many think it’s about sex – it’s not. It’s not swinging. It’s not Pokémon Go, you don’t have to catch them all. It’s about the freedom to be honest about the evolving ways you feel. It opens up the boundaries between friend and lover in a safe and transparent way.

‘As a teen I questioned what it was to be adulterous. I saw infidelities on a different level to other friends’: Elf Lyons.

As a teen I questioned what it was to be adulterous. I saw infidelities on a different level to other friends. When partners mentioned they found other people attractive, I never minded. It made sense. “Why wouldn’t you want to kiss Stephanie? She’s a legend!” Apparently that was not considered a normal way to react.

If I had known as a teenager it was possible to love more than one person, it would have saved so much anxiety, guilt and time spent writing awful poetry. I spent years beating myself up about it. It often caused me to end relationships rashly, giving excuses like “I’m not ready to be in a relationship,” or “I have commitment issues,” or “I’m not into Warhammer as much as you think.” I didn’t want to end the relationships, but admitting how I felt seemed a worse betrayal, so I would lie, breaking friendships in the process.

I discovered polyamory when I was 23. I met a parliament of poly performers at the Adelaide Festival who were hippyish, liberal and kind. These performers spoke about their partners, children, poly-families. There were ex-couples who were working together on shows while their other poly families toured elsewhere, married couples who had live-in partners, triumvirates where they all balanced an equal partnership. I was entranced by their openness. It seemed symbolic of our changing global world, and most peoples developing nomadic lifestyles where we travel for work and find love with others on the way.

So when I went to study at theatre school in Paris (fresh out of a relationship with a 45-year-old French father of three), I decided to embrace my inner Barbarella. And the reality? Non-monogamy is rather ordinary and occasionally dull. Stereotypes of weird Eyes Wide Shut sex parties and Sartre/de Beauvoir/Olga ménages à trois aside, it’s like any normal relationship, except with more time- management, more conversations about “feelings” and more awkward encounters with acquaintances at parties who try to use you as their “Sexual Awakening Friend Bicycle”, ie that shy girl from book club will get drunk and put her hand on your leg, before leaning in to kiss you, hiccuping: “I really loved Orange Is the New Black…”

‘Sexual awakenings do not mean the absence of consent’: Elf Lyons.

There are misconceptions – a date once grabbed me for a kiss unexpectedly despite the fact I had made it clear I was in no way interested (my words were exactly: “This is not going to work. We have entirely different opinions on the EU and you have just told me I am ‘very funny for a woman’.”) When I pushed him away he was shocked. He believed because I was “sexually awakened” he could do what he liked. Luckily my experiences have meant that I am more vocal and confident, and able to stand up for myself. Yes I am open about my relationships and desires, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s allowed to touch me without my permission. Sexual awakenings do not mean the absence of consent.

I must admit, when I first dipped my toes into polyamory I misunderstood, went overboard with Tinder. The experience was stressful and would involve me asking awkward questions like: “Do you think crabs think fish can fly?” while wandering around the National Gallery for the third time that month. (There is no denying that polyamory suits the self-employed schedule). I learned that when people don’t know what polyamory is, they misunderstand it as another term for “hook up”, which it’s not. So previous partners have usually been friends I trust.

People often ask: “How can you truly love someone if you want to be with someone else?” and “Don’t you get jealous?” I think these statements enforce unhealthy relationship ideals. I feel it’s dangerous to think that you’re the only person that can complete someone else’s life, and be their confidant, their friend, their support network and their sexual partner. It’s too much pressure! When you take a step back, drop your ego and realise you’re one unique component of someone’s life, it’s liberating and freeing. Jealousy ebbs away and you realise that, of course, they may find another person attractive, because we’re all different pieces of a puzzle. This has made me more comfortable about myself – I am not holding myself up to standards about traditional female beauty, because I can experience it in a hundred different ways.

Of course, there have been tears, heartbreaks, existential crises and moments when I felt left out. I’ve wondered if it was actually making me more free, or more insecure, with jealousy popping up at the most inconvenient times. I’ve dated people who have lied and I’ve had relationships that have ended because they didn’t trust or believe in polyamory.

But, despite the downs, non-monogamy has revolutionised the way I view love. First, it made me less ashamed of my sexuality. I fancied girls way before I fancied boys. But as a teenager at house parties I remember being made to think that female sexual relationships were purely to turn men on. We’d all seen that scene in Cruel Intentions. I remember girls kissing at parties and the guys cheering. It was performative. Except, I wanted to kiss girls because I liked girls.

When I started getting to know people in the poly community it was as liberating as taking off an underwired bra. I have had partners of both genders. I didn’t have to “choose”: the people I met understood that it was possible to give infinite, equal love to both sexes. My confidence soared. I wasn’t hiding. Men and women had equal place in my life. I no longer felt like a pendulum, swinging from one to another. This refreshing awakening did result in many awkward conversations with my mum and dad though, which would go something like this:

Elf: “Mum and Dad, I am queer.” [Mum puts the hummus down.]

Mum: “What does that mean?”

Elf: “It means I have relationships with men and women”. [Mum picks the hummus up.]

Mum: “Oh! Well, I’m queer. Your father’s queer, your grandmother’s queer, we’re all queer darling!”

Elf: “No you don’t understand. I mean I have sex with men and women.” [Mum drops the hummus.]

Mum: “Oh Elfy… No wonder you’re so tired.”

Although I love sex, because of past unpleasant experiences I’m also mildly afraid of it. So when I started experimenting with non-monogamy the idea of being intimate emotionally as well as physically with more than one person was a challenge. But, the choice gave me a power and ownership over my wants which I felt I had lost and been made to feel ashamed about. I’m not saying I jumped in the sack with everyone I met. God no. I’m too busy. But through being less judgemental on myself, I relaxed, opened up to the people I trusted and started loving myself again. It forces you to be really honest, to live life with an undefended heart.

It’s not been plain sailing. But to quote RuPaul: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell can you love anyone else” – this is integral to non-monogamy. You can’t use multiple relationships to fill the void and give you the gratification that you should be able to give yourself. More love doesn’t mean better love. If you are dating multiple people in order to enhance your self-worth, you end up feeling like out-of-date hummus, feeling jealous anytime anyone chooses to spend time with anyone else, resulting in you treating your partners badly and without respect.

We shouldn’t feel ashamed about being socially and sexually confident. Women have been made to feel embarrassed for their desires for too long. It’s about having the trust to speak our minds and behave the way we want to. The moment you start to crumble you need to stop and ask exactly what it is you want and if it makes you happy. Being loved and loving multiple people should make you feel stronger, not weaker.

In a time of censorship on women, increases in assault and constant critiques on how we should behave, polyamory and its manifesto of embracing our evolving feelings, sharing responsibility and communicating and working effectively with people from all around the world could help revolutionise the way we tackle privilege, inequality and control of women’s rights.

I have an authority and a voice that I didn’t feel I had before. My friendships are better, my health is better. Through being polyamorous and being a part of the community I have been made aware of issues, both personal and political, that need to be uncovered and addressed.

The world would be a better place if everybody was more open to polyamory. As well as that traditional idea, that it takes a village to raise a child, it would mean we’d all love more, and love better. Loving different people at the same time is like learning a different language. There are different rules every time and it’s always open for discussion. You start to realise that love is infinite. Every time you say “I love you” to someone it takes on a new meaning. It’s retranslated, and it’s wonderful.

Complete Article HERE!

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How the Nazis destroyed the first gay rights movement

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‘Damenkneipe,’ or ‘Ladies’ Saloon,’ painted by Rudolf Schlichter in 1923. In 1937, many of his paintings were destroyed by the Nazis as ‘degenerate art.’

By

Very recently, Germany’s Cabinet approved a bill that will expunge the convictions of tens of thousands of German men for “homosexual acts” under that country’s anti-gay law known as “Paragraph 175.” That law dates back to 1871, when modern Germany’s first legal code was created.

It was repealed in 1994. But there was a serious movement to repeal the law in 1929 as part of a wider LGBTQ rights movement. That was just before the Nazis came to power, magnified the anti-gay law, then sought to annihilate gay and transgender Europeans.

The story of how close Germany – and much of Europe – came to liberating its LGBTQ people before violently reversing that trend under new authoritarian regimes is an object lesson showing that the history of LGBTQ rights is not a record of constant progress.

The first LGBTQ liberation movement

In the 1920s, Berlin had nearly 100 gay and lesbian bars or cafes. Vienna had about a dozen gay cafes, clubs and bookstores. In Paris, certain quarters were renowned for open displays of gay and trans nightlife. Even Florence, Italy, had its own gay district, as did many smaller European cities.

Films began depicting sympathetic gay characters. Protests were organized against offensive depictions of LGBTQ people in print or on stage. And media entrepreneurs realized there was a middle-class gay and trans readership to whom they could cater.

Partly driving this new era of tolerance were the doctors and scientists who started looking at homosexuality and “transvestism” (a word of that era that encompassed transgender people) as a natural characteristic with which some were born, and not a “derangement.” The story of Lili Elbe and the first modern sex change, made famous in the recent film “The Danish Girl,” reflected these trends.

For example, Berlin opened its Institute for Sexual Research in 1919, the place where the word “transsexual” was coined, and where people could receive counseling and other services. Its lead doctor, Magnus Hirschfeld, also consulted on the Lili Elbe sex change.

Connected to this institute was an organization called the “Scientific-Humanitarian Committee.” With the motto “justice through science,” this group of scientists and LGBTQ people promoted equal rights, arguing that LGBTQ people were not aberrations of nature.

Most European capitals hosted a branch of the group, which sponsored talks and sought the repeal of Germany’s “Paragraph 175.” Combining with other liberal groups and politicians, it succeeded in influencing a German parliamentary committee to recommend the repeal to the wider government in 1929.

The backlash

While these developments didn’t mean the end of centuries of intolerance, the 1920s and early ‘30s certainly looked like the beginning of the end. On the other hand, the greater “out-ness” of gay and trans people provoked their opponents.

A French reporter, bemoaning the sight of uncloseted LGBTQ people in public, complained, “the contagion … is corrupting every milieu.” The Berlin police grumbled that magazines aimed at gay men – which they called “obscene press materials” – were proliferating. In Vienna, lectures of the “Scientific Humanitarian Committee” might be packed with supporters, but one was attacked by young men hurling stink bombs. A Parisian town councilor in 1933 called it “a moral crisis” that gay people, known as “inverts” at that time, could be seen in public.

“Far be it from me to want to turn to fascism,” the councilor said, “but all the same, we have to agree that in some things those regimes have sometimes done good… One day Hitler and Mussolini woke up and said, ‘Honestly, the scandal has gone on long enough’ … And … the inverts … were chased out of Germany and Italy the very next day.”

The ascent of Fascism

It’s this willingness to make a blood sacrifice of minorities in exchange for “normalcy” or prosperity that has observers drawing uncomfortable comparisons between then and now.

In the 1930s, the Depression spread economic anxiety, while political fights in European parliaments tended to spill outside into actual street fights between Left and Right. Fascist parties offered Europeans a choice of stability at the price of democracy. Tolerance of minorities was destabilizing, they said. Expanding liberties gave “undesirable” people the liberty to undermine security and threaten traditional “moral” culture. Gay and trans people were an obvious target.

What happened next shows the whiplash speed with which the progress of a generation can be thrown into reverse.

The nightmare

One day in May 1933, pristine white-shirted students marched in front of Berlin’s Institute for Sexual Research – that safe haven for LGBTQ people – calling it “Un-German.” Later, a mob hauled out its library to be burned. Later still, its acting head was arrested.

When Nazi leader Adolph Hitler needed to justify arresting and murdering former political allies in 1934, he said they were gay. This fanned anti-gay zealotry by the Gestapo, which opened a special anti-gay branch. During the following year alone, the Gestapo arrested more than 8,500 gay men, quite possibly using a list of names and addresses seized at the Institute for Sexual Research. Not only was Paragraph 175 not erased, as a parliamentary committee had recommended just a few years before, it was amended to be more expansive and punitive.

As the Gestapo spread throughout Europe, it expanded the hunt. In Vienna, it hauled in every gay man on police lists and questioned them, trying to get them to name others. The fortunate ones went to jail. The less fortunate went to Buchenwald and Dachau. In conquered France, Alsace police worked with the Gestapo to arrest at least 200 men and send them to concentration camps. Italy, with a fascist regime obsessed with virility, sent at least 300 gay men to brutal camps during the war period, declaring them “dangerous for the integrity of the race.”

The total number of Europeans arrested for being LGBTQ under fascism is impossible to know because of the lack of reliable records. But a conservative estimate is that there were many tens of thousands to one hundred thousand arrests during the war period alone.

Under these nightmare conditions, far more LGBTQ people in Europe painstakingly hid their genuine sexuality to avoid suspicion, marrying members of the opposite sex, for example. Still, if they had been prominent members of the gay and trans community before the fascists came to power, as Berlin lesbian club owner Lotte Hahm was, it was too late to hide. She was sent to a concentration camp.

In those camps, gay men were marked with a pink triangle. In these places of horror, men with pink triangles were singled out for particular abuse. They were mechanically raped, castrated, favored for medical experiments and murdered for guards’ sadistic pleasure even when they were not sentenced for “liquidation.” One gay man attributed his survival to swapping his pink triangle for a red one – indicating he was merely a Communist. They were ostracized and tormented by their fellow inmates, too.

The looming danger of a backslide

This isn’t 1930s Europe. And making superficial comparisons between then and now can only yield superficial conclusions.

But with new forms of authoritarianism entrenched and seeking to expand in Europe and beyond, it’s worth thinking about the fate of Europe’s LGBTQ community in the 1930s and ‘40s – a timely note from history as Germany approves same-sex marriage and on this first anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges.

In 1929, Germany came close to erasing its anti-gay law, only to see it strengthened soon thereafter. Only now, after a gap of 88 years, are convictions under that law being annulled.

Complete Article HERE!

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