samedi 28 juillet 2012

The secret life of Kertbeny

Károly Mária Kertbeny (1824-1882), born as Karl Maria Benkert in Vienna, wrote anonymously two pamphlets calling for legal emancipation of homosexuals entitled "§ 143 of the Prussian penal code of 14 April 1851 and its retention as § 152 in the draft of a penal code for the North German Confederation" and "The general harmfulness of § 143 of the Prussian penal code of 14 April 1851 and its necessary cancellation as § 152 in the draft of a penal code for the North German Confederation". The word Homosexualität [homosexuality] was first openly used in the first pamphlet.

Before Kertbeny's invention, the German jurist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895) tried to popularise his own coinage, inspired by Plato's Symposium : the Urning. According to Ulrichs' theory innate impulses driving men to love other men are associated with a certain kind of femininity of the soul, thus men loving other men must belong to a transitional third sex or gender. Ulrichs' starting point was therefore innateness when striving for the emancipation of people with same-sex desire. It is important to note that for Kertbeny - who was in correspondence and was exchanging ideas with Ulrichs for years (certainly between 1864 and 1868) - "to prove the innate nature [of homosexuality] is not at all useful, especially not quickly, what's more it cuts both ways, let it be a very interesting riddle of nature from the anthropological point of view. The legislation does not examine whether this inclination is innate or not, it merely focuses on the personal and social dangers of it, on its relation to society. There are, for example, people who are bloodthirsty, pyromaniac, monomaniacal etc. from birth, but they are not allowed to act out their inclinations, even if these are medically proven ones [...], they are still isolated, and in this way their extremes are isolated from society. Thus we wouldn't win anything by proving innateness. Rather we should convince our opponents that exactly according to their legal notions they do not have anything to do with this inclination, let it be innate or voluntary, because the state does not have the right to intervene in what is happening between two consenting people aged over 14, excluding publicity, not hurting the rights of any third party". (sketch letter from May 1868 written by Kertbeny to most probably Ulrichs).

Considering the secretly cultivated homosexological activities, a question can be posed about Kertbeny which was posed by himself too : "How did I, normally sexed individual, ever stumble onto the existence of homosexualism and its slaves, who, up to that point, I had no idea were present in human society?". Kertebeny himself gave a story that through a blackmailed friend he got into touch with the [homosexual] "sect" and he also referred to his "instinctive drive to take issue with every injustice". However, more detailed investigation of Kertbeny's diaries can provide us with evidence which places the above explanation in another light, revealing at least some parts of his hidden life. In these diaries Kertbeny wrote short notes almost every day, about what time he got up; what the weather was like that day in the given city; how much money he had and to whom he owed money; what he had to leave at the pawnshop; whom he met; where he went; to whom he wrote letters and from whom he received or was waiting for letters; and at the end of the day the time he got home. From the period between 1864 and 1868 we can also find evidence of the regular correspondance between Kertbeny and Karl Heinrich Ulrichs. The first of seventeen volumes was written in Brussels, while the last one was written in Budapest in 1881. From the year 1870 there are no notes as he was unable to write in that year because of his illness. Kertbeny preferred to write his personal notes in Brussels in German, and after arriving at the German speaking places he preferred to change the language of his diaries into Hungarian. This differential language use in his diaries could serve the purpose of secrecy.

From the very beginning, notes about his private intimate life including references to his acquaintances with other men are very frequent in the period when Kertbeny was 40 to 45 years of age, before his serious illness in 1870. In connection with this topic - especially from 1865 to 1868 - subsequent patches of self-censoring crossing and blotting out became very frequent, under some of which the original words can still be made out. Kertbeny's references to other men are noteworthy not only because of the amount of blotting out associated with them, but also because they are relatively common, while references to women are very rare. The first of these kind of Hungarian notes can be found in the volume of 1864: "2fr. handsome guy"; "beautiful lad"; or "Hubert, some beautiful boy". At the beginning of 1865 he mentions a man called Hubert several times. For example: "Hubert is not here for three days now"; or "Hubert didn't come again!". There are other references without names, too: "Beautiful boy, but not.."; "with that boy that thing is true"; "I had a look at that beautiful boy". At the end of the year he complains about gonorrhoea: "then horror! The clap again!". In 1866 still in Brussels he refers to a "beautiful Berliner", but the end of the sentence is rendered illegible by crossing out (January 30). In February when Kertbeny is already in German-speaking area, first in Düsseldorf, then in Cologne, the crossed out parts become relatively frequent but there are some readible notes, too: "young barber lad"; "beautiful barber"; "very much in love with the lad... [crossed out]" - and above it visibly: "I have done it"; "the barber would go but I didn't want it". Then he continues: "That clap completely obviously"; "Still that clap"; "At the hairdresser's the boy seduced! What will come of it?"; "Lajos came, we did it. 1 taller"; "Lajos did not come".

From the end of August the crossed out parts are becoming increasingly frequent and - from this time on until the end of the year - almost every day there is reference to a certain János and later to a man called Jancsi, possibly the nickname of the same János : "János is not in a good mood"; "János is here but it doesn't work"; "János showed his..."; "János did it for me". From the middle of October the name Jancsi is not rendered illegible in a lot of places which are otherwise crossed out: "Jancsi did it for me"; "Jancsi did not come, what is the matter? What will come of it? He came only at around 10". During November and December there is mention of Jancsi almost every day: "Jancsi played for me. Great fear that my neighbour, a lieutenant, noticed my morning games"; "Jancsi did it for me"; "Jancsi [unreadable crossing out] It is a very dangerous situation, because you can hear everything from one room to the other." In the first half of 1867 in Cologne Kertbeny refers to several problems in his diaries. In January he keeps mentioning Jancsi's clap almost every day: "[crossing out] horror, yes [crossing out] the poor boy is ill. What will be the end of it?".

However, at the beginning of February another thing starts to worry him a lot: "Awful news! Numa was caught and was forced to do everything. What will come of it?! Great fear!"; "Awful days! [...] Horrible nightmares. I have burnt all the dangerous letters"; "Awful days! Impossible that it wouldn't turn out!". It seems that Kertbeny was very much afraid that in connection to Ulrichs' arrest something would turn out that could affect him, too. From this time on for several months almost every day he mentions how much he is afraid and the unreadible crossed out parts are becoming more and more frequent in his diary. On the 16th of April he complains in the following way: "[unreadable] is lost, and has spoken of me in a bad way! My god, what will come of it? I am devastated" (16 April). The missing name in this note is most probably Ulrichs' as he was arrested the second time in 1867 at around the date of this note. Kertbeny mentions in his diary that Ulrichs was released on the 13th of July after "almost eighty-six days" which makes the 18th of April an estimate for Ulrichs' arrest, though as we will see at the beginning of 1868, Kertbeny gives the 23rd of April as the date of Ulrichs' arrest. April 1867 was also the time when Ulrichs' house in Burgdorf was searched by the police and certain interesting material was found there, including "everything relating to 'Uramsmus ... his correspondence, and a list of Urnings (which included 150 names in Berlin)... [which] were sent to the Ministry of the Exterior in Berlin". At the end of April Kertbeny refers to Ulrichs' arrest : "Numa is caught again. Now I am devastated." (27 April). Three days later there is again a nervous reference most probably to Ulrichs and the result of searching his house: "This mad man brings on me the most horrible danger. All the papers are found" (30 April). The 1868 volume of Kertbeny's diaries starts with a short review of what were probably the most important events of the previous year. Here we can find the following notes: "February 4 - Numa is caught again; [February] 5. - I burnt my writings; [April] 18. - I saw [Jancsi] Groonen last time; [April] 23 - Numa is arested again. I wrote to Numa! ; [April] 27. -Beginning of the horrible days until the 28th of May; May 1. - Most horrible bad time and fear."

On the 1st of May, 1867 Kertbeny describes his situation in a very negative way; "This is probably the most horrible May in my whole life - losing the home country, Mother good reputation, my life, the fruits of twenty years of work. And as an innocent one, only because of his bad crazy one! Awful, awful!". Here it should be noted that "losing [...] Mother" does not mean the mother's death, but it can refer to her illness. Kertbeny's mother died in a year time: on the 7th of May, 1868. According to Kertbeny's notes it was the "most tragic day in my life! This morning my mother died in Vienna in her 68th year." Later in May 1867 he is expecting a letter from Vienna that doesn't want to arrive, and in the meanwhile he keeps worrying: "Awful days! [...] Are they already keeping back my mail? Awful!"; "Horrible days!"; "Nightmarish days". Finally on the 25th he seems to be a bit more relaxed : "Maybe today it will turn out. It turned out! Not! At noon the answer came. It seems that from this great suffering good luck will come out. The writer of the letters is Steinmann, the Prussian royal police chief. Out to him to Hannover. I am going there." Unfortunately, it is not really clear from Kertbeny's notes what exactly worried him so much in connection to Ulrich's arrests and the confiscated "Uranismus - and Urning - files". It is not perfectly clear either why Kertbeny described the month between the end of April and the end of May, 1867 as a horrible, nightmare-like period: perhaps he was being blackmailed or simply afraid of having another case with me police. However, the above detailed notes with references to "dangerous letters", "found papers" and burning of his own writings can reveal Kertbeny's personal involvement in "the Urning matters".

Interestingly, in June, 1867 the diary with its usual style and topics reflects a much more relaxed state of Kertbeny's mind in comparison to the previous months : "Lajos Showed it whole. Beautiful." (8 June); "It doesn't go such... We should take carer (9 June); "Lajko. Kissing." (15 June); "... but the lad didn't want it" (27 July); "Lajko I played." (3 August); "Lajkó did not come!" (11 August); "Lajkó has the clap. What will come of it?" (17 August); "Lajkó. Beautiful." (7 September). It is only in the middle of September when Kertbeny seems to worry again: "... a police soldier was here. What will come of it? Maybe something worrisome!" (17 September) - but after this until December only the regular references to Lajkó go on. In December Kertbeny follows the lawsuit of Friedrich Carl Feldtmann, theater director in Bremen with attention. Feldtmann was already arrested in October "along with three nineteen-year-old men with whom he was alleged to have practiced 'sexual crimes against nature'". One of the three men tried to blackmail him, and finally denounced him to the police. Kertbeny's comments on the case were the following: "Today poor Feldtmann was sentenced, one year in prison, the impertinent bastard got four weeks, the other two could walk free" (20 December); "Today is the horrible day when poor Feldtmann is being sentenced in Bremen, at least for a year! Unless some other lousy trick won't come of it!"(21 December).

Finally here is his last note of the year (this is the full note that can well illustrate Kertbeny's diary writing style): "Sunny morning. I got up at 9. Troubled days again - fearful, what will come of this Bremen courtcase. Lajkó didn't come again! The tailor Heller sent trousers and leibli. 11 1/2 I took a coach to the Roman bath. I was well scrubbed. To hairdresser and barber. At 1 in the Rhéna yard. In the Borsenklub there is nothing yet from Bremen. Home At 7 to the theatre, Rulf as Robert. I didn't really like it... [unreadible]" (22 December). According to the notes of 1868, Kertbeny frequently exchanged letters with "N.N." - i.e. Ulrichs -, to whom his last letter was sent on the 21st of October After this the correspondence seems to be broken off. The last reference to "N.N." can be found among Kertbeny's 1869 notes in connection with the Zastrow case, most probably - i. e. the case of Carl Ernst Wilhelm von Zastrow, painter and former militia lieutenant who 'was arrested and charged with unnatural rape and attempted murder of a five-year-old boy on the 17 of January, 1869 in Berlin. However Kertbeny's notes reflect a somewhat distorted crime story: "I read the horror that was committed on Saturday. The father with his own nine-year-old son." (19 January); "It is a month ago now that that awful crime was committed with his own son" (17 February). A few days later Kertbeny again anounces in his diary that "I burn the papers" (23 January). Finally, at the beginning of February he refers to Ulrichs: "In the paper N.N. is finally brought into this scandal" (6 February).

During 1868 Kertbeny is in frequent correspondence with Hermann Serbe, a publisher in Leipzig with whom Kertbeny wanted to publish his "Sexualitätsstudien", i.e. studies on sexuality. This book has never been published and was probably not even finished. Though Kertbeny's later notes indicate that he was at least entertaining himself with the idea of this work for years: "I was writing The Monosexualism and Homosexualism I." (8 May 1871); "I started to write for the sexual studies" (15 January 1874). It can be also known from a letter of Serbe written to Kertbeny on the 5th of July 1868 that Serbe waited in vain for the following parts, after receiving a certain "historical introduction". It is possible that Kertbeny should have been more motivated financially by Serbe: on the 8th of July, 1868 Kertbeny writes the following angry note: "Nice letter from Serbe! He sends shit, not money! And someone peeped in through the window while L. was here!". Kertbeny also visited Serbe in Leipzig on the 4-5th of August, 1868 but he left with disappointment: "With this impertinent guy nothing can be done!" (5 August).

In 1868 Kertbeny also mentions several times a certain "GJ", most probably the abbriviation of the name of Gustav Jäger (1832-1917), professor of zoology from Stuttgart: "the pamphlet from GJ" (1 April 1868); "... said Something about the pamphlet I wrote for GJ" (7 April); "letter from GJ, very boring commission" (11 April); "No money, no prospect, and this fatal task from GJ" (12 April). Unfortunatelly, it does turn out from the notes what this pamphlet was or what "fatal task" he was commissioned to do by GJ. Later between 1879 and 1882 there was intensive correspondence between Kertbeny and Jäger in connection with the publication of Kertbeny's sexual studies manuscript, which was in parts inserted into Jäger's book, The Discovery of the Soul. According to a letter of Jäger written to Kertbeny on the 28th of August, 1879 the chapter on homosexuality had to be left out from the book because of the publisher's rejection. Still, The Discovery of the Soul includes several parts of Kertbeny's manuscript as "expert opinion of a mysterious Dr. M." In the meanwhile the notes are full of male names. Until the end of July 1868 almost every day there is reference to "L.". Between the beginning of August - when Kertbeny moves to Berlin - and October, "L." is temporarily replaced by a certain "Pali" or "Palkó" (Paul) but afterwards the notes with "Lajkó" are back. At the same time there are also references to other men, for example: "having lunch at the garden of Zenning where the waiter is beautiful but the food is bad"; "to Zenning, to watch the beautiful boy"; "on foot to the swimming pool. There a beautiful Englishman".

On the basis of Kertbeny's private notes it can be assumed that there is a certain level of practical involvement in the background of his theoretical interest in homosexuality. His interest in men seemed to exceed platonic attraction in the line of close bodily contact. Many of the notes written about men were tried to be rendered illegibile: this self-censorship can also indicate that Kertbeny did not want to leave any trace which could expose his close interest in men publicly, but especially not in front of the police. This intention of Kertbeny is understandable in view of the increasing hostility of his social environment: the unification of the German empire in 1871 also meant the introduction of a stricter legal punishment of sexual relationships between men.

In the second half of the 1860s there was regular correspondence between Kertbeny and Karl Henrich Ulrichs, who became famous - and infamous - for his public struggle for the rights of men who love men. When Ulrichs is arrested, Kertbeny becomes very worried: during these "days of horror" he acts like someone who is afraid of exposure. In a letter sketch of 6 May 1868, Kertbeny writes most probably to Ulrichs the following: "Only because of being personally threatened I became obligeded to occupy myself with elementary legal studies as well". It should also be noted that Kertbeny in his non-literary publications often stood up for issues that concerned him personally. For example, he proposed the abolition of passports as well as that of the debtor's prisons as he kept having problems with authorities of many countries because of his debt-management and - the lack of - his passport. Thus we can also assume that in these cases personal involvement made his "instinctive drive to take issue with every injustice" even stronger and more active. Probably we can fit his writings on homosexuality also into this line though he has never published anything in connection with "sexual studies" under his own name. He tried to avoid leaving any public traces about his authorship - a strikingly "modest" attitude of a person who tended to overvalue his own talents, roles and achievements in almost every aspect of his life. Manfred Herzer concluded about Kertbeny that "it appears unlikely that a sexually normal man would write such an unconditional defense of homosexuality at that time, and the assertion of his own sexual normality without giving up the protection of anonymity speaks rather for its personal relevance to him than for a purely disinterested love of justice." However Kertbeny defined himself as sexually normal - by adding that this concept of normality must have included not only the love of justice but also the love of men.

From The Double Life of Kertbeny by Judit Takacs, G. Hekma (ed.) Past and Present of Radical Sexual Politics, UvA – Mosse Foundation, Amsterdam, 2004.

source : http://www.policy.hu/takacs/pdf-lib/TheDoubleLifeOfKertbeny.pdf

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