Homosexuality and State

Sexuality under authoritarian regimes has been approached with surprising results. If masculinity prevailed in Nazi Germany [and to a lesser extent in Romania], the non-conformity to gender role for women has created suspicion and further investigation from the Gestapo. Although lesbianism was not forbidden by the Nuremberg Law, it nevertheless was used as a starting point to look for any activities that could be perceived as against the state. In the case of Ilse Totzke, her “ non-conformity” to normal female representation led to testimonies and denunciations by neighbours, just on the fact that she was not part of the community. Her actions and contacts with Jewish people were less a concern for them than for the Gestapo which patiently build a case to deport her, based on these accusations.

In another place and time, homosexuality was tolerated in Soviet gulags in a twisted way to control the population. If homosexuality was criminalized starting in 1933-34 and subject to penalties and captivities, it was nevertheless accepted in gulags in a very ambiguous way. If the Soviet state did not encourage same sex relations between prisoners, it worked in their favour on a logistic standpoint: same sex relations are infertile therefore the population did not expand and the care for infants and mothers is not weighing on the economy. Ostracized by the society, prisoners re-created a new society based on dominant and submissive sexual relations which in a way reflected the social divide that existed on the outside. But when the gulags started to close in the 1950s, prisoners found it difficult to blend with the outside population and many intellectuals violently rejected the facts, blaming the government for accentuating the difference between “socially friendly” prisoners [common criminals] and “socially alien” prisoners[opposed to the political regime].

These two examples show how much homosexuality was used by the state according to its instant needs. Ilse Totzke was not targeted at first by the Gestapo due to her sexual orientation or appearance but because she represented a threat for the collective society. Her fate was sealed once her anti-state actions became tangible. Homosexuality ban in the Soviet Union followed an ambiguous route between the 1930s and the 1950-60s, alternating between tolerance and rejection as it suited the Soviet power. Both cases illustrate the difficulty to live in a society that based its normality on gender role and where any deviation could threaten the stability of the regime.

Sources :

Dan Healey, “Forging Gulag Sexualities: Penal Homosexuality and the Reform of the Gulag after Stalin” Russian Homophobia from Stalin to Sochi (London: Bloomsbury Press, 2017).

Laurie Marhoefer, “Lesbianism, Transvestitism, and the Nazi State: a Microhistory of a Gestapo Investigation, 1939-1943” The American Historical Review 121: 4 (2016): 1167- 1195.

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