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Sex, Shame and West German Gay Liberation

Griffiths, C (2016) Sex, Shame and West German Gay Liberation. German History, 34 (3). pp. 445-467. ISSN 0266-3554


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This article contributes to a reassessment of gay liberation by focusing on how matters of sex and desire featured in the gay press and the gay movement in 1970s West Germany. Gay liberation has often been viewed through an affirmative lens, contrasted favourably with the supposed shame-filled conformism of the postwar homophile movement. I problematize this perspective by analysing ambivalence about homosexual desire and gay (male) sexual practice, both in the pages of the commercial gay press and in gay activist publications. Using case studies of intergenerational desire—or ‘paedophilia’—and sado-masochism, I question the extent to which the 1970s saw a transition towards the ideal of mutual, reciprocal relationships. In so doing, I argue that historians of homosexual politics should not only analyse questions of ideology and strategy but also sex, desire and ambivalence about self and society. Concluding through a consideration of the interrelationship between ‘pride’ and ‘shame’, this article shows that gay liberation was anything but a mere hedonistic interlude.

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