For our fourth article in our World War 2 series, we will discuss something often glossed over: the experiences of queer women and AFAB people throughout World War 2. Before we delve into that though, we must give a content warning.
This article contains mentions of forced sex work, corrective rape, and forced pregnancy.
This suffering of queer women and AFAB people is not to be taken lightly. In the theme of our articles, it would be irresponsible of us to overlook this part of history. It would be just as irresponsible, however, for us not to warn our readers about potentially triggering topics. If you can continue reading, we encourage you to do so. If you are not, next week, we will discuss the life and efforts of Josephine Baker.
Now, we set the scene. Before the Nazis came to power, Berlin was one of the safer places for queer people in Europe. As discussed in previous articles, Berlin had developed a rich queer culture that embraced open-mindedness and knowledgeable study of queer lives. There were queer bars, clubs, societies, libraries, and so on. Despite the general atmosphere of safety, however, homosexuality between two people societally defined as men was still illegal under Paragraph 175. It is important to note that Paragraph 175 did not make romantic or sexual relationships between two people societally defined as women illegal. This is where many historical summaries of the lives of queer women in Germany stop, but it is not where history stops.
Cisgender queer women and AFAB people were excluded from Paragraph 175 because they were still seen as “useful” - they still had wombs that could theoretically give birth. So, though transgender women were treated with vaguely the same attitudes as gay cisgender men, otherwise “acceptable” cisgender queer women and AFAB individuals remained untouched for some time during the Nazis rise to power, for the hope they would serve as vessels to produce more Aryan children. These two groups of individuals were never allowed to exist out of kindness, but because of the idea that they were “fixable.”
Despite their “fixable” nature, the technical legality of queer/AFAB lives did not stop them from being punished. As we clarified previously, transgender women were treated similarly as gay men, and cisgender queer women and AFAB people still faced societal ostracization, the destruction of their gathering places, and enforced consequences when the Nazis came into power. It is true that very few cisgender queer women and AFAB people were sent to concentration camps, but that is not to say they didn’t suffer.
The cisgender queer women and AFAB people who were sent to concentration camps were not sent under the symbol of the pink triangle. The pink triangle was a symbol for the queer men and AMAB people in concentration camps, so transgender women were again placed with gay men and experienced much of the same prosecution. Cisgender queer women and AFAB people were placed in the asocial category instead. This makes it difficult for anyone to know the exact number of cisgender queer women and AFAB people in the concentration camps, but it is guessed that the number was small. The different classification did, in fact, lead to different treatment. Queer women and AFAB individuals were often sent to be forced to work in the brothels in the camps to “fix” them. There were many cases in which cisgender queer women and queer men were forced into sexual situations to “correct” their “unnatural” behavior. S.S. officers also were known to try to correct queerness through rape and forced pregnancy, so that their victims could “serve their purpose” and give birth to the next generation of Aryans.
This behavior was not confined to concentration camps. Any cisgender queer woman or AFAB person was in danger of these things just because of their existence, and many of them married men to avoid these atrocities. Some of the more fortunate individuals found a queer man or AMAB person to marry and use to stop suspicion, but many didn’t. Those individuals often married heterosexual men and were denied their sexual agency to preserve their safety, and still, others were found and impregnated by S.S. officers.
All of these facts make the queer community's dismissal of what queer women and AFAB people went through during World War 2 horrific. While their numbers may be lesser, it cannot do to let the suffering of queer women and AFAB individuals fall to the side or to dismiss their suffering as inconsequential. It cannot, and should not, be said queer women and AFAB individuals had it better merely because their suffering was less overt. There is no excuse to ignore what queer women and AFAB people went through, and the fact that places made for queer people continue to do so is abhorrent. We have to do better.
[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Lesbians and The Third Reich.
Retrieved Apr 24 2016 from https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005478
Safier, S. The History of Gay Male and Lesbian Experience During World War II.
Retrieved Apr 24 2016 from http://www.pink-triangle.org/
Gerdes, S. (2015, Ferbuary 5.) What happened to gay women during the Holocaust?
Retrieved Apr 24 2016 from http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/what-happened-gay-women-during-holocaust050215/#gs.dR8B00I
Queerty. Should Lesbian Women Be Included In Holocaust Memorial´s Gay Kissing
Video? Retrieved Apr 24 2016 from https://www.queerty.com/should-lesbian-women-be-included-in-holocaust-memorials-gay-kissing-video-20100326
Trucker, K. I. (2015, Apr 16.) Life Inside the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp for
Women. Retrieved Apr 24 2016 from http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2015/04/16/remembering_the_lesbians_prostitutes_and_resisters_of_ravensbr_ck_concentration.html