99 Years Ago, a Queer/Trans Magazine Was Born — Nine Years Later, Fascism Killed It

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The subway ride from Potsdam to Berlin lasts around an hour. The S7 hugs the autobahn, but if you sit on the left side of the subway car, you can see the tall pines and trees with circular growths of mistletoe. It’s a parasitic plant, which I felt never tracked well with the romantic connotations it has around the holidays. From far away, though, the growths look like rounded bulbs, natural ornaments adorning the trees.

I am on my way to the Grimm Zentrum to see some originals of the early 20th century lesbian magazine Die Freundin [The Girlfriend]. I had seen this magazine in microfilm, studied and catalogued it from PDF scans scattered with unknown hairs and dust. This magazine had captured my imagination for three years, but I had yet to see it in person. In fact, I was a bit lucky to have this opportunity. The librarian had slit open one envelope filled with issues from one year of the magazine. She told me the issues were too delicate and she would not open any more envelopes. But, if I would like, I could see those from the one she had opened.

Die Freundin ran from 1924 to 1933, with some breaks in publication due to bans and censures. This happened to many magazines that dealt with queer and trans life during the Weimar era in Germany. Die Freundin was one of the most popular lesbian magazines of its time, and often it contained a special section for “transvestites.” This special section would discuss new laws around dress, medical advancements, or the best places to go for clothes and haircuts — places that wouldn’t ask too many questions.

The main section of the magazine contained short stories, serialized novels, poems, letters from readers, news stories, advertisements for clubs and bars, and personal ads. My dissertation focuses on the poems, but I always found myself flipping to the personal ads. I would wonder about the people who placed these ads. If I saw the same ad issue after issue suddenly stop, I would wonder: Did they find what they were looking for? Or did they give up? The magazine’s final issue came on March 8, 1933. There is no editor’s letter to inform readers this is the last issue. Indeed, the final article on corsets and trans people ends with the phrase, “Fortsetzung folgt” [To be continued]. A lie, but one the editors didn’t know was a lie. The Nazi government would go on to promptly shutdown all queer and trans publications days later.

The S7 pulls into the Friedrichstraße station. In the 1920s, the streets and alleys around this stop were common sites of sex work, frequented by queer men. Now, they are filled with cafés, restaurants, and tourist shops. I walk quickly. The November air cuts through me, and I hope the library will be warmer.

In the reading room, I exchange my library card for a heavy white envelope. The librarian indicates I should take a seat at one the of the tables, and the damp soles of my boots squeak loudly as I cross the room. I set the envelope down on the table, trying my best to not let it slip from my fingers while the librarian gazes at me from her desk. It’s a bound collection, hard cover, with the fake marble pattern of any good composition notebook. I wonder: who collected these? Who bound them together? Where did they find the issues? But I am more anxious to see the magazine, so I push these questions aside and open the cover.

I open the cover and see the originals. I do not know how to describe this moment. It was like coming home and simultaneously arriving at a strange place you’d only heard about from others.

The images are clean and crisp — not darkened by conversion to microfilm, not flecked with hair and dust from the scanning of microfilm to PDF. I can see the images of barely clothed women, where for the past three years I had only seen dark silhouettes. And, in a few images, someone had inked in with red pen the lips and nipples of some of the women — but who? Who had done this? I can feel the grittiness of the page. And here — someone had creased the page, folded it into four. I can imagine a magazine of this size, with images like this on the front cover, you might want to slip it into the pocket of your coat before taking it home. Are these creases from 1930? Or later? I trace them with my fingertips and imagine and continue to imagine.

I told Fulbright I needed to come and see these magazines because I was going to write about their materiality. To an extent, this is true. But I also just wanted to see them and feel and touch and remember that other queer and trans people might have touched these once, folded and slipped them into a coat pocket. The terminology and communities were different. I perhaps would have been unrecognizable to them with my queerness and transness, but I still long to know them.

I come across a poem from an author known only as Eny1:

She loves only Emil

I can’t be like the others…
I really can’t, I’d rather remain alone!
I think, they are brutal, the guys…
What’s nice about such a pearl of a man?
First you’re conquered with all-out flattery,
Then Sundays sometimes you go dancing with one,
And he goes for your breasts and then kicks your bum to the curb,
And that might suit you all, you stupid idiots!

My Emil is different,
My Emil is kind!
She is in love with me
And never lets me down!
She is my everything!
No one can buy her, not even with money!
And on Sundays when I go out with Emil,
Then we really get away…
And when I go home with her,
The goodbye hurts before it comes.—

Oh, Emil, that’s a real man,
He comes at everything the right way.
How happy I am, that I have him!
Emil, my Emil, true until the grave!

(Year 6, Number 42)
October 15, 1930

The switch in pronouns — from she/her to he/him for Emil — is often what most notice about this poem. Emil does not fit well into categories of queerness or transness then or now. The poem makes such labeling difficult. However, this is not what brings me back to this poem time and time again after the trip to the archives.

I can’t help but think about the speaker of the poem, the “she” who only loves Emil. In a magazine often so full of lonely voices, longing for connection and recognition, here is a poem from the voice of a lover. She is our only access to Emil, and, though she may switch pronouns for her lover, she never calls him anything other than “Emil.” Emil spans the ambiguity and distance between ‘she’ and ‘he’; Emil is different and a “real man.” This name — the consistency of the name throughout the poem — indexes that which exceeds any distinct categories of the time: lesbian, virile homosexual, or transvestite. Emil’s name simultaneously contains the excess and is in excess.

What might such a loving perception provide us if we could also access it? Would I see you in all your rich complexity? Would you see me in the ways I long to be seen?

The scholar Heather Love once wrote that “[t]he experience of queer historical subjects is not safely distant from contemporary experience… [t]hat is to say, contemporary queer subjects are also isolated, lonely subjects—looking for other lonely people, just like them.” Love presents us with instances of, what some might call, “tainted” historical work — the personal intermingling with the study of the past. And yet, can the drive to return to the past, to engage with literatures and histories of the past ever not, in some way, be personal? The work I invest in, the stories I uncover and write on, the poetry I interpret, these are scholarly acts and tasks, but they are also me. And they are also potentially you. And they are also for the countless queer and trans subjects who may feel awfully alone and want an anchor in this world.

1 This translation from the original German is my own. The Forum Queeres Archiv München recently digitized many issues of Die Freundin, and the issue containing this poem can be viewed here: https://archiv.forummuenchen.org/objekt/die-freundin-1930-ausgabe-42/

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Liz Schoppelrei is a Midwestern queer currently living in central Pennsylvania. They teach college courses on world literature and German. Their work—both creative and academic—centers queer and trans histories, narratives, representations, and lives throughout the Anglophone and Germanophone world. In their spare time, they can be found birding, reading, and perpetually considering whether to get a cat.

Liz has written 1 article for us.


  1. I work at the Forum Queeres Archiv München and was part of the team that digitized and published as many issues of Die Freundin as we could find.

    As a long time reader of Autostraddle I was very happy to see that the work was useful for you and the link to our website.

    Keep up the good work!

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