UBC Lectures, Seminars, and Symposia

Cultivating an Ethical Gaze : Thinking with and beyond Identity in Queer and Trans German Pasts and Presents Sutton, Katie


In the passport photograph on his Weimar-era Transvestitenschein, a besuited Gerd Katter gazes out past the camera’s lens, refusing to fully expose himself to either the authorities on whom his ID application relied, or to viewers across the century since. Starting with a series of such early 20th-century legal, medical, and subcultural photographs, this paper engages with theories of identity, visibility, and affect to articulate some cornerstones for an ethics of looking and being seen in queer and trans German history and cultural studies. What is at stake in designating photographs of historical individuals as “objects” for queer and trans studies? Which “objects” do we include? How have feelings such as shame and desire (Evans, Love, Probyn) shaped the conditions under which queer and trans bodies were placed on display? The ways in which we respond to such ethical conundrums, I suggest, can also shed light on current debates in German LGBTQ studies, including the relationship between media visibility and transphobia, Holocaust memorialization, and “free speech” justifications of anti-Islamic discourses. By cultivating a queer and trans ethics of “attentiveness” (Berlant, Breger) that insists on careful looking and attending to feelings, we might find productive new ways for thinking with and beyond identity.

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