Intimacy On the Move

Benno Gammerl, European University Institute Florence; Christiane Reinecke, Europa-Universität Flensburg; Ulrike Schaper, Freie Universität Berlin; Nikolaos Papadogiannis, University of St-Andrews
Fand statt
Vom - Bis
04.04.2022 - 05.04.2022
Sébastien Tremblay, Europa-Universität Flensburg

After having been denied both intimacy and mobility in many shapes or forms for two years, historians working at the intersection of both these concepts gathered at the European University Institute in the heart of Tuscany to discuss the potential merging of both a history of sexualities and mobility studies. BENNO GAMMERL (EUI), CHRISTIANE REINECKE (Flensburg), ULRIKE SCHAPER (FU Berlin), and NIKOLAOS PAPADOGIANNIS (St-Andrews) invited participants to reframe sexual and racialized assemblages1, but also discuss the intersections of gender, race, migration, and space. All contributors were to focus on the experiences and practices of historical actors navigating cultural and social norms. They were also to consider the importance of subjective experiences, the complex realities of migration, and the significance of movement for the historical analysis of intimacy brokers. Privileging the murkiness and ambivalence of intimacies over sexualities, the organizers reminded all those gathered in the Villa Salviati how intimacy as a concept ranges across the physical, the affective, and the relational. It is thus an appropriate lens for looking at the often equally fuzzy nature of, for example, sex touristic encounters. Furthermore, beyond tourism and migration, the organizers highlighted the potential of studying intimacies’ dialectical connection to space, may it be in the ways intimacies change a space, facilitate the move across spaces, block the access to one or reenforced certain power structures between spaces, such as the Global North and the Global South.

Opening the first day with a paper on military brothels (bordels militaires de campagne) in Northern Africa, CATHERINE PHIPPS (Oxford) highlighted the historical entanglements of geographical borders, gendered social boundaries, and racialized hierarchies. She first mapped the system of coerced sex work in the colonies. She then underlined how military brothels welcomed European and North African troops, but also how these institutions (mostly employing North African women) were racially segregated with different entrances or different times for different racialized individuals. As NIKOLAOS PAPADOGIANNIS (St-Andrews) echoed some of the organizers’ introductory remarks regarding the role of intimacies for violent dispositives between the Global North and the Global South, Phipps emphasized how the French government transgressed its own metropolitan laws and opened military brothels on continental Europe during the two world wars to prevent interracial intimacies. Centering the sex workers’ experiences, fears, and deceptions through their own writings, for example the work of Amazigh poets or Germaine Aziz, Phipps investigated and compared the control and setting of boundaries set inside and outside of the French state, inviting the participants to link the commodification of traveling bodies and colonial sexual encounters to racialized understandings of freedom.

NAYAN SHAH (University of Southern California) also investigated sexual encounters. Away from military compounds, he invited all those gathered to join him in the world of gambling halls, ballrooms, and movie theaters as well as in the social world of Filipino male students and workers in mainland United States and territorial Alaska under the U.S. Empire in the 1920s and 1930s. Focussing on the sensory and the sensual, Shah analyzed ways in which the social practices of Filipino male laborers encountered whiteness. Like Phipps, he demonstrated how racialized and interracial intimacies were controlled through every day and judicial violence. Framing his analysis in the broader colonial context of resource extraction and oppression, Shah focussed on religious practices, cultural affects, intimate networks and gender embodiments [the Filipino concept of Bakla] to highlight how these men disrupted established segregated norms of heterosociability. In her comment, ULRIKE SCHAPER (FU Berlin) reminded participants that the Pacific space, through migration, labour routes, imperial ambitions, and racial divides, remained a carrefour for intimate encounters and the renegotiation of gendered/sexual norms.

The afternoon opened with NADJA KLOPPROGGE’s (Gießen) investigation of interracial postwar transatlantic relations in Germany in the long 1950s. Echoing the two previous papers, she anchored her exploration of intimacies in an analysis of the body, in this case the perception and experiences of African American men stationed on West German soil in the aftermaths of the Second World War. Focussing on African American-German marriages in the era, she demonstrated the various layers of social and racial mobility emanating from these unions against the backdrop of the national socialist racialized atrocities, West German structural racism in the postwar era, and Jim Crow on the American continent. Based on the reception of sexual encounters and interracial love, as well as the reporting of the African American press about German affairs, Klopprogge identified a dialectic of integration in transatlantic discourses on race, moral decay, and the action of coming to term with the national socialist past. Answering to SÉBASTIEN TREMBLAY’s (Flensburg) comment on the possibility of highlighting the materiality of (a failed) denazification through sexual encounters, intimacies, and the performance of heteronormative stability through marriage, Klopprogge linked her analysis of heterosexual intimate constellations to postwar discourses on modernity.

Bringing together the previous papers together and furthering the participants’ considerations of intimacies and geographical mobilities, DANIEL HEATHCOTE (Edinburgh) reframed sexual encounters through the importance of (neo)colonial fantasies for white non-heteronormative subcultures and the significance of global integration following the independence of African colonies. Broadening up the existing literature on sex tourism centered on the role of white European men and their commodified sexual interactions with local African women in Kenya, Heathcote unveiled the role played by gay men in the mapping of the country after 1958. Underlining the important role of space and dynamics between the rural and the urban, he analyzed the discourse production of gay white sex tourists regarding hotel lobbies, bars, and bathrooms as possible sites of intimacies while also analyzing the demonization of the Kenyan ‘backcountry’ as a site of “savage violence” and heterosexual “barbarism”. So doing, Heathcote illustrated how queerness and the tourist economy were both responsible for a new cartography in a new white European neocolonial imaginary of post-independence Africa. As RICCARDO BULGARELLI (EUI) underlined the disruption of established European categories of queerness on the African continent, Heathcote reminded the importance of deconstructing heterosexual readings of colonial spaces and identify intimacy brokers beyond fixed categories of analysis such as gender and sexuality.

Complementing Heathcote’s contribution to the history of queer sex tourism, CHRISTOPHER EWING (Virginia Commonwealth University) argued in his paper that during the 1980s, significant publications such as Spartacus International Gay Guide became a flashpoint for transnational anxieties about the sexual exploitation of boys (a consistently ill-defined category) in the so-called ‘Third World’. He identified a “moral panic” around Spartacus and the homophobic measures it generated alongside the experiences and diverse sexual practices of western European gay men, some of whom did in fact pursue sex abroad with boys under the age of consent in many tourists’ home countries. First, Ewing posited that the punitive measures taken to combat sex tourism, sex work, and the exploitation of children were not only ineffective, but through their focus on criminalization and the blurring of the categories of sex tourism, sex work, and child abuse, largely missed the wider structures of postcolonial economic exploitation in which transnational tourism, gay and not, was embedded. Second, through his analysis of Spartacus’ founder John Stamford’s mythomaniac character, he problematized the historical hunt for sources surrounding pedosexuality in the context of German gay liberation, historians waltzing between non-consensual sexual violence, historical actors’ perspectives, and the murkiness of criminality in the archives. RACHEL LOVE (St-Andrews) indeed pointed out to the difficulty of untangling multiple layers of harm, a challenge which lies at the center of Ewing’s project.

The next morning, participants were invited by PRISKA KOMAROMI (HU Berlin) to focus on Intereuropean mobilities across the Iron Curtain and West-East sexual hierarchies between western businessmen and Hungarian sex-workers during the Cold War. She demonstrated how the passage from west to east filtered gender performances. Drawing from a rich corpus of letters written by westerners to Hungarian sex-workers as well as court trials against sex-workers suspected of being western agents and spies, Komaromi convincingly analyzed the performance of masculinities, the political and economic repercussions of projected masculine fantasies, and the role played by masculinities for the political framing of social and sexual encounters. Following her investigations of these transnational relationships, Komaroni also highlighted tensions inside Hungary. She showed how the second half of the 1960s was marked by a national opening to western tourism, a new focus on consumption, and moral campaigns focusing on traditional gender roles. Simultaneously, the country marketed itself as a tourist destination to attract foreign currency, and prostitution became a target for police discourses on moral decay. Following a comment by BENNO GAMMERL (EUI) regarding her archival material and its connection to broader discourses on sex tourism and gender emancipation during the Cold War, Komaroni also emphasized Kirsten Ghodze’s warning about inherited propaganda of the era, reminding participants that historians should not overlook East and West divides and integrate them a posteriori to broader European narratives.

ANDREW DJ SHIELD (Leiden) closed the second day, sharing with the participants stories from his personal archives. Focusing on the experiences of queer men migrating to the Netherlands in the second part of the twentieth century and based on interviews and knowledge amassed through queer kinship in his own life in Amsterdam, Shield underscored the ambivalences of Dutch liberalism and its magnetism for queer men abroad. With the help of various case studies, he criticized the stickiness of geographical mobility to one’s migration story, but also demonstrated the effects of other forms of mobility and spatiality such as gentrification, social mobility, and the demonization of so-called “ghettos” as pockets of illiberalism. ANNA DOBROWOLSKA (EUI) pointed out that the methodological queering of migration went beyond political / sexual oppression or migration based on economic pretenses. Using the case studies presented by Shield, she reminded all those present that some experiences are simply irrational and spontaneous decisions that should not be over-narrated by historians trying to find structures. CHRISTIANE REINECKE (Flensburg) emphasized the importance of space as a classic problem of mobility studies, talking about space and between spaces, instead of focusing on movement. Indeed, she stressed the dialectical link between space and movement. Spaces are often presented as fixed; however, concepts are mutable through their contextualization through space, unveiling the potential of what is moving. Spaces are therefore perpetually changed due to mobility.

Probably echoing some of the participants’ focus not only on sexualities, but queer methodologies, the organizers concluding remarks underlined ways in which opening categories of analysis could challenge the discipline. For example, by focusing on intimacies instead of sexualities and mobilities instead of migration, participants managed to deconstruct the distinction between tourism and migration and nuanced a false dichotomy between forced and voluntary mobilities. Taking mobility seriously, participants also pointed out to the necessity of rewriting national and transnational histories globally, that is, analyzing the repercussions of global integrations to translocal and transregional flows of bodies, commodities, and ideas, pushing further the notion of an evermoving global micro history. People moving across spaces and spaces moving people also implies the everchanging aspect of other categories of historical analysis such as gender.

After these wo days , it was clear for all participants that a study of both intimacies and mobilities offer new historiographical possibilities. The workshop unveiled a necessity to also understand mobility as an invitation to not only explore the everchanging aspects of geographical borders, but also social and cultural boundaries such as gender, sexualities, and race. Similarly, a focus on movement and intimacies also highlighted the difficulties to separate discourses and experiences from practices. As everyone moved back to their own institution, one thing remained clear, academic workshops, the converging of bodies and thoughts in one space, allow a circulation of, but also the transformation of knowledge. As the organizers are planning a special issue in an academic journal, this intimate workshop will surely also take a mobile life on its own…

Workshop overview:

Catherine Phipps (Oxford): Between Metropole and Colony: Bordels militaires de campagne, migration and racial borders in French Morocco

Response: Nikolaos Papadogiannis (St Andrews)
Chair: Michal Narozniak (EUI)

Nayan Shah (University of Southern California): Intimacy and mobility. The U.S. empire and the Philippines

Response: Ulrike Schaper (FU Berlin)
Chair: Raghavi Visnawath(EUI)

Nadja Klopprogge (Gießen): Integrating Histories: African American – German Marriages in the long 1950s

Response: Sébastien Tremblay (Flensburg)
Chair: Benno Gammerl (EUI)

Daniel Heathcote (Edinburgh): Neocolonial fantasies, black mobility and gay tourism: an exploration of Kenyan hotels, 1963–1978

Response: Riccardo Bulgarelli (EUI)
Chair: Christiane Reinecke (Flensburg)

Chris Ewing (Virginia Commonwealth University): Sex Tourism and Moral Panic. The Trials of John Stamford

Response: Rachel Love (St Andrews)
Chair: Ulrike Schaper (FU Berlin)

Priska Komaromi (HU Berlin): Buying Sex across the Iron Curtain. Western Clients and Transnational Masculinities in Hungarian Sex Tourism, 1968–1989

Response: Benno Gammerl (EUI)
Chair: Christiane Reinecke

Andrew Shield (Leiden): Queer Migrants to the Netherlands, 1945–2001

Response: Christiane Reinecke (Flensburg)
Chair: Ulrike Schaper (FU Berlin)

1 Ulrike Schaper / Magdalena Beljan / Pascal Eitler / Christopher Ewing / Benno Gammerl, Sexotic: The interplay between sexualization and exoticization, Sexualities 23 (1–2): 114–126, 2020.