chapter  4
27 Pages

State approaches to homosexuality and non- heterosexual lives in Czechoslovakia during state socialism věra sOkOLOvá

The Czechoslovak state-socialist regime, despite its brutality in many areas of life, surprisingly never enacted a hateful or seditious campaign against homosexuality and non-heterosexual people.1 State-socialist-era laws on sexuality were not only more lenient in comparison to previous imperial, inter-war and Nazi legislation but the institutional discourse of sexuality provided a more emancipated context for non-heterosexual sexuality than in many Western states (D’Emilio and Freedman 1988; Green and West 1997; Rupp 2001; Kuhar and Takács 2007). That does not mean that homosexuality was accepted with open arms; there certainly was public contempt for homosexuality in state-socialist Czechoslovakia but such popular attitudes pre-dated the state-socialist regime’s accession to power and cannot be interpreted as a ‘communist invention’. The one-party state did not support diversity and found all identities that challenged state-socialist ideology as suspect. In this sense, the repressive apparatus did not care or target homosexuals or transsexuals in any different ways than, for example, hippies, rockers or believers (Seidl et al. 2012). The regulation of sexuality in state-socialist Czechoslovakia also has to be placed in the context of the effort of the Communist Party to maintain the monopoly on power it gained in 1948 and its repression of private ownership and individual rights. Historically rooted homophobic sentiments of mainstream society blended together with the systematic destruction of freedoms and individuality, affecting all people regardless of their sexual orientation. The regime was not an omnipotent power, but a conglomerate of many discourses and practices that applied repression or leniency in diverse ways. In the context of state approach to (homo)sexuality, those discourses and practices were applied by countless teachers, doctors, censors and others who had the discursive power to interpret the laws and directives from above and apply them in ways they deemed appropriate in the given context. As this research revealed, these historical agents played a fundamental role in shaping the choices, life strategies and everyday experiences of nonheterosexual people in Czechoslovakia during the state-socialist period. Moreover, non-heterosexual people in Czechoslovakia had a powerful, albeit unexpected, ally: Czechoslovak sexology and sexologists, who played an

important, and mainly positive, role in the process of decriminalizing homosexuality in the late 1950s and early 1960s (Procházka 1997; Hromada 2000). Scholars examining Czechoslovak sexology have emphasized only the negative aspects of the sexological discourse, which defined homosexuality as a perversion and disease (Lišková 2012; Řídký 2013). Contrary to this view, this chapter argues that Czechoslovak sexologists were not only purveyors of a heteronormative discourse but also actively challenged the picture of homosexual subjects as (only) deviant and sick. They did so in quite subtle ways, making it difficult to decode whether they were proponents or critics of the heteronormative system. As trustworthy, legitimate experts of the state they defined and disseminated normative ‘truths’ about sexuality. Comprehensive research of all sexological writings on homosexuality, transsexuality and intersexuality from 1947-89 (recorded in the database Bibliographia medica Čechoslovaca (BMČ) at the National Medical Library in Prague), together with oral histories discussed in this chapter, indicate that from the mid-1970s sexological offices also became sites of non-heterosexual self-discovery and community. This chapter examines the ways in which state institutions and approaches towards homosexuality intersected with the lives and experiences of people who identified themselves (mainly retroactively) as gays, lesbians or transsexuals. I show that gender and sexuality worked as tools of regulation and control and how non-heterosexual people responded to this pressure. Such persons were unable to have a legal community, were discriminated against in many areas of their private and public lives and at times were subjected to random acts of violence, surveillance and political harassment (Fanel 2000; Procházka et al. 2003; Nedbálková 2007). At the same time, biographical narratives also reveal a large degree of autonomy and agency of individual non-heterosexual people in the face of these hardships. People, who at the time had no means to officially identify themselves as gay, lesbian or transgender, nonetheless narrated fascinating evidence of living out such identities – not only with fear and stress, but also with dignity, invention, cunning and passion.