"In middle-class circles they believe, oddly enough, that among them homosexuality has no place, and from these circles the most annoying enemies recruit each other to oppose the movement to free Uranian people. I would like to give as an example, that my father, when by chance he came to speak about homosexuality, explained with conviction, "nothing of the sort can happen in my family." The facts prove the opposite. I need to add nothing to that statement."
With this century-old utterance, Anna Rüling became the first known Lesbian activist.
Very recently more has become known about Anna Rüling. She gave her interesting and expressive speech, "What Interest does the Women's Movement have in Solving the Homosexual Problem?" on October 8, 1904, at the Prinz Albrecht Hotel in Berlin. She was invited to give her address at the annual meeting of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee. The Committee, the first Gay organization in world history, was established in Berlin in 1897 by Magnus Hirschfeld.
In her speech, Rüling brought Gay rights and women's rights under one umbrella. She congratulated the Committee for its support of women's rights and for including Lesbians in its fight for equal rights. Such support by men and the inclusion of Lesbians in homosexual interests, according to Rüling, had been sadly neglected.
Because the involvement of Lesbians in the Women's Movement continues to be as great an issue a century after the delivery of Rüling's speech, it is important that people today know what she had to say.
Until relatively recently, very little had been written about the Women's Movement, and those writings that did exist concerning women's issues most often had been authored by men. As it is, there are few writings that directly treat the subject of the Gay Movement as it affects the Women's Movement.
On the very outset of her speech Rüling makes the point that women are considered only as an afterthought even in the fight for equal rights. Although she is not complaining, she indicates that it is due to the lack of laws against the practice of sexual acts between women that has kept them on the sidelines of the fight for sexual liberty as it concerns the love between women. Rüling uses the terms "homosexuality," the word coined by Karoly Maria Kertbeny in 1868, and "Uranism," coined by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs in 1862.
It is interesting to see Rüling using the same economic and social ideas that are current today in the attempt to present the circumstances which separate men and women in the workplace and in the home. She speaks about stereotypes and stigmas and which kinds of jobs are said to be fit for which sex. She denies the conventional roles in a way that is so totally modern that the reader would almost believe the speech, written one hundred years ago, was for presentation to a contemporary audience.
Then, on the other hand, Rüling makes remarks about conjugal unions between homosexuals and heterosexuals that might be difficult to accept today. While it is true that such unions may cause misery, as she says, it is not believed today that the offspring would be any more unloved or unfortunate or become "... weak-minded, idiotic, epileptic, chest-diseased degenerates of all sorts..." accompanied by "unhealthy sexual drives such as sadism and masochism."
Today's readers might question which side Rüling is on at this point; however, when they understand that many of the physicians and psychiatrists of her day diagnosed "homosexuality" and "uranism" to be exactly as Rüling describes the offspring, a morbid brood indeed, they will see that she is just trying to persuade people from falling into the trap of marriage for convenience and ones entered into when giving into the pressures of society.
Read More about Anna!
Later in the speech, Rüling points to the fact of the inability to change sexual orientation by force and the inability of parents to know the sexual orientation of their children. Here is a woman who already knew the humane treatment of Gay children. Her answer to any problem concerning the sexuality of children: love and understanding.
One notes that Rüling distinguishes between three individuals. She says that "men, women, and homosexuals" are different and should have equal opportunities in education and in the job market. Rüling, her contemporaries, and her predecessors believed in the existence of a third sex, a Gay sex.
Yet for all her understanding and importance it is interesting to note that Rüling is not mentioned in the introduction to Ilse Kokula's Weibliche Homosexualität um 1900 in zeitgenössischen Dokumenten (Female Homosexuality Around 1900 in Contemporary Documents), published in 1981, even though Helene Stöcker, the only leading women in the Women's Movement who was a member of the Hirschfeld Committee, is mentioned. However, Kokula does reprint Rüling's speech. On the other hand, Simone de Beauvoir does use Rüling as a reference in her book, Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex), published in 1949. The only other indication of the importance of Rüling's speech is the appearance of a second (after mine) translation of her speech by Lillian Faderman and Brigitte Eriksson. Unfortunately, Faderman and Eriksson, limiting their comments solely to her speech, shed no light on the life of Rüling.
As a note of interest, only in a roundabout way can the reader of Rüling's speech deduce Rüling's sexuality. She says that her father was wrong in stating that no homosexuality could appear in her family. The reader can only guess from this statement that she is admitting to being Lesbian.
Also, nothing is known about Rüling's position in the Women's Movement. She is not counted among the leadership or even as belonging to the active membership. Perhaps, in this case, her position is unimportant. Nevertheless, she does deserve the careful attention of today's Gay and non-Gay readership, because her idea, that both the Women's Movement and the Gay Movement together one day would raise their banners in victory, remains the dream of many Gay and non-Gay people. Because the Equal Rights Amendment has yet to be passed, Rüling's enthusiastic speech can still play an active role in the endless battle against bigotry and sex discrimination in general and male chauvinism in particular.
In a private email, Claude Summers wrote that Rüling published a volume including short stories in 1906 and that Bonnie Zimmerman's Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 2000), includes an article on Rüling by Hanna Hacker, an Austrian writer.
Also, Ralf at the Berlin Hirschfeld Society says in an email that his "colleague Christiane
Leidinger has solved the biographical riddle of Anna Rueling." Leidinger's
article is published in the December 2003 issue of the Mitteilungen der
Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft" (Reports of the Magnus Hirschfeld Society):
Christiane Leidinger, "Theo A[nna] Sprüngli (1880-1953) alias Anna Rüling/Th. Rüling/Th. A. Rüling - erste biographische Mosaiksteine zu einer zwiespältigen Ahnin lesbischer herstory." (The First Biographical Mosaic of a Conflicted Forebear of Lesbian Herstory).
Rüling, Anna. What Interest does the Women's Movement have in Solving the Homosexual Problem? 1905; trans. M. Lombardi-Nash. F 1978; 2nd ed. Jacksonville, Florida: Urania Manuscripts, 2000.
Source of the translation:
Rüling, Anna. "Welches Interesse hat die Frauenbewegung an der Lösung des homosexuellen Problems? Eine Rede." Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der
Homosexualität (Annual for Sexual Intermediaries with Special Emphasis
on Homosexuality) ed. Magnus Hirschfeld, vol. 7 (1905), pp. 131-51.
"1904: The First Lesbian Feminist Speaks." The Gay & Lesbian Review, May-June 2004: 31-34.
Faderman, Lillian and Brigitte Eriksson, eds. and transs. Lesbian-Feminism in Turn-of-the-Century Germany: Stories and Autobiographies. Weatherby Lake, MO: The Naiad Press, Inc., 1980. Reprinted in Mark Blasius and Shane Phelan, eds., We Are Everywhere: A Historical Sourcebook of Gay and Lesbian Politics (New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 143-150.
Fiorentini, Isa. Che interesse ha il movimento delle donne a risolvere il problema omosessuale? (www.fuorispazio.com), 2003.