Racializing Sex: Same-Sex Relations, German Colonial Authority, and Deutschtum
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Journal of the History of Sexuality 17.1 (2008) 11-24

Racializing Sex:
Same-Sex Relations, German Colonial Authority, and Deutschtum
Daniel J. Walther
Wartburg College

As numerous authors have noted, sexuality had a significant impact on the understanding and construction of empire. Indeed, in his groundbreaking study Edward Said states: "The Orient was a place where one could look for sexual experience unobtainable in Europe."1 Ronald Hyam describes a similar situation when writing about sexuality in the British Empire: "Empire unquestionably gave [men] an enlarged field of opportunity. Greater space and privacy were often available; inhibitions relaxed. European standards might be held irrelevant."2 Not surprisingly, such remarks could easily be made about colonists within the German Empire, as Hermann Hiery demonstrates in his study of Germany's Pacific possessions.3

However, as German control established itself more firmly, the colonial space became a contested terrain for exercising state power, including control over both the European and the indigenous populations. Though individuals migrated to colonies in order to escape the watchful eyes of respectable society and authorities, behavior perceived as threatening to imperial control came increasingly under official scrutiny. For those Germans in authority, the need arose to distinguish themselves from the indigenous population in order to legitimate their "right" to rule over them. Through the exercise of state power, colonial officials attempted to control European [End Page 11] as well as indigenous behavior and bodies in defining who was "civilized." In doing so they not only defined what constituted European and the "other," they also contributed to the creation of a concept of Germanness (Deutschtum) in ways that could not exist in the homeland because of the power these officials possessed and the presence of a non-European population in the lands of the German Empire.

As in other European colonies during the period of the "New Imperialism," as scholars refer to the land grab of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that greatly expanded European control of the globe, a European's choice of sexual partner in the colonial setting became an increasing concern for German nationalists and colonialists in both the metropole and the German colonies. This was especially true in the first decade of the twentieth century, a period of time that experienced a notable growth in interracial sexual relations (called "miscegenation" in the language of the times) and an accompanying jump in offspring from these unions.4 Staunch German nationalists and colonial authorities feared for the future of the empire. Their activities and language revealed a great deal about how much power colonial officials possessed and how German citizenship was defined in terms of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Sex, in this context, became racialized and a defining feature of German civilization. In sexual relations it meant that the partner had to be not only of the opposite sex but also white.

Although scholarly discussions and literature exploring gender and sexuality in Germany's colonies have focused almost exclusively on heterosexual intercourse, there was another crucial dimension to white colonial sexuality, namely, same-sex activities between white and native males.5 Here, too, sex became racialized and resulted in colonial officials utilizing their powers to bring about conformity with prevailing notions of European civilization. [End Page 12] By examining examples of homosexual relations, one learns that maleness was also supposed to entail heterosexuality, at least for whites. To act otherwise, especially with a non-European, was viewed by colonial officials as a danger to the entire colonial endeavor. Such acts were perceived as a threat to state power and Germany's ability to maintain control over the indigenous populations.

By focusing on sexuality in the colonial setting, one sees an emphasis on controlling not only native but also European bodies. Admittedly, within the European community an inequality in the extent of power existed in terms of sexual preference and gender. Preconceived notions of German male and female sexual and...