Coming Out is a First and a Last

If people have heard of the East German film Coming Out (1989, directed by Heiner Carow), they usually know one of a few things about the film. First, it was the first feature film about homosexuality to be produced in the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany). Second, it premiered on the same night the GDR opened its borders, the day of the so-called Fall of the Berlin Wall (November 9, 1989).

What many people might not know is that, although Coming Out appeared in the GDR’s fortieth year and was even considered rather tame by Western standards, Carow’s film came after more than forty years of LGBTQ existence, activity, and resistance in the country. Even before the GDR was founded in 1949, a physician and scientist of sexuality, Dr. Rudolf Klimmer (1905–77), tried to get the Nazi persecution of homosexuals recognized by officials and organizations, like the Union of Persecutees of the Nazi Regime (VVN). Klimmer’s efforts in this area were unsuccessful, but his activism stands as an early example of the various forms of resistance to oppressive gender and sexual norms.

In the 1970s and 1980s, LGBTQ individuals and groups found ways to elude or resist governmental obstructionism. The Homosexual Interest Group Berlin (HIB) was a social and politically minded organization in the 1970s and aimed to educate members of the queer community. In the 1980s, queer people often met under the auspices of the Protestant Church. Groups like Lesbians in the Church (LiK) were an opportunity for social connections as well as political and activist statements like commemorating homosexual victims of Nazism in concentration camps.

By the late 1980s, times had changed, but the East German regime made public representation in media possible relatively slowly. In film, the state-run DEFA film studios produced the short documentary The Other Love (1988), an educational film with limited impact. Coming Out arrived in 1989, partly as a way of encouraging public awareness of fellow LGBTQ East Germans. Coming Out’s treatment of the subject of gay men was remarkable for many reasons including its first large-scale cinematic portrayal of male same-sex affection. The collapse of the GDR overshadowed this.

I have written elsewhere about the film’s relevance for contemporary audiences, in part for its awareness of issues of marginalization. The new volume in the German Film Classics series coincides with Coming Out’s release in a new restored edition with features like updated subtitles, extra interviews with its actors, and a teaching guide. A new generation of filmgoers can enjoy the film with even more knowledge of the context in which it appeared.

This guest post was written by KYLE FRACKMAN, Associate Professor of German & Scandinavian Studies at the University of British Columbia.

Coming Out
By Kyle Frackman
ISBN: 9781640140899, Paperback
List price: £14.99 / $19.95
Blog price: £11.24 / $14.97

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