“Come out of the closet!” was one of the claims raised by the newly formed gay movement in the 1970s. A radical claim followed by but a few at that time. The more surprising was the publication of Hans Mayer’s book of confession entitled Outsiders in 1975, in which he emphasized this claim. The book centered on Mayer’s assumption that the bourgeois enlightenment had failed, run aground on its demand for equality that does not take cognizance of women, gays and Jews, blinding them out from bourgeois life as something alien, or even persecuting them.
Mayer’s inhabitant of Sodom, an offence in the eyes of God and every human being, is flanked by the women, who are no minority group by definition but whose liberation movement abetted male fears, and by the Jews as the “classical” minority group in a Christian based society. In his memoirs Hans Mayer vehemently denied that his Outsiders should be taken as autobiographical: “I never suffered from my background and my sexual orientation.” He thought being gay itself was rather boring and was, as the acclaimed literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki put it, a rather lonely person. Similar to Golo Mann, you have to know how to read between the lines of his memoirs. The intellectual Hans Mayer conceals and refuses any private sentiment. Clashes with a hostile society that threatened him not only as a Jew but also as a homosexual – such as the incident when he was convicted of seducing a young man in Switzerland involving a prison sentence – are embellished and described as pub fights. In his professional life as professor of German language and literature Hans Mayer, a jurist in fact, was an outsider and was always caught between all stools. A wanderer between worlds: Federal Germany felt sinister to him as a Jew, and his commitment to the socialist cause also turned out difficult.
This feeling of alienation led to his enormous literary output. Hans Mayer literally “wrote” out his place in the German postwar world, in East and West. And perhaps his becoming an egomaniac in the process was inevitable. The Schwules Museum dedicates an exhibition to Hans Mayer on his 100th birthday. Taking his book Outsiders as an example, the show illuminates his life and work. We strongly recommend: Read Hans Mayer!
Curator: Wolfgang Theis