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Object of the Month February: Nadja Schallenberg’s Coming Out Album (1990)

11. February 2019

Nadja Schallenberg gifted this album to her parents for Christmas 1990. At that time, she was 20 years old and was going through her coming out as a self-described “lestra” (lesbian transsexual) and androgynous woman. She made the album as a way to share her feelings, thoughts, and plans with her parents. It contains her own poems, photographs, correspondence, and newspaper articles that document the first steps on her way towards sex reassignment.

Born and raised in East Berlin, Schallenberg  became a civil rights activist for transsexuals during the turbulent years of German reunification. She founded the first association for transvestites and transsexuals in the German Democratic Republic in 1989, a community centre at the Sonntags-Club in 1992, and a self-help group for transsexual lesbians and queer women in 1998. Her application to change her legal sex according to east German law was annulled when the GDR ended. Subsequently, she worked towards a reform of the more restrictive Transsexuality Law of the Federal Republic. Her successful lawsuit in the German Supreme Court abolished the age limit for applications to change one’s first name.

Schallenberg donated papers documenting her legal and somatic transition to the Sonntags-Club, which were later acquired by the SMU. She donated this album to the Museum at the opening of the exhibition “Unboxed: Transgender in a Gay Museum?” in January 2019.

Schallenberg says that being open about even the most intimate aspects of her journey is important to foster understanding for transsexuals. In her educational work, she uses poetic language, film, and photographs — just as she did in this very personal album, whose first readers were her parents.

Text: Sebastian Felten, Unboxed Curator
Photo: Karla Lück

The Object of the Month will be displayed in the library on the first floor of the Schwules Museum.