In addition to her studies in European ethnology and gender studies, Esther Buntfuß works at the SMU as a volunteer. During her shifts at the café and in the museum supervision, Esther also has time to read books about Lili Elbe. In the interview you can find out how the terminology for trans people has changed in the last 100 years and Esther’s favorite exhibition.
SMU: Hi Esther! Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Esther: Yes, of course. I’m Esther. I’m currently studying European Ethnology and Gender Studies for my bachelor’s degree – for a while now, but I think I’ll be done with it soon. I have a lot of flatmates that I spend a lot of time with. Or I do a lot of handicrafts or we go out, play Frisbee or skateboard. I like to spend time with friends – or also here at the Schwules Museum.
Did you hear about us through friends or how did you find us?
I’ve been laughed at for that, but through the website. I went to the Gay Museum once before I lived in Berlin. Then I moved to Berlin and discovered on the website that there is this kind of voluntary work here.
What exactly do you do as a volunteer?
I do volunteer work in the museum and not in the library or the archive. There are three different services: either in the café, at the cash register or in the exhibition. So you make sure that the museum can open. When you’re at the cash register, you have to sell tickets, in the café drinks and in the exhibition you switch on the technology and then you actually just sit on a chair and hope that everything goes well. There’s no interaction there either, other than asking people to wear their mask or telling them not to touch the pictures. But that’s about it.
What is your job today and what is your favorite?
Today is the exhibition service. I like the café best because it’s a bit more varied. You also talk to people and make contact. But I usually enjoy sitting in the exhibition because I have a book with me. If I don’t know the exhibition yet, I look at the exhibition in great detail. That’s also very cool, because then I really have a lot of time to do so.
Which book are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading a book about Lili Elbe, one of the first people to seek gender reassignment treatment at the „Institut für Sexualwissenschaft“ (Institute of Sexology). I’m not sure yet if I would recommend it though, because there are a few idioms used where I’m a bit critical. But that’s what I’m reading right now.
It’s pretty cool because it was written by a person who was a friend of Lili Elbe and wrote their life story together with her, including diary entries and letters from Lili Elbe. But it was in the 1930s and back then trans and inter people were often spoken about in pathologizing terms.
Is it exciting to see what has happened since then and how people talk about trans people differently now?
Yes, I find it really exciting. Back then there were a lot of people who supported Lili Elbe and were there for her. At that time there was already a huge cohesion in the community. It’s definitely cool to see that and see language changes.
And in which communities are you yourself?
I would say very left and queer. We often go to demonstrations together or I discuss with friends from my studies – political topics and texts often overlap in gender studies. I also really like museums and if you have the opportunity to be here more often, then you simply get to see all the exhibitions. I really benefit from being here regularly.
And if you could make a wish for the Gay Museum?
I would think about a new name. I’m really excited about the exhibitions and they include so many different queer perspectives. And I think we would do it justice if it was called Queeres Museum (queer museum) or something. I think that’s pretty cool!
Do you have a favorite exhibition right now?
I really like the arcHIV exhibition right now. I was there at the screening of the film “Save the Fire” as well. I thought that was really great too!