May 16, 2015

Kafka's Boyfriend: 10 Surprising Gay Facts about Franz Kafka

The one thing I learned from studying literature for ten years at Augustana College, Indiana University, and USC:
Writers must never, ever be gay.

If their gayness is undeniable, it is a trivial thing, not worth mentioning, as irrelevant to their art as their preference for marshmallow sundaes.

If it is deniable, it will be denied.  Diaries, journals, and stories will be scrutinized, ahd the most fleeting reference to a woman's beauty will be pointed out triumphantly: "See?  See?  See?  Not gay!"

And the strongest, most passionate, most intense same-sex friendships will be ignored.  "He never mentions that they had sex!  Not gay!"

Like Franz Kafka (1883-1924), author of The Metamorphosis, which everyone has to read in high school. 


Biographers and literary critics scream loudly and vociferously that he was "Not gay!"  Saul Friedlander discusses some same-sex desire in his new biography, The Poet of Shame and Guilt (2013), but insists that Kafka never acted on his icky impulses.

But Kafka has a substantial gay connection.

1. Gay symbolism in the stories.

The Metamorphosis: Your relatives are shocked to discover that you have turned into a disgusting, slithering monster (like when homophobes discover that you are gay).

The Trial: You are arrested by unspecified agents of an unspecified government agency for an unspecified crime (like homophobes putting you on trial for making a "choice" that you never made to do evil that isn't evil).

2. In a 1917 book, psychiatrist Wilhelm Steckel analyzes The Metamorphosis as an evocation of gay self-hatred. Kafka did not deny the theory, and even wrote to his friend Felix Weltsch to ask his opinion.

3. Kafka was thoroughly disgusted by the idea of sex with women.  He preferred to court them by letter, so they wouldn't need any physical contact.  He writes in his diary of a nightmare in which a woman gropes him and tries to tear his clothes off, while he is struggling desperately and screaming "Let me go!"

Sounds really heterosexual to me.

4. He was immersed in the Physical Culture movement of early 20th century Germany, which idolized the naked young male body and sang the praises of same-sex activity.

5. He tried to read The Role of Eroticism in Male Society (1917), an early gay history by Hans Bluher, but had to put it aside for a couple of days because it was too "exciting."

6. He had crushes on guys throughout his life. In 1914 he saw 24-year old writer  Franz Werfel (left) in a coffee house, and rhapsodized over "the beautiful profile of his face pressed against his chest."  Later he dreamed that he kissed Werfel.

7. At the age of 19, he modeled for a painting St. Sebastian, the Christian saint who was arrowed to death (top photo, not Kafka).  Throughout history, images of St. Sebastian have been renowned for their blatant homoeroticism. I've never heard of a model for St. Sebastian who wasn't gay (Yukio Mishima also posed).

8. In 1902, while a student at Charles University, Kafka sat in on a lecture by Max Brod (left, the one with the chest hair).  Afterwards Brod took him home and...whatever happened, their relationship was the deepest, most intimate in Kafka's life.  After his death, Brod was named executor of Kafka's estate, and supervised the publication of his stories.

9. Kafka was also a close friend of philosopher Felix Weltsch (1884-1964), who wrote about anti-Semitism in a way that presages current views about homophobia.

10. He lived in Prague, a city which now has more public penises per square mile than any other city in the world (except maybe Thimpu, Bhutan).