Stefanie Boulila


Queer Berlin has a new independent research hub. Last month the Lili Elbe Archive for Trans* Inter Queer History celebrated its official launch in Berlin. The collection boasts with over 6000 documents dating back to 1688. “There is not much history out there about gender non-normativity. And if there is, it was published by medical doctors and psychiatrists” says co-founder Niki Trauthwein who has waited for ten years to open her once private collection to community researchers. The archive is named after Lili Elbe one of the first trans* women who underwent  gender reassignment surgery back in the 1930s. Her diaries and letters are an expression of the subjectivity behind the psycho-medical system that dominates queer history. For co-founder Christiane Carri the historical collection enables an alternative view on the history of psychiatry as it unveils the sexist and racist underpinnings which are still evident today.

Christiane is currently working towards her PhD in Gender and Cultural Studies in which she explores ideas of madness in court cases against women between 1900 and 1933. Having worked at the Runaway House Berlin, which shelters victims of compulsory psychiatric treatment, she advocates for a queer-feminist psychiatry critique: “The archive allows for a self-determined examination of how ideas of madness have often related to sexual and gender deviance”. Christiane highlights the continuous role of psychiatry in the framing of gender and sexual pathologies for example via the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) which is the most influential resource for clinical practice and training worldwide.

In the UK, critical scholar Zowie Davy (2013) has examined the ideologies and power dynamics at heart of the DSM’s current edition. She has argued that a cisgenderist diagnostic paradigm is evident in the systematic exclusion of critical contributions from social sciences, humanities and particularly by an exclusion of trans* theorists themselves.

With the archive, the Lily Elbe committee wants to allow for critical genealogies to emerge in order to problematise the history and continuation of diagnostic power dynamics as Christiane explains: “Power produces knowledge and in that sense psychiatric diagnoses can also be theorised as performative scripts that are created by and allow for performative acts which are considered healthy or ill.”

The Lili Elbe Archive  for Trans*, Inter Queer history is fully self-funded and completely student run.  The collection is open to community researchers by appointment.

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Stefanie C Boulila is writing her PhD about gender and sexuality discourses in European salsa dance communities at the University of Leeds. She is currently a visiting researcher at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Notes from Berlin is a blog series about queer-feminist academia and activism in the capital of kink. Find Stefanie on Twitter @StefanieBoulila. You can also find Stephanie

Further Literature

Davy, Zowie (2013) The construction of Gender Dysphoria at ‘Classifying Sex: Debating DSM-5’. Psychology of Women Section Review, 15 (2). pp. 63-67. ISSN: 1466-3724

Carri, Christiane (et al.) (2013) Das Berliner Weglaufhaus als Beispiel antipsychiatrischer Praxis. In: Dellwing, Michael& Harbusch, Martin (eds.): Krankheitskonstruktionen und Krankheitstreiberei. Die Renaissance der soziologischen Psychiatriekritik. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, Pages 313-326.