Friday, March 18, 2016


SAINT Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who was born on this day in 1928, was a Berlin trans/gay who survived the Nazis and East German communists and about whose life a Pulitzer Prize winning play, "I Am My Own Woman", has been staged at theatres around the world.

The title is misleading since the original German is "Ich bin meine eigene Frau" and the word "Frau" can mean either "Woman" or "Wife"

The phrase was Charlotte's answer to her mother's question: "Don't you think it's time you got a wife?"

Charlotte was her own man and her own woman and her own husband/wife. In a long life amidst dictatorship, war and oppression of human-rights, Charlotte learned to create her own identity. We honor Charlotte as a Saint of the Religion of Antinous.

St. Charlotte, who liked to wear frumpy house dresses with a clunky handbag and a strand of pearls and matronly shoes, somehow managed to survive the Gestapo, the East German Stasi secret police and assaults by neo-Nazis. In doing so, Charlotte made serious ethical compromises along the way in order to stay alive. 

Charlotte amassed a huge collection of Victorian antiques which some said came from the homes of Jewish Holocaust victims and (later) from homes of people fleeing East Germany.

But Charlotte DID stay alive in dangerous times during which others perished. Charlotte's life forces you to ask yourself what YOU would have done in similar circumstances.

After German unification, Charlotte became something of a reluctant gay icon in Germany in the 1990s. Charlotte never had any pretensions of being intellectual or a political activist. 

Charlotte never quite fit in with post-Stonewall activists, who were a bit puzzled by her dowdy grand-motherliness and her passion for 19th Century Renaissance Revival style antiques. Like Quentin Crisp (also a Saint of Antinous), Charlotte belonged to another era.

But unlike Quentin Crisp, Charlotte wasn't especially witty or campy (despite her appearance) and was not an artist of the arch one-liner the way Quentin was. In appearances on talk shows, she would sit there, smiling politely, with not a great deal to say unless it was about collecting and restoring 19th Century antiques. But what she did say was eloquent in its simplicity: 

People should be kind to each other and let each other get on with their lives the way they want to.

Above all, she didn't much like being a celebrity. Too many people  expected things of her. She became a target for neo-Nazis, mostly drunken, youthful vandals in the 1990s. Not surprisingly perhaps, considering all she had lived through, she became somewhat paranoid towards the end of her life. In the end, she fled to Sweden where she spent her final years in virtual isolation before dying in 2002.

We honor St. Charlotte von Mahlsdorf for being someone who was not afraid to be openly trans/gay in the face of totalitarian dictatorships and police states. Someone who survived the Nazis and the Stasi secret police ... wearing a dress, a strand of pearls and a handbag.

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