Most folks I know who focus on Nietzsche are very heteronormative. Yet Nietzsche as gay man has always made so much sense to me. Why do folks NOT read Nietzsche as a man who loved men, a man even more trapped by living in a culture where it was easier to be an atheist than to be someone committing that “sin of the Greeks”?
Many academics I have encountered who use our dearest Freddy Nickels for justifying their own defiance “in the system” (there is a fucking laugh) often seem to me like folks that are appropriating a way of being-in-the-world that cannot be present in the daily grind of their heteronormativity. And in the process–while they take hyper-care not to plagiarize his words–they end up plagiarizing his possible Existenz, the expression of his self-actualization, which gayly transcends the heteronormative.
For this reason I have spent a lot of my academic living saying things like “Nietzsche is an overrated thinker.” Not because I believe him to be unworthy of consideration but because I find his academic cultus the attempt to hetero-normalize an exceptional being.
I was not the only one wondering if Nietzsche was a homosexual. I would eventually learn that certain key cultural figures, including Freud, Jung, and Foucault, strongly attributed Nietzsche’s courage and brilliance to his being gay. Even Walter Kaufmann, the American scholar who situated Nietzsche as among the greatest minds in Western thought in his book Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (1950), could not help but wonder aloud about the sexuality of this bad-boy philosopher. Countering charges of Nazism, Kaufmann showed that Nietzsche loathed German nationalism, detested ideas of the master race, and often idealized the Jews. So it’s refreshing to see the researcher most credited with having rehabilitated Nietzsche having a little fun when commenting on his translation of Nietzsche’s The Gay Science: “It is no accident that the homosexuals as well as Nietzsche opted for ‘gay’ rather than ‘cheerful.’ ‘Gay Science,’ unlike ‘cheerful science,’ has overtones of light-hearted defiance of convention; it suggests Nietzsche’s ‘immoralism’ and his ‘reevaluation of values.’”
One of the richest analyses of Nietzsche’s homosexuality comes from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who writes in her Epistemology of the Closet (1990) that “many of Nietzsche’s most effective intensities of both life and writing were directed toward other men and toward the male body,” and that “Nietzsche offers writing of an open, Whitmanlike seductiveness, some of the loveliest there is, about the joining of men with men.”
A new generation of Nietzsche scholars has gone even further as we gain greater access to Nietzsche’s previously unpublished materials. Key examples include Joachim Köhler, who wrote Zarathustra’s Secret (2002), the first gay-affirmative biography of Nietzsche, and C. Heike Schotten, who wrote Nietzsche’s Revolution: Decadence, Politics and Sexuality (2009), the first extended work to equate Nietzsche’s “transvaluation” with being queer, as well as Charles Stone, who contributed a piece to these pages in 2002 about how Nietzsche’s “Death of God” idea paved the way for the philosophy of Gay Liberation: “The institution of the Christian religion has been the primary oppressor of those persons in the West who love members of the same sex,” and the death of the Christian god directly challenges the power behind that oppressive force. These gay-affirmative readings allow for a reconstruction of Nietzsche’s life and a new way to understand his works.