Queer Budapest 1873-1961

The publication of Queer Budapest 1873-1961 by Anita Kurimay fills a gap in the history of homosexuality in Hungary.

This is the first book in English dealing with the history of homosexuality in Hungary and Ms. Kurimay places the story in the context of Hungary’s turbulent history.

At the dawn of the 20th century, Budapest became a growing cosmopolitan metropolis with innovative architectural and cultural achievements and a growing middle class with growing liberal values. Budapest become an intellectual and commercial crossroad between East and West, and became famous for its sexual culture, including a robust gay subculture.

The exciting event of the book is the sex scandal between the writer Ms. Cécile Tormay and Mrs. Rafael Zichy, the Countess Eduardina Pallavicini. The Countess was the founder of the Christian Women’s Association (1918), and in the same year they both founded the National Association of Hungarian Women (MANSZ), which functioned as a political party and was led by Cécile Tormay.

Cécile Tormay

Tormay, a devotee of Regent Horthy and represented Hungarian women.  She preached marriage and motherhood as a desirable model for her fellow women, while remaining single and childless and having a secret lesbian relationship with Countess Zichy and many other women.

Countess Pallavicini with her husband

The unhappy husband, Count Zichy filed a lawsuit against the couple and he had witnesses and a voice recording of the affair, but the couple sued the count for defamation. The trial lasted 4 and a half years; witnesses and Count Zichy were sentenced to prison, and the servants’ confessions were all but destroyed.

In 1929, when the first Hungarian beauty queen Böske Simon was proclaimed Miss Europe in Paris, and was returning to Budapest she was greeted at the Keleti Railway Station, with an anti-Semitic outburst by MANSZ-led Tormay, “You are not a Hungarian beauty, but a Palestinian” and a “Rose of Hebron” etc. Tormay was not only anti-Semite but also a proud fascist, she claimed that she was a fascist before Mussolini became one.

The homosexual register was in place in the emerging Budapest from the beginning, but while earlier, it was moderately benign, the hardline Communist system had already used the list for blackmail.  Socialist Hungary decriminalized homosexuality in 1961.

Today’s Hungarian government has discontinued gender studies and used the Enabling Act during the pandemic to prevent adoptions by gay couples and further curtail the rights of the LGBTQ movement.

In 2012, a Cécile Tormay statue was erected in Budapest in front of St. Rókus Hospital.  Even before that, Melbourne’s 63rd Girl Scout troop took the name of Tormay.

Ms. Kurimay is an assistant professor at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.  Her main areas of research are history of sexuality, women and gender studies, conservatism and far-right politics, human rights and the history of sport. She has published articles on the history of Hungarian gays and lesbians.  Queer Budapest, 1873-1961 was published by Chicago University Press in 2020.

Anita Kurimay

You may read another book review in the Calvert Journal by clicking here.

Julianna Bika

*Judit Takács earlier published on this topic in Hungarian focusing on the legal and sociological aspects (Meleg Század, Kalligram, 2018).

Julianna Bika

The Hungarian version of this review appeared in Hungarian in the April issue of the Nyugati Hírlevél edited by Julianna Bika:  nyugatihirlevel.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *