Why I Became a German: So Vicious Were the Attacks on the Feminist Shere Hite That She Decided to Give Up Her American Citizenship

Article excerpt

I renounced my US citizenship in 1995. After a decade of sustained attacks on myself and my work, particularly my "reports" into female sexuality, I no longer felt free to carry out my research to the best of my ability in the country of my birth. The attacks included death threats delivered in my mail and left on my telephone answering machine. A statement issued by 12 prominent American feminists, including Gloria Steinem, Barbara Ehrenreich and Phyllis Chesler, described the media assaults on me as part of a "conservative backlash ... not so much directed at a single woman ... as ... against the rights of women everywhere".

At that time, I was the most visible feminist in the US, appearing on the cover of Time magazine. I was besieged by members of the paparazzi, who followed me everywhere. Tabloid journalists would pop up from behind bushes, claiming to represent serious news agencies, to challenge me, confront me and cause incidents that would then be recounted in the press in lurid detail.

I began to look into the possibility of leaving my country for one in which I would be able to carry out my research while achieving some sort of normality in my life. I looked into the German side of my family. Would it be possible to apply for a German passport? After a seemingly endless correspondence with the German immigration services, I was finally invited to apply for a passport. The only catch: I would have to give up my US passport.

I went to the US embassy in Germany. Guarded by a US marine armed with a rifle, I was taken into a small, white, windowless room with no decoration whatsoever on the walls and interviewed at length by a male agent of my government.

"Why are you doing this?" he demanded. Was someone "pressurising me"? Seemingly unable to comprehend the idea that anyone would willingly hand back an American passport, the greatest gift one could possess, he hinted darkly that outside forces must be responsible for such an unintelligible decision.

Prior to the events that led to my decision, I would not have credited it, either. I was born in the geographical centre of America, in the state of Missouri, where I lived with my family before leaving to study at Columbia University in New York. Although I did not wave the Stars and Stripes in triumph, I did not feel less (or more) American than my contemporaries. Yet here I was, about to give up whatever being an American was, for ever.

After about 30 minutes, my interrogator told me: "The world is a dangerous place. …