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Magnus Hirschfeld (1868 - 1935)

Related: sexology - Weimar Berlin - homosexuality


Magnus Hirschfeld (May 14, 1868 - May 14, 1935) was a prominent German physician, sexologist, and gay rights advocate, who developed the theory of a third, "intermediate sex" between men and women. Today we would call these people "queer" or "LGBT" (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered). He was interested in all sexual and gender minorities - transvetites, people with fetishes, and so on. His work extended that of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs.

In 1897, Hirschfeld founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee to defend the rights of homosexuals and to repeal Paragraph 175, the section of the German penal code that, since 1871, had criminalized homosexuality. The motto of the Committee, "Justice through science," reflected Hirschfeld's belief that a better scientific understanding of homosexuality would eliminate hostility toward homosexuals. He was a brave and tireless campaigner and a well-known public figure of his time, most identified in the public mind with the campaign the campaign against Paragraph 175, both quoted and charactured in the press as a vociferous expert on sexual manners, receiving the epithet "the Einstein of Sex." He saw himself as a camaigner and a scientist, investigating and cataloging many varieties of sexuality, not just homosexuality. He coined the word "transvestism," for example.

Although he preferred to project himself as an objective researcher and scientist, Hirschfeld himself was gay and a transvestite, and participated in the gay subculture of Germany. For these activities he gained the epithet "Tante Magnesia" - "Auntie Magnesia."

Needless to say, Hirschfeld's work was controversial at the time, and it still is. Critics have claimed that some of his financial support came from closeted but prominent German homosexuals whom he blackmailed. Others complain that his belief that homosexuality was hormonal opened the door for others who were seeking a cure for homosexuality. Though he was immensely popular in some circles, in others he was reviled intensely. Gatherings at which he spoke came under attack from anti-gay groups, and in one instance, in 1921, his skull was fractured and he was left lying in the street.

In 1919, under the more liberal atmosphere of the newly founded Weimar Republic, Hirschfeld opened the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research) in Berlin. His Institut housed his immense library on sex and provided educational services and medical consultations. People from around Europe visited the Institut to gain a clearer understanding of their sexuality. Christopher Isherwood writes about his visit to the Institut in his book "Christopher and His Kind." The Institut also housed the Museum of Sex, an educational resource for the public which it is reported that school classes visited. The Institut is depicted in Rosa von Praunheim's film "The Einstein of Sex."

When the Nazis took power, one of their first actions, on May 6, 1933, was to destroy the Institut and burn the library. (The pictures you see of Nazi book-burnings are usually pictures of Hirschfeld's books ablaze.) Fortuitously, Hirschfeld had left Germany on a world speaking tour in 1930. He never returned, dying in exile in Nice in 1935. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnus_Hirschfeld [Jul 2004]

Transvestism [...]

Magnus Hirschfeld coined the term transvestism around 1915 in Berlin (from Latin trans- across, over and vestere to dress or to wear). He used it to describe a group of people who habitually and voluntarily wore clothes of the opposite sex. (The distinction between sex and gender had not been made at this time.) Hirschfeld's group of transvestites consisted of both male and female bodied persons with (physically) heterosexual, (physically) homosexual, bisexual and asexual preferences.

Hirschfeld himself was not particularly happy with the term, since he realised that clothes were only an outward sign of a variety of reasons to wear them. In fact, Hirschfeld helped people to achieve the very first name changes and to get the very first sexual reassignment surgery. Hirschfeld's transvestites therefore were, in today's terms, not only transvestites, but people from all over the transgender spectrum.

Hirschfeld operated very much in a three-gender framework, namely male, female and other or third gender. Included into this third gender were all people who, in today's terms, violated heteronormative rules. Again in today's terms, this is very much equivalent with the queer community, i.e. lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people. Therefore, there was no pressing reason to find different terms for the different shades of Hirschfeld's transvestism.

Hirschfeld also noticed that sexual arousal was often, but by no means always associated with transvestite behaviour, and he also clearly distinguished between transvestism as an expression of a person's "contra-sexual" (transgender) feelings and fetishist behaviour, even if the later involved wearing clothes of the opposite sex. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transvestism#Origin_of_the_term [Jul 2004]

Different From The Others (1919) - Richard Oswald

Anders als die Andern ("Different From the Others") is a film which was produced in Germany during the largely liberal period which existed in that country between the world wars. It was first released in 1919 and stars Conrad Veidt and Reinhold Schünzel.

The story for Anders als die Andern was written by Richard Oswald with the assistance of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, who also had a small part in the film and helped fund the production through his Institute for Sexual Science, with the aim of presenting the story as a polemic against the then current laws under Germany's Paragraph 175. Paragraph 175 made homosexuality a punishable offense, causing many men to be placed in the same position as the character portrayed by Veidt. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_als_die_Andern [Apr 2006]

See Richard Oswald

Glossary of inappropriate scientific and professional Terms

Sexological research and training are often hampered by traditional terms that contain hidden value judgements or are even openly ideological. Originally, they were part of semantic strategies by which various religious, legal, medical, and pedagogic "experts" tried to impose their professional interests or moral convictions upon the general public. In addition, there are many imprecise and misleading terms still current in our field, so that it is often extremely difficult to describe sexual matters in an objective way. In any case, today the following terms should be avoided: --http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/GESUND/ARCHIV/GLOSS.HTM [Aug 2004]

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