For a very long time since his loss of life in 1935, German doctor and ‘sexologist’ Magnus Hirschfeld has been a largely forgotten determine. However, lately, he has undergone a fairly hanging rehabilitation. He’s now hailed as certainly one of ‘the primary nice pioneers of the gay-liberation motion’ and, maybe extra pertinently, celebrated for his advocacy of ‘transgender rights’.

A lot of the reward now heading Hirschfeld’s approach rests on his campaigning work for the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (SHC, or Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee), which he co-founded in 1897, alongside Max Spohr, Adolf Model, Benedict Friedläender, Eduard Oberg and Franz Joseph von Bülow. The SHC’s purpose was to advertise analysis on sexuality and, above all, problem societal prejudice round homosexuality. It’s now extensively seen as the primary fashionable gay-rights motion.

It’s typically mentioned that on the subject of icons of the LGBT motion we must always solely choose them by what we admire most about their careers. Anything that they may have carried out improper alongside the way in which needs to be ignored. However this strategy is mistaken, particularly in Hirschfeld’s case. For there’s a lot that ought to hassle us about this complicated man and his work.


Magnus Hirschfeld was born within the Prussian spa city of Kolberg (now generally known as Kolobrzeg in Poland), on 14 Might 1868. Simply eight months earlier, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs had turn out to be the primary German, or European for that matter, to publicly declare his homosexuality. Hirschfeld was homosexual himself, though he by no means publicly admitted as a lot throughout his lifetime.

He was born into an prosperous Jewish household and his father, Hermann, was a extremely regarded doctor and senior medical officer. It was of little shock when Hirschfeld adopted in his father’s footsteps and attended medical college. It was there that his issues in regards to the harsh remedy of homosexuals started to take form. He was supposedly deeply upset by a lecture on ‘sexual degeneracy’, which concerned a homosexual man being paraded earlier than the lecture theatre like a laboratory animal. A number of years later, in 1893, whereas he was establishing his medical observe in Berlin, a gay soldier appeared outdoors his house one night time asking for assist. Hirschfeld requested him to attend till the morning. The following day, Hirschfeld found the soldier had killed himself, upsetting a lot responsible soul-searching on the younger physician’s half.

These are commonly cited as the 2 key incidents that led to Hirschfeld co-founding the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, which campaigned for a leisure of legal guidelines towards homosexuality. Certainly one of its principal aims was to take away Paragraph 175, which criminalised ‘intercourse-like’ exercise between males, from the German Imperial Code.

Hirschfeld in 1919.

Regardless of right now’s reward for the SHC, it singularly failed in its chief goal. In actual fact, the Nazis later expanded Paragraph 175 to incorporate all intimate relations between males. It wasn’t till the Sixties and Seventies that legislatures in each West and East Germany lastly began eradicating the Nazi additions to Paragraph 175. And it took till 1994 for it to be abolished altogether.

The Eulenburg Affair

Hirschfeld performed a troubling position in what’s generally known as the Eulenburg Affair. In 1906, with Germany nonetheless reeling from the so-called Morocco disaster, journalist Maximilian Harden alleged in a sequence of articles for Die Zukunft that Emperor Wilhelm II had fallen underneath the affect of a bunch of homosexuals (generally known as the Liebenberg Circle), led by Prince Philipp Eulenburg. Harden had been fed this story by Friedrich von Holstein, Eulenberg’s rival for the emperor’s ear, particularly on overseas affairs. The Eulenburg Affair shortly became the largest scandal in German imperial historical past. After Harden broke the story, there have been prison proceedings, civil lawsuits and even suicides amongst German navy officers implicated within the scandal.

A kind of caught up in it was Kuno von Moltke, then the navy commander of Berlin and adjutant to Wilhelm II. Harden alleged that von Moltke had had an affair with Eulenburg, which prompted von Moltke to take authorized motion.

That is the place Hirschfeld got here in. Testifying as an skilled for Harden, he known as von Moltke a gay on the grounds of his effeminacy and the testimony of von Moltke’s ex-wife, though he had by no means really interviewed her himself. Hirschfeld mentioned it was pointless for von Moltke to really have ever engaged in a gay act to be so labelled. Harden prevailed within the first trial, however von Moltke efficiently pushed for a second trial at which Hirschfeld reversed his authentic testimony and labelled von Moltke’s ex-wife’s statements ‘hysterical’, a prevailing stereotype of girls.

The trial did large harm to Hirschfeld’s repute on the time. He had been an opponent of the ‘outing’ of essential figures when different individuals within the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee had known as for it. So his authentic testimony, outing von Moltke as a gay on scant proof, made him appear hypocritical. Hirschfeld’s subsequent volte face merely compounded the harm.

Harden later confessed to Hirschfeld that the scandal had been a profound political mistake. Such was the impact it had on Germany’s strategy to overseas affairs, Harden even urged that it was one of many causes of the First World Struggle and the autumn of the Second German Empire. Hirschfeld echoed Harden’s sentiments in Die Freundschaft in February 1933, the place he said that the Eulenburg Affair led to ‘a victory for the [political] development which lastly led to the occasions of the world struggle’. The Nazis later shut Die Freundschaft down for ‘un-German’ considering.

Hirschfeld’s position within the Eulenburg Affair dogged him for the rest of his life. But his supporters right now, those that describe him as a creator of the gay-liberation motion, barely point out it. Ralf Dose, co-founder and director of the Magnus Hirschfeld Society, devoted barely two paragraphs and a footnote to the Eulenburg Affair in his biography – though he did admit that ‘Hirschfeld’s repute by no means absolutely recovered from the implications of that catastrophe’.

Eugenics and gender ideology

These now championing Hirschfeld as a precursor of right now’s LGBT motion are inclined to downplay the very fact he was a eugenicist who held deeply disagreeable views about ‘inferior’ genetic inventory. Hirschfeld’s 1908 work, On Sexology, advocates avoiding marrying ‘undesirable varieties’, from the disabled to these with criminals of their households. ‘One shrinks from marrying a disabled dwarf or somebody whose father is on the penitentiary or the madhouse’, he wrote, ‘and one does so rightly, as a result of provided that we marry the healthiest, well-shaped, most clever and well-mannered ones, will we assist to ennoble the race’.

With these concepts in thoughts, he helped to discovered the Medical Society for Sexology and Eugenics (Ärztliche Gesellschaft für Sexualwissenschaft und Eugenik) in 1913. There, he researched ‘indicators of degeneracy’, reminiscent of facial asymmetry, within the pursuits of ‘breeding’ a superior race.

In 1919, he opened the Institute for Sexual Analysis (Institut für Sexualwissenschaft) in Berlin. It was there that he put his eugenic theories and ideas to work. He inspired voluntary sterilisation and castration, significantly for homosexual males. And he was open to compelled sterilisations for the ‘feeble-minded’ and oversexed, in addition to the disabled.

As we speak, after all, the darkish facet of Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Analysis is predictably obscured. It’s praised as an alternative for performing ‘the primary fashionable gender-affirmation surgical procedures on this planet’. Hirschfeld had lengthy argued that homosexuality indicated the existence of a 3rd, intermediate intercourse, along with women and men – that some homosexuals, as Hirschfeld had it, may have a ‘girl’s soul trapped in a person’s physique’. It was this perception that had already helped precipitate a schism within the SHC (and subsequently the nascent homosexual motion) within the early 1900s, between these like Adolf Model and Benedict Friedläender, who believed in same-sex attraction, and people like Hirschfeld, who promoted one thing near what we might now name gender ideology.

On the Institute for Sexual Analysis, which was already encouraging castration and male sterilisation within the title of ‘higher breeding’, Hirschfeld was in a position to take his concepts of an intermediate intercourse to their logical surgical conclusion. It was on this context that in 1930, Lili Elbe – in any other case generally known as ‘the Danish Lady’ – grew to become the world’s first recipient of what we now name ‘gender-affirming surgical procedure’ on the institute.

Elbe in the late 1920's.

Elbe within the late 1920’s.

Elbe was first castrated by the institute’s affiliated surgeon, Erwin Gohrbandt. He then went on to obtain vaginoplasty surgical procedure, together with an ovary transplant and at last a uterine transplant. Given the state of transplant surgical procedure on the time, it was little shock that this all ended disastrously. The next yr, Elbe died of infections from these monstrously experimental procedures.

Not that this appeared to have an effect on the profession of Hirschfeld’s surgeon, Gohrbandt. He subsequently went on to take part within the implementation of the Nazis’ compelled sterilisations of the mentally impaired on the Am City hospital in Berlin. He rose to turn out to be a high-ranking Nazi official within the Hitler Youth, earlier than he lastly took a lead place within the Luftwaffe medical service. It was on this position that he performed human experiments on prisoners on the Dachau focus camp. To the ghastly experiments performed on the Institute for Sexual Analysis, we are able to add that it produced a Nazi struggle prison, too.

The sexologist on tour

Whereas his institute was finishing up grotesque, life-ending surgical procedures on ‘intermediate sexes’, Hirschfeld himself was embarking on a world tour. Within the autumn of 1930, Hirschfeld, then 63, was invited to lecture in New York Metropolis. His first lectures had been delivered in German to largely German-speaking audiences. However as his English improved, he began lecturing to broader audiences. He proved successful, primarily as a result of he instructed American males how they might enhance their intercourse lives.

He was quickly invited to talk all through America. However Hirschfeld wasn’t simply providing intercourse ideas. He was additionally assembly with fellow eugenicists. In California, he met up with racists like Paul Popenoe and Ezra Gosney, who, like Hirschfeld, advocated sterilisation for the ‘feeble-minded’. Certainly, they performed key roles in creating California’s involuntary-sterilisation legal guidelines in 1909, which had been later used as fashions for Nazi Germany’s personal harsher sterilisation legal guidelines. Hirschfeld praised them for being in ‘the vanguard of enhancing humanity by sterilising unfit women and men’.

At this level, Hirschfeld was changing into fairly the celeb. After receiving invites to lecture in Canada and Mexico, he made plans for an bold, expanded lecture tour of the Pacific, taking in Japan, China, the Dutch Indies and India. It was throughout this journey – in Shanghai to be particular – {that a} then 64-year-old Hirschfeld met and fell in love with a 23-year-old medical scholar, Li Shiu Tong. Li joined Hirschfeld on this world tour as his secretary, with the pair planning for Li to proceed his research at Hirschfeld’s institute.

Some have conjured a slightly rosy image of this relationship and tour. However Laurie Marhoefer, creator of the Hirschfeld biography, Racism and the Making of Homosexual Rights, paints a slightly completely different image: ‘The story of their world journey exhibits [how] Hirschfeld [helped to lay] the groundwork for contemporary homosexual rights, and the way he did so by borrowing from a disturbing set of racist, imperial and eugenic concepts.’

Hirschfeld and the Nazis

Hirschfeld’s eugenicist beliefs, and the extent to which they had been entwined with the earliest types of ‘gender-affirming surgical procedure’, have escaped the scrutiny they deserve, maybe as a result of he’s largely now regarded as a sufferer of the Nazis. Certainly, a lot has been made from the raid on Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Analysis on 6 Might 1933, and the next book-burning that happened.

However this was not, as some declare, one of many first book-burnings in Hitler’s Germany. That they had really begun two months earlier and had been performed in three phases. The primary section was geared toward political teams – Communists, socialists, Jewish publishers and booksellers. It started on 8 March 1933 in Dresden, when Ernst Röhm’s Storm Troopers broke into the publishing home of the Social Democratic Social gathering newspaper, the Dresdner Volkszeitung. In keeping with a press report revealed the next day, they roughed up these inside and emptied the constructing of ‘celebration literature… specifically, brochures, leaflets, posters and some crimson flags, piled it up right into a excessive pyre and set it on fireplace’.

It was the second section that focused libraries and establishments of studying. In early April 1933, the German College students’ Union, dominated since 1931 by the Nationwide Socialist German College students’ League, introduced plans to cleanse libraries of ‘un-German’ books and revealed supplies. Nazi librarian Wolfgang Herrmann produced a blacklist of 310 titles of works in April 1933 for use by the scholars’ union. Hirschfeld’s books weren’t on the checklist. Nonetheless, the scholars’ union raided the Institute for Sexual Analysis that Might, spontaneously grabbing the titles that they discovered there. A 3rd section of book-burning adopted, which focused smaller native libraries, bookshops, colleges and different establishments.

There was a lot conjecture in regards to the college students’ union’s motives for raiding Hirschfeld’s institute. Some have speculated that the scholars and their Brownshirt supervisors had been on the lookout for information of Nazi officers who had obtained remedy on the institute within the Twenties. The Magnus Hirschfeld Society continues to dispute this hearsay and, in response to one eyewitness, the raiders had been persuaded to not take any medical information as a result of they weren’t un-German writings. In addition to, the Gestapo had visited the institute a number of instances in March solely to find that the institute’s director, Karl Geise, had already eliminated an important private information, paperwork and publications, and despatched them to Hirschfeld, who was by then residing in Switzerland.

In late 1933, Hirschfeld relocated from Switzerland to Paris the place he deliberate to re-open the institute. However after encountering innumerable difficulties, the now ailing Hirschfeld – diabetic and overweight – resettled in an opulent five-bedroom house dealing with the ocean in Good. The Nazis stripped him of his citizenship in March 1934. He died of a sudden stroke round midday on his 67th birthday in 1935, following a stroll with pals.

Magnus Hirschfeld’s makes an attempt to decriminalise homosexuality are to be admired. However his perception in eugenics, his flirtation with racial principle and his contribution to gender ideology are all deeply troubling. The legacy he has left is much extra ambiguous than his up to date champions would have us to consider.

Fred Sargeant is a veteran of the 1969 Stonewall riots and one of many founders of the primary Homosexual Pleasure marches in New York Metropolis. Observe him on Twitter: @FredSargeant.

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