Magnus Hirschfeld, transsex pioneer

Magnus Hirschfeld was one of the most prominent early sexologists and, as a homosexual male himself, was trusted by both homosexuals and trans people.

A psychologist, he developed the first evidence-based treatments for HSTS. Although some of his ideas have become politically unfashionable, most still remain valid despite this.

The earliest real records we have of HSTS in the West come from the 20th century, principally from Hirschfeld. That HSTS appeared to be a  natural development of transgender homosexuality had certainly been widely noted and remarked on beforehand, but of individual life histories there are few, prior to Hirschfeld and his pioneering work in Germany.

Berthe Buttgereit

In 1912, a 21-year-old then named Berthe Buttgereit visited Hirschfeld as part of an application for a transvestite identity pass. Buttgereit was born female, had grown up in Berlin, and attended a coeducational school where she was described as “energetic and purposeful as a child, and behaved like a boy,” with little interest in the girls’ games. After receiving the pass, Buttgereit was able to live publicly as a man. In 1918, he also received a “transvestite passport,” permitting travel to Cologne.

Seven years later, now living as a man, Buttgereit submitted a request to officially become known as Berthold instead of Berthe. The request was granted. Later in life, he attempted, unsuccessfully, to marry the woman he had by that point lived with for eight years. This was denied by the authorities.

Katharina T

Another case was that of Katharina T, born female in 1910 in Berlin. Little is known about her life except that she was certainly trans and probably an HSTS transman. She was assisted, by Hirschfeld, in getting papers that protected her from routine police harassment for wearing men’s clothes. Hirshfeld certainly assisted others to do the same, but since his records were burned by the Nazis, we have no details.

Hirschfeld was, more famously, involved in the first two known Genital Reconstruction Surgeries (GRS) on Male-to-Feminine HSTS.

Dora or Dorchen Richter

Hirschfeld worked with Eugen Steinach, a surgeon from Vienna, to develop early Genital Reconstruction techniques. In 1931 the first complete male to feminine surgery was performed by Dr. Levy-Lenz, and Dr. Felix Abraham, two of Hirschfield’s co-workers at the Institute Sexual Science, which had been established in 1919. The patient was Dorchen Richter (previously Rudolf), who lived and worked in the Institute as a domestic servant. That same year the institute also reported two men undergoing genital surgery.

Dorchen’s surgeries proceeded over a period of years, beginning with an orchidectomy to remove the testes, which she requested in her late 20s. According to Felix Abraham, one of the Institute staff who published Dorchen’s gender transformation as case-study, ‘Her castration (orchidectomy) had the effect – albeit not very extensive – of making her body became fuller, restricting her beard growth, making visible the first signs of breast development, and giving the pelvic fat pad… a more feminine shape.’

Dorchen retained her penis, although she was completely homosexual, that is, was only attracted to men. In 1931, as the procedures had advanced, she asked for and was given penectomy and vaginoplasty; these, today are usually performed at the same time as the orchidectomy and the whole is called ‘Genital Reconstruction Surgery or Gender Reassignment Surgery.i

An Overview of Orchiectomy (Orchidectomy)

We don’t, alas, know what happened to Dorchen or the other transwomen who attended or worked at the Institute. The likelihood is that they were lost during the Nazi era. Although Nazi officers were notorious pederasts who routinely kidnapped boys for sex in their occupied territories, they had an implacable hatred of, in particular, male feminisation and what they considered to be transvestism.

Lili Elbe

Einer Wegener, left and Lili Elbe, right. Note her slight frame and feminine features.

Another of Magnus Hirschfeld’s patients was, Danish artist Einer Wegener. Einer became Lili Elbe and had the first publicly acknowledged male to feminine GRS; this caused a media sensation in Denmark and in Germany. Sadly she died following the final surgery in 1931, in which her surgeons attempted to transplant a womb intended to enable her to have children, but a book based on her personal writings about her experiences and a subsequent novel, The Danish Girl, made Lili  famous.

Some have questioned whether Lili was in fact HSTS or autogynephilic, but at the time she had her surgery, this distinction was not understood. It hs also been suggested that she might have been intersexual, possibly with either Partial Androgen Insensivity Syndrome or Klinefelter’s. Hirschfeld does not appear to have noted this.

Wegener was born into a wealthy middle-class Danish family, whereas Richter and other subjects were working people. The social constraints of the day, to conform to sexual and gender stereotypes, were very strong; it seems likely that Wegener’s marriage was the result of this and that she was in fact HSTS.