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Transvestites:

The erotic drive to cross-dress.

by Magnus Hirschfeld, M.D.
Translated by Michael A. Lombardi-Nash, Ph.D.


Probably the first English translation of a book published in 1910, we have had to depend on those who could read Hirschfeld's texts in their original German, for an interpretation.

It is said that its importation into the USA was banned by the US Customs. Whether this is true or not, much his other work was translated and published, notably his "Sexual Pathologies: A study of Derangements of the Sexual Instinct." Clearly such a title was acceptable to the professional and public mind of the day, particularly when labelled a pathology. Offence against gender norms was unthinkable. Even today, we put shy away from the implications for our cultural stereotypes, and put forward politically acceptable reasons - economic, pantomime, sexual fetishism or "stress relief".

Hirschfeld was a controversial figure, particularly because of his openness about his own homosexuality, and his open campaigning for homosexual tolerance. Three months after Hitler became Chancellor, in 1933, the "Nazi Committee against the Un- German Spirit" broke into his Institute in Berlin and destroyed it. Modern documentaries often feature film from the time of the burning of the Institute's library, including no doubt copies of this book.

A word, perhaps, is order about the "erotic" in the title. On reading the book it will become apparent that it is not used in the modern sense, as leading to orgasmic climax, but more as a sexual motivation in the Freudian sense.

Thus, though he discusses homosexuality, masochism and other fetishes, along with, what he calls "egotistical auto-eroticism" and the "Illusion of the Sexual Metamorphosis", hallucination and expression of mental conditions, he concludes that there is something more.

The book begins with eighteen case histories of people, some of whom had spent long periods living and working as the opposite sex, and adds a study of a wide range of men and women in the society of the day, who appeared to adopt the opposite role, at least temporarily, simply because they felt more comfortable.

At this point the word "identity" appears for the first time and Hirschfeld proposes his "Theory of Sexual Intermediaries". He lists four determinants of sexual role: sexual organs, physical characteristics, sex drive and the other emotional characteristics. It was not until forty years later, that Benjamin defined gender and gender identity, publishing "The Transsexual Phenomenon" in 1966.

Is, then transsexualism a modern invention? Would many of Hirschfeld's people have asked for medication and surgery if it had been available? For all its antiquity, Hirschfeld's "Transvestism" is still relevant today.

Not a cheap book to buy, but its place in history makes it a worthwhile addition to the collector's library and essential reading for the researcher and student.

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Published by Prometheus Books, 1991
£35.47
hardback, 418 pages,
ISBN 0 87975 665 9
GO TO TOP Copyright GENDYS Network. Last amended 31.12.98