Skip to content

Magnus Hirschfeld and transgender people

Magnus Hirschfeld (1868–1935) was a German physician and sexologist best known for his work on behalf of sex and gender minorities, including transgender people:

  • Co-founding one of the first sex and gender rights organizations, the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee [Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee] (1897)
  • Petitioning to overturn German laws targeting sex and gender minorities
  • Creating one of the first films sympathetically depicting a gay couple, Different from the Others [Anders als die Andern] (1910)
  • Co-founding the Medical Society for Sexual Science and Eugenics [Ärztliche Gesellschaft für Sexualwissenschaft und Eugenik] (1913)
  • Creating a sex and gender healthcare clinic, The Institute for Sexual Scholarship [Institut für Sexualwissenschaft] (1919)
    • Pioneering early medical transitions via hormones and surgeries
    • Caring for many of the earliest people to undergo medical transitions, including notable patients Carla van Crist, Toni Ebel, Dörchen Ritcher, and Lili Elbe
  • Publishing a number of important scholarly works:
    • Yearbook of Intermediate Sexual Types [Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen] (1899)
    • Journal of Sexual Scholarship [Zeitschrift für Sexualwissenschaft] (1908)
    • The Transvestites [Die Transvestiten] (1910)
    • Sexual disease [Sexualpathologie] (1917–1921, 3 volumes)
    • The Study of Gender and Sex [Geschlechtskunde] (1924–1930, 5 volumes)

Though he supported a number of ideas and terms that are now considered ethically troubling, like eugenics and disease models of sexuality and gender, he was far ahead of his time and stands as one of the most important figures in advancing knowledge and understanding.


Hirschfeld was born in Prussia to Jewish parents. He earned his medical degree in 1892 and began practicing medicine in 1894. He moved to Berlin in 1896 and began getting involved in advocacy after a gay patient committed suicide.

Hirschfeld originally considered gay people to be a “third sex” [drittes Geschlecht]. He later rejected that conceptualization. He later thought of sex and gender minorities as “sexual intermediaries” [sexuelle Zwischenstufen] and was the first to conceptualize “homosexuality,” “transvestism,” and “hermaphroditism” as separate phenomena.

Hirschfeld’s enormous influence on German attitudes about sex and gender made him a target of fascists starting in 1920 and culminating in the burning of his Institute in 1933 and his exile to France, where he died in 1935.

Different from the Others

I am very proud to have helped preserve and restore Hirschfeld’s 1919 film Different from the Others, the first extant film showing a gay couple. Nazis found and burned every copy in Germany, but one partial copy was found in a Soviet library after World War II. Outfest and UCLA preserved the film after a fundraising campaign I created while on the Outfest board.

Die Transvestiten

Magnus Hirschfeld first published Die Transvestiten in Berlin in 1910. He coined the word. Trans people (of any kind) were lumped in with “homosexual deviants” until then.

“[Hirschfeld] discovered that transvestites were not necessarily homosexuals, as most people assumed. … Hirschfeld moved sex from the realm of disease, he normalized homosexuality, and pioneered the large sample; like Kinsey he collected a mass of data and, over many years, a library of twenty thousand volumes. He also organised three successful international conferences on sexual reforms. These promoted most of the liberal attitudes which pertain, if with difficulty, today — the sexual equality of men and women, the legalisation of homosexuality, the reform of divorce law, birth control. Harry Benjamin, who would later help Kinsey, went to one in Copenhagen in 1928. Hirschfeld’s life ended in tragedy. On 6 May 1933, Nazi thugs inspired by the government broke into the Hirschfeld Institute in Berlin, smashed and threw out his data collection and burnt his library.” *

Sex the Measure of All Things: A Life of Alfred C. Kinsey. Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy · 2000 

Die intersexuelle Konstitution

In this paper, “The Intersexual Constitution”, published in the Yearbook for Sexual Intermediate Stages 1923, he became the first researcher to distinguish what he called “transsexualism” from transvestism. He described transsexualism as the adoption of the gender role opposite to their sex by men or women who held an unswerving conviction they were assigned to an incorrect sex. That was a pretty good effort at the time and in the pertaining social environment.

He also said that the new term served “to distinguish neurological gynandromorphs from physiological hermaphrodites, but without a separate nosography”. The use of such terminology is particularly interesting in light of the oft-repeated denials of Intersex-identifying groups today that transsexualism is an intersex condition. It is very apparent that, even in those very early years of the developing aetiology, transsexualism was seen as a sub-set of the wider intersex classification. 

For interest, the first modern use of the term “intersex” was by Richard Goldschmidt in his paper, “Intersexuality and the Endocrine Aspect of Sex”, Endocrinology n°1, pp.453-456. Hirschfeld, of course, was similarly an endocrinologist with interests in psychology and his background and approach naturally led to his later, very brief, involvement with Harry Benjamin.Apart from “Die Transvestiten. Eine Untersuchung ueber den erotischen Verkleidungstrieb mit umfangreichem casuistischem und historischem Material. Alfred Pulvermacher & Co, Berlin Vol I-II”……….. The Transvestite. An investigation into the erotic lining impulse with a comprehensive abundance of causal and historical material [my effort at translation…Kaz] , Hirschfeld wrote many other papers and books. Amongst his interests was the relationship between sexuality and criminality. He tried to argue that it was reasonable that people in dire circumstances might resort to criminal actions for their survival against the prevailing view that it was all a perversion engaged in by the worst types of mankind. Perhaps this rings a bell as well?

Edmund Beecher Wilson introduit le terme et le concept de “chromosome sexuel”.


Hirschfeld (Magnus) et Tilke (Max), Die Tranvestiten. Eine Untersuchung über den erotischen Verkleidungstrieb mit umfangreichen casuistichem und historischem Material, 2ème édition modifiée, Spohr, Leipzig:

Magnus Hirschfeld affine notamment la définition des transvestistes ‘”automonosexuels” (transsexuels) en mettant en question leur autosuffisance érotique.

6 May 1933: Looting of the Instititue of Sexology. Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

Transphobic sexologist J. Michael Bailey cites Hirschfeld in The Man Who Would Be Queen, claiming Hirschfeld describes a phenomenon involving trans people that Bailey considers a sex-fueled mental illness:

  • “In fact, there is only very limited evidence about its occurrence prior to Magnus Hirschfeld’s classic work, Die Transvestiten, published in 1910.”
  • “The book Transvestites (Buffalo, NY:Prometheus Press 1991) shows why Magnus Hirschfeld is a giant of twentieth-century sexology. Look at case #12, especially, to see that Hirschfeld understands something about autogynephilia, long before Blanchard nailed the concept down.”


Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft e.V. (”