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social sciences

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Hirschfeld, Magnus (1868-1935)  
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At an early stage of film history, Hirschfeld also participated in the production of Anders als die Andern [Different from the Others], the first homosexual liberation film. The somewhat melodramatic silent film premiered in May 1919. Its purpose was to expose the evil of paragraph 175 and the vulnerability of "sexual variants" to blackmail because of the paragraph. It was banned by the German government in August 1920.

In light of his Jewishness, his intense activism on behalf of progressive causes, and his vast body of work, it is not surprising that Hirschfeld became a target of right-wing nationalists. In 1920 he was attacked and severely wounded on the streets in Munich after a conference. In 1921, he was attacked again, suffering a fractured skull. From 1929 onward, the Nazis repeatedly assaulted Hirschfeld and disrupted his lectures.

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What was initially planned as a lecture tour of the United States in 1930 was eventually extended to a world-wide trip during which Hirschfeld visited Japan, China, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Egypt, and Palestine. Back in Europe in 1932, Hirschfeld decided not to return to Germany.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, they destroyed the Institute for Sexual Science, including its library and files, the largest archive of its kind in the world. In 1934, the Nazi regime deprived Hirschfeld of German citizenship.

After moving to Ascona in Switzerland and then briefly to Paris, Hirschfeld finally settled in Nice in the south of France in 1934. He died there on his 67th birthday, May 14, 1935.

The Third Sex

In the nineteenth century, the term "third sex" was used by authors such as Théophile Gautier, Honoré de Balzac, and especially Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, but the relative popularity of the term in the twentieth century was due mainly to Hirschfeld. However, although he generally favored the term "third sex" over "homosexuality," with its usual connotation of sexual acts, he never used the concept in his scientific publications.

Hirschfeld's fame as a proponent of the "third sex" has had an unfortunate consequence in terms of his later reputation as a sexologist. He is best known for the belief that homosexuals constitute a third sex, intermediate between the heterosexual male and the heterosexual female. However, he propounded this position not as a scientific proposition, but as a political tactic.

Since for Hirschfeld a third sexual alternative implied, in the last resort, the addition of a further "fiction" to already fictitious categories, its postulation never led him to revoke his fundamental insight that "all human beings are intersexual variants." The "third sex" category was not regarded by Hirschfeld as "something complete and closed in itself," but as an indispensable "makeshift" [Notbehelf] designed to overcome an "extremely superficial scheme of classification into man or woman."

From Hirschfeld's perspective, members of the so-called third sex, like those who deem themselves in conformity with a pretended sexual majority, simply constitute different varieties within the inexhaustible varieties of "sexual intermediaries" [sexuelle Zwischenstufen] or "sexual transitions" [Geschlechtsübergänge].

Hirschfeld's Theoretical Achievement

Hirschfeld's main theoretical achievement consists in his biologically grounded deconstruction of the Western ideology of sexual dimorphism that originated in Abrahamic creation narratives, the rigid division of humanity into male and female.

In its final consequence, Hirschfeld's "doctrine of sexual intermediaries" challenges the premise of complete sexual disjunction, according to which the exemplary Adam is to be understood as man, because he does not possess the sexual attributes of his human Other: Adam is not Eve, a man is not a woman.

The paradigm shift that Hirschfeld introduced contends that a human being is neither man nor woman, but at the same time man and woman in unique and therefore unrepeatable proportions.

The "doctrine of sexual intermediaries" is a new way of conceptualizing sexual difference. It is the foundation of Hirschfeld's theoretical and libertarian program, even though he never developed in detail its actual scope and relevance, and only hinted at its radical implications.

Sexual Difference and the "Residual" Sex

In Sappho und Sokrates, Hirschfeld places "the purely biological, non-pathological conception of same-sex love" within a definite scheme. This scheme, while not new, is theoretically more ambitious than those of his predecessors. Going far beyond merely normalizing the "third sex" by virtue of its conformity with nature, Hirschfeld articulates in this early treatise the essential traits of his "doctrine of sexual intermediaries."

Thus, Hirschfeld refers to the reality of a bisexual primary disposition, whose traces or "remainders" can be readily perceived at the physiological level: "Every man keeps his stunted womb, the uterus masculinus and the superfluous nipples until death; likewise, every woman [keeps] her useless epididymis and her spermatic cord." Arguing analogically, Hirschfeld points out that, with regard to the psychic center of sexual sensibility, "one can definitely assume that, here also, residues of the drive subsist that on the whole are eventually destined to disappear."

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