glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy





social sciences

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-E  F-L  M-Z

Hirschfeld, Magnus (1868-1935)  
page: 1  2  3  

Since "in their primary disposition all human beings are with respect to their bodies and souls bisexual," the inexhaustible diversity of sexualities results not from qualitative, but from quantitative differences that are determined by the way the primary sexual disposition reacts to processes that hinder or advance its development.

Hirschfeld underlines that the later a particular sexual difference is developed, the more significant the influence the "residual" sex has on it. Whereas gradual deviations occur less frequently with regard to the primary sexual characteristics (such as the genitals), and more frequently with regard to the secondary ones (such as other physical characteristics), in the case of tertiary characteristics (such as sexual drive and psychological responses) deviations occur even more frequently, as is shown by the high incidence of sexual orientations at variance with the supposed norm.

Sponsor Message.

The Continuum of Nature

Hirschfeld chose as motto for his treatise Geschlechtsübergänge [Sexual Transitions] (1905) a quotation from the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: "Tout va par degrés dans la nature et rien par sauts" [In nature everything happens by degrees, nothing by leaps]. Applying this principle to sexuality, Hirschfeld concluded that all artificially separated sexual varieties prove to be transitions within the pervasive continuity of nature.

Contrary to the dichotomic, or either-or, scheme of sexual difference, the idea of sexual gradation allows in principle for infinite variations of sexual constitutions depending on the way the poles of the masculine and the feminine combine at each of the different levels of sexual description, which according to Hirschfeld include: (1) sexual organs, (2) other bodily sexual characteristics, (3) sexual drive, and (4) other psychological characteristics.

Since in this scheme sexual difference is not determined in relation to one single excluded alternative (male or female), but in relation to an open-ended system of as yet only partially realized combinations of the masculine and the feminine at the different descriptive layers, the sexuality of each and every individual is characterized by a unique complexity.

Sexual Identity and Narrativity

Having dispensed with the issue of fixed sexual identities, the doctrine of sexual intermediaries transforms the question of sexual (self-)identification into a continuous task that precludes final closure and in which categorizations can be, at most, provisional approximations that must be constantly adjusted.

Thus, the determination and expression of an individual's sexuality becomes a narrative of changing sexual differences as determined against the background of latencies and possibilities that underlie the sexual continuum of nature.

Even though Hirschfeld avoided thorough formulations concerning these theoretical consequences, his interest in the sexological aspect of biographies, along with his tireless efforts to refine his theory, make it apparent that he was guided by a concept of sexuality in which difference is not determined once and for all within a binary pattern, but is defined within the framework of potentially infinite sexual varieties, all differing from one another and undergoing change throughout the life of the individual.

Present Relevancy

Hirschfeld scholarship has systematically underrated and misrepresented his work. Hence, it is not surprising that he has been ignored in almost all substantial debates in gender, gay, lesbian, or queer studies. Indeed, most scholars working in these areas are barely aware that Geschlechtskunde [Sexual Science], the compendium of Hirschfeld's life work, foreshadows the most relevant insights that determine the scope of their own disciplines.

Indeed, Hirschfeld's "doctrine of sexual intermediaries" re-inscribes and re-interprets sexual difference more thoroughly than even the Freudian psychoanalytical literature and its post-modern derivatives. It anticipates the contention of contemporary gender and queer studies that the distribution of individuals into male and female is obsolete and naive.

Sexual Politics and the Nazi Reaction

To some extent, the misinterpretations of Hirschfeld's work are due to the fact that in his emancipatory program, he sought to win sympathy and understanding for sexual minorities from those who considered themselves perfectly "normal" according to the dimorphic scheme. Thus, he feared demonstrating to this ostensible majority that their basic assumption about their own "normality" was groundless.

Hirschfeld's reserve is hardly surprising if one considers that as a Jew and leader of a sexual minority, he constantly had to cope with hostility and prejudice. In retrospect, Hirschfeld's biography corroborates that his caution and reticence were justified.

In 1933, after he had been driven out of Germany, he was sitting in a Paris cinema when images of the plunder and destruction of his own Institute of Sexual Science in Berlin appeared in a news short. With this act of vandalism, the Nazis put an end to the German Sexualwissenschaft, a scientific project founded and developed mainly by Jews or by Christians of Jewish descent.

Hirschfeld died soon after the demise of his beloved Institute, but his work and his ideas have survived him. His program of achieving justice through science failed to yield the successes for which he so passionately yearned. Still, this prolific scholar and courageous campaigner deserves the respect of all who value science and justice.

J. Edgar Bauer

  <previous page   page: 1  2  3    

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Social Sciences

   Related Entries
social sciences >> Overview:  Berlin

Notable in the twentieth century both for its pioneering efforts in homosexual emancipation and for the subsequent Nazi persecution of homosexuals, Berlin is now a major participant in the struggle to gain legal recognition of gay relationships.

social sciences >> Overview:  Cross-Dressing

Cross-dressers have often been misunderstood and maligned, especially in societies with rigid gender roles.

social sciences >> Overview:  Etiology

The earliest etiologies--or theories of causation--of homosexuality date from European antiquity, but the search for a universal etiology has intensified as homosexual behavior has come under the scrutiny of science.

social sciences >> Overview:  Germany

While Germany, until recently, never officially accepted or welcomed members of the glbtq community, German culture and homosexuality have a long and significant history.

social sciences >> Overview:  Homophile Movement, U. S.

The homophile movement of the United States refers to organizations and political strategies employed by homosexuals from the end of World War II to 1970.

social sciences >> Overview:  Homosexuality

The term "homosexuality," coined in 1869, with "heterosexuality" as its opposite, has led to a binary concept that oversimplifies the complexity of human sexual behavior.

social sciences >> Overview:  Intersexuality

Intersexuality (formerly referred to as hermaphroditism) is a congenital anomaly in which an individual's external genitalia or internal reproductive systems fall outside the norms for either male or female bodies.

social sciences >> Overview:  Libraries and Archives

Libraries and archives have been the sources of information crucial to the difficult process of identity formation and have been significant repositories for the restoration and reconstruction of queer history.

social sciences >> Overview:  Nazism and the Holocaust

As part of its agenda to preserve an "Aryan master race," Nazism persecuted homosexuals as "asocial parasites"; more than 100,000 men were arrested on homosexual charges during the Nazi years, with 5,000-15,000 gay men incarcerated in concentration camps.

social sciences >> Overview:  Third Sex

The relative popularity of the term "third sex" to refer to homosexuals is closely connected to its use by some of the most prominent representatives of the early homosexual rights movement in Germany.

social sciences >> Overview:  Transgender Activism

Since the late nineteenth century, transgendered people have advocated legal and social reforms that would ameliorate the kinds of oppression and discrimination they suffer.

literature >> Balzac, Honoré de

One of the masters of French nineteenth-century fiction, Balzac provocatively includes both lesbian and gay male characters in his novels.

arts >> Berber, Anita

Expressionist exotic dancer and actress in German silent movies, Anita Berber epitomized for many the decadence of Weimar-era Berlin.

social sciences >> Brand, Adolf

Editor, photographer, and activist, Adolf Brand was the leader of a faction of the early German homosexual emancipation movement whose cultural views were expressed in Der Eigene (The Self-Owner), the first homosexual literary and artistic journal.

social sciences >> Freud, Sigmund

The founder of psychoanalysis and the discoverer of the unconscious, Sigmund Freud initiated a fundamental transformation in the self-understanding of Western men and women, including especially the role of sexuality.

social sciences >> Hiller, Kurt

German writer and activist Kurt Hiller contributed to several pacifist and intellectual movements, including the fight to repeal Paragraph 175, which criminalized homosexuality.

social sciences >> Kinsey Institute

The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, established by Alfred Kinsey in 1947, has pioneered in the study of American sexual behavior.

arts >> Mahlsdorf, Charlotte von

Preservationist and museum founder Charlotte von Mahlsdorf was admired by many for her bravery in the face of persecution and for her openness as a transgender public figure in perilous times.

social sciences >> Paragraph 175

Paragraph 175 was the German law prohibiting sex between men; strengthened by the Nazis, it was the statue under which homosexuals were sent to concentration camps.

literature >> Roellig, Ruth Margarete

Chronicler of Berlin's lesbian club scene of the late 1920s, writer Ruth Roellig was part of the lively gay counterculture of Germany's Weimar era.

social sciences >> Rüling, Anna (Theo Anna Sprüngli)

Anna Rüling, one of the first German women to publicly acknowledge her lesbianism, also became the first known lesbian activist in 1904.

social sciences >> Ulrichs, Karl Heinrich

Nineteenth-Century German activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was both the first modern theorist of homosexuality and the first homosexual to "come out" publicly.

literature >> Vogel, Bruno

Bruno Vogel's experiences as a soldier during World War I and as a homosexual in a society hostile to any open expression of same-sex love shaped his political and aesthetic vision.

social sciences >> Wolff, Charlotte

The life of German-British medical practitioner, psychologist, and writer Charlotte Wolff spanned nearly a century of almost unimaginable changes in the status of both women and glbtq people.


Bauer, J. Edgar: "Der Tod Adams. Geschichtsphilosophische Thesen zur Sexualemanzipation im Werk Magnus Hirschfelds." 100 Jahre Schwulenbewegung. Dokumentation einer Vortragsreihe in der Akademie der Künste. Manfred Herzer, ed. Berlin: Verlag rosa Winkel, 1998. 15-45.

_____. "Magnus Hirschfeld: per scientiam ad justitiam. Eine zweite Klarstellung." Mitteilungen der Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft 33/34 (December 2002): 68-90.

_____. "Über Hirschfelds Anspruch. Eine Klarstellung." Mitteilungen der Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft 29/30 (July 1999): 66-80.

Dannecker, Martin: "Vorwort." Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen. Auswahl aus den Jahrgängen 1899-1923. Herausgegeben im Namen des wissenschaftlich-humanitären Comitées von Magnus Hirschfeld. Neu ediert von Wolfgang Johann Schmidt. Volume I. Frankfurt am Main and Paris: Qumran, 1983. 5-15.

Haeberle, E.J. "Einleitung." Hirschfeld, Magnus: Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes. Nachdruck der Erstauflage von 1914. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1984. v-xxv.

_____, ed. Anfänge der Sexualwissenschaft. Historische Dokumente. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1983.

Herzer, Manfred. "Hirschfeld und das Unaussprechliche." Mitteilungen der Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft 31/32 (December 1999/March 2000): 47-50.

_____. "Hirschfelds Utopie, Hirschfelds Religion und das dritte Geschlecht der Romantik." Mitteilungen der Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft 28 (December 1998): 45-56.

_____. Magnus Hirschfeld. Leben und Werk eines jüdischen, schwulen und sozialistischen Sexologen. Zweite, überarbeitete Auflage. Hamburg: MännerschwarmSkript, 2001.

Keilson-Lauritz, Marita. Die Geschichte der eigenen Geschichte. Literatur und Literaturkritik in den Anfängen der Schwulenbewegung am Beispiel des Jahrbuchs für sexuelle Zwischenstufen und der Zeitschrift Der Eigene. Berlin: Verlag rosa Winkel, 1997.

Lauritsen, John, and David Thorstad. The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935). Rev. ed. Ojai, Calif.: Times Change Press, 1995.

Sigusch, Volkmar. "Albert Moll und Magnus Hirschfeld. Über ein problematisches Verhältnis vor dem Hintergrund unveröffentlichter Briefe Molls aus dem Jahr 1934." Zeitschrift für Sexualforschung 8 (1995): 122-59.

Steakley, James D. The Homosexual Emancipation Movement in Germany. Salem, N. H.: Ayer, 1982.

_____. The Writings of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld. A Bibliography. Toronto: Canadian Gay Archives Publication Series, No. 11 / Schriftenreihe der Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft, Nr. 2, 1985.

Wolff, Charlotte. Magnus Hirschfeld: A Portrait of a Pioneer in Sexology. London: Quartet Books, 1986.


    Citation Information
    Author: Bauer, J. Edgar  
    Entry Title: Hirschfeld, Magnus  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated August 18, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


This Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.