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Hirschfeld, Magnus (1868-1935)  
 
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During his around-the-world journey begun in 1930, Magnus Hirschfeld was saluted in America as "[t]he Einstein of Sex" and in India as "the modern Vatsayana of the West." Today, however, his life and work seem almost erased from cultural memory, yet he deserves recognition as a significant theorist of sexuality and the most prominent advocate of homosexual emancipation of his time.

In seeking to assess the true dimensions of Hirschfeld's theoretical and emancipatory achievements, his motto per scientiam ad justitiam ["Through Science to Justice"] offers a key to his encompassing sexological program that moves from acknowledgement of the biological facts of human sexuality to a libertarian vision of culture capable of coping with endless sexual diversity. He was convinced that scientific understanding of sexuality would lead to tolerance and acceptance of sexual minorities.

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Hirschfeld's most relevant theoretical contribution is his "doctrine of sexual intermediaries" (Zwischenstufenlehre). It contends that all human beings are intersexual variants, that is, unique composites of different proportions of masculinity and femininity. Since these proportions vary from one sexual layer of description to another in the same individual and can alter or be altered in time, it is, strictly speaking, not possible to postulate discrete sexual categories.

By assuming potentially infinite sexual constitutions and contributing to a deeper understanding of the perplexities inherent in man's intersexual condition, Hirschfeld anticipates some of the most fundamental tenets of and studies.

Hirschfeld's Life

Magnus Hirschfeld was born to Jewish parents in the Prussian city of Kolberg, on the Baltic sea, on May 14, 1868. He studied modern languages in Breslau, and then medicine in Strasbourg, München, Heidelberg, and Berlin, where he took his degree in 1892.

While Charlotte Wolff in her biographical portrait underlines Hirschfeld's "bisexual twist," Manfred Herzer depicts Hirschfeld as "gay" in the very title of his biography. Although Hirschfeld regarded the issue of his own sexual orientation as a strictly private matter, there is no doubt about his liaisons with Karl Giese, the archives director of the Institute of Sexual Science, and, later in life, with his Chinese disciple Li Shiu Tong. In Hirschfeld's last will both are mentioned as his heirs.

As the most prominent leader of the early homosexual emancipation movement in Germany, Hirschfeld campaigned tirelessly on behalf of the "sexual rights" of minorities. He attempted to create organizational and editorial frameworks that would support the liberation of the sexually oppressed.

In 1897, Hirschfeld founded, along with Eduard Oberg, Max Spohr, and Franz Josef von Bülow, the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäre Komitee [Scientific-Humanitarian Committee], whose first project was a petition calling for the repeal of the anti-homosexual paragraph 175 of the Imperial Penal Code of 1871.

The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee never succeeded in its goal of repealing paragraph 175, but it did gather signatures of some 6,000 prominent Germans calling for repeal. And in 1929, a bill repealing paragraph 175 was reported from a committee of the German Parliament, though Parliament was adjourned without taking up the legislation.

In 1899, Hirschfeld began publishing the Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen [Yearbook of Intermediate Sexual Types], the world's first scientific journal dealing with sexual variants. It was published until 1923. The studies published by the Yearbook range from articles about homosexuality among "primitive" people to literary analyses and case studies.

After meeting Freud in Vienna in 1908, Hirschfeld became one of the founding members of the Berlin section of the Viennese Psychoanalytical Union, from which he resigned in 1911, following attacks by C. G. Jung during the third psychoanalytical congress in Weimar. In 1913 he founded along with Iwan Bloch and Heinrich Körber the "Medical Society for Sexual Science and Eugenics."

In July 1919, he opened the "Institute for Sexual Science" [Institut für Sexualwissenschaft], the actual forerunner of such institutions as the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research. The Institute became an important center for the study of all aspects of sexuality and amassed an impressive library.

Hirschfeld was a widely recognized speaker and a prolific writer. His publications dealt not only with all major areas of the nascent sexual science, but also with general health issues, sexual reform, politics, the history of morals, and racism.

In his bibliography, James D. Steakley mentions more than 500 items that appeared during Hirschfeld's life. His first sexological treatise was entitled Sappho und Sokrates oder Wie erklärt sich die Liebe der Männer und Frauen zu Personen des eigenen Geschlechts? [Sappho and Socrates, or How to Explain the Love of Men and Women for Persons of Their Own Sex?], published under the pseudonym "Th. Ramien" in 1896.

Among Hirschfeld's most important contributions to sexual science are Die Transvestiten [Transvestites] (1910); Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes [Homosexuality of Men and Women] (1914); and the three volumes of Sexualpathologie [Sexual Pathology] (1917). Between 1926 and 1930, Hirschfeld published Geschlechtskunde [Sexual Science], his five-volume magnum opus.

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