nazi trans
nazi trans

How the Nazis Set the Trans Movement Back Decades

One victim of the Nazi regime that you probably didn’t hear about in history class was the transgender rights movement.

Before Hitler

After World War I, a relatively open LGBTQ culture flourished in Germany. Though there were anti-sodomy laws in place, the police didn’t really bother to enforce them, so queer people were relatively free to live and socialize in public.

nazi trans
Magnus Hirschfeld

But it was more than just a good time. LGBTQ-friendly science in fields like medicine and psychology blossomed, too. Researchers didn’t simply shun queer sexuality as they had before. Now, they were interested in studying it.

There were the inevitable attempts to “cure” homosexuality, of course, with bizarre surgical procedures like castration or testicle transplants.

But there were bright spots, too.

One was a doctor named Magnus Hirschfeld, a groundbreaking sexologist. Stonewall Society writes that Hirschfeld was Jewish, gay, liked wearing women’s clothing (and even created the word “transvestitism”) and was a foot fetishist to boot. Hirschfeld saw sexuality as a natural phenomenon worthy of academic research, not a shameful thing.

During his lifetime, Hirschfeld wrote and collected a ton of texts about queer sexuality, including many works about transgenderism and gender reassignment surgery. And Hirschfeld’s colleagues practiced gender reassignment surgery.

Because of this, Hirschfeld was repeatedly attacked during his lifetime, too.

The Third Reich

As the Nazis came into power, Hirschfeld was attacked over and over again. He got a broken skull in one incident. He was eventually forced into exile.

Hirschfeld’s research came under attack, too. In 1933, Hitler’s brownshirts broke into Hershfeld’s institute. They burned his collected literature. Many of these were rare books, difficult (if not impossible) to replace.

Timeline writes:

When Hirschfeld was out of Germany on tour, the Nazi student group marched on the Institute. Over 20,000 books were set aflame, as well as medical diagrams and photographs crucial to understanding sex reassignment surgery. Hirschfeld and his colleagues were Jewish, but it wasn’t just that. Hitler also publicly raged against the “vice” of homosexuality and the “degenerate” lives of transsexuals.

When students learn about World War II in school, they hear about the Nazi book burnings, but they’re not taught that the books contained medical research on LGBTQ care.