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Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality


What makes people gay, lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual? And who cares?
Written by one of the leading scientists in the research of sexual orientation,
Queer Science looks at how scientific discoveries about homosexuality influence society's attitude toward gays and lesbians, beginning with the theories of the German sexologist and ...

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What makes people gay, lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual? And who cares?
Written by one of the leading scientists in the research of sexual orientation,
Queer Science looks at how scientific discoveries about homosexuality influence society's attitude toward gays and lesbians, beginning with the theories of the German sexologist and gay-rights pioneer Magnus Hirschfeld and culminating with the latest discoveries in brain science, genetics, endocrinology,
and cognitive psychology.

The MIT Press

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The second book by the recent novelist and author of The Sexual Brain explores the politics of research into sexual differences. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Since the mid-1800s, the thrust of much research on homosexuality has been twofold: to understand what "causes" it, then to "cure" it. LeVay (The Sexual Brain, MIT, 1993), who in 1991 published a landmark article on structural differences between the brains of gay and straight men, argues that any one-dimensional research focus is misguided. He surveys the history of research into homosexuality from its beginnings in the cognitive sciences to today's genetic and biological work. LeVay claims that to study homosexuality is, by extension, to study all human sexuality, for you cannot ask what "makes" somebody gay without asking what "makes" somebody straight. He also shows how scientific research into homosexuality colors how the public perceives gays and lesbians, for better or worse. A thoughtful and objective synthesis that deserves broad readership.Gregg Sapp, Univ. of Miami Lib.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262621199
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/1997
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon LeVay, whose 1991 paper published in Science, "A difference in hypothalamic structure between homosexual and heterosexual men," attracted worldwide scientific and public attention, is Associate Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological
Studies and Adjunct Professor of Biology at the University of California, San Diego.
He is presently Chair of the Steering Committee of the Institute of Gay and Lesbian
Education, West Hollywood, a new college for the gay and lesbian community in
Southern California.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Hirschfeld and the Third Sex

America was not the birthplace of the gay-rights movement. The first substantial effort to organize gay men and lesbians in this country was the founding of the two "homophile" organizations, the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, in the early 1950s. But in Europe the history of the movement goes back much further. In Germany, in fact, an active gay-rights movement existed already at the beginning of the century. Of particular relevance to the themes of this book is the close connection between the political efforts of the early German activists and the development of ideas about the nature and causes of homosexuality. This connection was especially obvious in the life and work of the movement's leader, the Jewish physician and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld.

Hirschfeld's Predecessor—Ulrichs

In his thinking about homosexuality, as well as in his political engagement, Hirschfeld owed a major debt to a gay man of an earlier generation, the German jurist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895).(1) If, as some people assert, the word "gay" should be reserved for people who are self-conscious, open members of the homosexual community, then Ulrichs was the first gay man of modern times. Certainly he was the first gay activist. Driven by a stubborn streak that was the leading feature of his personality, Ulrichs argued tirelessly for the rights of homosexuals. In 1867 he made a speech before the Congress of German Jurists in Munich, in which he appealed for the abolition of the sodomy statute. He also corresponded widely with gay men, and publishednumerous pamphlets and monographs on homosexuality.

Ulrichs had a sense of himself as being considerably more feminine than the average man. He recalled that as a young child he wore girls' clothes, preferred playing with girls, and in fact expressed a desire to be a girl. As an adult, he was sexually attracted to virile young men, especially to soldiers in uniform. As far as we know, however, he did not cross-dress as an adult; in fact, he was perceived by his contemporaries as a rather conventionally gendered man.

Ulrichs put forward two important ideas about homosexuality. First, he declared that homosexuals were a distinct class of individuals, innately different from heterosexual people. At that time there was no word to describe this class of people, aside from the pejorative, behavior-based term "sodomite." (The word "homosexual" was introduced later by the Hungarian Karl Maria Kertbeny.) Ulrichs therefore coined the word "urning," meaning follower or descendant of Uranus. The name is a reference to a passage in Plato's Symposium, in which Pausanias calls same-sex love the offspring of the "heavenly Aphrodite," daughter of Uranus. Ulrichs later added the feminine form "urningin" to define women we now refer to as lesbians. Heterosexuals, in Ulrichs's parlance, became "dionings"—descendants of the "common Aphrodite," daughter of Zeus by the mortal woman Dione.

Second, Ulrichs put forward a theory to account for the development of sexual orientation. In his earliest conception of this theory, propounded in 1864,(2) the human embryo was viewed as having the potential for bodily and mental development in either the female or the male direction. In most people the sexual development of the body and the mind was concordant: either both were male or both were female. In fetuses destined to become urnings, however, the sex of bodily development was male, while the sex of mental development was female. These individuals, being neither totally male nor totally female, constituted a"third sex." He later put forward a similar explanation for the origin of urningins: in them, the sex of bodily development was female, while that of mental development was male.

Although Ulrichs's theory was biological and framed in terms of fetal development, it did not offer an ultimate explanation for why particular individuals were gay or straight, because it did not explain why the development of mind and body was sexually concordant in some people and discordant in others. Ulrichs does not seem to have been especially interested in this question. As long as homosexuality was inborn, Ulrichs felt he could justly claim that homosexual behavior was natural for homosexual people, and therefore should not be criminalized or viewed as sinful. In essence, Ulrichs was saying that Saint Paul made a mistake in calling same-sex behavior "against nature"—it would only be against nature for some-one who was innately heterosexual.

Ulrichs soon understood that his theory was not fully adequate to account for the diversity of human sexual orientation. For one thing, he realized that sexual orientation is not an either—or phenomenon but a continuum: there are people who to one degree or another are sexually attracted to both men and women. These people, who we now call bisexuals, Ulrichs referred to as "urano-dionings." (3) But he did not consider that the existence of intermediate degrees of sexual orientation conflicted in any way with his theory. After all, as he pointed out, there are also intermediate stages of physical sex, as evidenced by the existence of hermaphrodites or intersexes. The urano-dionings were simply people in whom mental development had proceeded partially along male lines and partially along female lines.

A more serious problem with Ulrichs's original theory had to do with the urnings' sexual partners. Those virile young men who were the preferred sexual partners of Ulrichs and his kind-if they responded to the urnings' advances, did that make them urnings themselves? And if not, what then was their biological nature, and what was their moral status?

Ulrichs said that these men were not urnings-they were young heterosexual men who would eventually become sexually active only with women. Their sexual activity with urnings, whatever its motivation, was justified simply because it was justified for urnings. After all, urnings could not be expected to have sex with each other, because they were insufficiently masculine to form suitable objects for urning love. Another likely factor behind Ulrichs's neglect of the urnings' sex partners was social snobbery: the partners were mostly working-class youths or young men, whose own motivations were not of great significance to a cultured professional like Ulrichs.

As he came to know a large number of gay men, Ulrichs had to acknowledge that they were not as uniformly feminine as he perceived himself to be. In fact, he corresponded with some men who seemed to be masculine in every way, aside from the direction of their sexual desire. In some cases, to be sure, these men had been somewhat cross-gendered in childhood and had become more conventionally masculine after puberty. That might be, as Ulrichs pointed out, because of social pressures that forced them to conceal the feminine side of their nature. But there were also men who were sexually attracted to men who lacked even a childhood history of femininity.

Ulrichs therefore revised his theory by proposing that there was a spectrum of urning natures. At one end was the weibling or "female-type." Such an individual was very feminine in personality and even in physical appearance, and was typically attracted to masculine young men. At the other end was the manuring or "male-type," who was conventionally masculine in every way except for his sexual orientation. The mannling was typically attracted to somewhat androgynous youths or young men. Between these two extremes were any number of intermediate stages.

In addition, Ulrichs acknowledged that urnings varied in terms of their preferences for particular sexual acts. Some were "active": like heterosexual men, they took the insertive role in sexual intercourse. Others were "passive": like heterosexual women, they took the receptive role. Still others could derive pleasure from either role.

In making these revisions Ulrichs had moved a considerable distance from his original conception of the urning as a person with the mind of a woman and the body of a man. That conception corresponds more to what we nowadays refer to as a male-to-female transsexual. The revised conception was far more in accord with our current ideas about the variety of gay men and their sexual relationships. The only major missing element was the possibility of relationships between pairs of manglings—the type of companionate relationships between conventionally masculine gay men that are at the center of the self-image projected by the gay male community today.

If Ulrichs's revised model was descriptively superior, was it superior in explanatory power? Ulrichs had been forced into positing the existence of not one but at least three psychic entities that developed in a sexually differentiated fashion. One of these entities was sexual orientation (urning, urano-dioning, or dioning), another was preferred sexual behavior (passive, no preference, or active), and a third was a broader collection of gender characteristics (weibling, intermediate, or mannling). The direction of sexual differentiation of these three entities was not necessarily the same: Ulrichs himself, for example, was feminine in two (he was an urning and a weibling) but masculine in the third (he was active in his preferred sexual behavior). Did this multiplication of entities, and the possibility of discordance among them, undermine the very basis of Ulrichs's argument, reducing it to the mere tautological statement that homosexuals are the way they are because their minds exhibit same-sex attraction?

Rather than attempting to answer the question at this point, let us see how Ulrichs's ideas were further developed. Ulrichs himself, in a pamphlet published in 1879,(4) tried to simplify the whole question of male sexual diversity by presenting it as a unidimensional continuum. At one extreme was the weibling, feminine in everything but his genital anatomy; at the other was the virile heterosexual man. Along the continuum were found an infinite number of intermediate stages (Zwischenstufen), including the manuring as well as less-than-masculine heterosexual men. How complex discordances could be represented in such a continuum (say an effeminate male-to-female transsexual who is nevertheless sexually attracted to women) was left unclear. More significant than Ulrichs's later writings, however, was the development of his ideas by Hirschfeld.

Fin-de-Siecle Berlin

Forty years younger than Ulrichs, Hirschfeld came of age in a society very different from the one Ulrichs knew. By 1896, when Hirschfeld took up residence in Berlin, that city was already the home of a diverse and self-aware gay and lesbian community. This community and this self-awareness did not come into being as a consequence of the "naming" of homosexual people by nineteenth-century sexologists. Rather, the prime cause was the explosive growth of Berlin during the years after 1871, when it became the German capital. By the time Hirschfeld moved there only London, another gay mecca, was larger. Gay people were attracted to large cities, as Hirschfeld himself observed,"like gnats to a bog" (wie Mucken zum Sumpf), for only in large cities were they able to find sexual outlet, acceptance, and anonymity.

We can gain some idea of the gay and lesbian scene at that time from an engaging book entitled Berlins Drittes Geschlecht ("Berlin's Third Sex"),(5) published by Hirschheld in 1904. At its simplest, gay male culture might consist of anonymous meetings between strangers in a secluded corner of the Tiergarten, or the picking up of a hustler on "the Strip" (der Strich) or in one of the city's many gay bars. At its most elaborate, gay culture involved public drag balls (attended by both men and women) and exclusive private parties for gay aristocrats. Hirschfeld described one of these parties:

We sat at small tables and dined most opulently, while chatting about the most recent performances of Wagner's operas-a topic in which nearly all educated urnings are interested. The conversation moved on to travel and literature, but kept clear of politics. Gradually it turned to court gossip. People dwelt in great detail on the recent court ball. The appearance of the young duke of X. had set many an urning's heart aflutter: everyone was ecstatic about his blue uniform and his charming personality, and people related how they had contrived to be introduced to His Royal Highness...

At the heart of lesbian and gay culture, then as now, were countless stable lesbian and gay male relationships—relationships that were far less visible than we are accustomed to today, yet that often gained a measure of acceptance, even outside of homosexual circles. It was not uncommon, for example, for a young lesbian or gay man to bring her or his lover to live in the parental household, and for the parents to consciously accept their new "daughter-in-law" or"son-in-law" as one of the family. Many of these relationships, in Hirschfeld's description at least, were "transgenderal," involving for example the pairing of a conventionally masculine man with a markedly feminine man.

But there was a dark side to Berlin's gay culture. Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, inherited from the earlier Prussian code, made sex between men a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to six months. Unlike the sodomy statutes that still exist in many American states today, paragraph 175 was no dead letter. It was actively enforced by police surveillance, by entrapment, and by the use of informers. About 500 men were imprisoned under paragraph 175 each year. In a much larger number of cases, prosecution was dropped after preliminary inquiries, but even this was enough to cost a man his job and his position in society. In addition, blackmail was a constant threat. A book about male prostitution in Berlin, published in 1906, makes it clear that for many hustlers blackmail was the whole point and purpose of the trade.(6) Countless men were driven to suicide by blackmail, by the actual disclosure of their homosexuality, or simply by the prospect of having to live under such oppressive conditions. Hirschfeld recounts one case:

On Christmas Day of last year, very early in the morning, I was called to the room of a homosexual student in the western part of Berlin. The word was that he had suffered an attack of delirium during the night.

When I arrived, I was met by a frightful scene. The entire room was strewn with broken dishes, pieces of furniture, torn fabric, books and papers, all stained with blood, ink and paraffin oil. By the bed there was a large pool of blood, and on the bed lay a young man with a waxen-pale face and deep-set, blazing eyes. Locks of black hair framed his finely sculpted, regular features. His forehead and his arms were covered with blood-soaked rags.

He had had an argument with his father, a respected citizen of Berlin, concerning his homosexuality. Neither had been able to attempt a reconciliation, and now, on Christmas Eve—the first since he had moved out of his parents' home—he had been wandering alone through the deserted streets of the metropolis. Concealing himself in a passageway, across the street from his parents' house, he had watched the bright lights within, and heard the laughter of his younger brothers and sisters. For a moment he caught a glimpse of the outline of his mother as, lost in thought, she leant her brow against the windowpane.

After the lights went out, he went to the nearest bar, took a seat in a hidden-away corner, and emptied one glass of schnapps after another. He went on to a second and third bar and did the same. In empty cafes he gave the last of his money for black coffee and kirsch. After he had made his way home through the cold winter's night, and had staggered up the four Bights of stairs to his room, he had been seized by a wild frenzy. He reduced everything within reach to splinters, and he smashed the burning lamp, in the expectation that he would open his arteries and bleed to death. One of the landlord's family called a doctor, who merely looked through the doorway and speedily wrote out an order committing the student to the psychiatric section of the Charite Hospital. One of the student's friends called me to him. I washed and bandaged one wound after another on that Christmas morning. He did not wince or speak a single word, but his blazing eyes and his pale lips and his gaping wounds spoke of his intense pain, and of the sacred task of those who work for the urnings' liberation.

The story was doubtless a true one, but the way it is told also illustrates something of Hirschfeld's mind-set: his messianic fervor, his inclination to romanticize, and his almost mechanical approach to psychology, an approach in which feelings are not so much communicated as acted out. Compared with Freud, who undertook long voyages within his patients' unconscious, Hirschfeld was most comfortable in the outer world of action.

"Sappho and Socrates"

In the same year that Hirschfeld moved to Berlin, he published his first work on homosexuality, a pamphlet entitled Sappho and Socrates.(7) Although Hirschfeld mentioned Ulrichs only rather briefly in this pamphlet, the debt to his predecessor was obvious. Like Ulrichs, Hirschfeld accounted for diversity in sexual orientation in terms of the bisexual nature of the developing fetus, but, in keeping with his training as a physician, he spoke of the "brain" where Ulrichs had spoken of the "mind." Hirschfeld posited the existence, in the embryos of both sexes, of rudimentary neural centers for attraction to both males and females. In most male fetuses, the center for attraction to women developed, while the center for attraction to males regressed, and vice versa for female fetuses. In fetuses destined to become homosexual, on the other hand, the opposite developmental sequence took place.(8) While admitting that the location of these centers was still unknown, Hirschfeld predicted that when they were identified, it would be found that adults of each sex carried the vestigial remnants of the centers typical for the other sex. Although he did not spell this out, there was also the implicit prediction that differences would be found between the brains of heterosexual and homosexual individuals: in gay men, for example, the centers for attraction to women would be vestigial, while those for attraction to men would be relatively large.

Unlike Ulrichs, Hirschfeld concerned himself with the question of why the neural centers for sexual attraction developed atypically in fetuses destined to become homosexual. In keeping with the then current ideas about "degeneracy" (Entartung), he suggested that the cause might lie with a weakening of the parents' seed on account of alcoholism, syphilis, and so forth. Perhaps recalling that his own parents had led exemplary lives, he added rather lamely that homosexuals could also crop up in apparently healthy families. In his later writings Hirschfeld played down the notion of a connection between homosexuality and degeneracy, but never seemed to abandon it completely. He suggested more than once, for example, that homosexuality might be a device invented by Nature to prevent people from having degenerate offspring, and he used this idea as an argument against gay people marrying.

The notion of an early bisexual stage of development is somewhat confusing. It is one thing to say that at an early stage of development the brain is sexually undifferentiated, that it may subsequently follow one of two developmental pathways depending on external factors, and that a person's ultimate sexual orientation depends on which pathway was followed. It is quite another to say that at some early stage the individual is actually experiencing sexual attraction to both men and women. Hirschfeld seems not to have recognized this distinction at all clearly. At one point he wrote that the human fetus, up to the end of the third month, was "completely without a sex (or more accurately, is both male and female)." Later in the pamphlet he wrote that it was ". . .beyond scientific doubt that the original state of the individual is hermaphroditic, and the mental drive is originally directed with equal strength toward both men and women. . ." Hirschfeld seems to have conceptually telescoped the individual's sex life backwards into the fetal period. Other writers of the period who discussed bisexuality, most notably Wilhelm Fliess and Sigmund Freud, also tended to project active sexuality backwards into the postulated bisexual (or "polymorphous") period; the validity of their approach is discussed later.

Like Ulrichs, Hirschfeld argued that the prenatal origin of homosexual attraction removed homosexuality from the categories of sin or crime. Of course, he recognized that the law punished behavior, not feelings. But Hirschfeld also "biologized" the connection between feeling and action by positing an innate sexual drive, whose strength varied between individuals, and which determined whether homosexual feelings were inevitably translated into action, or were capable of repression. In most bisexual people, Hirschfeld believed, the strength of same-sex desire was relatively low, and therefore its development could and should be restrained. He recommended that young people in general be allowed the company of the opposite sex and not be kept in single-sex environments which might nurture the germ of homosexuality. In this way, he believed, same-sex feelings would develop only in exclusively homosexual individuals, in whom the strength of the same-sex drive lay beyond what could be modified by experience.

In fact, Sappho and Socrates contains numerous passages that reveal Hirschfeld's ambivalent attitude toward homosexuality at that time. He was emphatic that same-sex behavior should be decriminalized, and he cited the homosexuality of notable historical figures to bolster his assertion that urnings and urningins could be healthy and valuable members of society. Yet, at the same time, he repeatedly drew an analogy between homosexuality and congenital deformities such as hare lip. The main difference was that hare lip was correctible, whereas homosexuality, in the full urning, was not.

Although this attitude may seem surprisingly negative, it was probably inevitable, given the social conditions then existing. Hirschfeld failed to spell out emphatically that the "problem" lay with the homophobic attitudes of society, not with homosexuality itself. He had, as we would say nowadays,"internalized" some of that homophobia. But exactly the same phenomenon was apparent in the early days of the gay-rights movement in the United States fifty years later. The manifesto of the first gay-rights organization, Harry Hay's Mattachine Society, conceded that gay people suffered from"physiological handicaps"—a rephrasing of Hirschfeld's "curse of Nature"—and the first lesbian organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, invited speakers to discuss possible cures. Only Ulrichs had been immune to self-loathing: extraordinary man that he was, he simply hurled back with redoubled force every rock that society cast his way.

Notably absent from Sappho and Socrates was any attempt to link homosexuality with a broader gender nonconformity in the way that Ulrichs had tried to do. It is possible that the reason for this lay in Hirschfeld's own-nature. Hirschfeld seems to have been more of a mannling than a weibling, to use Ulrichs' terminology. He had a conventional childhood and was on the best of terms with his father; in adulthood, he was apparently drawn to fairly unmasculine men, not to the soldiers and Burschen (strapping lads) that Ulrichs found so irresistible. Unfortunately, in all his voluminous writings Hirschfeld was remarkably silent about his own sex life. In fact, he never formally came out of the closet, although his homosexuality eventually became known to a very wide circle of colleagues and acquaintances. At any event, it seems likely that Hirschfeld, like Ulrichs, based his earliest ideas about homosexuality primarily on his own experience and modified these ideas later when he came to know larger numbers of homosexual men and women.

A final point worth emphasizing about Sappho and Socrates is how much Hirschfeld attempted to turn sexual feelings into concrete phenomena. This is evident, not merely in the way he equated sexuality with the development of (still hypothetical) brain centers, but also in his attempts to quantify sexual feelings. He represented the strength of sexual desire on a 10-point scale, and the direction of desire by the letters A (heterosexual), B (homosexual), or A + B (bisexual). Thus a particular individual's sexuality might be expressed by a figure such as A3,B9: such a person would be rather weakly attracted to the other sex and very strongly to the same sex. An individual might be completely asexual (A0,B0), violently drawn to both sexes(A10,B10), and so forth. This scheme actually goes beyond the Kinseyscale, developed fifty years later (see chapter 2), because that scale is unidimensional: it suggests (although Kinsey did not actually believe this) that every person has the same fixed endowment of sexual energy, which he or she then divides up between same-sex and opposite-sex attraction in a ratio indicative of his or her own sexual orientation.

This concrete, reifying approach to sexuality reflected the cast of Hirschfeld's mind. A stranger to any kind of religion or spirituality, and out of sympathy with abstract systems such as that constructed by Freud, Hirschfeld believed in the evidence of things seen. To him, a scientific theory was in essence a prediction that something presently unseen would be made visible in the future.

The Petition to the Reichstag

The publication of Sappho and Socrates initiated Hirschfeld's lifelong involvement in the gay-rights struggle. In the following year (1897), he and three associates founded the Wissenschaftlich-humanitares Komitee (WhK or "Scientific-humanitarian Committee"), the world's first gay-rights organization.

The WhK grew rapidly. Already in 1897 it submitted a petition to the two legislative bodies (the Bundesrat and the Reichstag), signed by about two hundred jurists, professors of medicine, and others. The text of the petition, first of several that were submitted to the legislature over the ensuing thirty years, was as follows:(9)

To the Legislative Bodies of the German Reich

Considering that already in 1869 the leading public health officials in both Austria and Germany, including men such as Langenbeck and Virchow, lent their collective voice to the demand that sexual intercourse between individuals of the same sex be basing their argument on the fact that the behaviors under consideration are in no way different from behaviors that have never been subject to criminal sanction, such as those performed on the person's own body, between two women, or between men and women;

Observing that the lifting of similar penalties in France, Italy, Holland and numerous other countries has not led to any decline in public morals or to any other unfavourable consequences; Recognising that scientific research, especially that carried out over the last twenty years in German-, English- and French-speaking countries, has thoroughly investigated the question of homosexuality (sensual love towards people of the same sex), and has without exception confirmed the view of the earlier authorities who studied the topic, namely that this phenomenon, which has been so uniformly encountered in all countries and at different periods of history, must represent the expression of a deep constitutional predisposition; Emphasizing that it is now virtually proven that this phenomenon, which at first sight is so mysterious, actually results from developmental conditions linked to the early bisexual (hermaphroditic) state of the human fetus, and as a consequence no moral blame should be laid on a person for possessing the capacity for such feelings; Considering that this capacity for same-sex attraction generally seeks physical expression with the same strength as does the normal sex drive, and often even more strongly;

Recognizing that, according to the statements of all experts on the matter, coitus analis and oralis [anal and oral penetration] take place relatively seldom in same-sex intercourse, and certainly no more commonly than in normal sexual intercourse; Taking note of the fact that, among those subject to feelings of this kind, not just in classical antiquity but up to and including our own time, have been counted men and women of the highest intellectual achievement; Noting that the existing law has not freed a single homosexual from his sexual drive, but condemns very many upright, valuable individuals, who already suffer enough at the hands of nature, to disgrace, despair, insanity or death, even when they are sentenced to a single day's imprisonment—the least penalty permissible under the laws of the German Reich—and in fact even when the case does not proceed beyond a preliminary inquiry; Considering that these regulations have greatly contributed to the wide prevalence of blackmail, as well as to the highly reprehensible practice of male prostitution; The signatories listed below, whose reputation attests to the seriousness and purity of their motives, inspired by the quest for truth, justice and humanity, declare the present version of paragraph 175 of the Penal Code of the German Reich to be inconsistent with the current status of scientific knowledge, and therefore call upon the Legislature promptly to alter this paragraph so that, as in the countries mentioned above, sexual acts between persons of the same sex (homosexual), like those between persons of the opposite sex (heterosexual), shall only be punishable when involving duress, when one of the participants is under 16 years of age, or when they take place in such a way as to offend public decency (i.e., in violation of paragraph 183 of the Penal Code). The petition was in large part a precis of Sappho and Socrates. In describing as "virtually proven" Hirschfeld's speculations about the origin of homosexuality in a bisexual embryo, the petition was of course milking the science for a lot more than it was worth. But few of the other arguments were likely to carry much weight either. That France, Germany's recently defeated enemy, or Italy or Holland had abolished their sodomy statutes was of little consequence, when England,Austria, and the American states were still actively upholding theirs (Oscar Wilde had completed his prison sentence a few months earlier). The assertion that anal and oral intercourse were not common features of sex between men could reasonably be doubted. And the fact that numerous prominent historical figures may have been homosexual carried little weight, not only because their identities were unknown to most Germans, but because, in the progress-oriented mentality of the time, history was when bad things happened. To a modern American ear, the petition's most notable shortcoming is its failure to frame its demands in terms of fundamental human rights. To contemporary Germans, however, it was most probably the failure to address the traditional Christian injunctions against homosexuality that was the petition's major weakness. In fact, some church leaders made considerable use of the biblical prohibitions in their denunciations of the petition, and the WhK later added clauses specifically responding to the religious objections.

Probably more important than the actual arguments used in the petition was the fact of its existence and the impressive list of signatories attached to it. As the petition was presented again and again, the numbers of signatories climbed, so that a total of well over three thousand people signed it at one time or another. These included such notables as the eminent sexologist Richard Krafft-Ebing, Albert Einstein, Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, Gerhart Hauptmann, KatheKollwitz, and Stefan Zweig. But because many of the signatories, like Hirschfeld himself, were Jewish, their voices carried little weight in a country that was increasingly giving way to anti-Semitism.

Research and Education

Athough there was evidently broad support for the repeal of paragraph 175 among the intelligentsia, it became obvious, after the petition was rebuffed by the legislature, that the WhK would need to generate much wider public support if it were ever to succeed in its aim. Hirschfeld and his supporters therefore began a program of broadly based research and education, the aim of which was to present a true picture of homosexuality and of the gay and lesbian community to public view. In this way Hirschfeld hoped to get away from the concept of homosexuality as a psychopathological rarity—a concept derived from clinical studies such as those of the influential nineteenth-century sexologist, Richard Kraft-Ebing—and to emphasize the participation of gays and lesbians in every aspect of German society.

On the research side, Hirschfeld used several approaches. One was to obtain detailed information about a large number of gays and lesbians through "psychobiological questionnaires," which sought information about the respondent's childhood traits, parental relationships, sexual development, adult sexuality, health, personality, and interests. The information from these questionnaires was summarized in several books. Another approach was to carry out surveys of the prevalence of male homosexuality and bisexuality in nonclinical populations. This was done by mailed inquiries, which in 1903 were sent to three thousand male college students in Berlin. The following year they were sent to five thousand male metalworkers. About half the inquiries were answered, and the figures obtained were quite similar to those that have been obtained in recent surveys in the United States: about 4 percent of the respondents stated that they were sexually attracted to both men and women, and 1 to 2 percent were only attracted to men. As with the more recent studies, the figures must be considered as minimum estimates. This piece of sociological research cost Hirschfeld dearly: six of the polytechnic students brought an action against him for disseminating obscene documents, and he had to pay a substantial fine.

Yet another research method used by Hirschfeld was the exploration of Berlin's gay subculture. The results of this research, in the course of which Hirschfeld evidently mixed business and pleasure, were presented in the book mentioned earlier, Berlins Drittes Geschlecht.

Hirschfeld did not abandon the traditional method of sexological research, the individual consultation. As his reputation as a gay-positive clinician grew, Hirschfeld attracted increasing numbers of gay men to his consulting room. In a radical departure from earlier medical practice, Hirschfeld developed a psychotherapeutic procedure that emphasized the client's ability to accept his own homosexuality, rather than to change it. The therapeutic task, as Hirschfeld saw it, was to help the client develop mental skills for surviving as a gay man in a still hostile world. Typically, the therapeutic sessions would involve talking through the client's childhood and adult life in an attempt to link the client's symptomatology to the negative influence of homophobia. He encouraged his clients to meet other gay people, and in fact arranged group meetings for this purpose.

This is not to say that Hirschfeld in a single leap made the transition to the gay-positive style of psychotherapy as we know it today. He still maintained that gay men had the right to attempt to change their sexual orientation if they so wished, and recommended them to practitioners who claimed the ability to accomplish this task. Because of Hirschfeld's biological orientation, he was especially disposed to imagine that this transformation might be achieved by purely medical means. This belief had serious consequences for some of his clients, as we shall see later.

On the educational side, Hirschfeld and the WhK used pamphlets, books, lectures, conferences, and eventually films to spread the word. Hirschfeld himself must have given thousands of public lectures in his career: a populist by instinct, he was never so happy as when addressing large groups of students or workers. He traveled extensively: toward the end of his career he made an eighteen-month trip around the world, which included numerous lecture engagements in the United States as well as in many countries of Asia. He left his long-term companion, Karl Giese, at home to manage his affairs. While in China, however, Hirschfeld acquired a personal disciple in the form of a medical student named Li Shiu Tong (Hirschfeld referred to him as Tao Li or "beloved disciple"), who accompanied him on his travels across Asia and back to Europe. Thereafter Hirschfeld, Giese, and Tao Li formed an uneasy threesome.

The film Anders als die Anderen ("Different from the Others"), which Hirschfeld helped make in 1919, is of particular interest because portions of the film are still extant. Directed by Richard Oswald, the film starred the leading German actor Conrad Veidt, who is best known to American moviegoers in his role as the German commandant in Casablanca. Veidt, who was himself gay, played a gay violinist who was driven to suicide by blackmail and legal persecution. The film ends with an impassioned speech by Hirschfeld, in which he sees a vision of a future in which paragraph 175 has been swept away. The film was a major box-office success, but in the following year it was banned after a bevy of prominent psychiatrists testified that it portrayed homosexual life in too rosy terms!(10)

Hirschfeld founded and edited a journal, the Jahrbuch fur sexuelle Zwischenstufen ("Yearbook of Sexual Intermediaries"), which was published annually from 1899 to 1923. Like Hirschfeld, the Jahrbuch was devoted both to the scientific explication of homosexuality and to the political struggle for gay rights. It published writings by a great diversity of authors, some of whom totally disagreed with Hirschfeld's ideas.

In 1919 Hirschfeld founded the world's first institute for sex research, the Institut fur Sexualwissenschaft. It was located in an elegant neoclassical mansion that had once belonged to the great violinist Joseph Joachim. It housed consulting rooms, an auditorium for public lectures, an ever-growing library, and the offices of the WhK It also served as Hirschfeld and Giese's residence.

The Harden Trials

As an expert on homosexuality, Hirschfeld testified in numerous court cases and was able to help many men who had been indicted under Paragraph 175 escape imprisonment. One legal affair, however, ended up as a public-relations disaster for him. This was a sequence of suits and counter-quits concerned with the purported homosexuality of two close associates of the kaiser: the general Count Kuno von Moltke and the diplomat Prince Philipp von Eulenburg. In 1907 Moltke brought a libel suit against a journalist, Maximilian Harden, who had written an article that, according to Moltke's complaint, implied that he and Eulenburg were homosexual. Rather than trying to deny that this was the meaning of his article, Harden took the offensive and called Moltke's ex-wife as a witness, who testified that the two men had in fact engaged in an amorous relationship. Hirschfeld also testified for the defense, asserting that on the basis of the evidence, as well as his own scientific analysis of Moltke's demeanor in court, the plaintiff was indeed "psychically homosexual."

Harden was acquitted, but undercover machinations led to a new trial later in the year. This time Moltke's ex-wife withdrew her former testimony, and Harden himself said he had never meant to imply that Moltke was homosexual. Thus sandbagged, Hirschfeld had to beat a hasty retreat: he testified that Moltke had merely cultivated the old German virtue of male friendship, something that had nothing to do with sodomy or homosexuality. Harden was convicted of libel, and Hirschfeld was publicly reviled. Among the press comments dug up by Charlotte Wolff are ,the following:"We are of the opinion that the scientific method of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld is more madness than method" (the right-wing National-Zeitung), and "Dr. Hirschfeld makes public propaganda under the cover of science which does nothing else but poison our people" (the liberal Munchener Neueste Nachrichten).(11)

Although Hirschfeld certainly had blurred the line between science and politics, the fact is that Moltke and Eulenburg were indeed homosexual both in disposition and in practice. This came out in later trials in which Hirschfeld was not involved. The full byzantine story has been recounted by dames Steakley, who has emphasized the coupling of anti-Semitism and homophobia in the public response to the case.(12)

Hirschfeld and Women

Hirschfeld's original interest was primarily in male homosexuality, and the political movement focused on men because sex between women was not illegal. But over time Hirschfeld became increasingly interested in lesbianism, in female sexuality in general, and in women's rights. He joined the Bund fur Mutterschutz (League for the Protection of Mothers), the feminist organization founded by the writer Helene Stocker in 1904, and he campaigned for the decriminalization of abortion, as well for the abolition of rules that imposed celibacy and nonmaternity on female teachers and civil servants. A number of women, including the heterosexual Stocker, joined the WhK, especially in 1910 and 1911, when there was talk of extending paragraph 175 to apply to women as well as men. For all these positive interactions, Hirschfeld remained a creature of his time, believing (as did many feminists themselves) that women were intellectually inferior to men.

Development of Hirschfeld's Views

In 1903 Hirschfeld published Der Urnische Mensch ("The Homosexual"—the phrase is sex-neutral). This book represents his mature views on homosexuality, and his later writings, although far broader in scope, did not break radically new ground.(13) In Der Urnische Mensch Hirschfeld asserted that homosexuals are indeed sexual Zwischenstufen (intermediate stages), although not quite in the same sense that Ulrichs had used the word. Hirschfeld did not think that there was a single male-female continuum, along which any individual could be assigned a unique position. Rather, he held that there are a number of sex-related traits, including gonadal anatomy, genital anatomy, anatomy of other parts of the body, personality, and sexual orientation, any one of which could be used to describe an individual as being more malelike or more female-like. Thus sex was multidimensional, and "male" and "female" were abstractions. Homosexual women and men were Zwischenstufen because they possessed a mixture of traits, some of which were male-like, some female-like, and some intermediate.

Hirschfeld now believed that same-sex orientation was sometimes accompanied by physical characteristics of the opposite sex: the hips of some gay men were broader than average, for example, while those of some lesbians were sometimes narrower. Similarly, facial appearance might be typical of the other sex, making it relatively easy for the individual to pass as the other sex if he or she so desired. Later in his career, Hirschfeld even speculated that some gays and lesbians were intersexed in terms of their reproductive physiology: he suggested that it would be worthwhile to examine the vaginal secretions of lesbians for the presence of spermatozoa, and the urine of gay men for menstrual blood.(14) In part, such groundless speculations were the result of Hirschfeld's failure to clearly distinguish among homosexuals, transsexuals, genital intersexes, and gonadal hermaphrodites. But another factor was Hirschfeld's need for visual proof of his theories: he could not rest his case,it seemed,until"lesbian sperm"were laid out for the world to behold.

Hirschfeld also believed that, in terms of personality traits, gays and lesbians were often partially shifted toward the other sex: gay men, for example, were often less aggressive, more caring, and more esthetically inclined that heterosexual men, whereas for lesbians it was often the reverse: they were often more adventurous and forceful than heterosexual women.

On the basis of thousands of interviews, questionnaires, and written reports that he had collected over the previous seven years, Hirschfeld maintained that lesbians and gay men were most gender-nonconformist during their childhood, and that one could fairly speak of a "homosexual child," even though such children did not necessarily feel or express same-sex attraction. The homosexual girls looked and dressed like boys, preferred boys' company and boys' activities, whereas for the homosexual boys it was the reverse. These gender-nonconformist traits did not result from parental treatment (from the parents' wish for a child of the other sex, for example), but from an inborn sexual variance that manifested itself already in childhood.

Thus, in certain respects, Hirschfeld had returned to a close approximation of the views of Ulrichs, in that he firmly linked homosexuality with a broader constellation of sexually variant traits, the entirety of which he attributed to an atypical sexual differentiation of the brain and body during fetal life.


In considering how this atypical development might come about, Hirschfeld was influenced by the current developments in endocrinology, most especially by the research of the Viennese endocrinogist Eugen Steinach (1861-1944). During the first decade of the twentieth century, Steinach performed transplantations of testes and ovaries in rats and guinea pigs. His research showed that these glands secrete hormones into the bloodstream that influence not only the animals' physical development but also their sexual behavior. These secretions, he argued, were responsible for the "sexualization" of the brain as male or female.(15) He suggested that this sexualization occurs early in life, because the most dramatic effects were seen when the transplantations were performed shortly after birth.

Steinach developed the notion, partly under the influence of Hirschfeld's biological theories, that the testicular secretions in homosexual men were abnormal and that they drove brain development in a female rather than a male direction. He even claimed to see microscopic differences in the structure of the testis between homosexual and heterosexual men; these differences were not in the sperm-forming cells but in the "interstitial" cells, the cells that he had shown to be responsible for the secretion of testicular hormones.

True to his training as an experimentalist, Steinach tested his hypothesis by conducting transplants in humans. In 1917 he published a sensational report in the Jahrbuch that described the results of transplanting a testicle from a heterosexual man into an "effeminate, passive homosexual man." According to the report, the man was totally "cured"—he was said to have lost all attraction to men and to have developed normal heterosexual feelings.(16)

Steinach's experiment seemed to provide dramatic support for a biological explanation of homosexuality. "The decisive factor in contrary sexual feeling," Hirschfeld wrote in 1920,-is not, as Ulrichs believed, in the mind or soul (anima inclusa), but in the glands (glandula inclusa)."(17) Whatever reservations Hirschfeld may have felt about the desirability of changing a person's sexual orientation were laid aside in favor of promoting Steinach's research. He sought and found volunteers for the procedure—gay men who were desperate to become heterosexual—and directed them to Steinach. Some further successes were reported, but eventually the procedure was exposed as ineffective. If only one of the volunteer's own testicles was removed, there was no permanent effect on his sex drive or sexual orientation. In cases where both of the volunteer's own testicles were removed, however, the consequences were more serious. Hirschfeld published one man's account of his experience.

After my wife gave her consent, I underwent a bilateral castration. The operation was performed by a well-known surgeon, with the understanding that it would be followed later by the implantation of a testicle from a heterosexual man. As I was already over forty, the initial operation didn't have any dramatic effects. My voice and facial hair weren't affected. My sex drive declined in strength but didn't change its direction. I did lose my body hair, though. A year later the testicle of a heterosexual man was implanted in my abdominal cavity. My body hair began to regrow, but six months later it disappeared again. My sex drive gradually declined until it finally disappeared,but it never changed its direction. My desire to drink and use drugs did go away—I've been clean and sober for years now. So I achieved what I wanted. But I've been destroyed as a man: my drive and will-power are gone. I don't blame anyone—I asked for the procedure myself. But maybe I could have given up drinking if only my feelings of inferiority had been alleviated, by social or moral means. Steinach's transplants were much overrated in those days, even by doctors. I've researched the literature—there isn't one reported case of lasting improvement after a transplant.(18)

Steinach's experiments were doomed to failure because of the immunological rejection of the transplanted glands. But as we shall see later, the underlying scientific hypothesis that so excited Hirschfeld was also incorrect: according to the present scientific consensus, the testicular secretions of gay men differ neither in quality nor in quantity from those of heterosexuals. The gay men who were unmanned by Steinach, far from making history, earned only a macabre footnote in the annals of medical homophobia.


If Steinach pulled Hirschfeld in one direction, another Viennese physician—Sigmund Freud—pulled in quite another. Freud in his early career was quite interested in the brain basis of mental life, and was open to the notion that "constitutional factors" played an important role both normal and abnormal psychic development. In 1905, however, Freud published his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, in which he declared that "perversions" and neuroses were merely alternative ways of dealing with unresolved Oedipal conflicts: by arrest of development in the one case, or by redirection of the sexual drive in the other. In a letter to Carl Jung written four years later, Freud spelled out the fateful circumstances that lead male children to homosexuality. "In their earliest childhood, later forgotten," they had "an intense erotic attachment to a female person, as a rule their mother, provoked and fostered by the excessive tenderness of the mother herself, further buttressed by the recessiveness of the father in the child's life."At a later stage "the boy represses his love for his mother by putting himself in her place, identifies himself with her, and takes his own person as a model in whose likeness he chooses his new love objects. Thus he has become homosexual; in fact he had slid back into autoeroticism, since the boys whom the growing youngster now loves are, after all, only substitute persons and renewals of his own childish person, boys whom he loves as his mother had loved him as a child."(19)

Through the first decade of the century, Hirschfeld and Freud were on good terms and had a lively interest in each other's ideas. Hirschfeld helped found the Berlin Psychoanalytical Society in 1907, and Freud for his part used some of Hirschfeld's insights in his Three Essays. But the two men's views increasingly diverged. In 1911 Hirschfeld left the Psychoanalytical Society, an act that triggered an outburst of the invective which Freud reserved for errant disciples. Magnus Hirschfeld was "no great loss, a flabby, unappetizing fellow, absolutely incapable of learning anything."(20) Hirschfeld did not return the salvo, but he increasingly distanced himself from psychoanalytic theory. The divergence between the two men epitomized the subsequent history of twentieth-century psychology, with its deep division between psychodynamic and biological theories of the mind. (Freud's ideas about homosexuality are considered further in chapter 3.)

Adolf Brand and the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen

Although Hirschfeld and the WhK were by far the most influential gay-rights activists of the time, there were other homosexual groups, some of which were opposed to Hirschfeld's approach. The most interesting of these groups was the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen (loosely translated: "Community of Free Spirits"), led by the anarchist Adolf Brand. Brand was a proponent of"outing" closeted homosexuals in high places, a strategy aptly referred to as the "path over corpses" ( Weg uber Leichen). In fact, at least one of the men who were outed in that period, the industrialist Friedrich Alfred Krupp, died shortly after his exposure, probably by suicide. Brand himself was jailed several times for his activities. Unlike Hirschfeld, he was unafraid to refer to himself as homosexual, even in court.

Brand and several of his followers joined the WhK in its early years. But there were serious conceptual and political disagreements. Brand and his group adamantly rejected Hirschfeld's notion that homosexual men were feminine. To them,love between men was a sign of manliness, a product of the finest German traditions of brotherly love and a sentiment that any man was capable of. In thus blurring the boundary between homosexual attraction and same-sex friendship, the Gemeinschaft anticipated the stance taken by lesbian feminists in America in the 1970s. But Brand's followers were no feminists; in fact they tended toward outright misogyny. They were also intellectual and racial elitists who often framed their ideals of male good looks in terms of Germanic racial purity.

The writings of Brand and his followers are preserved in the pages of Der Eigene, the magazine published by Brand from 1896 to 1931. (Selections from the magazine have been republished in English translation.(21)) Besides their objection to the "feminization" of male homosexuality, the members of the objected to the very fact that the WhK was led by a physician, and a sexologist to boot. In their view, this inevitably perpetuated the image of homosexuality as a mental disease, whatever Hirschfeld's actual views on the subject. Even more seriously, Hirschfeld's approach focused the public debate on homosexual practices, which they felt demeaned the homosexual movement by distracting attention from the nobler attributes of love between men.

The Gemeinschaft was never a prominent political organization in the manner of the WhK, but to the extent that it had its own political platform it was based on human rights, especially on a perceived right to privacy. (No such explicit legal right existed, even in the Weimar constitution of 1919.) This point of view is exemplified in a 1907 article by the Gemeinschaft's cofounder Benedict Friedlander. The article explains why Brand, Friedlander, and others resigned from the WhK in the wake of the Harden debacle.

. . .Let it be sharply emphasized here that we lay far less weight on a scientific theory than Herr Hirschfeld and see the question much more from the standpoint of natural rights as one of personal freedom. . . In truth the medical writers [i.e., Hirschfeld and others] presented to the public, partly in thick volumes, partly in tract format, everything that the Hannoverian Amtsassessor [Ulrichs] had brought into the world, supplied with the stamp of medical authority almost without any criticism, partly translated into the jargon of medical quackery, and decorated with so-called "case histories." . . . Certainly there are "sexual intermediates". Earlier they were called hermaphrodites. They are the rare malformations, which may be estimated to make up—at most—a small fraction per thousand. Of those who are aware of their same-sex feelings, however, there are whole percents. . .[he goes on to cite Hirschfeld's own survey data, albeit without ackowledging their source] As long as the love for a male being is presented as a specific and exclusively feminine characteristic. . tit will not help to deny sickness: there remains an unavoidable image of a partial hermaphrodite, that is, a kind of psychic malformation. . .

As for the worst in our question, that is, paragraph 175 itself, we shall fight it from purely juridical and moral viewpoints. For whereas the medical theory is controversial and in part really quite vacuous, the juridical and moral consideration is clear, simple and convincing: Two responsible people, freely consenting and without harm to a third or even merely to themselves, produce for each other a pleasant feeling. Then comes the state—if by exception it once learns of it—and locks up the culprits, as if they had done something wrong!. . . Since we renounce in principle making propaganda for homosexual activity, viewing sexual matters rather as a private affair, and fight against paragraph 175 purely on juridical grounds, and since that which we positively advocate is nothing other than male friendships and men's unions—our propaganda will be strictly legal and much safer from police intervention than that of Hirschfeld, which on the basis of its medical theory is forced to go into all kinds of sexual details openly in public. (translation by Hubert Kennedy(22))

The Fate of the Movement

Hirschfeld's movement persevered for years in its single-minded struggle. Sometimes success seemed near. In 1911 a measure to repeal paragraph 175 came to a floor vote in the Reichstag but was defeated. With the new liberal spirit of the Weimar Republic, optimism reigned again, and Brand's Gemeinschaft and other gay groups joined with the WhK to form an action committee which was to guide policy. In 1925 several other groups, including the Bund fur Mutterschutz, joined with the WhK to form the "Cartel for Reform of the Law against Sexual Offenses". In 1929 a commission of the Reichstag recommended that sex between men over twenty-one be legalized, albeit with various restrictions that would have greatly diminished the impact of the proposed change.(23) The proposal never came to a vote.

The 1920s did indeed see an enormous flowering of gay and lesbian culture in Berlin, a culture far more open and visible than the scene described by Hirschfeld in 1904. It attracted gays and lesbians not just from other parts of Germany but from many other countries. Perhaps the best known of these visitors was Christopher Isherwood, who lived in Berlin from 1929 to 1933 and came to know Hirschfeld and Giese.(24) Gender nonconformity was the heart and soul of this culture, and many of the men and women who created it found the "third sex" an appropriate enough designation for people of their kind. It seemed that Hirschfeld's ideas about homosexuality were being borne out by a new and freer generation of lesbians and gay men.

There were probably several factors at play here. First, Hirschfeld's ideas may have been at least partly correct. Second, his efforts over two decades may have helped to create a culture in the image of his own theories. Lastly, the gender nonconformity of 1920s Berlin was probably in part a reaction to a series of blows inflicted on the German ideals of the virile man and the feminine women, most notably by the military debacles of the Great War and the increasing role of women in the workplace and public life.

If the 1920s were a time of optimism, they were also a time of increasingly dire warnings. In October 1920, Hirschfeld was assaulted and severely injured by a group of Nazi chugs. Shortly thereafter Hitler singled him out as a "Jewish swine" who was being protected by the government: he urged the yolk to work its own justice on him.(25) Hirschfeld's public appearances were increasingly disrupted by heckling, stinkbombs, and so on. He withstood the attacks for years, but the increasing political disorders in 1931 and 1932, during which time Hirschfeld was on his world tour, made it impossible for him to return to Germany. In May 1933, sitting in a Paris cinema, he watched newsreels that showed the looting of his Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin and the burning of its books and files. For a while, Hirschfeld planned to found a new institute in France, aided by his ever-present companions, Giese and Tao Li. But deteriorating international conditions made the enterprise impossible. Hirschfeld moved to Nice,where in May 1935 he died of a stroke.

The gay-rights movement in Germany was utterly destroyed by the Nazis. Between 1933 and 1945, about fifty thousand people were convicted of homosexuality by Nazi judges. Of these, about five thousand—virtually all men—were sent to concentration camps, where most of them died.(26) The gay organizations, including the WhK and the Gemeinschaft der Eigenen, were banned. Adolf Brand had given up gay activism in the early 1930s; he married a woman and settled down in retirement. The aging anarchist might have survived the Nazi period unscathed, had he not been killed in an Allied air raid.

Hirschfeld in Retrospect

History has not dealt kindly with Hirschfeld. After the Second World War and through the 1970s, the fields of psychology and psychiatry were dominated by psychodynamic concepts that paid little attention to possible biological origins of mental diversity. In Germany especially, where memories of Nazi "eugenics" hung heaviest, the notion developed that Hirschfeld's theories had actually paved the way for the extermination of homosexuals. Manfred Herzer cites a passage written by two west German sexologists in the mid-1970s.

. . .[Hirschfeld's] decisive argument was that what is natural cannot be condemned by moral criteria. Fascism taught homosexuals how little this argument was worth—how easily, in fact, it could be turned into its very opposite. For if homosexuality is conceived of as natural and innate, then under the ruling social conditions that could—and still can—lead only to an image of homosexuality as an anomaly, even a deformation. If normal, non-deformed nature is to remain "healthy", then—in the framework of a racist and nationalistic ideology—the sick and the degenerate must be rooted out.(27)

In fact, however, the Nazis did not generally consider homosexuality to be innate or a sign of degeneracy. Rather, they considered homosexuality to be the moral equivalent of an infectious disease that, by means of seduction, could spread all too easily through the ranks of Germany's finest youth. That Hitler himself espoused this theory is made clear in a memorandum issued by his headquarters on August 19, 1941, which read in part:

Yesterday evening the Fuhrer spoke for a long time about the plague of homosexuality. He said that we must prosecute it with ruthless severity, because there was a time in youth when boys' sexual feelings could easily be influenced in the wrong direction; it was precisely at that age that boys were corrupted by homosexuals. More often than not, a homosexual seduces a huge number of boys, so that homosexuality is actually as infectious and as dangerous as the plague.(28)

Thus what the Nazis "turned into its very opposite" was not Hirschfeld's philosophy but that of Brand and the Gemeinschaft.

A conception of Hirschfeld as fundamentally antigay has percolated into the consciousness of the contemporary American gay community. Paul Russell, for example, a professor of English at Vassar College, has published a brief account of Hirschfeld's life in which he claims that Hirschfeld attempted to blackmail the gay men who entrusted information about themselves to him.(29) A gay librarian told me that Hirschfeld regularly handed lists of gay men over to the Berlin police for prosecution. Neither of these allegations appear to be true.

Hirschfeld's memory has also suffered through the failure to acknowledge the influence of the German gay-rights movement on the early gay-rights movement in America. Yet this influence was significant. The very earliest gay-rights organization in the United States was the short-lived Society for Human Rights, based in Chicago. The society was founded in 1924 by Henry Gerber, after he had returned from a three-year stay in Germany, during which time he made contact with gay groups there. The influence of Hirschfeld's thinking on Gerber has been documented.(30)

Another way that Hirschfeld's ideas contributed to the American gay movement was through the person of Rudi Gernreich, an Austrian emigre who was a cofounder of the Mattachine Society in 1950. According to Stuart Timmons's biography of Harry Hay, which is based largely on interviews with Hay, the immediate inspiration for the founding of the Mattachine Society was the meeting of Hay and Gernreich in July 1950, at which Gernreich told Hay about Hirschfeld and his movement.(31) Yet Hay has not been forthright in acknowledging this connection. In an interview for the 1986 documentary film Before Stonewall,(32) for example, Hay said:"We didn't know at that point, none of us knew, that there had ever been a gay organization of any sort anywhere in the world before; we had absolutely no knowledge of that at all."Thus the myth has developed that the Mattachine Society had no antecedents.(33)

Hirschfeld's use of science in the cause of gay rights has, for many, made the science itself suspect. In his biography of Freud, Peter Gay described Hirschfeld as a"far from disinterested partisan of homosexual rights," and"interested only in sexual liberation," and he felt compelled to emphasize that Freud"did not share [Hirschfeld's] sexual tastes."(34) Even Hirschfeld's own biographers have placed little stock in Hirschfeld's ideas about homosexuality. Charlotte Wolff presents a sympathetic portrayal of the man, and Manfred Herzer offers an insightful analysis of his social, political, and sexological work, but they are in agreement that his faith in biology as the key to sexual orientation was misplaced.

There is no doubt that some of Hirschfeld's views—especially with regard to bodily differences between homosexual and heterosexual people—were extreme and uncritical. Other aspects of his theory, however, have held up better. In later chapters I will discuss some of the more recent work that may lead us to revisit the notion of the "third sex." For now, it may be appropriate simply to express my own feeling toward Hirschfeld: a profound admiration for the man, his ideas, and his cause.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Hirschfeld and the Third Sex 11
2 The Nature and Prevalence of Homosexuality 41
3 The Talking Cure 67
4 Learning and Unlearning Homosexuality 87
5 Hormones 109
6 The Brain 129
7 Mental Traits 149
8 Stress 163
9 Genes 171
10 Against Nature? 195
11 Sickness or Health? 211
12 Science and the Law 231
13 Science Fiction - Science Future? 255
14 Conclusions 273
Notes 297
Index 349
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