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Richard von Krafft-Ebing
Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840–1902) was a German physician and neurologist. His Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), a pioneering collection of 237 case studies in sexual pathology, revolutionized the scientific understanding of sex, influencing Freud (a student of Krafft-Ebing’s) and introducing the terms sadism, masochism, and fetishism.
In this excerpt, Case 129 is presented and is the autobiography of a patient who “feels like a woman in a man’s form.”
CASE 129. Autobiography. Born in Hungary in 1844, for many years I was the only child of my parents; for the other children died for the most part of general weakness. A brother of later birth is still living.
I come of a family in which nervous and mental diseases have been numerous. It is said that I was very pretty as a little child, with blond locks and transparent skin; very obedient, quiet and modest, so that I was taken everywhere in the society of ladies without any offense on my part.
With a very active imagination—my enemy through life—my talents developed rapidly. I could read and write at the age of four; my memory reaches back to my third year. I played with everything that fell into my hands—with leaden soldiers, or stones, or ribbons from a toy shop; but a machine for working in wood, that was given to me as a present, I did not like. I liked best to be at home with my mother, who was everything to me. I had two or three friends with whom I got on good-naturedly; but I liked to play with her sisters quite as well, who always treated me like a girl, which at first did not embarrass me. I must have already been on the road to become just like a girl; at least, I can still well remember how it was always said: “He is not intended for a boy.” At this I tried to play the boy—imitated my companions in everything, and tried to surpass them in wildness. In this I succeeded. There was no tree or building too high for me to reach its top. I took great delight in soldiers. I avoided girls more, because I did not wish to play with their playthings; and it always annoyed me that they treated me so much like one of themselves.
In the society of mature people, however, I was always modest, and, also, always regarded with favor. Fantastic dreams about wild animals—which once drove me out of bed without waking me—frequently troubled me. I was always very simply but very elegantly dressed, and thus developed a taste for beautiful clothing. It seems peculiar to me that, from the time of my school days, I had a partiality for ladies’ gloves, which I put on secretly as often as I could. Thus, when once my mother was about to give away a pair of gloves, I made great opposition to it, and told her, when she asked why I acted so, that I wanted them myself. I was laughed at; and from that time I took good care not to display my preference for female things. Yet my delight in them was very great. I took special pleasure in masquerade costumes—i.e., only in female attire. If I saw them, I envied their owners. What seemed to me the prettiest sight was two young men, beautifully dressed as white ladies, with masks on; and yet I would not have shown myself to others as a girl for anything; I was so afraid of being ridiculed. At school I worked very hard, and was always among the first. From childhood my parents taught me that duty came first; and they always set me an example. It was also a pleasure for me to attend school; for the teachers were kind, and the elder pupils did not plague the younger ones. We left my first home; for my father was compelled, on account of his business—which was dear to him—to separate from his family for a year. We moved to Germany. Here there was a stricter, rougher manner, partly in teachers and partly in pupils; and I was again ridiculed on account of my girlishness. My schoolmates went so far as to give a girl, who had exactly my features, my name, and me hers; so that I hated the girl. But I later came to be on terms of friendship with her after her marriage. My mother tried to dress me elegantly; but this was repugnant to me, because it made me the object of taunting. So, finally, I was delighted when I had correct trousers and coats. But with these came a new annoyance. They irritated my genitals, particularly when the cloth was rough; and the touch of tailors while measuring me, on account of their tickling, which almost convulsed me, was unendurable, particularly about the genitals. Then I had to practice gymnastics; and I simply could do nothing at all, or only indifferently the things that even girls can do easily. While bathing I was troubled by feeling ashamed to undress; but I liked to bathe. Until my twelfth year I had a great weakness in my back. I learned to swim late, but ultimately so well that I took long swims. At thirteen I had pubic hair, and was about six feet tall; but my face was feminine until my eighteenth year, when my beard came in abundance and gave me rest from resemblance to woman. An inguinal hernia that was acquired in my twelfth year, and cured when I was twenty, gave me much trouble, particularly in gymnastics. Besides, from my twelfth year on, I had, after sitting long, and particularly while working at night, an itching, burning and twitching, extending from the penis to my back, which the acts of sitting and standing increased, and which was made worse by catching cold. But I had no suspicion whatever that this could be connected with the genitals. Since none of my friends suffered in this way, it seemed strange to me; and it required the greatest patience to endure it, the more owing to the fact that my abdomen troubled me.
In sexualibus I was still perfectly innocent; but now, as at the age of twelve or thirteen, I had a definite feeling of preferring to be a young lady. A young lady’s form was more pleasing to me; her quiet manner, her deportment, but particularly her attire, attracted me. But I was careful not to allow this to be noticed; and yet I am sure that I should not have shrunk from the castration knife, could I have thus attained my desire. If I had been asked to say why I preferred female attire, I could have said nothing more than that it attracted me powerfully; perhaps, also, I seemed to myself, on account of my uncommonly white skin, more like a girl. The skin of my face and hands, particularly, was very sensitive. Girls liked my society; and, though I should have preferred to have been with them constantly, I avoided them when I could; for I had to exaggerate in order not to appear feminine. In my heart I always envied them. I was particularly envious when one of my young girlfriends got long dresses and wore gloves and veils. When, at the age of fifteen, I was on a journey, a young lady, with whom I was boarding, proposed that I should mask as a lady and go out with her; but, owing to the fact that she was not alone, I did not acquiesce, much as I should have liked it. While on this journey, I was pleased at seeing boys in one city wearing blouses with short sleeves, and the arms bare. A lady elaborately dressed was like a goddess to me; and if even her hand touched me coldly I was happy and envious, and only too gladly would have put myself in her place in the beautiful garments and lovely form. Nevertheless, I studied assiduously, and passed through the Realschule and the gymnasium in nine years, passing a good final examination. I remember, when fifteen, having first expressed to a friend the wish to be a girl. In answer to his question, I could not give the reason why. At seventeen I got into fast society; I drank beer, smoked, and tried to joke with waiter girls. The latter liked my society, but they always treated me as if I wore petticoats. I could not take dancing lessons, they repelled me so; but if I could have gone as a mask, it would have been different. My friends loved me dearly; I hated only one, who seduced me into onanism. Shame on those days, which injured me for life! I practiced it quite frequently, but in it seemed to myself like a double man. I cannot describe the feeling; I think it was masculine, but mixed with feminine elements. I could not approach girls; I feared them, but they were not strange to me. They impressed me as being more like myself; I envied them. I would have denied myself all pleasures if, after my classes, at home I could have been a girl and thus have gone out. Crinoline and a smoothly fitting glove were my ideals. With every lady’s gown I saw I fancied how I should feel in it—i.e., as a lady. I had no inclination toward men. But I remember that I was somewhat lovingly attached to a very handsome friend with a girl’s face and dark hair, though I think I had no other wish than that we both might be girls.
At the high school I finally once had coitus; hoc modo sensi, me libentius sub puella concubuisse et penem meum cum cunno mutatum maluisse. To her astonishment, the girl had to treat me as a girl, and did it willingly; but she treated me as if I were she (she was still quite inexperienced, and, therefore, did not laugh at me).
When a student at times I was wild, but I always felt that I assumed this wildness as a mask. I drank and dueled, but I could not take lessons in dancing, because I was afraid of betraying myself. My friendships were close, but without other thoughts. It pleased me most to have a friend masked as a lady, or to study the ladies’ costumes at a ball. I understood such things perfectly. Gradually I began to feel like a girl.
On account of unhappy circumstances, I twice attempted suicide. Without any cause I once did not sleep for fourteen days, had many hallucinations (visual and auditory at the same time), and was with both the living and the dead. The latter habit of thought remains. I also had a friend (a lady) who knew my hobby and put on my gloves for me; but she always looked upon me as a girl. Thus I understood women better than other men did, and in what they differed from men; so I was always treated more feminarium—as if they had found in me a female friend. On the whole, I could not endure obscenity, and indulged in it myself only out of braggadocio when it was necessary. I soon overcame my aversion to foul odors and blood, and even liked them. Only some things I could not look at without nausea. I was wanting in only one respect: I could not understand my own condition. I knew that I had feminine inclinations, but believed that I was a man. Yet I doubt whether, with the exception of the attempts at coitus, which never gave me pleasure (which I ascribe to onanism), I ever admired a woman without wishing I were she; or without asking myself whether I should not like to be the woman, or be in her attire. Obstetrics I learned with difficulty (I was ashamed for the exposed girls, and had a feeling of pity for them); and even now I have to overcome a feeling of fright in obstetrical cases; indeed, it has happened that I thought I felt the traction myself. After filling several positions successfully as a physician, I went through a military campaign as a volunteer surgeon. Riding, which, while a student, was painful to me, because in it the genitals had more of a feminine feeling, was difficult for me (it would have been easier in the female style).
Still, I always thought I was a man with obscure masculine feeling; and whenever I associated with ladies, I was still soon treated as an inexperienced lady. When I wore a uniform for the first time, I should have much preferred to have slipped into a lady’s costume, with a veil; I was disturbed when the stately uniform attracted attention. In private practice I was successful in the three principal branches. Then I made another military campaign; and during this I came to understand my nature; for I think that, since the first ass ever made, no beast of burden has ever had to endure with so much patience as I have. Decorations were not wanting, but I was indifferent to them.
Thus I went through life, such as it was, never satisfied with myself, full of dissatisfaction with the world, and vacillating between sentimentality and a wildness that was for the most part affected.
My experience as a candidate for matrimony was very peculiar. I should have preferred not to marry, but family circumstances and practice forced me to it. I married an energetic, amiable lady, of a family in which female government was rampant. I was in love with her as much as one of us can be in love—i.e., what we love we love with our whole hearts, and live in it, even though we do not show it as much as a genuine man does. We love our brides with all the love of a woman, almost as a woman might love her bridegroom. But I cannot say this for myself; for I still believed that I was but a depressed man, who would come to himself, and find himself out by marriage. But, even on my marriage night, I felt that I was only a woman in man’s form; sub femina locum meum esse mihi visum est. On the whole, we lived contented and happy, and for two years were childless. After a difficult pregnancy, during which time I lay at the point of death in the enemy’s own country, my wife gave birth to our first boy in a difficult labor—a boy still afflicted with a melancholy nature. Then came a second, who is very quiet; a third, full of peculiarities; a fourth, a fifth; and all have the predisposition to neurasthenia. Since I always felt out of my own place, I went much in gay society; but I always worked as much as human strength would endure. I studied and operated; and I experimented with many drugs and methods of cure, always on myself. I left the regulation of the house to my wife, as she understood housekeeping very well. My marital duties I performed as well as I could, but without personal satisfaction. Since the first coitus, the masculine position in it has been repugnant, and also difficult for me. I should have much preferred to have the other rôle.