GLR September-October 2022

cate in 1912 and even a corresponding passport in 1918. When a new ruling in April 1920 made it possible for “transvestites” to legally change their names (though not the gender marker on their documentation), he did exactly that, publishing a classi fied ad in his local newspaper to announce his new moniker. Buttgereit stayed in Germany, survived the Nazi era, and died at the age of 92. The name-change legislation of 1920 is emblematic of how much progress was made by and for queer Germans during the Weimar Republic, the period of 1918 to 1933. In the first years of this era, Hirschfeld’s work took on new momentum. Berlin’s leftist government initially forbade prosecution under Section 175. Hirschfeld purchased his villa near the House of Parlia ment to house his Institute of Sexual Science. From here, he and his staff sent out thousands of surveys to glean information about people’s sexual experiences and proclivities. Passersby— many of them heterosexual, concerned about marital harmony, contraception, and venereal disease—could also deposit anony mous letters in the postbox on the clinic’s fence, which would be answered in a public plenum each Monday evening. In ad dition, Hirschfeld offered counseling services geared to what he called “Adaptation Therapy,” not to be confused with “con version therapy.” Hirschfeld’s goal was to “reassure the homo sexual personality, whether male or female; we explain that they have an innocent, inborn orientation, which is not a misfortune in and of itself but rather experienced as such because of unjust condemnation.” Hirschfeld also opened a new Museum of Sex, an educa tional resource open to the public. On display were a bicycle powered masturbation machine and an international collection of dildos. On the clinical staff were psychiatrists, a gynecolo gist, an endocrinologist, and a dermatologist, all paving the way for the development of the first medical treatment of transgen derism. The Institute became Europe’s ultimate gathering place for sexual minorities, and particularly for trans people, many of whom moved in for a brief or longer spell, sometimes joining the staff to pay their way. Hirschfeld, too, moved into his own quarters, which he shared with his life partner Karl Giese. Pass ing through were the philosopher and critic Walter Benjamin, dancer Anita Berber, communist publisher and Reichstag deputy Willi Muenzenberg, French writer André Gide, Russian film di rector Sergei Eisenstein, and English archeologist Francis Turville-Petre with his friends Christopher Isherwood and W. H. Auden. Some of the earliest transgender people to undergo gender reassignment surgery—hormone therapy was not yet possible— also stayed at the Institute for a time. Dora or “Doerchen” Richter, who had been a patient at the Institute and remained liv ing there as a domestic servant, was the first known trans woman to undergo a complete surgical transition. She had been brought up on a farm in conditions of abject poverty, had always identi fied as a girl, and had been imprisoned for cross-dressing before finding a home at the Institute. She completed her surgical tran sition in 1931. Lili Elbe, whose story was the basis for the movie The Danish Girl , was also treated in Germany, having her first surgery at the Institute with Dr. Erwin Gohrbrandt under Hirschfeld’s supervision, and going on for further treatment at the Dresden Municipal Women’s Clinic. Regarding Dresden as the place of her rebirth, she changed her surname to “Elbe” in September–October 2022


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