Transvestites: An Investigation into Erotic Masquerade (1910)
Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) was one of the first prominent sexologists. He was renowned for the Institute of Sexual Sciences that he established in Berlin 1918. Starting in 1896, he founded several important journals for the study of sexual behavior in which he published the results of his treatment of patients in sanitariums and in private practice. Hirschfeld was distinguished for his tolerant view of “aberrant” behavior. His works even to this day stand out for their open-minded investigation into sexual practices. This tolerance brought him severe criticism from right-wing groups, and in 1933 his institute was demolished by fascist students. He resettled in Nice, where he continued his practice until his death in 1935.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the Transvestites selection reprinted in this volume is precisely that it refrains from judging those who furtively wear the clothes of the other sex. We see in this chapter how Hirschfeld deliberately avoids giving an overarching explanation of cross-dressing. At the same time, he manages to sketch out many of the different libidinal investments his patients had in their costumes. The people depicted are very aware that gender identity is performed before other people. They have studied the nuances of how clothes, cosmetics, movement, and speech give off indications of a sexual identity. Hirschfeld traces the connections between his patients' personal lives and their interest in clothes in such a way that we come to recognize that there are many different ways in which clothes matter to those who put them on. Unlike other psychologists, Hirschfeld does not seek to cure or explain away the fascination that cross-dressing has. He accepts at face value the statements and actions of his patients. He does not explain cross-dressing as a symptom of some other, more profound problem. This acceptance of the surface of appearances on a literal and theoretical level distinguishes Hirschfeld from other writers who try to explain clothes, fashion, and sexual practices in terms of a general theory of human development.