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25 January 2017

H.H. (185? - ?) musician, circus performer

From 1899 to 1923 Magnus Hirschfeld was editor of the  Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen.   In 1901, volume 3, he published "Vom Weibmann auf der Bühne" (Women-man on the stage), by Dr W.S.*, a study of 15 Damenimitatoren (female impersonators).   They are referred to by a series of double initials: A.A.,  B.B., etc.    The 8th is therefore H.H.  We have no no other name for her.

According to H.H.'s own account, his parents died when he was young.  He left school and Germany, and worked his way to the US as a ship's boy.

In New York he became a musician, a flautist, but was unable to find a  place in a men’s orchestra. However, presenting as female, H.H. was engaged by a women’s band and chorus (Damenkapelle). She travelled for several years with this band as a flute player, without being read.

Eventually, H.H. left this post, but she felt so natural in female clothes that she continued so. She worked in succession as a chambermaid, a soda-seller, a waitress, and a buffet-maid.  She then joined a circus, and advanced quickly from an extra to performing as an equestrian acrobat.  A fall from the horse, which stretched a tendon, put an end to this. However she then became a female musical clown in the circus, and later formed a singing group with other women, in which she sang the second voice.

In later life, back in Germany H.H. worked as a Damenimitator.

Dr W.S. commented that H.H. was  "A very strong character, when dressed as a man he was almost tough.  Not at all sweet or affective. Dressed as a woman, as he now preferred on the street, he was graceful, amiable, and so confident that one would hardly believe his story."

  • Dr. med. W.S.  "Vom Weibmann auf der Bühne".  Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen, 3, 1901: 313-325.  Online.
  • Vern L. Bullough & Bonnie Bullough. Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender. University of Pennsylvania Press 1993:  223n16,

The Bulloughs - who claim 'no author' for the article although it clearly says 'Dr. med. W. S.', further propose that Hirschfeld "was probably also the author of the article, since it was his custom to write articles without attribution for the journal".  

Modern readers would want to know how H.H. managed to pass, at close quarters with a travelling band, without electrolysis and without female hormones.   Dr W.S. shows no interest in this aspect.
Possibly she was one of the lucky few like Rachel Harlow or April Ashley who appear female even before attempting transition.

I hope that H.H. getting a job only in a female band does not imply lower standards in female orchestras.   Just as likely is that as an immigrant, H.H. was not accepted by the male musician unions.

Would a cis male disguise as female in this way to get a job and keep up the disguise day and night (when travelling) for several years?   While such a situation is a common trope in fiction, and also in cross-dreaming, I am not able to find a real-life example of such,   However if H.H. were trans she would be delighted with the opportunity. 

There is a passing resemblance to the plot of Some Like It Hot, 1959, but that was 70 years later.  

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