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08 August 2022

Karl Kohnheim (1885 - ? ) businessman

Kohnheim, a tomboy who had grown up a masculine woman, and then passing as a man, was often mocked if he wore female clothing. As a man he passed well, had a small inheritance and wished to open his own business. 

However he ran into constant problems applying for positions or renting an apartment, because of the female name on his papers. In Hamburg Kohnheim did not inform the police about his sex, although they knew anyway. 

In Berlin he was picked up by the police, and referred to a physician, Dr Oskar Lubowski, who in turn contacted Magnus Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld examined him, and with the psychoanalyst Karl Abraham (1877-1925) wrote an evaluation using the pseudonym ‘Katharina T’ and referring to him as 'Fräulein',  with the conclusion: 

“Considering her sexual abnormality and psychological characteristics, wearing men’s clothing is natural for the patient. The granting of permission is a question of existence for her. Forcing her to live as a woman can have an adverse effect on disposition. In men’s clothing she causes no public outrage, while in her women’s clothing she caused a disturbance, The very difficult existence of the petitioner would be greatly reduced by the police tolerating a masculine first name on the part of the petitioner.” (Hirschfeld: 154)

Hirschfeld and the lawyer Walter Jaffee went with Kohnheim to the Polizeipräsidium where Kohnheim received first a provisional permit and then a written one from Ernst von Stubenrauch (1853 - 1909) who had become Berlin police chief in 1908. 

However as Hirschfeld had conceded that Kohnheim had perfectly formed female genitals, he was not permitted to change his name legally although he used the name Karl anyway. Hirschfeld learned from the experience and used more vague language in later cases. 

In 1912 Kohnheim learned from a newspaper article that another masculine woman/trans man had succeeded in a change of the first name; he again appealed to the police, but again to no avail.  He wrote:

"I have proved that I could support myself as a man if I didn't cause offence and a stir everywhere because of my female first name. Up to now, I have only received temporary employment on recommendation, and (for example) I worked as a server in a large Berlin department store for a quarter of a year, without anyone having any suspicions or doubts about my masculinity! That is certainly saying a lot in a circle of at least 100 servers!" (Mak: 389)

This was the first German Transvestitenschein (permission to cross-dress) copying the French Permissions de Travestissement (which had been issued since 1800). 

Karl Kohnheim was not included in the 17 cases detailed in chapter 1 of Die Transvestiten, 1910 as Kohnheim freely admitted to female lovers, and Hirschfeld restricted his cases to non-homosexuals. Kohnheim is in a follow-up chapter “Transvestitism and Homosexuality” in which only Kohnheim and Dina Alma de Paradeda are discussed.

Geertje Mak knew in 1998 that the real name of ‘Katharina T’ was Karl Kohnheim, so why do Herrn, Sutton and Frost not also know?

  • Jur. Wilhelm. “Die rechtliche: Stellung der (körperlichen) Zwitter de lege lata und de lege ferenda '' veröffent.licht hat”, Grenzfragen bei Machold in Halle 1909: 54ff. (quoted in Hirschfeld, 1910: 344-6 (Deutsch) and 265-6 (English).
  • Magnus Hirschfeld. Die Transvestiten; ein Untersuchung uber den erotischen Verkleidungstrieb: mit umfangreichem casuistischen und historischen Materia. Berlin: Pulvermacher, 1910: 192-8. English translation by Michael A Lombardi-Nash. Tranvestites: The Erotic urge to Crossdress.Prometheus Books, 1991: 151-5
  • Geertje Mak. “,Passing Women': im Sprechzimmer von Magnus Hirschfeld: Warum der Begriff „Transvestit“ nicht für Frauen in Männerkleidern eingeführt wurde.”. Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften, 9, 3, 1998: 386-9..
  • Rainer Herrn. Schnittmuster des Geschlechts: Transvestitismus und Transsexualität in der frühen Sexualwissenschaft.Psychosozial-Verlag, 2005: 63-4.
  • Katie Sutton. “ ‘We Too Deserve a Place in the Sun’: The Politics of Transvestite Identity in Weimar Germany”. German Studies Review, 35,2, 2012: 337-8.
  • Natasha Frost. “The Early 20th-Century ID Cards That Kept Trans People Safe From Harassment”. Atlas Obscura, November 2, 2017. Online.

04 August 2022

Josefine Meißauer (188? - ?) friar, trader

Original version February 2015. 

Meißauer was born to a devout Catholic family in Mühldorf, Bavaria, the youngest of six children. The father - addicted to drink - left 14 years later.  One brother died of consumption, and one sister of dropsy. Josef (as she then was) went through many illnesses from childhood, including a severe meningitis at the age of 28, which left him unconscious for several weeks. 

Meißauer was an anxious child, who preferred the company of girls, took great pleasure in dolls, learned to cook and embroider at his own request. Even as a boy he secretly dressed in girls' clothes as often as he could and, when his hair was long enough, he braided it, about which he was often ridiculed.  Puberty was late, and there was no beard growth until age 25. Meißauer tried repeatedly to fight his female gender identity, however prolonged abstinence from women's clothing always led to severe mental depression. 

Meißauer had been a sacristan at the local church for seven years, but lost the position after being seen in female clothing during Carnival. He responded by becoming a Trappist friar - possibly because the friars wear robes rather than ordinary male clothing. The Trappist order is severe and requires silence, sleeping in full clothes, vegetarian diet and hard field work. Meißauer was assigned to a friary in Natal, South Africa. However after almost four years, Meißauer fell ill and returned to Bavaria. 

Meißauer then  started wearing a long dark coat and was accused of impersonating a priest but was acquitted. To avoid a repetition Meißauer wore a coloured coat, and was again brought to court. The judge pointed out that there was no law concerning the type of clothing. The only thing was that one was not allowed to wear the costume that characterised a certain class, e.g. a uniform. Meißauer took this to mean that she could dress in normal female clothing.  Also she had heard of that in Schliersee, district office of Miesbach, Upper Bavaria, a ‘lady’ named Rosina Danner had gone dressed as a man without any permission for 30 years until dying in 1908. However Meißauer, dressed female, was accused again in 1910, sentenced in the first and second instance, but acquitted by the Royal High Court of Munich on 24 December 1910.


After Magnus Hirschfeld's book Die Transvestiten came out in 1910, Meißauer, who was then 48, contacted him in early September 1911. The Berlin lawyer, Fritz Selten, took the case and submitted the application with a recommendation written by Hirschfeld and Iwan Bloch to the Prussian Police Prasidium, which on 27 September 1911, on the basis of the expert opinion, "granted permission to wear women's clothes”.  The same written legitimation was also issued by the Munich police chief.


Josefine Meißauer was the first trans woman in Germany to get a Transvestitenshein.

  • Magnus Hirschfeld, & Max Tilke. Der erotische Verkleidungstrieb (Die Transvestiten). Illustrierter Teil. A. Pulvermacher, 1912: plate XVIII.
  •  Rainer Herrn. Schnittmuster des Geschlechts: Transvestitismus und Transsexualität in der frühen Sexualwissenschaft. Psychosozial-Verlag, 2005: 79-84.