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12 February 2023

Did Hirschfeld coin the word and concept ‘transsexual’?

It is often claimed that Magnus Hirschfeld in 1923 anticipated David Cauldwell (1949) and Harry Benjamin (1953) in coining the term ‘transsex*’ by using the expression ‘seelischer transsexualismus’ or ‘seelischen transsexualismus’, either of which can be rendered in English as psychic, psychological or mental transsexuality,

However this is not really the case.

First some of the claims that he did:

Transgender Tapestry, 79 Summer 1997 p9.

“In this paper, ‘The Intersexual Constitution’, published in the Yearbook for Sexual Intermediate Stages 1923, he became the first researcher to distinguish what he called “transsexualism” from transvestism. He described transsexualism as the adoption of the gender role opposite to their sex by men or women who held an unswerving conviction they were assigned to an incorrect sex. That was a pretty good effort at the time and in the pertaining social environment.”
  • Pamela L. Caughie and Sabine Meyer. “Introduction”. Lili Elbe: Man into Woman: A Comparative Scholarly Edition.2020:15. 
"Hirschfeld first used the term “transsexualism” (Transsexualismus), a subcategory of the term “transvestitism,” in his 1923 essay “The Intersexual Constitution” published in The Yearbook for Sexual Intermediaries. In this paper, he defines transsexualism as the adoption of the gender role opposite to their sex by men or women who held an unswerving conviction they were assigned to the wrong sex. The new term (seelischer Transsexualismus, or mental transsexualism) served to distinguish those who see themselves as the other sex (“neurological gynandromorphs”), no matter what their primary or secondary sex characteristics may be, from physiological hermaphrodites.”
  • Katie Sutton. Sex between Body and Mind: Psychoanalysis and Sexology in the German-speaking World, 1890s–1930s. University of Michigan Press, 2019: 177.
“Nonetheless, Hirschfeld did acknowledge at least the theoretical possibility that male-to-female transvestite tendencies could also coincide with homosexual desires, as in a 1923 article he defined the five chief varieties of transvestism as heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, narcissistic, and asexual, and also introduced the term ‘psychological transsexualism’ (seelischer Transsexualismus), paving the way for later, more surgically oriented discourses.”
  • Aaron Devor & Aedel Haefele-Thomas. Transgender: A Reference Handbook. ABC-Clio, 2019: 47. 
“The pioneering German Jewish sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld published what was probably the first scientific article using a German variant term (seelischer transsexualismus)”.
  • Andreas Krass „Queer Fictions of Berlin”. In Janin Afken & Benedikt Wolf. Sexual Culture in Germany in the 1970s, Palgrave Macmillan, 2019: 81. 
"And in 1923, Hirschfeld coined the term ‘mental transsexualism’ (seelischer Transsexualismus) thus for the first time separating transsexuality from transvestism and homosexuality.”
  • Franziska Hofmann in her Transsexualität. Wenn Körper und Seele nicht zusammenpassen, 2008: 
"In his sexual science résumé Geschlechtskunde, Hirschfeld describes the desire for a sex change as an extreme form of transvestitism. He coined the term "seelischer Transsexualismus" for it and used it to describe people who try to adapt to the other sex not only through clothing but also physically. However, he used the terms transvestitism and transsexualism synonymously.”
  • Rainer Hernn. Schnittmuster des Geschlechts: Transvestitismus und Transsexualität in der frühen Sexualwissenschaft. Psychosozial-verlag, 2005: 219-200. 
“The fact that Benjamin knew Hirschfeld's work very well and was aware of the sex changes carried out at the Institute as well as the use of the term "seelischer Transsexualismus" (Hirschfeld 1923, p. 14), must have been a sign of such intensive contact. … It is very surprising that he nevertheless does not pay due tribute to Hirschfeld as the originator of the term "transsexual" and does not refer to the Institute's practice of gender reassignment with a single syllable

Let us see what Hirschfeld actually wrote. 

He gave a lecture, Die intersexuelle Konstitution at the Hygienic Institute of the University of Berlin on 16 March 1923, which was then printed in the Jahrbuch fur sexuelle Zwischenstufen:

“Verfolgen wir die Intersexualität von der Homosexualität aus über die gynandromorphe Körperlichkeit und den seelischen Transsexualismus nach beiden Seiten weiter, so gelangen wir in lückenhafter Konstitutionsreihe auf der einen Reihe zu den Vorstufen des Hermaphroditismus, auf der anderen zu der metatropischen Gefühlseinstellung gegenüber dem andern Geschlecht, der Agressionsinversion.“

Which is rendered into English by DeepL translation software as:

“If we follow intersexuality from homosexuality via gynandromorphic corporeality and psychological transsexualism to both sides, we arrive at the preliminary stages of hermaphroditism, on the one hand, and the metatropic emotional attitude towards the opposite sex, the inversion of aggression, on the other.”

Hirschfeld does not define “seelischen Transsexualismus”, here or anywhere else. It would seem to mean intersex conditions without physical causation and therefore would include homosexuality, transvestism and transsexuality. He is certainly not using the term as Cauldwell and Benjamin did 30 years later to distinguish trans persons wishing surgical and hormonal changes from oscillating cross-dressers.

Apparently Hirschfeld never used the term a second time.

In my opinion Benjamin did not pay due tribute to Hirschfeld as the originator of the term "transsexual", as Herrn says that he should have, in that Benjamin did not regard Hirschfeld’s odd usage in Die intersexuelle Konstitution as using the word in the same way.

The Coining of Words

To coin a term you have to a) be one of the first to use the term b) use it almost in the same way as it is later used by other writers or speakers.

(As we have discussed elsewhere Virginia Prince did not coin ‘transgender’ in that a) she was not the first to use it, b) on the very few times she did use it, she used it in a very idiosyncratic way c) she remained very antagonistic to its inclusive usage.)

(Hirschfeld did not coin any ‘transv*’ words in that such had been in use in Italian, French and English since the 17th century and even earlier. Hirschfeld’s first transv* word, i.e. Transvestitenschein, was copied from the French term and practice of Permission de Travestissement which the French police had been issuing since 1800.)

Some writers who read Die intersexuelle Konstitution as I do.

“It seems useful to clarify that, when Cauldwell used the words ‘psychopathia transexualis’, he described the condition known today as transsexualism. But when Hirschfeld used the words seelischer Transsexualismus he did not define the meaning of these words and did not describe the condition known today as transsexualism; in this paper he studied ‘die intersexuelle Konstitution’, and in his works in general he spoke of Transvestiten. It took about ten years after 1953 for the distinction between transvestism and transsexualism to be clearly adopted.”
  • Joanne Meyerowitz. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Harvard University Press, 2002: 19. 
“He [Hirschfeld] considered transvestism “a harmless inclination,” and he included in the transvestite group those with crossgender identification as well as those who crossdressed. (In an article published in 1923, Hirschfeld used the term seelischen Transsexualismus, or spiritual transsexualism, which he associated with a form of “inversion,” but he did not use the word transsexual the way we use it today. For people who hoped to change their sex, he used the word transvestite.)”
  • Susan Faludi. In the Dark Room. Henry Holt and Company, 2016 : 156. 
“In a journal article in 1923, Hirschfeld remarked that some of his transvestite patients were expressing feelings that might be described as “seelischer Transsexualismus,” or spiritual transsexualism, but he wasn’t referring to the condition the word denotes today. He never separated out transsexuality as a category or regarded it as an identity.”

Uses of the word Transsexual* before 1950 that do not anticipate the modern usage.

1923 Magnus Hirschfeld – as discussed above.

1928 Viennese mental hygienist Erwin Stransky. Subordination, Autorität, Psychotherapie: Eine Studie vom Standpunkt des klinischen Empirikers. Vienna: Julius Springer, 1928 used the twinned terms Transsexualität/Asexualität, the former being a variation on Freud’s Pansexualismus.

1948 Alfred Kinsey, Wardel Pomeroy & Clyde Martin. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. W B Saunders Company, 1948: 612. 

“The term homosexual has had an endless list of synonyms in the technical vocabularies and a still greater list in the vernaculars. The terms homogenic love, contrasexuality, homo-erotism, similisexualism, uranism and others have been used in English. The terms sexual inversion, intersexuality, transsexuality, the third sex, psychosexual hermaphroditism, and others have been applied not merely to designate the nature of the partner involved in the sexual relation, but to emphasize the general opinion that individuals engaging in homosexual activity are neither male nor female, but persons of mixed sex. These latter terms are, however, most unfortunate, for they provide an interpretation in anticipation of any sufficient demonstration of the fact; and consequently they prejudice investigations of the nature and origin of homosexual activity.”

1 comment:

  1. The triumvirate of the 20th century: Hirschfeld, Benjamin and Kinsey:)


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