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20 November 2023

Arnold Wyss (1878 - ?) office worker - first Transvestitenschein in Switzerland.

 We know of Wyss only from the police file in Zurich. We do not know Wyss’ female name.


Arnold Wyss was born and raised in Bern, Switzerland. At the age of eight he found a suitcase belonging to a deceased women, and was able to dress as female secretly. As a teenager he visited a coffee house with a female impersonater show, and then encounted the performer on the street in female dress. Wyss married a woman, Maria in 1902, hoping that marriage would cure his inclinations. They adopted a daughter. However after a while, when alone at home he cross-dressed. In 1910 Wyss read an account in a newspaper of a ‘man’ dressed as female who appeared in court, but had a permit, a Transvestitenschein. After a second such newspaper article, Wyss wrote to Dr Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin. The reply introduced him to the term ‘Transvestiten”, and as a law-abiding citizen, he decided to apply to the Zurich authorities for a permit. A later letter to Hirschfeld asked how to apply, but no answer was received. However he was able to obtain and read Hirschfeld’s 1910 book, Die Transvestiten.

After first moving to Zuring in December 1911 where Wyss worked as a porter in a factory, the family had moved to Geneva and then to Brig in southern Switzerland. In January 1914 they returned to Zurich and Wyss was employed as an office clerk. Maria worked from home as a dress-maker. Wyss mentioned to his work supervisor that he was an hermaphrodite and legally entitled to dress as female. Wyss was forbidden to do so at work, however some of the employees had seen him so dressed. Maria had not previously known of her husband’s dress preferences, until this time when he became more and more depressed and she sought to talk to him. After a while she accepted the situation in that dressed as female, Wyss was good-humoured, efficient and capable, but otherwise was suicidal. 

Wyss sought help from a Dr Frank, and applied for a permit from the Zurich Police and Justice Department in 1914 to live as a woman. In addition an anonymous letter signed ‘Bertrand’ denounced Wyss’ cross-dressing as it could only be mischief. The police explained that there was no Swiss law specifying how men and women must dress, and referred Wyss to the psychiatrist Dr Müller. Müller was acquainted with Hirschfeld’s book, but apparently did not understand Hitschfeld’s distinction between transvestism and fetishism in that he described Wyss as an ‘extreme fetishist who not only has an item of clothing as the object of his worship, but the entire female wardrobe”. Müller also interviewed Maria and the daughter, and conducted a physical examination. He concluded: Wyss was a clothes fetishist belonging to the subgroup of transvestites; heterosexual; did not move in an unethical milieu; he was ethically superior, since he had never received financial compensation for his adopted child. Müller considered a permit to be necessary, since Wyss was very depressed and unpredictable consequences might ensue if the permit was refused.

On 30 June 1914, Wyss was granted the requested permit, signed by Heinrich Mousson, Director of Justice, Police and Military.

  • Herbert Benedikt Stieber. Einleitung Transvestismus Cross-Dressing Was bedeutet. Silo.Tips, August 11, 2016. Online.

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