Mercedes Allen

Transgender History: From Germany to Stonewall (1933 - 1968)

Filed By Mercedes Allen | March 04, 2008 10:45 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Adolph Hitler, Alfred Kinsey, Charles Prince, Christine Jorgensen, Compton's Cafeteria Riot, crossdressing, Dame Edna Everidge, Daughters of Bilitis, David Reimer, drag queens, Ed Wood, EDCs, Elliot Blackstone, Erickson Educational Foundation, Garden of Allah, Harry Benjamin Syndrome, Harry Hay, Harry Klinefelter, Hose and Heels Club, Imperial Court System, Institute for Sexual Science, IOC, Jehovah's Witnesses, John Money, Johns Hopkins Medical Center, Jose Sarria, Joshua Norton, Judy Wu, Klinefelter's Syndrome, Krafft-Ebing, LGBT history, Magnus Hirschfeld, Mattachine Society, Mercedes Allen, Michael Dillon, Nazi, orchidectomy, Phalloplasty, pink triangle, Premarin, Reed Erickson, Roberta Cowell, Stonewall, To Wong Foo, transexual, transgender, Tri-Ess, undinism, Virginia Prince

Transgender History: A 6 Part Series

Don't miss the other five parts of this series.

The 1920s and early 1930s Germany enjoyed a kind of intellectual and social renaissance, as unbridled culture reached out toward all that fascinated it. Richard von Krafft-Ebing and then Havelock Ellis had unlocked the door to serious study of non-heteronormative behaviour, even if they and their studies weren't always taken seriously or dignified in some medical circles. Ellis' book, Sexual Inversion was the first serious English medical exploration of homosexuality, and many of his other studies delved into autoeroticism, narcissism, and things that are now classified as fetishes and paraphilias (Ellis himself became fond of "Undinism," a fetish involving the sight of a woman urinating). Magnus Hirschfeld followed in these steps.

The fields of Psychiatry, Psychology and other social sciences were in their infancy. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were defining the field. In the midst of this, homosexuality was "coming out," Hirschfeld's "Institute for Sexual Science" in Berlin initiated forays both clinical and surgical into studies of transgender, homosexual and other behaviour, and there was some amount of libertarianism circulating among the upper- and educated classes.

But the rise of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party to power would drive much of this underground until the final third of the century. One of the first priorities of Hitler's regime was to attack Hirschfeld's work, which was at a conjunction between what was considered "sexual perversion and permissiveness" and what Hitler at first thought to be a "Jewish science," psychoanalysis.

The Fall

1933 -- A few months after Hitler assumes power in Germany, Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Science is vandalized and looted by a mob of Nazi "students." On May 6th, its archives of books, photographs, research documents and more are burned publically in Opera Square. The physicians and researchers involved with the clinic flee Germany, or in some cases commit suicide, unable to otherwise escape. Magnus Hirschfeld had moved to Paris by this time, and dies in exile in Nice, of a heart attack on his 67th birthday.

1937 -- The Pink Triangle is first used as a symbol to denote all people of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender backgrounds (in the 1970s, the Pink Triangle would metamorphosize into a symbol of defiance and solidarity in the GLBT community). Prisoners in Nazi concentration camps are made to wear triangular patches identifying their status: green for criminals, yellow for Jews, red for Communists, blue for illegal emigres, purple for Jehovah's Witnesses, black for "antisocials," brown for gypsies, and pink for "homosexuals." In the hierarchy that developed, pink was near the bottom, and GLBT persons suffered extremely high death rates -- they were also commonly used in medical experiments.

Pharmaceutical Triggers and Solutions

1938 -- Di-Ethyl Stilbestrol (DES) is introduced into chicken feed as a means of increasing meat production. Later, it is marketed to pregnant women as a "vitamin" to help prevent miscarriages (an unsubstantiated claim). Prescriptions for this purpose ceased in 1973, because by the 1970s, this drug became linked to endometriosis, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and infertility in female children. It has more recently been linked to intersex conditions and transsexuality -- but not conclusively, and scientific researchers have shown only limited interest in delving further into such Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs).

1941 -- Premarin® (conjugated estrogens from pregnant mares) is first marketed in Canada (the U.S. follows in two years).

The phrase "drag queen" first appears in print, although it had been used as theater and gay culture slang as early as the 1870s, and "drag" appeared alone in print in 1914. It is thought to be a shortening of "dressed as girl," versus the alternately used "drab," from "dressed as boy."

1942 -- Dr. Harry Klinefelter first diagnoses Klinefelter's Syndrome, a condition caused by a chromosome nondisjunction in males; affected individuals have XX chromosomes instead of XY, and are at additional risk for some medical conditions. Patients with Klinefelter's Syndrome can be (but are not always) characterized by effeminate appearance, sterility, some gynecomastia (breast tissue growth) and occasional transgenderism.

1946 -- The Garden of Allah opens in the basement of the Arlington Hotel, in Seattle's Pioneer Square. It is not the first gay cabaret club, but becomes fairly well-known and is chronicled in the book, An Evening at the Garden of Allah: A Gay Cabaret in Seattle.

1948 -- Harry Benjamin is introduced by Alfred Kinsey to a boy who wants to become a girl, and whose mother seeks a treatment to assist, rather than thwart the child. The following year, he begins treating transsexuals in San Francisco and New York with hormones. The Institute for Sexual Science had not previously done this; the treatment was entirely new.

The Re-Emergence of Modern Surgery

1949 -- Michael Dillon becomes the first female-to-male transsexual to complete sex-change operation procedures after a series of 13 pre-phalloplasty operations performed in London over a four-year period. Phalloplasty for FTM transsexuals would not be coherently developed for a single surgery until 1958.

1950 -- Harry Hay founds The Mattachine Society, a group which sought to organize, unify and define the homosexual community. Crossdressing and gender variance were considered undesirable portrayals of homosexuality by the Society, and in defining homosexuality, the process of seperating transgender from gay lifestyle had begun. In 1955, The Daughters of Bilitis rose to unite the lesbian community, and while there wasn't any strong distaste for breaking gender role (which was interpreted as rising against male-dominated society), it did exclude MTF transsexuals.

1951 -- Roberta Cowell has the first known vaginaplasty performed in the U.K. A few other European physicians also resurrect the procedure, developed from earlier German research.

1952 -- Christine Jorgensen (May 30, 1926 - May 3, 1989) is "outed" to the American press, and becomes the subject of great controversy. Her surgery had been performed earlier by Dr. Christian Hamburger in Copenhagen, Denmark. She hadn't wanted to become a public spectacle, but spent her remaining years educating people about transsexuals. The now-classic headline reads: "Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Bombshell."

1953 -- Ed Wood Jr.'s film "Glen or Glenda" appears, providing a surprisingly sincere attempt to understand transgenderism, despite its bizarre and schlocky B-movie trappings. The movie was purportedly inspired by Christine Jorgensen. Wood would later become rather famous in Hollywood circles for being a transvestite.

1955 -- Dr. John Money, a psychologist, writes the first of many papers in the Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins Hospital which will establish for him a reputation as a pioneer in the field of sexual development, and a proposes the theory that gender identity develops primarily as a result of social learning from early childhood.

Dame Edna Everidge first appears in a Melbourne comedy revue in 1955. At this time she is known as "Mrs Norm Everage". She goes on to become an Australian figure of note in the 1990s.

1958 -- The first complete single-surgery Phalloplasty for gender reassignment purposes is performed by Dr. Judy T. Wu in Bratsk, Russia. Previously, the procedure had only been devised for men who had experienced amputations, particularily during WWI, with some early attempts to develop FTM procedures in the decade preceeding. Phalloplasty would still not become very refined until the 1970s, when additional aspects such as a pump for creating erections would be devised for injured Vietnam veterans. Phalloplasty for female-to-male transsexuals is more complicated for someone not having the original infrastructure, as the organ and its function are not easy to replicate mechanically.

The Trans Community Develops Its Own Fissures

1960 -- Virginia (Charles) Prince begins publishing Transvestia Magazine. She also founds Los Angeles' Hose and Heels Club, which counts 12 crossdressers as members, and another organization that develops into Tri-Ess ("The Society for the Second Self"). These organizations are thought to be the first modern transgender support groups, and the magazine is the first publication for and by transgender people. She proceeds with a strong belief, however, in "heterosexual crossdressing" (i.e. crossdressers who are only attracted to women) and excludes "gay" or "bisexual" crossdressers from her groups, as well as transitioning transsexuals. Prince eventually goes on to live full-time as female, but Tri-Ess still does not allow full membership for gay men or MTF transsexuals to this day.

1961 -- José Sarria becomes the first transgender-identified person to run for public office. A legendary drag queen, Sarria received 5,600 votes when running for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Sarria (who still identified as male, at least at the time) proclaimed himself "Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco, Jose I, The Widow Norton," the latter being a reference to the 19th Century Joshua Norton, who had colorfully proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States. This led to the 1965 founding of the Imperial Court System, a non-profit charitable organization of mostly drag queens that continues to this day to raise funds and awareness for other charities and people in need. Based on Sarria's model, another Court materialized in Vancouver, Canada in 1971, followed by many more in many major cities across North America. Sarria also later appears with other drag queens in the opening portion of the motion picture, "To Wong Foo: Thanks For Everything -- Julie Newmar."

1965 -- David Reimer is born (named Bruce, by his parents). The following year, his penis is burned up to the base during a circumcision accident. He is taken to the Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore to see John Money, who recommends that Reimer be raised and socialized as a girl. An orchidectomy was performed, and Reimer was raised with the name "Brenda." Reimer's case would later have a major impact on the practice of medically assigning gender for those with genital ambiguities or related incidents.

(Trans)Gender Clinics and Studies Re-emerge

1966 -- Harry Benjamin publishes The Transsexual Phenomenon. Although he hadn't coined the word "transsexual," it became the term of choice following this publication, with relation to transgender people who need to live full-time as their identified gender, and alter their bodies.

Johns Hopkins Medical Center opens the first Gender Clinic, under John Money's guidance. Although Money's beliefs and writings cause severe damage with regards to intersex children and gender reassignment at birth, he also champions gender reassignment surgery (SRS) in adults, and the clinic becomes a mecca for gender transition (it also inspires the opening of gender clinics at University hospitals across North America). Much of the surgical work from this time would refine SRS techniques. Money's legacy would be a mixed blessing/curse to the transgender cause, and seed some division between intersex and transgender people as a consequence.

One hot August night in San Francisco, the management at Gene Compton's Cafeteria call police to deal with an unruly table of transpeople, hustlers, and down-and-outers (a typical segment of their clientele). When they attempt to arrest one of the drag queens, she throws coffee in his face, and a riot ensues, spilling out into the street. Although transgender (and gay pride) activism wouldn't be galvanized until the Stonewall riot of 1969, the Compton's riot would help set the stage for the gay pride movement, as well as be a spark to draw the San Francisco GLBT communities together earlier than elsewhere, making the city a cultural mecca for alternate sexualities. The story of Compton's Cafeteria is not well known, but told in the documentary Screaming Queens. After the riot, (now-Sgt.) Elliot Blackstone, who had been appointed the first liaison to the GLBT community in 1962, educates many on the Police force, helping the city to become one of the most trans-friendly environments in the world. He also helps to organize San Francisco's first transgender support group.

Mid 1960s through the '70s -- Reed Erickson (1917 - 1992) founds the Erickson Educational Foundation, which supports many research projects that don't fit into the usual catagories of grants... parapsychology, dolphin / human communication, human potential movement, and transsexuality. Erickson's financial support makes much of the work of Harry Benjamin and John Money's Gender Clinic at Johns Hopkins possible.

1968 -- The International Olympic Committee (IOC) begins chromosome testing of female athletes, effectively banning transsexuals and some intersexed individuals (some of whom were fertile as female, with children) from competition, until 2002.

As Western culture neared the 1970s, a flashpoint was building up, as evidenced by the Compton's Cafeteria riot. While there had been some improvement in the lot of transsexuals (universities begin opening clinics for treating them, and surgeries were extended to non-intersexed transsexuals), a larger overall community that encompassed LGBT people was growing impatient with a system that relentlessly tried to shut them all in a suffocating closet. 1969 would change that.

Partial Bibliography:

Much of this had been compiled over time, and not all the sources have been recorded. Some online sources have been involved as well, although I search for more corroboration in these cases.

Bullough, Vern: Homosexuality: A History From Ancient Greece to Gay Liberation
Califia, Patrick: Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism
Colapinto, John: As Nature Made Him: The Story of a Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl
Currah, Paisley; Richard M. Juang and Shannon Price Minter: Transgender Rights
Feinberg, Leslie: TransGender Warriors
Fletcher, Lynne Yamaguchi: The First Gay Pope (and other records)
Kessler, Suzanne; and McKenna, Wendy: Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach
Rudacille, Deborah: The Riddle of Gender
Walker, Barbara: various works
Williams, Walter: The Spirit and the Flesh

Transgender History: A 6 Part Series

Don't miss the other five parts of this series.

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Michael Bedwell | March 4, 2008 2:53 PM

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” – Mark Twain

Thanks for the interesting information. However, there are some factual errors [the burning of the books from Hirschfeld’s institute [and countless other sources] did not occur until May 10, 1933, after its ransacking on May 6th—film at

And there are some problematic assertions, most arising from your indefensible conceit of including gays, lesbians, and bisexuals under your title “Transgender History.” I’m convinced that the origins of oppression of gays/bi’s and transgenders have the same ideological source but that is not the same as saying that they are themselves the same any more than a Gentile homosexual becomes a Jewish homosexual simply because they were both persecuted by the Nazis.

1. "The Pink Triangle is first used as a symbol to denote all people of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender backgrounds"

This amounts to perhaps unintentional historical revisionism. I have read a great deal on the history of gays in Germany by a variety of sources and, despite the consideration of alternative sexual identities by Hirschfeld et al., I've never seen anything to suggest that if asked what the pink triangle stood for its creator would have given your multifaceted definition.

Lay people had no concept of transgenders as we think of same today, or any difference except that of male and female homosexual, and the perception still remarkably persistent in 2008 that male homosexuals are somehow partially female or want to be. Anyone who has ever seen one of the Nazi diagrams [as that at the link below, identical to a slide I purchased at Dachau] illustrating the myriad versions of the triangle and other camp markings would have their concept of the traditional German love for specificity immediately reinforced.

Far beyond the basic pink triangle, a homosexual prisoner could have additional markings that immediately identified him as e.g., “a homosexual Jew,” “a homosexual flight risk,” or “a homosexual political prisoner.” There is no reason to believe that lesbians ever wore the pink triangle. Some claim that the relatively rare interned lesbian was given a black triangle to wear, having been included the somewhat “catch all” category “Asocial.” As lesbian sex acts were not illegal, this makes some organizational sense, though most gay males oppressed by the Nazis were sent to traditional prisons after being convicted under Paragraph 175. Most of those sent to camps were there under the guise of "protective custody." “Extermination through work” was a result of the same kind of evolution of a “solution” that paralleled that for Jews.



2. If for no other reason than the fact that a definition of “transgender” if not remotely agreed upon, unless you can document him describing himself in such terms, your characterization of Jose Sarria as “transgender” is unduly broad [no pun intended] to say the least. Your inclusion of Dame Edna could only be justified by the most lax semantic standards. Did you list “1795 – The Pudding/Hasting Pudding Theatricals established at Harvard” or men playing women’s roles in plays of ancient Greece and Rome in your earlier treatises?

3. While many transgender activists see a direct link between their current efforts and the Compton’s Cafeteria riot, any connection between it and the greater militancy and larger numbers of gay-identified men and women in “the gay movement” post-Stonewall is simply a fantasy that has found a place to happen.

I"m learning a lot from these, Mercedes. Thanks for all the work.

Have you considered putting this in book form?

Thank you for all the work you are doing on this.

Again, this is a very misleading and inaccurate essay. For example, males with Klinefelter's Syndrome are XXY, not XX. And there were no (Trans) Gender Clinics in the 1960's. The social construct of "transgender" had not yet been dreamed up by Charles Prince. As already pointed out, it is highly doubtful that José Sarria identifies as "transgender." And also as pointed out, the Compton Cafeteria Riot has become a bit of mythology that is being made into faux history.

There is not "transgender" history, unless one is trying to force that artificial construct on past events. And that simply results in an inaccurate portrayal of history.