For International #HolocaustMemorialDay, I want to tell a story. It's a story most of us won't learn in schools. It's a story most of us won't learn unless we seek it out. But it is, profoundly, a story that matters, especially today.
This is the story of the Institute of Sexual Sciences, the first institution dedicated to studying gender and sexuality. It was founded, not in 2019, but in 1919, and not in the United States, but in Berlin, Germany.
This institute, the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, was founded by the famous Magnus Hirschfield, a doctor and early queer rights pioneer. Hirschfield held the then-radical opinion that sexuality was innate rather than a moral deviancy or mental illness.
In 1919, queer people were generally regarded as immoral, depraved people who went against traditional (Christian) values. Hirschfield passionately argued against this, stating that these "values" limited our understanding of human variation and sexuality.
The existence of LGB TERFs is only possible in a culture where queer history and generational continuity is erased at every possible opportunity.
Creating any distinction whatsoever between cis queer people and trans queer people is a wholly recent development.
Hirschfield believed in "sexual intermediaries", a theory that believed there were many variations of sexuality naturally found within human populations. At this time, "sexuality" encompassed both sexuality as we think of it today, and gender.
He believed these "sexual intermediaries" could manifest as intersex conditions, marginalized sexualities, or "transvestism".
In 1897, Hirschfield helped to found the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee. This was the world's first gay rights organization.
The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee's main objective was to abolish Paragraph 175 of the German Imperial Penal Code, the German sodomy law, which criminalized consensual sex between men.
In 1899, Hirschfield established the "Yearbook of Intermediate Sexual Types", the first journal in the world on sexuality and gender variance studies. It was regularly published until 1923. In 1910 he published the first scientific study on cross dressing, "The Transvestites".
1914 saw Hirschfield publish, "Homosexuality in Men and Women", which pioneered the statistical surveying methods later utilized extensively by Alfred Kinsey.
In 1919, the same year he founded the Institute, Hirschfield participated in the making of a film, called, "Different from the Others", which argued against criminalization of homosexuality.
Both the film and the institute faced immediate criticism. The film was banned by German officials within a year. In 1920, Hirschfield, an openly gay, socialist and Jewish man, was attacked and seriously injured. The attacks and threats were nonstop from this point in his career.
In 1928 he founded the World League for Sexual Reform, an organization that argued for the decriminalization of homosexuality, the rights of women, contraceptive rights and more.
The Institute soon became the world hub of the newly emergent field of "sexology". It was equal parts research institution and political powerhouse - it advocated for and produced research relating to queer rights, access to contraception, women's equality and more.
Particularly revolutionary was the Institute's early advances in transgender affirming care. The Institute had a lawyer to help people change their names, issued certification papers allowing trans people to legally cross dress, and went out of their way to hire trans people.
The Institute was also the first place to allow for trans-affirming medical care, including HRT and trans affirming surgeries.
The Institute eventually went on to have over 40 full time employees interested in research and advocacy for queer and intersex individuals who otherwise had nowhere to turn. But from the beginning, the Institute had been controversial.
There were arguments that the Institute was "corrupting youth into unclean lifestyles" and that Hirschfield was a "morally corrupt Jew". These arguments boiled over on May 6th, 1933.
On that date, fascist students overran the Institute, ransacking the library. You've almost certainly seen this image before, although without its specific circumstances. The first "Nazi Book Burning", nearly a decade before WWII, was of the Institute for Sexual Sciences' library
Nearly 20,000 volumes, many of which could be found nowhere else, were burned. The amount of knowledge of queerness, gender equality, tolerance and trans medical care that was lost can never be fully known.
What is also notable, however, is what the students did not burn. They did not burn patient's medical records, but instead used them to hunt down previous patients of the Institute for persecution under the law.
So apparently today was the first time a lot of people on my TL learned what a TERF is, so I’m going to educate y’all on some more queer history, since it’s shockingly unknown. For today, let’s talk about the color pink.
This would set the tone for the future, when queer people were notoriously hunted down as undesireables and placed in concentration camps. Gay men (and amab trans people) were famously labeled with pink triangles.
I wrote about the pink triangle here:
Lesbians (and afab trans people) were labeled as "antisocial" and labeled with black triangles. Queer prisoners of concentration camps were considered the lowest of the low, being treated notably worse by guards and by other prisoners.
Upon liberation of camps, when other prisoners were freed, queer prisoners were merely transported to different prisons. After all, they were still committing what were considered illegal and deviant acts.
One aspect that is repeated, over and over again when it comes to Holocaust stories, is that we must remain vigilant against the rise of fascism, and never, ever allow such atrocities to happen again.
But what's often missing from that narrative is this story - of Magnus Hirschfield, and of the Institute of Sexual Sciences, and of the unfathomable amount of knowledge and lives destroyed in prejudice nearly a decade before war broke out.
So I urge you to make the connection - in the rise of fascism, they came for queer people early. They came for trans people early. And I urge you to look around at the current state of the world.
The cultural war on trans rights is happening all around us, and it is going largely unnoticed by the general population. I beg you to stand up and to do something now, before it's too late. Before they come for someone else. Before trans people have to suffer any more.
If you live in the United States, there are more than 75 anti-trans laws that are currently being considered, and it's only January. That's more than two hateful laws per state. I urge you to please go to transformationsproject.org to learn about bills in your state and reach out.
You can also find daily updates and more at @StepUp4Trans.
In 1933, what was then the queer rights capital of the world was burned by the burgeoning Nazi party. Most notably, all books from the institute were burned. This was to prevent the spread of dangerous ideas that were “converting youths into unclean lifestyles”.
A decade before WWII, trans culture and trans existence was deemed a threat. Propaganda was used to paint us as “converting youths to unclean lifestyles”. Sound familiar to “corrupting our children”?
This is happening now. They won’t stop here. Do something.
@StepUp4Trans Since this time last year, things have only gotten worse. But it doesn't have to be this way.
@StepUp4Trans Talk to other cis people about what’s going on. You can use my posts to explain. You can do your best to explain on your own. You can google the hundreds upon hundreds of guides desperate trans people have written for you. Speak. Up. Get other cis people to care.
@StepUp4Trans Throw a fuss, work in your organizations. Try your damnedest to make politicians and corporations who supported these motions regret it. Make an example of them. These bills are feelers to see how far they can go without pushback. Give. Them. Pushback. Be an inconvenience. Resist
@StepUp4Trans Support trans people right now. Show compassion. Send funds if you can. A lot of us are in precarious situations, mentally and physically, and are just trying to hold it together. Trans people add your need posts here.