The Institut für Sexualwissenschaft was the worlds first research center to specialize in sexology, which included studies into the nature of gender. This institute was incredibly progressive for it’s time when it was founded in 1919, and was tragically destroyed by the Nazis in 1933.
The Institute had libraries, a massive archive, along with several divisions dedicated to all sorts of things from medical and psych evaluations to marriage counseling and lecture halls! The organization also supported women’s rights, sex ed, and birth control. The institute’s motto was “per scientiam ad justitiam”, or “through science to justice”. The building also included a small museum displaying sexual artifacts. It was funded through a charity run by it’s founders, the Magnus Hirschfield Foundation.
Role in Trans History:
Magnus Hirschfield invented the early term for transgender, “transsexual”, in an essay written in 1923, after coining the earlier term “transvestite” in 1910! Trans people were frequently employed at the institute, commonly as maids or receptionists. The Institute also offered bottom surgery, facial masculinization and feminization surgery, and hair removal procedures! The Institute’s main surgeon specializing in gender-affirming procedures, Ludwig Levy-Lenz, once said that, though these early surgeries were sometimes experimental and dangerous, his transgender patients were always the most grateful patients he’d ever worked with. The Institute also devised a way to protect trans people and crossdressers in a country where being visibly gender non-conforming was illegal, through “transvestite passes”, which were essentially doctor’s notes saying that a citizen is trans.
The Institute also recorded research and cases of intersexuality, mostly lead by Magnus Hischfield. He helped intersex people get sex reassignment surgery, and advocated for intersex people to be able to choose their legal gender at age 18. Photos were taken of intersex people as evidence of their existence.
The Institute was founded by Magnus Hirschfield, the leader of the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee (Scientific-Humanitarian Commitee), which was a pro-LGBTIA+ group that utilized science in it’s arguments, Arthur Kronfield, a well-known psychotherapist, and Friedrich Wertheim, a dermatologist. It’s first building opened on July 6th of 1919, with a neighboring building being added in 1922. In just the first year, thousands of clients came in for consultations where they were very often given help for free, and over a thousand lectures were held there.
The Institute gained international interest, drawing in researchers and activists from all over the world, including multiple visits from medical officials from the Soviet Union. A small group led by Hirschfield eventually took a trip to Moscow and Leningrad for the same purpose.
In 1928, they published an informative paper on birth control, of which around 100,000 copies were distributed in the next four years.
Early on in the Institute’s lifespan, from the 20’s onward, it and Hirschfield found themselves under fire from the German far-right, which would later become the Nazi party. Hirschfield was shot at and assaulted multiple times, and was seriously injured during one of these attacks. By 1929, the violence became severe enough that he stopped appearing in public. The Nazi’s genocide of queer people began in February of 1933, and the month after, a lawyer working for the institute, Kurt Hiller, was captured and tortured at a concentration camp. That March, a Nazi hate group raided the Institute headquarters, seizing books, records, and artifacts, and returned four days later to follow up and conduct a book burning. Some estimates say that around 25,000 books and journal were destroyed, and it’s theorized that Dora “Dörchen” Richter, the first trans woman to have a full sex reassignment surgery, was killed in one of these raids. Art, medical documents, artifacts, and a bronze bust of Hirschfield, who was in Ascona, Switzerland, were thrown into the fire.
The Institute was forced to shut down after the raids, and was never successfully reestablished. 🙁