Trans Rights and Cultures in the Weimar Republic

Katie Sutton is Associate Professor of German and Gender Studies at the Australian National University. She is the author of Sex between Body and Mind: Psychoanalysis and Sexology in the German-Speaking World, 1890s-1930s (University of Michigan Press, 2019) and The Masculine Woman in Weimar Germany (Berghahn, 2011), and has published on sexuality, gender, and sexology in early 20th-century Germany, including interwar queer and trans subcultures. Contact:

In 1932 popular illustrated daily newspaper Tempo, which had a circulation of around 125,000 copies, took up a theme it believed captured the Zeitgeist: “Women who live as men”.[1] This “reportage from an unknown world” by one C. A. Jank ran for almost thirty issues from April to June, detailing stories of individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB) who lived and worked, sometimes for decades, in a society that viewed them as men. 

It opens with the story of Karl, a working-class Swabian who runs into problems at the Berlin unemployment office because his ID document is issued to a “Henriette.” In a colourful report that speaks to Depression-era readers with its evocation of bored queues and timestamps, Karl confronts a perplexed official demanding to know the truth of his gender: “The thing is this: I’m a girl. But for fifteen years I’ve been living and working as a lad.”[2] What might stories such as Karl’s tell us about the development of trans legal rights and cultures during the Weimar Republic?

Jank’s report of Karl’s encounter in the unemployment office forms part of longer biography that goes back to the persistent childhood demands of young “Henriette”: “Mother, when will I become a boy?” Today, we might be tempted to classify his identification as trans(*), although it is not clear whether Karl saw himself in a way that might easily align with such a twenty-first-century label.[3]

By the interwar years, though, adopting the term “transvestite” to characterize gender-variant expressions and identities had become a possibility. Sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld coined this popular label with a bulky 1910 study on the theme, publishing numerous case histories to help distinguish “transvestism” from older ideas of “inversion” or a “third sex.”[4] He viewed cross-gendered identifications as most often a lifelong condition—a view we also see reflected in Jank’s narration of Karl, albeit in a more popular mode. 

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Interactions between the regulation of homosexuality and transsexuality since the enactment of the Transsexual Act

Adrian de Silva is a trans and queer studies researcher at the University of Luxembourg with a background in sociology and political science. He received a PhD in gender studies from Humboldt University Berlin based on his interdisciplinary study “Negotiating the Borders of the Gender Regime: Developments and Debates on Trans(sexuality) in the Federal Republic of Germany”. Working across political sociology, sociology of law, sexology and political theory, Adrian’s research engages with processes of minoritizing less common genders and sexualities in liberal democracies, and struggles for social change in these areas. 

On 01 Jan. 1981, the Act to change first names and establish gender status in special cases (Transsexual Act – TSG) came into force in the Federal Republic of Germany.[i] Sections 1-7 TSG lay down the rules for a change of first names and sections 8-12 TSG regulate a revision of gender status in cases of transsexuality. The Transsexual Act was, among other things,[ii] devised against the background of historically-specific manifestations of heteronormativity, which at the time included the delegitimization of homosexual relationships and, according to s. 175 StGB (Strafgesetzbuch; Criminal Code), demanded higher ages of consent for sexual activities between male individuals than between males and females, or between female persons. While gender and sexuality do not necessarily have to be linked to each other, they are, as Butler suggests, interrelated[iii] in contemporary Western societies. However, gender and sexuality are not static. The same applies to the relationship between these fields. The temporary outcome of struggles in one arena may directly or indirectly contribute to, or impede developments in the other. Drawing upon Federal Constitutional Court rulings on relevant provisions of the Transsexual Act and legislation on same-sex partnerships, this blog entry traces how the regulation of homosexuality and transsexuality impacted upon each other since the Transsexual Act was enacted.[iv]

Preventing same-sex marriages and violations of s. 175 StGB in the Transsexual Act

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Human Rights are not a Pie: against the Antinomical Vision of ‘Women’s Rights’ versus ‘Trans Rights’

Dr. Francesca Romana Ammaturo is Senior Lecturer in Sociology and human rights at the University of Roehampton. Her expertise is in the field of LGBTQI issues and human rights, LGBTQI social movements, European human rights, and European Citizenship.  During the last few years, she has been contributing to the field of LGBTQI+ studies by writing on a range of issues, from homonationalist sexual citizenship in Europe to debates on “gestational surrogacy” in Italy, Pride Events, as well as children’s rights in relation to gender and sexuality. She has published several single-authored articles in international peer-reviewed journals, as well as authored the monograph titled “European Sexual Citizenship: Human Rights, Bodies, and Identities” for Palgrave in 2017. Currently, her research focuses on LGBTQI activism and human rights in Southern Europe.

In recent years, an interesting quote has become popular on social media: ‘equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It’s not pie’. Beyond its use in popular culture, this statement addresses a relevant question in the philosophy of rights. Namely, whether human rights are a finite resource to be fought for by competing groups who may have partial – or complete – disagreement over their values or needs. 

Human Rights and the Antinomy of Values

In his 1990 book ‘the Age of Rights’, the Italian philosopher Norberto Bobbio addressed the idea that the existence of what he calls the antinomical and heterogeneous character of values, leading to a situation in which concessions made to a specific group of individuals in terms of their human rights would correspond to an undeniable loss of rights for another corresponding group of individuals. In Bobbio’s own words: 

“(…) Final values are antinomical, and cannot all be accomplished universally at the same time. It is necessary for both parties to make concessions in order to achieve them, and the concessions required for this process of conciliation involve personal preferences, political choices and ideological orientations.”
Bobbio, Norberto. 1996. The Age of Rights. Cambridge: Polity Press, p. 5–6.

Under human rights law, this principle is often embodied in the existence of restrictions to some rights that cannot be exercised in an absolute manner. An example is Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) protecting freedom of expression. According to an antinomical vision of rights suggested by Bobbio, for instance, LGBTQI+ friendly speech would be irreconcilable with homo- or transphobic speech. The two are fundamentally rooted in alternate visions of reality: one in which the lives of LGBTQI+ persons are valued and cherished, and one in which they are denied, mocked or vilified.  Whilst this logic seems to make sense, defining in practice what ‘values’ are, is far from being straightforward. 

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Ja, Nein, Vielleicht, oder doch vielleicht nicht? … Trans* im Recht der Europäischen Union

Berit Ebert hat an der Rheinisch-Westfälischen Technischen Hochschule Aachen sowie an der Universität Wien studiert und wurde 2012 mit einer Arbeit zur gleichstellungspolitischen Rechtsprechung des Gerichtshofes der Europäischen Union promoviert. Als Head of Programs & Development leitet sie derzeit das Programm der American Academy in Berlin. In ihrem gegenwärtigen Buchprojekt Wie Europa Zeus bändigte: Transnationalität im Gleichstellungsrecht der Europäischen Union untersucht sie den Einfluss einzelner Kläger*nnen auf die entsprechende Rechtsentwicklung.

In den 1990er-Jahren erreichten den Gerichtshof der Europäischen Union (EuGH) eine Reihe von Vorabentscheidungsverfahren im Bereich Trans*. Sie bauten auf dem europäische Gleichstellungsrecht auf, avancierten es, legten gleichzeitig aber auch seine Grenzen und ambivalenten Charakter offen. 

Die Ursprünge des europäischen Gleichstellungsrechts datieren auf die Gründung der Europäischen Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft (EWG) im Jahre 1957 sowie auf das dort verankerte Lohngleichheitsgebot in Artikel 119 EWG[1]. Diese war Grundlage für neues Sekundärrecht[2],  maßgeblich die Gleichbehandlungsrichtlinie sowie die Entgeltgleichheitsrichtlinie der 1970er Jahre,[3] und für Entscheidungen des Europäischen Gerichtshofes. Betroffen waren vor allem Fragen der gleichen Bezahlung, der Arbeitsbedingungen und des Sozialrechts, beispielsweise hinsichtlich der Altersversorgung. 

Die Entscheidungen des Gerichtshofes der Europäischen Union

Es kam das Jahr 1995 und damit der Fall P gegen S Cornwall City Council.[4] P. war beim Cornwall City Council in führender Position tätig, teilte der/dem Arbeitgeber*in mit, dass er eine Geschlechtsanpassung plane und wurde kurz darauf entlassen. Lag eine Diskriminierung vor? Nein, auf keinen Fall, so meinte das beklagte Cornwall City Council. Ein Trans* Mann würde ebenso diskriminiert werden wie eine Trans* Frau. Gleichbehandlung sei folglich gegeben. Der EuGH sah dies indes anders und stellte eine Diskriminierung fest: Die neue Identität (Frau) werde im Vergleich zur ursprünglichen Identität (Mann) benachteiligt.  

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