Berlin's Third Sex
‘Bachelor, good company, seeks friendly exchange
with single, like-minded older gentleman.’
Berlin’s Third Sex
Translated by James J. Conway
Design by Cara Schwartz
115 x 178 mm, French flaps
Rough trade, drag kings, tea dances, sporty dykes, coded classified ads, campy nicknames, passing, outing, hustlers, beats and cruising at the YMCA – all accompanied by a wave of gay and lesbian activism. Eighties New York? No, Germany’s imperial capital at the dawn of the 20th century. Berlin’s Third Sex reveals an astonishingly diverse gay subculture years ahead of the Weimar era, with cross-dressing cabaret, all-night parties and erotic licence at every level of society. Magnus Hirschfeld’s 1904 report is a foundational text of modern gay identity, queer history captured by an insider, as it happened. Police, blackmailers and moral crusaders are never far, suicide is all too common, but Hirschfeld also invites us into the homes of same-sex couples to witness tranquil scenes of domesticity and devotion. Berlin’s Third Sex formed part of the vast ‘Metropolis Documents’ project, a visionary panorama of early 20th century urban life. This, the first part of the series to appear in English, is offered alongside an earlier Hirschfeld study of the ‘third sex’ (the author’s provisional term for gays and lesbians) as well as comprehensive notes and an informative afterword.
MAGNUS HIRSCHFELD (1868-1935) was one of the world’s first gay activists. Both a writer and a doctor, he sought not only to define sexual variation – homosexuality in both men and women, as well as what we would now refer to as trans identity – but also to repeal laws that policed their expression in his native Germany. His insistence that homosexuality was in-born, and that consenting adults should be free to form attachments without harassment from the law, was almost a century ahead of Western public consensus. Hirschfeld published in relative freedom under the German Empire and ensuing Weimar Republic but emigrated before Hitler came to power. As the Nazis cast his research to the fire, Hirschfeld resigned himself to exile, eventually settling in Nice where he died on his 67th birthday. Among his works already published in English are Transvestites and The Homosexuality of Men and Women.
'[Berlin’s Third Sex] depicts a flourishing gay subculture populated by cross-dressers, drag queens, sporty dykes, blackmailers and prostitutes, who establish contact with one another via intricately coded classified ads, adopt droll nicknames such as "Squeaky Lotte", "Rollmop Queen" and "Hiddigeigei", and generally live it up in bars and cabarets, in the Tiergarten, or at the Opera. The Rixdorf edition includes an informative afterword and helpful notes by the translator James. J. Conway.'
— Anna Katharina Schaffner, Times Literary Supplement
'Hirschfeld’s rhetorical strategy, which includes these appeals to sentiment, walks the line between emphasizing the similarities in behavior between homosexuals and heterosexuals (in other words, suggesting homosexuals are just like the [presumably heterosexual] reader), and relating anecdotes or characteristics that portray the former as uniquely, yet endearingly, different. That this approach has strong parallels with contemporary gay rights rhetoric suggests that there is a timeless appeal in finding reasons for empathy in order to demonstrate that ‘the other’ is just as human.'
— Tyler Langendorfer, Music & Literature
'Berlin's Third Sex offers a window into a moment in history during which we can observe the beginnings of modern LGBT identities taking shape. Hirschfeld's personal motto was: "per scientam ad justitam" — "justice through science." In this era of fake news and alternate realities in Washington, Hirschfeld's motto has a particular resonance.'
— Irene Javors, The Gay & Lesbian Review