January 20, 2012

The Amazing Transgender Story of John O. (Anno 1905)

Male to female and female to male crossdresser,
early 20th century. (From Femulate)
I am going to share with you another remarkable crossdreamer life story. I found it in Magnus Hirschfeld's amazing book from 1910: Die Transvestiten (Transvestites, the Erotic Drive to Cross Dress, translated by Michael A. Lombardi-Nash.)

As Vern L. Bullough writes in the introduction to the English language edition of the book:

"In Hirschfeld's view, transvestism was a sexual variation in itself. He sharply criticized psychoanalysts who thought that it was simply an aspect of homosexuality... He recognized that both men and women could be transvestites and that they could be homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual and asexual (automonosexual in his terms)."

In fact, Hirschfeld's understanding of crossdressers, crossdreamers and transsexuals (which to him is one group) is very similar to my own. Thanks go to U. for making me aware of this! I will come back with a broader presentation of his theories later on.

Case No. 13

In the book Hirschfeld presents 17 case studies in addition to referring to a large number of life stories found in the literature available at the time. Of the 17 core case studies 16 are on male bodied persons and one on a female bodied "transvestite". The other cases referred to, however, contains discussions of a large number of what I would call female to male crossdreamers.

His case No. 13 is of particular interest to me, partly because John O. is a crossdreamer who actively tries to explain what he is to others, and partly because he is one of many examples found in the book who refuses to live up to contemporary prejudices regarding the differences between crossdressers and transwomen or between gynephilic (woman-loving) and androphilic (man-loving) transsexuals.

A letter to a woman's magazine

Hirschfeld writes that in 1905 the woman publisher of the magazine Antenatal Care (Mutterschutz) received a text from a certain John O. from San Francisco with the request that she publish it:

"When the expected publication did not take place and, after waiting for a long time, O. turned to me, he was very disappointed that he had received no word. With his letter, which I clearly understood, he included a copy of the odd piece of writing, and now I understand why the woman publisher thought it would be too much for her readers, because they hardly would have been able to understand it."

Hirschfeld then goes on to present parts of the text. I will take the liberty of quoting the text quite liberally, as I think it is extremely useful as a counterpoint to contemporary crossdressing and crossdreaming in the Western world.

Firstly, this case -- as well as many of the others -- proves beyond doubt that crossdressing and crossdreaming is an old phenomena. They also tell us that much of what is written about crossdreaming these days is myopic, misleading and bigoted.

Please not that Hirschfeld and John O. used the male pronoun for male to female transgender people. This was definitely not out of disrespect. I have decided to do the same in my coverage of Hirschfeld in order to avoid confusion when mixing quotes and original text. Normally I would use the pronouns used by the persons themselves.

Crossdresser anno 1901 (From Femulate)
Physically a man, mentally a woman

John O. writes:

"Your publication, Antenatal Care, interests me so much that I have to keep it: I am physically a man, mentally a woman; for that reason I have a lot of sympathy for everything that is womanly. Because you are fighting for sexual liberty, I would like to say a few words about the persecution of effeminate men. For many mothers do not understand their sons when they are girlish. 

"I am convinced that when a boy becomes 8 or 10 years old and shows preference for girls' clothing, girls' work and girls' games, then the mother, for the benefit of the child, should let him have free choice. 

"The boy is, then, namely, only sexually a male, but mentally a female, and when such children are raised according to their feelings, then they are so much happier than when people punish them, or even abuse them to produce boyishness.

"But if he is raised as a girl, then he will lose all doubt and be more stable in his girlishness, so that he then never will ever want to become a man; if he is forced to behave as a boy, then he will feel destroyed and will yearn for the time when he can make a living as a maid or something like that."

Acceptance and not suppression

John O. then goes on to refer to contemporary science and attacks attempts at conditioning feminine boys in order to remove their feminine side:

"I do not agree with Dr. Moll and his contrary sexual feeling, p. 448, where he says: one should attempt to do away with the effemination by punishment. Indeed, on page 157 he says, himself, 'in fact, it is striking how powerfully womanish behavior appears in many homosexuals. When one considers that the raising of such boys is mostly the same as any other, then it is amazing that the feminine nature finally breaks out in their case with such force in spite of everything.'

But note that John O. himself is not "homosexual", as will be revealed below. In fact, in Hirschfeld's book most of the male to female cases are attracted to women.

John O. continues:

"I will agree that up to the fifth year, perhaps, many children can still be raised in their sex, but then mostly not, and if the girlish characteristics appear much stronger than the boyish ones, then it is much better for the child to be raised according to its mental sex. 

"For that reason, dear mothers, raise such sons as daughters, because they will seldom become good husbands, they will even have an aversion ot intercourse, except when they later, perhaps, find a woman who is manly. I would also allow for the police to leave such feminine men in peace and that they be treated like women."

Childhood crossdreaming

In most of the cases found in Hirschfeld's book the crossdressers and crossdreamers become aware of their cross-sexual tendencies as kids. This is, according to researchers like Blanchard, not possible, as male to female crossdreamers ("autogynephiliacs") are driven by some kind of perverted male sexuality and not a true inner femininity.

Hirschfeld's "transvestites" had not read Blanchard (who had not been born yet) and therefore failed to live up to his dogma.

John O. again:

"I myself, as a child, took every opportunity to wear my sister's clothing, was often beaten for it, mocked and teased, played with girls, and yearned for the time when I could finish school and work as a nanny. 

"I finally stole the clothes of a young woman and her certificate of domicile and, dressed as a woman, fled to Switzerland, so that for years no one knew where I was. For the first three months I sometimes wanted to work as a young man, because the work was hard and the woman evil, but the second woman employer was kinder to me, and so I soon forgot my own place or origin and my sex."

He had his my first sex experience at the age of 19 with a young girl, and -- as he says -- during the act he, too, wanted to be a young woman:

" I sometimes cried because I was not a woman and could not become a mother."

Eldorado Nightclub Berlin between the wars.
Four of these ladies are crossdressers.
Click on image to enlarge! (From Femulate)
Longing for children

According to the autogynephilia theory a longing to be a woman is just another way of internalizing the  external love object: real women. In the case of John O. and others found in the book, it becomes clear that the enthusiasm for bringing up children is natural and heart felt.

"I am now 43 years of age and single, have not embraced anyone in six years. I often dream that I am a woman, about childbed and putting children to sleep, and feel happy when I wake up, until I realize that it is not true, and that, to my dismay, it was only a dream. So, dear ladies, can you imagine how unhappy your children feel when you try to suppress their natural tendencies.

"Such a boy would not be ashamed to appear as a girl; on the contrary, he is mentally a girl and wants to be one. I have spoken to many women-men mostly of whom have a weak sex drive and no idea about friendship with men, as long as they can move in company with women and children. Even if they were not in women's clothing, they still preferred women's concerns and preferred living with a family where there were children."

In a letter to Hirshfeld he explains that he later moved to New York and found work as an embroiderer there, later as a maid on a farm. He finally ended up as a maid in San Francisco where he was the nanny of a young child.

"Bringing up and caring for children is my greatest joy, " he writes, "to raise them in the sense of Froebel, Pestalozzi, and other great pedagogues of children."

Crossdreamer longings

His longing for the full life of a woman is painful:

"When I reached my twenties, young people would run after me, and sometimes their mothers would say what a good homemaker I would make. But I did suffer a lot because I was the other sex. Oh, how it hurt when I would see a couple in love flirting with each other, how envious I was of every young woman and still am today."

John O. is attracted to strong, manly women, -- i.e.  female to male crossdreamers. Not all of Hischfeld's male bodied cases do so, nor do all contemporary M2F crossdreamers. Still, John O.'s makes an interesting case for an alternative way of solving the crossdreamer's love dilemma.

"Strong, manly women were always my ideal lovers. They always make me feel like a woman." (...)

"If ever there is total freedom of dress, then the effeminate people will connect with female society, just as the man-women will befriend the so-called stronger sex. When there is no longer a dress code, the woman-man will grow into the feminine and be attracted by the man-woman, because by nature both feel right for each other, he as a woman and she as a man, and they will love happily together as any normal married couple today.

"The usual woman does not excite the woman-man, and the manly man does not attract the manly woman. Many women have been amazed by me when they by chance discover my sex, that they hae not been able to see any manly characteristics in my case. Then how often have they said, 'Johanna, you would have been better as a girl."

"Everything that I say here goes in reverse for girls with boyish tendencies. Many more of the would be successful technicians, inventors, or something similar of they would be freely tolerated as men, which is what they want. Both would forget their sex and would be happy. 

"Humanity would not die out of account of that; nature has already sufficiently taken care of that, and it would protect many a person from unhappy marriages, because a woman-man makes a bad bedfellow for a normal woman and vice versa. But if the two get married, one of whom is a woman-man and one a man-woman, then he is the feminine and she the masculine part, and they will be happy; for, no matter what the sex is, emotionally they still are, indeed, opposite sexes, just as nature made them.

"For that reason, dear mothers, why not bring this theme into public discussion? Does it not concern the well-being of your children? If ever society becomes more tolerant and rational, many effeminate men and masculine women will realize why they were born. Just look into human life and you will find that what is inborn will not be suppressed. Has it not also been proven by history that many woman-men were great educators of children and have made many good contributions in female areas? (....)"

Magnus Hirschfeld
Feminine crossdreamers

Hirschfeld felt that John O. was "a typical case of the group we are concerned with" (i.e. "the transvestites" as he called them, who -- in the core sense of his term -- overlaps with my "crossdreamers").

Note that Hischfeldt did not distinguis between what was later to be known as primary and secondary transsexuals, or "homosexual transexuals" versus "autogynephiles", where one group is considered androphilic and feminine and the other gynephilic and masculine.

The reason for this is clear when you read his cases. Most of his cases are male to female crossdreamers attracted to women. They still show a strong interest in stereotypical feminine activities and behavior, and many of them look feminine and behave in a womanly manner.

Hirschfeld believed that stereotypical male and female traits would be mixed in all men and women, giving the world very diverse expressions of sex and gender.

There are more than enough cases in Hirschfeldt's book to prove Ray Blanchard wrong. Gynephilic male fo female crossdreamers (or "Transvestiten") were not -- on average -- less "feminine" than the androphilic ones.


Then why do so many researchers later on argue that there is such a difference?  The answer is probably the following:

The observations made by later researchers are of male bodied person seeking sex reassignment surgery. This causes a selection bias. Since gynephilic transwomen are attracted to  women, they are more likely to try to stay in the role of men, in the belief that women like manly men.

Unlike John O. most of them do not even know that the female to male crossdreamers ("man-women") exist, and have no way of finding them. To attract regular non-transgender women they therefore play the role of the man for a long time, until they -- finally -- realizes that their condition will not improve, and seek out professionals to get help.

The androphilic transwoman, on the other hand, loves men. By transitioning at an earlier age, she increases her chances of finding a straight man to love and marry.

The earlier you transition, the less ravages the testosterone can do to your body. Younger transwomen therefore look more feminine than the older ones. Heck, this even applies to non-transgender XX women. Many women look more "masculine" when they get older.
Hirschfeld with friends in Berlin 1920s
(From Counterlight's)

Since the androphilic transwomen have lived longer as women, they have also been able to assimilate feminine mannerisms and behaviors. Their gynephilic sisters have done the exact opposite: They have done their best to suppress such behavior in order to appear as manly men.

One hundred years ago, you could not transition in the physical sense, which is why Hirschfeld does not distinguish between transvestites and transsexuals. To him they are the same, simply because they are the same by nature.

John O. is truly feminine. He wants go be a mother. He wants to be a nanny. He learns embroidery. And he desperately wants the body of a girl:

"Sometimes, when i saw a young woman bathing, I wished I had the shape of her body, and gladly would have given her mne. Since I was still religious, I prayed, 'Dear God, please make me into a girl."

But he is not "homosexual", which is a requirement if you are to be considered "feminine" according to the autogynephilia theory. He does write about "woman-men" being asexual, but it is clear from the context that this is based on his understanding of stereotypical male sexuality. He wants to have sex with a "man-woman" as a woman. He therefore also  violates the absolutely stupid idea that you have to lack any kind of sex drive to be considered a proper transsexual woman.

An age of sexual liberation

There is one more thing that strikes me when I read Hirschfeld's book. He is in many ways much more modern and liberal than many contemporary psychologists and psychiatrist.

And indeed, historically the period between the late 1880's and the Nazi take-over in Germany was a period of radical liberation in Germany.

Even if Hirschfeld's pupil, Harry Benjamin, managed to bring some of this openness over to the US, most American psychiatrists succumbed to a kind of sexist brutalism that is still reflected in the DSM-5. History is definitely not a steady process of progress.

Nazis raid Hirschfeld's institute 1933. (From Homocaust)
By the way, Hirschfeld's institute for sexology in Berlin was attacked in 1933 and the Nazi thugs burned all its books and archives.

I wonder if not the backlash against the increasing tolerance up to the mid 1930's may partly explain why Die Transvestiten (crossdressers, crossdreamers and transsexuals) became less visible later on, both in Europe and North America, and why the crossdressers increasingly found refuge in secret crossdressing and private societies where the androphiles and the transsexuals were not allowed to enter. It became harder to admit, as John O. did, that they were truly women.

In Hirschfeld's time many male to female transgender people actually lived and worked as the opposite sex, in spite of the lack of hormones and surgery!

Guydykes and girlfags anno 1905

When I published the post on the relationship between male to female and female to male crossdreamers , I actually believed that this was a rather radical discussion of the possibility of "girlfags"/"man-women" hooking up with "guydykes"/"women-men". It wasn't. If we are to believe O. and Hirschfeld such relationships were possible in the late 19th and early 20th century!

In a letter to Hirshcfield he writes:

"At 16 1/2 a man tried to rape me. I protected myself, but he gave me a bad name as being a hermaphrodite, so I had to move away and went to France, where I started as an embroiderer in Luneville. I had a friendship with a girl, who, like me, was in opposition to her sex, namely, manly, and when she went to St. Quentin to the embroidery factory there, I followed her. Not long after, and embroiderer coaxed me to come to Paris where I could earn more. There I had the opportunity for the first time to come together with women who with other women lived like married people, which i France is a rather widespread custom."

John O. then lives as a lesbian embroiderer among lesbians, until one day one of his coworkers feels him up at night and finds out he "was not made right".

John O. writes that "This young woman was the first with whom I entered into a sexual relationship, in which I was the succubus."

Being the succubus means being the bottom, or taking the woman's receptive place during intercourse.

So there you have it.

John O. is a transvestite, in the sense that dressing up as a woman gives him mental peace. He is a crossdreamer, in the sense that he wants to be the receptive partner during intercourse. And he is clearly what we today will call a transsexual, that is a male bodied person who longs to be a woman on all levels: Sexual, psychological, cultural and esthetic.

See also: Transvestites: The Erotic Drive To Cross Dress (Kindle Edition)


  1. Most crossdreamer males love receptive sex. But there is a big puzzle here: are most males who love receptive roles in sex crossdreamers?

  2. If you can read german, this might be very interesting too read too:
    It's a bit of a comparison between the autogynephilia concept of Blanchard and Hirschfeld's theories

  3. @Monica

    "Are most males who love receptive roles in sex crossdreamers?"

    We have no way of knowing. Most of the gynephilic crossdreamers I have been in touch with seem to be "receptive", and I would guess that most androphilic transgender male bodied persons are also "bottoms".

    As for the gay "non-transgender" population I do not know. Not all gay men are feminine and/or transgendered. Do anyone know of studies of gay sexuality that can throw light on the relationship between tops and bottoms?


    Thank you very much for the link. Click here for a Google translation into English.

  4. Monica and Jack,
    To confuse you still further, many macho men also take part in receptive anal sex.
    I recall from history studies that two macho men-Alexander and Gilgamesh who were vigorously into receptive sex.

    However, that said, it is not necessary that the desires are same. An effeminate male's desire for receptive sex is by seeing the self perhaps as feminine with female genitalia.
    The masculine man may desire the same role but without considering the self as feminine. The two things are different even if outwardly the roles are same! I don't know if I make sense to you lolz, but thats what I think.

  5. "Because you are fighting for sexual liberty, I would like to say a few words about the persecution of effeminate men. For many mothers do not understand their sons when they are girlish."

    One hundred years ago, you could not transition in the physical sense, which is why Hirschfeld does not distinguish between transvestites and transsexuals. To him they are the same, simply because they are the same by nature."

    These lines by John clearly hints that even those that we call as extreme effeminate males are nothing but some sort of transgendered humans, maybe lesser version of the transsexual.

  6. However, western culture does not believe effeminate males are transgendered, so long as they don't identify as the opposite gender in the transsexual way. This arrogant culture then labels him as a 'lesser man'.

  7. I wonder what would happen if the good doctor was alive today, in an era when men would buy viagra on the regular.

  8. Very inspiring! I love it..so brave <3


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