Magnus Hirschfeld: The Founder of Modern Trans Healthcare

This History Wednesday, we’re going to talk briefly about healthcare - trans healthcare. While we celebrate the SCOTUS ruling to protect LGBTQ+ people in the workforce, we can’t forget that last week the President’s administration reversed healthcare protections for transgender people. History shows that when trans healthcare take steps toward progress, hate-filled people work hard to trip things up. That said, let’s talk about one of the people who helped make contemporary trans healthcare possible.


The first documented trans healthcare provider was an early 20th century German physician and sexologist named Magnus Hirschfeld. Perhaps most famous for his Institute for Sexology, Hirschfeld believed in connecting people with access to health resources rather than trying to “cure” homosexuality and gender variance in patients (the more common practice of his time). Hirschfeld himself prescribed hormone therapies and performed gender affirming operations for patients like Dora Richter and Lili Elbe. Because of his views on gender and sexuality, Hirschfeld was persecuted by the Nazi government, who eventually forced him to flee Germany, burned his institute, and destroyed most of his research. (The books that Nazi soldiers burned in Berlin in that now-infamous picture came from Hirschfeld's Institute).


Hirschfeld’s work helped lay the ground for expanding further gender-affirming healthcare in Europe and the United States, inspiring others like biologist Alfred Kinsey and endocrinologist Harry Benjamin to expand medical research and resources in the ‘40s and ‘50s for people they called “transsexuals.” Though far from perfect - the “gatekeeper” system of trans healthcare gave doctors complete power over how patients could and couldn’t transition based on binary views of gender - the work of these men provided the infrastructure for today’s more gender-inclusive, patient-focused trans healthcare.


Want to learn what happened from the ‘50s to the present? Check out this incredible blog from Scientific American.

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