Magnus Hirschfeld: The Origins of the Gay Liberation Movement

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    Ralf Dose

    Publisher: Monthly Review Press

    Year: 2014

    Format: Paperback

    Size: 144 pages

    ISBN: 9781583674376

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Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) was one of the first great pioneers of the gay liberation movement. Revered by such gay icons as Christopher Isherwood and Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society, Hirschfeld’s legacy resonates throughout the twentieth-century and around the world. Guided by his motto “Through Science Toward Justice,” Hirschfeld helped found the Scientific Humanitarian Committee in Germany to defend the rights of homosexuals and develop a scientific framework for sexual equality. He was also an early champion of women’s rights, campaigning in the early 1900s for the decriminalization of abortion and the right of female teachers and civil servants to marry and have children. By 1933 Hirschfeld’s commitment to sexual liberation made him a target for the Nazis, and they ransacked his Institute for Sexual Research and publicly burned his books.

This biography, first published to acclaim in Germany, follows Hirschfeld from his birth in the Prussian province of Pomerania to the heights of his career during the Weimar Republic and the rise of German fascism. Ralf Dose illuminates Hirschfeld’s ground-breaking role in the gay liberation movement and explains some of his major theoretical concepts, which continue to influence our understanding of human sexuality and social justice today.

What People Are Saying

"Before Kinsey there was Magnus Hirschfeld. In Nazi Germany he was demonized. He was Jewish, gay, and left-wing. This is the remarkable story of his pioneering contribution to sexological research, sexual law reform, feminism, and LGBT emancipation. Be inspired!" Peter Tatchell, human rights & LGBT campaigner

"Magnus Hirschfeld is one of the forgotten giants of history. He can rightly be considered the founder of the first gay liberation movement, more than a century ago. The target of vicious anti-Semitism and homophobia, he was brave enough to stand his ground and keep fighting for justice. Ralf Dose’s biography will help restore Hirschfeld and the movement he led to the pages of history. This history needs to be known." John D’Emilio, co-author, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America

"Elegant and erudite. This is a wonderful introduction to the life and work of Magnus Hirschfeld, the ‘Einstein of Sex’ in early twentieth-century Germany. Dose’s concise account is moving and suspenseful, chock full of revealing details on everything from trans rights to aphrodisiacs and contraceptives to new theories of orientation and desire. The book powerfully captures the virulence of rising antisemitism within which Hirschfeld’s research and activism unfolded, and the devastating impact of the eventual ascent of the Nazis." Dagmar Herzog, author, Sexuality in Europe: A Twentieth-Century History

"The pioneer of the modern homosexual rights movement, physician and biologist Magnus Hirschfeld based his campaign on science: he sought constantly to prove that gayness was an inborn natural anomaly—a “third sex.” This controversial theory divided the movement and was rejected by those who saw themselves as “regular men.” A hundred years later, however, it is Hirschfeld’s idea of an innate gay minority that has facilitated the integration of homosexuality into the globalized capitalist order. Ralf Dose’s very readable short biography provides twenty-first century readers with the essential life and times of this charismatic figure." David Fernbach, author, The Spiral Path: A Gay Contribution to Human Survival

"Dose’s biography fills a major gap by providing the first fully informed study in English of Hirschfeld’s life and works. Objective and concise, it is a welcome addition to LGBT history." James Steakley, University of Wisconsin, Madison; author, The Homosexual Emancipation Movement in Germany

"For those whose knowledge of the gay rights movement begins with Stonewall—or worse, with the fight for marriage equality—Ralf Dose’s short but well-researched monograph … comes at a propitious moment, when the State grudgingly hallows the LGBTQ community with the dubious privilege of matrimony." Popmatters

About the Author

Ralf Dose is the co-founder and director of the Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft (Magnus Hirschfeld Society) in Berlin. He writes widely on sex education, homosexuality, the gay movement, the history of sex research, and has lectured at the Berlin Free University and Hannover University.

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