Trans Identities and "Cross Dressing" in Nazi Germany: Trans People as a Discrete Target of State Violence

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 1:30 PM
Gramercy West (New York Hilton)
Laurie Marhoefer, University of Washington
To an extent not yet recognized by historians, people with trans identities were violently policed by the Nazi State. Yet if they had “Aryan” racial status they could count on some protection from the worst of Nazi violence.

This paper looks at the clever – though not always successful – negotiation of risk by men and women with trans identities in Nazi Germany as the fascist police and courts struggled to suppress Germany’s thriving pre-1933 trans subculture. It argues that Nazi policing of sex and gender looks quite different when we take both trans identities and racism into account.

Up until now, historians have focused on the Nazi State’s persecution of gay men under Paragraph 175 of the penal code. Yet a separate law, Paragraph 183, criminalized “cross-dressing.” At times people were charged under this law alone. One such person, who seems to have identified as female, is known in the historical record as Heinrich Bode of Hamburg. Though in court and police documents Bode self-identifies as a “transvestite” (a term of positive self-identification at the time that today is offensive to many people) she is memorialized as a gay man. Bode was murdered in Buchenwald in 1943 after a series of Paragraph 183 and 175 convictions. This deadly fate was unusual for an “Aryan” accused under these laws – contrary to public memory of Paragraph 175, an accused person who had “Aryan” racial status ran a comparatively low risk of being sent to a camp or sentenced to death. A comparison of Jews and Poles accused in similar cases demonstrates this. Bode’s case shows that we ought to use an intersectional analysis to re-consider the politics of sex and gender in the Nazi penal system, foregrounding trans analysis as well as the analysis of racism.

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