J. Edgar Bauer

GENDER AND THE NEMESIS OF NATURE: On Magnus Hirschfeld's deconstruction of the sexual binary and the concept of "sexual human rights."


The groundwork debate between the respective founders of sexology and psychoanalysis concerning the role of nature in the understanding of sexuality has been decided, for the time being, in favor of the psychoanalytical approach. Suffice it to say that the prevalence of "nurture" and "constructivism" over "nature" and "essentialism" marks all major theoretical endeavors within gender and queer studies. Against this backdrop, the presentation examines the concept of nature operative in the work of Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), perhaps the greatest sexologist and advocate of sexual minority rights in the 20 th century. In his seminal text "Sappho und Sokrates" (1896), Hirschfeld articulated for the first time his groundbreaking thesis concerning the sexual intermediariness of all human beings, which entails the deconstruction of the traditional sexual binary and its hetero- and homosexual combinatory not because it assumes the existence of a third sexual alternative, but because it postulates a potentially infinite variety of sexes. These insights are inherently connected with a strategy of sexual emancipation centered on the concept of "sexual human rights" that Rudolf Goldscheid coined in 1930 and Hirschfeld publicized in 1933 as Chief Editor of the journal "Sexus." On the basis of the emancipatory program that ensues from Hirschfeld's contentions regarding an open ended scheme of sexual distribution, the presentation assesses the conceptualizations of sexual difference in the work of Monique Wittig, Guy Hocquenghem and Mario Mieli, and examines the theoretical viability of re-introducing Hirschfeld's "essentialism" of radical sexual diversity in contemporary critical discourses on gender.