“A final moment of reluctance overcame me,” Hans Hannah Berg wrote, “as I stepped across the threshold of the house.” Dressed in a custom black dress, white gloves, and fine pearls, Hans Hannah looked impeccable. She cut a fine figure walking down the street, announced by a hint of perfume and the gentle jangling of bangles. But Hans Hannah was anxious: this was her first outing as a woman.
Hans Hannah wrote about the occasion for the inaugural issue of The Third Sex (Das 3. Geschlecht), likely the world’s first magazine devoted to trans issues. First published in Berlin in 1930, The Third Sex circulated in the final years of the Weimar Republic, Germany’s democratic experiment between the wars. After the Nazis seized power, they destroyed the publishing house, and the magazine was largely forgotten. As a result, most accounts today name fifties America as the birthplace of trans periodicals. The recent republication of The Third Sex by the Bibliothek rosa Winkel revives lost voices from Germany’s queer past and recovers a remarkable piece of trans history.
Beginning in the nineteenth century, Germany was closely associated with homosexuality. The English spoke of the “German custom,” the French referred to the vice allemande, and Italians called gay men and women “Berlinese.” Queer people existed across Europe, of course, but German thinkers actively studied non-heteronormative sexualities and openly debated the rights of queer people, inaugurating the field of sexology. In the first decade of the twentieth century, more than a thousand works on homosexuality were published in German. Researchers from England to Japan cited German sexologists as experts and often published their own works in Germany before their home countries.