ADVENTURES IN TIME AND GENDER
EPISODE TWO: CATS AND BOXES
Written by Jason Barker. Directed by Krishna Istha – October 2020
♪ Here is the beginning of our adventure ♪
♪ You and I, we’re a story ♪
♪ We turn time around, it’s our time ♪
Episode One: Cats and Boxes
NARRATOR: Hello! Welcome to part two of Adventures in Time and Gender, brought to you live from a field somewhere.
In our last episode, Suitcase and I travelled through time, space and Ikea to meet some historical figures who, if they were alive today, might consider themselves part of our trans community.
SUITCASE: Or they might not.
NARRATOR: Well exactly. Things became quite tricky when we thought about what words to use.
SUITCASE: I keep thinking about something you said last time. About the language, the words you use, being like a lifeline.
NARRATOR: Yeah! For instance, if someone thought they were the only person who felt the way they do. To be able to find other people who were similar, either in their own time or within all of history, could be life changing. Maybe even life saving.
SUITCASE: Anyway, I mention it because it’s made me think. I suppose I’ve always found the language that you lot use –
NARRATOR: Excuse me? “You lot” as in the trans community?
SUITCASE: No, “you lot” as in human beings. I find your language frustrating in that it’s so open to interpretation and misinterpretation.
SUITCASE: How can a word change its meaning? How can two people have a totally different understanding of the same word?
NARRATOR: See, I like all that. I think it gives breathing space. Room to explore. Language has always changed, hasn’t it?
Anyway, we decided, for this episode to look at the words and labels people use and when they came into use. And our first guest is Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a lawyer and writer from the 19th century.
ULRICHS: Guten tag!
ULRICHS: I was just listening to you both talk about language. When you said “lifeline” I had a
strong image of the red and white ring on a rope that you might throw out to someone who was in trouble in the water.
For me, that’s what having the language to describe myself felt like. I knew how I felt, I understood my sexuality but there were no words for me.
And at that time, scientists were naming everything. For example, look here is a shield bug. A Hawthorn shield bug, specifically a Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale. Scientists were naming
plants and animals around the world.
Dividing the living world into categories, families and species. And I thought, LGBTIQ + people are part of nature so…
NARRATOR: Wait, you didn’t use LGBTIQ+ back then, did you?
ULRICHS: No, I just heard it here and I love it! I love the plus at the end.
NARRATOR: Oh! [laughs]
ULRICHS: What you just said about breathing space, room to explore. The plus, to me, gives that space.
Anyway, so I thought by labelling people we could argue that LGBTIQ+ people have always existed as part of nature.
NARRATOR: Wow! Because that’s one of the things we found when we were talking to people from history. Without the words, they could easily just disappear, become invisible.
ULRICHS: Exactly! We could just say we’re in a field but, if I look around me I can see ox eye daisy, ragged robin, corn cockle, vipers bugloss, common knapweed, bugle.
All of that richness and that, without the names, become just “a field”. And without words to describe LGBTQI+ people, each generation has to start over again.
A whole new set of people who think they are the first to have ever felt such a way. And where is the lifeline to throw them?
NARRATOR: This is what I was saying!
ULRICHS: Oh! Great minds and all that! I thought if we have the language then a person can no more legislate against men loving men than they can legislate against, I don’t know, buttercups and frogs!
It’s saying this is nature, this is the world we live in, made up of beautiful diversity.
NARRATOR: And, what was your first label?
ULRICHS: Oh, I started on myself and gave myself the label Urning. From Uranian or “divine” or “heavenly.”
ULRICHS: A reference to Plato’s symposium.
SUITCASE: Uranian like Uranus?
NARRATOR: We say Yew-ranus nowadays, Suitcase.
ULRICHS: And I chose Urning because I have the body of a man and yet am attracted to men. Therefore, I have a female soul.
NARRATOR: Could you have been attracted to men and have a male soul?
ULRICHS: Well no, because attraction is all about opposites.
NARRATOR: [Flabbergasted laugh] Is it?
ULRICHS: Of course! Attraction is essentially between males and females, so I thought “Okay, I am a man attracted to other men.”
ULRICHS: Where is the female in that? There must be female. And then I realised, the female must be somewhere other than the body, somewhere invisible. Of course, it was my soul that was female.
NARRATOR: Well a lot of people don’t think like that anymore. I mean about there having to be male and female.
ULRICHS: You don’t think so?
ULRICHS: I think lots of people have always thought like that. Not just straight people. I think a lot of people have an investment in that binary when it comes to attraction.
NARRATOR: Well, I’m not male or female despite that investment. I don’t exist within the binary. But, whatever floats your boat.
SUITCASE: Um, Ulrichs? You mentioned how science in your time was very focussed on naming
things, on categorisation as a way of understanding the world.
But the thing is, when humans categorise, when you divide things into this or this, you also make hierarchies. It’s the same process that led to colonisation, dividing people into us and them. Categories create stereotypes.
What does someone need to be like to fit the category? What if they don’t meet the criteria?
Think back to the warrior we met at the start of our journey and what she said about us asking why we even need to prove that trans people have always existed.
How did that knowledge disappear in the first place? I think that overly simplified categories…
and I’m not meaning you specifically here, Ulrichs.
But I mean the categorisation that was going on more broadly in the name of science, did quite a lot of harm.
ULRICHS: I understand what you are saying but I didn’t impose my categories on anyone. Urning was my word, if it doesn’t work for someone else then we’d find them a new word. I wasn’t interested in squeezing people into a few categories and definitely had no interest at all in erasing the subtleties and nuances of identity.
It comes back to that lifeline again, how do we talk about things that have no name? When I gave myself the name Urning, it allowed me to speak up for the first time because suddenly it wasn’t just about me. If I was an Urning, then maybe others were too.
I gave a speech – “The Urning, too, is a person. He, too, therefore, has inalienable rights. His sexual orientation is a right established by nature. Legislators have no right to veto nature; no right to persecute nature in the course of its work; no right to torture living creatures who are subject to those drives nature gave them.”
NARRATOR: I guess it’s human nature to want to categorise things but it can be used for both good and evil depending on who is doing the categorising and why?
ULRICHS: That seems a fair summary.
NARRATOR: What other sorts of words did you give people?
ULRICHS: Well, it’s wasn’t really like that. I’m not an expert and never set myself up as such. I found having my word Urning helped me make sense of my own experiences, and wanted to help others if I could.
So I didn’t label people, rather I listened to them and helped them find
words for themselves. Say someone was a masculine person, assigned female at birth, attracted
to women. I might offer a name such as Female Sexual Invert.
For some that worked, for others not and we’d find something new.
NARRATOR: Hmm, nice! How about someone assigned male at birth who identifies as a woman?
ULRICHS: A word I like came from Havelock Ellis who drew on my work. He used Eonist.
NARRATOR: Like the Chevalier! Oh, she’d love that!
SUITCASE: It didn’t last though. We don’t hear it at all now in the 21st century.
ULRICHS: And that’s fine by me. I’m quite happy for the language to keep changing and growing.
NARRATOR: It reminds me of when I was first online. I remember Googling “transgender” and then I heard about non-binary and then someone said gender fluid and it felt great, to get closer and closer to being able to say who I was.
ULRICHS: That’s so wonderful.
NARRATOR: You say that but a lot of people seem to find these words really irritating! My Dad says it’s all got too complicated these days. Why can’t people just be people, he says.
And I’m like, yeah easy for you to say when you are a cisgender heterosexual man, you’re the default.
ULRICHS: And what does he say?
NARRATOR: Oh, he just looks really bored, like looks out of the window or messes with his phone, the moment I say cisgender. It’s game over, like here we go again.
ULRICHS: My work was censored and banned. It’s so strange to me. What’s the threat? Why are people so scared of this language?
SUITCASE: Maybe because if you can talk about it, you can be it, and the fear is that you will make people gay or trans just by saying the words.
There was a law in the UK, passed in 1988 by a Conservative government that stopped councils and schools from, and I’m quoting “promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”
NARRATOR: When was it scrapped?
ULRICHS: Thank goodness people came to their senses!
SUITCASE: Well quite, except that it does look like our current Conservative government is going to bring in laws that look exactly the same.
NARRATOR: Yeah and now they think if you say the words “gender Identity” in a school all the kids will turn trans.
ULRICHS: I’m sorry to hear that. I thought, what with LGBTIQ+ and you Googling (whatever that
means) words for yourself. I thought we’d reached some sort of utopia.
SUITCASE: We can leave you on a cheery note though Ulrichs. You’ve been called the pioneer of the modern gay rights movement in the west because, in effect, by publishing your works under your own name, you were the first person to come out publicly.
ULRICHS: Hold on, “pioneer of the modern gay rights movement”?
SUITCASE: Yes! There was a resurgence of interest in your writing in the 1980s, and you became a bit of a cult figure in Europe, particularly in Germany.
ULRICHS: Oh, well that’s lovely to hear. I wanted to ask you, I notice there’s no U in LGBTQI+. Do people not use the word Urning any more?
NARRATOR: I don’t think so Ulrichs. I hadn’t even heard of it before meeting you. It’s mostly gay or maybe homosexual, but not so much now. Maybe queer too?
ULRICHS: Oh well! You win some you lose some. It’s been such a pleasure to meet you both.
NARRATOR: And you Ulrichs!
SUITCASE: Bye Ulrichs!
[Time travel whoosh]
NARRATOR: Suitcase, why did you tell Ulrichs about how he would came out? When The Chevalier wanted to know about her future you wouldn’t tell her.
SUITCASE: Oh I could tell Ulrichs because he was here, we didn’t go to his time.
NARRATOR: What difference does that make?
SUITCASE: Ulrichs died in 1895. He can’t change anything now.
NARRATOR: So was that a ghost that we were just talking to?
SUITCASE: Sort of.
NARRATOR: A-and what happens when we go to their time?
SUITCASE: Then we are the ghosts. Well, The Chevalier would probably consider us a vivid and amusing dream brought on by a pickled gherkin too close to bedtime.
The thing is, it’s the pay off for time travel. Everyone knows that, it comes with the great responsibility of not being able to change things even when you know what’s going to happen.
Which is why, Narrator, you are such a great time travelling companion because you generally have no clue what’s going to happen!
NARRATOR: I’m going to choose to take that as a compliment Suitcase.
SUITCASE: Well, as I said before, it’s not you so much as a shocking inditement on the lack of queer history taught in schools these days.
Right! Now it’s time to go back in time and visit the great man Magnus Hirschfeld himself!
In his Institute in Berlin in 1930, right bang smack in the middle of my wormhole.
SUITCASE: Stop giggling, Narrator!
NARRATOR: What! You laughed at Uranus and corn cockle, I saw you [laughs]
SUITCASE: Well, they were funny.
[Mechanical sounds. Time travel whoosh]
[Clicks of an old type writer being used]
HIRSCHFELD: The woman who needs to be liberated most is the woman in every man, and the man who needs to be liberated most is the man in every woman.
[Type writer ding]
HIRSCHFELD: Yes, I’m a genius
SUITCASE: [whispers] Don’t you just love him already?
HIRSCHFELD: Who’s that? Ah! Hello old friend! What a joy!
SUITCASE: Hey Magnus [flirtatious giggle]
HIRSCHFELD: I stay up late every night hoping that I’ll see you again. And this time with a young companion.
Hello, my name is Magnus Hirschfeld.
HIRSCHFELD: So, where are you up to in your quest?
NARRATOR: Wa- how did you know about the…
HIRSCHFELD: There’s always a quest, isn’t there Suitcase?
NARRATOR: Well, we’ve just spoken to Ulrichs.
HIRSCHFELD: Oh great. I love Ulrichs. I reference him throughout my 1914 bestselling book “The homosexuality of men and women”.
I absolutely agree with him that we need people to understand that sexual and gender diversity are part of nature. This is the way we’ll get laws
In Ulrich’s time however, sexual attraction was only understood in terms of male and female, so he understandably saw himself and other “urnings” as having a female element because they were attracted to men.
NARRATOR: Yeah! I actually really liked his ideas up to that point. But then I was like, what, really? You have to have male and female?
HIRSCHFELD: Yeah, I know, right? We need to stop conflating gender and sexual identity. But I like the naming of categories though.
In 1910 I invented the term transvestite. And in 1919, I opened my Institute of Sexology!
[A chair scrapes along the floor, a key unlocks a door and it swings open]
[Footsteps on a wooden floor]
HIRSCHFELD: By day it’s bustling in here but at this time of night we’ve got the place to ourselves.
Over here, you can see the world’s only museum of sexual science. Here you can see sex toys and thousands of photographs and personal accounts. A wall of sexual intermediates, a spectrum of gender diversity.
NARRATOR: Ahh, do people mind having their photos up here?
HIRSCHFELD: Look! ancient artefacts!
NARRATOR: I mean, there’s a strip over the eyes but they’re naked.
HIRSCHFELD: A display of miniature boots! Have you ever seen such tiny footwear! Come along, quickly
And this is the clinical space where my colleagues and I meet, examine and interview patiens building up a rich collection of personal narratives, photographs and observations.
NARRATOR: I suppose it’s just strange to think of myself agreeing to be on display at the Gender Identity Clinic so I was just wondering if you co..
HIRSCHFELD: Look at these novelty condoms! A tiny hand on the end of one! Oh, and here we have sex counselling and education. Come and learn about birth control, marriage guidance and sex education.
Now this is something I want to show you. In this box, people are invited to post anonymous questions and then at the fortnightly Questions Evening, I select a few and give my answers. Hmm, now, let’s see what’s in here..
[A wooden drawer opens, papers shuffle]
HIRSCHFELD: Ah-ha! Premature ejaculation. And this one says “the secret to a happy marriage?” Hmm, those are pretty standard.
I’m happy to help them. My aim though is to change the world and I will start by changing the law.
I want to prove that homosexuality is natural.
NARRATOR: Oh! Just like Ulrichs.
HIRSCHFELD: Hmm, no. Unlike Ulrichs, I’m not content to just make up some new words. Although obviously some of mine will stand the test of time. No, I have developed a diagnostic test. If I can diagnose homosexuality then people will see it’s not just natural but also more common than they’d thought.
NARRATOR: But how? What’s the test?
HIRSCHFELD: It’s a long questionnaire I’ve devised. So first I’d ask you about your childhood, then we’d talk about your erotic desires.
NARRATOR: Okay… then what?
HIRSCHFELD: Can you whistle?
[Whistles a tune] like this?
No, a proper whistle with your fingers.
NARRATOR: Oh [clears throat and fails to whistle, raspberry sounds] No.
HIRSCHFELD: Hmm, interesting. You do sound like a homosexual. Now, let me feel your handshake to check how firm it is.
NARRATOR: Okay, I’m sorry. Whistling? Handshakes? These are just stereotypes!
HIRSCHFELD: Yah, it’s not perfect but essentially, if you come to take the test to see if you are homosexual, then you are most likely homosexual. But, for some people, a diagnosis is very affirming.
We can laugh at the handshake thing but, say you have a young man who’s always been teased and called names, told to toughen up and then he is diagnosed,
everything for him will click into place.
This is the way he is. He can’t help it or change it. And likewise with trans people. We issued Transvestitenpässe which enabled a person to wear the clothes they wanted to without getting in trouble with the police.
I supported Lili Elbe, you know “The Danish Girl” from the film.
NARRATOR: Suitcase, how does Magnus Hirschfeld of 1930 know about The Danish Girl?
SUITCASE: ..Well, um.. I can explain that…
HIRSCHFELD: Suitcase just wanted my opinion of Eddie Redmayne’s performance.
NARRATOR: Hold on Suitcase, what was it you said? Oh yeah! “The great responsibility of time travel,” that’s what you said.
SUITCASE: Err, ah… No you’re right, you’re right. I shouldn’t’ve done it.
NARRATOR: Uh huh, I am. You shouldn’t have. SUITCASE: Anyway, what’s done is done. Can’t change it now. Except you could change it.
SUITCASE: Oh, what? And cast a trans woman in a trans role? Oh no, I see what you mean. No, no! Absolutely not. That road is paved with pickles.
SUITCASE: I mean, you try and fix something, but then you have to go back and fix it again. And then someone in 1930 finds a DVD case and you have to go back and get that.
No way! Paved with pickles, as I said.
NARRATOR: Okay, we’ll move on then. Hirschfeld, can I ask you? What do people think about the Institute and your work?
HIRSCHFELD: Well, people are fascinated with our work here, as you can imagine. But we get the odd criticism.
Let me read you this letter from a rival scientist.
HIRSCHFELD: It’s a load of nonsense, listen to this –
[Sound of paper unfolding]
HIRSCHFELD: “I say, the Institute is not really scientific. It serves 1) to generate income, 2) to exploit people 3) to seduce young people on the cusp of sexual development who would otherwise develop normally”
What the fuck is normally, you know? “and 4) to match make” [blows a raspberry]
SUITCASE: What a load Redmayne.
NARRATOR: That’s completely ridiculous. That bit about seducing young people who would “otherwise develop normally” is interesting.
We were talking with Ulrichs about Section 28 and it’s similar, the idea that, as long as you don’t tell young people about anything queer then we’ll all quote-unquote “develop normally”
NARRATOR: in other words be cis and straight.
HIRSCHFELD: Yuh, there is no logic to it at all. If we are making people gay or trans by telling them that gay and trans people exist, how did previous generations turn out to be gay or trans?
It makes me absolutely livid. In my career, I have seen far too many lives lost to shame and guilt. Someone, a patient, mentioned me at the end of the last note he would ever write. He said “the thought that you could contribute to a future when the German fatherland will think of us in more just terms sweetens the hour of my death.”
NARRATOR: Wow. That’s really powerful.
HIRSCHFELD: Yuh, it’s why I do what I do. It’s the reason for all of this.
NARRATOR: Mmm, can I ask? Why was the Institute accused of match making?
SUITCASE: Because people are idiots?
HIRSCHFELD: Well, I suppose our parties have become quite famous. We have had some wonderful parties here. Masked balls, costume parties, soirees, dances. All of us – clinicians, patients, visitors, staff.
NARRATOR: Hold on, what? Patients and doctors partying together?
HIRSCHFELD: Yah! Absolutely! It’s a riot.
NARRATOR: I can’t imagine anything worse than being at a party at the Gender Identity Clinic! Just sounds really weird to me.
HIRSCHFELD: Yah, well perhaps you wouldn’t have been invited anyway. Because not all patients are, you know? Some of our patients, for instance, have been employed at the Institute as housekeepers, cleaners and domestic workers.
NARRATOR: I don’t want to be the cleaner either! I just like a really simple, straightforward boundary when it comes to doctors.
HIRSCHFELD: Yah, but what if your doctor is also your friend?
NARRATOR: I’m not friends with my doctors.
HIRSCHFELD: But everyone knows me from out and about in the clubs.
It’s an open secret that I am gay myself. Of course there’s going to be a cross over between my work and my social life.
NARRATOR: I don’t know… I mean, maybe there shouldn’t be.
HIRSCHFELD: What? I should just stay in? [laughs] I could not do this possibly! All my subjects would be so sad. Waiting for me to come out into the club. Look, come on, let’s us three go out dancing.
NARRATOR: W-w-w [laughs], sorry… you what?
HIRSCHFELD: You have come to visit Berlin in 1930. It would be absolutely remiss of me if I didn’t take you out to see the sights.
[The sound of rain and a busy city street]
[The sound of knocking on a door]
[The door creaks open, revealing the sound of party goers within]
HIRSCHFELD: [raises his voice above the music] Welcome to The Eldorado Club!
CLUB HOST: Welcome Dr Hirschfeld!
NARRATOR: Wow! Look at this place!
HIRSCHFELD: Over there, It’s the wonderful Miss Eldorado, famous for ending her drag act by throwing her breasts at the orchestra!
CLUB GO-ER 1 Dr Hirschfeld! Leibling! [smooches]
HIRSCHFELD: And over here you can buy a ticket to dance with what we call a taxi dancer – it’s a man in feminine clothing.
CLUB GO-ER 2 You buying a ticket Dr Hirschfeld?
HIRSCHFELD: Mmm, not tonight, thank you very much.
Now you see those girls in monocles and dinner jackets? Aren’t they wonderful?
Oh, yeah! This place is amazing. I want to try on a monocle.
HIRSCHFELD: You’re such a little twink. I can see quite a few heads turning this way.
It appears you have a bit of a fan club Narrator!
NARRATOR: [Laughs coyly]
See, I met a charming young man here in back in 1907 and we danced, and we talked, and we watched the shows. He was very interested in my work with transvestites. He went back to America and is doing such good work there.
You should talk to him, his name is Harry Benjamin. I’ll write it down for you.
SUITCASE: Oh! We will go to him next. Thanks again Magnus.
NARRATOR: We’re leaving already? We don’t have to leave now though do we Suitcase? We can stay for the cabaret at least?
SUITCASE: I’m afraid not, it’s been said now, our path’s been set. It’s a wormhole technicality.
NARRATOR: [Sighs] Fine, whatever. Thanks for the tour Dr Hirschfeld, I’m sorry we couldn’t stay longer.
HIRSCHFELD: That’s okay, you can always come back and visit me.
SUITCASE: Ehhh, paid for pickles. Take care Magnus. Seriously. Take care.
HIRSCHFELD: I will do!
♪ Musical flourish ♪
[Mechanical sounds. Time travel whoosh]
NARRATOR: What happens next there, I mean, I know the war’s coming…
SUITCASE: In 1932 they’ll ban same sex couples from dancing together and the Eldorado and clubs like it will be shut down.
A year later soldiers will take the books out of the Institute and burn them in the street. Hirschfeld had left, to travel and collect artefacts. He got out just in time.
NARRATOR: “Just in time”, were you to do with that Suitcase?
SUITCASE: Oh, he saw the signs. He had the means to get away so took his opportunity. You know, that Danish Girl thing, that’s the small stuff.
Eddie Redmayne’s insignificant, it doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. The responsibility of time travel is being in the the Eldorado Club, seeing all those people,
SUITCASE: and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to save them.
NARRATOR: Can we not go back? We could warn everyone!
SUITCASE: We can’t.
NARRATOR: But what can we do? We can’t just do nothing.
SUITCASE: We can only change things in our present. That’s our responsibility. So as we head closer to your present, all we can do is take these lessons from history.
NARRATOR: What do they say? Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.
SUITCASE: Exactly. I was interested in your reaction to the Institute. I thought you’d have been really excited by it.
NARRATOR: I was, in that it was really exciting to see how progressive it was for a hundred years ago. but some aspects made me feel really uncomfortable.
The parties especially. It’s so open to abuse of power. A patient wants something from their doctor, right? Say a diagnosis or to access medical interventions.
There isn’t equal power in that relationship, so I think it needs really clear boundaries.
SUITCASE: Say you were at a party and you met a physiotherapist who you’d seen about a sore shoulder, could you talk to them?
NARRATOR: Yeah, why not?
SUITCASE: So what’s the difference between a gender doctor and a shoulder doctor? The criticisms of Hirschfeld are similar to criticisms some doctors who work with trans people in modern times have faced.
That they’re too friendly. Too kind, not objective enough.
It’s almost as if society would prefer trans people seeking diagnosis to have particularly harsh treatment.
NARRATOR: Okay, but that’s not what I’m saying. I don’t want harsh treatment but I also don’t want to dance with my doctor and I don’t expect to be able to pick up testosterone at Tescos.
I just want to be treated properly. You know? I bet there were people who went along to the parties just to get treated.
SUITCASE: Maybe there were. What would be so terrible about being able to buy hormones at Tescos?
NARRATOR: Well, you have to have some sort of control or everybody would be taking it.
SUITCASE: Would they? Do you really think so? Why would they?
NARRATOR: Um… I don’t know. Maybe they wouldn’t.
SUITCASE: It reminds me of the homosexuality test. If you are seeking a diagnosis for being trans, doesn’t that suggest you are trans?
SUITCASE: Look, let’s come back to this conversation after we’ve met Harry Benjamin.
NARRATOR: Okay! 1950s America here we come!
SUITCASE: Mmm, don’t be disappointed. Benjamin’s coming to us.
NARRATOR: Oh… where?
SUITCASE: Well, remember you made that joke about a pub in Croydon?
NARRATOR: Ugh, no. Why?
SUITCASE: Well, he’s got his friend Kinsey with him and they really like a two for one meal deal.
[Time travel whoosh]
BENJAMIN: Are you going to have pudding?
KINSEY: Is it in the deal? Uh…
BENJAMIN: Well, not if you want profiteroles, which I do, but then I didn’t have the starter, so y’know.
KINSEY: Oh, so if you have a starter, what pudding can you have? Uh…
BENJAMIN: Ugh, how many times! I mean it depends if your main course was on the lunchtime deal or not.
BENJAMIN: Oh hello!
BENJAMIN: I’m Harry. Harry Benjamin and this is Alfred Kinsey.
KINSEY: Oh hi, hello there. You might know me from the Kinsey Scale. Please, take a seat.
BENJAMIN: Oh yes, please, please. Come and sit down. So lovely to see you! I’m guessing Magnus sent you?
I was really inspired by his work. Particularly his compassion for his patients. When I was working in America anything seen as homosexuality was illegal.
Say you spoke to most doctors about cross dressing, for example, that could be enough to find you committed to an asylum.
KINSEY: Yeah, you know I tried to change attitudes with my scale. I said at the time “The World is not to be divided into sheep and goats”
In other words, people are not just homosexual or heterosexual but it’s a scale or spectrum.
BENJAMIN: Yeah, exactly! And that was great for challenging the law. We could say “Okay, you say this is illegal, what about these people? Where are you going to draw the line?”
My own work drew on Ulrichs and Hirschfeld. I was arguing that people don’t choose to be cross dressers, or gay, for example. So how can you legislate against it?
And then one day Kinsey here introduced me to someone, a young person, who would have a profound effect on me and my work.
KINSEY: Mmm, that’s right. I’d been contacted by a mother seeking help with her child.
The child was born a boy but said she was a girl. Harry and I had seen nothing like this before, had we Harry?
KINSEY: The mother, she said, my child is a girl and I want to support her.
NARRATOR: That’s fantastic.
NARRATOR: When was this?
KINSEY: Oh, it was 1948.
NARRATOR: Wow, we met a wonderful Mum from Ancient Greece recently. Sounds really similar.
BENJAMIN: Lots of my colleagues were against treating the child. I mean, this was a difficult case for all of us. I’d only ever worked with adults who I’d diagnosed with transvestism but I could see right away that we needed a new word, so I coined the term “transsexual” and made a scale of my own that went from transvestite through to true transsexual.
NARRATOR: Uh, hold on, hold on. Sorry but, how did you decide who was a true transsexual?
BENJAMIN: Ahh, very good question, yeah. Thanks for asking, so! Really it was just through talking to my patients.Patterns started to emerge.
So if say someone said that they’d always felt like a girl for as long as they could remember, that would put them further along the scale.
NARRATOR: Okay but, didn’t you ever think people just said whatever they thought you needed to hear to diagnose them?
BENJAMIN: No doubt some people did.
NARRATOR: Okay, so why was it so important to categorise people anyway?
BENJAMIN: Oh it was vital that we could diagnose correctly because we’d begun medical interventions on specific patients. We had to be as sure as we could be that we were operating on
the right people, those at the transsexual end of the scale. Notably one of my most famous patients, Christine Jorgensen.
KINSEY: Shall I go up and ask about the pudding situation, Harry?
BENJAMIN: [Sighs] Listen Kinsey, just to be clear – I am not sharing my profiteroles again, okay?
BENJAMIN: Just saying. Well, I specifically didn’t have a starter so I could get a pudding in the deal. I mean, I’ve told you before. Honestly!
KINSEY: It’s very confusing, you know?
BENJAMIN: Maybe you should make a pudding scale. At one end profiteroles, at the other end jelly. All the other choices in between. Maybe that would help you Kinsey?
BENJAMIN: I’m just saying, you’re good at scales. You know?
SUITCASE: We’ll leave you to it. Thanks very much, both of you.
NARRATOR: Yes thank you. Hope you get your puddings!
[Mechanical sounds. Time travel whoosh]
NARRATOR: Alright so I like the Kinsey Scale, I mean I like that it made people think about spectrums rather than a binary but I can’t get on with the “true transsexual scale”, you know?
NARRATOR: We still have that sort of stuff today. Nowadays loads of people draw very strict lines between trans people, drag and crossdressers.
We have these super strict boundaries but reverse time a bit and these communities were a lot tighter together. I’m thinking about Pose on TV or back further, in the 60s, the Stonewall riots.
Drag queens and trans women were interchangeable terms for a lot of those people. I’m thinking of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson.
NARRATOR: And maybe the push in favour of medicalising had a lot to do with classism, wanting to draw a line and say “no I’mnot like those people”
I suppose there’s also a fight for legitimacy. And also I’ve been thinking about Christine Jorgensen.
NARRATOR: She’d be at the end of that scale. A true transsexual. It’s no surprise that she was a blonde, white woman you know? It’s not neutral.
SUITCASE: Mmm, no more scales!
NARRATOR: I wonder if we have our own personal scale though, whether we like it or not. Like, speaking only for myself but… on TV documentaries, sometimes I end up watching them and sort of subconsciously rate who passes and who doesn’t.
NARRATOR: And it sucks! I mean, take how most people think of transition as this sort of linear model.
They think when you’ve had all the surgeries, when you get to the end, then you are finally finished. You’re done. I mean, that’s like a scale.
So people talk about pre op and post op. And that’s why we have this whole detransition narrative.
“Now I’m going back this way”
Where as actually it might be someone going forwards towards finding themselves.
So maybe it isn’t that I don’t want scales, I just don’t want other people’s scales imposed on me.
SUITCASE: I totally get what you’re saying. Especially about the internalised transphobia. But I just don’t know how someone like Benjamin could have worked without a scale you know?
Without criteria. The whole thing was so precarious. As he said, a cross dresser could find themselves committed to an asylum, being gay was illegal. He had to get it right, he was taking a personal risk.
I’d imagine a court case could have brought the whole thing tumbling down and stopped treatment for everyone.
NARRATOR: I see what you mean about risk but why does the doctor have to take all the responsibility?
I mean, there’s a strong argument for informed consent, right? If we could just be given the information, then we can take the responsibility.
SUITCASE: Ahhh, like the testosterone in Tescos?
NARRATOR: [Laughs] Thank you Suitcase, I’m aware I’m now arguing for the complete opposite to what I was before.
SUITCASE: But none of it is simple. You know, on the one hand, why do you need someone to tell you who you are? On the other hand remember what Hirschfeld said? A diagnosis can be very reassuring, affirming even for some people.
NARRATOR: A friend of mine said once that for him, having a diagnosis meant he could tell his family. Like it was a medical thing, so it made sense to them then.
SUITCASE: I wanted to say something else about Christine Jorgensen. As you say, she was a white, cis normative woman and in the 1950s, as you can imagine, there was intense media interest in her.
For thousands of trans people around the world though, she became a possibility model.
NARRATOR: A possibility model?
SUITCASE: It’s a phrase coined by Laverne Cox. In 2007, Laverne Cox watched a trans actor, Candis Cayne on TV and later described how at that moment she knew she could be an openly
She said “that possibility model shifted my belief system.” And of course, now Laverne Cox herself is a possibility model as a Black trans woman actor, watched by millions and so it goes on.
NARRATOR: It’s just like the Greek myths. Something you only dreamed of and then you find out that it can actually happen.
SUITCASE: Exactly! Something you only dreamed of and then you find out it can actually happen.
NARRATOR: I’d like to thank our guests, Ulrichs, Hirschfeld, Benjamin and Kinsey.
Please join us next time when I’ll be interviewing trans elders from my time.
NARRATOR: Suitcase, do you have a possibility model?
SUITCASE: Well, there have been plenty of pieces of luggage that I’ve admired over the years.
I remember when I first saw a suitcase with a telescopic handle and wheels. [Whistles] Game changer.
NARRATOR: [Laughs] I meant more in terms of time travel?
SUITCASE: Oh that. Well, as far as time travel goes, I AM the possibility model. Hold onto your handbag! Now it’s seen me it might just jump down a wormhole and end up in the middle ages.
NARRATOR: [Laughs] Okay, seriously though, are there other pieces of luggage that can travel through time?
SUITCASE: You know when people’s cases go missing after a flight?
SUITCASE: Ahhh, actually no. As far as I have observed, it’s just me and a load of phone chargers.
NARRATOR: Wait, what?
SUITCASE: Well you know what they’re like! You buy a phone charger, use it a couple of times and then off it goes to have a poke around the court of Elizabeth the First and you never see it again!
SUITCASE: Do you know one time I was there, it was … [Voice fades out]
♪ We turn time around ♪
♪ It’s our time ♪
Adventures in Time and Gender was developed with trans and non-binary young people.
Written by Jason Barker, with additional dialogue by the cast and crew.
Directed by Krishna Istha.
Sound by Jo Jackson.
Music and lyrics by The Mollusc Dimension.
In episode one of Adventures in Time and Gender, Sam Crerar was the Narrator, Emma Frankland was the Suitcase.
Elijah W Harris was Ulrichs.
Tallulah Haddon was Magnus Hirschfeld.
Amelia Stubberfield was Harry Benjamin.
Fox Fisher was Alfred Kinsey.
The Foley Mixer was Sophia Hardman.
The Foley Artist was Oli Ferris.
The re-recorded mixer was Candela Palencia.
Backing vocals and harmony by Wild.
This podcast is funded by the Wellcome Trust and was made in collaboration with the Rethinking Sexology Team at the University of Exeter and Gendered Intelligence.
For further adventures and more wormholes to explore, please visit AdventuresInTimeandGender.org
Or join the conversation on #TRANSTHRUTIME
[Time travel whoosh]