Psychopathia Sexualis – Trans issues in 1906

By , April 7, 2012 1:56 pm

“If, in cases of antipathic sexual instinct [homosexuality] thus developed, no restoration occurs, then deep and lasting transformation of the physical personality may occur. The process completing itself in this way ma be briefly designated eviration (defemination in women). The patient undergoes a deep change of character, particularly in his feelings and inclinations, which thus become those of a female. After this, he also feels himself to be a woman during the sexual act, has desires only for passive sexual indulgence, and, under certain circumstances, sinks to the level of a prostitute.”

From Psychopathia Sexualis by Richard von Krafft-Ebing, 12th edition, originally published in 1906, page 297

I just came across this book in a used book store, and of course had to purchase it. Of its approximately 600 pages, almost 150 of them are devoted to “antipathic sexual instinct” (homosexuality), “metamorphosis sexualis paranoia” (trans inclinations), androgyny, and the like. Quick note for the stuff I’m quoting, parentheses () are in the original text, while brackets [] are my notes. From a case study:

At the age of twelve or thirteen, I had a definite feeling of preferring to be a young lady. A young lady’s form was more pleasing to me; her quiet manner, her deportment, but particularly her attire attracted me. But I was careful not to allow this to be noticed; and yet I am sure that I should not have shrunk from the castration-knife could I have thus attained my desire….In my heart I always envied them [girls].

On account of unhappy circumstances, I twice attempted suicide.”

Ibid, page 307 and 309 from an account written in 1890

Sounds like my experiences, and the experiences of lots of other trans women, fifty years before the word “transsexual” was coined. And so, of course, the author describes her (using male pronouns) as “badly tainted.” Heaven forbid such depravity be allowed to spread! From another case study:

“[By age 36] the small talk of the ladies visiting her about love, toilet, finery, fashions, domestic and servants’ affairs disgusted her. She felt mortified at being a woman. She could not even make up her mind again to look in the mirror. She loathed combing her hair and making her toilet. Much to the surprise of her own people her hitherto soft and decidedly feminine features assumed a strongly masculine character, so much that she gave the impression of being a man clad in female garb. She complained to her trusted physician that her periods had stopped, – in fact, she had nothing to do with such functions. When they recurred again she felt ill-tempered and found the odor of the menstrual flow most nauseating, but definitely refused the use of perfumes, which affected her in a similar unpleasant manner. Pages 325-326

Honestly, some of this sounds more like intersex conditions than being trans, but it’s fascinating that they’re all lumped together in the same sections of the book:

Anthropologically and clinically, this abnormal manifestation [things the author puts under the “homosexuality” umbrella] presents various degrees of development:

1. Traces of hetero-sexual, with predominating homosexual, instinct (psycho-sexual hermaphroditism)
2. There exists inclination only toward the same sex (homo-sexuality)
3. The entire mental existence is altered to correspond with the abnormal sexual instincts (effemination and viraginity)
4. The form of the body approaches that which corresponds to the abnormal sexual instinct. However, actual transitions to hermaphrodites never occur…the cause must be sought in the brain (androgyny and gynandry)

Page 337

This one is particularly awesome:

In the majority of cases [of homo-sexuality], psychical anomalies (brilliant endowment in art, especially music, poetry, etc., by the side of bad intellectural powers or original eccentricity) are present, which may extent to pronounced conditions of mental degeneration. -page 339


Those tainted with it, although recognizing it as an abnormality, claim for it the same rights and privileges that are accorded to normal (hetero-sexual) love, on account of its being based upon a freak of nature. – Page 341

There’s more talk of trans identities under “Effemination”:

In this group are fully developed cases in which males are females in feeling; and vice versa women, males. This abnormality of feeling and development of the character is often apparent in childhood. The boy likes to spend time with girls, play with dolls, and help his mother about the house…as he grows older he eschews smoking, drinking, and manly sports, and, on the contrary, finds pleasure in adornment of persons, art, belle-lettres, etc… – Page 382

There’s even talk of tucking (on page 388) with an “artful bandage.”

The book discusses “sexual inversion in woman,” noting that there is little data but “it would not be fair to draw from this the conclusion that sexual inversion in women is rare” (page 395) because (among other reasons) “it is more difficult to gain the confidence of the sexually perverse woman” and, since “sexual perversity” in women often was legal, there weren’t good records. Yet, the book contains a number of cases of homosexual women, women who (by today’s standards) would probably have considered themselves trans men, and more.

I’m still processing all this ridiculous text, so don’t have any conclusions, but do have some more fun quotes to leave you with:

“Cunnilingus and fellare have not thus far been shown to depend upon psychopathological conditions. These horrible sexual acts seem to be committed only by sensual men who have become satiated or impotent from excessive indulgence in a normal way. Paedicatio mulierum [anal sex] does not seem to be psychopathic, but rather a practice of married men of low morality, who wish to prevent pregnancy, and of satiated cynics in non-marital sexual indulgence.” – page 504

Also, tribadism apparently means scissoring. So that’s a fun word.

One Response to “Psychopathia Sexualis – Trans issues in 1906”

  1. Jadey says:

    tribadism apparently means scissoring

    I much prefer tribadism as the term, for “scissoring” always brings to mind the most uncomfortable image for me.

    The politics of “madness” are fascinating, if not disquieting. A favourite of mine is 125 ways to get admitted to the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, which includes a range of bizarre reasons, many of them gendered. I have no doubt that some of the patients warded here were trans.

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