N. O. Body Memoirs of a Man's Maiden Years

ISBN 13: 9780812220612

Memoirs of a Man's Maiden Years

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9780812220612: Memoirs of a Man's Maiden Years

"I was born a boy, raised as a girl. . . . One may raise a healthy boy in as womanish a manner as one wishes, and a female creature in as mannish; never will this cause their senses to remain forever reversed."

So writes the pseudonymous N. O. Body, born in 1884 with ambiguous genitalia and assigned a female identity in early infancy. Brought up as a girl, "she" nevertheless asserted stereotypical male behavior from early on. In the end, it was a passionate love affair with a married woman that brought matters to a head. Desperately confused, suicidally depressed, and in consultation with Magnus Hirschfeld, one of the most eminent and controversial sexologists of the day, "she" decided to become "he."

Originally published in 1907 and now available for the first time in English, Memoirs of a Man's Maiden Years describes a childhood and youth in Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany that is shaped by bourgeois attitudes and stifled by convention. It is, at the same time, a book startlingly charged with sexuality. Yet, however frank the memoirist may be about matters physical or emotional, Hermann Simon reveals in his afterword the full extent of the lengths to which N. O. Body went to hide not just his true name but a second secret, his Jewish identity. And here, Sander L. Gilman suggests in his brilliant preface, may lie the crucial hint to solving the real riddle of the ambiguously gendered N. O. Body.

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From the Publisher:

N. O. Body was the pseudonym of Karl M. Baer, the director of the Berlin B'nai B'rith until his emigration from Germany in 1938. He died in Israel in 1956. Sander L. Gilman is Distinguished Professor of the Arts and Sciences at Emory University. He is the author of more than seventy books, including Jewish Self-Hatred and Smoking: A Global History of Smoking (coedited with Zhou Xun). Dr. Hermann Simon is the director of the Neue Synagoge Berlin-Centrum Judaicum Foundation and is the coauthor and coeditor of Jews in Berlin. Deborah Simon is a teacher of English and translation studies at Humboldt University, Berlin.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Whose Body is it anyway? Hermaphrodites, Gays, and Jews in N. O. Body's Germany
Sander L. Gilman

"N.O. Body" is a most appropriate pseudonym for Karl M. Baer (1885-1956) to have used when he sat down to pen his autobiography, which appeared in 1907. For being "nobody" was his way of seeing his body: it was neither male nor female. It was doubly foreign ("nobody" is English rather than German) as it was Jewish as well as German. This is how he imagined his past life raised as a woman, Martha Baer, in a Jewish family in Imperial Germany. But it is "nobody" that Odysseus tricks the Cyclops to answering when asked who has harmed him—"Who has hurt you?" "Nobody," the blinded giant responds. In his autobiography Baer is simultaneously the clever trickster but also the damaged giant.

On its surface Baer's autobiography is a remarkable fin-de-siècle document of "hermaphrodism," as the Berlin sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) notes in his afterword. Its subject suffered from false gender assignment because of the apparent ambiguity of his genitalia as an infant. He was registered and treated as a "female" child rather than a "male" child, an error of assignment that became evident only with puberty. He was a "pseudohermaphrodite," to use the terminology of the day, as his body was hormonally and psychologically gendered male, even though his genitalia seemed at first glance ambiguous. Sex was defined by the appearance of the body and was dimorphic—there were men and women. Any one who was neither or both was seen as pathological.

The central argue of the autobiography is expressed on its opening page: "one may raise a healthy boy in as womanish manner as one wishes and a female creature in as mannish; never will this cause their senses to remain forever reversed." No confusion about gender can exist except, as is the case here, through the fuzzy ineptitude of the physician who at Baer's birth in 1885 (not 1884 as in the text) stated that "on superficial inspection the shape makes a feminine appearance, ergo we have a girl before us." But the autobiography shows that this was never the case. Baer was always a male, even when treated as a female. As Hirschfeld notes in his afterward: "the sex of a person lies more in his mind than in his body." For Baer there was no ambiguity in his sense of discomfort as a woman caused by the outward appearance of his genitalia. His desires were "male"—from the games he wished to play to the women with whom he fell in love. But he had been assigned the gender role of a woman, which made his masculine desire seem "perverse" to him. The argument of the autobiography is that male children, however raised or treated, remain masculine in their intrinsic identity. This was very much against the tendency of the time and again against the practice of the late twentieth century. Today this sounds extraordinarily prescient.

After the 1960s gender reassignment surgery of children with "ambiguous genitalia" followed the view of scientists such as the Johns Hopkins psychologist John Money who argued that it was culture not nature that defined gender. It became usual to alter the external genitalia of babies with ambiguous sexuality to the female because of its greater surgical simplicity. These children were treated with hormones and raised as females. Over the past decade a substantial literature argues that Baer and Hirschfeld were right and Money was wrong. Gender is imprinted in as well as on the body; "anatomy is not destiny." The primary case used by Money as his proof of the successful raising of a boy as a girl was that of David Reimer (known in popular culture as the case of John and Joan). He was one of two identical twins, whose botched circumcision in 1967 lead to the amputation of his penis at eight months and his being raised as a girl. Money announced this as proof that culture was the sole determinant of gender. At 25 Reimer demanded to have his sexual identity as a man reconstituted. He had always felt himself to be male even in his culturally and hormonally reinforced role as a woman. By the early 21st century he had become a media darling, appearing on "Oprah." In May 2004, he committed suicide at the age of 38. His death was read as proof of how wrong Money was.

Reimer's life rebutted, as the first major reassessment of the case noted, the primary assumptions that every one is psychosexually neutral at birth, and that all healthy psychosexual development is dependent upon the appearance of the genitals. This view, espoused by Money, argued from a set of assumption based on the existence of hermaphrodites. He assumed they were ungendered at birth. But who are these undifferentiated hermaphrodites? Do they not have a gendered identity from the very beginning of their lives? But is not their understanding of the meaning of gender also shaped by the historical world in which they are born? Certainly this was the case for the world of the five-year old "Martha" (Karl) Baer, who like Reimer, much preferred the games and toys of boys to those of girls even though the world treated him as it would a little girl.

The publication of Baer's autobiography in Germany is part of a fixation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century with this surprisingly malleable category of the "hermaphrodite." The "freakish" body, the body whose physiology did not reflect societal norms, has always fascinated European culture. From Petronius' representation in his Satyricon of hermaphrodites in first-century Rome to Velazquez's dwarf center stage in the Spanish court portrait of Las Meninas (1656) to the fantasies about sexual desire in Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), Europeans have stressed physical difference as a manner of defining the ever-changing boundaries of the "normal" and "healthy" body. Central to all of these representations was the need to "see" the physical difference of the body. Difference had to be physical even if the fascination was with the unseeable (and in these terms unknowable) aspects of what makes human beings different. Thus ruminating about sexual desire and practices, such as homosexuality, which was in the process of becoming the subject of the medical gaze in the nineteenth century, did not have the same empirical claim as observing physical difference, such as that of the hermaphrodite.

In the late nineteenth century there was an explosion of autobiographical accounts of sexual difference that attempted to translate a fascination with behavioral or social aspects of sexual difference into physiological terms. One of the central metaphors for this difference was that of the "hermaphrodite." Virtually all of these attempts were cast as part of a new "medical" (or "forensic") attempt to understand the psyche of "perversion." Homosexuals could only be judged by their acts; there seemed to be no way of "seeing" their difference in contrast to the healthy, normal body. How could one identify the homosexual? Could he (and at this point the pervert was always male) be as visible as the hermaphrodite? In a medical model the homosexual were inherently different from the healthy, heterosexual, but was this difference an intrinsic one or could any one be or become homosexual?

In the 1860s the German lawyer Karl Ulrichs provided an alternative model for a nonjudgmental account of "uranism" or homosexuality. He hoped this would free the homosexual from the moral and/or medical taint that accompanied any representation of "perverse" sexual attraction and/or activity in the evolving medical model. He sought to defuse the legal status of the homosexual as sexual criminal while avoiding the medicalization of homosexuality as a perversion. One can add that liberals such as Richard Kraft-Ebbing in his 1886 Psychopathia Sexualis also wished to free the homosexual from the charges of criminal sexual activity or moral depravity by medicalizing it and thus providing therapy rather that prison as the alternative. Ulrichs' argument was that the homosexual (and his references are exclusively to male same sex desire and activity) was a "third sex," a natural alternative to the "two" sexes, male and female.

By the end of the century physicians such as Magnus Hirschfeld applied the model of the third sex and sought a biological rather than a theoretical model. Of special interest to Hirschfeld were thus the "intermediate cases" of sexuality, the model for which was the hermaphrodite, who according to these accounts was both female and male and thus neither male nor female.

Hirschfeld and the sexologists of the 1890s found it necessary to turn to the broader medical audience as well as the broader public with case material to prove their argument. While Michel Foucault had to excavate his famous mid-nineteenth century case of the nineteenth-century French hermaphrodite Herculine Barbin from the Parisian archives of the Department of Public Health, it is much less difficult to find analogous cases of sexual difference in Germany after the 1890s. This literature explodes in the medical literature of the day and it seeps into general public discourse quite quickly. Thus the autobiographical literature on homosexuality, cast in the model of the "third sex" uses the hermaphrodite as its concrete analogy for German consumption. Thus the pioneer (and long lived) sexologist Havelock Ellis published the first volume of his studies on sexuality collaboratively with the writer John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) in Germany in 1896. Symonds' autobiographical account of "this question of Greek love in modern life" was the core of this work, which was published only the next year in Great Britain to the horror of his friends. Among other texts Ellis included is a detailed summary of "Ulrichs's Views" on homosexuality as an appendix to the German original (and anonymously in subsequent English editions.

By 1900 there were hundreds of autobiographical accounts of sexual "anomalies," including hermaphrodism, available in the technical literature and some in the more popular literature. Magnus Hirschfeld's volume on "Berlin's Third Sex," with massive citations from autobiographies, appeared as volume three in the original urban sociological series of Metropolitan Documents, widely sold in German bookstores prior to WWI. This series, edited by Hans Ostwald, formed the basis for much of the urban sociological studies of social groups in the 1910s and beyond. Most, like the Hirschfeld and the Ellis volume, cut and pasted these into "scientific" discourses about sexual difference as first-hand "proofs" of the nature of sexual difference. Here the hermaphrodite constantly served as the model for sexual difference. The "third sex" was like the hermaphrodite in that it was to be found in nature.

This notion that the hermaphrodite can serve as the model for an understanding of male homosexuality is not merely an idiosyncrasy of the turn of the century. Michel Foucault writes in his History of Sexuality that: "homosexuality appeared as one of the forms of sexuality when it was transposed from the practice of sodomy into a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphrodism of the soul. The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species." This takes place in the 1890s, the world in which Karl Baer lived.

As a literary trope the modern notion of hermaphrodism as metaphor for the impermanence of sexual dimorphism takes place at the same time. In 1891 we find a "magic seed" in Archibald Ganter and Fergus Redmond's novel (and then a remarkable successful play) A Florida Enchantment that transforms the protagonist and her servant into men. But Victorian and early twentieth-century erotica often turned on the confusion of sexual roles whether in the form of androgynous characters or transvestism. Thus in "Frank" and I the reader discovers that the "female" lover of a young man turns out to be male and Miss High-Heels the hero Dennis Evelyn Beryl is transformed by his sister into a woman. Such purposeful sexual confusion is also at the core of Agatha Christie's early novel The Man in the Brown Suit (1924). It is, of course, only in 1928 with Virginia Woolf's Orlando that the full promise of the metaphor of hermaphrodism for the instability of sexuality identity is played out. After that it becomes a commonplace in the literature of the twentieth century.

In Germany, as in the rest of Europe, there had been a steady stream of medical studies interested in hermaphrodism throughout the nineteenth century. But it is with Magnus Hirschfeld's work in 1890s the model character of homosexuality was stressed in such studies. By then the hermaphrodite had become, not only a model for, but also the etiology of, homosexuality. At the beginning of the twentieth century Hirschfield published a long series of essays by Franz von Neugebauer (1856-1914) in his Yearbook of Sexual Intermediate Stages in the 1900s.

Neugebauer was the most important commentator on the biological nature of hermaphrodism within Hirschfeld's model during this period. He argued that all children were born "bisexual" and that homosexuality was an inherent quality of brain development. But he was also convinced that women who appeared to be male were less likely to have truly bisexual characteristic that a man who desired to appear as a woman. (The rationale is clear: why would a high status individual such as a male desire to be a low status individual such as a woman. The reverse is clear: there is a social advantage to the latter but never to the former.) A gynecologist in Warsaw and chief of staff at the Evangelical Hospital there, Neugebauer had systematically collected "930 observations of hermaphrodism in human beings; 38 of these were cases which had come under my own observation, and the rest I found dispersed in ancient and modern literature." In his work he rethought the nosology of hermaphrodism. However following Hirschfeld's model, he also understood to the social consequences of such biological categorization. He clearly links hermaphrodism and homosexuality, as does Baer's image of the childhood sexual exploration and his young adult sense that he might be a lesbian: "It occurred to me alone, that I perhaps felt in that way." As Neugebauer argued this is not an unusual sense of sexual confusion:

The male or female character of the genetic sense of pseudohermaphrodites depends very often on the sort of environment in which they are brought up, that is to say, upon whether they are educated as boys or girls; it must be set down entirely to the influence of suggestion if a male hermaphrodite, owing to mistaken sex brought up as a girl, afterwards shows a feminine genetic sense, seeks to attract men and betrays perverse homosexual inclinations, and if when the mistake in sex is discovered he energetically opposes every attempt to make him abandon girls' petticoats, their way of life, and his feminine predilections and occupations, and if he declines to assume male attire and change his social position, and appear in future as a man. Such homosexual inclinations acquired by suggestion have in some cases been only temporary, and the male, though brought up by mistake as a female, has, sooner or later, recognized his virility, and has not hesi...

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N.O. Body
Editorial: University of Pennsylvania Press, United States (2009)
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Descripción University of Pennsylvania Press, United States, 2009. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. I was born a boy, raised as a girl. . . . One may raise a healthy boy in as womanish a manner as one wishes, and a female creature in as mannish; never will this cause their senses to remain forever reversed. So writes the pseudonymous N. O. Body, born in 1884 with ambiguous genitalia and assigned a female identity in early infancy. Brought up as a girl, she nevertheless asserted stereotypical male behavior from early on. In the end, it was a passionate love affair with a married woman that brought matters to a head. Desperately confused, suicidally depressed, and in consultation with Magnus Hirschfeld, one of the most eminent and controversial sexologists of the day, she decided to become he. Originally published in 1907 and now available for the first time in English, Memoirs of a Man s Maiden Years describes a childhood and youth in Kaiser Wilhelm s Germany that is shaped by bourgeois attitudes and stifled by convention. It is, at the same time, a book startlingly charged with sexuality. Yet, however frank the memoirist may be about matters physical or emotional, Hermann Simon reveals in his afterword the full extent of the lengths to which N. O. Body went to hide not just his true name but a second secret, his Jewish identity. And here, Sander L. Gilman suggests in his brilliant preface, may lie the crucial hint to solving the real riddle of the ambiguously gendered N. O. Body. Nº de ref. de la librería AAJ9780812220612

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N.O. Body
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Descripción University of Pennsylvania Press, United States, 2009. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. I was born a boy, raised as a girl. . . . One may raise a healthy boy in as womanish a manner as one wishes, and a female creature in as mannish; never will this cause their senses to remain forever reversed. So writes the pseudonymous N. O. Body, born in 1884 with ambiguous genitalia and assigned a female identity in early infancy. Brought up as a girl, she nevertheless asserted stereotypical male behavior from early on. In the end, it was a passionate love affair with a married woman that brought matters to a head. Desperately confused, suicidally depressed, and in consultation with Magnus Hirschfeld, one of the most eminent and controversial sexologists of the day, she decided to become he. Originally published in 1907 and now available for the first time in English, Memoirs of a Man s Maiden Years describes a childhood and youth in Kaiser Wilhelm s Germany that is shaped by bourgeois attitudes and stifled by convention. It is, at the same time, a book startlingly charged with sexuality. Yet, however frank the memoirist may be about matters physical or emotional, Hermann Simon reveals in his afterword the full extent of the lengths to which N. O. Body went to hide not just his true name but a second secret, his Jewish identity. And here, Sander L. Gilman suggests in his brilliant preface, may lie the crucial hint to solving the real riddle of the ambiguously gendered N. O. Body. Nº de ref. de la librería AAJ9780812220612

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N. O. Body (author), Deborah Simon (translator), Sander L. Gilman (preface), Hermann Simon (afterword)
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