5. Androgyny was all the rage as young people defined the gender norms and enjoyed shocking older conservatives through their dress and behavior
In the dance halls and cabaret clubs of Weimar Germany, some of the most popular acts were male and female impersonators. Cross-dressing was huge as people of all ages and from all social backgrounds made the most of their new-found freedom and experimented with their fashion and sexuality. Indeed, at almost every party you might expect to find women dressed in top hats and tails or men in cocktail dresses, as well as intersex individuals known as hermaphrodites.
Cross-dressing was legal in Berlin during the Weimar years. But that didn’t mean all sections of society accepted it. As such, it was largely restricted to clubs, bars and other private venues. However, it was hardly a secret phenomenon. In respectable magazines and newspapers, adverts specifically aimed at the cross-dressing community were regularly on display, promising everything from plus-size elegant gowns to wigs and other accessories. What’s more, cross-dressing prostitutes were also all the rage, and many were well-known celebrities on the cabaret circuit and charged huge amounts for their company.
Almost from the very start of the Weimar Republic, cross-dressing went from being seen as an unhealthy perversion to something to be understood and even celebrated. In 1919, Dr Magnus Hirschfeld opened the Institute for Sexual Science, a truly revolutionary organisation. He not only offered counselling to both female and male crossdressers but carried out pioneering research into this area of human sexuality. Moreover, Dr Hirschfeld offered hormone treatments, helping, for instance, men become more feminine or women more masculine. He also pioneered some of the earliest gender reassignment surgeries.
The Institute for Sexual Science helped make German society more tolerant of cross-dressers. It issued âtransvestite passes’, to be shown to the police to prove that a person was not perverted or a deviant. This meant that crossdressers and intersex performers could work and walk the streets without fear of harassment – though, of course, the reality was not everyone in Berlin was so progressive and understanding as Dr Hirschfeld and his colleagues.