One of the first trans women came from the Czech border. What has (not) changed in our country since its transition almost 100 years ago?

The road to equal rights (which trans people in many countries – including the Czech Republic – are still far from achieving) has been and remains very winding for the trans community. After all, each country has a different approach to the subject, not to mention different health organizations. So, for example, the American Psychiatric Association decided to remove transsexuality from the list of mental illnesses in 2012, and the World Health Organization did not take the same step as in 2018.

Transition = sterilization?

However, while trans people are already allowed to transition in many countries, what is the subject of relatively heated debate is sterilization. Is it really necessary for a person to undergo invasive surgery just for official (administrative) recognition? This is the condition for confirming the transition, respectively. for this “magical” transcription of sex in documents, in many countries. Of course, there are already progressive countries whose governments have recognized this as nonsense – for example, Sweden, where they abolished the requirement to sterilize trans people as early as 2013 (and the country even started to sterilize for transit, the same goes for the Netherlands, where the sterilization requirement was removed in 2014, but only started compensating in 2020. And it must be said that the requirement sterilization was then de facto abolished by all Western European countries (a complete overview is for example here)

With the East for eternity?

Of course, the subject of compulsory sterilization also resonates in the Czech public sphere, but all the hopes of trans people have been swept away by a decision of the Constitutional Court confirming the decision of the Supreme Court: that trans people must undergo sterilization for official gender reassignment…

Ordering people to undergo surgery involuntarily – sounds like information from history books. Nevertheless, Czech law requires something like this in 2022. And so it’s perhaps extremely fitting to remember what all trans people have had to go through (and continue to go through) just to be themselves . Unfortunately, this path to self-recognition has been redeemed by many lifetimes.

When it comes to “gender switching” (now called “transitioning”), those with at least a basic knowledge of trans topics (or who watch world cinema) are likely to think of the name Einar Wegener , whose path to find herself and Experimental operations also related are captured in a story known in our country as the Danish girl. Of course, it ends tragically. Nevertheless, Einar / Lili Elbe is paying for a pioneer in the field. However, she was not the first, because a few weeks before her, Dora Richter had undergone the same procedure. She was born biologically in 1891 as a man into a family of poor farmers (by the way living in the region of the current Czech-German border), which however allowed her to live as a woman. In addition, at the age of six, Dora tried to perform the operation she wanted to undergo: removing her penis.

Experimental Pioneer Operations

Subsequently, Dora lived alternately under her male name Rudolf – then worked as a waiter – and under the female name Dora, when she acted as a woman and worked in Berlin as a cook. However, since the practice was considered cross-dressing at the time, she was occasionally arrested and had to serve her sentence in a men’s prison. Only once did Dora meet an enlightened judge who handed her over directly to the care of a German doctor and also one of the first activists fighting for equal sexual rights, Magnus Hirschfeld, who headed the Research Institute sexual.

As a result, Dora received special permission to act as a woman and wear women’s clothing, and she lived and worked happily at the Institute for over ten years. In 1922, Dora underwent the first of the surgeries, the removal of the testicles (which is actually castration, the necessity of which is disputed), but she waited the next nine years to remove the penis. It was as part of this operation that she was also offered a so-called vaginoplasty – and according to the preserved records, Dora was the first person to undergo a complete “gender reassignment”. And this experimental but very successful operation, which also received a lot of publicity, prompted Lili Elbe to ask Hirschfeld for help. But none of the stories of these early women in a trance had a happy ending.

While Lili became a fatal wish for a child – she died after another experimental operation involving a womb transplant, which her body later rejected – in Dora’s case, it’s coming to power of Hitler. An SS unit broke into the institute where Dora lived (and which Magnus Hirschfeld had wisely left before), its members confiscated all the records and looted the building. Nobody has heard of Dora and other similar inhabitants …

However, the two trans women have become something of a symbol in the fight for the rights of trans people, who today, especially in developed countries, no longer have to give their lives to be themselves, yet in many of them (if we consider the Czech Republic an “advanced” country) have to undergo procedures that are not essentially necessary to achieve harmony between body and soul. Essentially, it seems like little has changed in some ways in the nearly hundred years since the first gender reassignment. Only in Dora’s case was the sterilization voluntary (which can be attributed to the fact that it was a full experiment at the time), while today’s trans people hui already know other options – but still have no choice in the Czech Republic…

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