Title: Memoirs of a Man’s Maiden Years
Author: N.O. Body (Karl M. Baer), translated by Deborah Simon, preface by Sander L. Gilman, Afterword by Hermann Simon
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press
“I was 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 stereptypical male behaviour 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”.
Oiriginally published in 1907 and now available in English, Memoirs of a Man’s Maiden Years describes a childhood and youth in Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany that are 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 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.