(Exhibition text in English, referring to a QR code in the exhibition)

Woman Born as a Man

Name: Dora Rudolfine Richter, née Rudolf Richter
Born: 1892 in Seifen, Austria-Hungary (present-day Ryžovna, Czech Republic)
Died: ?

Undergoes the world’s first complete sex change from male to female.

Rudolf Richter is described early on as having a feminine manner. She starts calling herself Dora and tries to live as a woman. Societal norms make it difficult to live the life she wants. She moves to Berlin where she, under her Rudolf identity, works in a restaurant. Outside working hours, she is Dora.
A man in women’s clothing is seen as disruptive behaviour and Richter is often arrested by the police. Eventually, she is sent to Dr Magnus Hirschfeld at Berlin’s Institut für Sexualwissenschaft. Richter’s life changes.

In 1922, Richter undergoes an operation to remove her testicles. After further operations in 1931, Richter becomes the first person in the world to undergo vaginoplasty. For a long time, it was believed that Richter was murdered when the Nazis vandalised the institute in 1933. But in 2023, Richter’s name is discovered in the local church records. They note an authorised application for a change of name issued in Prague in 1934. The name Rudolf Josef is deleted and replaced with Dora Rudolfine. The gender is changed from male to female. The reason is given as ’congenital intersexuality’.

A Forbidden Love and a Love of God

Name: Lydia Wahlström
Born: 1869 in Lundby, Västmanland
Died: 1954 in Stockholm

Gay suffrage pioneer who dreams of becoming clergy.

Lydia grows up in a deeply Christian family. She dreams of becoming a clergy like her father, a profession completely closed to women. Lydia studies history at Uppsala University and in 1898 she becomes the fourth woman in Sweden to obtain a doctorate.

Wahlström is a leading figure in the fight for women’s voting rights. Politically, she is conservative, which is unusual as they generally oppose women’s right to vote. Wahlström is the principal of the girls’ school Åhlinska skolan and a prolific writer. She argues strongly in favour of women’s access to higher government positions and the clergy.

Wahlström has several relationships with women. During her time at university, she is intimate with the writer Klara Johanson. In 1919, Wahlström starts a relationship with Anita Nathorst, a theology student half her age. They live together for some time and their relationship lasts until 1934.

In 1924 Wahlström publishes the novel The Bishop, a love story between a (male) clergyman and a young woman. Only in 1945, when homosexuality is decriminalised, does she admit that the story is an autobiography depicting the love between her and Anita.

Illicit Relations

Under the Swedish Penal Code of 1864, which remained in force throughout the 1920s, it is illegal for two people of the same sex to have sex with each other. The penalty is forced labour for a maximum of two years. Sweden’s law is unusual because it also applies to women. In most countries, only men are covered by laws against homosexuality.

But the law is almost never used against women. Between 1880 and 1944, 1400 men are prosecuted for having sex with other men. In the same period, only 10 women are prosecuted for the same offence.

Big cities such as Berlin and Paris become centres of refuge for many homosexuals and bisexuals. There, same-sex relationships are also illegal, but are tolerated as long as they are conducted discreetly.

Change in Gender Norms

The new era brings with it new expressions of male and female identity.  Long skirts and hourglass-shaped female bodies disappear. The new ideal female body is flat chested and straight, with short hair. Women are increasingly involved in professional and societal life – areas previously reserved for men.

The freer expressions are most radical for women, but they also apply to men. The ideal male body should be slim and athletic. Fashion is extravagant and there is room to go wild.

The transcendent expressions of style do not go unnoticed. In Sweden, Karl Gerhard in 1922, in his revue tune Jazzgossen, sings about men ”walking trippingly in high heels” with ”eyeliner on their lids”. 1926 saw the release of Irving Kaufman’s humorous song Masculine Women, Feminine Men, which is the rooster which is the hen?

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