Memoirs of a Man's Maiden Years
N. O. Body. Translated by Deborah Simon. Preface by Sander L. Gilman. Afterword by Hermann Simon
"This is a very interesting and beautifully written memoir by somebody who would have been called a hermaphrodite in the nineteenth century. The work gives a fascinating picture of the childhood experiences of the anonymous author and is full of sensitive and often moving observations on the plights of sexual ambiguity in childhood. The style, apparently so simple and relatively dispassionate, is extremely effective in pulling the reader into the story."—Chandak Sengoopta
"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.
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 or editor of more than seventy books, including Jewish Self-Hatred and Smoke: 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.