Karl M. Baer
Karl Baer was born on May 20, 1885, as Martha Baer, the daughter of a German Jewish family from Arolsen, Germany. Although the midwife declared the new Baby Baer to be a girl, she privately confided to Martha’s father that his daughter’s body had “such strange characteristics that she had no way of determining the gender.” However a doctor confirmed Martha to be a girl, and so it was as a girl her parents her raised- until in 1906 Martha became the first person to undergo sex change surgery.
Childhood was uncomfortable for Baer. As he put it quite simply later in life: “I was born as a boy and raised as a girl.” At puberty, Baer did not develop a woman’s body. Despite not feeling feminine, Baer became heavily involved in women’s rights- perhaps as a direct result of his experience of life as a woman. After studying political economy and sociology, he became a social worker and a suffragette and joined the international Jewish organization, B’nai Brith in 1904.
At the same time, Baer finally began to live as a man, smoking cigars, drinking beer and acting in a masculine way. This behavior did not look odd at all as Baer did not look like a woman. He had male features, facial hair, and a deep voice. Not everyone could tolerate this male behavior and appearance, however, and Baer was sent home from an assignment in Galicia, Spain one year early because of ‘her’ insistence on dressing and behaving like a man.’
Then, in 1906, Baer was knocked over by a tram, and the medical staff in hospital noted his ‘unusual’ anatomy. The hospital put the patient in touch with Magnus Hirschfeld, a doctor and sexologist who immediately diagnosed Baer as “a man who was mistakenly identified as a woman”. That same year and in the same hospital, Baer began to have surgery to correct his erroneous sexual features. The hospital issued him with a medical certificate confirming his new gender, and on January 8, 1907, a court ratified Karl Baer’s identity as a man.
Karl Baer married twice and for some years held official posts in B’nai Brith. With the help of Hirschfeld, he wrote a semi-fictional memoir “ “Man’s Years as a Young Girl”. However, with the rise of the Nazis, Baer’s life in Germany came to an end. In 1937, he was arrested and tortured but then released and allowed to emigrate to Israel in 1938. There, he worked as an accountant and insurance agent, married again and died anonymously in 1956.