The Third Sex Issue 1, article 2 (May 1930)

“Selma, enough already1!” It happened every day when the child came home from playing with the boys in the suburbs, battered and scratched. Or when the teachers complained about her apathy and laziness at school. Her father said it in a stern tone, her mother with tender concern. “If you’re not going to shape up, what’s going to become of you?” In the square and angular features of her daughter, she searched in vain for any trace of feminine charm that could reassure her of her daughter’s future. Streaky, dull black hair, ample, defiant eyebrows over a pair of small, slit eyes, long arms, and big hands. How would any man ever want to marry her?

In the last year of the Great War, a surveyor from the German civil administration moved into a seculded house on the Vistula River. He was taken with the view of the river. As an enemy of the Fatherland, Selma disdained him. Her parents, however, hoped for some relief from his stay in the house and treated him kindly. He enjoyed the garden where the old house stood and Slema’s father allowed him to do the gardening.

After a few weeks, Selma approached him, initially offering to help only with small tasks, but eventually became his helper. She was proud of his praises when he came home from work and saw the fingerling potatoes chopped, the weeds pulled, and the paths raked.

“I’m sure you’ll be a great gardner girl2 one day,” he said. She shook her head, “gardner girl? No! I’m going to be a bridge engineer!”

The German was surprised by such a completely un-ladylike dream. Her parents just laughed.

In school, Selma was still had problems, except in gymnastics.

Fall came, and with it those eerie weeks in which rumors stirred in Poland of the quick collapse of the glorious German guns. One day, Selma’s parents spoke with their guest about the coming New Order in Europe.

“Are you going to give us back Poznań?” asked the father. The daughter, who was sitting on the branch of an apple tree, heard the words, slid down, and with fiery eyes said to the three, “just Poznań? We’re going to get all the land that was ever Polish. They’ll draw a straight line from Wrocław to Szczecin and that’ll be Germany’s new border!”

Her parents wrung their hands in horror: “her teacher has been riling the kids up!” The German looked inquiringly into the defiantly protesting face of the eleven-year-old: “Did you just get into politics? You’re a quick learner!”

“I’m going to learn a lot more. I want to learn to shoot so we can chase you Germans back across the border if you don’t go willingly!”

“You little rascal!” teased the German as he tried to pull the furious creature toward him. She wrenched herself free and ran off.

The mother sighed with a heavy heart, “she’ll never change!”

One month later, Germany’s fate had been decided. The surveyor from Prague had to pack his bags. At the same time he received a metalworking kit he had sent from home that he had planned on giving the daughter as a gift for her upcoming birthday. “There, you bridge builder!” he said and pressed the long box into Selma’s arms.

He left to go, but as a friend he left his German address at the parents’ request: “Write me if the Gravenstein apples start next spring and don’t forget to send the roses. Bye, you wild bumblebee, you girlboy. I’m sure you’ll grow to be tame. If you ever get engaged, hopefully you’ll send me an announcement!”

Almost eight years had passed since that gray November day. In the whirlwind of events that awaited him at home, the surveyor had forgotten the overgrown estate near the Polish capital and its residents.

One day, as he came home from the office, his wife told him that there had been a visitor. A young gentleman from Poland whose parents had hosted the surveyor in their home in Warsaw. He would return again in the evening.

A handsome guy, by the way, who would have broken her heart without fail if he could have had it.

“He’s on the way to Zurich to study bridge engineering. I asked him about it after seeing a construction kit he had. He said you gave it to him when you said farewell…”

“But he was a girl! It was to him I gave the kit! They said Selma was their only child. This is puzzling. Did the man look like a woman in disguise?”

Just then the bell rang, and the surveyor rushed to the door. But those powerful eyebrows that almost reached the bridge of his nose seemed familiar.

“You’ll hardly recognize me,” laughed the visitor. “Selma finally fulfilled her parents’ wish and changed herself. Are you dull? Maybe you remember you once called me ‘girlboy.’ My mother thinks that you sensed the change I was going to go through two years ago. Until then I was considered one of the girls. I thought I was one, albeit one of a kind. When we went swimming we compared our bodies. I was laughed at because I was so thin and angular, while the women showed off their swelling breasts. Until one day I fell in love with one. It was a great thing. I was chased out of school, written off as a criminal girl3. I felt despicable and understood why my father would disown me. When Mother took me to a sanatorium, the truth came out. I was to become a “scientific case” studied by an expert. In short, only a simple operation was required and I would become a real man.

Yes, you played a meaningful role in my life. If only because you took me seriously when I was being serious. So I couldn’t pass through here without seeing you. I passed the test. Now I’m off to Zurich and later America. Nobody in Warsaw believes that I can build bridges!

  1. “Selma, ändre dich!” Lit. “Selma, change yourself!” 

  2. Gärtnerin. German is a gendered language and this is the feminine form of “gardener.” 

  3. Verbrecherin. Fem.