“She’s A Man”: The Story Of An Olympic Athlete Who Was Raised As A Girl

Date May 21, 2019

On November 20, 1918, when a baby was born to the Ratjen family in Bremen, the midwife could not immediately determine its gender. The infant’s genitals were not clearly identifiable. At first, the midwife said:

It’s a boy!

And a couple of minutes later she changed her mind:

It is a girl, after all.

At month 9, after a medical examination, the doctor concluded that it was a girl, but wasn't too sure about that:

Let it be. You can't do anything about it anyway.

Early years


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So, Dora was raised as a girl. She didn’t understand, though, why she had to wear dresses – at 10 she clearly realized that she was a male. And it was becoming more and more apparent as Dora grew manlier and her voice changed.

Parents still didn’t notice anything or did not want to notice. Meanwhile, Dora was determined to become an athlete and even won a local high jump championship.

Olympic Games

When the athlete turned 18 years old, she was invited to Germany’s Olympic reserve, where she was considered one of the best. In 1936, Dora took 4th place in the Olympic Games.

In 2 years, she won gold in Europe and set a world record in high jump among women.

However, when Dora was returning home by train, the conductor assumed she was a man dressed as a woman and called the police. After that, Ratjen was charged with fraud.


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Dora was obliged to undergo another medical examination, which stated that the athlete was, in fact, a man.

Dora to Heinrich

Although the athlete was deprived of the champion title, Ratjen’s long-time dream came true – he was finally recognized for who he’d considered himself to be all his life. On January 11, 1939, Dora officially became Heinrich, and on March 10, all charges of fraud were dropped.

Ratjen lived a full life. After World War II, he returned to his hometown Bremen, where he took charge of his parents’ bar until the end of his days. Heinrich passed away in 2008 at the age of 89. He did not have any children.

Later, one of the main characters of the movie Berlin 36 was based on Ratjen.


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Heinrich, like many intersex people, had an extremely difficult fate. It was largely the fault of the parents, who brushed off the obvious signs and refused to listen to their child.

What would you do in their place? Tell us in the comments!