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08 August 2007

Paula Grossman (1919 - 2003) music teacher

++updated 15/4/11, 7/8/16.

Paul Monroe Grossman was born in Brooklyn, NY. He grew up in New Jersey,  graduated with an A.B. in 1941 from the University of Newark (now called Rutgers), and spent the Second World War in the U.S. Army.  He then went to Columbia University where he earned an M.A. and a Professional Diploma in Music Education (S.M.E.) in 1947. In 1949 he married Ruth Keshen, and he spent the next 21 years as a music teacher in public schools in North Dakota, Montana, upstate New York and in 1957 he finally returned to New Jersey to teach at Cedar Hill Elementary School in in the town of Basking Ridge (map).

In 1971 Paul became Paula, and was suspended as a teacher. She sued, and lost. She fought the dismissal to the US Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. However since she had been declared to be 'disabled', she eventually won a disability pension. She did stay in the same small town, and was well known as a transsexual. During the years of litigation, she became something of a celebrity, appeared on television, the guest of Johnny Carson and David Frost. She gave lectures all over the eastern United States. She supplemented her income playing as a musician in night clubs.

When it was over, she wrote A Handbook for Transsexuals, which is long out of print.

She was never allowed to teach in a school again. She stayed with her wife until she died in 2003.


Here is a summary of Paula's book:
  • 'A transsexual has his sex changed to correct a medical condition which will kill him if he doesn't. And for absolutely no other reason whatsoever.'
  • Transvestites never should; the naturally small and feminine should not either.
  • If you cannot stand the agony, then do the change.
  • Stand up for yourself; don't be shunted aside as an outcast.
  • 'Don't let non-transsexuals formulate rules for you.'
  • If you want to keep the same job, fight for it.
  • If you want to stay with your wife and children, then do so.
  • Don't bother with electrolysis: 'Thousands of extra dollars and a couple of years of suffering is a lot of money and extra pain for the usually inaffluent transsexual to absorb. A few extra minutes a day [to shave] isn't all that ghastly.'
  • Don't be persuaded to live a year in the guise of a woman - you probably won't be able to get a job in your field.
  • Don't be persuaded to move to another town and throw away your career. Stay and fight. Work out in advance whether you can keep your job. If you cannot, figure out what you can do instead.
  • Find a good lawyer. For your name change. For a will. For a spouse's consent to the operation - needed if you do not divorce. For litigation especially in fighting to keep your job.
  • Choose the right doctor. Do not go to a psychiatrist expecting any kind of cure. Avoid bigoted and insensitive doctors.
  • Don't let other transsexuals down by being a 'slob' e.g. by becoming a stripper.
Grossman's case against her employer, Grossman v. Bernards Township Board of Education, became caselaw in the US and is frequently cited result in transsexual employment law discussions. Drs Charles Ihlenfeld and Robert Laidlaw testified on behalf of Grossman, and Dr Charles Socarides on behalf of the schoolboard.  It was ruled that she was not discriminated against as a woman, and therefore the dismissal was legal.

In Janice Raymond's diatribe of hatred, The Transsexual Empire, there is a mention of Paula Grossman. She is quoted via a newspaper article gushing about having one's hair done, cosmetics and clothes. It is typical of Raymond's sloppy research that she did not find Paula's Book. This is probably just as well.

In 2007, one of her ex-pupils wrote a sympathetic article for the St Petersburg Times.

++In 2016,  Meryl Streep revealed that she had been one of Paula's students.  


  1. This individual had been my music teacher; I believe I was in 6th grade. He was a good teacher and a decent man. I wish him the very best, and he most certainly should NOT lose his job. His fine ability to teach has nothing to do with his gender. He should be treated with the same respect as anyone else. I give him credit for having the courage to do what he felt he had to do. God bless him!

  2. Paul was also my teacher in the 6th - 8th grade. When this controversy started, I was then a young newspaper reporter and Paula granted me an interview. I found her to be quite serene, probably realizing that she would never teach again and accepting it. She remained the master of the awful joke. She greeted me with "you've changed, but who am I to talk?" Was he an effective teacher? During my career as a social studies teacher, I frequently used music in the same way I would other art forms. I will never forget Paula, not for her sex change, but for her love of students.

  3. She was my teacher in school and was a very good teacher. I would love to read her book if I could only get a copy.

  4. I moved to Basking Ridge in 1971 from Brooklyn, NY. It was the whitest place with Protestant values that rivaled Calvinism. I couldn't wait to leave and get back to sanity. Hoe she stayed there is amazing.

  5. Jay Gervasi22/3/23 21:52

    Then-Mr. Grossman was my music teacher at Cedar Hill, in 4th and 5th grades, in 1967-69. We moved to Greensboro, NC, and I remember being surprised when she popped up in the national news. She was an active teacher who engaged students, producing entertainment programs with wide-spread participation. Her classroom presentation was energetic and effective—a big personality. I also remember that one-on-one, she was friendly and tolerant and treated me with respect, almost as an adult. She did fail miserably in teaching me to play clarinet. But that wasn’t her fault—just the first hint that I had no musical talent. It is too bad that she didn’t come along in a time when we can recognize that people like her are not a threat. The school cost itself a good teacher.


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