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14 May 2009

Magnus Hirschfeld, Edward Wood and the coining of ‘transsexual’.

In Hirschfeld’s Die Transvestiten, 1910, the word he uses for what we might call transsexualism is ‘Geschlechtsuebergaenge’, which would literally be a sexual over-going. This word is translated as ‘transsexual’ in Michael Lombardi-Nash’s 1991 English translation of Die Transvestiten. Obviously 'sexual over-going' was not going to catch on in English.

In 1923, Hirschfeld did use the expression 'seelischer transsexualismus' (psychic transsexualism) in a journal paper, ‘Die intersexuelle konstitution’. Although, of course, one wonders whether it was his own expression, or one suggested by one of his minions.

Die Transvestiten was not translated into English until 1991, and ‘Die intersexuelle konstitution’ has never been translated. Kurt Freund, as a German-speaking Czech sexologist, probably read read both of them. Harry Benjamin, being German, could have read them, but he shows no evidence of taking the word ‘transsexual’ from Hirschfeld. There is no evidence of British or US doctors having read Hirschfeld.

The word ‘transsexual’ next appeared in Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin, 1948: 612, as a kind of homosexual considered as an intermediate sex.

The next year, 1949, David Cauldwell wrote a paper for Sexology about a girl who wanted to be a boy. He entitled the paper ‘Psychopathia transexualis’ (note the one S). This paper was not much noticed. Harry Benjamin later commented: "Whether I had ever read that article and the expression remained in my subconscious, frankly, I do not know". It was Louise Lawrence who introduced Benjamin to Cauldwell’s writings.

The word next turns up in Edward D. Wood, Jr’s 1953 film, Glen or Glenda. This is intriguing. Was the word in use among trans people before Benjamin started using it? Did Louise, having read Cauldwell, pass the word on to other transvestites? We do know that the word ‘homophobe’ was used in Screw magazine two years before it was officially coined in 1972. Probably by the early 1950s, the word ‘transvestite’ was sufficiently common that different people coined ‘transsexual’ independently.

Harry Benjamin first used the word in December 1953, and went on to popularize it, particularly in his 1966 book. He spelt the word with two-SS.

By the early 1970s doctors were dissatisfied with the word 'transsexualism' because it had lost its medical connotations, and so Norman Fisk in 1973 proposed 'gender dysphoria syndrome' to remedicalize the concept.

John Money pays homage to Cauldwell by using his one-S spelling, as does The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show, 1973 on stage, 1975 film (“I'm just a Sweet Transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania“. However the two-S spelling has proved more popular.
  • Harry Benjamin. The Transsexual Phenomenon, New York: The Julian Press. 1966.
  • Harry Benjamin. “Introduction”. In Richard Green and John Money (eds.), Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. 1969.
  • David O. Cauldwell. ‘Psychopathia transexualis’. Sexology, 1949. 16: 274-280.
  • Richard Ekins, Dave King. (2001) "Pioneers of Transgendering: The Popular Sexology of David O. Cauldwell". IJT 5,2,
  • Norman Fisk. "Gender Dysphoria Syndrome". In D. Laub & P. Gandy (Eds.) Proceedings of the Second Interdisciplinary Symposium on Gender Dysphoria Syndrome. 1974: 7–14.
  • Magnus Hirschfeld,. Die Transvestiten; ein Untersuchung uber den erotischen Verkleidungstrieb: mit umfangreichem casuistischen und historischen Material. Berlin: Pulvermacher, vi, 562 pp1910. English translation by Michael A Lombardi-Nash. Tranvestites: The Erotic urge to Crossdress. Buffalo: Prometheus Books. 424 pp 1991.
  • Magnus Hirschfeld. ‘Die intersexuelle konstitution’. Jahrbuch fuer sexuelle Zwischenstufen, 1923. 23: 3-27.
  • Andrea James. “Magnus Hirschfeld”. Transsexual Road Map.
  • Kinsey, A.C., Pomeroy, W.B., and Martin, C.E. (1948) Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders.

Bullough and Bullough in Crossdressing, Sex and Gender, 1993: 257, state that "Hirschfeld in 1910 called one of his patients a psychic transsexual". They give no reference. Presumably they are confusing his book and his 1923 paper.

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