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06 May 2009

Sally Barry (1926 - ?) Benjamin’s first transsexual patient.

Val (A pseudonym) had co-operative parents and lived much of her childhood as a girl. During grade school where special toilet arrangements were made, psychiatrists assured the parents that Val would outgrow the phase. High school authorities were not so co-operative and Val stayed at home.

Being frustrated in her desire to be female, she was given to tantrums and even violence: once even causing her father to be hospitalized.

At age 22, when, as Sally she was already living as a woman, she had gone to a hospital in her home state of Wisconsin for a psychiatric examination. She had read the few books available at the time on feminizing operations including Man into Woman on Lili Elvenes (Elbe). She requested surgery and refused any alternative that might remove her feminine desires. 30 members of the hospital staff met to discuss her case and recommended castration and plastic surgery. However the state attorney general’s office vetoed the decision as constituting mayhem.

The next year, 1949, she met and was interviewed by Alfred Kinsey in San Francisco as part of his research on sexual variance. Kinsey referred her to Harry Benjamin, who was staying in the same hotel, for help – this was Benjamin’s first transsexual patient - and he prescribed female hormones, x-ray castration and x-ray treatment to remove facial hair.

Kinsey arranged for her to have an evaluation with Karl Bowman at the University of California's Langley Porter Clinic. Kinsey arranged for her to have an apartment in the building run by Louise Lawrence. He also encouraged her to have a homosexual relationship with a man so that she would learn to value her penis. Bowman and Kinsey declined to endorse surgery.

With Benjamin’s encouragement, Sally finally had surgery in Sweden from 1953-8.

She and her mother later moved to Canada.

*Not the English sculptor.
  • Harry Benjamin. The Transsexual Phenomenon. Julian Press, 1966.  Warner Books Edition 1977: 107, 299-307. PDF:49, 141-4.
  • Leah Cahan Schaefer & Connie Christine Wheeler. “Harry Benjamin's first ten cases (1938-1953): a clinical historical note”. Archives of Sexual Behavior 24:1 Feb 1995: 4. Online at  Revised as the Afterword to Randi Ettner. Confessions of a Gender Defender: A Psychologist's Reflections on Life Among the Transgendered. Chicago Spectrum Press, 1996.
  • Joanne Meyerowitz. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Harvard University Press, 2002: 47-8,171.

In The Transsexual Phenomenon Sally is discussed anonymously in the main text and in detail  in the 'Lives' appendix where she is referred to as “H.”. Wheeler & Schaefer refer to her as Barry (as a forename) and then as Sally. In How Sex Changed by Joanne Meyerowitz refers to her as Val Barry (Barry as a surname). Susan Stryker in Transgender History denies her the dignity of any name and refers to her as the “mayhem case". In Wheeler & Schaefer’s revision of their paper for Randi Ettner’s Confessions of a Gender Defender she is called Van for the male phase and Susan afterwards.

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