He studied at Antioch College, the City College of New York, The New School and Hunter College. He has taught at Yale University, Eugene Lang College and New York University. He was a founding member of the Gay Academic Union in 1973.
In 1976 he published his Gay American History, a source book. One section is “Passing Women” which features many that we would consider trans men but he presents them as women and lesbians. Another section is “Native Americans/Gay Americans” which features Berdaches as they were called in the 1970s. He presents them as mainly gay men rather as third gender persons [‘transgender’ was not an available concept at the time]. On page 382 he says:
“The term transsexual, however, is so loaded with traditional assumptions connecting gender and "masculinity" and "femininity" as to render it of the most controversial and doubtful character. The solution to the problem of confused gender can be of the gravest practical import to those who, seeking help, fall into the hands of those doctors claiming to be "experts" on the subject, and offering only surgical (or technological) treatment.”Katz was the first historian to realize that patient H in Dr Allen Gilbert's ‘Homosexuality and Its Treatment’ was in fact Alan Hart. However he spoilt his case by insisting that Hart was a lesbian, and that his hysterectomy was an example of unneeded medical mutilation forced on a lesbian. As a result Mrs Hart, the widow, refused to be interviewed.
His follow-up book Gay/Lesbian Almanac has a similar approach. In footnote 2 on page 662, he writes:
“The most profound, extended critique of the medical concept of ‘transsexualism’ is Janice G. Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire. …. [See] my unpublished paper ‘ “Transsexualism”: Today’s Quack Medicine: An Issue for Every Body,’ Nov 1, 1978. An historical study needs to be made of the medical and autobiographical literature on ‘transsexualism’: it will, I think, reveal the fundamentally sexist nature of the concept and of the associated medical treatments.”In 1997, he was awarded the Magnus Hirschfeld medal for Outstanding Contributions to Sex Research by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sozialwissenschaftliche Sexualforschung. In 2003 he was given the Yale University Brudner Prize for scholarly contributions in the field of lesbian and gay studies.
In 2008, he was one of the founders of OutHistory.org. On that site he says:
“the Introduction that I wrote for these documents in Gay American History has become a historical document itself, a product of a particular time and viewpoint that I no longer completely share. In 1976, I got caught up a bit in claiming the persons described here as "lesbians" and as "women" or "females."”*Not the actor, nor the technology writer nor the gay arts professor.
- Jonathan Katz. Gay American History: Lesbians And Gay Men In The U.S.A. New York: Crowell 1976. New York: A Discus Book.1978.
- Jonathan Katz. Gay/Lesbian Almanac. Harper & Row. 1983.
- Pat Califia. Sex changes : the politics of transgenderism. San Francisco: Cleis Press 1997. Second edition by Patrick Califia 2003:8, 123-9,149-151.
- “Jonathan Ned Katz”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Ned_Katz.
- Jonathan Ned Katz. Introduction. OutHistory.org. http://188.8.131.52/wiki/Gender-Crossing_Women,_1782-1920.
Gay American History and Gay/Lesbian Almanac remain useful as source books giving the original documents or original English translation on many trans and two-spirit persons. Katz’ structure that would turn them into gay men and lesbians is annoying, but can be ignored.
Unlike Wayne Dynes and Vern Bullough, Katz has partially apologized for his past distortions. That is to his credit.