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11 October 2012

Harry Benjamin. Part 4: transsexualism since 1966

Part 1: beginings
Part 2: rejuvenation
Part 3: transsexualism to 1966
Part 4: transsexualism since 1966
Part 5: rereading of The Transsexual Phenomenon.

Harry Benjamin's The Transsexual Phenomenon, came out in 1966, with an appendix and bibliography by Richard Green. Much of the early two chapters on transvestites reflect the writings of Virginia Prince. Benjamin proposed a 6-point scale inspired by Kinsey's sexual-orientation scale, with the caveat that the types overlapped and blurred. He labeled the six types: Transvestite (Pseudo) Transvestite (Fetishistic), Transvestite (True), Transsexual (Nonsurgical), Transsexual (Moderate intensity),Transsexual (High intensity). In chapter 8, he summarized his work in the field:
"By the end of 1964, a total of 249 male transvestites were observed in my offices, either in New York or in San Francisco. Of these, 152 were diagnosed as transsexuals. This figure, however, may actually be higher as some transvestites do not reveal their true intentions during the first few interviews. In some others, an apparent transvestism may gradually seem to progress into transsexualism with or (more likely) without any treatment and patients originally diagnosed as transvestites (of the II or III type in the S.O.S.) are actually transsexuals (V or VI on the S.O.S.). A few of them are among the 51 cases operated upon.
These patients were, in the earlier years, mostly operated upon in Denmark, Holland, or Sweden, and a few in Mexico. Then, Dr. Elmer Belt in California performed a series of such operations. In approximately half of them I could observe the results. Dr. Belt discontinued this type of surgery a few years ago, largely for personal reasons. During the last three or four years, most conversion operations among patients I know were done in Casablanca, Morocco, by a French surgeon, Dr. Georges Burou. Reports have reached me of operations being done occasionally, rather secretly, in the United States, rather freely in Japan, occasionally in Mexico,and a few in Italy. (p146)"
Also in 1966, Benjamin referred Phyllis Wilson who was the subject of the first sex-change operation by Howard Jones at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He also witnessed an operation by Jones. John Money said:
"Without the evidence of Harry Benjamin's pioneering success in the hormonal and the surgical sex reassignment of transsexuals, there would have been no program set up for the treatment and rehabilitation of transsexuals at Johns Hopkins ... The Johns Hopkins transsexual program was a source of immense satisfaction to Harry Benjamin, for it vindicated and authenticated his otherwise lonely advocacy of a group of patients generally despised and ridiculed by the medical establishment. Conversely, the public repudiation of this program by medical moralists who were not members of the gender-identity team was to him a source of immense sorrow. I knew about that sorrow from my periodic phone calls and occasional visits with Harry Benjamin. (Memorial: 16)"
In 1967 Benjamin gave brief talks at Stanford University, at Palo Alto Medical Clinic, and met with the new transsexual counseling group organized by the San Francisco Health Department, where his ex-patient Wendy Kohler was active. Later that year he spoke at the Cook County Hospital in Chicago, and witnessed another operation there, and wrote an introduction for Christine Jorgensen’s autobiography. The Harry Benjamin Foundation presented eight separate papers at its first meeting at the prestigious New York Academy of Sciences in 1967, mainly considering etiology based on pre and post examinations of Benjamin's patients.

In 1968 Benjamin and Reed Erickson were in disagreement, mainly over money and who was to decide what, and after that year there was no more funding, and Benjamin had to vacate the large office.

Wendy Carlos became the world's best-selling electronic musician and was also in transition with Benjamin, as was Lynn Conway, the informatics engineer. In 1969 Charles L.Ihlenfeld arranged to cover Benjamin's New York practice while he was in San Francisco for the summer, and stayed for 7 years.

In 1969 Benjamin wrote an introduction for Richard Green and John Money's Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment in which he summarized his work on transsexualism to that date. He also met Suzan Cooke and referred her to the Palo Alto Clinic.

In 1970 Rupert Raj started transition with a prescription from Charles Ihlenfeld. Diane Kearny was referred by Benjamin to Roberto Granato for surgery.

In the early 1970s, Benjamin befriended the psychoanalyst Ethel Person and gave her access to his patients. He asked her to write about him after his death. She interviewed him over several months. She also recruited a sample of his patients for two papers that she wrote with Lionel Ovesey that came to conventional psychoanalytic conclusions that transsexualism derived from separation anxiety.

Benjamin was a friend of the writer David/Gail Wilde and offered to talk to his girlfriend Joan Bennet about David's crossdressing.

Benjamin finally did retire on his 90th birthday in 1975, and Ihlenfeld took over the practice for a short while. The New York Times commented that Benjamin: "must be one of the last New Yorkers who receives visitors to his home attired in a silk smoking jacket".

++The practice passed to Eugene/Jeanne Hoff, who fired the existing staff.  She was starting her own transtion.   Her most noted patient was the punk musician, Jane County.   By 1980 there were very few patients and the practice was discontinued. 

The fourth International Symposium on Gender Identity, which was held that year at Stanford University Medical Center, was the first to use Benjamin's name, and with his blessing. At the 5th Symposium at Norfolk, Virginia, the demise of the Erickson Educational Foundation was announced and it was decided to create a new body named after Harry Benjamin. Two years later, in San Diego, the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (HBIGDA) was formally inaugurated.

Connie wheeler and Leah Schaefer interviewed Benjamin in 1979 about the history of the SSSS, he took to them and trusted them with his files. They read all the 1500 or so files, and started meeting regularly with him to discuss what they found.

Harry turned 100 in 1985. He told people that the first thing he was going to do when he awoke on the morning of his 100th birthday was to look in the mirror: "Because I've never seen a 100-year-old man before!"

He died at 101, and was survived by Gretchen. They never had children. His younger brother, Walter, and sister, Edith, also lived into their nineties, and also had no children. Their mother Bertha had lived to 97. Altogether Benjamin had 1560 trans patients.

In 1994 Tom Reucher co-founded the Association du Syndrome de Benjamin, in homage.

In 2006, HBIGDA changed its name to World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).

From 2005, Charlotte Goiar and Diane Kearny created the Harry Benjamin Syndrome movement that attempted to change Benjamin's legacy into an ideology of separation and intolerance that is quite alien to Benjamin's approach. In 2010 Rose White vanity published a book, Harry Benjamin Syndrome Review, that purported to follow Benjamin's work, but instead was obsessed with supposed dangers of oral sex, and claims that the practical test for HBS is an enthusiasm for shopping.

In 2011, the Harry Benjamin Resource Centre Europe was announced with a mainly Norwegian direction. It would seem to be an alternate to WPATH that intends to be much like what HBIGDA was before.

*++There is a different Harry Benjamin who wrote Better Sight without Glasses, 1929 and other books.   Some sites (Gender Trender, TS Roadmap and NO.Wikipedia) have confused the works of the two Harry Benjamins. 

So how high were Benjamin's fees? This never seems to be discussed. Leah Cahan Schaefer & Connie Christine Wheeler in their article on Benjamin's first 10 cases almost boast: "Socioeconomic levels were exclusively middle class, with 3 from upper-class backgrounds". When you read the biographies of less well-off New York area trans people, Benjamin is rarely mentioned. That is the Warhol trans women, the Stonewall participants, the Paris is Burning voguers. Tri-Ess members like David Wilde could afford to be a friend of Harry Benjamin, but not Candy Darling, Elizabeth Coffey, Rachel Harlow, Dorian Corey, Sylvia Rivera, Ajita Wilson, Anjie Xtravaganza etc. Some went to Leo Wollman instead, and others who couldn't afford Wollman's fees went to Jimmy Treetop for hormones. However Phyllis Wilson, Patricia Morgan and Suzan Cooke apparently had little money when they approached Benjamin. I assume that he sometimes waived or reduced his fees.

Virginia Prince, one of the many friends of Benjamin, lived to be 96. Did he the gerontotherapist aid her in this?

There are three biographies of Magus Hirschfeld (by Charlotte Wolff, Ralf Dose and Elena Mancini), an autobiography and three biographies of Havelock Ellis (by Phyllis Grosskurth, Chris Nottingham, Arthur Calder-Marshall, John Stewart). Why is there no book length biography of Harry Benjamin?

Given Benjamin's antipathy to psychoanalysis, it is noteworthy that he developed a friendship with Ethel Person, gave her access to his patients and asked her to write a short biography of himself. This is the same Person who with Lionel Ovesey wrote two papers in 1974 proposing the term Primary Transsexuals for non-sissy asexuals, and Secondary Transsexual for those with homosexual or transvestic experience. Person and Ovesey claim that "in male transsexualism, the child resorts to a reparative fantasy of symbiotic fusion with the mother to counter separation anxiety. In this way, mother and child become one and the anxiety is allayed, but the cost is an ambiguous core gender identity. (The Sexual Century:111).
  • Harry Benjamin & Albert Ellis. "Prostitution Re-assessed". International Journal of Sexology, 5, 1952: 41-42.
  • Harry Benjamin. "Transsexualism and transvestism as psychosomatic and somatopsychic syndromes". American Journal of Psychotherapy 05/1954; 8(2):219-30.
  • Frederic G. Worden & James T. Marsh. "Psychological Factors in Men Seeking Sex Transformation: a Preliminary Report". Journal of the American Medical Association, 157, 15, 1955: 1292-8. Abstract.
  • C.V. Prince, with a preamble by Harry Benjamin. “Homosexuality, Transvestism and Transsexuality: Reflections on Their Etiology and Differentiations”. The American Journal of Psychotherapy, 11, 1957: 80-5. Reprinted in Richard Ekins & Dave King (eds) Virginia Prince: Pioneer of Transgendering. The Haworth Medical Press, 2005: 17-20 and the International Journal of Transgenderism, 8,4, 2005: 17-20. 
  • Harry Benjamin. In Time--We Must Accept. Los Angeles: Mattachine Review, 1957.
  • Harry Benjamin. "Nature and Management of Transexualism, with a Report on 31 Operated Cases", Western Journal of Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynecology, 72, 1964: 105-11.
  • Harry Benjamin & Robert E. L. Masters. Prostitution and morality: a definitive report on the prostitute in contemporary society and an analysis of the causes and effects of the suppression of prostitution. Julian Press, 1964. 
  • Harry Benjamin. Nature and Management of Transsexualism: With a Report on Thirty-One Operated Cases. Seattle, Wash.?: s.n, 1964.
  • Harry Benjamin. The Transsexual Phenomenon. New York: Julian Press, 1966. New York: Warner Books Edition 1977, with a bibliography and appendix by Richard Green. Online at: and at Page references are to the 1977 Warner edition.
  • Christine Jorgensen with Lois Kibbee. A Personal Autobiography. With an Introduction by Harry Benjamin. New York: Paul S. Eriksson, 1967, New York: Bantam Books (pb) 1968.
  • Harry Benjamin. "Introduction". Richard Green & John Money (ed). Transsexualism and Sex-Reassignment. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press,. 1969.
  • Harry Benjamin. Reminiscences. 12th Annual Conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, November 1st, 1969.
  • Jan Morris. Conundrum. London: Faber, 1973: 49-50.
  • Charles L. Ihlenfeld. "Dedication to Dr Harry Benjamin at the Fourth International Conference on Gender Identity". Archives of Sexual Behavior, 7,4,1978.
  • Erwin J. Haeberle interviews Harry Benjamin. “The Transatlantic Commuter”. Sexualmedizin, 14, Jan 1985. Online at:
  • “Harry Benjamin (1885-1986)”. Archive for Sexology.
  • Charlotte Wolff. Magnus Hirschfeld: A Portrait Of A Pioneer In Sexology Quartet Books. 1986: 126, 245, 259, 277, 279, 284, 365-8.
  • Connie Christine Wheeler & Leah Cahan Schaefer. "Historical overview of Harry Benjamin's first 1500 cases." Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, Tenth International Symposium on Gender Dysphoria, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1987.
  • “Memorial for Harry Benjamin”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 17, 1, 1988.
  • 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. Online at
  • Friedemann Pfaefflin. "Sex Reassignment, Harry Benjamin, and some European Roots ". The International Journal of Transgenderism, 1,2, Oct-Dec 1997.
  • Ethel Spector Person. “Harry Benjamin and the Birth of a Shared Cultural Fantasy”. In The Sexual Century. Yale University Press, 1999: 347-366.
  • Joanne Meyerowitz. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Cambridge, Ma, London: Harvard University Press, 2002: 30, 45-8, 51, 70, 98, 102-4, 106, 107, 108-9, 112, 113, 117-8, 120, 121, 123, 124, 133-4, 153, 154-5, 156, 165, 175-6, 189, 211, 214-7, 219, 222, 223, 225, 241-2, 256, 279-280, 297n100.
  • Richard Green. "The Three Kings: Harry Benjamin, John Money, Robert Stoller". Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 2008: 610-613. 

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