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10 June 2016

A rereading of Benjamin: Part 2: transvestites

  • Harry Benjamin. The Transsexual Phenomenon. Julian Press, 1966. Warner Books Edition 1977, with a bibliography and appendix by Richard Green.  PDF (with different pagination).  Page references eg p32/13 mean p32 in the 1977 Warner edition and p13 in the PDF. 
Part I:  intro and the Scale
Betty (?1938 - ?) female impersonator, salesgirl, model. --- 2nd entry, Appendix D, autobiographies
Part II:  transvestites
Clara Miller (1899 - ?) fur merchant, office worker ---  3rd entry, Appendix D, autobiographies
Part III: trans women
Joe (1920 - ?) cattle breader, art dealer ---  4th entry, Appendix D, autobiographies
Part IV: photos, legal, trans men, conclusions

Chapter 2: Transvestism, Transsexualism, and Homosexuality.

Virginia Prince, writing as C.V. Prince, with a preamble by Harry Benjamin, had published. “Homosexuality, Transvestism and Transsexuality: Reflections on Their Etiology and Differentiations” in The American Journal of Psychotherapy, 11, 1957.   Prince proposes that there are three kinds of ‘males’ who dress as women. Benjamin seems to have taken this as a starting point.

The first sentence is more carefully phrased than many later writers' claims: "Transvestism (TVism) as a medical diagnosis was probably used for the first time by the German sexologist, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, about forty years ago when he published his book, Die Transvestiten". p24/10  

Actually Die Transvestiten was published in 1910, which was 56 years, not forty, before 1966. 

Benjamin continues to use TV and TS as abbreviations throughout the book. In Transvestia 12 (December 1961) Prince credited herself as having coined the term TV, although as usual she did not say where. As it is the obvious abbreviation, it is more than likely that other people had used it without waiting for her to coin it. Furthermore, she said, she therefore had a right to "pronounce a death sentence", and urged that all would use FP (=femme personator) instead. (Robert S. Hill. ‘As a man I exist; as a woman I live’: Heterosexual Transvestism and the Contours of Gender and Sexuality in Postwar America. PhD Dissertation. University of Michigan. 2007:62)    Five years later, Benjamin's usage of TVism implicitly denied her claim to coinage, and her admonition that it not be used.

Benjamin writes: “Most writers on the subject refer to transvestism as a sexual deviation, sometimes as a perversion. It is not necessarily either one. It also can be a result of ‘gender discomfort’ and provide a purely emotional relief and enjoyment without conscious sexual stimulation, this usually occurring only in later life.” p24/10

But shortly afterwards he writes: “Because of the much more permissive fashions among women, and for other reasons, the problem of transvestism almost exclusively concerns men in whom the desire to cross-dress is often combined with other deviations, particularly with fetishism, narcissism, and the desire to be tied up (bondage) or somehow humiliated (masochism).” p25/10 , and then “The majority of transvestites are overtly heterosexual, but many may be latent bisexuals. They 'feel' as men and know that they are men, marry, and often raise families. A few of them, however, especially when they are 'dressed,' can as part of their female role react homosexually to the attentions of an unsuspecting normal man. The transvestite’s marriage is frequently endangered as only relatively few wives can tolerate seeing their husbands in female attire. The average heterosexual woman wants a man for a husband, not someone who looks like a woman; but mutual concessions have often enough preserved such marriages, mostly for the sake of children.” p26/11

Virginia Prince writing in Transvestia, and speaking in public played down the erotic and/or fetishistic aspects of cross-dressing. On the other hand, in her meetings with psychiatrist Robert Stoller, she affirmed at least the erotic aspects. While she denied finding men attractive, she did enjoy being attractive to and flirting with men. She had a cross-dresser friend who was willing to play the male role and took her for lunch and drinks. Afterward they did mutual masturbation. She found kissing, hugging and affection from a man to be sexually rewarding. (Richard F Docter. From Man to Woman: The Transgender Journey of Virginia Prince. Docter Press, 2004: 66-7). One wonders, in the paragraph by Benjamin, if Prince had discussed the same eroticism with Benjamin. In either case Benjamin had certainly encountered it in discussions with other patients.

Benjamin contrasts TVs and TSs: “The transsexual (TS) male or female is deeply unhappy as a member of the sex (or gender) to which he or she was assigned by the anatomical structure of the body, particularly the genitals. To avoid misunderstanding: this has nothing to do with hermaphroditism. The transsexual is physically normal (although occasionally underdeveloped). These persons can somewhat appease their unhappiness by dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex, that is to say, by cross-dressing, and they are, therefore, transvestites too. But while ‘dressing’ would satisfy the true transvestite (who is content with his morphological sex), it is only incidental and not more than a partial or temporary help to the transsexual. True transsexuals feel that they belong to the other sex, they want to be and function as members of the opposite sex, not only to appear as such. For them, their sex organs, the primary (testes) as well as the secondary (penis and others) are disgusting deformities that must be changed by the surgeon’s knife. This attitude appears to be the chief differential diagnostic point between the two syndromes (sets of symptoms) - that is, those of transvestism and transsexualism.” p27/11

Benjamin gives a brief account of Christine Jorgensen, and in a footnote: “A few daring surgeons performed 'conversion operations' thirty or forty years ago but with very doubtful if not unfavorable results. In most cases, they castrated or removed the penis only, without attempting to create a vagina (see case of Lilly Elbe).” footnote, p28/18. He seems to be unaware of Hirschfeld’s patients Toni Ebel, Dörchen Richter and (suppposedly) his own patient whom he sent on to Berlin, Charlotte Charlaque. One also wants to ask if Kurt Wenekros’ patient Lili Elvenes (Elbe) underwent only a penectomy, why is she said to have died after a uterus transplant.

Bemjamin then asks whether “transvestites with their more or less pronounced sex and gender indecision may actually all be transsexuals, but in varying degrees of intensity”. p35/14 “A low degree of largely unconscious transsexualism can be appeased through cross-dressing and demands no other therapy for emotional comfort. These are transvestites…It must be left to further observations and investigations in greater depth to decide whether or not transvestitic desires may really be transsexual in nature and origin. Many probably are, but the frequent fetishistic transvestites may have to be excluded.” So much for HBS and other transsexuals who claim to cite Benjamin that transvestites are a different something (but see otherwise in Part III).

He continues: “If these attempts to define and classify the transvestite and the transsexual appear vague and unsatisfactory, it is because a sharp and scientific separation of the two syndromes is not possible. We have as yet no objective diagnostic methods at our disposal to differentiate between the two. We - often - have to take the statement of an emotionally disturbed individual, whose attitude may change like a mood or who is inclined to tell the doctor what he believes the doctor wants to hear. Furthermore, nature does not abide by rigid systems. The vicissitudes of life and love cause ebbs and flows in the emotions so that fixed boundaries cannot be drawn. It is true that the request for a conversion operation is typical only for the transsexual and can actually serve as definition. It is also true that the transvestite looks at his sex organ as an organ of pleasure, while the transsexual turns from it in disgust. Yet, even this is not clearly defined in every instance and no two cases are ever alike. An overlapping and blurring of types or groups is certainly frequent.” p35/15

Chapter 3: The Transvestite in Older and Newer Aspects

Nonaffective dressing: a cis person who cross-dresses to cross a border, rob a bank, get into an all-male or all-female place, even to attend one's own funeral. Those female impersonators who are not transvestites or transsexuals. Gay men in drag for a competition, to seduce straight men. This is covered in two short paragraphs, and certainly does not consider such gays as then progress on the road the womanhood. This is Type 0 (what today we might call Cis Cross-dressing). There are of course thousands of books and films that use these events as plot devices – a phenomenon of both high culture (Benjamin the opera buff would have been very aware of Marriage of Figaro and Der Rosenkavalier) and the cinema (Some Like it Hot and Thunderball are prominent examples from the early to mid 1960s).

Their actions usually have nothing to do with transvestism either, the female attire being incidental, nonaffective, and without eroticism. ... In transvestism proper, the emotions are always involved, tinged more or less with eroticism, sexual stimulation, - and often masturbatory satisfaction.” p46/20. In Chapter 2, Benjamin had argued that transvestism was not a sexual deviation. Now he seems to be backtracking.

Type I Pseudo Transvestite. Again a very short section. His main example, p46/21, is a man, 60, previously a Kinsey 3 and married to a woman, who when younger had often cross-dressed. Now, since his wife’s death, he is a Kinsey 5 and never cross-dresses. I have a Label Youthful Phase in my encyclopedia. Are persons who cross-dress when young, but then desist not to be regarded as transvestites? This would result in us losing Kim Christy, John Herbert, Herbert Beeson, Boy George from our history. But more importantly I have never regarded ‘lifelong’ as an essential word in the definition of ‘tranvestism’, nor have I seen other definitions include it.

Then there is a throwaway paragraph at the end of the section. “Another, probably very small group of men may belong to the same category. They do not ever 'dress' overtly, out of fear or shame, but greatly enjoy transvestitic fantasies and literature. It is probably immaterial whether to classify them as pseudo or not at all.” p47/21 It would not be until over 45 years later that the concept of Cross Dreamer would be articulated.

Pseudo-Transvestite is marked Kinsey 0-6 in Benjamin’s Scale. This is all sexual orientations. The next two Transvestite types are marked 0-2 only. And thus gay transvestites are erased, unlike in Benjamin’s previous book Prostitution and Morality. Let us mention Patricia Morgan who was a patient of Benjamin in the late 1950s. She started as a male prostitute, became a transvestite prostitute, had surgery from ElmerBelt in 1961, and continued as a female prostitute. Perhaps Benjamin should have listened more attentively to what Morgan had to say. In her very being she refutes the distinction between the homosexual, presumed to be a pseudo transvestite who will discontinue, and the transsexual.

Type III True Transvestite.
A large group of male transvestites (TVs) can be called "true" because cross-dressing is the principal if not the only symptom of their deviation. They dress out of a strong, sometimes overwhelming, emotional urge that – to say the least - contains unmistakable sexual overtones. Some of them can resemble addicts, the need for ‘dressing’ increasing with increasing indulgences.“ p47/21 and continues: “Sexual reasons for male transvestism are especially evident in the early stages of a transvestitic career. No experienced clinician can doubt the sexual roots in the large majority of transvestites. In most of the medical literature it is, therefore, perhaps not too fortunately, referred to as a sexual deviation or perversion. The often admitted masturbatory activities during or after a transvestite spree confirm this view. The frequently reported guilt feelings and disgust that are followed, with purges, that is to say, getting rid of all female attire, likewise point to the, - basically - sexual nature of transvestism (‘Post coitum omne animal triste?’).” p48/22 Then Benjamin talks about the ‘transvestite with a latent transsexual trend’: “The sexual element in transvestism seemed to me always more manifest in the fetishistic than in the latent transsexual type where (as in true TSism) a low sex drive and gender dissatisfaction frequently predominated.“ p53/24

What about female transvestites? “The facts may apply to the female as well as to the male, but this chapter will be devoted to the male only. Female transvestism seems to be rare and of somewhat doubtful reality. Women's fashions are such as to allow a female transvestite to indulge her wish to wear male attire without being too conspicuous. Her deviation has been considered merely arrogant while male transvestism is to many objectionable because, in their opinion, it humiliates.” p47/21 This again is a repetition of what Virginia Prince said. And the claim is offensive in that many female cross-dressers were in fact arrested – especially if they were anywhere near a lesbian bar. The Los Angeles police actually had a special section, the Daddy Tank, to imprison female cross-dressers. Louis Sullivan and Patrick Califia would later mock this attempted erasure of female cross-dressers, but that was still in the future. Here is a quote from Califia. Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism  Cleis Press, 1997: 201.  “A whole book could probably be written about the misogyny and homophobia that has led sexologists and other 'experts' to frequently state, as Prince does, that women can wear men's clothes without being punished, so they have no need to become transvestites. This is patently false. … As any stone butch or passing woman can tell you, the general public continues to be deeply disturbed by a biological female who appears in public in men's clothing. There is no difference between the discrimination, condemnation, and violence that is routinely inflected upon male and female cross-dressers, if they are exposed as such."

On p49/22 we are formally introduced to “Charles Prince, Ph.D., who himself is a transvestite” and “Emphatic among present-day writers as to a supposedly nonsexual nature of transvestism”. Note the ‘supposedly’. Charles is of course Virginia. The PhD was earned by Virginia’s male persona Arnold Lowman in pharmacology, which led to his two successful books Chemistry in Your Beauty Shop, 1955 and Survey of Chemistry for Cosmetologists, 1959 – none of this mentioned. There has obviously been some sort of dialectic between Prince and Benjamin, who had known each other at least ten years by this time. Prince seems to have pushed Benjamin further in erasing gay transvestites and female transvestites, but Benjamin has resisted Prince’s position that transvestism is non-sexual. It is a shame that this was not documented.

Benjamin does not introduce us to Taylor Buckner, a future sociologist at Sir George Williams University, Montréal (and in fact mispells his name as Buchner), but does cite his master’s thesis on subscribers to Prince’s Transvestia magazine several times.

Type II Fetishistic Transsexual. Benjamin gives two examples p51/23.
 a) “a man in his late sixties, was accustomed to this form of transvestism when he went out. Only at home did he "dress" completely. Once he was in a street accident and was taken unconscious to a hospital. When the female undergarments were discovered, the examining physician, completely unacquainted with transvestism, wrote the fact into the hospital record (where I saw it), together with the diagnosis of ‘concussion’ and ‘patient evidently a degenerate’." p51/29 Footnote 7 tells us that his case was fully described by Dr Talmey, and thus we identify OttoSpengler.
b) “a nearly sixty-year-old, largely heterosexual pharmacist, who looks little more than forty, combines his fetishistic ‘dressing’ with a strong fetish for youthful apparel (civistism). He gets an even greater ‘sexual glow’ (as he describes it) from dressing like a very young boy than as a woman”.

There is also a short section at the end of the chapter, Concomitant deviations, where Benjamin mentions bondage, flagellation, and auto-asphyxiation with its risk of suicide. However he goes on: “Fetishism (S.O.S. II) complicates other TVs' sex lives. At the same time, it puts an additional strain on married life. There are those who like furs or leather. They buy jackets, coats, and entire outfits at considerable expense so that the wife has a just grievance, if she cannot afford anything like it for her own wardrobe.”p63/28

Now this was 1966, seven years before Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show; four years before Jayne County incorporated fetish themes into her act; 10 years before Punk, and well before the fetish club scene. Psycho-analysts had been ignorantly writing for decades that transvestism was a type of fetish. On the other hand there was a publisher in New York, Leonard Burtman  who had been putting out real fetish titles since the late 1950s, and around this time became a mentor of Kim Christy. It is very difficult from our 21st century perspective to give any credence to what either the psychoanalysts or Benjamin wrote about fetishism. They just don’t know what they are talking about.  A small number of transvestites were and are fetishists, but the examples cited by Benjamin hardly count.  ‘Fetish’, much like the word ‘autogynephile’ in later years became a general insult term to throw at a trans person whom you dislike. The HBS people put down Prince’s femmiphilics as fetishists, while FPE was actually obsessed with not being fetishistic. Two years after Benjamin’s book, Transvestia columnist Sheila Niles popularized the concept ‘whole girl fetishist (WGF)’ for FPE members who did not pass well enough, particularly if it were for lack of trying. Over the next few years it came to be that those who failed or didn’t bother to fashion themselves as truly feminine were "fetishistic". Susanna Valenti even estimated that the majority of members were WGFs.

What about real fetishistic transvestites? One was certainly known to Benjamin. Two years earlier in 1964, Leonard Wheeler had published Sex Life of a Transvestite. He revealed Connie, his female self as an erotic transvestite who was also into bondage, with cruel sadistic fantasies about women. His book contained an introduction by Benjamin’s colleague Albert Ellis, and was featured in Taylor Buckner’s 1969 paper “The Transvestic Career Path” - in fact it was the only autobiography that Buckner referred to. However there is no mention of Leonard Wheeler in Benjamin’s book.

Transvestite Publications.  Again Virginia Prince is mentioned, and her magazine Transvestia and her denial of a sexual component. And then: “The de-sexing attempt is merely one example of the frequent lack of realism among transvestites and their ever-present capacity for illusion and self-deception. The inability of many of them to look at themselves objectively is their great handicap. It explains that all too often they do not look like women at all when ‘dressed,’ but like men dressed up as women. They do not see it and that is why some of them are arrested. One only has to look at some of the photos published in Transvestia and Turnabout to recognize the truth of this observation. While unfortunate, the self-deception is understandable if we think of the wish being the ever-present motivating force.” p54/24

Benjamin is more positive about Turnabout: “A seemingly more objective approach to the problem can be found in the pages of Turnabout, another more recent magazine of transvestism. Its competent editor, Fred Shaw [Siobhan Fredericks], writing under different pseudonyms, with several qualified collaborators, likewise provides self-expression for their readers through letters and photographs, but they provide, at the same time, education and information through scientific debates, giving expression to diversified views. They disagree with ‘Virginia Prince’ and her principal theory that ‘the girl within’ prompts transvestites to be what they are and to act as they do. Yet - as we have seen - such theory does contain a grain of truth, namely, the biological fact that in every male there is an element of the female, and vice versa. Our culture and upbringing, however, lead to the practical demands (for males and females), for masculinity and femininity as such, and allow no ‘girls within’ men. It does exist only under just such abnormal conditions as transvestism, transsexualism and certain cases of homosexuality with effeminacy. All this, however, permits no generalization.” p55/25

Benjamin says nothing about Female Mimics, which had been available since 1963. While it was more oriented to female impersonation, many of the same people read both Turnabout and Female Mimics.

Transvestites’ wives. Prince had published The Transvestite and His Wife in 1962, which Benjamin does not mention. He does say: “The wives of transvestites constitute a psychological problem by themselves. I have spoken to at least a dozen. Most of them put up a brave front, claiming to be unaffected in their love for their husbands, but admitting they are certainly not happy about the TVism, even suffering acutely at times. Few, but very few, say they enjoy helping their husbands to "dress" and "make up" and actually like him in his female as much as his male role.” p61/27

1 comment:

  1. very nice synopsis of Benjamin's writing on this subject Zagria. If anything we continue to see the shades of grey and complexities of this subject which Benjamin (as an endocrinologist) attributed as least a part to biological disposition. We know not much more today than we did today on the science of this topic but his work still stands up for me as the best.


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