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24 June 2016

A rereading of Benjamin: Part 4: photos, legal, trans men, conclusion

  • 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


In the center of the Warner edition are 23 pages of photographs: some before and after contrasts, and then close-ups of surgical results. The photographs are not identified in any way, not by a letter, not by a number, not by a pseudonym. Thus it is difficult to refer to any specific photograph. In the PDF of the book, only a few of the photographs are included.

The 6th and 7th pages (not in the PDF) are the before and after of an actor, both in a stereotyped pose more typical of silent films, than of the 1960s. This actor has never been named. How an actor can transition in stealth and keep working is intriguing. The US trans actors of the 1960s were non-op e.g. Candy Darling (however, of course, several of the stars of Le Carrousel in Paris were in films in the 1960s). The first US trans actor known to have surgically transitioned was Ajita Wilson who did so in the mid-1970s. The unnamed actor in the photograph is the true pioneer in her field, and we know nothing of her.

Pages 22-4, the last 3 pages, of the photographs (not in the PDF) are of a tattooed woman who had conversion surgery in 1953 at age 45. Benjamin discusses her on p137/63: “One patient who is now, several years after the operation, a decidedly masculine-looking ‘woman,’ with tattoos all over her body, is getting along well in an active business and is unrecognized as a former male. She is merely considered eccentric by her associates. Under no circumstances, she assured me repeatedly, would she ever go back to living as a man. ‘This way I am at least myself and can relax,’ were her own words. A couple of times she was arrested under the suspicion of ‘impersonating.’ When she was taken to a police station, examined and declared to be a woman, the arresting officers apologized and in one instance, bought her a dinner.

She is named Janet in Wheeler & Cahan Schaefer “Harry Benjamin's first ten cases (1938-1953): a clinical historical note

9. Legal Aspects in Transvestism and Transsexualism

There is actually no law anywhere that expressly forbids a man to dress as a woman; but the New York State Code of Criminal Procedure, Section 887, Subdivision 7, is being used against transvestites, and other states have similar statutes. This law says that a person (designated as a 'vagrant') must not appear with 'a face painted, discolored, or covered or concealed or being otherwise disguised in a manner calculated to prevent his being identified.' This applies to persons 'on a road or public highway, or in a field, lot, wood or enclosure.' This law had been passed more than one hundred years ago for an entirely different purpose. It was directed against farmers who disguised themselves as Indians and sometimes attacked law officers when they tried to enforce an unpopular rent law.” p167/78

Benjamin, advised by attorney Richard Levidow, was right about New York State, but municipalities across the US had passed laws against cross-dressing. See here.

The first case discussed is “A middle-aged man, an airline pilot for many years, of high standing in the community, a recent widower and a father, whom I knew well and for whom I have the highest regard, was arrested last year in the street near his home, wearing a wig, female clothing, and so on.” Readers of this encyclopedia will immediately recognize Felicity Chandelle.

The second case is of a woman, “Back from abroad after the conversion operation, and no longer a male anatomically” who was arrested for impersonation. An examination at the police station told the detectives that they had made a mistake, but unlike what had happened to the woman with tattoos, they changed the charge to ‘soliciting’. Fortunately she drew a sensible judge who dismissed the case.

E, a transvestite who for years had lived as a woman and whom I knew through frequent contacts to be a respected and responsible person, wanted to travel in Europe as a woman although the birth certificate and the given name were that of a man. I wrote the Passport Bureau, State Department, Washington, presenting fully all the facts in support of E's application for a passport to be issued in her female name and identity. Without comment, E's request was granted and she received the desired passport. Someone in the respective department was big enough to override technicalities and, in this instance, common sense won out over possible ‘rules and regulations’." p169/79 This could well be Virginia Prince who somehow managed to get a passport as a woman, and in the late 1960s visited the UK and Australia.

An ancient law threatens surgeons. This is of course the concept of Mayhem, originally a crime against the king in that it rendered a man less able to fight, but by the 20th century it had become a crime of removing a functioning body part. Because of this almost no US doctor was willing to do conversion surgery. Benjamin seems to regard Mayhem as a residual piece of English law in US law codes, but no US surgeon was ever charged, unlike Argentina where Ricardo San Martin was charged in 1961, and Francisco Sefazio in 1969.

After Benjamin’s book was published, Mauricio Archibald was on his way home in April 1967 from a masquerade party when he also was arrested and convicted under Section 887, Subdivision 7. Unlike Felicity, he appealed, but Per Curium the conviction stood as “the wording of subdivision 7 does not require that the State must establish either a lack of means of support or an intention to commit an illegal act”. However Section 887 was repealed that year, but with the caveat that the “newly enacted sections were not to apply or govern the prosecution for any offense committed prior to the effective date of the act".

10. The Female Transsexual

As we said re the title of Chapter 4, the usage, referring to trans men as ‘female transsexuals’ does grate.

Frequency of female transsexualism.
It is probably very unfair to devote only one chapter in this volume to the female transsexual: unfair because her emotional problem is in every way as serious as that of her male counterpart. However, the frequency of female transsexualism is considerably less than that of the male. While the clinical experiences described in the preceding pages are based on 152 cases of male transsexualism, the female transsexuals here reported number only twenty (by the end of 1964). Even so, sometime in the future she may merit a book devoted to her alone.” p178/84

Such a book never did emerge.

If a female transsexual, after having been changed into a male, should receive the same publicity as Christine Jorgensen, it is possible that a greater number of female patients might apply for treatment. How many of them might do so merely as a passing mood, and would then not be acceptable for treatment, is conjectural.” p179/84

There was a press brou-ha-ha when Michael Dillon was outed in 1958, but he disappeared to India rather than stay around and continue the attention.

Why the second sentence? Why suppose that trans men are more likely to apply for treatment “merely as a passing mood”. This phenomenon was not discussed for trans women.

It is interesting to mention in this connection that in our culture about twelve times more women would have liked to have been born as men than vice-versa. They said so when they were questioned in a Gallup-type poll.” p179/84

This was so in the 1960s and earlier. Benjamin’s explanation is: “The more intimate, maternal relationship, however (with its exposure to the mother's female hormones during the nine months of gestation), may offer a possible explanation.” p180/85 Personally I would suggest the strong social restrictions applied to women before second-wave feminism began to gain ground. Far fewer women in the 21st century say that they would have preferred to have been men. Of course today those, that say that they would rather be a man, are likely to be advised that they can indeed change.


The female transsexual has many symptoms in common with the male and much that was said in the previous chapters could apply equally to her. The female transsexual's conviction that she ‘was meant to be a man’ is as strong as the reverse is in our male patients. She resents her female form, especially the bulging breasts, and frequently binds them with adhesive tape until a plastic surgeon can be found who would reduce the breasts to masculine proportions. Transsexual women fall deeply in love with normal or homosexual girls, often those of a soft, feminine type. Besides wanting to be lovers, they want to be husbands and fathers.” p180/85

Before Louis Sullivan in the 1980s, the trans man who wanted to be a gay male, was pretty much invisible. Ray Blanchard kept on maintaining that such trans men did not exist even despite communications from Sullivan.

Benjamin gives a case study but without his usual empathy:

One of my patients so much desired to be a father that she allowed one particular man to have sex relations with her until he could impregnate her, but this man then had to relinquish all claims on her and on the child. She reared the child, a boy, as a father would and wanted him to consider her his father, although the child, when old enough, was informed of the fact that 'father' was really his mother, but his 'natural parent.' The psychological impact on the child's mind of this confusing situation is worth studying. The persistent demand of this patient to be treated, operated upon, and 'made' a man, and her hostile reactions to the refusals by doctors, have brought her several times into mental institutions with the diagnosis of schizophrenic reaction. For patients of this type, Pauly coined the term 'paranoia transsexualis,' an apt label but naturally only a label. Whether the patient 'reacted' with a psychosis to her transsexual problem with its frustrations, or whether the TS problem should be considered part of her psychosis, is still an unsolved question. This patient, in spite of a short course of androgen treatment, is still in and out of hospitals, and the question whether to allow her (him?) custody of the child is undecided at this writing. Further studies of her case may deserve publication at some later date.” p180-1/85

Benjamin concludes this section with: “Menstruation constitutes a psychological trauma to the female TS. Its suppression under androgen therapy affords enormous emotional relief. Interests, attitudes, and fantasies take a masculine direction. Typically masculine occupations such as those of soldier, policeman, truck driver, would be their ideal, but only too often they have to be practical and settle for office work. Just like some of their male counterparts, they frequently show much ability in their work, can be highly successful in business or profession, profiting perhaps by the combination of male and female traits in their constitutional makeup and in their psychological development.” p181/85

Sex Life.

Sexually, female transsexuals can be ardent lovers, wooing their women as men do, but not as lesbians, whom they often dislike intensely. They long for a penis, yet mostly understand realistically that the plastic operation of creating a useful organ would be a complicated, difficult, highly uncertain, and most expensive procedure.” p181-2/85

However only one of Benjamin’s patients had had phalloplasty at that time. “ the operation performed in several stages, but the final result is still questionable. The first surgical attempt, as his doctor explained to me, was ruined because the patient went horseback riding too soon!” p182/86

I have had extensive correspondence with another intelligent female transsexual whom I never met personally. He described 33 plastic operations, but the male organ, although serviceable, still does not seem fully satisfactory. The technique of creating a penis varies greatly with the various surgeons who have attempted it. The textbook by Gillies and Millard goes into considerable detail. The Russians are said to have more extensive experience with this type of operation than anybody else.“ p182/86

Of the twenty patients, five had been married as women before I ever saw them. These marriages were entered into either in the hope that it might reverse the psychological trend, or under pressure from the family, or to escape family supervision. All these marriages failed, ending in annulment or divorce, or, in one instance, in a reversal of roles with the wife becoming the husband and the former husband becoming the wife. Some were never consummated and were highly unpleasant experiences, probably for both partners. There were four pregnancies in three patients with one abortion, one miscarriage, and one ending in normal birth twice. This person, living as a male (whether married as a male is unknown) now has two children to which ‘he’ is the mother.” p182/86

Much that has been said on etiological speculation for the male transsexual applies equally to the female, especially as far as conditioning is concerned. Definite conditioning could be proved in only two cases, and not at all in eleven. The remaining seven were considered doubtful.” p183/86

Again no theory of etiology is convincing.

Physical Data.

“The physical examination of the female transsexual usually reveals a normal girl except that, as in the male, hypogonadism seems to be more frequent than one would expect. Among my twenty patients, it was more or less distinctly evident in nine. There was no sign of hypogonadism in ten, and in one case it is unknown.”

One case was that of a female pseudo-hermaphrodite who underwent corrective surgery late in life and had been happily married as a man for five years when he was widowed.” p184/87

Social Position.
Artist 2
Entertainer 1
Librarian 1
Engineer 2
Selling 1
Ranching, farming 3
Office work 6
Factory work 2
Restaurant 2


A total hysterectomy, including the removal of the ovaries, is often as ardently desired by the female transsexual as the male desires his conversion operation. It is almost as difficult to obtain because surgeons, quite naturally, are reluctant to remove healthy organs. After a more or less extended period of androgen treatment, a physical state resembling pseudohermaphroditism (enlarged clitoris, body hair, etc.) develops, so that some surgeons at times felt justified in operating, especially if the social status (male) of the patient is already well established. In several instances, the patient was not fortunate enough to find a surgeon in the United States and had to go abroad or to Mexico for the operation. Of the twenty female transsexuals here reported, nine had a hysterectomy performed. In eight it was total and in one the ovaries were retained. The average age of the nine patients at the time of the operation was 35.5. Four patients were in their twenties, two in their thirties, two in their forties and one in the fifties, at the time of operation. The corresponding average age in male patients was 33.2.” p187-8/89

Results of therapy.

Psychotherapy with the purpose of having the patient accept herself as a woman is as useless in female transsexualism as it is in male. Psychotherapy can be helpful only as guidance and to relieve tension, provided there is a permissive attitude on the part of the doctor regarding masculinization. If the patient is of age, not acutely psychotic, and reasonably intelligent, the doctor might best say: ‘as to masculinization and your future life, you have to make your own decision’." p189 /89

With one doubtful exception (to be mentioned later), all patients under my observation (and I know the fates of fifteen of the twenty fairly well) were benefited. They still have problems. There still can be spells of depression (mostly reactive) and more or less distinct neurotic or psychoneurotic traits. They were unhappy, disturbed persons before any treatment and they are not boundlessly happy and free of disturbance afterward. Who is? But they are better off; better able to find a satisfactory niche in life, perhaps in a job or profession as a bachelor or as a married man.” p189/89-90

Some examples:

The aforementioned young lady, a student and musician, who seems to have had a doubtful result from her treatment and operations (hysterectomy with the ovaries retained, and mastectomy), was seen about ten years ago. She had been married and divorced, had several years of psychoanalysis, but still wanted to change. After the operation she tried living as a man, then changed her mind and returned to her female role. She even had the shape of her breasts restored by plastic surgery. But she is not unhappy and has no regrets. Her ‘double sex’ may give her a feeling of satisfaction.  Unfortunately I have had no opportunity to see her in recent years, but I know from correspondence and from her physician that she feels her therapeutic attempts ‘basically have worked’." p190/90

One twenty-six-year-old, disturbed, unhappy girl is now, four years later, a busy, handsome, bearded young man, proud husband of a beautiful wife and father of two legally adopted children.” p190/90

One confused, unhappy girl, after two disastrous marriages, an attempted suicide, years of futile psychoanalysis is now, seven years later, a man in his early forties, of some importance in the art world, married to a highly intelligent woman and living in an environment where very few of the numerous friends of this couple have any idea of the husband's past.” p190/90  [This is Joe in Appendix D]

Bobby, formerly Mary ... When first seen ten years ago at the age of thirty-seven, he was living and working as a man. He had been successful in obtaining a complete hysterectomy as well as a mastectomy and his greatest problem was a legal change of sex status. Red tape offered formidable obstacles. After waiting several years, and with the help of various medical certificates, a new birth certificate was finally issued with strikingly good results on the emotional life and his job prospects. Bobby is now reasonably successful as an architect, gets along with people much better than in years past, and his only regret is that his aged mother never became reconciled to the change, although an older sister had readily done so. Bobby has some flair for writing. He is doing his autobiography now, the first one written by a female transsexual for possible publication as a book.” p191/90”

More cases could be related, almost equally satisfying. There are those for whom an operation is not yet attainable, but androgen treatment is at least a partial substitute. A great and deeply disturbing handicap for some is their inability to secure for themselves the legal change of sex status.” p192/91

Appendix A: Concluding Remarks and Outlook

(December 15, 1965)

Benjamin updates his statistics: “The collection of statistical data in the preceding pages was closed at the end of 1964. Toward the end of 1965, a total Of 307 cases of the transvestite-transsexual phenomenon were observed. Among them were 193 males (S.O.S. IV, V, and VI); 62 of them were operated upon. Besides, there were 27 female transsexuals; 11 of them had either hysterectomies or mastectomies or both performed. The rest of the males were transvestites.” p195/92

He looks to the future: “The etiology of the transsexual state is still largely obscure, but a light seems to blink here and there in publications from the laboratories of brain physiologists.” p195/92 He considers possible future developments in conditioning and imprinting, in genetics, in psychology and in endocrinology.

From the therapeutic end, it cannot be doubted or denied that surgery and hormone treatment can change a miserable and maladjusted person of one sex into a happier and more adequate, although by no means neurosis-free, personality of the opposite sex. The degree of such a change depends upon constitutional factors, as well as upon the environment in which the individual's new life pattern will develop.” p196-7/92

He is most pessimistic about legal changes of identity: “As far as the legal change of sex after a conversion operation is concerned, the respective patient in the United States in 1965 has to be lucky. He has to have been born in a state that proceeds from good will, cuts through red tape, and issues a new birth certificate on application accompanied by medical testimony. If he is not lucky and has been born. in a state like the one mentioned above, he has to have money, swallow his sugar-coated pill of disappointment, entrust his fate to a judge, and hope for the best.” p199/93

Appendix B: Complementarity of Human Sexes by Gobind Behari Lal

The Science Editor Emeritus of the Hearst newspapers combines science and religion, regrets the difference between the sexes, and concludes: “The less we think of the 'opposite sexes,' of the 'war of sexes,' and the more we think of 'human beings – with dual sexes, in varying proportions,' the greater might be the hope of success of a more acceptable civilization than that of today. Not ashamed of their 'female nature,' men of power might become tamed down, so that the nuclear weapons will not go off, as the guns went off in August, 1914, starting the First World War, the epoch of horrors still not past.”

Appendix C: Transsexualism: Mythological, Historical, and Cross-Cultural Aspects by Richard Green

Richard Green repeats the common tales found in Bulliet’s Venus Castina and Gilbert’s
Men in Women’s Guise, plus an early account of gender variance among the North American aboriginals.

Appendix D: Transsexual´s Lives by R. E. L. Masters

R. E. L. Masters was Benjamin’s co-author of Prostitution and Morality, of two years earlier, 1964.

As Masters writes: “As a research worker and author in the field of sexology I have had occasion to come to know a great many sex deviates and other persons whose sexual behavior sets them at odds with society.” One suspects that he had not read the earlier parts of the book.  He also refers to trans women as 'he' even after surgery.

This Appendix consists of four selections from unpublished autobiographies, by Ava, Betty, Clara and Joe, and three clinical profiles, C, H and K presumably written by Masters.

Ava is also Harriet, whom Benjamin had discussed as his example of a Type VI High Intensity. p83-5/38-9

Betty is also K.

Clara is also C.

Joe was discussed by Benjamin p190/90.

H was discussed by Benjamin p106-7/49, was Benjamin's first transsexual patient, and is known as Sally Barry.

Bibliography by Richard Green

This bibliography contains the complete publications of Richard Green up to 1965. It contains many books and articles never mentioned by Benjamin. It does not contain some publications mentioned by Benjamin.

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