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28 February 2019

A black trans woman in 1960s New Jersey

A black trans girl, for whom we are not given a name, not even a doctor’s pseudonym, was in the New Jersey foster care system as her mother was disabled and indigent. As she entered her teens, she expressed the kinds of statement that trans girls usually do. For this she was committed to a psychiatric institution and labeled ‘schizophrenic’. For the next fifteen years, her gender identity issues were taken as evidence of ‘delusion’, ‘mental retardation’ and ‘sexual perversion’.

In 1978 Jeanne Hoff, who had taken over Harry Benjamin’s practice, and had recently completed her own transition, became aware of the case. The patient was now 30 years old. Hoff interviewed her, and petitioned for her release.
 “Through all the florid language of the [psychiatric] reports there is an unmistakable moralistic disapproval of her effeminacy and homosexuality but not the slightest hint that the diagnosis of transsexualism was suspected, even though it was quite evident from the details provided. . . . She should be placed in the community, preferably living by herself” and “she should be permitted to explore the various problems that arise from cross-gender living, hormonal therapy, and surgical gender reassignment.”
  • Julian Gill-Peterson. Histories of the Trangender Child. University of Minnesota Press, 2018: 159-160, 248n105.

Gill-Peterson found this account in the Jeanne Hoff archives at the Kinsey Institute.   He discusses, of course, how maltreatment of this sort was more often inflicted on black people.   We have already seen Chris Thompson, a dancer, who was black, gay, trans and asthmatic. She sought treatment for asthma at New York’s Bellevue Hospital in 1970, but was locked in the psychiatric wing for not being heteronormative.  

Again we do not know what happened afterwards.   One hopes that the woman in New Jersey was discharged, but she would still have needed help after 15 years of incarceration.

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