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24 February 2020

George Traver Whittle (1927 – 2017) sex-change surgeon

George Whittle was raised mainly in New Jersey. His father, a Naval Commander, was in command at Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1937 when the airship, the Hindenburg, crashed and burned. Ten-year-old George was among the witnesses.

Whittle graduated from Princeton in 1948 with majors in psychology and chemistry, and acquired a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania two years later. He did an internship at the Graduate Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania and surgical residencies at the Bronx VA and Columbia Presbyterian Hospitals in New York. In 1952 he was called to active duty in the US Navy and served in Korea. On return, he and his first wife moved to Long Branch, New Jersey and raised four children. He started the first renal dialysis unit in central New Jersey. He performed lithotripsy surgery, and was on the teaching staff of Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. He was a Diplomat of the American Board of Urology and elected a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

In the early 1970s, Whittle attended a symposium in Elsinore in Denmark on Transsexuality. Upon return, at the request of Johns Hopkins University, The University of Minnesota and the UCLA Medical Center he volunteered to surgically treat transsexual patients at the Jersey Shore Medical Center. He completed eight such operations assisted by Dr John Clark, both male to female and female to male operations. In his obituary he is quoted as saying that it was one of the most gratifying and challenging aspects of his medical career. His nurse Gloria, who was with him from 1970, helped provide aftercare and counselling. One of his patients was the New York business woman Judy Bowen who was in pain for years afterwards and later sued. This led to the Medical Center barring any more such operations.

The Ashbury Park Press in 1981, quoted Whittle that he was only too happy to give up the work with transsexuals because of “the day-to-day headaches and aggravations” and because it was a “losing proposition”. Of ‘male transsexuals’ [that is trans women] he said that they “have all the usual things wrong – emotional instability, financial difficulties, bad work habits and rehabilitive potentials. They are largely being supported by welfare; they don’t pay their bills”. On the other hand, “The female transsexuals [that is trans men] who have been assigned to male identity are exactly the opposite: they are generally stable, responsible and often productive persons who can be depended upon to pay their bills, have good work habits and normally wind up as a responsible member of the community”.

George and his first wife divorced in 1975. Gloria became his second wife in 1994 on his 67th birthday. They retired the next year and moved to Florida. Whittle died age 90.
  • “Transsexual nears trial in malpractice suit”. Drag: The International Transvestite Quarterly, 7, 26. 1978: 4. Online.
  • “Doctor still believes in sex changes: A decade ago, area physician did controversial surgery”. Ashbury Park Press, 29 November 1981: 51. Online.
  • “Memorial: George T Whittle ‘48”. Princeton Alumni Weekly, September 13, 2017. Online.
-------------------------- says that the symposium was in Elsinore in Norway. Neither Wikipedia nor Google maps knows of such a place. Elsinore, the English name for Helsingør, the location for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is of course in Denmark. Unless what is meant is Helsingborg, just over the water in Sweden - but again not Norway. However the Danish town is more likely, and I have adjusted the account accordingly. says of Whittle’s transgender surgeries: “This led to him becoming one of the leading surgeons of transsexuals in the country, completing both male to female and female to male.” Really! Eight surgeries makes a surgeon a national leader?  Stanley Biber, who started transgender surgery only a few years earlier, went on to complete several thousand such operations.  Biber was a national leader.

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