Dr. Harry Benjamin

Dr. Harry Benjamin (January 12, 1885 – August 24, 1986) was a German-born, American endocrinologist and sexologist, widely known for his clinical work with transsexualism. Benjamin was born in Berlin, and raised in an observant Ashkenazi Jewish home. He received his doctorate in medicine in 1912 in Tübingen for a dissertation on tuberculosis. Sexual medicine interested him, but was not part of his medical studies. In 1948, in San Francisco, Benjamin was asked by Alfred Kinsey, a fellow sexologist, to see a child who "wanted to become a girl", despite being born male, and whose mother wished for help that would assist rather than thwart the child. Kinsey had encountered the child as a result of his interviews for Sexual Behavior in the Human Male which was published that year, and had seen nothing of the like previously. This child rapidly led Benjamin to understand that there was a different condition to that of transvestism, under which adults who had such needs had been classified to that time. Despite psychiatrists whom Benjamin involved in the case failing to agree amongst themselves on a path of treatment, Benjamin eventually decided to treat the child with estrogen (Premarin, introduced in 1941), which had a "calming effect", and helped arrange for the mother and child to go to Germany where surgery to assist the child could be performed, but from there they ceased to maintain contact, to Benjamin's regret. However, Benjamin continued to refine his understanding and went on to treat several hundred patients with similar needs in a similar manner, often without accepting any payment. Many of his patients were referred by Dr. David Cauldwell, Dr. Robert Stoller, and doctors in Denmark.

These doctors received hundreds of requests from individuals who had read about their work connected with changing sex, as it was then largely described. However, due to the personal political opinions of the American doctors and a Danish law prohibiting sex reassignment surgery on non-citizens, these doctors referred the letter-writers to the one doctor of the era who would aid transsexual individuals. Benjamin conducted treatment with the assistance of carefully selected colleagues of various disciplines (such as psychiatrists C.L Ihlenfeld and John Alden, electrologist Martha Foss, and surgeons Jose Jesus Barbosa, and Dr Georges Burou). Benjamin's patients regarded him as a man of immense caring, respect and kindness, and many kept in touch with him until his death. He was a prolific and assiduous correspondent, in both English and German, and many letters are archived at the Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology, Humboldt University, Berlin. The legal, social and medical background to this in the United States, as in many other countries, was often a stark contrast, since wearing items of clothing associated with the opposite sex in public was often illegal, castration of a male was often illegal, anything seen as homosexuality was often persecuted, if not illegal, and many doctors considered all such people (including children) best treated by forced treatments such as drugged detention, electroconvulsive therapy or lobotomy. Although Benjamin's 1966 book, The Transsexual Phenomenon, was immensely important as the first large work describing and explaining the affirmative treatment path he pioneered, he had already published papers and lectured to professional audiences extensively. Publicity surrounding his patient Christine Jorgensen brought the issue into the mainstream in 1952, and led to a great many people presenting for assistance, internationally. In 1979 the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association was formed. Most of Benjamin's patients lived (and many still live) quiet lives. Benjamin died at the age of 101.