Harry Benjamin

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Dr. Harry Benjamin
Harry Benjamin.jpg
Born January 12, 1885
Berlin, Brandenburg, German Empire
Died August 24, 1986(1986-08-24) (aged 101)
New York City, New York
Fields Endocrinology, sexology

Harry Benjamin (January 12, 1885 – August 24, 1986) was a German-born, American endocrinologist and sexologist, widely known for his clinical work with transsexualism.

Early life and career[edit]

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 an interview conducted in 1985 he recalled:

I do remember going, as a young person, to a lecture by Auguste Forel, whose book The Sexual Question was a sensation at the time and which impressed me greatly. I also met Magnus Hirschfeld very early on through a girl friend, who knew the police official Kopp, who was in charge investigating of sexual offenses. He, in turn, was a friend of Hirschfeld's, and so I met both men. That was around 1907. They repeatedly took me along on their rounds through the homosexual bars in Berlin. I especially remember the 'Eldorado' with its drag shows, where also many of the customers appeared in the clothing of the other sex. The word "transvestite" had not yet been invented. Hirschfeld coined it only in 1910 in his well-known study.[1]

Benjamin first arrived in the United States in 1913, to work with a doctor who claimed, incorrectly, to have found a cure for tuberculosis.[2] The liner in which Benjamin was returning to Germany was caught mid-Atlantic both by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, and the Royal Navy. Given the choice of a British internment camp, as an "enemy alien", or returning to New York, he used his last dollars to travel back to America, where he made his home for the rest of his life, although he maintained and built many international professional connections and visited Europe frequently when wars allowed.

After several failed attempts to start a medical career in New York, in 1915 Benjamin rented a consulting room, in which he also slept, and started his own general medical practice. Later he also practiced in San Francisco (at 450 Sutter Street) in the summer of every year.

Work with transsexual people[edit]

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; the 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. Kinsey and Benjamin 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.[3]

Despite the psychiatrists with whom Benjamin involved in the case not agreeing on a path of treatment, Benjamin eventually decided to treat the child with estrogen (Premarin, introduced in 1941), which had good results because the estrogen changed the body to what the transgender child thought it should be 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 David Cauldwell, 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 noncitizens, these doctors referred the letter-writers to the one doctor of the era who would aid transsexual individuals, Harry Benjamin.[4] 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,[5] and 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 [6]

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 or illegal, and many doctors considered all such people (including children) best treated by forced treatments such as drugged detention, electroconvulsive therapy,[7] or lobotomy.

Though he had already published papers and lectured to professional audiences extensively, Benjamin's 1966 book, The Transsexual Phenomenon, was immensely important as the first large work describing and explaining the affirmative treatment path he pioneered.[8] 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 the preface of Christine Jorgensen's autobiography, Dr. Benjamin also gives Jorgensen credit for the advancement of his studies. He wrote, "Indeed Christine, without you, probably none of this would have happened; the grant, my publications, lectures, etc."[9]

Similar cases in other countries (such as that of Roberta Cowell, whose surgery by Harold Gillies in England was in 1951 but was not publicised until 1954; Coccinelle[10] who received much publicity in France in 1958, and April Ashley whose exposure in 1961 by the British tabloid press was reported worldwide) fuelled this. In 1963, perhaps his first transsexual, female-to-male, who was later known as Reed Erickson (1917-1992), did seek help from Benjamin. With Erickson's inherited fortune, he established the Erickson Educational Foundation to publish booklets to help educate the public about those who are transgender. But most of Benjamin's patients lived (and many still live) quiet lives.

Other work and interests[edit]

Apart from endocrinology and sexology, he worked on life extension and would now also be described as a gerontologist. Benjamin himself lived to be 101.

Benjamin was married to Gretchen, to whom he dedicated his 1966 major work, for 60 years.

In 1979 the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association was formed, using Benjamin's name by permission. The group consists of therapists and psychologists who devised a set of "standards of care" for the treatment of gender identity disorder, largely based on Benjamin's cases, and studies. [11]It has recently changed its name to The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, but still reveres its links to Harry Benjamin.


  • The Sex Problem and the Armed Forces (1944) ASIN: B0056ASJFW
  • A contribution to the endocrine aspect of the impotence problem; a report of thirty-nine cases (1946) PMID 21020395
  • Endocrinology in the aged (1946) PMID 20991360
  • Biologic versus chronologic age (1947) PMID 20264999
  • Endocrine gerontotherapy; the use of sex hormone combinations in female patients (1949) PMID 18147194
  • Two years of sexology (1949) PMID 18147407
  • Outline of a method to estimate the biological age with special reference to the role of the sexual functions (1949) PMID 18133520
  • Endocrine gerontotherapy. The use of steroid hormone combinations in male patients (1950) PMID 14803776
  • Transsexualism and transvestism as psychosomatic and somatopsychic syndromes (1954) PMID 13148376
  • Nature and management of transsexualism, with a report on thirty-one operated cases (1964) PMID 14128591
  • Clinical aspects of transsexualism in the male and female (1964) PMID 14173773
  • Transsexualism, its nature and therapy (1964) PMID 14320022
  • Introduction to Prostitution and Morality: a Definitive Report on the Prostitute in Contemporary Society and an Analysis of the Causes and Effects of the Suppression (Robert E.L. Masters, 1964) ASIN: B000WG6JF2
  • Introduction to Forbidden Sexual Behavior and Morality: An Objective Re-Examination of Perverse Sex Practices in Different Cultures (Robert E.L. Masters, 1964) ISBN 978-1258024369
  • Sexual problems at the consultation hour of the general practitioner (1966) PMID 5926775
  • The Transsexual Phenomenon; a Scientific Report on Transsexualism and Sex Conversion in the Human Male and Female, (1966) ASIN: B0007HXA76
  • Introduction to Christine Jorgensen; Personal Autobiography (Christine Jorgenssen, 1967) ISBN 978-0839716402
  • The transsexual phenomenon (1967) PMID 5233741
  • Should surgery be performed on transsexuals? (1971) PMID 5539832
  • Transsexualism (with C.L. Ihlenfeld, 1973) PMID 4486125

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hu-Berlnin.de.
  2. ^ Stein, Marc. Encyclopedia of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history in America. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons/Thomson/Gale, 2004. page 133 ISBN 0-684-31427-4, 978-0-684-31427-3
  3. ^ The Sisterhood.
  4. ^ Meyerowitz, Joan (2002). How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University. p. 143. ISBN 0674009258. 
  5. ^ University of Michigan.
  6. ^ Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology
  7. ^ Gender Shock
  8. ^ Michie, Jonathan. Reader's guide to the social sciences. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001 ISBN 978-1-57958-091-9
  9. ^ Jorgensen, Christine, and Susan Stryker. "Preface." Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Autobiography. 1st ed. Cleis, 2000.
  10. ^ Coccinelle Show.
  11. ^ Brien, Jodi. Encyclopedia of gender and society. London: SAGE, 2009 ISBN 978-1-4129-0916-7


External links[edit]