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Trans Trading Cards: Harry Benjamin, M.D. (1999)

Trans Trading Cards: Harry Benjamin, M.D. (1999)

©1999, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1999, October). Trans trading cards: Harry Benjamin, M.D. Two-Spirit News: The Newsletter of the Atlanta Gender Explorations Support Group (electronic version).


 Transsexual and Transgender Trading Cards?

Harry Benjamin, M.D.

By Dallas Denny


In the first issue of this e-zine I presented a list of potential candidates for a deck of transgender and transsexual trading cards. Each month I’ll highlight one of the selections.


Harry Benjamin was of enormous importance for transsexuals, for it was he who named and described transsexualism as a medical syndrome.

Dr. Harry Benjamin's Trading Card

Harry Benjamin's Trading Card

Benjamin was a German-born U.S. endocrinologist who moved to New York and established a medical practice there; he had a second office in San Francisco. He began working with transsexuals in the late 1940s when a colleague approached him about an individual who wished to change sex. When the press coverage about Christine Jorgensen’s “sex change” resulted in desperate pleas of hundreds of men and women for the same procedures, Dr. Benjamin began treating many of them. In her autobiography Second Serve, Renée Richards vividly describes his waiting room, full of transsexuals of all descriptions.

Because there was no term to describe them, Jorgensen and other early transsexuals were typically called “transvestites,” both in the popular press and in medical journals. In 1966, Benjamin gave a name to those who changed their sex. It was in this year he published his text The Transsexual Phenomenon, in which he named and described the medical condition transsexualism. Benjamin didn’t invent the term, which has been traced to the early 1950s, when it was used by Dr. D.O. Cauldwell, but it was Benjamin who gave transsexualism a name and opened the door for treatment of the men and women he described as “desperately unhappy.” Three years after the publication of Benjamin’s book, a protocol for the medical treatment of Benjamin’s syndrome was published by Richard Green and John Money of Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Benjamin was more than a physician who treated transsexuals. He was a tireless educator about transsexualism and published widely in medical journals from the 1950s until the 1970s. He was much-loved, and was missed after his death in 1986 at the ripe old age of 101. He is still celebrated at meetings of the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, the professional organization for those who treat transsexual people.

His case records have fortunately been preserved. They are in the keeping of Drs. Leah Schaefer and Christine Wheeler of New York City, who have published several articles about his early patients, who included Christine Jorgensen.