The Campaigns Against Transsexuals: Part I (2013)
©2013 by Dallas Denny
Source: Denny, Dallas. (2013, 5 September). The campaigns against transsexuals: Part I: The conspiracy at Johns Hopkins University. Paper presented at Southern Comfort Conference, Atlanta, GA, 4-8 September, 2013.
Part II, which I hope to present next year, will discuss Janice Raymond’s polemic The Transsexual Empire.
September 5, 2013 wasn’t one of my best days.
Two days before, after dropping a house guest at the airport (fortunately, AFTER), my Mazda Miata suffered a catastrophic brake failure. A brake line blew and the pedal went all the way to the floor as I was braking at a stop sign. Fortunately the line blew after most of the braking was done. I managed, using engine compression, the hand brake, and the little bit of stopping power remaining, to avoid hitting the car in front of me.
I rose early on the day of my presentation and called AAA to have my car towed to my mechanic, then left for the conference on my backup transportation, an antique 1971 Honda CL70 motorcycle. It’s a bike I love, in showroom condition, and I park it in my living room, since I have no garage.
The CL70 is too small for the freeway, so I set out for the conference hotel on the secondary roads. Although it was too early (I thought) for the rush hour, I ran into a huge traffic jam—then a road closure with no detour. It didn’t help that I was caught by nearly every traffic light on the 16-mile journey.
I made it to the hotel an hour-and-a-half later than I had anticipated and just in time for my 10:30 presentation. The valet kindly allowed me to park near the door and I made it to the meeting room without checking into the conference. I was hot from sitting in traffic and my hair was soaking from my helmet. I set up my computer for the slide show, apologized to the audience for being disheveled, and did, I made, I thought, a pretty good presentation, considering the circumstances. I love my zen moment before speaking, and clearly I wasn’t fated for one that day!
I had meant to record my talk, but didn’t think to start my iTouch. The recording below was made a few days later, while the talk was fresh in my mind. It’s almost, but not exactly, the talk I gave.
The Campaigns Against Transsexuals
Part I: The Conspiracy at Johns Hopkins University
By Dallas Denny
Presented at the Southern Comfort Conference
Thursday, 5 September, 2013
Today I’m talking about a remarkable—and successful—plot to end sex reassignment in the United States. Yes, right here in River City! The year was 1979.
It comes complete with villains, an evil plan, lies, misdirection, and manipulation of the media and general public.
I’m not talking today about Janice Raymond’s book the Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. That’s an entirely different evil 1979 plot to end sex reassignment, and one I hope to talk about next year at SCC 2014. Nor am I talking about the other significant thing that happened in 1979: the formation of the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, known today as WPATH. HBIGDA was formed and the first Standards of Care published in 1979, but it was the very opposite of an evil plot. HBIGDA sought to legitimize sex reassignment.
No, I’m talking today about Johns Hopkins University and a ploy developed by this man—his name is Paul McHugh, and he’s still very much alive—to close the gender program at Johns Hopkins.
Before I describe McHugh’s scheme, I’d like to frame it by presenting a brief history of sex reassignment.
All six inhabited continents have societies with proscribed social roles for gender-variant people, and from time immemorial gender-variant people have filled them. Written history and anthropological evidence support this— and anthropologist Timothy Taylor has argued tribal societies, with their extensive knowledge of the pharmaceutical powers of plants, would have been well-aware of the estrogenic properties of black cohosh, wild yams, certain legumes, St. John’s wort, and other plants. However, sex reassignment as we know it became available only with the development of modern plastic surgical techniques and the synthesis of human sex hormones in the mid-20th century.
The Illustration is We’Wha, who was an Ilhamana, a trans social role of the Zuni tribe. Will Roscoe has written a book about her.
There were surgical sex reassignments in Europe in the first half of the Twentieth century, sometimes with tragic results. This is the grave of Lili Elbe, whose transition was documented in 1933 in Niels Hoyer’s biography Man Into Woman and recently fictionalized by David Ebershoff in his novel The Danish Girl. This picture of Elbe’s grave is the frontispiece in my 1994 book Gender Dysphoria: A Guide to Research.
Transsexualism as a social and identity category became available in the 1950s, after the necessary technology for hormonal therapy and sex reassignment surgery were available. Trans historian Susan Stryker has noted that in December of 1952 news of Christine Jorgensen’s sex reassignment in Denmark knocked the news of the H-bomb tests on the Enewetak Atoll in the Pacific Ocean from the front page of the New York Times.
Jorgensen was a media sensation, and for the first time the public—and medical professionals—became aware sex might not be as immutable as had until then been believed. Hundreds of desperate men and women wrote to Jorgensen and her doctors, asking how they might obtain the treatments she had undergone.
Before long transpeople were finding ways to obtain this treatment. Male-to-females went, among other places, to Casablanca in Morocco for SRS by Georges Burou. This is the only image I’ve been able to find of Dr, Burou.
Both MTFs and FTMs sought hormonal treatments from this man. Harry Benjamin was an endocrinologist with offices in New York City and San Francisco. He lived to be 101 years old.
Psychiatrists were harshly critical of sex reassignment, calling it, among other things, “collusion with delusion” and “collaboration with psychosis.” They believed transsexualism was a mental disorder and they believed treatment should focus on the mind—not the body. The fact that no known technique or combination of techniques could be shown to “cure” transsexuals didn’t deter them.
In 1967 Harry Benjamin’s work The Transsexualism Phenomenon was published by Erickson Press. In it, he described a syndrome of transsexualism. He described the anguish of transsexuals and argued that in select cases hormonal and surgical sex reassignment was necessary to alleviate their great pain and suffering—because, after all, there was no cure. Why should transsexuals suffer when medical science could help them? This medical model of transsexualism reigned supreme until the 1990s. It was a model that ultimately did transsexuals great harm.
Now, Benjamin was a kindhearted man with tremendous sympathy for his transsexual patients. I’m convinced he laid out the only rationale possible for the time, the only argument that would get psychiatrists and others opposed to sex reassignment to back down. It was the model used by the many gender clinics that once existed in the U.S. and Canada.
Over the past twenty years the medical model has been largely replaced with a healthy transgender model, but in those early days, the medical model, with its emphasis on pain and suffering, was the template by which medical professionals viewed transsexuals and by which transsexuals viewed themselves. Some still do.
At about the time of the publication of Benjamin’s book, this man, John Money, created a gender identity clinic at Johns Hopkins University. Money was a New-Zealand-born psychologist who had been studying human sexuality at Hopkins since the 1950s. It was his lab that first differentiated sex and gender and posited multiple markers for determining sex: external genitalia, internal genitalia, gonads, chromosomal status, hormonal status, gender role, and gender identity. Before this, sex was viewed as a unitary phenomenon.
Three years later Money and psychiatrist Richard Green edited a mulitidisciplinary text called Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment, in which they laid out a treatment protocol for sex reassignment. They covered the waterfront: screening, office management, psychological testing, hormonal therapy and surgeries for both MTFs and FTMs, electrolysis, religious and legal considerations, and treatment of co-occurring psychiatric conditions.
The medical school at Johns Hopkins University was then and remains the most prestigious in the United States. Because of this, within a few years there were as many as forty gender clinics in North America, all following Green and Money’s protocol. One such clinic was right here in Atlanta. It was operated jointly by Emory University and the Georgia Mental Health Institute.
The stage is now set. Now for the plot!
In 1975 McHugh was offered the position of chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins. One of his reasons for accepting, he wrote in a 1992 article in the journal American Scholar, was to close the gender identity clinic there.
Two others at Hopkins played a role in the conspiracy. One was psychiatrist Jon Meyer, who was director of the Hopkins gender clinic. Meyer was firmly in the psychoanalytic camp. Transsexualism was a mental illness. Period.
The second was Meyer’s secretary, Donna Reter. I have been unable to find a picture or autobiographical information for her. In a fascinating article that appeared in Baltimore City Paper in 1994, science writer Ogi Ogas noted she had no background in mental health. I suspect her name comes into play here is because Meyer was unable to find anyone else willing to sign onto a paper he would soon be publishing.
I was convinced Ogi Ogas was a nom de plume and suspected the name was an anagram or other type of puzzle. It wasn’t. The editor of City Paper told me Ogas was a science writer, a real person. Earlier this year I was able to contact Ogas to see if he knew more than he had written. He told me he hadn’t. I didn’t believe him.
In 1979 the August issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry included an article called Sex Reassignment: Follow-up. The authors were Jon Meyer and his secretary, Donna Reter. The authors purported to have found “no objective advantage to sex reassignment surgery for male-to-female transsexuals. No outcome study before or since has had such a finding.
The illustration is an ad for the tranquilizer Haldol from a 1974 issue of the Journal. It looks like they’re dosing—Little Richard? Rick James? James Brown? Well, all three were wild men!
It was clear from the outset that Meyer & Reter’s paper was methodologically unsound. I won’t critique the paper today, but suffice it to say it was immediately and roundly attacked by professionals in the field. No one supported it. The criteria used to measure “success” were bizarre, and the way subjects had been chosen were suspect. We now know, thanks to McHugh’s 1992 confession in American Scholar, that the study was almost certainly fraudulent. Most likely the selection of subjects, outcome measures, and data were contrived to support an already-formed conclusion. The study was still being criticized in print as late as 1990.
The Meyer & Reter article, however, was merely the weapon. It was wielded at a press conference held by Jon Meyer in October.
The press conference was timed when John Money, the gender clinic’s principal proponent, would be out of the country. Meyer invited the popular press but didn’t notify academics, and care was apparently taken lest people at Hopkins (and especially the clinic’s staff) be forewarned. Meyer describes his “findings” and announced the closing of the Hopkins clinic.
“No one at the Gender Identity Clinic was informed about the press conference,” Money asserts. “It was done behind everyone’s back. I was on my way to Prague for a professional convention when the press conference was announced.” (Ogas, 1994)
Thus, after 13 years of highly acclaimed research, counseling, and surgery, SRS was terminated at a press conference held without the consent of the clinic itself and based upon a single study the majority of gender professionals regard as questionable. (Ogas, 1994)
The press conference was remarkably successful. Sex reassignment was discredited. Practically every newspaper and magazine in the world trumpeted the inefficacy of transsexual surgery. For nearly two decades medical professionals and others would say, “Oh, yes. Wasn’t there a study at Johns Hopkins that proved it didn’t work?” More often than not, these opinions were cast in stone. After all—Johns Hopkins!
Who engineered the plot? No one will ever know for sure. The principals aren’t talking, but in all likelihood Paul McHugh found in a disillusioned Jon Meyer a willing puppet. Naturally, the puppet master didn’t allow his name to be associated with the fraud. However, McHugh as much as confessed in his 1992 American Scholar article.
Under condition of anonymity, doctors at Hopkins revealed to this reporter that they suspect Meyer was prodded to publish his study in order to provide a basis for the termination of SRS. Several influential doctors may have been involved, including Dr. McHugh and surgeons in charge of the operating rooms where SRS was performed.
“Dr. McHugh did not want to put the prestige of Hopkins behind sex reassignment surgery.” (Ogas, 1994, quoting Dr. Greg Lehne)
The closure of the gender identity clinic at Johns Hopkins had a domino effect. Within months all but one of the 40 or so clinics in the United States had closed their doors. I’ve been able to identity three which became for-profit surgical centers (The University of Virginia, Stanford University, and The University of Texas at Galveston). The sole survivor was at The University of Minnesota, which was transformed into a nonsurgical program. The Program in Human Sexuality remains in operation to this day.
It sounds like McHugh won the day, doesn’t it? Well, he did—but in winning the battle, he lost the war.
Why do I say that? I say that because the gender clinics were extremely selective. Only a few of their many people who applied were accepted for treatment, and only those patients willing to be subjected to embarrassment, abuse and humiliation and who would conform to the stereotyped notions of clinic personnel actually got surgery—or even hormones. Most were turned away. I know this because I was rejected by one of the programs. After paying more than $500 and being required to take psychological tests I had been trained to administer, they told me they wouldn’t give me hormones and surgery. Why? Because in the male role I had been able to earn two college degrees and held a professional position as a child protective services worker. In other words I wasn’t dysfunctional enough to be transsexual. I told that story in 1999 in a keynote here at Southern Comfort. You can read it on my website.
Beyond Our Slave Names (Presentation, 1999, Southern Comfort Conference)
McHugh managed to close the clinics, but in doing so he inadvertently created a market economy for sex reassignment. Transsexuals sought help and found it in the form of concerned and friendly medical and psychological professionals. By 1989, a mere ten years after the publication of the Meyer & Reter study, a transgender community had formed. There were support groups, newsletters, magazines, conferences like this one, national nonprofits, and any number of helping professionals who viewed transsexuals not as sick people, but as healthy people. And this community had realized something important. Finding peace as a gender-variant person should depend upon what makes the individual comfortable and not upon following a narrow path that culminated in SRS. SRS was and remains available to those who desire it, but it’s no longer required—and the clinics did require it of their patients. Nor are we required to pass, to divorce, to live in stealth, as the clinics once required of us. We can be authentic without surgery, and for that matter, without hormones—or with them. We each have the right to live as we see fit, and that’s a wonderful thing.
In 1994 I took the opportunity to write McHugh and tell him so. I said:
Dr. Wayne Beyer was kind enough to send me a photocopy of your April 29th response to his letter. Just before you closed, you expressed surprise that a postoperative MTF transsexual person could have a sexual attraction to a female. In fact, you thought Dr. Beyer was pulling your leg.
One of the problems with the literature of gender dysphoria is those who are the loudest in their opposition to hormonal and surgical sex reassignment have had the least actual hands-on experience with persons with the condition. I believe Richard Green pointed that out long ago. Sex reassignment makes a good target for those with political agendas, but it is unscholarly to write authoritatively about a condition about which one knows very little.
I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that despite the immediate effect of causing other clinics to shut their doors, the closing of the gender clinic at Johns Hopkins caused the rise of a consumer-centered movement which has made hormonal and surgical treatment available to any American who desires it. There is now a vast network of support groups and private practitioners which provide the transsexual individual with information and support. You actually did transsexual people a favor by moving to Hopkins and working to close the clinic there.
Jon Meyer and Paul McHugh are alive and still at Johns Hopkins. John Money died in 2006, in disgrace. No one knows what became of Donna Reter. The gender clinics of yore are long gone, but we transsexuals—we remain.
Benjamin, Harry. (1966). The transsexual phenomenon: A scientific report on transsexualism and sex conversion in the human male and female.New York: Julian Press.
Blanchard, Ray., & Sheridan, P.M. (1990). Gender reorientation and psychosocial adjustment. In R. Blanchard & B.W. Steiner (Eds.), Clinical management of gender identity disorders in children and adults, 159-189. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press.
Denny, Dallas. (1994). Gender dysphoria: A guide to research.New York: Garland Press.
Denny, Dallas. (1999, 24 September). Beyond our slave names. Keynote at Southern Comfort Conference, Atlanta, GA.
Ebershoff, David. (2000). The Danish girl. Allen & Unwin.
Hoyer, Niels. (1933). Man into woman: An authentic record of a change of sex. The true story of the miraculous transformation of the Danish painter, Einar Wegener (Andreas Sparrer). New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. Reprinted in 1953 in New York by Popular Library.
McHugh, Paul R. (1992). Psychiatric misadventures. American Scholar, 61(4), 497-510.
Meerloo, Joost A.M. (1967). Change of sex and collaboration with the psychosis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 24, 263-264.
Meyer, Jon K., & Reter, Donna. (1979). Sex reassignment: Follow-up. Archives of General Psychiatry, 36(9), 1010-1015.
Ogas, O. (1994, 9 March). Spare parts: New information reignites a controversy surrounding the Hopkins gender identity clinic. City Paper (Baltimore), 18(10), cover, 10-15.
Ostow, M. (1953). Transvestism. Letter to the editor. Journal of the American Medical Association, 152(16), 1553.
Raymond, Janice G. (1979). The transsexual empire: The making of the she-male.Boston: Beacon Press. Reissued in 1994 with a new introduction by Teacher’s College Press, New York.
Roscoe, Will. (1992). The Zuni man-woman. University of New Mexico Press.
Taylor, Timothy. (1996). The prehistory of sex: Four million years of human sexual culture. New York: Bantam Books.