Harry Benjamin, a Maverick Physician at the Birth of the Transgender Revolution
MEDICAL / History
Jan 02, 2080
6 x 9 in
A narrative history of hormone use told through the eventful life of Dr. Harry Benjamin, a pioneer in reshaping our notions of sex and gender.
Today, it is standard to think of ourselves as hormonal beings. We blame "raging hormones" for the tempests of puberty and midlife and spend our days "running on adrenalin" in "testosterone-fueled" workplaces. Yet this view is relatively recent.
Alison Li tells the fascinating history of the rise of hormone use through the life of one of its foremost pioneers. A daring explorer in the areas of sex and aging, as well as a celebrity doctor in 20s New York, German-born physician Harry Benjamin (1885-1986) revolutionized the science of hormones. He devoted his later life to helping people transform themselves. With famous patients such as Christine Jorgensen, Jan Morris, and Renée Richards, he would come to be known as the "Father of Transsexualism." Benjamin's work was groundbreaking in mid-century America, when homosexuality and any behavior that crossed gender lines was not only pathologized but criminalized. However, though his patients remember him as a compassionate physician, today, his approach to transgender medicine would be categorized as heteronormative and outdated. Li positions Benjamin as a complicated figure who both represents a model of his time, and a physician who changed medicine for the better.
This gripping history captures the beginning of the gender identity movement and highlights how over the course of the twentieth century Benjamin helped pave the way for our understanding of ourselves as chemically malleable beings.