by Brian Burns and Judd Proctor
“Dr. Benjamin’s German Approach”
Dr. Harry Benjamin was best known for his pioneering work with transsexuals.
Born in Berlin in 1885, his two most profound associations were with Magnus Hirschfeld, a German sexual scientist, and Eugen Steinach, a Viennese endocrinologist who in the 1920s experimented with hormone injections.
Dr. Benjamin first became interested in helping a transsexual patient in 1949, at a time when other U.S. doctors refused to do so.
In fact, he prescribed hormones for many early transsexuals, and facilitated surgery for a select few. By the 1960s, he was considered the world’s authority on transsexuality.
In the tradition of his homeland, he shifted attention away from judging transsexuals, focusing instead on compassion and the power of science.
“Christine’s New Life”
Christine Jorgensen was not the first transsexual to undergo sexual reassignment surgery, but was the most publicized in the United States.
She was born George William Jorgensen Jr. in 1926 and raised as a boy in the Bronx.
After being drafted in 1945 and serving in the Army, Jorgensen’s deep desire to be a woman took her to Copenhagen in 1950. There, Dr. Christian Hamburger began treating Jorgensen with experimental hormone therapy. Then, after two surgeries, word of the brand-new Christine Jorgensen leaked to the press. The New York Daily News broke the story with the headline, “Ex-GI Becomes Blond Beauty.”
When Jorgensen returned to the U.S. in 1953, she was greeted by more than 350 admirers, autograph hounds, reporters and photographers. She was likely the most written about person in the press that year. The publicity surrounding Jorgensen’s surgery enabled her and medical professionals to educate the larger public about the differences between homosexuality, transvestism and transsexuality.
“Reed Erickson, Transgender Pioneer”
Reed Erickson was a female-to-male transsexual and early pioneer for medical transition.
Born Rita in 1917, she became the first woman to earn a mechanical engineering degree at Louisiana State University.
Working as an engineer and living as a lesbian, she later worked for her father’s lead smelting business and launched her own company manufacturing stadium bleachers. In 1962, she inherited her father’s millions.
The next year, Erickson adopted the name “Reed” and began medical gender transition under the care of pioneering psychotherapist, Dr. Harry Benjamin. Erickson eventually had three wives.
In 1964, Erickson founded the Erickson Educational Foundation. Using his own fortune, the foundation provided millions of dollars to gay groups and some of the earliest services for transgender people. The foundation also backed the Gender Identity Clinic at Johns Hopkins, where their first sex-reassignment surgeries were performed in the mid 1960s. Other beneficiaries included researchers in homeopathy, acupuncture, dream research, and even dolphin communication studies.