Abstract

Within a relatively short period in US history, transsexuality, a category that had once not existed, became a widely recognized term. It was named and described in the 1960s in influential publications, including Harry Benjamin’s The Transsexual Phenomenon (1969). The national picture changed from one of no significant institutional support for transsexual therapy and surgery in 1965 to a situation in 1975 where about twenty major medical centers were offering treatment and some thousand transsexuals had been provided with surgery. Historians of transsexuality have been somewhat dazzled by this demonstration of the making of sex. One of the most perceptive observers of the twentieth-century historical sociology of sex has written of transsexualism’s “widespread public and professional acceptance” by the 1970s, “an accepted syndrome, buttressed by a vast medical armamentarium of research, publications, and treatment programs.” The result is not exactly a case of hidden history but rather inattention to an important period of critique, and the implied success of systems of technology and therapy that I am going to suggest were far more tentative, contested, and fragmentary. This neglected story both rethinks the early history of a new medical diagnosis and entity and sheds rather negative light on US psychiatric and surgical practices in the 1960s and 1970s.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 1042-1070
Launched on MUSE
2014-06-24
Open Access
No
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