The Medicalization of the Transsexual: Patient-Physician Narratives in the First Half of the Twentieth Century
- Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
- Oxford University Press
- Volume 76, Number 4, October 2021
- pp. 392-416
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This article explores the history of what the German-American endocrinologist Harry Benjamin labeled in 1966, “the transsexual phenomenon.” By mid-century, a growing number of individuals in both Europe and America were approaching physicians such as Benjamin searching for answers and means to change their bodies to match their gender. This phenomenon had started in Europe in the 1930s, when the Danish painter Einar Wegener underwent a series of operations that transformed a body defined at birth as male into the female body of Lili Elbe. The news of Elbe’s transformation ignited interest and discussion among physicians as well as the public on the capacity science had to alter bodies to fit their intended selves. The case of Elbe combines the three main aspects studied in this article—the medicalization of the homosexual, the birth of the transsexual, and the physician–patient relationship in transsexual narratives. The study of physician and patient narratives allow us to see how the transsexual phenomenon was in fact created out of the intersection of interests from both physicians and their transsexual patients.