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Benjamin revisited

In Zagria’s recent post on the 50th anniversary of Harry Benjamin’s “The Transsexual Phenomenon” she refers to a section in the book that I personally identity with:

“The transvestitic urge (fetishistic or transsexual) contains an element of addiction. Larger "doses" may be required for certain individuals as time goes on. Therein may lie a ‘progressive’ nature of TVism in some instances. If untreated and uncontrolled, ‘dressing’ may be desired more and more frequently and even the idea of physical changes through hormone treatment or through an operation may be gaining ground, particularly in unfavorable - that is to say, constantly stimulating - surroundings. Here psychotherapy and proper guidance at the right time may help, provided a transsexual tendency is not too deep-seated. Such seemingly progressive aggravation of transvestism was rarely noticed under treatment, although it did apparently occur in a few cases. However, later on, these patients proved to be initially unrecognized transsexuals. The opposite was more frequently observed: under estrogen medication, the desire to ‘dress’ became often less demanding and less sexual and the inability to indulge grew somewhat less frustrating. The explanation probably is that the libido was reduced in its intensity through estrogen and since the transvestitic urge is part of the libido, it was likewise lowered. But I am anticipating a later discussion. The foregoing ... (if repetition may be permitted) apply chiefly to that form of transvestism that is its own purpose, which is to say that it is not the chief symptom of transsexualism. As soon as physical changes are desired, it ceases to be true transvestism, and inclines toward transsexualism (Type IV). The full and complete transsexual (S.O.S. V and VI) finds only temporary and partial relief through ‘dressing.’ I have even met transsexuals who would not ‘dress’ at all.” What good is it?" they said; "it does not make me a woman. I am not interested in her clothes; I am only interested in being a woman." That is the true transsexual sentiment.” p113-4/52-3

This is sometimes the hardest part to understand about where you fit.

If you, like me, fall into this grey zone of being a type III or IV it makes you second guess yourself. Being in the middle is challenging because the lower echelons don’t want to be a woman while the upper ones very much do and feel themselves to be hence they transition.

My search for self-understanding has taken a little longer in part because I seem to be right in the middle.

Benjamin even sometimes got the original diagnosis wrong as witnessed by the following excerpt from his book:

"By the end of 1964, a total of 249 male transvestites were observed in my offices, either in New York or in San Francisco. Of these, 152 were diagnosed as transsexuals. This figure, however, may actually be higher as some transvestites do not reveal their true intentions during the first few interviews. In some others, an apparent transvestism may gradually seem to progress into transsexualism with or (more likely) without any treatment and patients originally diagnosed as transvestites (of the II or III type in the S.O.S.) are actually transsexuals (V or VI on the S.O.S.). A few of them are among the 51 cases operated upon."

Hardly the stuff of exact science.


  1. Another very thought-provoking post. Some thoughts:

    * “The transvestitic urge (fetishistic or transsexual) contains an element of addiction..."
    Indeed, the endorphin-rush of the "pink fog" is fun, like the feelings of new-love infatuation, and hard to deny or control. I think this supports (at least for some) the notion that some period of RLE is important before embarking on hormonal or surgical transition, to add confidence that the decisions around transition are made with a clear mind.

    * "...the middle is challenging..."
    It sure is; I'm there too. I sometimes wish I was more certain that I want transition instead of living in this middle ground. There are times, too, when being in the middle is potentially invalidating, and not as well understood by others include cisgender as well as transexual people.

    * "Hardly the stuff of exact science."
    I'll say! I suppose it's like sexuality. Hetero- vs. homo- vs. bi-sexual? Maybe it's not in that I've suspected that if you could plot the distribution of people on the transgender spectrum that you'd see a bell curve, but it you did the same for sexuality it would be more bi-modal.

    1. its hard to know what to do when you are caught in the middle. What I am trying to do is live day to day and see what happens. The dressing is helping me cope and for that I am very glad.

  2. I have read it cover-to-cover, but do not remember this:

    - I have even met transsexuals who would not ‘dress’ at all.” What good is it?" they said; "it does not make me a woman. I am not interested in her clothes; I am only interested in being a woman." That is the true transsexual sentiment.” p113-4/52-3

    I have made exactly this statement many times in my blog and to friends. I'm not saying that I haven't crossdressed. The desire has been there all of my life, but as soon as I do I realize that it's nothing more than window dressing. I don't have the window....

    1. Well said, Callie. I'm the same way. I do dress from time to time at home, but it's about living as Emma, naturally, without the window dressing.

    2. no you are not alone Calie. Not all gender dysphoric people crossdress although from what I have read the vast majority have done so. It ranges from a handful of times to full time of course. We are all different!


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