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Benjamin's legacy

As a teen I combed the library and found books on the subject of transvestism and transsexualism that were well written and some that weren't. Some were seedy exposes on transvestism but it wasn't until I found Harry Benjamin's book that I realized I had found a profound investigation of the subject matter. However I was not able to understand or appreciate it as much as I do now because I was mired in my own self denial.

What made his work stand out was not only the sheer number of patients he saw but that he was able to treat an entire slice of the transgender spectrum instead of just people lined up for transitions at a clinic. Many of his patients did not seek his aid as a way to access surgery but were instead looking for cures so that they could be made normal. This is what I would have asked Benjamin to do for me: cure me. Of course there is no such thing unless one fully transitions and that is not an option that everyone should exercise.

A couple of years ago I wrote about Benjamin's first 10 patients. One of them named Doris ended up being an enormous source of information for Benjamin in that she was deeply dysphoric and yet resisted transition until she was absolutely forced to and even then did not opt for surgery. Doris corresponded with Benjamin over many years and saw her condition as an abnormality to be managed. Of course not everyone agrees with this viewpoint.

In reading some of her writing I found a highly intelligent individual who struggled all of her life to find self understanding and I greatly comiserated with her quest for it has essentially been my own. I now have perfect peace and yet the inquisitiveness does not dissipate. This topic is like trying to hold water in your hands and not have it run past your fingers; it is that elusive.

But what made Benjamin's work so special is that he refrained from jumping to unproveable assertions and stuck to facts which is the mark of a smart researcher. He wrote his observations with manners that now seem lost to a bygone era and treated his patients with dignity by giving them the benefit of the doubt until he had conclusive proof to state otherwise. He did his utmost to help them while still being a scientist in the best sense of the term.

There are some highly intelligent people who are transgender and transsexual and none to my knowledge suffer from mental illness. If anything they have suffered and tolerated dysphoria to a degree many people would find unbearable. We don't need to fix them we need to fix society which is something Benjamin repeated several times in his landmark book.

We should not be fighting amongst ourselves but instead focus on letting all people live with a degree of dignity and respect that all humans deserve regardless of their gender identification.

This is a basic requirement that this brilliant endocrinologist understood way back in 1966 and undoubtedly even before.


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