Harry Benjamin was born in Berlin, Germany on January 12, 1885 to a German mother and Jewish father. He was the oldest of three siblings. His father converted to Lutheranism shortly before Dr. Benjamin’s birth. Dr. Benjamin enjoyed opera from a young age, and was enamored with singer Geraldine Farrar, who sang at the Royal Opera. In his frequenting of opera houses, he became acquainted with a house physician, and began to learn his trade from him. He served in the Prussian Guards prior to his medical studies.
Dr. Benjamin met Magnus Hirschfeld in his early twenties, and subsequently read Die sexuelle Frage. Eine naturwissenschaftliche, psychologische, hygeinische und soziologische Stude fur Gebildete (The sexual question. A scientific, psychological, hygienic and sociological study for educated people) by Auguste Forel, which piqued his interest in human sexuality. He and Dr. Hirschfeld frequented gay bars to observe their drag shows, as their shared interest was in human sexuality, and what Dr. Hirschfeld called transvestitesa very outdated term that he coined during his study in 1910, used to describe individuals who dress as the opposite sex, usually males dressing as female, for sexual or other kinds of satisfaction. This was the first major study on transgender individuals, and Dr. Hirschfeld founded the Institute of Sex (translated from German), which was later destroyed by Hitler at the start of the Holocaust. These outings were Dr. Benjamin’s introduction to the field of sexology.
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Dr. Benjamin studied medicine at T?±bingen in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. He finished his academic program in 1912, and wrote his final dissertation on tuberculosis. During his post-graduate years, he worked with several different doctors in various field. One of these doctors had finally cured tuberculosis of the joints, which was a huge development in 1913. A wealthy banker paid a large amount of money for Dr. Benjamin to travel to New York to cure his son. The press had reported that the cure worked better than it did, and when Dr. Benjamin was unable to cure his son, the banker refused to pay for his trip back to Germany.
Dr. Benjamin attempted to return home in 1914, but was on a ship that was heading for an area that France had hostile control over, and the ship’s captain opted to turn back, and Dr. Benjamin was left with his last dollar. Upon realizing that he was stuck in New York indefinitely, Dr. Benjamin found a job at a New York hospital. In 1925, Dr. Benjamin married his wife Gretchen, and soon after his mother came to live with him after his father died.
Dr. Benjamin also met Sigmund Freud in 1925, who was not fond of him because of a joke that he made: disharmony of the emotions may be the dishormony of the endocrines.
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