Wondrous Transformations

A Maverick Physician, the Science of Hormones, and the Birth of the Transgender Revolution

Wondrous Transformations: A maverick physician, the science of hormones, and the birth of the transgender revolution

272 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 11 halftones, notes, bibl., index
HARDCOVER ISBN: 978-1-4696-7485-8

Available now from your favourite bookseller. Use discount code 01SOCIAL30 for a 30% discount at UNC Press.

Harry Benjamin (1885–1986), a German-born endocrinologist, was a pivotal figure in the development of transgender medicine. He was physician to transgender pioneers such as Christine Jorgensen, the 1950s “Ex-GI” turned “Blonde Beauty” media sensation, and in turn, she and other collaborators helped to shape Benjamin’s influential 1966 book, The Transsexual Phenomenon. Alison Li’s much-needed biography of Benjamin chronicles his passion for hormones and his lifelong interest in sexology. 

Drawing from extensive research in archival documents, secondary sources, and interviews, Li tells the story of Benjamin’s early ventures in gerontology and his later work with over a thousand transgender patients. Benjamin’s contributions to treatment, education, research, and networking helped to create the institutional foundations of transgender medicine. Moreover, they set the stage for a radical reconsideration of gender identity, challenging us to reflect upon what it is to be male or female and to envision moving beyond these long-held categories.

Praise for Wondrous Transformations

“I’ve been hoping for a long time that somebody would write this book. Alison Li has produced a highly readable, authoritatively researched biography of Harry Benjamin, whose contributions to transgender medicine are not as widely known as they should be. A much-needed corrective.”
— Susan Stryker, author of Transgender History

“With Wondrous Transformations, Alison Li has written a compelling and eminently readable biography that is at the same time magisterial in the scope and depth of its research. A must-read for anyone interested in the history of science, medicine, or trans iterations of the same.”
— Jules Gill-Peterson, author of Histories of the Transgender Child

” On Li’s telling, Benjamin’s life serves as a fascinating vehicle for the story of hormones in the twentieth-century medical and cultural imagination. This is a narrative that takes us through the many scientific and social worlds in which Harry Benjamin moved: early twentieth-century Berlin, Vienna and New York, and San Francisco in the 1950s and 1960s, and scientific contexts that include turn-of-the-century German scientific medicine, international sexology, experimental biology, psychoanalysis and more; and social worlds that ranged from New York high society to Hollywood, to the underground demimondes of Berlin, Paris and New York, where experiments in sexual and gender freedom were being lived….Skilfully composed as a scholarly trade book, Wondrous Transformations will be an important book for historians of medicine, usable in university courses, but also accessible to a wide non-specialist audience interested in the transgender revolution.”
— Robert Brain, Social History of Medicine

“A smart and highly readable contribution to transgender studies.”
Publishers Weekly

“Li’s engaging prose harnesses the affordances allowed in biography to craft an engrossing narrative. She has done an admirable job in bringing the two halves of Benjamin’s career together, and her work is a great service to the fields of trans history and the history of hormones.”
— Shir Bach, The Watermark

“This thoughtful, thoroughly researched history provides a foundation and a lens through which to better understand contemporary issues of gender identity….Recommended.”
— J.M. Morris, Choice