Jeanne Hoff, pioneering transgender psychiatrist, dies at 85

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In December 1977, Dr. Jeanne Hoff, a 39-year-old psychiatrist, invited a television crew to her Manhattan home. The next day, she would be escorted to the operating room for her gender affirmation surgery.

“Becoming Jeanne: A Search for Sexual Identity,” the resulting documentary about Dr. Hoff’s experience, was shown the following spring on NBC, with Lynn Redgrave and Frank Field as hosts.

“It's really a very lonely time,” Dr. Hoff, a slim figure with shoulder-length brown hair, said that night. He added: “The things we do to our bodies and our lives are very disturbing to the people around us, and I can see that fear and confusion written all over their faces even though they've known me for a long time.”

Her decision to have surgery was years in the making. However, his decision to go public, which could have come at a great cost to her livelihood and his well-being, was made easier.

She wanted to publicize her own difficulty finding care, her interactions with doctors who did not have enough knowledge about transgender people. He hoped his experience would serve as a foundation for the medical profession.

In those years, transgender figures in the public eye were few but notable. In the early 1950s, the glamorous Christian Jorgensen's transition made tabloid news, although a few years later she was denied a marriage license because his birth certificate identified her as a man. In 1974, travel writer Jan Morris published “Conundrum,” a memoir of her own transition, which met with some success. And in 1977, Renée Richards, an ophthalmologist and tennis player, had obtained a court order to play in the women's division of the US Open.

But Dr. Hoff's television debut was made primarily as an example to her patients. Since many were transgender or homosexual, it did not seem possible, as she said, to encourage them to live openly, confidently and without shame without doing it herself.

Dr. Hoff, perhaps the first openly transgender psychiatrist, died Oct. 26 at her home in San Francisco. She was 85 years old.

The cause was Parkinson's disease, said Carol Lucas, a friend. Her death, which was not reported at the time, was announced this month by Gay City News.

Dr. Hoff had a private practice in Manhattan and, at the time of her transition, had also taken over the practice of Dr. Harry Benjamin, the German-born endocrinologist often described as the father of people's care. Transgender in the United States. However, in the history of that care, Dr. Hoff is not well known, if at all.

Jules Gill-Peterson, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies sexuality and the history of transgender people in particular, recalled her surprise when she stumbled upon Dr. Hoff's archives, which he had donated to the Kinsey Institute, when he was working in his 2018 book, “Stories of the Transgender Child.”

“The idea that in the 1970s a trans woman openly practicing as a psychiatrist is revolutionary in itself, when the profession was still struggling to depathologize homosexuality,” Dr. Gill-Peterson said by phone. “But knowing that her psychiatrist understood what it was like to be in her shoes was a radical change.”

In her research, Dr. Gill-Peterson found that Dr. Hoff had successfully advocated for the release of a black transgender woman who had been institutionalized from the ages of 15 to 30 because doctors had diagnosed her affirmation of her gender identity. as “mental retardation.” “deception” and “sexual perversion.”

“Throughout all the flowery language of the reports there is an unmistakable moralistic disapproval of her effeminacy and homosexuality,” Dr. Hoff wrote in her analysis of the woman's care, “but not the slightest hint that the diagnosis was suspected. of transsexualism, even though it was quite evident from the details provided.”

In “Becoming Jeanne,” Dr. Hoff discussed the reflexive, if less destructive, sexism of her own doctors, such as the surgeon who thought her breast implants should be larger; He was surprised by her, she said, that she didn't want to look like a showgirl.

At one point in the documentary, Ms. Redgrave asked Dr. Hoff what he thought about getting married. Dr. Hoff said that she was in a relationship with a man, but that she did not believe the relationship would survive the transition. (Turns out it wasn't.)

“The marriage market for middle-aged spinsters is not a bull market,” he said. “I'm not going to die of sadness if it doesn't happen to me. I have an interesting occupation. I have a full life with friends who are loving and caring.” And that, she added, was “much better than life before.”

Dr. Hoff was born October 16, 1938 in St. Louis, the only child of James and Mary (Salih) Hoff. His father was a laborer and, in the 1950s, worked as a bottler in a brewery. Dr. Hoff didn't talk much about her upbringing, although she suggested it was bleak, marked by deprivation and disapproval, said Ms. Lucas, a friend since the 1980s. Her father, she told Ms. Lucas, was an alcoholic. .

“I had the feeling that she grew up alone,” Lucas said. “She was so smart they didn't know what to do with her.”

Dr. Hoff earned a half-scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis, from which she received a bachelor's degree in 1960. She then earned a master's degree in science from Yale, followed by a doctorate in surgery from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1963. She returned to the University of Washington from 1971 to 1976, first as an instructor in pathology and then as a resident in psychiatry.

In the 1980s, Dr. Hoff sold her practice and moved to Hudson, upstate New York. She worked for a state outpatient clinic in nearby Kingston, treating long-term psychiatric patients with severe disabilities, including schizophrenics. After about half a decade, she moved to a group practice in Pittsburgh and eventually ended up working in Oakland, California, treating formerly incarcerated people through a California Department of Corrections program. Her last job was at San Quentin, where she treated death row prisoners. She retired in 1999, after a prisoner attacked her.

“She didn't recover well from that trauma,” Lucas said. “She said she couldn't get angry, which would allow him to heal, because he was a patient. She joked about it: “I thought it was going to happen today, but it only lasted a few seconds.” “She was enormously compassionate.”

No immediate family survives.

At the end of “Becoming Jeanne,” Mr. Field asked Dr. Hoff how she would like to be treated. “What can we do to accept you?”

She didn't hesitate in her response. “You may not need to go to much trouble to learn to accept transsexuals if you have a general principle which is: 'Mind your own business,' she guesses. It all comes down to this”.



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