In December 1977, Dr. Jeanne Hoff, a 39-year-old psychiatrist, invited a television crew to her home in Manhattan. The next day, they accompanied her to the operating room for her gender affirmation surgery.
“Becoming Jeanne: a search for sexual identity” the resulting documentary about Dr. Hoff’s experience aired the following spring on NBC, with Lynn Redgrave and Frank Field as hosts.
“This is a very lonely time indeed,” Dr. Hoff, a slender figure with shoulder-length brown hair, said that evening. She added: “The things we do to our bodies and our lives are very upsetting to the people around us, and I can see that fear and confusion written on their faces even when they’ve known me for a long time. »
Her choice to have surgery took years. Her choice to go public, however, which could have cost her livelihood and well-being, was easier.
She wanted to publicize her own difficulties in seeking treatment, her interactions with doctors who did not know enough about transgender people. She hoped her experience would enlighten the medical profession.
During those years, transgender figures in the public eye were few but notable. In the early 1950s, glamorous Christine Jorgensen’s transition made tabloid news, even though she was denied a marriage license a few years later because her birth certificate identified her as a man. In 1974, travel writer Jan Morris published “Conundrum,” a memoir about her own transition, to wide acclaim. And in 1977, Renée Richards, an ophthalmologist and tennis player, obtained a court order allowing her to play in the women’s division at the US Open.
But Dr. Hoff’s television debut was mostly intended to serve as an example to his patients. Since many were transgender or gay themselves, it didn’t seem possible, as she put it, to encourage them to live openly, confidently and without shame without doing it herself.
Dr. Hoff, perhaps the first openly transgender psychiatrist, died October 26 at his home in San Francisco. She was 85 years old.
The cause was Parkinson’s disease, said Carol Lucas, a friend. His 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 his transition, had also taken over the practice of Dr. Harry Benjamin, the German-born endocrinologist often described as the father of transgender care in the United States. However, in the history of this care, Dr. Hoff is not well known, if at all.
Jules Gill-Peterson, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies sexuality, and transgender history in particular, remembers being surprised when she came across Dr. Hoff’s archives: that she had donated to the Kinsey Institutewhile working on her 2018 book, “Stories of the Transgender Child.”
“The idea that in the 1970s a trans woman would openly practice as a psychiatrist is revolutionary in itself, when the profession was still struggling to depathologize homosexuality,” Dr. Gill-Peterson said by telephone. “But knowing that your psychiatrist understood what it was like to be in your shoes was a tide change.”
During her investigation, Dr. Gill-Peterson learned that Dr. Hoff had successfully advocated for the release of a black transgender woman who had been institutionalized between the ages of 15 and 30 because doctors had diagnosed her assertiveness gender as “mental retardation”. “illusion” and “sexual perversion”.
“Through all the flowery language of the reports, there is unmistakable moralistic disapproval of his effeminacy and homosexuality,” Dr. Hoff wrote in his analysis of the woman’s care, “but not the least indication that the diagnosis of transsexualism was suspected, although this was clear from the details provided.
In “Becoming Joan,” Dr. Hoff spoke about the reflexive, though less destructive, sexism of her own doctors, such as the surgeon who thought her breast implants should be bigger; he was surprised, she said, that she didn’t want to look like a showgirl.
At one point in the documentary, Ms. Redgrave asked Dr. Hoff what she thought about marriage. Dr. Hoff said she was in a relationship with a man, but she didn’t think that relationship would survive the transition. (Actually, it doesn’t.)
“The marriage market for middle-aged singles is not a bull market,” she said. “I’m not going to die of grief if this doesn’t happen to me. I have an interesting job. “I have a full life with loving and caring friends.” 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 he worked as a bottler in a brewery. Dr. Hoff did not talk much about her upbringing, although she suggested that it was dark, marked by deprivation and disapproval, said Ms. Lucas, a friend since the 1980s. Her father, a- she told Mrs. Lucas, was an alcoholic.
“I felt like she rose,” Ms. Lucas said. “She was so smart they didn’t know what to do with her.”
Dr. Hoff earned a half-scholarship at Washington University in St. Louis, from which she received a bachelor’s degree in 1960. She then earned a master’s degree in science at Yale, followed by a doctorate in surgery from the College of Columbia 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 his practice and moved to Hudson in upstate New York. She worked for a state outpatient clinic near Kingston, treating severely disabled and long-term psychiatric patients, 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 inmates. She retired in 1999 after being attacked by a prisoner.
“She hasn’t recovered well from the trauma,” Ms Lucas said. “She said she couldn’t get angry, which would help him heal, because he was a patient. She joked: “I thought it was going to happen today, but it only lasted a few seconds. » “She was extremely compassionate.”
No immediate family members survived.
At the end of “Becoming Joan,” Mr. Field asked Dr. Hoff how she would like to be treated. “What can we do to accept you?” »
She did not hesitate in her response. “Maybe it’s not necessary for you to go to great lengths to learn to accept transsexuals if you have a general principle which is, ‘Mind your own business,’ I guess. It comes down to this.