This article puts the research and writing of UCLA psychology professor Robert J. Stoller in conversation with Daniel Patrick Moynihan's famous essay “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” to highlight the racial and colonial logics of university-based gender clinics and their significance for transsexual life. The author provides examples of patients of color who made their way to these gender clinics through institutions of psychiatric detention or the criminal justice system. The article attempts to demonstrate three points: (1) gender-clinic patients were not all white and middle class, and many of them did not come to the gender clinics voluntarily; (2) understanding the prolonged, multigenerational temporality of Stoller's theory of transsexual etiology makes clear the connections between transsexual medicine, evolutionary and eugenic theory, and racial science; and (3) Stoller's theory of transsexual etiology emerges alongside essays like Moynihan's reveals the shared genealogy of US sexology and Jim Crow.
On June 12, 1966, The National Insider ran an article titled “I Ruined My Life When I Changed Sex” (Gould 1966). The article details the life of jazz singer Delisa Newton, often referred to as the subject of the “first Negro sex change.” In the interview, Newton explains the hurdles that prevented many people of her day from being able to access trans therapeutics. She states: “There are tough state laws against sex change surgery, unless detailed psychiatric examination shows it to be necessary. In my case, three years of psychiatric sessions and an additional 10 months as a psychiatric hospital patient convinced the doctors I should be transformed into a woman physically. The operations were done at a university medical school here in California. It was perfectly legal and perfectly successful.”
Newton's story first broke a year earlier in another National Insider article. Newton received sex reassignment surgery sometime before 1965; if the information she provided about her psychiatric care in this interview is accurate, one can assume she began pursuing medical transition sometime around 1960. This raises the question of where exactly Newton received treatment. Between 1960 and 1965, not a single California university was publicly operating a gender clinic that offered surgical intervention for transsexual patients.1
A copy of this article is held in the Robert J. Stoller Papers in Special Collections at the UCLA Library. On the yellow, faded newspaper clipping, someone has used a ballpoint pen to mark annotations in blue ink. The markings bracket the above quoted section, with an arrow pointing to the words “university medical center here in California” (see fig. 1). Was Newton a patient at UCLA? How did she get there? What was her path from inpatient psychiatric care to a groundbreaking (and secret) medical operation at a premier university hospital?
The first university-based gender clinics operated in the United States from the early 1960s to approximately 1980.2 During this two-decade period, doctors and researchers would attempt to find a cause and a psychiatric treatment (i.e., a cure) for transsexuality. They would ultimately fail in this search for an etiology and would move toward surgical and hormonal treatments. The university-based gender clinics were responsible for crafting the diagnosis of gender identity disorder and the treatment protocols known as the Standards of Care, which still shape trans therapeutics to this day.
While Newton may have figured as an exceptional case in the US media, it is likely that many individuals have stories that mirror hers. In this article, I argue that in the early days of university gender research in the United States, there were many patients who made their way to the clinics via state psychiatric hospitals and/or the criminal justice system. These patients, often people of color with stories similar to Newton's, provided the foundation for early theories of transsexual etiology. Their stories foreground how psychiatric detention and unfreedom were necessary conditions for the production of modern sex and gender.
I examine the research and writing of UCLA gender-clinic practitioner Robert J. Stoller alongside the work of US senator and sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan and his famous essay “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” (1965). I put these mid-twentieth-century thinkers into conversation to highlight the racial and colonial logics of the university-based gender clinics and their significance for transsexual life (both then and now). Stoller, the preeminent thinker on psychiatric theories of trans etiology, and Moynihan theorized gender pathology as a multigenerational process and problem, understanding treatment to extend beyond the individual and into the family structure and culture more broadly.
In this article I aim to make three things clear. First, gender-clinic patients were not all white and middle class, and many of them did not come to the gender clinics voluntarily. Some clinic patients were ensnarled in the criminal justice system and/or involuntarily detained in psychiatric facilities. Second, understanding the prolonged, multigenerational temporality of Stoller's theory of transsexual etiology makes clear the connections between transsexual medicine, evolutionary and eugenic theory, and racial science. And third, that Stoller's theory of transsexual etiology emerges alongside essays like Moynihan's reveals the shared genealogy of US sexology and Jim Crow. These interventions are critical for trans studies’ material understanding of the shared histories of trans medicine and racial subjugation.
Racing for an Etiology
In 1977, Dr. Donald Laub, the chief of plastic surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine, delivered a public lecture about the cause and treatments of transsexualism.3 In the talk, Laub outlined two currents of thought that attempt to explain the etiology of transsexualism: hormones before birth and social environment after birth. Laub proceeded to describe a study carried out in Boston on a cohort of diabetic women and their sons. These women, who had problems carrying a child to full term, were given high doses of “female hormones” in an attempt to prevent miscarriages. Eighteen years later, professors of psychiatry at Stanford University studied their sons. They wanted to examine whether these boys, who had been exposed to high levels of “female hormones” in utero, were more likely to be homosexual or transsexual.
To perform this double-blind study, the Stanford psychiatry professors had the boys hit baseballs with a bat and field ground balls. They recorded the participants doing these athletic acts to determine whether these subjects were more effeminate than “normal” boys. They also interviewed the participants and their mothers. According to their analysis, the results were mixed. They argued that these boys were far more effeminate than their peers but that none of them were homosexual nor transsexual. Laub uses this study as a means to suggest that the cause of transsexuality is “probably a combination” of hormones and environment.
At the time he delivered this lecture in 1977, Laub was considered a leading expert in transsexuality. What this lecture demonstrates is that even those who were deemed to be “experts” had little to no idea what caused transsexuality. To use a baseball metaphor, they were pitchers unable to find the strike zone, batters who couldn't get on base; they were doctors trying to treat a problem they knew very little about. As Harry Benjamin (1966: 5) writes: “Ordinarily, the purpose of scientific investigation is to bring more clarity, more light into fields of obscurity. Modern researchers, however, delving into ‘the riddle of sex,’ have actually produced—so far—more obscurity, more complexity.” Throughout the century, ideas about “true sex” would proliferate; however, research tended to complicate rather than clarify.4
Racelessness and the Carceral Clinic
Transgender studies scholars such as Dan Irving, Dean Spade, and Aren Aizura have pointed to the ways in which transsexual narratives and diagnostic criteria demand a certain type of patient—one capable of meeting standards of productivity and success under racial capitalism (Irving 2013; Spade 2006; Aizura 2018). The clinics’ criteria for surgery always favored white and/or middle-class patients. I do not dispute these scholars, but I do add a caveat to their analysis. By looking at the patients who were seen before surgical and hormonal interventions became the norm, we find a cohort of patients of color who were sought out by gender-clinic doctors because of the idea that gender deviance was hyperpresent in racialized populations and family structures. This article is concerned with the ways in which early transsexual research hinged on racialized patients and the pathologization of the racialized family, while simultaneously appearing to be raceless.
In a report titled “Case History Data from 392 Male and 71 Female Transsexuals,” Dr. Harry Benjamin, his secretary Virginia Allen, and psychologist Stanley Krippner assembled a comprehensive survey of transsexuals seeking treatment at gender clinics. Their report pulled from the largest patient sample size of any study at the time. Published in October 1973, the report carefully outlines the patients’ demographic and background information, including age, occupation, religious background, socioeconomic background, educational background, first occurrence of cross-dressing, frequency of cross-dressing, sexual activity, number on the Kinsey scale, attitudes of parents and spouses, parents’ marital status, siblings, siblings’ marital status, therapy history, previous neurological diagnoses, pertinent medical operations and treatments, substance use, veteran status, and history of masturbation. From this list we can see how the data they collected on each individual was extensive. In the quest to understand the etiology of transsexuality there was no stone left unturned, except for what is glaringly missing from this list: race.
During this period the omission of race also took the form of excision. In 1973, for example, Stoller published Splitting: A Case of Female Masculinity. The book is based on years of therapy with a transmasculine patient, referred to by the pseudonym Mrs. G. Mrs. G is described on the first page of Splitting as “a white, divorced housewife in her thirties, living in a suburb of Los Angeles with two teen-age sons” (Stoller 1997: 1). In correspondence between Stoller and his book editor, Emanuel Geltman, there is a short but seismic postscript: “You never mentioned that her mother was Mexican—something she refers to in this morning's letter.”5 Geltman, who had begun writing letters with Mrs. G to receive her consent for the book's publication, was pressing Stoller as to why he never mentioned her Latinidad anywhere in the manuscript. In his reply Stoller writes: “Finally, in reply to your P.S. about her mother being Mexican, I did not realize that there was no mention of this whatsoever, for it shows up throughout the transcripts that she speaks Spanish and has [a] Mexican background. In fact, her mother is a very atypical Chicano [sic] indeed, so much so that it would confuse the reader if she were so described. So the saga unfolds.”6 Indeed, it is impossible to know what exactly Stoller meant by “atypical Chicano,” but it raises a series of questions. First, what about her ethnicity would be confusing to readers? If the mother were a “typical” Chicana would it be deemed necessary to mention her ethnicity? Was this omission in fact accidental? Despite Stoller's claim that he did not realize he had failed to mention her Latinidad, he goes on to justify its omission.
Splitting sensationalizes Mrs. G's criminality and run-ins with the law. She's a serial criminal who has been arrested for car theft, check fraud, and homicidal thoughts. From Stoller's personal papers we can also learn that she was forcefully sterilized by the state and was required by the court to see a therapist.7 Stoller first met Mrs. G in a Los Angeles County hospital where he had gone to film interviews with psychiatric patients to use for medical students’ clinical evaluations. He describes Mrs. G's transfer to UCLA as follows: “She asked if she could be transferred to UCLA Hospital for treatment; she feared her path from the county hospital would lead back to the hospital from which she had run away and to the unavailing experiences she had had in the past with state hospitals” (Stoller 1997: 12). This information tells us a very different history of transsexual medicine. In addition to Mrs. G's identity throwing into question the ubiquitous assumption that early clinic patients were white and middle class, Mrs. G's status as a recipient of court-mandated treatment also teaches us something about the (in)voluntary status of some gender-clinic patients. While Mrs. G requested to be transferred to UCLA, it was from the position of a person ensnarled in the criminal justice and state hospital system.
Mrs. G is not the only patient who challenges received narratives of gender-clinic patients. In an undated report from the University of Michigan Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) titled “Varieties of Male Transsexualism,” there is a short footnote about the cases being examined.8 It reads: “Age and racial data on the patients: Case 1: 26 y.o. Negro; Case 2: 25 y.o. Negro; Case 3: 22 y.o. White; Case 4: 29 y.o. White; Case 5: 26 y.o. Negro; Case 6: 26 y.o. Negro.” This data is noteworthy. Of the six patients being closely examined and quoted in the report, four of them are Black.
The GIC was founded in 1968 in the university medical school's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The clinic worked closely with faculty in urology, plastic surgery, and psychiatry to focus on “sex alteration of selected individuals who are unhappy with their now gender role and cannot be treated by the usual methods” (Stern 2015: 61). The department recruited many of its patients from Wayne County General Hospital (WCGH) in the metropolitan Detroit area. WCGH, also known as Eloise Psychiatric Hospital, opened in the early nineteenth century as a sanatorium and poorhouse. For years it was the largest psychiatric hospital in the United States.
At the time that the clinic was founded, J. Robert Wilson was chair of the OB-GYN department. During his time as chair, he was invested in the University of Michigan's medical school strengthening their ties to WCGH, a relationship he viewed as “particularly valuable because of the volume of indigent patients with many serious complications of pregnancy which are seldom seen in Ann Arbor” (Stern 2015: 36). Not long after Wilson arrived at Michigan in 1964 and ramped up recruitment from WCGH, the GIC was founded. The Michigan clinic's connection with WCGH in metro Detroit might help explain the patient demographic data in the “Varieties of Male Transsexualism” report. Like Mrs. G and Delisa Newton, these case histories may have been collected from psychiatric patients.
According to trans elder Miss Major, in the 1950s and 1960s people who were arrested under cross-dressing laws were commonly sent to psychiatric facilities rather than jails, a situation she found herself in multiple times (Griffin-Gracy 2017). Their detentions were involuntary.9 Gender-clinic doctors and researchers would visit these facilities looking for potential research subjects, just as Stoller had done when he encountered Mrs. G, or as Wilson advocated for during his tenure as chair of the OB-GYN department. State psychiatric hospitals were fertile ground for the recruitment of patients with conditions deemed to be unique or complicated. In Mrs. G's case, she asked to be transferred from a state psychiatric hospital to the UCLA gender clinic, seeing it as a potentially more benevolent or therapeutic option. It's unclear whether all gender-clinic patients from psychiatric facilities consented to their transfer like Mrs. G, or if some became objects of research without a say in the matter. Without more case histories it is hard to draw a conclusion. However, from the records available, there is an obvious linkage between the university-based gender-clinic research and the prevalence of involuntary psychiatric treatment in midcentury trans communities.
On September 20, 1966, at around four in the afternoon, Stoller entered the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, California, to meet with Dr. Harry Benjamin. Benjamin had just published his groundbreaking book The Transsexual Phenomenon. Despite Benjamin's years of clinical practice with transsexual patients, he had been unable to determine the cause of transsexuality. Stoller wanted to meet with Benjamin to get his perspective on his own nascent theory of transsexual etiology: the theory of too much mother. The theory was based on the notion that a mother who was too close to her child—shared too much intimacy, coddled too much—was the cause of effeminacy in young boys.10 This mother, in conjunction with an absent or indifferent father, was enough to push a child to adult transsexualism. While Stoller was basing this theory on his clinical work with only three patients, he was quite excited about its potential for providing a theory of transsexuality in general.11
Using John Money's research on intersex children as a kind of control, Stoller set out to study individuals who, despite having no known biological cause for gender confusion, had developed an abnormal gender identity. If good parenting could ensure an intersex child a happy and normal life, then surely bad parenting was to blame for pathological gender deviance in non-intersex children. Adapting Money's term “gender role,” Stoller (1968: 10) began to interrogate the source of what he called “gender identity,” that is, “the knowledge and awareness, whether conscious or unconscious, that one belongs to one sex and not the other.”
In 1968, Stoller published his seminal text Sex and Gender: On the Development of Masculinity and Femininity. Based on clinical research with adult and child transsexuals, their mothers, and in some cases their fathers, Stoller's central argument was that gender is “primarily culturally determined; that is, learned postnatally” and that the two main factors that impact this cultural process are one's society and one's mother (xiii).
Stoller develops a clinical picture of the type of mothering that leads to such gender confusion:
This remarkable identification with women was found in these little boys to be associated with (1) mothers who acted and dressed like boys until adolescence; (2) fathers who were almost literally absent from the home, day or night, weekdays or weekends; (3) the parents’ excessive permissiveness, so that the developing femininity was openly encouraged by allowing the boys to dress as girls whenever they chose (“He's so beautiful; wouldn't he look lovely as a girl?”) and especially by (4) excessive and intimate body contact for many hours, day and night, from birth to the time they were seen at age 4–5, this delay in mother-infant separation perpetuated by the little boys’ constant touching of their mothers’ nude bodies and clothes. (126–27)
Central to this theory is the idea that too much mother prevents her child from differentiating and developing a sense of self distinct and separate from her.12 Stoller's theory explicitly connects such mothering to “primitive societies.”13 Turning to anthropological studies, Stoller outlines what mothering looks like in “primitive societies” in which “mother and infant are in a happy, skin-to-skin contact for many hours of the day and night, and for years, even to the extent that the child urinates and defecates unmolested on its mother's body” (106). Stoller suggests that there is not enough data to know if this primitive mothering leads to primitive gender deviance, suggesting that perhaps one key difference is that his subjects are isolated within the home, while in primitive societies “they are in the midst of the bustle of the community life” (107). In this section, Stoller finds a way of connecting pathological mothering to primitive or racialized mothering, a connection that unfolds below the surface of his research despite the preface claiming that “this research lacks controls from other cultures. My patients have been primarily white, middle-class Americans” (xiv).
Strikingly, Stoller's mother theory unfolds in time, requiring multiple generations of pathology before manifesting as adult transsexualism. According to Stoller, a young transsexual boy develops his gender deviance from having a mother who will not allow him to separate. This overbearing mother clings to her child because in her own childhood she had a mother who was indifferent to her. In Sex and Gender, the maternal grandmother is described as “empty.” She is disinterested in her daughter and cannot give her the love she seeks. This experience of having an absent mother is what leads the daughter to become an overbearing mother for her transsexual son. Because her own mother was absent and empty, she may have sought validation from her father, which led to its own kind of gender pathology: tomboyishness and bisexuality. In this clinical picture, transsexuality is not an individual illness but rather a familial pathology that plays out over many generations.
To locate the etiology of transsexualism in many generations of pathological parenting is to extend the timeline of the development outside the window of postnatal life and into a longer, more evolutionary scale. An absent mother creates a masculine (gender deviant) daughter who, seeking to create the maternal connection that she was denied, coddles and smothers her son so much that he becomes a transsexual. Transsexualism is the result of unfit people procreating over many generations. This eugenic theory of gender pathology finds the cause of gender deviance to be a societal problem. In addition to extending the timeline of gender deviance, it also expands the unit of pathology/treatment beyond the individual and even the nuclear family, into many generations of the family.
Thinking about deviance in multigenerational or evolutionary terms is embedded in many aspects of sexology. In Sigmund Freud's (2014) Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, he argues that human life begins as anatomically bisexual—with bisexual referring to blurred sex characteristics rather than multiple-gender attraction—and moves toward one sex over the course of fetal development. Similarly, according to evolutionary theory, life begins as less sexually differentiated, and as a species evolves, so do two distinct sexes: male and female. As Siobhan Somerville (2000: 29) writes: “One of the basic assumptions within the Darwinian model was the belief that, as organisms evolved through a process of natural selection, they also showed greater signs of sexual differentiation.”
In Histories of the Transgender Child, Jules Gill-Peterson (2018: 47–49) writes about G. Stanley Hall's theory of adolescence in order to draw out the similarities between ideas of individual/childhood development and evolutionary/societal development. When Hall created the category of the adolescent he saw it as the individual example of a preevolutionary stage, similar to the ways in which Enlightenment thinkers saw colonial countries and peoples as unevolved societies, the living history of present-day Europeans. As Gill-Peterson notes, “Growth was coded as unidirectional and parallel, at the individual and species level, binding childhood to a highly charged evolutionary concept of race as inheritable phenotype” (47). Hall's theories of the plasticity of the child mirrored the plasticity of a population, both of which were in need of a particular kind of cultivation. Perhaps what is most crucial is that Hall believed that improper childhood development—or, that is, arrested development—led to perversion. In this sense we can see how Stoller's theory of the overbearing mother is very much aligned with not only adolescent development but also ideas about evolution, eugenics, race, and coloniality.
The Pathologization of the Racialized Family
Three years prior to Stoller publishing Sex and Gender, another study about pathological parenting was released: Daniel Patrick Moynihan's “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” (Moynihan 1965). Moynihan's thesis was that, while the civil rights movement demanded equality, equality would be impossible until the Black community adopted white European structures of the nuclear family with a male patriarch. “In essence,” Moynihan writes, “the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is so out of line with the rest of American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole” (29). He attributes generational poverty, delinquency, addiction, and a myriad of other social ills all to the problem of the Negro family, or more specifically, a matriarchal and dominant mother figure.
In Moynihan's report, the Black family structure is pathological because of its deviance from gender norms: “A fundamental fact of Negro family life is the often reversed roles of husband and wife” (30). In Black households, he argues, family pathology exists because of deviant gender roles. In the case of the transsexual, deviant gender identity exists because of family pathology. These are two sides of the same coin—an attempt to attribute social problems to a particular type of family. It is a pathology that builds across generations and is able to survive because of a perverse society that allows such pathology to germinate, something Moynihan attributes to social welfare programs that have allowed the Black matriarchal family structure to continue despite its “unnaturalness.” In both Moynihan's and Stoller's theories of gender deviance and family pathology, the problem develops over generations, taking years to fully manifest. This process not only takes time but also requires the permissiveness and complicity of a society not intervening. The message is clear: gender deviance is to blame for social ills, social ills come from the family, and the family is corrupted by gender deviance.
While Stoller's work never cites or references the Moynihan report directly, it is important to understand these studies as emanating from the same therapeutic milieu: the rise of family therapy in the 1950s and 1960s. Under the family therapy model, pathology shifted from the individual to the family. The family unit was to blame for fascism, homosexuality, delinquency, and schizophrenia. As Deborah Weinstein (2013: 8) argues, the family became central to understanding “the etiology of mental illness.” Understanding Stoller's theory of transsexual etiology as a multigenerational family pathology and as a by-product of the midcentury rise of family therapy and the expertise of psychological professionals provides a bridge toward understanding how trans therapeutics are intimately linked with theories of racialized family pathology.
An illustrative example of etiologies of gender difference and theories of family pathology crisscrossing in the gender clinics can be found in Money and Geoffrey Hosta's 1968 article “Negro Folklore of Male Pregnancy.” The article tells of a myth about male pregnancy that the authors found circulating around Baltimore's homosexual community while conducting “a longitudinal study of problems in juvenile gender identity” (Money and Hosta 1968: 34). The myth of male pregnancy held that after being penetrated during anal sex, one could become pregnant with a “blood baby” if the sperm was able to travel deep into the anus and reach internal organs. Money's sample size for the paper was five individuals. In the discussion, the authors attribute this piece of folklore to the Negro family structure:
Since it is a Negro phenomenon, one may look to the dynamics of Negro social and family life for a possible explanation of the viability of the folklore. The American Negro family, especially at the lower socio-economic level, is commonly mother-centered (and grandmother-centered). The father may be completely absent or a periodic visitor. In such a family framework, there might be considerable predisposition to encourage the maintenance and transmission of a tradition attributing maternal reproductive powers to the male. Perhaps the adolescent Negro boy, used to identifying with and imitating his mother . . . does not find so strange the idea that some of the physical aspects of motherhood may be assumed by a man. (48–49)
In this particular case, a study of juvenile gender identity problems in Baltimore's Black community led to a research paper on the folklore of male pregnancy. This folklore was attributed to the Negro family structure, which is deemed to be pathological. Money and Hosta's article highlights the Möbius strip nature of theories of gender perversity and pathological, racialized kinship structures—they feed off one another with no clear beginning or end.
It's also important to accentuate the fact that Money and Hosta's research on juvenile gender identity took them out into the streets of Black Baltimore, where the oral history of this myth of male pregnancy was gathered. Much like the data from the University of Michigan's GIC and the revelation that Mrs. G was Latina, this study points to the fact that in the early days of the gender clinic, racialized patient populations provided the foundation for theories of transsexual etiology. Because families of color, and most specifically Black families, were seen as being hotbeds of gender deviance, they provided fertile ground for researching the cause of such deviance. Highlighting the similarities between Stoller, Moynihan, and Money's work and the midcentury rise in psychiatric theories of family-caused pathology thus accentuates the relationship between the development of trans therapeutics and US racial science.
Stanford's clinic, often referred to as the first sex change clinic on the West Coast, would not officially announce its surgical program until 1969, with its first surgery performed in December 1968. Donald R. Laub to Spyros Andreopolous, November 13, 1968, folder 1, Donald R. Laub collection, Medical History Center, Lane Library, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.
As Jules Gill-Peterson (2018) notes in her book Histories of the Transgender Child, Johns Hopkins Hospital opened Brady Urological Institute in 1915, where Hugh Hampton Young treated intersex patients, especially children from the pediatric Harriet Lane Home. Similarly, doctors at UCLA treated intersex patients before the official launch of the Gender Identity Research Clinic, most notably the case of Agnes Torres. However, these clinics only saw patients that they deemed to have an intersex condition and not transsexuality (although the two categories often commingled in theory and practice).
Donald Laub public lecture, 1977, box 5, Meyer Library Lecture Tapes, Archive of Recorded Sound, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.
“True sex” is an epistemological category masquerading as an ontological category. “True sex” is based on the assumption that despite the various components that make up the sexed body (hormones, chromosomes, primary and secondary sex characteristics), each individual has a true, binaristic sex (male or female) that can be determined using empirical science and medicine.
Emanuel Geltman to Robert Stoller, February 2, 1972, box 32, Robert J. Stoller Papers, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.
Robert Stoller to Emanuel Geltman, February 7, 1972, box 32, Robert J. Stoller Papers, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.
According to Stoller (1997: 71), at the age of twenty-one, Mrs. G was institutionalized at “R State Hospital” after a mental health crisis (“psychotic episode”) in which she threatened to kill herself and her children. In R State Hospital she learned she was pregnant with twins. After giving birth she was sterilized. “She says her permission was not asked. Her mother gave permission for the procedure.”
The citations for this text have publication dates that range from 1967 to 1970, leading me to believe that this report may have been published in the early 1970s.
In their book about cross-dressing laws in San Francisco in the nineteenth century, Clare Sears (2015: 75) notes that individuals arrested for cross-dressing often had their case referred to the Insanity Commission, which “returned an insanity verdict in 93 percent of cases.”
The idea that a mother was to blame for a child's pathology was rampant in both US psychology and popular culture at the time. As Rebecca Jo Plant (2010) writes in her book Mom: The Transformation of Motherhood in Modern America, the interwar/post–World War II era marks a shift from moral motherhood to scientific motherhood, in which the mother's role receded, shifting from an all-encompassing role to the idea of allowing for greater child independence and individuality. During this cultural shift, overbearing mother love began to be seen as narcissistic and pathological. Texts like Philip Wylie's (1942) Generation of Vipers argued that mothers were emasculating US society. The rise of antimaternalism coincides with the increasing authority of psychological professionals.
Harry Benjamin to Robert Stoller, September 27, 1966, box 25, Harry Benjamin Collection, Kinsey Institute Library and Special Collections, Indiana University, Bloomington.
This same kind of mothering was also blamed for homosexuality. At the time of the gender clinics, one of the central pillars of the nascent gay rights movement was the depathologization of homosexuality. Activists would succeed in removing homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973. Gender identity disorder would be added to the DSM in 1980. In this way we can see how the etiological theory of homosexuality pathology was directly carried over to the transsexual. See Milton 2002, Murray 2010.
Later in Stoller's career he would pursue this line of inquiry more, travelling to Papua New Guinea in 1979 to study Indigenous populations. In a letter to his colleague Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, he wrote: “I hope to compare their child-rearing techniques and their rituals to measure certain aspects of my theories on the development of masculinity and femininity and erotic behavior.” Robert J. Stoller to Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, June 15, 1979, box 32, Robert J. Stoller Papers, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.