Pre-press book layout of The Transsexual Phenomenon written by Harry Benjamin, 1966, from Art & Queer Culture

The medical textbook that made it into Art & Queer Culture

How depictions of bodies that defy normative male and female distinctions have existed since time immemorial

Most of the new inclusions in the updated edition of Art & Queer Culture feature contemporary artists who paint, sculpt, photograph or make videos and perform. However, It also features a page from a book by the late medical researcher Dr Harry Benjamin.

“Dr Benjamin was a German-born physician who trained with renowned sexologist Dr Magnus Hirschfeld,” explains our book. “His 1966 book The Transsexual Phenomenon was one of the first to describe the lives and experiences of people diagnosed as ‘transsexual’.”

Not everything in Benjamin’s book has aged well. “It presents patient case studies and outlines a fixed typology of ‘sexual variation’ that has since come under critical scrutiny for its pathologizing framework,” cautions Art & Queer Culture. “Despite the controversy, this text laid the foundation for many contemporary approaches to transgender medicine.”

And in his choice of artistic comparisons, Dr Benjamin made an important assertion. “In this image of the pre-press layout for The Transsexual Phenomenon, the photograph on the left shows a sculpture of the mythical Greek figure Hermaphrodite in the collection of the Altes Museum in Benjamin’s home city of Berlin,” explains our book.

“The juxtaposition of the photographs suggests that bodies that defy normative distinctions between male and female categories have existed since time immemorial.” And that’s a point that many in today’s trans community could also agree upon.


Art & Queer Culture
Art & Queer Culture

For more on this, as well as much else besides buy a copy of Art & Queer Culture here. The book is an unprecedented survey of visual art and alternative sexuality from the late nineteenth century to the present. Beautifully illustrated and clearly written, this second edition has been updated to include art and visual culture of the current moment. Take a look at Art & Queer Culture here.