Thursday, May 23, 2024

Dr. Jeanne Hoff’s Story

In December 1977, Dr. Jeanne Hoff, a 39-year-old psychiatrist, invited a television crew into her Manhattan home. The next day, they would accompany her to the operating room for her gender-affirming surgery.

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

Dr. Hoff said, “It’s a very lonely moment indeed, 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 that confusion written on their face even when they’ve known me a long time.”

Her choice to undergo surgery was years in the making. Her choice to go public, however, which could have come at great cost to her livelihood and well-being, was easier.

In those years, the transgender figures in the public eye were few but notable. Dr. Hoff’s television debut was mostly done as an example for her patients. Dr. Hoff passed away on Oct. 26 at her home in San Francisco. She was 85.

Jules Gill-Peterson, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University, who studies sexuality and transgender history in particular, recalled being surprised when she came across Dr. Hoff’s archives, which she had donated to the Kinsey Institute, when she was working on her 2018 book, “Histories of the Transgender Child.”

Dr. Hoff earned a half scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis, from which she received a B.A. in 1960. She then earned a master’s in science from Yale, followed by an M.D. in surgery from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia in 1963. She returned to Washington University from 1971 through 1976, first as an instructor in pathology and then as a resident in psychiatry.

At the conclusion of “Becoming Jeanne,” Dr. Hoff said, “It may not be necessary for you to go to a lot of trouble to learn about accepting transsexuals if you have a general principle and that is, ‘Mind your own business,’ I suppose. It boils down to that.”

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