Jeanne Hoff, a trailblazing transgender psychiatrist, died at her home in San Francisco at the age of 85 this past October.
Born to a working-class St. Louis family in 1938, Hoff received a master’s in science from Yale and a medical degree from Columbia University, the Advocatenotes. A doctorate in solid state chemistry at University College in London and training and residency as a psychiatrist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis followed, according to Gay City News.
Hoff had already begun her own transition in 1976 when she took over the New York practice of Dr. Harry Benjamin, the German-American endocrinologist and sexologist who coined the term “transvestite” in 1910 and later began referring to patients as “transsexuals.”
Hoff is considered the first openly transgender psychiatrist to treat trans patients—including punk rock singer Jayne County. She was a member of the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, which later became the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.
In 1978, she was the subject of an NBC documentary, Becoming Jeanne: A Search for Sexual Identity, which documented her own gender-confirmation surgery.
In a remembrance published by Gay City News earlier this month, Andy Humm, who knew Hoff personally, wrote that she “was a very serious person — though with a great sense of humor and warmth.”
Hoff, Humm wrote, was adamant that a person’s gender did not determine their sexuality and “took other psychiatrists to task when they would help a man transition to be a woman and then insist that as a woman, the patient had to form intimate relationships with men and not be ‘gay.’”
“Dr Hoff knew that erotic attraction was independent of gender identity and that there are, of course, trans women who are lesbians,” Humm wrote.
Humm knew Hoff through the Catholic LGBTQ+ group Dignity/New York. “Her fierce courage was unique at a time and in a Church institution that was and still can be so homophobic,” Rev. Bernárd Lynch, who also knew Hoff through the group, told Humm. “Yet she found warmth, companionship, and support from many. Jeanne inspired us by being herself — sparing no price and counting no cost in her integrity.”
In her 2018 book, Histories of the Transgender Child, historian Jules Gill-Peterson wrote that “Hoff cared deeply about the well-being of her clients.”
“Her work demonstrates a level of empathy entirely absent from transsexual medicine since its advent—not to mention its predecessors in the early twentieth century—an ethic of care that, although greatly constrained by the material circumstances and history of psychiatry and endocrinology, was also entangled with her situated perspective as a trans woman,” Peterson wrote. “It is important to underline that Hoff represents yet another trans person who took an active and complicated role in medicine, rather than being its object.”
During one poignant moment in Becoming Jeanne, Hoff was asked by Dr. Frank Field, who cohosted the film with Lynn Redgrave, how she wanted people to accept her.
“Well, 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,” she responded. “If you are meddling in the life and freedom of someone else, you ought to do so very cautiously and make sure that you’re entitled to do so and that they’ll be better off for your having been there.”
“So if you take the position that people are all right until they have proved that they’re not, you’re not likely to harm them,” she added. “I’ll do my best to justify that confidence.”