We’re pleased to announce that the papers of Ethel Spector Person (1934-2012) are open to researchers.
Person, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, did pioneering research in the field of gender and sexual identity, specifically in the areas of transsexualism and transvestism. With Lionel Ovesey, she did groundbreaking work on the psychosexual roots of transsexuality and transvestism, distinguishing core gender identity from gender-role identity, and gender identity from sexual preference.
Person also conducted important research in the area of fantasy. Her most notable project was conducted at Columbia University, where, with Nettie Terestman, she surveyed students regarding their sexual and fantasy experiences, and then conducted a statistical analysis on the results in the context of gender.
In addition to her academic work, Person was noted for her popular works on sex, love, fantasy and sexuality. She was the author of four books: By Force of Fantasy: How We Make Our Lives (1995), The Sexual Century (1999), Feeling Strong: The Achievement of Authentic Power (2002) and Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters: The Power of Romantic Passion (2006).
She was also the first woman to be director of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, a position she held from 1981 to her retirement in 1991.
The papers include professional correspondence; research materials for a variety of topics in the fields of fantasy, gender and sexual identity, love, sex, power, and psychiatric theory; raw data and statistical information from the sexual fantasy and experience study she conducted; talks and published articles by Person; notes and research materials used in the writing of her books; and a small quantity of records of analysis performed by Person. There is very little material related to her personal life.
A special feature of the collection are the newsletters, catalogs, magazines, newspapers, and other materials Person gathered while doing research, such as case histories of transsexuals and transvestites; pamphlets from the Erickson Educational Foundation on matters of gender and sexual identity; publications such as TVIS, DRAG, and Transvestia; an issue of Ball & Chain, a Bondage, Domination and Sado-Masochism (BDSM) newspaper; several BDSM product catalogs; one issue of the comic book, Forced Femininity; and unpublished amateur fiction depicting the process of forced feminization.
The bulk of the papers are open without restrictions, though for some material researchers may need to follow HIPAA Privacy Rule regulations. The full finding aid is available online.
Image: Flyer for a New York City drag ball, 1972, from the Ethel S. Person Papers