John Radclyffe Hall


John Hall (better known by his middle name, “Radclyffe”, which he used as a pen name) earned international fame from The Well of Loneliness and from the resulting obscenity trial that drew testimony from a panoply of British literary and scientific celebrities, making Hall’s novel the best-publicized work on ‘sexual inversion’ of its age despite the judgment banning its publication. Although he penned several other novels none received the exposure of The Well, in part because they did not touch on topics of a lasting controversial nature.

During Hall’s time there was no distinction made between a lesbian and a heterosexual trans man. While the word ‘transvestite’ – which at the time encompassed both crossdressers and trans people – was coined by Magnus Hirschfeld during Hall’s lifetime, the research Hirschfeld was doing was not widely publicized, and was not known outside of certain German circles; Hall’s own term ‘congenital invert‘ was an alternative Anglo term that could encompass what are now known as homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism. This article uses male pronouns for Hall because, despite being ubiquitously referred to as a lesbian author, the historical context and Hall’s own stated preference for the name ‘John’ suggest that he was actually male (with room for the usual caveat that ambiguity does exist and cannot be conclusively addressed due to the death of the subject).


4 thoughts on “John Radclyffe Hall

  1. stwhittle

    Correction: Magnus Hirschfeld coined the word “transvestite” from the title of his book “Die Transvestiten” published in 1910, to describe the ‘class’ of people who cross dressed. The word transsexual was coined later in 1949, when David Cauldwell invented the term “Psychopathia Transexualis”. Cauldwell was a medical writer of popular articles, and his books were designed to educate the general public in sexual matters. In 1953 the endocrinologist Harry Benjamin wrote the first scientific paper to use the word transsexual.


      • gypsyrose1972

        I stay away from “coinage” assertions. I try to talk in terms of “popularizing” a term.

        Transvest (cross dressing ‘women’) was in use as early as 1652 and transsexed (trans people) was in use in American newsprint as early as 1915. Transsex shows up in journals in 1851 and “transsexual” shows up in the Medical Times journal in 1907.


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