7. Lili Elbe: “The Danish Girl” whose desire to live a full female life killed her.
The subject of the film, “The Danish Girl,” Lile Elbe is one of the most famous transgender figures of recent times. She was born Einar Wegener in Denmark in 1882. Einar showed no discernible signs of being transgender until his life changed forever when his wife, the illustrator Gerda Gottlieb asked him to stand in for one of the regular models she used for her illustrations in Paris fashion magazines. The effect of women’s clothing upon Einar was instantaneous. “I liked the feel of soft women’s clothing,” Einar later wrote.” I felt very much at home in them from the first moment.”
Einar began dressing as a woman regularly, accompanying Gerda about Paris, posing as her sister Lile. However, after fifteen years, Einar’s duel nature began to take its toll. He felt two people were fighting for supremacy over his body: the “steady and sensible” Einar and the “superficial, thoughtless and flighty,” Lile. After a suicide attempt, Lile won. Doctors referred Einar to the Dresden Institute where surgeons removed his penis and implanted ovaries. Lile and Gerda divorced, and Lile began a relationship with Claude Lejeune, a French art dealer with whom she hoped to have a child. In 1932, doctors implanted a womb transplant, but Lile’s body rejected it. By September Lile was dead of the resulting infection.
6. Christine Jorgensen: The First Transgender American to go public
Christina Jorgensen was not the first American to have a sex change as is often claimed, but she was the first transgender person to announce her gender reassignment publicly– and to fight to make the transgender phenomenon better understood. Born George William Jorgensen, in the Bronx in 1926 Jorgensen was a shy, frail, little boy who avoided rough games and fights. Jorgenson explained in later interviews that her childhood was happy. However, the onset of puberty led to the feeling she was a woman in a man’s body.
After hearing about pioneering work in Europe, Jorgensen began to explore making the transition from male to female. In 1950, he started taking estrogen under the supervision of Dr. Christian Hamburg and in 1951, began gender reassignment procedures in Copenhagen, Denmark. The surgery transformed Jorgenson physically and mentally. She chose a new name ‘Christina’ in honor of her doctor and in 1955 returned to America. An outgoing ‘Blond Beauty‘ now replaced the shy little boy and Christina Jorgenson fast became a celebrity; acting and entertaining as well as speaking up as an advocate for transgender people on TV and radio. She died in 1989 of bladder and lung cancer, having, as she put it given the sexual revolution “a good swift kick in the pants.”
5. Lucy Hicks Anderson: The Black American Transexual who pioneered marriage equality
Tobias Lawson was born in Kentucky in 1886. From his earliest childhood, he identified as female, insisting on girl’s clothes- and being referred to by the name ‘Lucy.’ Tobias’s desperate mother took him to see a doctor, who was surprisingly enlightened for the times and suggested that she raise her son as a girl. After school, Lucy worked as a domestic and in a hotel. Then in 1920, she married her first husband, Clarence Hicks. The couple moved to California, where Lucy saved up to open a brothel. In 1929, she divorced Hicks, remaining single until she married soldier Reuben Anderson in 1944.
Throughout this whole time, no one doubted that Lucy was biologically female (although her two husbands must have known the truth!). However, in 1945, the secret was out, and the authorities decided to prosecute her for fraud as she had married as a woman when she was physically male. Lucy, however, remained defiant. “I defy any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman. I have lived, dressed, acted just what I am, a woman.” She declared. The court placed her on probation for ten years. However, the US army was less sympathetic, and the following year, Lucy served time for receiving allotment cheques as Reuben Anderson’s wife.
4. Michael Dillon: British Transsexual and author of the first book on transgender identity
Michael Dillon was born Laura Maud Dillon, the second child of Robert Dillon, heir to the Baronetcy of Lismullen. Dillon never felt comfortable as a girl although he excelled at sports, winning a University sporting blue for rowing at Oxford. In 1939, Dillon took steps to alleviate some of the discomforts of living in a female body. He consulted George Foss, a Bristol doctor who used testosterone to treat extreme menstrual bleeding. Dillon asked for treatment to stop his periods altogether. So Foss referred Dillon to a psychiatrist- who duly spread the tale around the city, forcing Dillon to flee the scandal.
During the Second World War, Dillon lived as a man, working as a mechanic and air raid warden. One night, Dillon was hospitalized. However, he had the good fortune to encounter a sympathetic doctor who was also one of the world’s first plastic surgeons. The doctor performed a double mastectomy on Dillon and gave him a note so that he could become Laurence Michael Dillon. Between 1946-1949, Dillon had thirteen gender reassignment surgeries. He began to study medicine- and in 1946 wrote the first book about transgender identity: “Self: A Study in Endocrinology and Ethics.” “Where the mind cannot be made to fit the body, the body should be made to fit, approximately at any rate, to the mind, ” wrote Dillon.
3. Roberta Cowell: The Fighter pilot who became the first British Transgender woman to Undergo Gender Reassignment.
Born in 1918, Robert Marshall Cowell initially exhibited no doubts about his gender. He was an enthusiastic member of his school’s motor club and at sixteen became an apprentice aircraft engineer. In 1936, while studying for his engineering degree, Cowell also raced in several Grande Prix. However, during the Second World War, while serving as a British fighter pilot, Cowell was shot down and captured by the Germans and confined to Stalag Luft 1 prison of war camp. There, the married Cowell witnessed several of his fellow prisoners start same-sex relationships. Although he did not participate himself, Cowell found himself increasingly paranoid about being seen as feminine.
After the war, a depressed and traumatized Cowell separated from his wife and sought psychiatric help. Therapy and Michael Dillon’s groundbreaking book finally helped Cowell to come to terms with the fact that his “unconscious mind was predominantly female.” By 1950, Cowell and Dillon were friends, and in 1951, Dillon carried out Cowell’s gender reassignment surgery. In 1972, Cowell explained in an interview that this surgery was justifiable because she had a chromosomal abnormality, XX male syndrome. However, she was less than sympathetic to other transgender men seeking to change sex, claiming if they had standard XY chromosomes, reassignment surgery, would turn them into ‘freaks.’
2. Sir Ewan Forbes: The Intersex Aristocrat who successfully inherited his family title.
Sir Ewan Forbes of Craigievar, the 11th Baronet, was born Elizabeth Forbes-Sempill on September 6, 1912. At birth, Forbes’s sex was hard to determine because he was intersex. So, his parents decided to designate him as a girl as it seemed the best option. However, as Forbes grew up, it was clear this was a mistake. He insisted on wearing boy’s clothes and preferred to play with his male cousins rather than his sister. Forbes even refused to be sent away to a girl’s school, forcing his parents to educate him at home until he was old enough to attend a co-educational institute in Dresden.
In 1945, Forbes qualified as a doctor and finally began to live as a man. By 1952, he had reregistered as male, changed his name and married his housekeeper. A press release revealed his change of gender was due to “…a ghastly mistake. I was carelessly registered as a girl in the first place.” In 1965, Forbes’ elder brother died childless, leaving Forbes his heir. A male cousin challenged the inheritance, on the grounds of Forbes’ original gender. However, the subsequent court case was found in Forbes’ favor because the initial determination of his sex was faulty. Ironically, as Forbes never had any children himself, his troublesome cousin eventually inherited his title and lands on his death in 1991.
1. Renee Richards: The First Transgender Woman to Play a Professional sport.
Renee Richards is a world-renowned eye surgeon and in the 1970s was a famous international female tennis player. However, until she underwent gender reassignment surgery at the age of 41, Renee was a 6ft 2in surgeon called Richard Raskin. As Raskin, Renee had captained the Yale tennis team and won several tennis titles. However, despite marrying and fathering a son, Renee had always been conflicted about her sexual identity; a conflict she did not resolve until 1975 when her physical gender finally became female.
In 1976, Richards began to play tennis as a woman. However, her birth sex was quickly outed, and the US open promptly tried to stop her from competing as a woman by introducing a chromosome screening procedure. So Richards decided to sue. The USTA lawyer George Gowan attempted to argue that allowing Richards to play would be opening the floodgates to “worldwide experiments, especially in the Iron-Curtain countries, to produce athletic stars by means undreamed of a few years ago.” However, the judge observed there were relatively few athletes in Richard’s position – and ruled in her favor, allowing Richards to compete in the 1977 US Open. The judgment made Richards a trailblazer against transgender discrimination.