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.