16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender
16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender

16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender

Natasha sheldon - December 31, 2018

16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender
Roberta Cowell. Google Images

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.’

16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender
Sir Ewan Forbes. Google Images

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.

16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender
Renee Richards after her defeat by Virginia Wade at 1977 US Open. Screenshot.AP Archive: YouTube

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.

Where Do We Get this stuff? Here are our sources:

History Collection – 11 Remarkable Transgender People from History

National Geographic Channel – The Short Reign of Elagabalus, Rome’s Hard-Partying Emperor

Historic UK – Moll Frith

“Why tennis’s Renée Richards, the first transgender woman to play Professional sport, matters today”, Simon Briggs, The Telegraph, March 30, 2018.

The Newgate Calendar: Comprising Interesting Memoirs of the Most Notorious Characters Who Have Been Convicted of Outrages on the Laws of England Since the Commencement of the Eighteenth Century; with Occasional Anecdotes and Observations, Speeches, Confessions, and Last Exclamations of Sufferers, Volume2, Andrew Knapp and William Baldwin, J Robins and Company, 1825.

“When Jennie came marching home – An Irishwoman’s Diary on Albert Cashier and the US civil war”, Nora-Ide McAuliffe, The Irish Times, April 10, 2018

Crosscut – Meet Harry Allen, Transgender At-Risk Youth of Yesteryear

The Guardian – Gerda Wegener: ‘The Lady Gaga of the 1920s’

The Irish Times – Ireland’s Remarkable Trans Pioneer: ‘People Thought I Was A Woman, But I Was Just Me’

Scientific America – The Surprisingly Old Science of Living as Transgender

“How Catherine Madden Fell Victim to Strong Drink; Why Nell Pickerell Will Not Wear Women’s Clothing”, The Spokesman-Review, October 22, 1911

“Nell Pickerell Denies Her Sex; Woman Who Dresses in Male Attire Starts Story She is a “Real Man”; Rumor Causes Sensation; Sheriff Stone Brands Statement an Untrue Fabrication Result of Liquor,” The Spokesman-Review, November 22, 1911.

New York Times – Overlooked No More: Roberta Cowell, Trans Trailblazer, Pilot and Auto Racer

“Meet Nell Pickerell, transgender at-risk youth of yesteryear; She lived a century ago – as a man. But Nell’s story rings true today and parallels the experience of many Northwest street kids”, Knute Berger, Crosscut.com, June 30, 2014

Anderson, Lucy Hicks [Tobias Lawson] (1886-1954), Kevin Leonard, Black Past.org

BBC Sports – LGBT+ History Month: Renee Richards’ Journey from Tennis Outcast To Trans Pioneer