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Transgender People In History

Trans people are not "new".

By choreomaniaPublished 23 days ago 10 min read
Transgender People In History
Photo by Kyle on Unsplash

It's a common argument that being transgender is a fad or trend created by modern-day youth. Of course, this simply isn't true. Transgender people have existed for millenia. Here are eleven of them.


01. Renee Richards (1934 - )

Renee Richards is an ophthalmologist and a former tennis player. She was born in New York City and began playing tennis as a preteen, later playing competitively in between her studies at medical schools. She came out as a trans woman in college, during which time cross-dressing was considered greatly perverted in New York. In the 1970's, Renee received gender-affirming surgery and relocated to California, where she began working as an ophthalmologist.

In 1976, when Renee was a player for the Women's Tennis Association, her gender identity was revealed by a popular media channel. Subsequently, the United States Tennis Association created a rule that stated all female tennis players were required to verify their sex with a chromosomal test before being permitted to play. After her refusal to take the test resulted in being banned from the Women's US Open team, Renee sued the tennis association and challenged their policy of biological testing in sports. She won the court case, and overturned this policy, resulting in fame around the US and in sports.

After four years of professional tennis, Renee retired from sports to continue her work in medicine.

02. Sir Ewan Forbes, 11th Baronet (1912-1991)

Sir Ewan Forbes was a Scottish doctor and farmer. He was born to a noble family and was registered at birth as the youngest daughter, but struggled throughout childhood with gender dysphoria and insecurity. In his late teenage years, he refused to attend school overseas, as this was an all-girls' school; he was educated at home instead. In 1929 or 1930, he began presenting as male in public following several appointments with gender specialists in Dresden.

In 1939, Ewan was accepted as a medical student by the University of Aberdeen, from which he graduated in the 1940s'. After graduation, he worked as a rural doctor as well as a medical officer, tending to German prisoners of war in the area. In 1952, he re-registered his birth and changed his legal name, which he later announced a well-known local magazine. Later that year, he married Isabella Mitchell, the family's housekeeper of four years.

After the deaths of Ewan's father and older brother, Ewan stood to inherit the family estate. However, the validity of his re-registration of gender was questioned by a family member, who claimed that Ewan was still legally known as female and therefore unfit to inherit. This went to court, where it was eventually argued that Ewan was intersex - and because his gender had been 'indeterminate at birth', the validity of his re-registration of sex was valid, and he would become the rightful holder of the estate.

03. Roberta Cowell (1918 - 2011)

Roberta Cowell was a combat pilot and automobile racer from the United Kingdom. In 1951, she became the first British woman to undergo gender-affirming surgery. She was born in London, and attended an all-boys public boarding school until the age of sixteen, when she left to study aircraft engineering. Soon afterward, she joined the royal air force as an acting pilot officer. In 1936, Roberta began studying engineering at university in London. That year, she also began automobile racing.

During the second world war, Roberta acted as second lieutenant in the Royal Army Service Corps. In 1944, she was captured by German troops after crash-landing the Hawker Typhoon fighter bomber she'd been piloting. Subsequently, she spent about five months in a prisoner of war camp in Germany. In 1941, Roberta married a woman called Diana, with whom she later had two children. They were divorced by 1952.

After becoming friends with Michael Dillon in the 1940's, Roberta visited a private gynecologist and obtained a document which stated she was intersex. This allowed her to get a new birth certificate that stated her sex as female, and made it possible to undergo gender affirming surgery. In May 1951, Roberta had a vaginoplasty. Two days later, the name on her birth certificate was changed.

Roberta died in October 2011, although her death was not public knowledge until 2013.

04. Michael Dillon (1915 - 1962)

Michael Dillon was an English author and physician, and the first transgender man to receive a phalloplasty. He was born in Kensington, London, in 1915, and assigned female at birth. As a child, he was educated at Brampton Down Girls' School, where he enjoyed learning about theology and spirituality. He attended the Church of England, where he had close relationships with the clergy and leaders of the church. He also enjoyed sports and activities that were typically masculine, such as rowing. In 1934, Michael enrolled at Saint Anne's College in Oxford, where he took Classical Studies. It was during his time at college that Michael began to question his identity: dressing in masculine-aligned clothing, smoking pipes, and riding a motorcycle.

After graduation, Michael began a job as laboratory assistant. At the time, testosterone supplements were being prescribed to cisgender female patients as a way of easing severe menstrual cramps. Michael knew of the masculinizing effects this would have, so he asked in confidence to be prescribed testosterone for personal use. He was given testosterone pills, but subsequently gossiped about by several doctors at his place of work, forcing him to leave the job.

In 1942, Michael underwent a private double mastectomy. Two years later, he legally changed his name and was given a new birth certificate that reflected his true identity. Upon recommendation by the plastic surgeon who treated him, Michael reached out to Harold Gillies, a plastic surgeon known for constructing phalloplasties on intersex patients. Gillies agreed to treat him, but did so after falsifying his condition as intersex in order to avoid public scrutiny.

After the publication of his book in 1946, Michael became aware of Roberta Cowell through its promotion. They communicated electronically for several before meeting in person. In the 1950's, Michael performed an orchiectomy on Roberta, helping her become the first trans woman to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

05. Lucy Hicks Anderson (1886 - 1954)

Lucy Hicks Anderson was an American socialite, chef, and philanthropist. She was born in Kentucky, and was raised and socialized female after recommendation to her parents by a doctor. She left school at the age of fifteen and eventually moved to Texas, and then California.

In 1954, when Lucy was working in a brothel, a soldier came forward to claim he had caught an STI from one of the women. This lead to medical examination of all the women, and put Lucy in danger after the discovery by the district attorney that she was transgender. She was charged for perjury, and subsequently exposed by magazines as a trans woman. This lead to public backlash and forced Lucy to stand trial for perjury, during which she was also charged with fraud due to her same-sex marriage, which was illegal under California law. As a result of this trial, she and her husband were both found guilty of perjury and fraud, and sentenced to the same men's prison.

Lucy died in Los Angeles in 1954, at the age of 68.

06. Christine Jorgensen (1926 – 1989)

Christine Jorgensen was an American activist, singer, recording artist, and actress. She was the second child of George William Jorgensen and Florence Davis Hansen, and was raised in the Bronx, New York. In 1945, Christine was drafted into the US Army during World War 2, where she served as a military clerical worker. Following her service, she travelled to Copenhagen, where she underwent a series of gender-affirming surgeries.

In the early 1950's, Christine wrote several letters to her parents, where she explained her identity and the surgeries she had undergone. Her parents were accepting and receptive to her news. In 1952, she was outed by a magazine after some of her letters were leaked to the press. Upon her return to the United States, she became bombarded by paparazzi and journalists who wished to expose her identity for debate and attention. In 1967, she published an autobiography which sold almost 450,000 copies.

During the 1970's and 80's, Christine made frequent tours around campuses and public venues to speak about her life and experiences. She died of bladder and lung cancers in 1989, at the age of 62.

07. Lili Elbe (1882 – 1931)

Lili Elbe was a Danish painter and one of the earliest known recipients of gender-affirming surgery. She was born in 1882 in Denmark, and attended the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, where she met her wife, Gerda Gottlieb. In 1904, she and Gerda married. In the early 1900's, Lili and Gerda travelled through Italy and France before finally settling in Paris. Here, Lili posed as Gerda's sister in law to avoid scrutiny, and to allow herself to live more openly as a woman.

In the 1920's, Lili began using the name Lili and living as a woman. In 1930, she went to Germany to undergo sex reassignment surgery, which was highly experimental at the time. Over the course of two years, she received four operations: the first of which was performed in Berlin, and was an orchidectomy. Following this procedure, Lili legally changed her name and sex after the annulment of her marriage to Gerda.

In 1931, Lili returned to Germany for her fourth surgery, a vaginoplasty with uterine implantation. However, her immune system rejected the organ, which lead to transplant rejection and infection. This resulted in cardiac arrest, and lead to Lili's death at the age of 48.

08. We'wha (1849 - 1896)

We'wha was a Native American weaver, potter, and Lhamana - a biologically male person who participated in social and ceremonial roles usually associated with women. We'wha was born around 1849 in New Mexico, where she served as a cultural ambassador and educator for the Zuni people. Although We'wha was not a transgender woman, she used masculine and feminine pronouns interchangeably, and took part in both male and female roles. In 1953, We'wha's parents died of smallpox, an illness that American colonists brought to the village. Following their deaths, We'wha was adopted and raised by a paternal aunt.

We'wha befriended Matilda Coxe Stevenson in 1879 while working at the same place. In 1887, she and Matilda travelled to Washington, DC, where they met then-President Grover Cleveland. This visit received much more media attention in comparison to others because most believed We'wha to be a woman, and it was rare at the time for Native American women to visit the Presidential building.

09. Sylvia Rivera (1951 - 2002)

Sylvia Rivera was an American LGBTQ+ activist, and close friend of Marsha P. Johnson. She was born in New York City to a Puerto Rican father and a Venezuelan mother, and became an orphan at the age of three years old. As a result, she was adopted and raised by her grandmother, who didn't approve of Sylvia's feminine behaviours. In 1962, at the age of ten, Sylvia ran away from home and began living on the streets of New York City.

Sylvia began her activism in 1970. With Marsha, she co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, an organization that advocated for queer youth and fought for inclusion. She died in 2002 from liver cancer.

10. James Barry (1789 - 1865)

James Barry was an Irish military surgeon in the British Army. He was the second of three children born in Cork to Jeremiah and Mary Anne Bulkley, and moved to London with his mother at the age of fifteen. As a teenager, he was expected to become a tutor, and was educated to do so. In 1809, James began studying at medical school in Scotland, though the university attempted to deny him entry based on his youthful appearance. By this point, he was living as a man, and was seen this way by mostly everyone. This was how he would be allowed to enter university, and to later work as a surgeon.

In July 1813, James joined the army as a hospital assistant. He was later promoted to surgeon. He rallied for significant improvements in the army: improvements to the sanitation and water systems, improved conditions for prisoners and the mentally ill, and the implementation of a sanctuary for those with leprosy. In addition, James performed one of the first Cesarean sections in which both child and mother lived.

James was forced to retire from the army in 1859 due to his age and declining health. He died of gastroenteritis in July 1865. It wasn't until his autopsy that he was determined to have been assigned female at birth, and many theorists and biographers have argued that James might have been intersex.

11. Frances Thompson (1840 - 1876)

Frances Thompson was an anti-rape activist and former slave, as well as one of five Black women to testify before a congressional committee. She was born into slavery in Alabama, and become a free woman by the age of 26. The Memphis Massacre of 1866 was a series of racial violence following the American Civil War. It involved three days of targeted attacks by on Black communities by a white mob. During the Memphis Massacre of 1866, the home of Frances and her housemate was targeted by a mob of white men, who subsequently sexually assaulted them.

After the riots, Frances and 170 others testified in court about the violence they had been subjected to. She became popular as a result of her testimony, and became a victim of increased persecution and discrimination due to her gender identity. In 1876, she was arrested for cross-dressing and forced to undergo a series of medical examinations, during which it was confirmed that she had been assigned male at birth. As punishment for her cross-dressing, Frances was sentenced to a men's prison, where she was abused by other prisoners.

Frances died of gastroenteritis less than a year after her release from prison.




About the Creator


i'm a a queer writer, poet, cat lover, and author. i'm passionate about psychology, human rights, and creating places where lgbt+ youth and young adults feel safe, represented, and supported.

29 | m.

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  • ROCK 23 days ago

    Oh, thank Danny for giving love and light toward the Trans community with such memorable details of those who paved the way decades ago. As a parent, sibling, cousin and friend to many Trans loved ones, enough information can't be spread. I just want the world to be better for everyone 💖

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