Trans history has always been very difficult to measure. Namely because of the criminality of homosexuality and the hidden nature of sexuality. Furthermore, without people to read and research trans history, there seems to be very little to inspire writers to delve into trans history.
Trans people have been also largely ignored from the worlds history books because it was traditionally viewed negatively. Therefore, it wasn’t considered important to learn about their history. However, throughout modern history, a selection of inspiring trans people worked tirelessly to break the mould and bring about more acceptance of transgender issues. It is because of these people and the great events they brought about, that trans people have the increasing level of acceptance and greater rights that they enjoy today.
Are you ready to be inspired?
Known as the Einstein of Sex, Magnus Hirschfeld was an openly gay man who is considered to be one of the world most pioneering sexologist and gay rights activists in modern history. In the early 19th century, Dr Hirschfeld coined the term Transvestite and Transsexual before subsequently opening the Institute of Sexual Sciences in Berlin. It was this institute which became the world’s first ever gender identity clinic. He also worked closely with Dr. Levy-Lenz, and Dr. Felix Abraham who performed the first documented male to female gender reassignment in 1932. He was a strong advocate for the rights of transgender people, which shows how forward thinking and ahead of his time he was.
In 1933 At a time when homosexuality was deemed as sexually deviant, Dr Hirschfeld and the institute drew the attention of Hitler and the Nazi’s. As a Jewish German, gay rights campaigner and the founder of the world’s first gay rights organisation, Hirschfeld was a primary target for the Nazi’s. He was often attacked and beaten, with Hitler himself describing Hirschfeld as the most dangerous Jew in Germany. His library of research was destroyed by Hitler in 1933 and this was swiftly followed by the Institute.
During Hitler’s reign, Hirschfeld lived in exile in France where he later died peacefully of a heart attack on May 14th 1935 on his 67th birthday. He spent a lifetime fighting for the rights of the LGBT community and progressing the gender reassignment of trans people, often at the expense of his own happiness and wellbeing.
James Barry was a renowned medical obstetrician, and the first person to perform a caesarean section in South Africa. After graduating medical school, James joined the British army as a hospital assistant and subsequently a surgeon. In 1928 he transferred to Malta where he helped contain a cholera outbreak and was personally thanked by the Duke of Wellington. He was later promoted to the Medical Inspector for the British Army, a prestigious post which required lots of travel before moving to Canada to improve living conditions of soldiers. It was there that James developed bronchitis and was discharged from the army. Thus returning to England where he later died of dysentery.
After James Barry’s death, it was discovered that he was actually female. James was born Margaret Ann Bulkley. She had been living as a man since 1809 and had achieved the incredible feat of living undiscovered as a trans male and practising medicine in the British Army for over 40 years. The army was so incensed that they destroyed all record of Barry.
For those who haven’t seen the film, The Danish Girl depicts the bittersweet tale of Lili Elbe who was the first identifiable recipient of gender reassignment surgery. Born Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener, Lili Elbe studied Art at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and fell in love, as a male to Gerda Gottlieb, an artist who often asked Einer to pose in women’s clothing for her art deco projects. It was during these sessions that Einar began to feel that there had been a mistake, and that he was actually a woman.
With the support of Gerda, Einar began the transition by living for two decades as woman, Lili Elbe. It was during this time that she approached the Institute of Sexual Sciences ran by Magnus Hirschfeld to discuss the possibility of transforming her body permanently from male to female. This was an untested procedure that held a lot of risks, but Lili was determined to transform into the person that she knew she was destined to become. She underwent four different procedures and became the first person to change their gender, name and passport.
Lili passed away after surgery to provide a womb failed. However, her wish to tell her story was upheld and has been used to inspire generations of transgender individuals worldwide.
Hailed as one of the greatest British writers of the post-war Era, Jan Morris has led a vivid and inspiring life. Initially born James Morris, Jan was a gifted pianist who determined that he was actually a girl at the age of 3 or 4. However, it was many years before Jan made her transition. Instead, James joined the army and became an intelligence officer before subsequently securing a job with the Arab news agency and becoming a journalist. The headline that threw Jan into the spotlight was the British Mount Everest expedition of 1953, in which Jan accompanied Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay (at great personal risk) to ensure that the Manchester Guardian were the first newspaper to score this incredible tale.
In 1974 Jan wrote Conundrum, a beautifully written story about Jans transition to womanhood. As a person in the public spotlight, Jan’s story drew particular interest and raised great awareness about the journey of transition and impact on her much loved partner Elizabeth, and their four children. Now aged 90, Jan has written over 40 books about her travels, novels and countless essays and journeys. Her strength of character and determination to live the life she was destined to lead will inspire young people for many years to come.
Do you know an inspiring character in trans history?