October is LGBT History Month, and at TransGuys.com we’re taking this opportunity to explore some of the vast history of men of trans experience. Learning about those who came before us, it’s hard not to feel great respect for these men, most of whom faced extreme prejudice and risked their lives to be true to themselves.
Gender Fluidity Along the Nile
Hatshepsut (c. 1479–1458 BC) was one of Egypt’s most successful pharoahs, ruling Egypt for almost 22 years and ushering in a period of peace and prosperity. No word existed for a female ruler, so she used the male title. She also wore men’s clothing and a false golden beard, and used both male and female pronouns.
Historians have claimed that Hatshepsut’s concern for preserving tradition was behind her male presentation, and she reportedly never gave up on feminine displays of jewelry and make-up, but is it possible that her seemingly fluid gender expression is one of the earliest accounts of a trans male life experience?
All too often, the gender identity of historical trans men has been ignorantly or deliberately disregarded–stolen histories. Indeed, calculated efforts were made to erase all record of Hatshepsut’s reign following her death. However, there’s also the risk of erroneously appropriating Hatshepsut’s life story by claiming more than 3000 years later that she was trans. The truth is that we’ll never know for certain how Hatshepsut personally identified, but it’s clear that she went to extraordinary effort to present as a man.
Transformations In Rome
Looking to Classical Antiquity, we can find a few references to the “transformation of females into males,” as the Roman author Pliny (d. 113 AD) wrote about having witnessed. His contemporary, Martial (40 – 102/104 AD) also wrote about a FTM person who played sports and loved women.
Lucian (125 – 180 AD), a rhetorician and satirist who wrote in the Greek language, described a FTM individual named Megilla, who shaved his head and lived as a man “in every way.”
Megilla tells Leaena that [he] is a man named Megillus and that Demonassa is [his] wife. Lucian presents Megilla as a transgender figure of sorts, a man in a woman’s body. “I was born a woman like the rest of you,” she says, “but I have a mind and desires and everything else of a man” (Lucian). [He] expresses no desire for physical transformation… being a man seems to be more about mental characteristics as opposed to the physical. Source
Living In An Era Before Medical Transition
Fast forward to the Medieval Period, and we can find several historical accounts of trans men:
Henri Estienne reported a mid-sixteenth century French FTM who was burned alive for successfully living as a man for many years, with a trade and a wife.
A French FTM lived as a man, learned a trade, then married a woman. Soon after, he was exposed by someone from his home town who recognized him. He was offered the possibility of saving his life by returning to living as a woman. He preferred death.
David Jans, born Martigen Jens in the seventeenth century in the Netherlands, tried to to join the army at sixteen, then went to work making silk thread. He was just one of fifty-four recorded FTMs of the 1600s in the Netherlands; an unknown number more were able to live and die as men without incident.
From the Middle Ages on, countless FTM folks lived as men in an era before hormones and surgery.
Harry Gorman, a railroad employee, lived as a man for over twenty years, only to be found anatomically female after being admitted to the hospital for a broken limb. Gorman said he knew at least ten others who lived as men.
Charley Wilson, born in 1834 in Britain, lived as a man over 40 years until he had to move into a facility for the elderly, where authorities forced him to dress as a woman.
Ray Leonard, born in 1849, arrived in Lebanon Oregon in 1889 as the son of a shoemaker and, with his father’s help, lived as a man. Ray took over his father’s business. At age 70, Ray was found to be anatomically female during medical treatment for an illness, and died in 1921 at age 76.
Hiram Calder worked as a baker and lived as a man for thirty-five years and was discovered to be anatomically female only after his death.
Charles Durkee Parkhurst drove a stage coach for thirty years and through the Gold Rush. When Charley’s friends were dressing him in his best suit for his funeral he was discovered to be anatomically female.
20th Century Transgender Men
These historical profiles of some of the key trans men of the past century highlight their remarkable achievements. Their perseverance in the face of prejudice has earned them a place in the FTM trans history time line.
Born in 1829 to a working-class family in upstate New York, Joseph Lobdell, a skilled marksman, moved to the frontier, married a woman, and bucked 19th-century gender expectations. Joseph was eventually incarcerated in an asylum, locked away from his beloved for insisting he was a man.
In an all too common example of mis-gendering, 20th-century scholars have labeled Lobdell a lesbian, but a recent book incorporating queer theory and Lobdell’s own writings makes the argument that Lobdell was indeed a transgender man. Read an interview with the author of A Strange Sort of Being: The Transgender Life of Lucy Ann/Joseph Israel Lobdell, 1829-1912.
Jack Bee Garland
December 9, 1869 – September 19, 1936
Jack Garland was a was an author, soldier, nurse and adventurer. In 1899, living as Beebe Beam, he joined the United States Army forces to participate in the Philippine War. When the captain of his ship found out his history and would not allow Beam back on the ship, the soldiers gave Beam a uniform and hid him until they were safely away from Hawaii. Beam spent a year in the Philippines and served as a Spanish language interpreter and nurse before returning to the US. After publishing a book about his time in the Philippines, Beam assumed the identity Jack Bee Garland. He devoted his remaining years to social work with various charitable organizations.
Lou Sullivan wrote a detailed biography of Jack Garland that was published in 1990 called From Female To Male: The Life of Jack Bee Garland.
Dr. Alan Hart
October 4, 1890 – July 1, 1962
Dr. Alan L. Hart was raised in Oregon. As an adult, he sought out psychiatric counseling and surgery to live his life as a man. Dr. Joshua Gilbert, who assisted Hart with his transition, published Hart’s case in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders in 1920, but kept his patient’s identity a secret.
Hart requested a hysterectomy to eliminate menstruation and the possibility of ever becoming pregnant. This was in 1917 or early 1918, decades before testosterone therapy became available. Dr. Gilbert conceded, marking a major milestone in transsexual history: the first time a psychiatrist recommended the removal of a healthy organ based solely on an individual’s gender identity.
Hart then changed his name and married a woman, and though the relationship ultimately failed, his second marriage lasted 37 years.
Hart published five books, including four novels and a text on his medical specialty, reoentgenology/radiology. He had successful medical practices in Tacoma, Washington and Hartford, Connecticut.
Dr. Hart is perhaps best known as a pioneering epidemiologist. Hart took the Idaho Tuberculosis Hospital’s TB prevention and treatment program from nonexistent during the 1930s to among the best in the country by the time he left Idaho in 1948. Throughout the Great Depression and World War II, Hart traveled extensively through rural Idaho, covering thousands of miles to lecture, conduct mass TB screenings, train new staff and treat patients. He was among the researchers who first recognized the value of X-rays to diagnose TB. Hart’s diagnostic and treatment techniques cut the TB death toll to one-fiftieth of what it was.
After World War II, synthetic testosterone became available, making it possible for Hart to grow a beard and develop a deeper voice.
Reed Erickson is one of the most important and influential transsexuals of the 20th century. Erickson inherited his father’s fortune in 1962. The following year, he became a patient of Dr. Harry Benjamin and began the process of transition.
In 1964, Erickson launched the Erickson Educational Foundation (EEF), a philanthropic organization funded entirely by Erickson himself. Through the EEF, he laid the foundations for the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, Paul Walker’s Janus Information Service, Sister Mary Elizabeth’s and Jude Patton’s J2CP, and numerous major trans activist organizations.
Erickson was also an early supporter of alternative health practices, funding what was possibly the first English-language publication on acupuncture, and supporting research into homeopathy.
Erickson lived a successful life and was rumored to be a very colorful individual. He had his demons though and died a drug addict in Mexico as a fugitive from US drug indictments.
For more information about Reed Erickson, see Dr. Aaron Devor’s research:
Devor, H. (2002). “Reed Erickson (1912-1992): How One Transsexed Man Supported ONE.” [PDF] In Vern Bullough (Ed.), Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context (p. 383-392), New York: Haworth.
December 29, 1914 – January 21, 1989
Billy Tipton started living as a man at the age of 19, in 1933. Tipton was a well respected jazz musician and entertainer. He worked as a sideman, band leader, comedian, and booking agent. He married five times. The first wife knew of his transgender status but the rest did not.
Tipton died in 1989 and was outed by the coroner, which was widely reported in the media.
Silas Howard is developing a film about Tipton’s life.
May 1, 1915 – May 15, 1962
Laurence Michael Dillon was a British physician and the first FTM transsexual to undergo phalloplasty surgery. The pedicled groin flap procedure became known as the Gillies technique and is considered the first reliable phalloplasty procedure. By 1939, Dillon—who was more comfortable in men’s clothes and sincerely felt that he was a man—sought treatment with Dr. George Foss. Testosterone’s androgenic effects were not yet understood, but Dr. Foss provided Dillon with oral testosterone tablets. It is believed that Dillon was the first FTM transsexual to use testosterone therapy.
While in the hospital for a head injury, Dillon connected with a plastic surgeon, a rare specialty at the time, who performed a double mastectomy for him. This surgeon also provided Dillon with a note that would help him have his birth certificate corrected, and put him in touch with Dr. Harold Gillies, who performed phalloplasty surgery for injured soldiers of WWII.
In 1946, Gillies agreed to perform phalloplasty for Dillon, but officially diagnosed him with hypospadias to hide the transsexual nature of the surgery. From 1946 to 1949, Gillies performed at least 13 surgeries on Dillon.
In 1946 Dillon published a book about what we now call transsexuality, Self: A Study in Endocrinology and Ethics. He wrote about “masculine inverts” and claimed this inversion was innate — a hidden physical condition that could not be changed through psychoanalysis and should instead be treated medically.
“Where the mind cannot be made to fit the body, the body should be made to fit, approximately at any rate, to the mind.” – Michael Dillon, Self: A Study in Endocrinology and Ethics
The book brought him to the attention of Roberta Cowell, who by Dillon’s hand would become the first British trans woman to receive MTF sex reassignment surgery. Though Dillon had not yet completed his medical training, he performed an orchiectomy on Cowell, a procedure that was illegal under British law.
Unwanted press attention to his aristocratic background led Dillon to flee to India where he immersed himself in Buddhist studies, pursued ordination and took on the Buddhist name, Sramanera Jivaka. However, he was initially refused ordination and soon moved on to Ladakh, where he was ordained a novice monk and took the name Lobzang Jivaka. He devoted his time to Buddhism and writing. He published four books on Buddhism, including The Life of Milarepa about the famous 11th century Tibetan yogi. In 1962, his health started to fail, likely related to oral testosterone’s toll on the liver, and he died in hospital in India at age 47.
Pagan Kennedy’s 2007 book, The First Man-Made Man, chronicles Dillon’s life story, including his romance with Roberta Cowell, revealing the struggles of early transsexuals.
Wilmer “Little Axe” M. Broadnax
December 28, 1916 – 1994
Wilmer Broadnax was a gospel quartet singer who worked and recorded with many of the most famous gospel groups of his day. Broadnax was born in Houston, and moved to Southern California in the mid 1940s when he began his singing career. By the 1950s, Broadnax–now a diminutive man with glasses and a powerful tenor voice—was performing with one of the most impressive line-ups in gospel quartet history: the Spirit of Memphis Quartet. He went on to work with the Fairfield Four and the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, and in the early 60s, Broadnax was the front man for a quartet called “Little Axe and the Golden Echoes.” Broadnax retired from touring shortly thereafter, though he continued to record occasionally with the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi through the 70s and 80s.
It was not known that he was a transgender man until the time of his death in 1994.
Learn more about Broadnax: Spirit of Gospel: Wilmer “Little Axe” Broadnax
December 18, 1945 – January 17, 1999
Robert Eads began transitioning in the late 1980s following a move to Florida. He started testosterone therapy and had top surgery, but because of his age (early- to mid-40s) and the fact that he was showing symptoms of menopause, Eads was told that he would not need a hysterectomy.
In 1996, after moving back to Georgia, Eads suffered severe abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding and received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. More than two dozen doctors refused to treat Eads because they thought that helping him would harm there practices.
In 1997, Eads was finally treated at the Medical College of Georgia hospital, where he underwent surgical, medical, and radiation therapy over the next year. By 1998, his cancer had spread to his uterus, cervix, and other abdominal organs. He died the following year at the age of 53.
Robert Eads’ life and death was the subject of the award-winning documentary, Southern Comfort.
June 16, 1951 – March 2, 1991
Louis Graydon Sullivan was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was a pioneering activist who, because he was also gay, played a pivotal role in changing the medical diagnosis and treatment of transsexualism. He was also a major force in creating community for trans masculine people.
When Sullivan was 17, he began a long term relationship with a feminine male lover. By 1973, Sullivan was identifying as a “female transvestite,” and launched a career of transgender community activism with the publication of the article “A Transvestite Answers a Feminist,” which appeared in the Gay People’s Union News. A second article published the following year, “Looking Towards Transvestite Liberation,” remains a landmark for its early investigation of gender identity in homosexual culture.
By 1975, Sullivan was identifying as a female-to-male transsexual, and he moved to San Francisco. He was employed as a woman, but spent most of his time living as a gay man. He sought out surgery but was consistently denied because he was gay. As a result, Sullivan became involved in a campaign to remove homosexual orientation from the list of contraindications for SRS.
He published a booklet called Information for the Female to Male Cross-Dresser and Transsexual which disseminated information about finding support groups, counseling, endocrinological and surgical services.
In 1979, Sullivan started taking testosterone and also became a volunteer at the Janus Information Facility (now J2CP), a referral service in San Francisco. He had top surgery in 1980 and started living full time as a gay man. Throughout the 80s, Sullivan continued to wrote about FTM issues in the gay and transgender press, started work on his biography of Jack Garland, and became a popular public speaker.
In 1986, Sullivan had genital reconstruction surgery, and organized what would become FTM International, the first known peer-support group in the U.S. devoted entirely to FTM individuals. Later that year Sullivan was diagnosed with AIDS. He died of an AIDS-related illness on March 2, 1991, at the age of 39.
For more information about Lou Sullivan, explore the Lou Sullivan Society (LSS) website. The LSS has displayed selected materials from Sullivan’s papers in a number of exhibitions, notably “Man-i-fest: FTM Mentoring in San Francisco from 1976 to 2009,” which was open through much of 2010 in the second gallery at the society’s headquarters at 657 Mission St. in San Francisco, and “Our Vast Queer Past: Celebrating San Francsico’s GLBT History,” the debut exhibition in the main gallery at the society’s GLBT History Museum that opened in January 2011 in San Francisco’s Castro District.
Today’s Change Makers
There are many trans men in more recent years who have worked hard and made sacrifices to improve the world we live in. Here’s just a small sampling:
Kye Allums – Athlete, the first out trans person to compete at a Division I NCAA institution.
Kylar Broadus – Lawyer and professor at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC), first trans person ever to testify before the US Senate.
Loren Rex Cameron – American photographer, author and transsexual activist.
Marcelle Cook-Daniels – Pioneering trans activist and leader in the U.S. (d. 2000)
Aaron Devor – Canadian sociologist and sexologist known for research into the transgender community, author (FTM), Founder and Academic Director of the Transgender Archives in Victoria, BC Canada, and the World’s only Chair in Transgender Studies at UVic.
Alexander John Goodrum – Founder and director of TGNet Arizona, a Tucson-based transgender advocacy organization. (d. 2002)
Jamison Green – Educator, author (Becoming A Visible Man), advocate and internationally recognized speaker.
Matt Kailey – Author (Just Add Hormones), blogger, teacher, and community leader, as well as a nationally recognized speaker and trainer on transgender issues. (d. 2014)
Rupert Raj – Counselor/psychotherapist, consultant, clinical researcher, educator, guest university lecturer, writer, editor, professional trainer and Gender Specialist. He also has a history of trans advocacy across Canada and the USA going back to 1971.
Mark Rees – Activist and author (Dear Sir or Madam)
Max Wolf Valerio – American poet, memoir writer (The Testosterone Files), essayist and actor
Michael Woodward – Writer, speaker, consultant, social justice advocate, Gender Odyssey conference director.
This list is by no means complete, and is decidedly short on non-American men. Who would YOU add? Leave a comment below!
Don’t miss the FTM Trans History Time Line.
Trans History Reading Room:
- The Transgender Man Who Fought in the Civil War: The Amazing Life and Tragic End of Albert Cashier
- Transgender Forward – A timeline of significant moments in the transgender movement
- A Classical F.T.M. – Lucian’s The Dialogue of the Courtesans, from the 2nd Century C.E.
- The Transgender Archives: Foundations for the Future – [PDF] Limited edition book published September 2014.
- U.S. Confederate Army General Revealed to Be a Woman
- Two Spirit: The Story of a Movement Unfolds – Two spirit — the movement, the societies and the term itself — marks a return to Native American traditions that historically recognized more than two genders.
- Trans* History In the U.S. [PPT slides] – Presented at TransOhio 2014 by Eliot Colin, Ian Harris and Finn Lefevre
- Intro to Trans History
- The Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria
- U.S. National Transgender Library & Archives
- Digital Transgender Archive
- Lynn Conway’s Successful Trans Men
- Mercedes Allen’s Six Part Series on Transgender History:
- A Gender Variance Who’s Who
- Black Trans History Compilations
- Contributions of Black Trans Men Pioneers in History
- Transgender American History
- Transsexualism: Mythological, Historical, and Cross-Cultural Aspects
- A Brief History of Transgender Issues
- Tracking Transgender: The Historical Truth
- Photo Review of Trans Activism
- Research and Historical Essays by Cathryn Platine
- Trans Oral History
- Book: Transgender Warriors by Leslie Feinberg
- Book: Transgender History by Susan Stryker
- Book: How Sex Changed by Joanne Meyerowitz
Last updated: 05/27/16