Incredible Stories Of Notable Transgender Figures From Before 'Transgender' Was Even A Term
Chevalier d'Éon (1728-1810)
Chevalier d'Éon, was a French diplomat, spy and a soldier.
D'Éon had androgynous physical characteristics and natural ability to mimic, good features for a spy. D'Éon appeared publicly as a man and pursued masculine occupations for 49 years, although during that time d'Éon successfully infiltrated the court of Empress Elizabeth of Russia by presenting as a woman.
At that time the English and French were at odds, and the English were attempting to deny the French access to the Empress by allowing only women and children to cross the border into Russia. D'Éon had to pass convincingly as a woman or risk being executed by the English upon discovery. In the course of this mission, d'Éon was disguised as the lady Lea de Beaumont, and served as a maid of honour to the Empress. After Empress Elizabeth died in January 1762, d'Éon sent to London to draft the peace treaty that formally ended the Seven Years' War.
Despite the fact that d'Éon habitually wore a cavalryman's uniform, rumours circulated in London that d'Éon was actually a woman. A betting pool was started on the London Stock Exchange about d'Éon's true sex. D'Éon was invited to join, but declined, saying that an examination would be dishonouring, whatever the result. The wager was abandoned after a year.
On returning to France Chevalier d'Éon claimed to have been assigned female at birth, and demanded recognition by the government as such. For 33 years, from 1777, d'Éon dressed as a woman, identifying as female.
On examining d'Éon's body after death, doctors discovered perfectly formed male organs but also feminine characteristics.
The Beaumont Society, a long-standing organisation for transgender people, is named after d'Éon and eonism became a term to describe similar cases of transgender behavior; although it is rarely used now.
Albert Cashier (1843 – 1915)
Albert D. J. Cashier, born Jennie Irene Hodgers, was an Irish-born immigrant who served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. Cashier adopted the identity of a man before enlisting, and maintained it for most of the remainder of her life.
Initially she was said to have been dressed in boy's clothing by her stepfather in order to find work. By 1862 Hodgers had traveled as a stowaway to Illinois. There, after President Lincoln's call for soldiers, she enlisted in the Ninety-fifth Illinois Infantry for a three-year term using the name "Albert Cashier" and was assigned to Company G. A company catalog lists Cashier as nineteen years old upon enlistment, a farmer from New York City, 5 feet 3 inches tall, blue-eyed, and of a fair complexion.
The regiment Albert was a part of fought in approximately forty battles, including the siege at Vicksburg, where she was captured but managed to escape, single handedly overpowering a prison guard. After the Battle of Vicksburg, in June 1863, Cashier contracted chronic diarrhea and entered a military hospital. Somehow, she evaded detection.
Throughout the war, the regiment traveled a total of about 9,000 miles. Other soldiers thought Cashier was small and preferred to be alone, which were not uncommon characteristics for soldiers. Cashier fought with the regiment through the war and was honorably discharged on August 17, 1865.
After the war Cashier settled in Saunemin, Illinois, in 1869, where she worked as a farmhand as well as performing odd jobs around the town. Albert Cashier can be found on records of the town payroll. Her employer there, Joshua Chesebro, built a one-room house for her. For over forty years, she lived in Saunemin as a man. She was a church janitor, cemetery worker and street lamplighter and later claimed a veteran's pension under the name Albert Cashier. Later on, when Hodgers fell ill, her neighbors asked a nurse to examine her and discovered that she was female, but they did not make their discovery public.
In 1911, Cashier was hit by a car that broke her leg. A physician discovered her secret in the hospital, but did not disclose the information. She was moved to the Soldiers and Sailors home in Quincy, Illinois. During this stay Hodgers was visited by many of her fellow soldiers from Ninety-fifth Regiment. She lived there until her mental state deteriorated and she was moved to the Watertown State Hospital for the Insane in March 1914. Attendants at the Watertown State Hospital discovered that she was female when giving her a bath, at which point she was made to wear women's clothes again after fifty years.
Albert Cashier died on October 10, 1915. She was buried in the uniform she had kept intact all those years and her tombstone was inscribed "Albert D. J. Cashier, Co. G, 95 Ill. Inf." She was given an official Grand Army of the Republic funerary service, and was buried with full military honors.
It took W.J. Singleton (executor of Cashier's estate) nine years to track Cashier's identity back to her birth name of Jennie Hodgers. Her consistent and long-term commitment to the male identity has prompted some contemporary scholars to argue that Cashier was a trans man.
Cashier's house has been restored in Saunemin.
The novel My Last Skirt, by Lynda Durrant, is based on Albert Cashier's life.
Michael Dillon (1865–1925)
Dillon, assigned female at birth and known as Laura, was raised with his older brother Bobby by their two aunts. He received his undergraduate education at St Anne's College, Oxford, where he was president of the Oxford University Women's Boat Club and won a University Sporting Blue award for rowing, competing in the Women's Boat Race in 1935 and 1936. After graduating he took a job at a research laboratory in Bristol.
Dillon had long been more comfortable in men's clothing and felt that he was not truly a woman. In 1939, he sought treatment from Dr. George Foss, who had been experimenting with testosterone to treat excessive menstrual bleeding; at the time, the hormone's masculinizing effects were poorly understood. Foss provided Dillon with testosterone pills but insisted Dillon consult a psychiatrist first, who gossiped about Dillon's desire to become a man, and soon the story was all over town. Dillon fled to Bristol and took a job at a garage. The hormones soon made it possible for him to pass as male, and eventually, the garage manager insisted that other employees refer to Dillon as "he" in order to avoid confusing customers. Dillon was promoted to tow truck driver and doubled as a fire watcher during the Blitz.
Dillon suffered from hypoglycemia, and twice injured his head in falls when he passed out from low blood sugar. While he was in the Royal Infirmary recovering from the second of these attacks, he happened to come to the attention of one of the world's few practitioners of plastic surgery, Harold Gillies, who had previously reconstructed penises for injured soldiers and performed surgery on intersex people with ambiguous genitalia.
Gillies performed at least 13 surgeries on Dillon between 1946 and 1949. He officially diagnosed Dillon with acute hypospadias in order to conceal the fact that he was performing sex-reassignment surgery. In the meantime, Dillon enrolled in medical school at Trinity College, Dublin under his new legal name, Laurence Michael Dillon and again he became a distinguished rower --- this time for the men's team. In what little free time he had he enjoyed dancing, but he avoided forming close relationships with women. He deliberately cultivated a misogynist reputation to prevent problematic attachments.
Dillon qualified as a doctor in 1951 and initially worked in a Dublin hospital. He had not revealed his own history in his book "Self", but it came to light in 1958 as an indirect result of his aristocratic background. Debrett's Peerage, a genealogical guide, listed him as heir to his brother's baronetcy, while its competitor Burke's Peerage mentioned only a sister, Laura Maude.
The unwanted press attention led Dillon to flee to India, where he spent time with the Buddhist community in Sarnath and spent his time studying Buddhism and writing. Despite the language barrier he felt at home there, but was forced to leave when his visa expired. His health failed, and he died in a hospital at Dalhousie, India, on 15 May 1962, aged 47.
Writing under both of his Buddhist names, Jivaka published Growing Up into Buddhism, a primer on Buddhist practice for British children and teens, and A Critical Study of the Vinaya, which looks at the Buddhist rules for ordination and defeat. Both books were published in 1960. Additionally two books by him were published in London in 1962: The Life of Milarepa, about a famous 11th century Tibetan yogi, and Imji Getsul, an account of life in a Buddhist monastery.
In 1946 Dillon published Self: A Study in Ethics and Endocrinology, a book about what would now be called transgender. "Where the mind cannot be made to fit the body," he wrote, "the body should be made to fit, approximately at any rate, to the mind."
Roberta Cowell (1918 - 2011)
Cowell was a racing driver and Second World War fighter pilot. She was the first known British transsexual woman to undergo sex reassignment surgery.
Roberta Cowell was born Robert Marshall Cowell, to Major-General Sir Ernest Marshall who served in the army and was the Director of Medical Services for Allied forces in North Africa from 1942 to 1944.
Roberta Cowell attended Whitgift School, a Public School in Croydon and was an enthusiastic member of the school's Motor Club, along with John Cunningham, who would later be famous as an RAF Night fighter ace and test pilot. Cowell left school at the age of 16 to join General Aircraft Limited as an apprentice aircraft engineer, but soon left to join the Royal Air Force, becoming an acting pilot officer on probation on 4 August 1936; Cowell began pilot-training but was discharged because of air-sickness.
In 1936, Cowell began studying engineering at University College London. Also in that year, she began motor-racing, winning her class at the Land's End Speed Trial in a Riley. She gained initial experience of the sport by sneaking into the area where cars were serviced at the Brooklands racing circuit, wearing mechanic's overalls, and offering help to any driver or mechanic who wanted it. By 1939, she owned three cars and had competed in the 1939 Antwerp Grand Prix.
Cowell was commissioned into the Royal Army Service Corps as the second lieutenant, and in June 1941, married Diana Margaret Zelma Carpenter who also had been an engineering student at UCL with an interest in motor racing.
On 18 November 1944, Cowell was piloting one of a pair of Typhoons on a low-level sortie near Bocholt and got captured by German troops. Cowell remained a prisoner for around five months, occupying the time by teaching classes in automotive-engineering to fellow inmates. She was offered the part of a woman in a camp theatrical production but turned it down, as she thought this would make her appear homosexual in the eyes of other prisoners. Towards the end of the war, food became short at the camp; Cowell lost 50 pounds (23 kgs) in weight and later described killing the camp's cats and eating them raw because of hunger.
After demobilization, Cowell was engaged in a number of business ventures until, in 1946, she founded a motor-racing team and competed in events across Europe, including the Brighton Speed Trials and the Grand Prix at Rouen-Les-Essarts
In 1948, Cowell separated from her wife and, suffering from depression, she sought out a leading Freudian psychiatrist of the time but was unsatisfied with the help he offered. Sessions with a second Freudian psychiatrist, described in her biography only as a Scottish man with a less orthodox approach to his profession, gradually revealed, in her own words, that her "unconscious mind was predominantly female" and "feminine side of my nature, which all my life I had known of and severely repressed, was very much more fundamental and deep-rooted than I had supposed."
By 1950, Cowell was taking large doses of estrogen but was still living as a man. She had become acquainted with Michael Dillon, a physician who was the first British trans man, after reading his 1946 volume Self: A Study in Endocrinology and Ethics. This work proposed that individuals should have the right to change gender, to have the kind of body they desired.
Dillon subsequently carried out an inguinal orchiectomy on Cowell. Secrecy was necessary for this as the procedure was then illegal in the United Kingdom and no surgeon would agree to perform it openly. Cowell then presented herself to a private Harley Street gynecologist and was able to obtain from him a document stating she was intersex. This allowed her to have a new birth certificate issued, with her recorded sex changed to female. She had a vaginoplasty on 15 May 1951. The operation was carried out by Sir Harold Gillies, widely considered the father of plastic surgery, with the assistance of American surgeon Ralph Millard.
By 1954, her two business ventures, a racing car engineering company (Leacroft of Egham) and a clothing company had both ceased trading and her change of legal gender had made it impossible for her to continue Grand Prix motor racing. However, in March 1954, news of her gender reassignment broke, gaining public interest around the world. In the United Kingdom, her story was published in the magazine Picture Post, and Cowell received a fee of around £8000 from the magazine.
In later years, she largely dropped out of the public eye and found it difficult to get employment. However, she was still an active figure in British motor racing in the 1970s. She also continued flying and by this time had logged over 1600 hours as a pilot.
A brief interview with Sunday Times she stated she was an intersex individual with the chromosomal abnormality XX male syndrome, and that the condition justified her transition.
In the 1990s, Cowell moved into sheltered accommodation in Hampton, London although she continued to own and drive large, powerful cars. She died on 11 October 2011. Her funeral was attended by only six people and (on her instructions) was unpublicized.
Harry Allan (1882-1922)
"A woman, dressed as a man, riding a bike recklessly."
The woman was Nell Pickerell, also known as Harry Allen or Harry Livingston. In Seattle of the 1900s, Pickerell was a media darling who dressed sharply in fashionable suits and hats. She got in fights and ran around with criminals and prostitutes. When police conducted roundups, she was often one of the usual suspects.
Pickerell was a notorious heartbreaker. There were several cases, in the Victorian parlance, where she had seduced young women. She had female admirers who then, supposedly when they found out she wasn't actually a man, attempted suicide. This fit a kind of Victorian narrative of usually men bringing women to ruin. And in this case, it had the added tabloid twist of a woman pretending to be a man bringing women to ruin.
Victorian readers ate it up. But the newspapers, which had early on fawned over Pickerell, saying she made a handsome man, started turning against her. The police started picking her up more frequently because of her attire.
She insisted on dressing as a man. And many people were fooled into believing she was a man. But when they discovered she was in fact a woman, she was arrested on vagrancy charges. It was illegal for a woman to be unescorted in a saloon. So she was arrested for that.
Pickerell's problems worsened. She was swept up in an opium den raid, and in 1919, she was stabbed by her father. They had been drinking and got into an argument. She survived but was badly injured.
She was someone determined to be herself, even if that self was contrary to society's norms.
The next year, in 1920, Pickerell died of syphilitic meningitis. She was 40. The headline in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer read, "Nell Pickerell, Man-Girl, Dies."
Lili Elbe (1882 – 1931)
Lili Ilse Elvenes, better known as Lili Elbe, was a Danish transgender woman and one of the first identifiable recipients of sex reassignment surgery. Elbe was born Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener and was a successful painter under that name.
Einar met Gerda Gottlieb while they were students at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, and they married in 1904, when Gottlieb was 19 and Wegener was 22. The two of them worked as illustrators, with Elbe specializing in landscape paintings, while Gottlieb illustrated books and fashion magazines. They both traveled through Italy and France, eventually settling in Paris in 1912, where Elbe could live openly as a woman, and Gottlieb a lesbian.
Elbe started dressing in women's clothes after filling in for Gottlieb's absentee model; she was asked to wear stockings and heels so her legs could substitute for those of the model. Elbe felt surprisingly comfortable in the clothing. Over time, Gottlieb became famous for her paintings of beautiful women with haunting, almond-shaped eyes dressed in chic fashions. In 1913, the unsuspecting public was shocked to discover that the model who had inspired Gottlieb's depictions of petites femmes fatales was, in fact, Gottlieb's spouse, "Elbe".
In the 1920s and 1930s, Elbe regularly presented as a woman, attending various festivities and entertaining guests in her house. Elbe was introduced by Gottlieb as Einar Wegener's sister when she was dressed in female attire. Only her closest friends knew once she had transitioned.
In 1930, Elbe went to Germany for sex reassignment surgery, which was experimental at the time. At the time of Elbe's last surgery, her case was already a sensation in newspapers of Denmark and Germany. A Danish court invalidated the Wegeners' marriage in October 1930, and Elbe managed to get her sex and name legally changed, including receiving a passport as Lili Ilse Elvenes. She stopped painting, believing it to be something that was part of the identity of Einar. Since Elbe and Gottlieb were no longer man and wife, their marriage was officially dissolved. After the dissolution of her marriage, Elbe returned to Dresden for a final surgery.
Elbe began a relationship with French art dealer Claude Lejeune, whom she wanted to marry and with whom she wanted to have children. She was looking forward to her final surgery involving a uterus transplant.
In June 1931, Elbe had her fourth operation, which consisted of implanting a uterus and the construction of a vagina, both of which were new and experimental procedures at that time. Her immune system rejected the uterus, however, and she developed an infection. She died on September 13, 1931, three months after the surgery, of cardiac arrest brought on by the infection.
The name "Lili Elbe" was made up by Copenhagen journalist Louise "Loulou" Lassen.
Her autobiography, Man into Woman, was posthumously published in 1933. She is represented at Vejle Art Museum in Denmark.
Anderson, Lucy Hicks (1886-1954)
Lucy Hicks Anderson lived as a woman in Oxnard, California, from 1920 until 1945, when it was discovered that she was biologically male. Today she might be described as a transgender person, but that term did not exist during her lifetime. Although she did not refer to herself as a transgendered person, she insisted publicly that a person could appear to be of one sex but actually belong to the other.
Tobias Lawson was born in Waddy, Kentucky. When Lawson entered school she insisted on wearing dresses and began calling herself Lucy. Her mother took her to a physician, and the doctor advised her mother to rear Lucy as a girl. Lucy left school at the age of fifteen to work as a domestic. When she was in her twenties, she moved west, settling in Pecos, Texas, where she worked in a hotel for a decade. In 1920 Lucy married Clarence Hicks in Silver City, New Mexico, and then moved to California. In Oxnard she continued to work as a domestic, but she also saved her money, purchased property near the center of town, and operated a brothel. Lucy divorced Hicks in 1929. In 1944 she married Reuben Anderson, a soldier stationed at Mitchel Field on Long Island, New York.
When it was discovered that Lucy was biologically male, the Ventura County district attorney decided to try her for perjury. According to the district attorney, she had committed perjury when she signed the application for a marriage license, swearing that there were "no legal objections to the marriage." Lucy challenged the authority of physicians who insisted that she was male. "I defy any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman," Anderson told reporters in the midst of her perjury trial. "I have lived, dressed, acted just what I am, a woman." A jury convicted her, but the judge placed her on probation for ten years rather than send her to prison.
Lucy had received allotment checks as the wife of a member of the U.S. Army. The Federal government prosecuted both Reuben Anderson and Lucy Hicks Anderson for fraud in 1946. Both were found guilty and sentenced to prison. After her release from prison, Anderson tried to return to Oxnard, but the local police chief told her to leave town or risk prosecution. She lived the remainder of her life in Los Angeles.
Charley Parkhurst (1812-1879)
Charley Parkhurst was born Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst in 1812 in Sharon, Vermont, to Mary Parkhurst and Ebenezer Parkhurst. The mother, Mary, died in 1812 and Charlotte was taken to an orphanage in Lebanon, New Hampshire.
Parkhurst ran away from the orphanage at age 12. He adopted the name Charley and assumed a more masculine self-presentation. According to one account, Parkhurst soon met Ebenezer Balch, who had a livery stable in Providence, Rhode Island. He took what he thought was an orphaned boy under his care and returned to Rhode Island. Treating Parkhurst like a son, Balch taught him to work as a stable hand and gradually with the horses. The boy developed an aptitude with horses, and Balch taught him to drive a coach, first with one, then four, and eventually six horses. Parkhurst worked for Balch for several years.
Seeking other opportunities in California, Parkhurst, in his late 30s, left Rhode Island, sailing from Boston to Panama; travelers had to cross the isthmus overland and pick up other ships on the west coast. In Panama, Parkhurst met John Morton, returning to San Francisco where he owned a drayage business; Morton recruited the driver to work for him. Shortly after reaching California, Parkhurst lost the use of one eye after a kick from a horse, leading to his nickname of One Eyed Charley or Cockeyed Charley.
Later Parkhurst went to work for Birch who owned the California Stage Company, and developed a reputation as one of the finest stage coach drivers on the West Coast. This inspired another nickname for his, Six-Horse Charley. He was ranked with "Foss, Hank Monk and George Gordon" as one of the top drivers of his time.
Seeing that railroads were cutting into the stagecoach business, Parkhurst retired from driving some years later to Watsonville, California. For fifteen years he worked at farming and lumbering in the winter. He also raised chickens in Aptos.
He later moved into a small cabin about six miles from Watsonville and suffered from rheumatism in his later years. Parkhurst died there on December 18, 1879, due to tongue cancer.
After Parkhurst died in 1879, neighbors came to the cabin to lay out the body for burial and discovered that his body appeared to be female to them. Rheumatism and cancer of the tongue were listed as causes of death. In addition, the examining doctor established that Parkhurst had given birth at some time. A trunk in the house contained a baby's dress. The LA Times reported, "The discovery of her true sex became a local sensation." and was soon carried by national newspapers.
The obituary about Parkhurst from the San Francisco Call was reprinted in The New York Times on January 9, 1880, so the extraordinary driving career and the post-mortem discovery of Parkhurst's physical sex received national coverage. The headline was: "Thirty Years in Disguise: A Noted Old Californian Stage-Driver Discovered. After Death. To be a Woman."
A mural in the former Soquel Post Office Annex says Parkhurst was the first woman to vote in a presidential election in California.
Renée Richards (1934 - )
Richards was born Richard Raskind on August 19, 1934, in New York City, and was raised, as she put it, as "a nice Jewish boy" in Forest Hills, Queens. Her father David Raskind was an orthopaedic surgeon, and her mother was one of the first female psychiatrists in the United States, in addition to being a professor at Columbia University.
Richards attended Horace Mann School and excelled as the wide receiver for the football team, the pitcher for the baseball team, and on the tennis and swim teams. Richards's baseball skills even led to an invitation to join the New York Yankees, but Richards decided to focus on tennis. After high school Richards attended Yale University and was captain of the men's tennis team, and was considered by some to be one of the best college tennis players in the country. After graduating from Yale, she went to the University of Rochester Medical Center and specialized in ophthalmology, graduating in 1959 and serving a two-year internship at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. After an internship, Richards served two years of residency at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital in New York. Richards played competitive tennis for a while and was ranked sixth out of the top 20 males over 35. After an internship and residency, Richards joined the United States Navy to continue medical training and played tennis in the Navy. While serving in the Navy, Richards won both the singles and doubles at the All Navy Championship, with a very effective left-hand serve. During this time Richards was ranked as high as fourth in the region.
However, during college Richards began dressing as a woman, which at the time was considered to be a perversion, and transsexualism was classified as a form of insanity. Richards named the female alter ego Renée, which is French for reborn. This struggle with sexual identity created sexual confusion, depression, and suicidal tendencies in her. Richards began seeing Dr. Charles Ihlenfeld who specialized in endocrinology, transsexualism, and sexual reassignment, and getting hormone injections with the long-term hope for a life change. In the mid-1960s she traveled in Europe dressed as a woman, intending to go to North Africa to see Georges Burou, a famous gynaecological surgeon at Clinique Parc in Casablanca, Morocco, regarding sex reassignment surgery; however, she ultimately decided against it and returned to New York. Richards married model Barbara Mole in June 1970, and together they had a son Nicholas in 1972. They were divorced in 1975. In the early 1970s, Richards resolved to undergo sex reassignment and was referred to surgeon Roberto C. Granato, successfully transitioning in 1975. After surgery, Richards went to Newport Beach, California, and started working as an ophthalmologist in practice with another doctor.
She was then denied entry into the 1976 US Open by the United States Tennis Association, which began that year requiring genetic screening for female players. She disputed this policy, and the New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor in 1977 in a decision in favor of transsexual rights.
On August 16, 1977, Judge Alfred M. Ascione found in Richards' favor. He ruled: "This person is now a female" and granted Richards an injunction against the USTA, allowing her to play in the US Open. Richards lost to Virginia Wade in the first round of the singles competition, but made it to the finals in doubles.
Richards has since expressed ambivalence about her legacy, and came to believe her past as a man provided her with advantages over her competitors, saying "Having lived for the past 30 years, I know if I'd had surgery at the age of 22, and then at 24 went on the tour, no genetic woman in the world would have been able to come close to me. And so I've reconsidered my opinion.
After four years of playing tennis, she decided to return to her medical practice, which she moved to Park Avenue in New York. She then became the surgeon director of ophthalmology and head of the eye-muscle clinic at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital. In addition she served on the editorial board of the Journal of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. She now lives in a small town north of New York City with her platonic companion Arleen Larzelere.
In 2014 a wooden racket used by her was donated to the National Museum of American History, which is part of the Smithsonian. As one of the first professional athletes to identify as such, she became a spokesperson for the transgender community.
In 1983, Richards published an autobiography, Second Serve, which served as the basis for the film Second Serve. Renée is a 2011 documentary film about Richards. The film was one of the anchor films of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and the documentary premiered on ESPN on October 4, 2011.
Breaking up is hard to do.
And when you get the law involved, it's even worse. But sometimes people don't need the law's help to make things overcomplicated, they just have a grand ole time making that happen themselves.
People on the front lines of human cruelty include divorce lawyers. These are their stories.