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17 May 2014

Mark Rees (1942–2023) Part I: sailor, dental student

Rees' parents met on a P&O cruise, where father, born in South Africa, was part of the crew. He continued in the merchant navy. Mother was a secretary. Brenda Rees was born near Tunbridge Wells, Kent in the third year of the war, the sole survivor of premature twins. She had another sister four years younger.

Rees was a defiant tomboy who refused to wear frocks or a bra.
"I took it for granted that all girls wanted to be boys and would share my masculine interests".
She rejected her parents guidance to female occupations and went to the local art college, but she was taunted for her androgynous appearance, which led to a voluntary admittance to a psychiatric hospital. The doctors had little to offer her, but a fellow patient gave her a copy of The News of the World containing an article about Georgina Turtle. Her use of ladies' toilets also led to confrontations.

After working at a clerical post, Brenda was able, after several rejections because of the psychiatric admission, to join the Women's Royal Naval Service. However she was perceived as too mannish, and after two years discharged on medical grounds.

She started studying for the qualifications necessary to apply for medical school. In 1969 the Albany Trust and the Erickson Foundation organized the first International Conference on Gender Identity in London. Brenda read about this in The Times. After a delay because of father's death, she contacted Doreen Cordell at the Albany Trust, which had mainly worked for the decriminalization of homosexuality. With Brenda's agreement she was passed to Dr John Randall, whom she met, first at his Harley Street rooms, for a fee, and then at Charing Cross Hospital on the NHS. At their first meeting Randall said that he could help Brenda live as a man if that was what she really wanted.

She failed to get into medical school, but was accepted for the Dentistry course at the University of Birmingham. The plan was to qualify as a dentist before before becoming a man. However the stress of remaining the wrong sex for five years proved to be too much and in 1971 she asked to start on male hormones. The university supported Rees in his role change. His vicar suggested a week at the Anglican Franciscan Friary in Dorset, an all-male community, before returning home and to the third year of his dentistry studies.

All went well: with staff, with fellow students, and with neighbours in Tunbridge Wells. In December The Daily Telegraph ran an article by medical journalist Wendy Cooper, "Gender is a Mutable Point". Mark wrote to her, and she interviewed him for a subsequent article. Mrs Cordell asked if he would meet with journalist Sally Vincent whose subsequent article showed several misunderstandings. Mrs Cordell also put him in touch with other female-to-male transsexuals. Nonetheless Mark withdrew from the dental course after the third year - he knew that he wasn’t really dextrous enough to make a good dental surgeon.

He had a bilateral mastectomy in 1974, followed by an appearance on BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour. He had a total hysterectomy in 1975. He then studied at Christ Church College, Canterbury, at first in teacher training, but then for a University of London BA in Literature and Religious Studies. He was out with the college authorities in that it was not then possible to change the gender on any legal documents.

Doreen died, leaving Mark feeling that he had lost a true friend. He submitted an article to The Nursing Mirror, but they wanted an accompanying medical article which Dr Randell was happy to supply. As per his usual practice he referred to female-to male transsexuals as 'ladies'.

Mark felt that he was being called to ordination within the Church of England. He was both a guide and a server at Canterbury Cathedral which was in effect his local church at that time. However it said 'Brenda' on his baptismal certificate. He wrote to the Archbishop, Dr Donald Coggan, who replied courteously that because he was still legally a woman and at that time the Church of England did not ordain women, Mark could not be considered for the priesthood.

Mark knew of Dr Charles Armstrong at Victoria Hospital in Newcastle from Wendy Cooper. In late 1978 he wrote to ask for advice in finding a surgeon who would do a phalloplasty, and was referred to Armstrong's colleague Mr Edwards. This led to a full evaluation in Newcastle by the Gender Dysphoria Panel, including Mark's first examination by an endocrinologist. However the surgeon, Mr Edwards, retired shortly afterwards and was not replaced.

Continued in Part II.


Jacqueline Dufresnoy (Coccinelle) was rebaptised after transition.  Such would have given Mark a baptismal certificate in his real name, but he probably realised that if they got beyond the baptismal certificate, the same refusal would have come based on his birth certificate.

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting history, Zagria, tho a bit sad to learn about. So many policies and laws.

    I look forward to reading the continuation.


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