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20 May 2014

Mark Rees Part II: activist, councillor.

Continued from Part I.

The refusal from the Church of England spurred Mark to consider a challenge through the legal system. A friend told him of Daniel van Oosterwijck who had applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the same issue. In 1979 he found a lawyer, David Sonia Burgess (1947 – 2010), also transgender, who would take the case.

In 1981 Mark chastised a local boy for breaking glass close to his house. In revenge the boy's mother put out the word about Mark's gender history and he was then continuously taunted by local kids. Another disappointment in this period was that Mark's younger sister, Jane, who had been initially supportive of his transition, turned against it in 1984, and even cut herself off from their mother.

That same year Mark wrote to the BBC's Claire Rayner's Casebook, and suggested that they do a program on transsexuality. The film crew came to Mark's home for the interview, but did not give his full name or whereabouts on the air.

Mark and David Burgess had been appealing through the courts and finally the ECHR decided that there was a case. Supposedly Mark's identity was to be confidential, but in April 1985 the ECHR issued a press release giving Mark's full name, and it was reprinted in The Guardian. This was quickly picked up by a local newspaper.

The ECHR hearing was held in 1986. Eleven days before, Mark and his mother were featured on BBC 1 Nine O'Clock News, and on Woman's Hour. The Thatcher government sent expensive lawyers to argue against Mark's petition, and it was denied. However, on the day that the ECHR's decision was handed down, Mark received a letter from the Liberal MP and barrister Alex Carlile expressing support. He was also invited to the Tunbridge Wells Civic Banquet by the incoming mayor.

In Liz Hodgkinson's 1987 book, Bodyshock, Mark explained:
"Sometimes I think  that I should know all about cars, now that I'm supposed to be a man, but many of my male friends don't understand mechanical things. I don't feel that it is essential at all. I see myself as an ideal person in the middle. Having been a woman, and having grown up, albeit reluctantly, in a woman's world, I find that my sympathies are with women. I find many men boring and pompous. I prefer to listen to women, and feel I know all about them, having been one. Everybody knows about me and I don't try to hide my background as many female-to-male transsexuals do."
In 1988 Mark encountered his sister's two daughters in town and said 'Hello'. A solicitor's letter letter came three days later demanding that he not attempt to see the children. Following this their mother went to visit a friend in Somerset, and died. A cousin from South Africa turned up for the funeral, who was also a female-to-male transsexual. Jane came but refused to sit with or even look at her brother. The local yobos jeered as Mark followed his mother's coffin. Later in the year a memorial service was held, without Jane being invited.

Mark fell into depression and stopped attending church. In 1989 Wendy Cooper got Wales On Sunday to commission a life history from Mark, and in June he went to Brussels as the European Parliament had accepted a motion that transsexuals be legally recognised. The motion was passed in September, but, as expected, the Thatcher government totally ignored it. On the trip Mark met with Pastor Joseph Doucé, a year before he was assassinated.

Mark started on a career as a public speaker, mainly to the Samaritans charity. Financially he was still relying on the dole. Alex Carlile organized a meeting of transsexuals and supporters in 1992 that started in his office and finished in a nearby café. This resulted in the foundation of Press for Change(PFC). Mark was happy to let the younger, and computer literate, do most of the work, but continued to write letters , especially to Anglican dioceses, and spoke at many meetings across the UK.

In 1994 Mark was elected to the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council representing the Liberal Democrat Party, one of the first openly trans candidates to be elected. However it resulted in an ill-mannered article in The News of the World. Nonetheless the local paper published a photograph of Councillor Rees a few weeks later with no mention at all of his gender history.

In 1996 Cassell published Mark's biography with a foreword by the Dutch professor Louis J Gooren and a preface by Alex Carlile.

In 2002, Mark turned 60, and being legally a woman was able to start drawing a state pension.

The Gender Recognition Act which PFC had campaigned for, came into effect in 2004, despite fierce opposition from the Evangelical Alliance and the Christian Institute. In July Mark had a letter published in The Church Times.
"It has been my hope that it might be possible to organise a service to give thanks for the passing of the Act, and to include penitence and reconciliation; but this has met with considerable antagonism from some colleagues, solely because of the bishops’ opposition. I wonder if there is any serving bishop who would have courage enough to say, 'On behalf of the Church, I am sorry for the hurt we have caused you'."
This generated enough response that an event, “The Gender Recognition Act 2004, Reflection and
Thanksgiving,” was held in St Anne’s Church, Soho, London, on 21 May 2005. Mark's local vicar in Tunbridge Wells came and preached a sermon against Christians who would not show love. Ironically, within the preceding week the Act had been amended by a Statutory Instrument in order to accommodate the objections of the fundamentalists. As a result they have the right to check on anyone who they might suspect to be transgender. If the individual is so, these religious people are permitted by law to refuse him or her employment, accommodation or even entry to worship.

By now Mark considered himself to be agnostic, and no longer attended church. He did however take a diploma course in applied theology. After the priest tutor mentioned that her church organist was transgender, Mark outed himself to the tutor and then the class. This went well and several wanted to read his biography which was by then out of print. This led to Mark expanding the book and adding photographs. The new publication in 2009 was at his own expense.

He finally registered as male under the Gender Recognition Act as an act of closure in completing the revision of the book.

Mark died age 81 in 2023.

*not the footballer, nor the neuroscience professor
  • European Commission of Human Rights. Mark Rees against the United Kingdom: Report. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 1984.
  • Terence Shaw.  "Sex Change Rights Plea to Court".  The Daily Telegraph, 17 Mar 1986. 
  • Liz Hodgkinson,. Bodyshock: the truth about changing sex. London: Columbus, 1987:136, 140-3.
  • Jane Jackson (dir). Sex Change - Shock! Horror! Probe. Scr: Kristiene Clarke, with Mark Rees and others. UK TV Channel 4 50 mins 1989.
  • Mark Rees. "Becoming a man: The personal account of a Female-to-Male Transsexual". In Richard Ekins & Dave King (eds). Blending Genders: Social Aspects of Cross-Dressing and Sex-Changing. London & New York: Routledge 1996: 27-38.
  • Mark Rees. Dear Sir or Madam: the autobiography of a female-to-male transsexual. London & New York: Cassell, 1996. Revised as Dear Sir or Madam: A Journey from Female to Male. Tunbridge Wells: Mallard, 2009.
  • Sophie Goodman.  "New hope for transsexuals as MPs move to change the law on birth certificates". The Independent, 23 June 2002.
  • Pat Califia. Sex changes : the politics of transgenderism. San Francisco: Cleis Press 1997. Second edition by Patrick Califia 2003: 178-186.
  • Judith Halberstam. Female Masculinity. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998.155-6
  • Mark Rees. "Reproaching opponents of Gender Recognition Act". Church Times, 02 Nov 2006.
  • Christine Burns. "Dear Sir or Madam – The New Edition". Just Plain Sense, October 4, 2009.
  • Mark Dalby. "Book Review: Mark Rees, Dear Sir or Madam: A Journey from Female to Male". Modern Church, Jan 2010.
  • Christine Burns.  Pressing Matters, Volume 1.   Kindle, 2013. 
LGBThistorymonth     LGBTran


The second self-published autobiography came out in 2009 as the original was by then out of print.   The irony is that now it is fairly easy to buy a copy of the 1996 book on Amazon Marketplace or AbeBooks, but it is very difficult to find a copy of the 2009 version.

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