Part I: dentist and surgeon-lieutenant
Part II: wife and author
Part III: Turtle’s typology
Several of the medical men in London had suggested to Georgina that she write her autobiography, but what she did produce was a study based on those transsexuals who had contacted her. This involved a detailed knowledge of 30 of the transsexuals (one of whom was the future Jan Morris) and lesser knowledge of 100 others. The book was published in 1963, under her maiden name, as Over the Sex Border, with a Foreword by Kenneth Walker.
This was three years before Harry Benjamin's book, and thus is the first ever on the topic. It is summarized as the last 30 pages of her 1991 autobiography. She says that she is not a transsexual, and that surgery should be only for intersex persons and those transsexuals under 25 who have never married or had children.
"Less than a few percent of transsexuals are true or primary transsexuals. These are generally the lonely, sensitive, asexual types of transsexual" (p82).She refers to trans women as male transsexuals.
"The sad part is that, however permissive society becomes, these cases will always have to accept that biologically and organically they are really no more than feminised males or masculinised females, and will forever remain, regardless of their altered anatomy, of the male or female sex to which they were born. (72)".However she does balance this with:
"There are still some to-day known to me of that era who were repeatedly turned away, heartbroken and suicidal, and yet who have managed to struggle on trying to do 'the right thing' and maintain the respect of society. For them the magical dream of being a young girl has gone for ever – they never wanted to be old women! They banged at the door and it creaked a little, making it easier for the next, but they themselves never 'made it' through. It is these less fortunate unknowns, not just the well known cases, that transsexuals have to thank to-day for the recognition given to the syndrome. (p97)"While Over the Sex Border is included in Richard Green's bibliography to Harry Benjamin's The Transsexual Phenomena, Benjamin himself, in the main text, completely ignores it. Similarly, John Randell's Sexual Variations, 1973 lists the book but never refers to it.
Mrs Somerset wrote a letter to the British Medical Journal in 1966, to note that a leading article on transsexuality failed to mention her book, and concluded: "It is interesting that most if not all medical studies [on transsexualism] have been made by men. (p67)"
Attention drawn to this letter led to her being invited to appear in a BBC Horizon program on "Sex Change" prompted by the withdrawal of the Press sisters from international athletics. This was the first appearance of a "sex changeling" person on a medical program on British television. She gave up a day in her surgery, cancelling a full appointment book, to go to Television Centre, and gave a forty-minute filmed interview. However only a minute of her interview was broadcast, and she was afterwards informed that she had said more than the BBC was prepared to screen.
In January 1969, a medical article in the doctors' weekly newspaper, Pulse International, compared her to Christine Jorgensen as being transsexual,
"implying that I was homosexual, would have had breast implants, electrolysis and was probably not legally married, I had no choice but to instigate libel proceedings for, indeed, all these premises were totally false" (p44).The proceedings continued for two years, during which Justice Roger Ormrod ruled in Corbett v. Corbett against the femaleness of April Ashley. However Georgina was not deterred, and even sent a copy of her book to Justice Ormrod, and he wrote back:
"you and I have arrived independently at the same conclusions as to the legal position".She submitted medical reports and underwent blood tests and other medical examinations. For the first time she discovered her chromosomal constitution: mosaic XO/XY. If she had lost she would have been forced into bankruptcy. However two days before the scheduled hearing, the defendants offered an apology based on Georgina's medical records, and a statement was read in the High Court by her barrister, Leon Brittan (later a controversial minister in Thatcher's cabinet and posthumously famous for losing a detailed dossier on child abuse by prominent men).
Shortly after that Georgina ceased taking artificial oestrogens.
In 1983, at age 60 she applied for a state pension, only to find that the National Insurance database still had her down as a man. However she was able to point out that she had been legally female since 1960, and was granted the pension.
In 1989 Mrs Somerset wrote to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, in reply to an article by the recently deceased Charles Armstrong, and made the point:
"If male transsexualists are BORN with a female brain, one would not expect their average age to be 35 years and many to have married and fathered children. … Moreover, they lack the vital formative years in their desired role and have a past from which there is no escape, even in dreams."She cited Charles Socarides with approval:
"You don't change the body to conform to anything and, after the operation, the patient remains what he or she was born and the psychic problems are the same or worse",and continued:
"By 1962 I had studied nearly 300 cases, and it became apparent that most were psychologically disturbed in more than the sexual plane. Not only do they convince themselves that their 'sex-change' is real but will lie, cheat and even falsify documents to gain their ends. However sympathetic, we cannot ignore the moral and social issues. Wives commit suicide, children are left fatherless, and all responsibilities are disregarded in their quest. … If we are to allow some form of modified birth certificate on compassionate grounds it should be granted only to those under 25 years who have never married or had children."The next year she wrote, again to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine,
"These true transsexuals are rare, often asexual and although popular, usually lonely sensitive souls, and its is these who primarily deserve our pity and time-consuming help. However, large numbers of homosexuals, antisocials, exhibitionists and perverts have for some time been jumping onto the transsexual bandwagon, bringing the subject and the medical profession into disrepute. These are more aptly trans-homo-sexuals, often having their partners at their side when having surgery, many afterwards becoming prostitutes." (quoted p74).
In response to a review of her autobiography in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Georgina wrote to clarify that she is not transsexual:
"Dr Pryor is wrong to suggest that I am one such case who has been able to adapt and lead a happy and useful life in my chosen gender. As my autobiography relates, my own circumstances are unique. I did not change my name: As a physical and genetic hermaphrodite this was done officially when my birth certificate was corrected from 'Boy' to 'Girl' as a result of affidavits from my father, a surgeon, and a sexologist."In 1995 a profile of Georgina was broadcast on ITV.
In December 2003 she wrote to the Daily Telegraph to oppose the Gender Recognition Bill, then before Parliament, and re-iterated that
"trans-sexuals do not change their sex but only become simulacra of the opposite sex".This was quoted with approval by Norman Tebbit in the House of Lords.
Georgina's wedding headdress has been preserved and is on display in the Museum of Croydon. Georgina died at age 90, survived by her husband of fifty-one years.
*Not the equestrian. There were also several Georginas in the family tree of the Dukes of Beaufort (family name: Somerset).
- Georgina Turtle. Over the Sex Border. Victor London: Gollancz. 319 pp 1963.
- Georgina Turtle. “Transsexuality”. British Medical Journal. 9 July 1966: 116. www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/pagerender.fcgi?artid=1943075&pageindex=1.
- Bobbie Jacobson. “The Sex Changers”. World Medicine 9, 13 Feb 1974:17,19.
- Georgina Somerset. "Ethics of Transsexuality". Letter to the Royal Society of Medicine, 82, August 1989. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1292275/?page=1.
- Georgina Somerset. "The transsexual predicament". Letter to the Royal Society of Medicine, 83, Jun 1990: 416.
- Georgina Somerset, with a Forward by Grant Williams. A Girl Called Georgina: An Illustrated Autobiography, with Study Update. Lewes: The Book Guild. 475 pp 1992. Includes a reprint of Over the Sex Border.
- Georgina Somerset. A Collection of Ephemera Relating to 'A Girl Called Gerogina. 199?.
- Georgina Somerset. Letter to the Royal Society of Medicine, 87, Sept 1994. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1294801/?page=2.
- Gordon Mason (dir). A Girl Called Georgina. With Georgina Somerset. Carlton UK 30 mins 1995. Won the Silver Award at the Houston International Film Festival
- Dr Georgina Somerset. "Re: Saddest part of the syndrome". Letter to the Daily Telegraph, 23 Nov 2003. Online at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TNUKdigest/message/7388.
- Dr Georgina Somerset. "Simulacra of the opposite sex ". Letter to the Daily Telegraph, 28 Dec 2003. www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/3600786/Simulacra-of-the-opposite-sex.html.
- Norman Tebbit. "Birth certificate is fact". Letter to the Daily Telegraph, 04 Jan 2004. www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/3601074/Birth-certificate-is-fact.html.
- "Georgina's Wedding Coronet". The Museum of Croydon. www.museumofcroydon.com/ixbin/indexplus?record=CAT4638&_IXEMBED_KIOSK_=kiosk/a5_k5&_IXFROMC_=1.
- "Georgina Somerset – obituary". The Telegraph, 05 Dec 2013. www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/medicine-obituaries/10498291/Georgina-Somerset-obituary.html.
- Mish O'Brien. "RIP Georgina Somerset". OII-UK, 8 December 2013. http://oiiuk.org/663/rip-georgina-somerset.
One could argue that as Hirschfeld's Die Transvestiten and Havelock Ellis' Eonism contain accounts of persons who are from our perspective obviously transsexuals, then Turtle's book was not the first on the subject. However it was the first book to use the term. It was rude of Benjamin and the author of the BMJ leading article to not even mention her book, probably because she was a dentist and not a medical doctor, and probably more so because she was herself a transsexual, which I am sure is how they they perceived her despite her protests to the contrary.
Note that Turtle uses 'transsexualist' without any reference to Benjamin, and it would seem that the word was in use in England independently of the use of 'transsexual" via Cauldwell-Lawrence-Wood-Benjamin in California.
It is, of course, contentious to insist that chromosomes = sex as Somerset and various others have done. Benjamin named the first chapter in his 1966 The Transsexual Phenomenon "The Symphony of Sexes" and while admitting that chromosomal sex is fundamental, 'sex' also has genetic, anatomical, legal, gonadal, germinal, endrocrinal, psychological and social aspects. Chromosomes are the one aspect that cannot be changed. By making chromosomes the same as 'sex' Somerset thinks that she is able to differentiate herself from transsexuals as a class.
Much as I identify with Georgina as she attempts to get her book noticed, I must admit that I was appalled by her suing because she was compared to Christine Jorgensen. Let us repeat her words: "implying that I was homosexual, would have had breast implants, electrolysis and was probably not legally married, I had no choice but to instigate libel proceedings for, indeed, all these premises were totally false". Two years after homosexuality had been partially decriminalised, Mrs Somerset still treats an assumption of homosexuality as a libel. Furthermore, when she denies being homosexual, she is not denying being lesbian, she is denying being androphilic – an odd thing for a woman married for seven years to say. Jorgensen, an openly heterosexual woman, had admitted an interest in men. Nor was there any reason to assume that Jorgensen had had breast implants. Jorgensen's UK publishers should have counter-sued for the defamation of androphilia.
In her various missives to journals and newspapers, Georgina never writes in support of any transsexual. In fact after the initial surge of respondents after the publicity of her change and then marriage, it seems that she avoided all transsexuals. Certainly she avoided the English transsexual groups: GLF TV/TS group, Beaumont Society, the TV-TS Support Group, SHAFT, Press for Change, although she has good words for the Beaumont Trust and lists gender identity clinics and a few groups at the end of her autobiography. However her opinion of such groups is: "most of these appear to be mutual admiration societies run by transsexuals themselves" "they fail to help the lonely transsexual who does not feel, or wish to feel, part of an abnormal group. These would be distressed by the sight of other types … even the thought of having to attend a Gender identity Clinic or sit in a private waiting room with other transsexuals is off-putting."(p87)
There is passing mention in A Girl Called Georgina of Christine Jorgensen and April Ashley, but not a word about Betty Cowell (1918 – 2011) only five years older than Georgina, who also served in the Second World War, who also claimed to be intersex, and who also dismissed other transsexuals: "I had female chromosome make-up, XX. The people who have followed me have often been those with male chromosomes, XY. So they’ve been normal people who’ve turned themselves into freaks by means of the operation", and avoided meeting them.
Practically all the points that are raised by transphobes are found in Georgina's books and letters: still have a prostate, not raised as female, need to dilate, no female reproductive organs, sex cannot be changed, no periods, cannot become pregnant, deep voices, etc.
On page 69 of her biography, Somerset writes: "The fact that those with Klinefelter's syndrome [XXY] are almost certainly sterile and may present with some female physical characteristics does not, in itself, predispose to transsexualism. Much as one must sympathise with their predicament, those with such a constitution hoping that it gives some justification for their desire for a 'change' can only be disappointed, since this chromosomal aberration is not a mixed-sex, mosaic aberration, occurs in 1 in 700 males, and only very few of these are transsexuals – evidence enough that the aetiology of the problem is much more complex than genetic considerations alone." If one removes "is not a mixed-sex, mosaic aberration" one can replace 'Klinefelter's syndrome' with mosaic XO/XY. Somerset asserts that the latter alone is a justification for a desire for a change, but does not demonstrate it.
On p92-3 Georgina lists in details the contents of her private archive. I have found no mention of what happened to it.
There is no mention of Turtle's book in Janice Raymond's The Transsexual Empire, although it would have been very useful to her. Norman Tebbit quoted Georgina Somerset; Sheila Jeffries quoted Norman Tebbit on the subject, but does not mention Somerset at all.