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14 March 2016

Deborah Hartin (1933 -2005) sailor, activist

The AP wire photo of Debbie
Austin Hartin joined the US Navy in 1953. He married while serving in Florida the next year. Later Hartin would explain that he married to escape from having to live in the all-male environment on the navy base. A daughter, Deborah, was born a year later. The Hartins separated in 1957.

Hartin became a patient of Leo Wollman, and then had surgery from Dr Burou in Casablanca, April 16 1970. She was granted a divorce later that year from the wife not seen since 1957. A name change to Deborah Hartin was also granted. The mother retained custody of the daughter. The case attracted press attention as it was one of the first divorce cases where one party had transitioned.

In 1971 Debbie was featured on local cable television and in Screw magazine. Both appearances included a clear view of her vagina. Later, in March the Queens Liberation Front presented themselves in a class on homosexuality at New York University, where Debbie also spoke. Later Debbie spoke about her problems with ‘her family, her neighbors and her daughter’ at a meeting that was supposed to be the inaugural meeting of Transsexuals Anonymous held at the office of Dr Benito Rish.

That same year she was on the New York David Susskind Show, and later was filmed being interviewed and examined by Leo Wollman. Again this examination included a close-up of her vagina. The segment was eventually incorporated in the 1978-released film Born A Man... Let Me Die A Woman. She was living with her parents at that time.
from Let Me Die a Woman

Deborah had been able to get her name and sex changed on her baptismal certificate and certificate of discharge from the navy. She applied to get the same changes on her New York birth certificate. The name was changed but sex left blank. The Bureau of Records had adopted a committee report in 1965 to omit a sex designation from amended birth certificates for transsexuals. This had been tested legally but unsuccessfully in Matter of Anonymous v. Weiner, 1966. This was re-inforced by an amendment to the New York City Health Code which was adopted unanimously in 1971 that a re-issued birth certificate for a transsexual should not indicate the applicant’s sex. Nevertheless Deborah sued the Director of the Bureau of Records in 1973 in that she was not issued a revised birth certificate saying ‘female’ and that this was arbitrary and capricious and constituted an abuse of discretion. However the court denied her suit ruling that the Board had acted in a rational manner and made no error with regard to their own rules. They cited the 1966 precedent.

In 1976, Jude Patton and Deborah were guests on the syndicated The Phil Donahue Show.

Deborah died age 71.
  • “Father divorced, wants to remarry as woman”. Seattle Daily Times, October 7, 1970: F1. Online.
  • “Transsexual Divorce Is Approved”. Mobile Register, October 8, 1970: 7F. Online.
  • Heidi Handman. “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Mother”. Screw, 109, April 5, 1971: 4,center spread.
  • Drag, 1,3, 1971: 10. Online
  • Garry Pownall, “AV View”. New Scientist, 54, 793, 27 April 1972: 221. Online
  • Hartin V. Dir. Of Bur. Of Recs. Supreme Court, New York County, August 3, 1973. Online
  • Doris Wishman (dir). Born A Man... Let Me Die A Woman. Hosted by Leo Wollman, with trans persons Deborah Harte, Leslie, Lisa Carmelle, Ann Zordi, and porn stars Harry Reem, Angel Spirit and Vanessa del Rio. Scientific and medical advisor: Dr Leo Wollman. US 78 mins 1978. Debbie is featured from 90-100 minutes.
  • M.J. Lucas. Let Me Die A Woman: The Why and How of Sex-Change Operations. New York: Rearguard Productions. 1978: 22-4.
  • Joanne Meyerowitz. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Cambridge, Ma, London: Harvard University Press, 2002: 202, 236, 249, 278.
  • Samuel E Bartos. “Letting "privates" be private: Toward a right of gender self-determination”. Cardozo Journal of Law and Gender, 15,67, 2008. 

EN.Wikipedia     IMDB


Deborah is the only trans woman that I have come across who took her daughter's name.


  1. Her segment in "Let me die a woman" is truly bizarre (well, okay, all Doris Wishman films are). She's basically standing there naked while Wollman prods and strokes her with his pointer and the camera practically goes inside her vagina??!! Why any trans woman would subject herself to that is beyond me (outside someone in the porn biz). And Wollman seems to have exploited his power over his patients to treat them like hanging slabs of meat in this cheeseball film. It's amazing how many tropes mentioned in that film are still around today on practically every Internet comments section having to do with trans women.

  2. mvvchgjbj1/6/23 19:10

    The PDF link for the Bartos paper now goes to a spam site.

    1. Thank you. I have removed the link.


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