Part II: 1950-1980
Part III: 1980-2004
Annotated reading list for English trans history.
- Christine Burns. “Introduction”. In Christine Burns (ed) Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows. Unbound, 2018: 1-18.
There are not many histories of British trans people, so all additions are welcome, whatever their emphasis or selections of facts. In the new anthology, Trans Britain edited by herself, Christine Burns, includes an introduction to the book, and introductory chapters to each of the three sections, that together constitute a history of the topic.
Despite the word ‘Britain’ in the title of the book, almost all that follows applies to England only. The anthology, Trans Britain, does include a chapter on Scottish trans activism by James Morton, but in Burns’ history chapters the only Scottish mention is of Ewan Forbes.
I don’t know why Burns has to start by listing trans persons and events in the US. They are well known, and surely the reader is coming to this book for a discussion on British or at least English trans persons and events.
The Introduction is more of a run around the world mentioning various trans cultures and events. A lot of the content is well-known: D’Eon, Hirschfeld, Mark Weston, Michael Dillon, Ewan Forbes.
However, I too have been researching British trans history, and there are, unfortunately, significant discrepancies between our respective accounts. I mention them here so that future historian will combine the best of both.
➤Burns mentions the English historian Peter Ackroyd’s 1979 book, Dressing Up (review), but only to say that he quotes somebody else on the North American two-spirit tradition – and then neither this book nor Ackroyd’s Queer City (review) are mentioned again. Surely she must have found much else of relevance in the two books.
➤She repeats the misinformation that d’Eon “infiltrated the court of the Empress Elizabeth of Russia as a woman” – surely Gary Kates’ 1995 book (the first book based on the previously ignored d’Eon archives in the University of Leeds Library) refuted that canard once and for all.
➤Two pages later she repeats the extremely popular but totally false notion that Magnus Hirschfeld coined the word ‘transvestism’ - how many times does this have to be refuted before writers pay attention?!
➤After talking of pioneering surgical techniques at Hirschfeld’s institute, Burns then totally ignores the successful surgeries on Hirschfeld’s patients (Charlotte Charlaque who was still alive in New York in 1952; Toni Ebel who lived until 1961 in East Germany; Dörchen Ritcher who was probably murdered by Nazis in 1933) and mentions only the unsuccessful surgery on Lili Elvenes (whom she still calls Lili Elbe) who of course was not a patient of Hirschfeld.
➤Burns correctly makes the point that Alan Hart in Oregon had surgery in 1917, before Hirschfeld’s patients, but says nothing about Karl Baer who had surgery in Berlin in 1906.
➤Burns mentions Liz Hodgkinson’s biography of Michael Dillon, Michael Née Laura, only by its reissue title From a Girl to a Man.
➤Most of the English persons mentioned in the period before 1950 are trans men. It is a shame that she did not mention trans woman Norma Jackson who was famously in the newspapers in 1931. It is obvious to modern readers that she was a transsexual, but unable to get any medical assistance.
➤Nor is there any mention of Mark Weston’s surgeon at Charing Cross Hospital, Lennox Broster. While Broster in the 1930s and 1940s declined to operate on any trans person who was not also intersex, he did pioneer genital surgery at Charing Cross, and his clinic was inherited by John Randell.