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15 February 2021

Trans Scotland - a Timeline: Part I - to the Wolfenden Report

Part I: to to the Wolfenden Report

Part II: to the Gender Recognition Act 

Part III: after the GRA


The prince of Rheged/Strathclyde, Owain Mab Urien, was to make a dynastic marriage with Teneu of Gododdin/Lothian, and they had a child who became Saint Mungo. However Owain, who was apparently trans, was not interested in marriage.


James Stuart, king of Scotland 1567-1625, and of England 1603-25, is taken by many historians to be gay because of his interest in young men. Certainly his reign was one with only a few prosecutions for sodomy. He wrote a book on demonology that is quoted in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and sponsored a translation of the Christian Bible that became canonical.

Unlike England, there was no Buggery Act in Scotland. Those who were charged were so because of what it says in Leviticus.


Double prosecution and execution of John Swan & John Lister of Edinburgh for consensual sodomy. They were smith and servant of the same master.


Michael Erskine was accused of witchcraft and sodomy, convicted of the latter and executed,


Gavin Bell tried for sodomy. After this there were no other Sodomy prosecutions until the 19th century.


Stephen Evison, a soldier was discovered to be female during the Parliamentary occupation of Scotland during the Civil War, and was identified as Anne Dymoke, from a distinguished family in Lincolnshire. She and her lover, John Evison, having no means of support, had entered service as two brothers. They then took a sea voyage during which John was drowned. Knowing not what else to do, Stephen then enlisted giving his name as John. (Frazer p225)


The Acts of Union/Achd an Aonaidh uniting England and Scotland. Initial Scottish proposals in the negotiation over the Union suggested a devolved Parliament be retained in Scotland, but this was not accepted by the English negotiators.


The Beggar's Benison club founded in Anstruther, Fife. Members celebrated male sexuality, drank from phallic-shaped goblets and were initiated through collective masturbation rituals. An Edinburgh chapter opened in 1766. The clubs continued until 1836.


Charles Edward Stuart, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie, was on the run after the failure of the Jacobite uprising and the defeat at the Battle of Culloden, the last battle fought in Britain.  The rumour was put out that he passed himself as Betty Burke, an Irish maid.


John Fubbister, from Orkney, went to Rupert’s Land (now western Canada), and worked for the Hudson Bay Company as a labourer.


John Fubbister outed as Isabel Gunn after giving birth.


James Barry, at the age of 14 went to the University of Edinburgh Medical School to enroll as a student. He graduated in 1812 with a thesis on the hernia of the groin, which, as was normal at the time, he wrote and defended in Latin. The following year he passed the Army Medical Board exam and became the medical surgeon that he would remain for the rest of his life. See 1865.


John Trott was convicted of attempted sodomy, the first Scottish case since 1645. After that sodomy cases became regularly prosecuted.


David Lyndsay wrote a variety of short stories, essays and poems which were published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and elsewhere between 1821 and 1828. Collections of fiction were also published as books: Dramas of the Ancient World, 1822 and Tales of the Wild and the Wonderful, 1825.


  • Walter Scott. Redgauntlet. Archibald Constable  & Co, 1824.  Androgynous protagonist is kidnapped and forced into woman’s riding outfit.  Wikipedia.


David Lyndsay, had been raised as Mary Dods, the illegitimate daughter of George Douglas (1761-1827), the sixteenth Earl of Morton, lord lieutenant of Fifeshire and of Midlothian, Lord High Commissioner of the Church of Scotland. Lyndsay took the name Walter Sholto Douglas when father died. Douglas married the pregnant and abandoned Isabelle Robinson. Their friend, Mary Shelley, helped them to get passports and Mr and Mrs Douglas moved to Paris.


Walter Douglas was in debtors' prison. He declined both physically and mentally, and he died a year later.


A legal text dated 1832 added a then recent case in which a man, on confession to two acts of sodomy out of nine initially charged, was transported for life.


David Gray (1838-61) poet from Kirkinilloch died of consumption after a failed attenpt to make it in London. His close friend Robert Buchanan described him thus: “…there was in Gray’s nature a strange and exquisite femininity – a perfect feminine purity and sweetness. Indeed, till the mystery of sex be medically explained, I shall ever believe that nature originally meant David Gray for a female; for besides the strangely sensitive lips and eyes, he had a woman’s shape – narrow shoulders, lissome limbs, and extraordinary breadth across the hips. ”


James Barry
Scottish military medical surgeon James Barry died in London and at the layout out of his body was identified as female-bodied.


In Kirknewton, east of Edinburgh, John Campbell married Mary Ann, pregnant and already the mother of two.


The Edinburgh Seven, the first group of women admitted to study medicine at a British university had been admitted in 1869. They received obscene letters, were followed home, had fireworks attached to their front door, mud thrown at them. This culminated in the Surgeons' Hall riot on 18 November 1870 when the women arrived to sit an anatomy exam at Surgeons's Hall and an angry mob of over two hundred were gathered outside throwing mud, rubbish and insults at the women. Influential members of the Medical faculty eventually persuaded the University to refuse graduation to the women by appealing decisions to higher courts. The courts eventually ruled that the women who had been awarded degrees should never have been allowed to enter the course. Their degrees were withdrawn.


Smallpox epidemic in the Glasgow area. John Campbell attended his landlady when she fell ill. When the doctor called, he insisted that John needed to be admitted to the infirmary. John agreed only if he were to remain fully clothed. The doctor pressed, his suspicions aroused, and John admitted that he was Marie Campbell. In Kirknewton, parish authorities had sought Mary Ann’s husband. She had admitted that her husband was a woman, but as her children were not John’s her character was questioned and her claim dismissed. On hearing the news from Renfrew, it was decided that Mary Ann and a Will Waddel, a witness to the marriage, should accompany the Inspector of the Poor to Renfrew. John Campbell was charged with contravening the Registration Act, and shortly afterwards disappeared. He arrived in New York and gave his name as Murray Hall from Govan, Glasgow. He became a major figure in Tammany Hall politics.


A peak in the number of sodomy cases in Scotland prosecuted with 22 High Court prosecutions (many more cases short of sodomy were to appear before the country’s sheriff courts), with sentences ranging from 1 year to 15 years.


Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, commonly known as the Labouchere Amendment made "gross indecency" a crime in the United Kingdom. In practice, the law was used broadly to prosecute male homosexuals where actual sodomy could not be proven. The first legislated prescription of homosexuality in Scotland.


Removal of death penalty for Sodomy. England had done so in 1861. Scotland was the last country in Europe to remove it.


August: William Sharp published what became the only issue of the Pagan Review, in which he, under a set of pen names, argued for the establishment of a neo-paganism which would abolish gender inequality. The review was received negatively; among other things, critics wrote that its paganism was far removed from the pagan writings of the ancient world.


Fiona Macleod joined the circle of writers in the Celtic Revival. The poet W B Yeats welcomed her writings, unlike those of William Sharp.


Scottish emigrant Murray Hall died in New York and was found to be female-bodied.


Hector MacDonald (1853-1903), son of a crofter who rose to Major-General, KCB, DSO, was accused of sexual activity with young men in Ceylon and shot himself. He was discovered to have a secret wife and son. He had seen her only four times in nineteen years of marriage. He remains a hero in Scotland: a 100ft memorial was erected in 1907.


William Sharp (1855-1905), poet and biographer from Paisley, died in Sicily, and was found to be also the author of the prose and poetry published under the name of Fiona Macleod.


Frederick Alexander Macquisten KC the Unionist MP for Glasgow Springburn proposed a new clause to Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act. He wanted to include female same-sex sexual acts. The House of Commons agreed that both heterosexual marriages and the mental health of women were at risk, so the matter was passed to the House of Lords… who disagreed. They argued there was not enough research into the subject, meaning prosecution was unlikely. They also argued there’s not much public knowledge of the existence of female same-sex relationships. The amendment did not pass into law.


George Buchanan, MP for Glasgow Gorbals, in a House of Commons debate on blackmail commented:

“They were without dress, or any male attire, but with tight fitting jackets; and all that; with their hands finely chiselled – far more finely chiselled than, say, the hands of my wife; who called each other by female names, used the scents common to women, and even painted.They were known to the police”. Despite the almost complete silence in Scottish papers on such subjects, he wished for further suppression: “My own feeling is that I would go almost to the extent of suppressing accounts of such cases: No man who was brought up in the strict Presbyterian circles, in which most of us were brought up, wishes to see or read that sort of thing, or cares to think that his children or relatives, particularly the young folk, would know anything of the sordid and cruel details of some divorce cases.”


  • Masculine Women Feminine Men.A popular ditty: “It’s hard to tell ’em apart today And say…/You go and give your girl a kiss in the hall/But instead you find you’re kissing her brother Paul/Mama’s got a sweater up to her chin, Papa’s got a girdle holding him in…/Sister is busy learning to shave,/Brother just got a permanent wave,/It’s hard to tell ’em apart today! Hey, hey!”


Norma Jackson was briefly in Edinburgh before being arrested in Blackpool later that year, and becoming Britain’s most famous trans person at that time.


William Merrilees of Edinburgh CID made his name by arresting homosexuals, particularity effeminate prostitutes. He had been part of the crackdown on the Kosmo Club in 1933 which was aimed at female prostitution, The next year they targeted Maxime's Dance Hall aiming at both male prostitution and consensual male sex. Merrilees affected a lisp and a gay walk to get into cruising grounds and the Russian baths. He was part of a raid on a gay brothel where men cross-dressed and wore make-up. He was later promoted and became Chief Constable of the Lothians and Peebles Constabulary (which includes Edinburgh).


Patrick Clarkson, future sex-change surgeon, graduated MRCS from Edinburgh University.


Leo Wollman, future New York sexologist, completed his medical education in Edinburgh. Over his lifetime he treated 2,800 trans persons.


Elizabeth Forbes-Semphill graduated in medicine from University of Aberdeen.


Ewan Forbes (previously Elizabeth Forbes-Semphill) petitioned the court under section 63 of the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1854 to enter in the Register of Corrected Entries substitutions of his name and sex. It was argued that subsequent examination had found Forbes to be male. The request was granted, based on his oath and medical evidence. A few months later, he married Isabella Mitchell, his housekeeper.


Eric Crichton, the future South African sex-change surgeon, became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.


Ewan Forbes assumed management of the family estates for his brother.


A trans woman, whose name we do not know, neither her real name, nor her pre-transition name. She is referred to as ‘X, Petitioner’. X had been born in 1907, married in 1939 and fathered two children, They separated in 1945. X then sought to live as a woman and had undergone some physical changes to that end (details are not provided, nor where she went for surgery: Copenhagen? Casablanca?) She petitioned the court under section 63 of the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1854 to have her birth certificate amended, allowing her to be re-registered as female. The petition was refused. The court acknowledged that the petitioner had undergone reassignment surgery, displayed obvious and consistent femininity. But although Sheriff-Substitute Prain noted that any attempt to make the petitioner live as a male again would, in all likelihood, have serious consequences, he concluded that: The doctors are careful to stress that this is not a case of hermaphroditism, but is a genuine case of the very rare condition of transsexualism. … it is however stated that skin and blood tests still show X's basic sex to be male and the changes have not yet reached the deepest level of sex-determination.

November: Frank Little, Rosythe, who headed a naval electronics research team, announced that “his” sex was changing and that “he” will live “his” life outside work as a woman. His boss had asked for a statement to bring the matter into the open. Mrs Little sat by “his” side. “My biological and psychological systems began to change, and about 10 months ago I began to go out with my wife dressed as a woman. I became terribly unhappy as a man and just normal as a woman.” Little’s choice of a female name was not given. The press lost interest after the first announcement, and there was no follow-up.

The report of the Wolfenden committee, which had been looking into the law on homosexuality and prostitution, was published, with the recommendation that sex between two consenting male 21 or older in private should no longer be an offence.. A Daily Record poll in 1957 indicated that 85% of Scots surveyed opposed the recommendations of the Wolfenden Report. Around the same period in 1957 a poll conducted by the Daily Mirror, south of the border, showed a much more even split where 51% opposed decriminalising homosexuality.

James Adair OBE, a former Procurator Fiscal of Glasgow and Edinburgh, had sat on the Wolfenden committee and formed the only dissenting voice. His minority report was printed in The Scotsman on 5 September 1957. He addressed The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland as a commissioner from the Presbytery of Glasgow and urged the assembly to disapprove of what was suggested by the Wolfenden committee regarding any amendment to the law in Scotland.

Wolfenden Report's recommendation on homosexual law reform was rejected by General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

The ruling Conservative Party in London chose to do nothing about the recommendations re homosexuality, although those re prostitution were incorporated in the Street Offences Act 1959. Those re homosexuality did not become law until 1967 when the Labour Party was in power. Even then Scotland was excluded as per the wishes of James Adair and the Church of Scotland. Northern Ireland was also excluded. The changes were finally effected in Scotland in 1980.


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