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30 April 2021

Tamara Rees (Stevenson) performer, wife, property investor

Part I: Parachutist, soldier, pilot
Part II: performer, wife, property investor

++February 2022: added comment by Walter Alverez.

Rees then wandered from job to job, city to city. By 1951 she was in Los Angeles and had consulted a few psychiatrists about her gender quandary. 

Rees then found a “kind and understanding” psychiatrist on Wilshire Boulevard. They wrote to the American Medical Association re treatment for gender issues. 

“Their reply was to state that no legal medical aid of this problem could be obtained in the United States (although there are no legal restrictions against transitions).” (p32)

Later the AMA provided the names of three specialists in Europe, and the first that the psychiatrist wrote to was the endocrinologist, Dr Christian Hamburger in Copenhagen who had just become famous because of his patient, Christine Jorgensen. He advised hormonal treatments, and stated that sex-change surgery was no longer available in Denmark for foreigners since a change in the law. He suggested that they contact Dr. Frederick Hartsuiker in Haarlem in the Netherlands. 

The psychiatrist prescribed female hormones, and also suggested that Rees, Tamara as she was becoming, should also live and dress as female. 

“he also wanted or thought he could prove that with freedom of expression and acceptance that the desire for surgical transition would become less intense, indicating this change of social pattern … I will state that it came as close to giving me the emotional release I was seeking than any other type of therapy attempted up to that time. Together with the hormone therapy plus the present experiment, I felt happier and more at ease but I had told him at the commencement of this experiment that I knew this would not be in total the solution I required. This proved to be quite true.” (p33)

After six months they began corresponding with Dr Hartsuiker. 

“He in turn requested a complete resume of the psychiatric history and tests, together with all physical and biological tests, that had been performed. We complied with this request and late in 1953 we received confirmation that this psychiatrist would be willing to take my case under advisement.” (p33)

In November 1953, Tamara sailed on a Holland American steamship to Rotterdam. She took a train to Haarlem, and quickly had an appointment for the following Monday. Hartsuiker

 “stressed again and again the importance that my choice would be irrevocable, slow and painful and the outcome could never be entirely assured. Upon receiving my assurance that I realized all of this and releasing him from any personal claim, I still felt and requested that such procedure for surgical transition should be carried forth without further delay.” (p34)

A second opinion was obtained from Dr Carp of the Psychiatrische Cliniek in Leiden, and one other, and then, as required by law, the opinion was submitted to a court of magistrates which reviewed the decision, decided it was correct and approval was granted.

The operation (presumably castration) was on 5 January by Dr Nauta in the Diaconessenhuis in Haarlem. On recovery, Tamara went shopping for female clothes, and moved into an apartment that had been rented. The landlady became inquisitive, and Tamara told her the situation: 

“To my surprise I found her very understanding and while she said that she could not put her finger on the exact reasons for her suspicions, she knew that something was not right. I then showed her the letters and other documents from my doctors and attempted to explain the circumstances. This woman accepted me with open arms and agreed to help me in the many little ways which would be necessary to completely reestablish myself. I say now with all sincerity that I owe this woman a debt of gratitude which I can never repay.” (p38)

As required by law Tamara registered with the Aliens Police (Vreemdelingendienst) and afterwards was followed and observed. She was to wait six months for the second stage operation (penectomy). Tamara learned some Dutch, and adjusted to their then lifestyle. With the changes from the female hormones, and given that Tamara was small framed and only 5’4” (1.613m) she was able to pass. She had frequent appointments with Hartsuiker, Nauta and a study group at the University of Leiden. 

In May she was seriously ill, which was attributed to the hormonal regime. After recovery and several weeks of testing, the second operation was arranged. A more experienced surgeon was required, and the services of a professor of medicine who had come to Holland as a refugee from the concentration camps of the previous decade. The surgery was done in a small secluded hospital in early June, and Tamara was 15 days in the hospital afterwards. 

She had also annoyed the Aliens Police who did not know where she was. 

The US Consulate was very “understanding and cooperative” but did not produce a revised passport. Rees also wrote to the US State Department and to her California congressman. Finally, after many months, a temporary passport would be issued for the one trip home to then be surrendered until a legal change as required by the laws of California was effected. Rees’ parents did not understand and wrote bitter letters. Tamara arranged that they should speak to Harry Benjamin during his summer months in San Francisco, but they rejected the offer. 

After receiving a “very disturbing letter” from her parents in November, Tamara took an overdose of sleeping pills and was unconscious for three days. The Aliens Police then arrested her as an attempted suicide, and put her on a ship for New York. Her gender history was supposed to be private, but she discovered that the ship's officers had been told, and they had passed it on to the crew. 

In addition, the US Consul General in Amsterdam had asked the Veterans Administration to make special arrangements. An official there violated privacy and notified the New York Daily News, where the editor was a personal friend. The press were awaiting her arrival, but also a nurse and an official from the Veterans Administration who got her off the ship quickly, and through Customs and took her by staff car to a hospital in Brooklyn. In exchange for a four-article series of stories in her own wording, The Daily News transferred Tamara away from the hospital and other reporters and to the Hotel Commodore in Manhattan (later known as the Grand Hyatt). 

After some days of shopping and writing the articles, Tamara flew to Los Angeles where she was met by the celebrity journalist Florabel Muir who took her nightclubbing, and the next day flew with her to Sacramento to meet her parents, who despite the bitter letters, were now welcoming.

The press were still interested. Tamara struck feminine poses and claimed that her ex-wife’s children had been fathered by someone else. At the end of the year she published a short autobiography. Back in Los Angeles, she performed in burlesque clubs, and also gave talks to gender-segregated audiences about sex and psychology. In 1955 in Reno she married James Courtland, a makeup artist, and hairdresser for 20th Century Fox. This was regarded as the first transsexual wedding, but lasted only a short time because of his jealousy.

Her autobiography came to the notice of Mayo Clinic Consultant and journalist, Walter Alvarez, who wrote it up in in column and commented:  "As I often say to these persons who have the body largely of a man, and the personality of a woman, it is very hard for a normally-sexed person to conceive of a man's hoping desperately that he can find a surgeon who can help him.  I could not understand it until I had talked to a number of these people and had come to see that psychically they were very feminine."
She married again, to Bob Stevenson, and adopted children. Like Jorgensen, she became a patient of

Harry Benjamin who used her as a counseling resource for other transsexuals, and in the early 1960s she was interviewed by Ralph Greenson, psychiatrist to Marilyn Monroe and other stars, who interpreted her as in flight from homosexuality.

The Stevensons lived in Youngstown, Ohio and invested in property a little at a time. In 1975 they owned 4 small homes; in 1995 they owned 32. Bob was apparently very controlling, but they did remain married until the his death in 1997. Tamara then sold all the properties, and moved to Sacramento, California to be close to her sister. Roger the brother of her adopted son Bruce lived with her and became her carer. She fractured a hip in early 2000, and also developed cancer. The pain was so bad that she was on morphine. 

Tamara died at age 76. 

  • Tamara Reese. "Reborn": a factual life story of a transition from male to female. Irene Lipman, 1955, PDF.
  • Walter C Alvarez.  "Person Who Has Changed Sex Requires Plenty of Understanding".  Syndicated, July 2, 1957.  Online.
  • Ralph R. Greenson. “On Homosexuality and Gender identity”. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis. 45, 1964.
  • Joanne Meyerowitz. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Harvard University Press, 2002: 84-5, 90, 133,173, 305n98-102.
  • John Marks. “Information about Robert Rees”. User Trees.
  • Alek Bakker. “In the Shadows of Society: Trans People in the Netherlands in the 1950s”. PRISM, 2020: 154-5, 159, 161. PDF.

Transas City


Special thanks to Transas City for the best photographs and for the PDF of Tamara's autobiography.

Tamara spells her surname as ‘Reese’ on her autobiography, but everywhere else the name is spelt ‘Rees’.

In her book Tamara says that she had two operations, in January and then June 1954. This was presumably first castration and then penectomy as was the usual practice prior to Dr Burou in Casablanca inventing penile inversion vaginoplasty. In her autobiography (p43) she writes: “ in early June I underwent my second and most intensive surgery of my transition. I could have stopped here but felt that one further operation would be necessary. … I was still, not to all intent and purposes, fully of the female sex.” So presumably the third operation would have been vaginoplasty, except that she was deported before it could happen. However in 1955 she was assuring her audiences that the operation “enables me to fulfill my physical obligations as a woman”. So part of the story is missing.

Bakker, contrarywise, after claiming that her memoirs “are certainly not factually reliable” without giving details, assumes that she had only one operation in the Netherlands - castration and penectomy combined. In his footnote 42, he writes: “Correspondence between Benjamin and Hartsuiker shows that Rees’s story about having had a second and third genital operation in the Netherlands is not true".

Rees says that she was deported after an assumed suicide attempt. Bakker claims that the police changed their mind about permitting women in transition to dress as women.

Bakker p154 writes: “Rees is considered to be the third American transgender woman after Christine Jorgensen to have received gender confirmation surgery, the second being Charlotte McLeod.” By my count Rees was #6.

John Marks, Tamara’s nephew writes “The plastic surgeon (first of it's kind) worked on Tamera's face. During the operation, a nurse accidently poured alchohol on the open skin on the face and severely ruined the facial tissue. This forced her to go through several skin graphs in order to try and restore the skin to the cheeks and nose.” This is otherwise unknown. I have assumed that this is actually a reference to the 1946 mastoid operation that went wrong. It would be extraordinarily unfortunate for one person to have two separate facial operations go badly wrong.

I have looked for but was unable to find the four-article series of stories that Tamara wrote for the Daily News.

Given that Florabel Muir was a well-known journalist, did she not write about Tamara?  Again I could not find such.

29 April 2021

Tamara Rees (1924-2000) Part I: Parachutist, soldier, pilot

Part I: Parachutist, soldier, pilot

Part II: performer, wife, property investor

Original version: February 2010

Robert Rees was raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Montgomery, Alabama and then Los Angeles.  Rees usually played with the girls and was bullied by the boys, and in high school was a loner, sometimes secretly dressing in his sister’s clothes.   By age 14 Rees was unable to discuss his problems with his parents.  They took him to a psychiatrist to no avail, and his father badly beat him in an attempt to induce conformity.

Rees then ran away with only $3 in his pocket.  He managed to reach his grandparents in Kansas, who took him in and put him in a local school where he was able to advance a grade.   Rees returned to his parents in Summer 1939, by which time they were living in Oakland, California.  To escape from home Rees volunteered for the Civilian Conservation Service, and then the Navy, in both of which he was harassed for not being conventionally masculine.  He was discharged from the Navy as “physically unfit” after a conflict over a loan not repaid.   

In December 1942 Rees enlisted in the US Paratroopers, and underwent their rigorous training - although he was still ridiculed for his demeanour.  While stationed in North Carolina Rees dated and married:

“This girl was cognizant of my desires and the problem in general and was anxious to leave her own home because of family problems. After some discussion with her, it was agreed that we would marry, solely for the benefit of society.”  

He was by now considered an instructor, and promoted to Sergeant.  In Spring 1944 Rees participated in the invasions of Sicily and then Anzio, for which he later received a Bronze Star and a Presidential Unit Citation.  In September 1944 he was part of the jump into the Netherlands to create a bridgehead invasion route into northern Germany and participated in the ensuing fighting, until injured in late January.  

After being repatriated and then discharged, Rees filed for divorce as previously agreed with his wife. In March 1946 Rees developed a mastoid condition, an outgrowth of his war injury.  During surgery one of the facial nerves was severed resulting in facial paralysis and loss of hearing.  This was almost corrected in a second operation a few months later.

In 1947 Rees became a parachute instructor, at first for the Government, and then privately. He also obtained a pilot’s license.  In March 1949, he opened the air show for the all Western States Air Meet, held in Red Bluff, California, and on his 527th jump was injured when his parachute did not open properly.  A week later he was emceeing at a air show outside Sacramento, when his business partner misjudged a jump and died.  Rees then sold the business and never jumped again.  

25 April 2021

The first US Trans Women up to 1966

1966, the date of Benjamin’s The Transsexual Phenomenon, and the start of surgeries at John Hopkins and other university clinics is of course the obvious cut-off point.

As in the British list, the criteria for inclusion here are either surgery or living full-time and often both. 

Frances Carrick social transition 1903.

Georgia Black social transition in 1921, and continued so until her death in 1951.

Elsie Marks, the Cobra woman who did a snake act, social transition in the 1920s, was married and lived so until her death in 1946 after being bitten by a rattlesnake.

Charlotte Charlaque social transition 1920s, surgery in Berlin 1929-30.

Mary Baker social transition in 1927, and worked as a waitress, laundress, chorine, nurse. She was also married. However in 1937 she was arrested for making "improper advances" on an undercover policeman in Brooklyn.

193?. Dr Stanley, Chief Surgeon of the California State Prison, St. Quentin, while examining an apparently male prisoner, he discovered that the prisoner had been surgically transformed into a woman.

Clarabelle, the queen of Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill, lived full-time as female in the 1930s. Her story has been lost. She was succeeded by Wilhemena and then Carioca (who later died on an operating table in Calexico) of whom we know even less.

Josephine Montgomery social transition in the 1930s. This went well until she was arrested and convicted of strong-arm robbery in 1950. (Bullough p567)

A woman, who had been born with the name William Richeson, had been married for six years before being outed in 1937. Her husband was completely surprised. (Bullough p567)

Adele Best. Vern Bullough tells us “ Mrs. Adele Best lived as a woman for 54 years with no one the wiser, including apparently, at least according to her own testimony, her three husbands”, but gives no dates. (p567)

Barbara Wilcox had social transition before 1941, surgery 1956

Louise Lawrence social transition 1944.

Hedy Jo Star social transition 1945, surgery 1962.

Caren Ecker social transition 1940s, surgery 1953

Pussy Katt surgery 1945 in Mexico.

Sally Barry had social transition in the 1940s, surgery 1953-8.

Carla Sawyer social transition 1949, surgery 1957?

Christine Jorgensen surgery 1951-2 and 1969, social transition 1952

Charlotte McLeod - surgery and social transition 1953

Dixie MacLane social transition 1953, surgery 1955.

Janet surgery 1953 (Benjamin p137)

Tamara Rees social transition 1952, surgery 1955 in the Netherlands.

Annette Dolan social transition 195?, surgery 1954.

Patricia Morgan social transition mid 1950s, surgery in 1961 with Elmer Belt.

Gayle Sherman sociually transition 1956, surgery late 1960s?

Clara Miller surgery and social transition 1957

The person previously called William O’Connell - surgery 1960 (Benjamin p74-81)

Beverly-Barbara social transition 1958, surgery 1968.

Betty social transition 1961, surgery 1962.

Paula Neilsen surgery 1963.

Abby Sinclair surgery 1963 in Casablanca.

Judy Bowden social transition 1965, surgery 1971.

Harriet/Ava surgery 1965 in Europe, later became a wife. (Benjamin p83)

The unnamed actor whose photograph is in Benjamin’s book. Surgery before 1966.

Phyllis Avon Wilson social transition 1960s, surgery 1966 (the first at Johns Hopkins)

  • Harry Benjamin. The Transsexual Phenomenon. Warner Book, 1966, 1977.
  • Vern Bullough. “Transsexualiism in History”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 4,5, 1975.
  • Leslie Feinberg. Trans Gender Warriors.Beacon Press, 1996.
  • Roberta Perkins. “Famous Trannies” Polare 13, September 2015.


And some more whom I missed:

Sophia Gibons social transition by 1860, and continued to her death in 1885.

Mrs Noonan, previously Mrs Clifford and then Mrs Nash - social transition before 1868, and continued through three husbands to her death in 1878.

Peggy Yule social transition at age 15 in 1875, and continued to her death in 1965.

Elizabeth Berger social transition at age 9, and continued until outed at age 57 in 1931.

Frances Anderson social transition before 1890, and continued until death in 1928.

Lucy Hicks Anderson social transition as a child in the 1890s, and continued until death in 1954, despite being outed in the 1940s.

Mrs Cox social transition circa 1950, outed and charged in 1958.

Désirée social transition and marriage in 1960s, murdered by her husband.

... and of course

Agnes  social transition 1956, surgery 1959.

23 April 2021

The first known British trans women up to 1964

The corresponding list of British trans men would of course be a lot longer and go back to the 17th century if not earlier. It was of course a lot more difficult for trans women to pass until external hormones became available in the 1940s. Transitions could be only social until the 1950s when male-to-female surgery became available for a few, for those with luck, pluck or the right connections. Yes, some gender surgeries had been done in Germany and the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s, but very very few.

The following list is of trans women who transitioned and would have stayed so if death or arrest by police had not happened. This list does not include stage performers unless living as female full-time offstage, and does not include oscillators. So no Fanny and Stella, nor Gladys Shufflewick, nor Ron Storme.

This is of course a list of those that we know about.   There is probably at least  as many again who were not reported in the press.   John Randell discussed 61 cases in his 1960 MD thesis summarising his first 10 years working with trans persons.   Many of these must have socially transitioned even though they realised that Randell's obduracy would prevent them from being approved for surgery.   We know that he did approve Ina, Terri and Gloria - and there must be others.  Likewise Dr Burou in Casablanca performed over 3,000 operation on trans women from 1956 onwards, but we can name barely 30 of them.   

Lavinia Edwards: social transition 1825.

Mary Mudge: social transition 1850s.

Norma Jackson: social transition 1931.

November1945: an unnamed serving Sergeant (a full-time soldier and not a conscript) assigned to Hamburg was allowed to travel to Denmark for male-to-female surgery, after extensive medical evaluation by the Medical Officer and a psychologist.

Dorothy Medway: social transition 1945, surgery late 1953.

Betty Cowell: social transition 1950, surgery 1951.

X, unnamed Scots woman, having undergone surgery petitioned in 1957 to have her sex corrected on birth certificate etc as Ewan Forbes had done two years earlier, but was refused.

Georgina Turtle: surgery 1957, social transition 1957.

April Ashley: social transition 1956, surgery May 1960.

Victoria Dolling, 1958

Ina Barton: social transition 1960, surgeries completed 1962.

Terri Rogers: surgery 1962.

Gloria Greaves: surgery 1964.

22 April 2021

Dorothy Medway (192? - ? ) magician and lorry driver

++Initial version August 2012. 

Francis was raised in Liverpool, and after leaving school tried to lead a ‘normal life’, by training as a motor mechanic.   She also started a stage career as La Bettina, which enabled her to wear the clothes she felt most comfortable in. 

Advert on The Stage January 1949
When the war started in 1939 Francis volunteered but after a medical was rejected for unstated reasons.  For a few years she was a lorry driver and instructor, but the strain became too great and Francis was allowed to return to stage performance, first on a soldiers in skirts revue, and then in her own show as La Bettina, where she did a magic act.  

She was seriously ill in 1945, and on recovery decided to live as Dorothy Medway, off-stage as well as on.  She managed to find a doctor who not only prescribed female hormones but 'decided that I had been born with a completely feminine mind, controlling all my actions'.

However in the early 1950s no British doctor would do an orchiectomy because of the mayhem laws. She had to go to the Netherlands instead, where she had successful surgery at the end of 1953. She had her name changed on her driving licence, her medical insurance card, her passport and her ration book - but was unable to get her birth certificate re-issued.  
“No one in this country seems able to decide whether such operations as were performed on me are legal or illegal.  The issue is shunned and avoided.”
She wrote an article for the Sunday Pictorial which was published on 14 March 1954, on an inside page, on the day that most UK newspapers were featuring the Betty Cowell story.

Unlike Cowell she did not have the upper-class connections to be introduced to Sir Arthur Gillies, nor would she have been able to afford his fees.
  • Dorothy Medway. “He-She: A moving personal story to help you to understand the front page dilemma”. Sunday Pictorial, 14 March 1954: 13. 
  • Dave King. The Transvestite and the Transsexual: Public Categories and Private Identities. Avebury, 1993: 111.