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TG History — Climbing Mount Everest

| May 10, 2010
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Michelle Moore brings you TG History“The longest journey of any person is the journey inward.” Dag Hammerskjvld

Manhattan ’45

It’s September 16, 2001. Ground Zero plus five days.

War has come to New York City. The World Trade Towers are gone. Nearby buildings are collapsing into rubble. Fires burn everywhere. Thousands are dead. Nobody knows for certain who survived and who died. No place was once more alive. Now shock, horror, grief, rage all hang with the gritty fallout over the city. Words fail.

That Sunday the New York Times decides to devote a special supplement to historical essays about the city. Most are written by native New Yorkers. But for its introductory essay, The Fragile City, the Times calls on a foreigner — a world renowned Welsh travel writer. Below a picture of now devastated New York appear these words: “The Manhattan skyline shimmered in the imaginations of all the nations, and people everywhere cherished the ambition, however unattainable, of landing one day upon that legendary foreshore.” So Jan Morris wrote in Manhattan ’45, her luminous history of postwar New York. “Now, in a blow, that object of aspiration has been reached not by dreamers, but by death. What does the aftermath reveal about the city and its people? Can the convulsions of its past furnish any guidance? Will its greatness, which drew the destruction, endure?”

Pax Britannica

jan-jamesJames Humphrey Morris was born in Clevedon, Britain on October 2, 1926. His father was an engineer and his mother an accomplished concert pianist who gave recitals for the fledgling BBC. Altogether it was a loving family environment. But before age 4 James would remember sitting under the piano as his mother played and realized he should really be a girl. James wasn’t outwardly effeminate; he wasn’t teased, thought a “sissy”or socially ostracized. Yet by age 5 Morris’ sense of gender was “profoundly ingrained” and young James ended each evening prayer with: “And please, God, let me be a girl. Amen.” Morris carried this as a secret no one else would ever know, feeling detached and different from everyone else. Later, he began boarding at Lancing College where Morris recalls it was “fun to be pursued and gratifying to be admired” by older boys. But Morris could never reciprocate as a male, regarding himself as “wrongly equipped” and longed for relationships that were “more concerned with caress than copulation.”

Morris’ journalistic career began early at 17, scoring coups interviewing James Cagney and Cary Grant. After graduating from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Morris joined the celebrated 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers where he served five years as an Intelligence Officer in Italy and Palestine. Surprisingly, he had a wonderful time.

jan02But weary with gender conflict, Morris trod a long, expensive, and ultimately fruitless path of Harley Street psychiatrists and sexologists, none of whom knew anything about the matter. Finally Morris found Dr. Harry Benjamin in New York City. Dr. Benjamin was the first compassionate professional who truly understood transsexualism and it was Dr. Benjamin from whom Morris first learned it was possible “to alter the body to fit the conviction.” Yet Dr. Benjamin counseled that this was only the last possible resort and advised Morris to “stick it out. Do your best. Try to establish an equilibrium.” Morris agreed and something happened that led his decision to “stick it out.”

That something was Elizabeth Tuckniss, a woman with whom he would establish a lifelong bond. They met, fell deeply in love, and were soon married. “It was a marriage that had no right to work,” Morris wrote, “yet it worked like a dream, living testimony, one might say, to the power of mind over matter — or of love in its purest sense over everything else.” Dr. Benjamin had approved hormones but Morris felt a strong maternal desire to have a family. Knowing that being born male meant he could never bear children Morris gave up taking estrogen so that he and Elizabeth could have children together.

Then Morris, now a foreign correspondent for the London Times, was offered the chance at one of biggest adventures of the 20th Century.

Next Month: Mount Everest



Agonized, New York Bends, But It Doesn’t Break, September 16, 2001, New York Times

Anthrax Hoaxer in Court, BBC News, October 25, 2001

Conundrum, Jan Morris, 1974

Pleasures of a Tangled Life, Jan Morris, 1987

Manhattan ’45, Jan Morris, 1989

Coronation Everest, Jan Morris, 1957

The Conquerors: Hillary & Norgay, Jan Morris, Time Magazine 100

Sir Edmund Hillary, Conqueror of Mt. Everest, American Academy of Achievement

Jan Morris by Paul Clements, 1998

The Long Voyage Home, Nicholas Wroe, The Guardian, October 6, 2001

Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism, Pat Califia

James & Jan, David Holden, March 17, 1974

Crossing the Line, Richard M. Levine, May/June 1994

Some quotes slightly edited for space.

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Category: Transgender History


About the Author ()

Angela Gardner is a founding member of The Renaissance Transgender Association, Inc., the former editor of that organization's newsletter and magazine, Transgender Community News. She wrote the Diva of Dish column for TGF in the late 1990s and was the Editor of LadyLike magazine until its untimely demise. She is currently the Editor of TGF. She has appeared in film and television shows portraying TG characters, as well as representing Renaissance on numerous talk shows. In her idle hours she keeps busy producing her monthly TG parties, Angela's Laptop Lounge.

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