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TG History: Climbing Mount Everest — Jan Morris

| Jul 5, 2010
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Michelle Moore brings you TG History“You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take” – Wayne Gretzky

Continuing from last month:

For James Morris the conquest of Mount Everest was the journalistic triumph of a lifetime and launched his career as one of Britain’s most distinguished foreign correspondents. James went on to cover Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann’s trial and execution in Israel and Francis Gary Powers’ trial in Moscow. Morris interviewed revolutionary Che Guevera in Cuba and Russian spy Kim Philby in Lebanon. Morris was at the scene of every key world event. He saw it all — from dismembered bodies of politicians in Iraq to charred napalm victims in the Sinai. He met dissidents in the Communist Bloc and civil rights protesters in the American South and reported on wars, riots, and revolutions in scores of countries. To casual observers Morris’ adventurous lifestyle had a glamorous aura of successful masculinity. But they were wrong on the last part. By 1964 Morris had completely stopped living as a man.

PART 3
Conundrum

JanMorris1
Jan Morris

James and Elizabeth had produced five children but had tragically lost their two month old daughter Virginia. After the birth of their final child Morris began hormone therapy again. Elizabeth had known of Morris’ desire to be a woman from the beginning and supported him. However, both agreed it was best to raise the children in a traditional family environment before undertaking surgery. In the meantime, Morris resolved to give up his hollow masculine existence for an androgynous life. From 1964 to 1972 Morris estimates having taken at least 12,000 pills and developed notably soft features and feminine curves. Being a world traveler, it’s interesting to note the reaction different cultures had to Morris’ androgyny.

“In all Western countries young people did not seem to care who I was. The black people of Africa, men and women alike, made me feel that there was to my condition an element of privilege. Englishmen of the educated classes found the ambiguity beguiling. Italians, frankly unable to conceive such a phenomenon, simply stared boorishly or nudged each other. Frenchmen were curious. Greeks were vastly entertained. Arabs asked me to go for walks with them. Scots looked shocked. Germans looked worried. Japanese did not notice.”

Meanwhile James had also given up the reporter’s life for that of an independent author and quickly became one of the world’s foremost travel writers. Coronation Everest (1957) covering the expedition was an immediate best seller. Early books about America, Oman, and South Africa were likewise well received before the publication of Venice (1960) elevated Morris to the upper tier of writers. The book has become a classic, never going out of print. Studies of Spain and Oxford followed, as did the critically acclaimed Pax Britannica trilogy, covering the rise and fall of the British Empire from Queen Victoria’s accession in 1837 to Winston Churchill’s death in 1965.

April Ashley
Burou girl April Ashley

In 1972 James was finally ready for surgery. By this time Britain had finally begun offering gender reassignment surgery with many patients even receiving it for free under their National Health Care System. But at the last moment Charring Cross Hospital refused to perform the surgery unless Morris divorced and separated from Elizabeth. Outraged, Morris flew to Casablanca instead and underwent gender reassignment surgery at the clinic of Doctor Georges Burou. Dr. Burou was easily the preeminent reassignment surgeon of his day whose patients included April Ashley, Amanda Lear, and Coccinelle. His fees were high but his skills were state-of-the-art and his Moroccan clinic was not bound by British law.

Instead of the romantic smoky bazaar location that Morris expected, she instead found the Burouâ’s clinic in the grand, modern part of Casablanca. Its usual business was gynecology, catering to expectant mothers in both French and Arabic. Morris described the inner clinic as exotically Arabesque with heavy curtains, portrait busts, and a hint of heavy perfume. She remembered Dr. Burou as a small, dark, exceedingly handsome man with a devastating charisma. Dr. Burou’s wife took charge of Jan’s preparation and moral support. She also reassured Jan that, for whatever free care she might have received in England, the money she was paying was buying one of the greatest surgeons in the world.

This meant Jan finally encountered other transsexuals, all awaiting surgery.

“How many there were of us, I do not know” she later wrote, “but we were of several varieties. We were Greek, French, American, British. We were brunette, jet black, or violent blonde. We were butch and we were beefy, and we were provocatively svelte. We ranged from the apparently scholarly to the obviously animal! We looked at each other at once as strangers and as allies, in curiosity and in innocence. And we had this in common too: that we were all gloriously happy. Just for those few days of our lives, if never before, if never again, we felt that we had achieved fulfillment, and were ourselves.”

Morris would spend two weeks at the clinic after surgery, heavily bandaged at first but feeling clean and, for the first time in her life, normal.

Jan then returned to Britain to begin life anew as a woman. At first Jan was able to call upon her friends in the media to keep her upcoming transition a secret. However, once her surgery was done and she began living openly as a woman Jan Morris’ gender change made worldwide news — and caused worldwide controversy.

Next Month: Aftermath

Bibliography
Top that! How The Times Scooped Everest Triumph, London Times, January 12, 2008
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
Coronation Everest, Jan Morris, 1957
Conundrum, Jan Morris, 1974
Pleasures of a Tangled Life, Jan Morris, 1987
Manhattan ’45, Jan Morris, 1989
Agonized, New York Bends, But It Doesn’t Break, September 16, 2001, New York Times
Anthrax Hoaxer in Court, BBC News, October 25, 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

Michelle

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