By Olivia Hennessy, BA History, Level 1

LGBTQ+ History month’s theme for this year is ‘Body, mind, and spirit’. This month, in February, was founded first in the US in 1994, and 11 years later (in 2005), the UK joined to celebrate this month. It all began from a Schools OUT project with activists Sue Sanders and Paul Patrick. Schools OUT is an organisation which makes sure that schools are safe and inclusive for LGBTQ+ students. This blog discusses the theme of the ‘Body’, most notably transgender people throughout the years and their rights.

Michael Dillon

Dillon, born in 1915, was the second child of an Irish baronet and was assigned female at birth. However, he took an early interest in masculinity and was presenting in a masculine fashion when he became President of the Women’s boat Club at Oxford university.

While working at Bristol, Dillon became interested with a new drug experimented by a local GP, George Foss, called testosterone. Foss asked Dillon to visit a psychiatrist first, but this did not end well. The psychiatrist told Floss not to help Dillon and gossiped to people at Dillon’s workplace about his interest of the testosterone, forcing him to seek alternative employment. Although Floss declined to continue treatment, Floss gave Dillon a supply of testosterone.

During World War II, Dillon obtained work at a car dealership in Bristol (this was, at the time, where opportunities were available for people who were legally female). He was taken to the Bristol Royal Infirmary when he collapsed and met a doctor who agreed to perform breast removal surgery. In addition, Dillon received a letter explaining that his sex had been incorrectly recorded at birth which allowed him to change his legal name and gender. He was able to live freely as a man.

Dillon enrolled in a local college to study medicine and was introduced to the leading plastic surgeon, Sir Harold Gillies. He spent his free time working at Gillies’ hospital and in return, Gillies experimented with surgery to give Dillon a penis. Thirteen operations later, Dillon had the body he wanted. As the war ended, Dillon completed his studies in Bristol and was qualified as a doctor at the Trinity College, Dublin. His work ‘Self: A Study in Ethics and Endocrinology’ is central in its patient-centred approach to trans medicine.

In 1958, Dillon had a new job as a ship’s doctor, but the media exposed him. He then headed to India to explore his interest in Buddhism. As they normally admitted men, the Buddhist leaders were reluctant to accept Dillon. However, he eventually became the first Western European to be ordained as a Buddhist monk. Unfortunately, Dillon died in 1962, but his legacy continues to be remembered. Dillon’s book is available today, impacting the spiritual thinking of the human body and mind and reflects the ‘Body, Mind and Spirit’.

Actions and attitudes towards transgender people today

Worldwide, there has been either some or little change in the acceptance of transgender people. Starting with the UK, in 2004, the Gender Recognition Act passed- a person with a gender recognition certificate must be treated according to their acquired gender and transgender people should not be frequently asked to produce their Gender Recognition Certificate as evidence. Although, the act requires a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and the GRA has been criticised by groups, such as Stonewall, for not being inclusive or accessible. Stonewall was founded in 1989 by a small group of people who had been active in the struggle against Section 28 of the Local Government Act. Section 28 was designed to prevent the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

Recently, in the US, Joe Biden scrapped the Trump transgender military ban (this stopped transgender people joining the US military). Biden is the first president to support the Transgender community in his victory speech and following his win, Biden addressed this matter, announcing that his administration “will see you, listen to you, and fight for not only your safety but also the dignity and justice you have been denied”.

Bangladesh have also accepted transgender people, giving them the right to vote and stand for election. The first school opened for trans students last year to more than 150 students, where it is free of charge and open to all ages, as long as they identified themselves as transgender.

Although, acceptance has been difficult in Bangladeshi society. Ananya Banik, 42, had a difficult journey through her transition and decided to live openly as transgender at the age of 16. However, her family wanted to disown her, and Ananya believed that this was because ‘they had to face a lot of unpleasant questions from neighbours and relatives’. She had support from her mother, but after her father’s death, Ananya’s brothers disowned her. There was a struggle of acceptance while Ananya worked for a variety of non-governmental organisations. Hijras usually faced these struggles, or even worst ones, and many took to the streets and are forced to collect money from shop keepers.

Other countries are not as accepting. Brazil and Mexico are some of the most dangerous countries in the world to be transgender, where most attacks go unpunished, including murder.  In Mexico, there are many risks involved in fighting for Transgender rights, with increasing levels of trans-femicide and the lack of encouragement to investigate killings of transgender women.

Kenya Cuevas, arguably the best-known transgender activist in Latin America, is trying to fix this issue. Kenya founded Casa de las Munecas Tiresias after her friend, a transgender sex works called Paola Buenrostro, was killed in front of her in 2016. This will be open soon and it is the only shelter exclusively for transgender women in Mexico. This shelter will be providing psychological and economic support, along with promoting a safe gender change and sexual and learning education. She has been focused on urging the Attorney general’s office to reform the penal code to recognise trans-femicide as a hate crime.

A useful resource about the lives and attitudes of transgender people today: Research report: Attitudes to transgender people (August 2020), Equality and Human Rights Commission Research Report Series.

References:

BBC. Transgender People- news page for recent headlines, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cwlw3xz01lxt/transgender-people Accessed 17th February 2021.

Devon Partnership Trust. LGBT+ History Month 2021 – Body, Mind, Spirit, 3rd February https://www.dpt.nhs.uk/news/lgbt-history-month-2021-body-mind-spirit Accessed 17th February 2021.

Image reference:

Monica Helms. ‘Transgender Pride Flag’, 2006, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Transgender_Pride_flag.svg Accessed 18 February 2021.