Who was Michael Dillon and what happened in 1946?

While an overwhelming amount of the literature on the history of transsexuality has focused on the male-to-female experiences, Michael Dillon is at the centre of a female-to-male experience.

The story of Michael Dillon begins in London, in the 1920s, when Michael was still Laura. She was raised by her aunts to be a spinster, having been left in their care by her father, early pictures of Laura show an awkward teenager, as her breasts grew, she tried to flatten them with a belt. Her journey into transsexuality began innocently enough.

In 1939, Dr George Foss met Laura for the first time. He was conducting research on the effects of this new creation, synthetic testosterone, on women who experienced a variety of menstrual issues. The women had reported relief from their uninterrupted menstruation, but also a series of side effects like an enlarged clitoris, breast shrinkage and a deepening of the voice, along with facial and body hair growth. Here was someone willing, nay excited by the prospect of the side-effects! Foss was initially excited to be working with Laura but later turned her away a a continued patient, with the advice to simpley keep self-injecting and to see what would happen. Laura took on the name Michael, and as far as we now, is the first person to have taken synthetic testosterone with the expressed motivation of acquiring a masculinized body.

Michael began his medical training, and during his time in school, he explored the research available on this own unique body and circumstances. Finding little, he wrote and published “Self; A Study of Ethics and Endocrinology” in 1946, where he argued for the self-determination of individuals, and that patients should be given access to the medical treatments that could change the body from male to female, or vice versa.

Starting that same year, 1946, Michael met Sir Harold Gillies, then working at the Rooksdown House, a hospital for those in need of plastic surgery, in its nascence, Gillies developed plastic surgery for those soldiers returning from war with battle wounds. Having been sewn up on the field, with whatever was available, many were left with unrecognizable faces. Rooksdown House was where these patients came for their surgeries, their recoveries, and to be among like people. It was Gillies who performed Michael’s double mastecomy and beginning in 1946, Michael underwent thirteen separate operations where Gillies constructed him a penis. In his notes, Gillies wrote “in sex, a woman; in natural ability a man”.

Michael Dillon and the surgeons and doctors who helped him medically and surgically change his body, did not do so without attention. Tabloids were known for sensationalized stories of transsexuality, mostly of the MTF variety. Dillon found himself the centre of tabloid curiosity, alongside his partner, Roberta Cowell (a male-to-female transsexual). Dillon would escape to India, take on the name Jivaka, and begin his new life as a man without a transsexual past.

Jivaka died in Dalhousie, India on May 15th 1962, He was cremated according to Buddhist tradition. before he died, he sent an autobiographical manuscript to a literary agent named John Johnson. Without veiling his identity, Michael wrote about his life as Laura, Michael and Jivaka. It was never published; blocked by Robert Dillon (Michael’s brother).

With Dillon’s own “Self”, Kennedy’s “The First Man-Made Man”, and Liz Hodgkinson’s “How Laura became Michael”, we are able to posthumously learn of Michael Dillon’s life and how he came to be the man that he was.
And THAT is part of the story of the world’s first person to transition medically/surgically from female-to-male.

Here in our borough of Basingstoke & Deane.

Now you know our inspiration for Pride245!


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