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Dillon, Michael (1915-1962)  
 
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Michael Dillon, the first person known to have transitioned both hormonally and surgically from female to male, was a man of singular determination who articulated his life as an evolving struggle toward corporeal, intellectual, and spiritual integrity.

In an as yet unpublished autobiography, Out of the Ordinary--rediscovered by English journalist Liz Hodgkinson--Dillon narrates his transition as a facet of his lifelong quest for what he terms, simply, "The Truth."

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While the emergence of has tended to be examined in part through the lives of such male-to-female pioneers as Christine Jorgensen and Roberta Cowell, Michael Dillon's life has gained only modest attention, first through Liz Hodgkinson's Michael Née Laura (1989), and more recently through Pagan Kennedy's The First Man-Made Man (2007).

Dillon's significance for the history of transsexuality and for , , and feminist studies more broadly does not lie only in his historically early (1939-1949) medical transition, however. Dillon also penned pioneering writings at the intersection of ethics, medicine, biology, religion, philosophy, and transsexuality.

His published writings include Self: A Study in Ethics and Endocrinology (1946), Growing Up into Buddhism (1960), The Life of Milarepa (1962), Imji Getsul (1962), and numerous articles. In his last years he wrote at a ferocious pace, turning out at least seven other manuscripts, including Out of the Ordinary.

Born May 1, 1915, Michael grew up as Laura Maud Dillon in Folkestone, England, and was raised by maiden aunts to be a respectable young lady, a worthy sibling of brother Robert, the eighth baronet of Lismullen. Dillon resisted his family, however, taking refuge in sports and studies of a theological bent.

With the encouragement of an ecclesiastical mentor, Dillon enrolled at St. Anne's College, Oxford, in Theology in the fall of 1934. He planned to become either an Anglican deaconess or missionary but switched to Classics (at Oxford, also known as "Greats") after discouragement by college advisers.

After graduation in the spring of 1938, Dillon's longstanding gender struggle dovetailed with a growing vocational conundrum. His gender ambiguity limited his opportunities, leading to his eventual employment at a gas station.

In 1939, he sought medical help and received a prescription for testosterone (which had only recently been synthesized on a large enough scale as to be readily available). Chest reconstruction from a sympathetic (unknown) surgeon followed in 1942, and re-registration as Lawrence Michael on April 14, 1944 solidified his identity as male.

Between 1945 and 1949, Dillon underwent thirteen surgeries in completion of a phalloplasty, performed by renowned plastic surgeon Sir Harold Gillies.

While transitioning, Dillon wrote a groundbreaking book entitled Self: A Study in Ethics and Endocrinology. By advocating for the medical adaptation of bodies to cross-gender identified minds, the book was, as Jay Prosser has noted, "surely the first medicolegal treatise on transsexuality." In it, Dillon lays the groundwork for sorting out from "homosexuality" the cross-gender practices, identities, and narratives of what would soon be labeled "transsexuality."

Dillon continued exploring the interplay between body and mind during medical school at Trinity College, Dublin, which he began in the autumn of 1945.

Near the end of his studies, Dillon met and fell in love with Roberta Cowell, a race-car driver born Robert Cowell, who had sought out the author of Self for help transitioning from male to female.

Dillon--in all likelihood--risked his medical career as well as his own cover by performing Cowell's orchidectomy (the surgical removal of the testicles). At the time British laws against "mayhem" prohibited the amputation of healthy testicles (a prohibition that effectively stymied the transition from male to female in Britain).

Shortly after Dillon finished medical school in July 1952 and after Cowell had successfully transitioned, Dillon proposed marriage. To his bitter disappointment, she turned him down.

By the time the memoir, Roberta Cowell's Story, came out in 1954, less than two years after Christine Jorgensen's transition made headlines worldwide, Dillon was at sea as a ship's surgeon in the Merchant Navy.

During his years aboard ship, Dillon's continuing interest in mind-body interaction inspired religio-philosophical exchanges with Anglican priests, followers of G.I. Gudjieff, author Tuesday Lopzang Rampa, and, finally, teachers of Therevada and Tibetan Buddhism.

When the media exposed Dillon's transsexuality in 1959, he retreated from the seas to Kalimpong, India, to seek refuge in Buddhist monasteries. There he sought to jettison the minor aristocratic heritage that had cost him his anonymity: inconsistent entries for the Dillon family in two peerage guides--one indicating an heir, Lawrence Michael, and the other listing Laura Maud--had led to media inquiry.

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