Laurence Michael Dillon (born Laura Maude Dillon, May 1, 1915 - May 15, 1962) was a British physician and the first female-to-male transsexual to undergo phalloplasty. His brother, Sir Robert Dillon, was the eighth Baronet of Lismullen in Ireland.
Early life and transition
Dillon's mother died of sepsis ten days after giving birth to him. He and his older brother Bobby were raised by their two aunts in the town of Folkestone in Kent, England. He received his undergraduate education at Oxford, where he was president of the Woman's Boat Club and won a University Sporting Blue award for rowing. After graduating he took a job at a research laboratory in rural Gloucestershire.
Dillon had long been more comfortable in men's clothing and felt that he was not truly a woman. In 1939 he sought treatment from Dr. George Foss, who had been experimenting with testosterone to treat excessive menstrual bleeding; at the time, the hormone's masculinizing effects were poorly understood. Foss provided him with testosterone pills but insisted he consult a psychiatrist first, who gossiped about Dillon's desire to become a man, and soon the story was all over town. Dillon fled to Bristol and took a job at a garage. The hormones soon made it possible for him to pass as male, and eventually the garage manager insisted that other employees refer to him as "he" in order to avoid confusing customers. He was promoted to tow truck driver and doubled as a fire watcher during the Blitz.
Dillon suffered from hypoglycemia, and twice injured his head in falls when he passed out from low blood sugar. While he was in the Royal Infirmary recovering from the second of these attacks, he happened to come to the attention of one of the world's few practitioners of plastic surgery—at the time, a rare specialty maligned by most physicians. The surgeon performed a double mastectomy, provided Dillon with a doctor's note that enabled him to change his birth certificate, and put him in touch with the pioneering plastic surgeon Harold Gillies.
Gillies had previously reconstructed penises for injured soldiers and performed surgery on intersexual people with ambiguous genitalia. He was willing to perform a phalloplasty, but not immediately; the constant influx of wounded soldiers from World War II already kept him in the operating room around the clock. In the meantime Dillon enrolled in medical school at Trinity College, Dublin under his new legal name, Laurence Michael Dillon. A former tutor of Dillon's persuaded the Oxford registrar to alter records to show that he had graduated from Brasenose rather than the women's college St. Anne's, so that his academic transcript would not raise questions. Again he became a distinguished rower — this time for the men's team.
Gillies performed at least 13 surgeries on Dillon between 1946 and 1949. He officially diagnosed Dillon with acute hypospadias in order to conceal the fact that he was performing sex-reassignment surgery. Dillon, still a medical student at Trinity, blamed war injuries when infections caused a temporary limp. In what little free time he had he enjoyed dancing, but he avoided forming close relationships with women, for fear of exposure and in the belief that "One must not lead a girl on if one could not give her children." He deliberately cultivated a misogynist reputation to prevent any such problematic attachments.
Self and Roberta Cowell
In 1946 Dillon published Self: A Study in Endocrinology and Ethics, a book about what would now be called transsexuality, though that term had not been coined yet. He described "masculine inverts" as being born with "the mental outlook and temperament of the other sex", using Stephen Gordon in the novel The Well of Loneliness as an example. Since this form of inversion was innate — a hidden physical condition similar to intersexuality — it could not be affected by psychoanalysis and should instead be treated medically. "Where the mind cannot be made to fit the body," he wrote, "the body should be made to fit, approximately at any rate to the mind."
Self brought him to the attention of Roberta Cowell (born Robert Cowell), who would become the first British transwoman to receive male-to-female sex reassignment surgery. Though Dillon was not yet a licensed physician, he himself performed an orchidectomy on Cowell, since British law made the operation illegal. Cowell's vaginoplasty was later performed by Gillies.
Dillon had not revealed his own history in Self, but it came to light in 1958 as an indirect result of his aristocratic background. Debrett's Peerage, a genealogical guide, listed him as heir to his brother's baronetcy, while its competitor Burke's Peerage mentioned only a sister, Laura Maude. When the discrepancy was noticed, he told the press he was a male born with a severe form of hypospadias and had undergone a series of operations to correct the condition. The editor of Debrett's told Time Magazine that Dillon was unquestionably next in line for the baronetcy: "I have always been of the opinion that a person has all rights and privileges of the sex that is, at a given moment, recognized."
The unwanted press attention led Dillon to flee to India, and then to a Tibetan monastery. He was ordained a monk of the Tibetan order, taking the name Lobzang Jivaha, and spent his time studying Buddhism and writing. Despite the language barrier he felt at home there, but was forced to leave when his visa expired. His health failed, and he died in hospital at Dalhousie, Punjab, on 15 May 1962, aged 47.
Two books by him were published in London in 1962: The Life of Milarepa, about a famous 11th century Tibetan yogi, and Imji Getsul, an account of life in a Buddhist monastery.
- Self: A Study in Endocrinology and Ethics (1946)
- The Life of Milarepa (1962)
- Imji Getsul (1962)
- Kennedy, Pagan (2007). The First Man-Made Man. Bloomsbury. ISBN 1-596-91015-1.