Roberta Cowell, a former racing driver and World War 2 pilot, was the first trans woman in the UK known to undergo genital reconstruction surgery.
Cowell became interest in motor-racing whilst at University, and competed in the 1939 Antwerp Grand Prix. She served with the RAF in World War II, spending 5 months in a prisoner of war camp before it was liberated in 1945.
She began to transition after sessions with a psychiatrist led her to conclude that her "unconscious mind was predominantly female". She began estrogen and met Michael Dillon, a doctor and trans man, who performed an orchiectomy on her, which was illegal in Britain at the time.
A doctor on Harley Street gave her a document stating she was intersex, which allowed her to change her birth certificate to female. She had vaginoplasty in 1951, making her the first known trans woman in the UK to have had this surgery.
Check out more trans history on Gendered Intelligence’s ‘Trans History’ tag.
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