Trans History for LGBT History Month - Billy Tipton (1914 - 1989)


Billy Lee Tipton (December 29, 1914 - January 21, 1989) was an American jazz musician and bandleader. Billy was born in Oklahoma in 1914 and showed a strong interest in music early on in life.  He was most interested in jazz and studied piano and saxophone extensively. 

As a teenager, he started using the name Billy and tried hard to pass by binding and packing.  At first, he only presented as male when he was performing music, but by 1940, he started to live full time as male, keeping his trans history a secret.  He cut contact with the majority of people from his former life as female, staying in touch with only two cousins who knew of Billy’s past. 

Billy’s first relationship was with a woman while he was still living part-time as female. However, he soon began living full-time as male, having heterosexual relationships with women.  Billy even kept his past hidden from his lovers and told them he was in a horrible car accident that damaged his genitals and broke a few ribs, which meant that he had to bind to keep his ribs in place. 

Billy and his partner adopted two children, and he did not disclose his trans history to his children. At the time of his death, one of his son’s learned for the first time about his father’s anatomy.  Billy’s partner had his body cremated to try to protect his identity, but his son went public with the story which received a large amount of media attention.

The fiction novel ‘Trumpet’ by Jackie Kay was inspired by the story of Billy Tipton.

Source: Wikipedia

Check out more trans history on Gendered Intelligence’s ‘Trans History’ tag.

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