Michael Dillon (born Laura) (1915 – 1962)
Michael Dillon was the world’s first person known to have successfully transitioned both hormonally and surgically from female to male. Born Laura into an aristocratic Dublin family, he was raised mainly by aunts in Folkestone and graduated from Oxford in 1938. During the 1930s Laura’s conviction strengthened that he was a man in a woman’s body. He sought the advice of a psychiatrist whose indiscretion and the ensuing society gossip caused Laura to come to Bristol in about 1939. Laura took the name Michael, and attended the Merchant Venturers’ Technical College, while working in a garage and living as a man. The garage manager insisted that other staff treat him as male to avoid confusion. He served as a fire watcher during the Bristol Blitz.
In 1939 he was given hormone treatment by Dr George Lush Foss, a doctor who had encountered the masculinising side-effects of hormone treatments in several diseases. Dr Foss practised as a GP from Cloud’s Hill House in St George. In 1942, attending the Bristol Royal Infirmary for another reason, Michael met by chance a surgeon (name unknown) who performed a double mastectomy. In 1944 he had his birth certificate amended, changing ‘daughter’ to ‘son’ and ‘Laura Maud’ to ‘Laurence Michael’. His brother, Sir Robert Dillon, was horrified and cut Michael out of his life.
At the end of the war, his surgeon put him in touch with Sir Harold Gillies at Basingstoke, a pioneer in the development of plastic surgery to treat mutilated servicemen. Here Michael underwent a long process of surgical transition in 1946-9, whilst also studying medicine at Trinity College Dublin.
During his training he was contacted by Robert Cowell, who had read his book ‘Self’ and wanted to become a woman. The two fell in love and Dillon, although not yet qualified as a surgeon, seems to have performed an orchidectomy (removal of the testicles) on Cowell, making him doubly unique as the world’s first female-to-male transsexual and as the person to begin surgery on the world’s first male-to-female transsexual.
Dillon’s transsexuality was disclosed by the press in 1959 and he fled to India, convinced he would never be able to lead a civilised or private life under the glare of publicity. Eventually he settled in a Buddhist monastery where he died in 1962.
Michael Dillon, Self: A study in Ethics and Endocrinology (1946).
Liz Hodgkinson, Michael née Laura (1989)
Pagan Kennedy, The First Man-Made Man (2007).
Last edited: 24/2/2022