Jules Gill-Peterson

'Boy Wearing a Wig,' Wilhelm von Gloeden (1900) Wikimedia Commons

In 1942, a 17-year-old transgender girl named Lane visited a doctor in her Missouri hometown with her parents. Lane had known that she was a girl from a very young age, but fights with her parents over her transness had made it difficult for her to live comfortably and openly during her childhood. She had dropped out of high school and she was determined to get out of Missouri as soon as she was old enough to pursue a career as a dancer.

The doctor reportedly found "a large portion of circulating female hormone" in her body during his examination and suggested to Lane's parents that he undertake an exploratory laparotomy – a surgery in which he would probe her internal organs in order to find out more about her endocrine system. But the appointment ended abruptly after her father refused the surgery, feeling "the doctor did not know what he was talking about."

I first encountered Lane's story buried among the papers of an endocrinologist, but her brief encounter with a doctor during her teenage years was typical of many transgender children like her in the early to mid-20th century. These stories form a key thread of the first several chapters of my book, "Histories of the Transgender Child," and they point to the tremendous obstacles these kids faced in a world where the word "transgender" didn't even exist.

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