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Jan Morris

Most transsexual people will probably be able to name one figure whose writing most influenced and validated their own experiences at a formative point in their lives. Mine would be the historian and travel writer, Jan Morris. 

Morris's book "Conundrum", first published in 1972. described in lavish detail the experience of discovering and pursuing her own true identity as a woman who just happened to have been born and brought up on the flawed evidence of her genitals.

Exceptional as such things still were in the 1960's and early 1970's -- when one had to go as far as Morocco for genital reconstruction -- Jan was no "ordinary" trans woman. Even before her famously recorded transition she had been, at one time or another, an Oxford chorister, military intelligence officer, and notable newspaper journalist. It was James Morris who, as a staff reporter seconded to the 1953 Everest expedition, claimed one of the century's greatest scoops, announcing that the mountain had finally been conquered on Coronation Day 1953.

For myself, it was this very demonstration of possibility, coupled with the strength of identification kindled by the description of her own perceptions, which helped me on the road to understanding my own self as a transsexual woman.

Being a transsexual person certainly wasn't easy in those days, 35 years ago. A legal precedent set by a divorce court in 1970 meant that, for all her achievements, and the respect she drew, Jan had to live her life still classified as legally male. People weren't very sure how to react to her either, with reactions varying from the befuddled to the downright obnoxious. Alan Whicker said he didn't know whether to shake her hand or kiss her cheek. Robin Day's attempt to quiz her on television, about her sex life, was just plain rude.

Yet none of that diminished Jan Morris's ability to pursue her career, which is the most valuable reassurance that anyone can give to a young trans person standing on the brink of following the same path to personal congruity. Christine Burns 

For a more complete biographical account of Jan Morris's career see below

Jan Morris was born and Christened "James", a boy, in Clevedon, Somerset on October 2nd, 1926.
 
In the course of her life she has been at one time or another, an Oxford chorister, Welsh bard, military intelligence officer, newspaper journalist and critically-acclaimed author. Following a marriage (as James) to Elizabeth Tuckniss in 1949, Morris also parented five children, including the poet and musician Twm Morys.

Elizabeth, who understood and supported Jan's convictions about her gender from early in their relationship, has remained a loyal partner to Jan to this day.

As an historian and writer Morris is known particularly for the Pax Britannica trilogy, a history of the British Empire, and for portraits of cities, notably Oxford, Venice, Trieste and New York. As a journalist she also achieved widespread attention when, as a staff reporter seconded to John Hunt's 1953 Everest expedition, she claimed one of the century's greatest scoops, announcing that the mountain had finally been conquered on Coronation Day 1953.
 
James Humphrey Morris's famous transformation into Jan began with female hormones in the 1960's, culminated with genital reconstruction surgery in Casablanca in 1972 and was documented in the autobiography "Conundrum" that same year. For many transsexual people growing up in that era, and over the ensuing three decades, Conundrum was arguably the most influential book of its' kind, charting the experience of transition with the keen eye and descriptive skills of a professional journalist. The book was republished in 2002.
 
It is said that, at the time of her public transition, some colleagues and acquaintances found the prospect of meeting the newly transformed Jan Morris a daunting one. Alan Whicker said he didn't know whether to shake her hand or kiss her cheek. Former Oxford contemporary Robin Day's attempt to quiz her on television, about her sex life, was met with great anger.
 
Transition and surgical reassignment did nothing to damped Morris's talents as a writer, although some critics claim to see differences in style between James and Jan. Pax Britannia was in fact begun by James, the man,and completed by Jan, the woman. 

Morris's range of titles as a writer is varied and extensive, with evocative profiles of Manhattan and Hong Kong standing alongside novels, like the satirical Our First Leader, a wry fictional look at an "independent" Wales, established after a Nazi invasion of Britain.

And Wales, the birthplace of her father, has become her physical and spiritual home. Though awarded a CBE in the 1999 Queen's Birthday Honours, Jan Morris's proudest achievement has been her election as a member of the Gorsedd of bards, Wales's cultural elite. She has also received honorary doctorates from the University of Wales and the University of Glamorgan and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Manhattan '45
Coronation Everest
In Search of England
Last Letters from Hav (novel)
Fifty Years of Europe: An Album The Venetian Empire (1980)
Fisher's Face Oxford (1965)
The Oxford Book of Oxford (editor)
The Matter of Wales
Lincoln: A Foreigner's Quest
Conundrum
Coast to Coast: A Journey Across 1950s America
Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere
Hong Kong The World: Life and Travel 1950–2000
Pax Britannica trilogy:
Heaven's Command
The Climax of an Empire
Farewell the Trumpets

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