Historian and author
Travels abroad for gender reassignment surgery
‘What was important was the liberty of us all to live as we wished to live, to love however we wanted to love, and to know ourselves, however peculiar, disconcerting or unclassifiable, at one with the gods and angels.’
Jan Morris is a Welsh historian and author. Morris is best-known for her writing about places, particularly cities such as Oxford, Venice, and New York. She was born in England. She has an English mother and a Welsh father but she considers herself Welsh and lives in Wales. She is a member of Plaid Cymru, a political party in Wales that supports Welsh independence.
Morris was born in 1926 and was named James. In 1949, Morris married Elizabeth Tuckniss and they had five children together. Elizabeth understood and supported Jan’s belief about her gender from early in their relationship. Morris started taking female hormones in 1964.
In 1972, Morris travelled to Morocco to have genital reconstruction surgery. Morris was 46 years old. Doctors in Britain had refused to allow the surgery unless Morris and Tuckniss divorced. That was something Morris did not want to do.
Morris wrote about her experiences in the 1974 book ‘Conundrum’. This was the first book she published under her new name. It is the best-known of her fifty or so books. It is honest, emotional and humorous. When it was published in 1974, it generated a lot of interest. At the time it was a very unusual operation and it was openly discussed.
The interest created embarrassment and unwanted publicity. The television interviewer Alan Whicker said that he did not know whether to shake her hand or kiss her. During one television interview a BBC presenter tried to ask her about her sex life. Morris complained to the Director of the BBC.
Conundrum and her autobiography, ‘Pleasures of a Tangled Life’, describe Morris’s search for and discovery of her true identity as a woman. For many transsexual people growing up in the following years, Conundrum was perhaps the most important book of its kind. It follows the experience of transition with the descriptive skills of a professional journalist.
Morris’s experience is not typical. Morris was educated at an independent boarding school and then the University of Oxford. Her early career was in the military and then with The Times newspaper. This gave her a lot of social advantages and some protection. Her journey from male to female can also be seen as a journey out of the privilege she had known. Importantly, she continued her successful career. This gave a valuable reassurance to trans people considering a similar journey.
When Morris returned from Morocco she and Tuckniss had to divorce to comply with British law. They continued to live together and in 2008 they entered into a civil partnership. Morris said, ‘It is rather nice to be legal again.’
Their headstone will say, in Welsh and English: ‘Here are two friends, at the end of one life’.
Voices and Visibility 2019