Scottish Daily Mail


The re­mark­able words of Jan — for­merly James — Mor­ris, the sub­lime travel writer who died this week. Now we se­ri­alise her mes­meris­ing mem­oir ... start­ing with her 1970s tran­si­tion — and a wife whose love never wa­vered

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‘I was born a man,but my trou­bled soul only achieved seren­ity as a woman’

WHEn I was three or per­haps four years old, I re­alised that I had been born into the wrong body and should re­ally be a girl. It is the ear­li­est mem­ory of my life. I was sit­ting be­neath my mother’s pi­ano and her mu­sic was fall­ing around me like cataracts, en­clos­ing me as in a cave. What trig­gered so bizarre a thought I have for­got­ten, but the con­vic­tion was un­fal­ter­ing.

On the face of things, it was pure non­sense. I was loved and I was lov­ing, brought up kindly and sen­si­bly, spoiled to a com­fort­able de­gree, weaned at an early age on Huck Finn and Alice In Won­der­land, taught to cher­ish my an­i­mals, think well of my­self and wash my hands be­fore tea. My se­cu­rity was ab­so­lute.

By ev­ery stan­dard of logic, I was patently a boy. I had a boy’s body. I wore a boy’s clothes. I was not gen­er­ally thought ef­fem­i­nate.

I have tried to an­a­lyse my own child­ish emo­tions to dis­cover what I meant when I de­clared my­self to be a girl. What was my rea­son­ing? Where was my ev­i­dence? But it re­mains a rid­dle. So be it.

To me, gen­der is not phys­i­cal at all but al­to­gether in­sub­stan­tial. It is soul, per­haps; it is how one feels, it is light and shade, it is in­ner mu­sic. It is the es­sen­tial­ness of one­self.

Trans­sex­u­al­ism is not a sex­ual mode or pref­er­ence. It is not an act of sex at all. It is a pas­sion­ate, life­long, in­erad­i­ca­ble con­vic­tion.

At nine, I joined the choir school of Christ Church, Ox­ford. The school it­self was sen­si­ble and un- hearty. Each day, a mo­ment of si­lence fol­lowed the words of the Grace.

Into that hia­tus, I in­serted silently ev­ery night, year af­ter year, an ap­peal no less heart­felt: ‘And please God l et me be a girl. Amen.’

How He could achieve it, I had no idea, and I was vague about the de­tails. I still hardly knew the dif­fer­ence be­tween the sex es, hav­ing sel­dom if ever seen a fe­male body in the nude, and I prayed purely out of in­stinct. But the com­pul­sion was ir­re­press­ible.

I hope I will not be thought a nar­cis­sist if I claim that I was rather an at­trac­tive boy. At Lanc­ing, my next school, I was in­evitably the ob­ject of ad­vances. I was not in the least shocked by th­ese in­ten­tions, but sim­ply could not re­spond in kind.

At 17, towards the end of the War, I en­tered a man’s world, the world of sol­diery. I felt like one of those un­con­vinc­ing hero­ines of fic­tion who, dis­guised in a Hus­sar’ s jacket, pen­e­trate the bat­tle­fields to find glory or ro­mance.

The 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers — which took me to Italy, Egypt, Aus­tria and Pales­tine — con­firmed my in­tu­ition that I was fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent from my con­tem­po­raries. One of the gen­uine sur­prises con­cerned the im­por­tance to men of phys­i­cal sex. I once es­corted a ner­vous brother-of­fi­cer to a brothel in Tri­este, on his first ex­cur­sion into the demi-monde.

How pale he stood there in the street-light, look­ing back at me al­most des­per­ately, wait­ing for the door to open. As I drove away, I felt sure he would have had a far hap­pier time go­ing to the pic­tures.

I loved the Army but knew I could not stay. Af­ter go­ing to univer­sity, I en­tered jour­nal­ism and, as a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent, wan­dered the world from Fiji to Daw­son City.

I also trod the long, ex­pen­sive and fruit­less path of the Harley Street psy­chi­a­trists and sex­ol­o­gists, one af­ter the other.

In the state of med­i­cal aware­ness then, it must have been baf­fling to have been con­fronted by a patently healthy and ev­i­dently sane young man declar­ing him­self to be a woman.

Could it not be, they asked, that I was merely a trans­ves­tite, a per­son who gained sex­ual plea­sure from wearing the clothes of the op­po­site sex? Al­ter­na­tively, was I sure that I was not just a sup­pressed ho­mo­sex­ual? But none of it fit­ted.

Heav­ens, I was a jumble, dark with i nde­ci­sion and anx­i­ety. Some­times I con­sid­ered sui­cide, or to be more ac­cu­rate, hoped that some un­fore­seen and pain­less ac­ci­dent would do it for me.

Yet t hrough­out my young man­hood I was in a con­stant state of emo­tional en­tan­gle­ment with some­body or other. They were un­sat­is­fac­tory af­fairs, for they were nec­es­sar­ily in­con­clu­sive.

The girls soon sensed that I was likely to of­fer them no more than friend­ship. And I my­self did not quite know what I wanted, be­yond the touch of the hand or lip, the warmth of the body, the laugh­ter and the com­pany.

‘Why, why, why?’ screamed an

‘I was a jumble, dark with anx­i­ety and in­de­ci­sion’

Amer­i­can nym­pho of my ac­quain­tance, do­ing her un­suc­cess­ful best to se­duce me in a ho­tel bed­room in Athens. But I could not tell her, and if I had she would never have un­der­stood.

Love res­cued me f rom self­de­struc­tion. I have loved peo­ple with dis­con­cert­ing fre­quency all my life, but I have en­joyed one par­tic­u­lar love of an in­ten­sity so dif­fer­ent from all the rest, on a plane of ex­pe­ri­ence so mys­te­ri­ous, and of a tex­ture so rich, that it over­rode from the start all my sex­ual am­bi­gu­i­ties. El­iz­a­beth, the daugh­ter of a Cey­lon tea planter, was the sec­re­tary to the ar­chi­tect of Wem­b­ley Sta­dium.

She had taken rooms in a house al­most op­po­site Madame Tus­sauds. A sit mirac­u­lously hap­pened, I was in Lon­don too, tak­ing a brief Ara­bic course, and found my­self rooms in that very house.

We were so in­stantly, ut­terly, im­prob­a­bly and per­ma­nently at­tuned to one an­other that we might have been brother and sis­ter.

Peo­ple of­ten thought we were, so ab­so­lute was our em­pa­thy, and we even looked rather alike.

Ours was a mar­riage that had no right to work, yet it worked like a dream, liv­ing tes­ti­mony to the power of love in its purest sense. There re­mains hardly a mo­ment in my life that I would not rather share with El­iz­a­beth.

I hid noth­ing of my dilemma from her. Still, I told her, the mech­a­nism of my body was com­plete and func­tional, and for what it was worth was hers. For my

part, in per­form­ing the sex­ual act with her I felt I was con­sum­mat­ing a trust, and with luck giv­ing our­selves the in­com­pa­ra­ble gift of chil­dren: and she on her side re­sponded frankly to what I was, and I hope en­joyed her­self.

We pro­duced five chil­dren— three boys, two girls — but sex was sub­sidiary in our re­la­tion­ship. Ours was al­ways an‘ open mar­riage’ in which the part­ners are ex­plic­itly free to lead their own sep­a­rate lives, have their own lovers per­haps, re­strained only by an agreement of su­pe­rior af­fec­tion and com­mon con­cern.

For months at a time, I would wan­der off across the world and some­times El­iz­a­beth would travel in a dif­fer­ent way, into pre­oc­cu­pa­tions that were all her own. Though we were linked in such ab­sences by a rapt con­cern with each other’s hap­pi­ness, still we never be­grudged each other our sep­a­rate lives, only find­ing our mu­tual af f ai r more ex­cit­ing when re­sumed. We could scarcely call our sex­ual re­la­tion­ship a sat­is­fac­tory one, since I would have been per­fectly con­tent with­out one at all, yet our lives were full of com­pen­sa­tion.

Our in­ti­macy was erotic in a dif­fer­ent way, in a sense of ec­static un­der­stand­ing, and some­times a thrust of af­fec­tion that came like a blow be­tween the eyes.

I was im­mensely proud of my mar­riage. How­ever tan­gled my in­ner life, still I knew that I had achieved this tri­umph: a trust that was ab­so­lute and a com­pan­ion ship that was end­lessly de­light­ful. It was ap­par­ent to El­iz­a­beth sooner than it was to me that one day I must ap­pease my con­flicts.

I hon­oured, though, an un­spo­ken obli­ga­tion: that un­til she was ful­filled as a mother if not as a wife, I would bide my time.

I was won­der­fully happy in other ways. My in­stinct to have chil­dren had been pro­found, and I hope I gave them, if noth­ing else, an un­der­stand­ing of the colossal con­struc­tive force of love, which can bridge chasms and rec­on­cile op­po­sites. It was not un­til the el­dest boys were in their late teens, they tell me, that they be­gan to re­alise in what way I was dif­fer­ent: for 15 years at least, my mar­riage looked from the out­side not merely suc­cess­ful but per­fectly ortho­dox. I spent some ten years in jour­nal­ism, mostly as a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent with wag rand stand view of the world’s great e events —in­clud­ing the con­quest of Ever­est in 1953. Though I re­sented my body, I did not dis­like it. It was le lean and sinewy, ne never ran to fat, and worked like a ma­chine of qual­ity. Bu But by my mid-30s I be be­gan to detest the ph physique that had se served me so loy­ally. T This was the worst per pe­riod of my life. I was tor­mented by an eve ever-increasing sense of i iso­la­tion from the wo world and from mys my­self, and plunged into pe­ri­ods of de­spair tha that fright­ened El­iza El­iz­a­beth. My work was well know known on both sides of th the At­lantic, and the oppo op­por­tu­ni­ties I was of­fer of­fered were al­most unbo un­bounded. But I want wanted none of it. I thou h ought of pub­lic succe suc­cess it­self, I sup­pose, as par part of male­ness, and de­libe de­lib­er­ately turned my back on o it. I In­stead, nst I took to writin writ­ing books or trav­el­ling in for­eign places. I have never doubted that m much of the emo­tional force that men spend in sex, I sub­li­mated in travel. It could not work for ever. Our chil­dren were safely grow­ing; rather than go mad, or kill my­self, or in­fect ev­ery­one around me with my pro­found­est melan­choly, I took the first steps towards a phys­i­cal change of sex. No­body in the his­tory of humankind has changed from a true man to a true woman, if we class a man or a woman purely by phys­i­cal con­cepts. What was about to hap­pen was that my body would be made as fe­male as science could con­tem­plate or na­ture per­mit. For eight years, I took fe­male hor­mones. They turned me from a per­son who looked like a healthy male into some­thing per­ilously close to a her­maph­ro­dite.

The change was in­fin­itely grad­ual: my skin be­came clearer, my cheeks rosier, my tread lighter, my fig­ure slim­mer.

At first peo­ple thought I looked in­ex­pli­ca­bly young. Then not just the tex­ture but the shape of my body be­gan to change. Life and the world looked new to me. Even my re­la­tion­ship with El­iz­a­beth, which soon lost its last el­e­ments of phys­i­cal con­tact, as­sumed a new lu­cid­ity.

Stripped of my clothes, I was a chimera, half-male, half-fe­male, an ob­ject of won­der even to my­self. It was a pre­car­i­ous con­di­tion.

Dur­ing a jour­ney in South Africa, I was told at lunchtime that I must wear a col­lar and tie in the din­ingroom, at din­ner that I must not en­ter wearing trousers.

On a train from Eus­ton to Ban­gor, a man who had just been ask­ing me if I had played cricket at Ox­ford was taken aback when the waiter, plac­ing my soup be­fore me, said, ‘ There you are then, love, en­joy it!’

Re­ac­tions var­ied greatly. ‘Are you a man or a woman?’ asked the Fi­jian taxi driver as he drove me from the air­port. ‘I am a re­spectable, rich, mid­dle-aged English widow,’ I replied. ‘Good,’ he said, ‘just what I want,’ and put his hand upon my knee.

Amer­i­cans gen­er­ally as­sumed me to be fe­male, and cheered me up with small at­ten­tions. English­men found the am­bi­gu­ity in it­self be­guil­ing. French­men were cu­ri­ous, Ital­ians sim­ply stared boor­ishly. Greeks were vastly en­ter­tained. Arabs asked me to go for walks with them. Scots looked shocked. Ger­mans looked wor­ried. The Ja­panese did not no­tice.

I soon dis­cov­ered that only the small­est dis­play of overt fem­i­nin­ity, a touch of make-up, a cou­ple of bracelets, was enough to es­tab­lish me as fe­male, al­beit a man­nish sort of fe­male, I ex­pect.

There was no mo­ment of in­stant trauma in my re­la­tion­ship with

‘French­men were cu­ri­ous, Ital­ians stared’ ‘I was alive, well and sex-changed in Casablanca’

the chil­dren, no mo­ment when, stand­ing be­fore them as a man one day, I reap­peared sud­denly as a woman. The process was slow and sub­tle.

More dis­tress­ing was the dan­ger they might be teased or mocked at school. But helped along the way by sen­si­tive teach­ers, they seemed to es­cape those mis­eries.

There re­mained the surgery. I had male or­gans still, and still my body was pro­duc­ing male hor­mones in rear­guard des­per­a­tion.

In Eng­land, sev­eral hos­pi­tals now op­er­ated upon trans­sex­u­als. In the case of those born male, the pe­nis and tes­ti­cles were re­moved and a vagina cre­ated, ei­ther si­mul­ta­ne­ously or in later surgery: func­tion­ally the pa­tient was left more or less in the con­di­tion of a woman who has un­der­gone to­tal hys­terec­tomy. Or­gasm was pos­si­ble, be­cause the erotic zones re­tained their sen­si­tiv­ity.

This is what I now planned to have done to my­self. But when, in the spring of 1972, I felt my­self ready f or the l ast hur­dle, I dis­cov­ered an un­ex­pected snag — the sur­geon who ac­cepted me for

surgery at Char­ing Cross Hos­pi­tal de­clined to op­er­ate un­til El­iz­a­beth and I were di­vorced. I recog­nised, of course, that we must be di­vorced in the end. But I re­solved we would end our mar­riage in our own time, lov­ingly, and I would go for my surgery to for­eign parts be­yond the law.

So I booked my­self a re­turn ticket to Casablanca in Morocco, where ev­ery­body in my predica­ment knew of Dr B. He did not bother him­self much with di­ag­no­sis or pre­treat­ment and ex­pected hand­some pay­ment in ad­vance, but his surgery was ex­cel­lent.

In Room 5 of Dr B’s clinic, I sat on the bed and did a cross­word puz­zle. Late at night, two nurses came to in­ject me with a drug.

When I awoke it was pitch dark and there was no sound. My arms seemed to be strapped to the bed and I no l onger appeared to have any legs. But I seemed to be breath­ing, my mind worked, and a cau­tious clench­ing of the ab­dom­i­nal mus­cles seemed to tell me that I was heav­ily ban­daged down be­low.

I was alive, well and sex- changed in Casablanca. This stun­ning thought more than com­pen­sated for the night­mare sen­sa­tion of my awak­en­ing. I f ound my­self, in f act, as­ton­ish­ingly happy.

When I flew back two weeks later to Lon­don, I was still in pain and moved with dif­fi­culty. El­iz­a­beth wel­comed me home as though noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar had hap­pened. A grand sense of eu­pho­ria now over­came me. I knew for cer­tain that I had done the right thing: it gave me a mar­vel­lous sense of calm. Thir­ty­five years as a male, I thought, ten in be­tween, and the rest of my life as me.

For­tu­nately, the f i rst so­ci­ety i nto which I ven­tured f rankly and pub­licly sex- changed was the pro­foundly civilised so­ci­ety of Caernar­fon­shire. My neighbours greeted my mo­ment o f me­ta­mor­pho­sis with an ur­bane in­sou­ciance.

Some could not res­train a kind of gasp, in­stantly sti­fled. Some tact­fully said how well I looked that morn­ing. But most sim­ply pre­tended not to no­tice.

Else­where i n the world, the im­pact was more abrupt.

The very tone of voice in which I was now ad­dressed, the very pos­ture of the per­son next in the queue, the very feel in the air when I en­tered a room, con­stantly em­pha­sised my change of sta­tus.

Thrust as I now found my­self far more into the com­pany of women, I be­gan to find women’s con­ver­sa­tion in gen­eral more con­ge­nial. Men treated me more and more as a j unior — my l awyer, i n an un­guarded mo­ment, even called me ‘my child’.

I dis­cov­ered that, even now, men pre­fer women to be less in­formed, l ess able, l ess talkative and cer­tainly less self- cen­tred than they are them­selves. The sub­tle sub­jec­tion of women was catch­ing up on me.

It was, of course, by no means all un­pleas­ant. If the con­de­scen­sion of men could be in­fu­ri­at­ing, the cour­te­sies were very wel­come. And peo­ple are usu­ally far kinder to women.

Phys­i­cally I was less strik­ing as a fe­male than I had been as a male; on the other hand, I found t hat my new hap­pi­ness was in­fec­tious and I struck up friend­ships more eas­ily.

Psy­cho­log­i­cally I be­came more emo­tional. I cried very eas­ily and was lu­di­crously sus­cep­ti­ble to flat­tery. My scale of vi­sion seemed to con­tract, and I looked less for the grand sweep in my writ­ing than for the telling de­tail.

At last, I ad­mit­ted to my­self with­out em­bar­rass­ment how at­trac­tive men could be. I was asked some­times if I planned to marry one, but no, the men I have loved are mar­ried al­ready, or dead, or far away, or in­dif­fer­ent. Too late!

Be­sides, though El­iz­a­beth and I are now di­vorced, we are locked in our friend­ship more ab­so­lutely than ever and pro­pose to share our lives hap­pily ever af­ter.

As for my chil­dren, at least I had not an­tag­o­nised them. They had been my staunch­est al­lies through­out the change, screen­ing me, sup­port­ing me, re­as­sur­ing me. They knew how in­fin­itely I cher­ished them in re­turn.

It was not such a ter­ri­ble thing, af­ter all. They had not wit­nessed the col­lapse of love, the be­trayal of parent­age, de­ser­tion or dis­like. What they had watched was a trou­bled soul achiev­ing seren­ity.

I was re­ceived with cu­rios­ity by most peo­ple, with amuse­ment by some, with non­cha­lance by dons and aris­to­crats, with kindly in­com­pre­hen­sion by sol­diers and old ladies, with earnest­ness by those who wanted to demon­strate their en­light­en­ment, with bold kisses by ex­tro­verts.

Those who eas­ily ac­cepted the propo­si­tion were mostly women them­selves. Many men, on the other hand, pro­fessed t hem­selves stu­pe­fied.

Of course, I have regrets. I re­gret the shock I have given to oth­ers. I re­gret lost time. I re­gret the ne­ces­sity of it all, but I do not for a mo­ment re­gret the act of change.

I have my­self achieved, as far as is hu­manly pos­si­ble, the iden­tity I craved. But if my sense of iso­la­tion has gone, my sense of dif­fer­ence re­mains, and this is in­evitable.

How­ever skil­ful Dr B., I can never be as other peo­ple, though I do not mind my con­tin­u­ing am­bi­gu­ity.

What if I re­main an equivocal fig­ure? There is no­body in the world I would rather be than me.

‘Not for a mo­ment do I re­gret the act of change’

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 ??  ?? Lib­er­ated: Jan in 2003. In­set, with El­iz­a­beth and baby be­fore her tran­si­tion
Lib­er­ated: Jan in 2003. In­set, with El­iz­a­beth and baby be­fore her tran­si­tion

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