Mor­ris, gen­der pi­o­neer and writer, dies at 94

New York Daily News - - NEWS - BY HIL­LEL ITALIE

Jan Mor­ris, the cel­e­brated jour­nal­ist, his­to­rian, world trav­eler and fic­tion writer who in mid­dle age be­came a pi­o­neer of the trans­gen­der move­ment, has died at 94.

Mor­ris died in Wales on Fri­day morn­ing, ac­cord­ing to her lit­er­ary rep­re­sen­ta­tive, United Agents. Her agent Sophie Scard con­firmed her death. Mor­ris had been in fail­ing health. Ad­di­tional de­tails were not im­me­di­ately avail­able.

The Bri­tish au­thor lived as James Mor­ris un­til the early 1970s, when she un­der­went surgery at a clinic in Casablanca and re­named her­self Jan Mor­ris. Her best-sell­ing mem­oir “Co­nun­drum,” which came out in 1974, con­tin­ued the path of such ear­lier works as Chris­tine Jor­gensen’s “A Per­sonal Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy” in pre­sent­ing her de­ci­sion as nat­u­ral and lib­er­at­ing.

“I no longer feel iso­lated and un­real,” she wrote. “Not only can I imag­ine more vividly how other peo­ple feel: re­leased at last from those old bri­dles and blink­ers, I am be­gin­ning to know how I feel my­self.”

Mor­ris was a pro­lific and ac­com­plished au­thor and jour­nal­ist who wrote dozens of books in a va­ri­ety of gen­res and was a first­hand wit­ness to his­tory. As a young re­porter, she ac­com­pa­nied a 1953 ex­pe­di­tion to Asia led by Sir Ed­mund Hil­lary and, on the day of Queen El­iz­a­beth II’s coro­na­tion, broke the news that Hil­lary and Nepalese Sherpa moun­taineer Ten­z­ing Nor­gay had be­come the first climbers to scale Mount Ever­est.

Mor­ris went on to re­ceive praise for her im­mer­sive travel writ­ing, with Venice and Tri­este among the fa­vored lo­ca­tions, and for her “Pax Bri­tan­nica” his­to­ries about the Bri­tish em­pire, a tril­ogy be­gun as James Mor­ris and con­cluded as Jan Mor­ris. In 1985, she was a Booker Prize fi­nal­ist for an imag­ined trav­el­ogue and po­lit­i­cal thriller, “Last Let­ters from Hav,” about a Mediter­ranean city-state that was a stop­ping point for the au­thor’s globe-span­ning knowl­edge and ad­ven­tures, where vis­i­tors ranged from Saint Paul and Marco Polo to Ernest Hem­ing­way and Sig­mund Freud.

Born James Humphrey Mor­ris in Som­er­set, with a Welsh father and English mother, Mor­ris re­mem­bered ques­tion­ing her gen­der by age 4. She had an epiphany as she sat un­der her mother’s pi­ano and thought that she had “been born into the wrong body, and should re­ally be a girl.” For some 20 years she kept her feel­ings se­cret, a “cher­ished” se­cret that be­came a prayer when at Ox­ford Univer­sity she and fel­low stu­dents would ob­serve a mo­ment of silence while wor­ship­ping at the school cathe­dral.

“Into that hia­tus, while my bet­ters I sup­pose were ask­ing for for­give­ness or en­light­en­ment, I in­serted silently ev­ery night, year af­ter year through­out my boy­hood, an ap­peal less grace­ful but no less heart­felt: ‘And please, God, let me be a girl. Amen,’” Mor­ris wrote in her mem­oir.

“I felt that in wish­ing so fer­vently, and so cease­lessly, to be trans­lated into a girl’s body, I was aim­ing only at a more divine con­di­tion, an in­ner rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

To the out­side world, James Mor­ris seemed to en­joy an ex­em­plary male life. She was 17 when she joined the Bri­tish army dur­ing World War II, served as an in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer in Pales­tine and mas­tered the “mil­i­tary virtues of “courage, dash, loy­alty, self-discipline.” In 1949, Mor­ris mar­ried El­iz­a­beth Tuck­niss, with whom she had five chil­dren. (One died in in­fancy).

But pri­vately she felt “dark with in­de­ci­sion and anx­i­ety” and even con­sid­ered sui­cide. She had trav­eled the “long, well-beaten, ex­pen­sive, and fruit­less path” of psy­chi­a­trists and sex­ol­o­gists. She had con­cluded that no one in her sit­u­a­tion had ever, “in the whole his­tory of psy­chi­a­try, been ‘cured’ by the science.”

Life as a woman changed how Mor­ris saw the world and how the world saw Mor­ris. She would in­ter­nal­ize per­cep­tions that she couldn’t fix a car or lift a heavy suit­case, found her­self treated as an in­fe­rior by men and a con­fi­dante by women.

Mor­ris and her wife were di­vorced, but they re­mained close, and, in 2008, for­mal­ized a new bond in a civil union. They also promised to be buried to­gether, un­der a stone in­scribed in both Welsh and England: “Here lie two friends, at the end of one life.”

Bri­tish writer and trans­gen­der pi­o­neer Jan Mor­ris re­laxes in her home in Wales (main photo) and ap­pears on Dick Cavett show in 1974.

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