April Ashley was born in England, as George Jamieson, in 1935. She grew up outside of Liverpool, in a rather poor family. She was born with a calcium deficiency, and for some reason, refused to eat much, and wouldn't drink milk, and suffered from malnutrition a few times because of it. Her family knew she was unusual right from the start - her brothers and sisters felt she was very odd, and her mother, Ada, even ignored her completely, causing her to be quieter and quieter around the house.
She had been struggling with gender identity disorder pretty fiercely, and at the age of fifteen, decided she wanted to try and force her masculinty to come out. So, as her older brothers and father had all done, she joined the Navy. She served on the S. S. Pacific Fortune for a while, however, finally, her feelings started to get the better of her again, and she attempted suicide. She was put ashore in Los Angeles, to be returned to Liverpool.
Once back there, doctors attempted to help her. She was given testosterone injections, and repeatedly subject to electroshock treatment. All this, even though the doctors said the only thing they could see wrong was "a womanish appearance".
Finally, some of her friends got together and encouraged her to move to London, to get away from the situation in Liverpool. So she did, taking up a number of odd jobs to get by, including such exciting work as a table wiper and bacon slicer.
It was during this period that she met Albert Einstein. She was looking fairly androgynous, and supposedly, Einstein asked someone to be introduced to her, at the restaurant Quo Vardis. He kept calling her Madame Butterfly, and when asked about it, finally said that he [sic] should be Madame Butterfly with those long eyelashes. The nickname "eyelashes" stuck after that incident.
In 1956, she was taking a holiday in the south of France, and the holiday included seeing some friends. They suggested she work at Le Carrousel, a famous night club specializing in female impersonation. She liked the idea, and went in to learn some more. They were stunned by fer feminine appearance, and immediately asked her to join the troupe. She did.
She started taking estrogen soon after, as the club made it available to any of their stars working there to help feminize the body. She worked there for a few years, making a lot of friends. Eventually, another woman there, Coccinelle, recommended to her she go visit Dr. Burou for surgery. The club asked her to come back after surgery, offering her more money and even living quarters, but she never did.
Dr. Burou was one of the pioneers of sex reassignment surgery, having done what is considered the first "modern" version of the surgery. Coccinelle herself was one of his patients. In 1960, April travelled to Casablanca, Morocco, for the procedure. It was very painful, and many of the side effects - dizziness, nausea, swelling - continued to last for as long as two years after her surgery. However, all the pain and such didn't prevent her from feeling incredibly happy with the results. She officially changed her name to April Ashley at this point.
Not long after surgery, full of newfound confidence, April decided to take on a new career, this time ready to deal with the public. It wasn't long before she was a successful model, once she set her mind to it. She ended up as one of the most popular underwear models for Vogue, photographed by both Terence Donovan and David Bailey. She did the Royal shoes for Deenfield Furs. She even made an appearance in the movie "Road to Hong Kong", with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Joan Collins.
In the meantime, she had met Arthur Cameron Corbett, heir of Lord Rowallen. The two were soon in a relationship, and since it had started before her surgery, Corbett was fully aware of her situation. It was an interesting relationship, as Corbett himself also crossdressed, and at times exhibited a rather feminine personality that would come and go.
In 1963, the two were married, with Corbett at age 42, April at age 25. Corbett's father, as soon as he found out, disinherited him, as both of Corbett's parents were disgusted with the "she-male" (as they looked at things). Things didn't go as well as April would have liked, however, and only two weeks after the marriage, she packed her bags and left.
The Rowallen family had wanted to figure out a way to end the marriage without all the inheritance issues that would come along with it, and might make things really messy with April's situation. So, in 1970, the landmark case Corbett v. Corbett came up in the British courts.
"My conclusion, therefore, is that the respondent is not a woman for the purposes of marriage but is a biological male and has been such since birth. It follows that the so-called marriage of 10th September 1963 is void." ( 2 All E.R. at 49).
Lord Justice Ormrod
The Justice's ruling was landmark
, and set precendent
for the future. Ever since, attempts to overturn
, or even limit in scope
, this ruling have been failures. It has been continually
used to deny rights to transsexuals
, as other famous cases, such as that of Caroline Cossey
, have demonstrated.
Not long after the ruling, April worked with a friend to open a restaurant in London. It was known as April and Desmonds, or AD8. It was located just down the street from Harrods. It was a very popular spot, and April was repeatedly mentioned in the papers, said to be London's "most glamorous hostess". She continued to do interviews, and was very successful. Sadly, she never enjoyed it, feeling it came at the wrong time - she delt with the success and pressure badly, downing a handful of pills every night, often drinking as much as 35 martinis.
In 1975, the lifestyle had caught up with her, as she had a massive heart attack at forty. After recovery, she moved to Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh border, living there quietly in solitude for nearly 11 years.
Finally, in 1986, legacy royalties for her past work managed to find her, and she had enough money to move to America, on the west coast, where she had wanted to go ever since visiting there in the Navy days. She started working as an activist for Greenpeace for a while, until about the mid 90's.
Today, the person known as "Britain's Most Famous Transsexual" lives in San Diego, CA, working as a guide and saleswoman in a few small art galleries
"People say things have changed but they haven't changed at all.
I'm treated as a joke and I can't escape that.
I'm stuck with it for the rest of my life." - April Ashley
April Ashley, http://www.aprilashley.com
April Ashley @ Lorna's Midsummer Night's Dream, http://www.geocities.com/lorna_lynne/aashley.html
Q-online, "Altered Ego", http://www.q.co.za/2001/2001/10/11-transsexual.html