Recounting the tale of Michael Dillon, the first female-to-male transgendered person to undergo gender reassignment surgery, author Pagan Kennedy took the audience in the Ecumenical Center on Tuesday, April 3, on a journey of self-discovery.
Kennedy, who has had articles published in The New York Times, Boston Globe and Playboy, read from her 2007 biography “The First Man-Made Man,” in which she chronicled the lonely and often painful transformation Dillon took over the course of his life.
Michael Dillon, described as a “bearded medical student,” was born Laura Dillon, who Kennedy described as shy and insecure. Feeling uncomfortable in the skin he was born in, Kennedy told of the “sickening feeling” that wearing women’s clothing would give Michael. He began to bind his breasts and wear men’s clothing but Laura soon discovered that these simple alterations would not suffice. He was often heckled by others for his crossdressing – the worst offenders usually being children and elderly women who would shout at him to “explain herself.”
Laura soon began taking testosterone in his early twenties, and began to develop facial hair, larger muscles and deeper voice.
Several photographs of Michael throughout his transformation were shown to the audience. As Laura, the audience saw a slender woman wearing a black bathing suit, and as Michael, they saw a man with a heavy beard, smoking a pipe, his broad shoulders protruding from his business suit.
According to Kennedy, the morphing of Laura into Michael through testosterone, while convincing, left a lot to be desired.
Secretly desiring a more permanent gender change, Dillon sought for a way to alter his female genitalia into a penis. He felt this was a necessity, as Kennedy described Dillon’s situation as “a man who was disappearing inside of a woman’s body.”
The fear of being caught in a lie was a serious one for Dillon.
“Hormones could only take Dillon so far,” Kenneday explained.
“If any other man caught a glimpse of him in the restroom or the public baths, they’d immediately know he was born a female,” she said.
This double life proved to be too risky for Dillon, so he sought out a plastic surgeon.
Kennedy educated the audience on the history of plastic surgery and how, despite it being a practice that runs rampant in today’s society, was almost unheard of in Dillon’s time.
Though he had experience in phalloplasty, the surgical creation of a penis, Sir Harold Gillies, an accomplished British plastic surgeon to whom Dillon had come to for help, was skeptical about performing such a surgery on him.
Gillies “had reconstructed the genitals of soldiers who had been bombed or burned,” Kennedy said, “but he never built a penis from scratch on a woman’s body.”
Unperturbed by the warnings given by the surgeon, Dillon insisted that Gillies perform a phalloplasty operation on him.
Though there were laws on the books about men subjecting their genitals to gender-altering operations, Kennedy pointed out that Dillon’s operation was completely legal due to an “arcane law” which didn’t offer the same “protection” to female genitalia.
“Dillon would eventually undergo a series of thirteen operations to construct a penis,” said Kennedy, which would often leave Dillon in tremendous pain and agony from the “oozing infections” caused by the invasive procedures.
Though the surgeries were ultimately a success, it was still difficult for Dillon to share his secret. He developed a misogynistic persona when around women as a way to keep them at bay. At times, he allowed himself to go on the occasional date with a woman, but he never went on a second date. He thought it was unfair to lead on a woman, to date and marry a girl, when he knew he would never be able to provide her with children.
Kennedy then told a harrowing account of Dillon being outed as a transgendered person, and having to flee his home.
However, Kennedy said, Dillon was able to find “peace” when he became a Buddhist monk in “one of the last true Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.”
Dillon die din 1962 at the age of 47.
Kennedy told the audience she has been approached by Hollywood producers who were interested in telling doing an adaptation of her book. While she was enthusiastic about the first film option for Dillion’s biography, it unfortunately fell through.
The book was then optioned again by a different set of producers. Kennedy told of her dismay when she began to read drafts of the film’s screenplay.
“It was really troubling to me,” she said.
“Did anyone talk to a transgendered person anywhere along the way? she had asked the film’s producers. The answer, she said, was no.
After Kennedy’s lecture, students said they were moved by Dillon’s story.
Cassandra Gay, a junior, said Kennedy’s lecture had opened her eyes.
“You don’t really realize why people go through the transgendered change,” Gay said. “You sometimes think they just want to, but then you see that they just don’t feel comfortable with their own skin. Hopefully now they can be comfortable.”
Germano Lima, a junior, said “this is a very important issue that every citizen and student should come and learn about. People are often ignorant because they refuse to come to events like these and to learn about people that are different than them.”