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Queen Honors Queen: Elizabeth II Elevates U.K. Trans Advocate Made a Member to MBE

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Tuesday Jun 19, 2012

The first British person who openly underwent gender reassignment surgery was awarded a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her work as a transgender activist, the U.K. newspaper the Daily Mail reported.

A MBE is one of the highest honors someone can receive in the U.K. and is just one step below being crowned a knight or a dame.

April Ashley, 77, an actress and restaurant hostess, was born George Jamieson but says she was different when she was just three. When she was 25 she traveled to Casablanca, Morocco, and paid Doctor Burou, known as the "Wizard of Casablanca", £3,000 to perform gender reassignment surgery on Ashley.

When she came back to London she became a successful fashion model, graced the pages of "Vogue" and was photographed by the iconic photographer David Bailey. She also had a film career and scored a role in "The Road to Hong Kong," which starred Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. A year later, however, in 1961, a close friend of Ashley sold her story to the "Sunday People," a popular British tabloid, and outed the model as transgender to the world.

She was thrown into the media spotlight and her film credit was initially dropped. Despite the scandal, she still remained close with members of high society. She married Arthur Corbett, a wealthy man who enjoyed cross-dressing, in 1963 but their marriage fell apart six years later. The couple went through a bitter divorce and Corbett claimed that because Ashley was born a male that their union was never really legal.

The court took Corbett's side and the ruling set a precedent that transgender people were not recognized as male or female. Eight years ago, however, the Gender Recognition Act was passed, which allows transgender people to be recognized by the proper gender. It wasn't until then that Ashley herself was able to legally call herself a female. In 2005 Ashley was given a new birth certificate that said she was born a female.

Ashley made headlines again in 1983 when she was nearly 50 as it was reported that she had a one-night stand with Michael Hutchence, a member of the Australian New Wave band, INXS.

Ashley is profiled in a current documentary on the French doctor who operated on her and other trans women, "I Am Woman Now". The movie shows a glamorous, jet-setting lifestyle, but Ashley also reveals a horrendous pre-op life, during which she tried to commit suicide numerous times.


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