April Ashley: The Vogue Model Who Became A Transgender Icon
Born in the 1935 slums of Liverpool, April Ashley was one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery at a time when it was nearly unheard of. A secret that would eventually derail her modeling career amid public scandal.
So, who is she?
A former Vogue model and actress, she is often referred to as "Britain's first transsexual."
Born in 1935 Liverpool, April knew she was different from other young boys right away.
Growing up with an abusive and unhappy home life, she prayed every night that her life would change.
During WWII, Liverpool was bombed frequently. This forced April to spend time in the underground shelters, giving classmates the time to bully her incessantly.
At the age of 14, she ran away to join the Merchant Navy.
Suffering from depression, she was given an dishonourable discharge.
In 1953, after a suicide attempt, she was sent to Ormskirk Hospital's psychiatric unit for treatment.
In the 1950s, now dressing as a woman and using the name April E, she moved to Paris and found work at one of the city's most expensive night clubs.
At 25, she had finally saved the £3,000 needed for the operation that would change her life.
In an interview with The Telegraph, she described her decision to have, what was then regarded as, an incredibly controversial gender reassignment surgery.
I knew by then that I would kill myself if I didn't have it. So when I had the money I wrote to Dr Borou and he said, 'Please come over when you want.' When I saw him, he said, 'Why would a beautiful girl like you want to become a man?' I said, 'No, no, Dr Borou – it's the other way round.'"
On May 12th, 1960 she underwent seven-hours of surgery and was quite literally born again.
She was only his seventh patient to undergo the extremely experimental surgery.
Returning to London, she changed her name to "April Ashley" and began a modeling career. She beat out many other women to be photographed in Vogue.
As suddenly as she found success, it all came crashing down.
After someone sold her secret to the Sunday People, the publication outed her as transgender in 1961.
She was never offered modeling work in London again.