Tuesday, June 19, 2012
The Other Side of April
When April Ashley was 25, she was on top of the world.
The jaw-dropping beauty was a top London fashion model, with an editorial in Vogue. She had just filmed her first role in a major film. She had a string of enviable affairs with handsome movie stars like Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole. Her captivated admirers included Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.
But in 1961, her world came crashing down.
A story, told by a former friend, revealed that April had been born a boy. She had received a sex change operation in Casablanca when she was 24.
The scandal shocked the entire world. Sex change operations were practically unheard of at the time. April had been the first British person to get one.
The backlash towards the promising young model was severe. Bookings were cancelled overnight. Her film credit was taken away. She received threatening phone calls. She was told her career was over, before it had even taken off.
April was heartbroken. After getting her sex change operation in 1960, she thought she had been set free.
But her struggles were only just beginning.
Born as George Jamieson in Liverpool to a working class family, April had always known she was different. She had under-developed genitalia. She was not growing normal, sexually. She looked and felt feminine. But it didnt' make any difference. She was born technically male. And if you were born male in the 1930s, you were male in the eyes of society.
At 14, she joined the Navy to grasp at some masculinity, but she encountered merciless bullying and was so unhappy with her identity crisis, she attempted suicide. She was put in a mental institution and given electro-shock therapy. After being released, she tried to lead a normal life as a man, but found it difficult. She was even raped by her roommate, which left her severely injured.
She eventually moved to Paris under a new name and became a drag queen at a prominent hot spot frequented by Ernest Hemingway and Bob Hope.
In 1960, she was introduced to a Moroccan surgeon who had successfully performed eight sex change operations. After becoming his ninth, she moved to London where her undeniable beauty immediately earned her a modeling contract.
When the scandal broke out, April didn't allow it to ruin her life. She kept her head held high.
In 1963, she fell in love with Arthur Corbett, a wealthy aristocratic married father of four who had a secret obsession with cross-dressing. He left his wife for April and they became the toast of high society.
But the marriage dissolved quickly and Arthur annulled the marriage on the grounds that it had never been legal to begin with, since April had been born male. The identity crisis came crashing down on April yet again.
In the next few decades, April put aside her unhappiness and embraced her difference. She wrote a heartfelt autobiography. She met the love of her life. She gave talks educating the masses on transsexualism. She advocated heavily for others like her.
Due to her hard work, she was recently awarded the MBE in the Queen's birthday honors for services to transgender equality.
Not bad for a girl who thought her life was over, right?