LGBT History Month 2016 – Day 7 – James Barry

For our Day 7, we honour the life of Dr James Barry:

LGBT History Month 2016 - 07 - James Barry

James Barry ((1789-1799) – 1865) was a military surgeon in the British Army. After graduation from the University of Edinburgh Medical School, Barry served in India and Cape Town, South Africa. By the end of his career, he had risen to the rank of Inspector General in charge of military hospitals. In his travels he not only improved conditions for wounded soldiers, but also the conditions of the native inhabitants. He performed the first successful Caesarian section, with mother and child both surviving the operation, in 1826. Although Barry lived his adult life as a man, he was assigned female at birth, and chose to live as a man so that he might be accepted as a university student and able to pursue a career as a surgeon, with his biological sex only being discovered by the public and his colleagues after his death.

We cannot, of course, be clear on the question of how Dr Barry self-identified. His story is confusing and the subject of much rumour and myth, but his own exact feelings on the matter were never recorded. If alive today, with the relative freedom of modern gender expression, would he declare himself a trans-man? Or would she consider herself a woman who simply adopted a male persona in order to pursue her desired career? We will never know, and must respect this uncertainty. But he is interred at the Kensal Green Cemetery under the name of James Barry, and whatever the answer to this question may have been, it is certain that his life and career helped weaken society’s established gender restrictions.

You can read more about him here:

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