Michael Dillon

/transsuccess.tumblr.com/post/12794988165/dr-michael-laurence-dillon-was-born-in-1915-and, January 2012. Top image: walpapermobile.blogspot.com/2009/01/buddha-wallpapers-buddhism-wallpaper.html, January 2012

Lawrence Michael Dillon (1915-1962) was an Anglo-Irish member of the British upper class and the first anatomically female person on record to undergo both testosterone treatment and phalloplasty (surgery designed to construct a penis). Uncomfortable with being known as a woman, Dillon spent much of his adult life trying to escape his old identity, and sought ordination into a Buddhist sangha (religious community) in his last years. Dillon is an icon for transpeople and LGBTQ Buddhists.


Laura Maude Dillon was born in London. Her mother died soon after childbirth. Rejected by her father, she was raised with her older brother Bobby (who would become Sir Robert Dillon, Eighth Baronet of Lismullen) by two aunts. She attended Oxford University, was president of the women’s rowing team, and graduated in 1938.

In 1939, Dillon began the treatment that would render his physiology nearer to that of a biological male. George Foss, the doctor who agreed to treat him for what is now known as gender dysnomia (the condition in which people feel the sex of their body does not match their identity), insisted he undergo psychiatric consultation. The counselor, however, did not respect Dillon’s request for privacy, and word got out. Dillon changed jobs, began working as a garage attendant, started a regimen of testosterone, and grew a beard.

queercult.com/2010/10/10/michael-dillon/, January 2012

Dillon suffered problems with hypoglycemia. In one episode, he passed out, hit his head and was hospitalized. A plastic surgeon visiting the hospital where he was treated became aware of Dillon’s desire to become anatomically male. The surgeon performed a double masectomy, gave Dillon the documentation to have his birth certificate changed, and had him contact Harold Gillies for further surgery. When his brother Robert discovered he had legally changed his name from “Laura Maude” to “Lawrence Michael,” Robert cut off all contact.

Gillies performed surgery for men disfigured in World War II. Due to a backlog of war casualties, Gilles could not help Dillon right away, so Dillon enrolled in medical school in Trinity College, Dublin as Lawrence Michael Dillon, where he once again rowed, this time for the men’s team. Evidence of Dillon’s identity as a female was erased from his records, and the sexual reassignment surgery (done between 1946 and 1949) was officially recorded as surgery to treat a malformed penis (hypospadias, when a hole leading out of the urethra exists below the normal opening at the head of the penis).

Dillon would go out dancing but did not form relationships with women, and deliberately earned a reputation for being misogynist to keep from being discovered. He anonymously wrote a book, Self: The Study of Endocrinology and Ethics, which caught the attention of Roberta (born Robert) Cowell. Dillon performed an orchidectomy (removal of testicles) on Cowell, a procedure that was illegal at that time. Gillies would later perform a vaginoplasty (surgical construction of a vagina) on Cowell. Dillon reportedly asked Cowell to marry him, but she refused.

Picture of Roberta Cowell, in her autobiography, Roberta Cowell's Story by Herself (oiiaustralia.com/3858/roberta-cowells-story/, January 2012)

Origins Revealed

Dillon graduated from Trinity in 1951, became a ship’s doctor, and travelled around the world. In 1958, Debrett’s Peerage listed him as heir to his brother’s rank as baron, but Burke’s Peerage listed a sister, Laura Maude. The controversy brought unwanted attention from the media, which caught up with Dillon in Baltimore, Maryland. Reporters threatened to tear off his clothes to see the evidence for themselves. Hounded by the press, Dillon fled to India.

Seeking Buddhist Ordination

When he arrived in India, Dillon went to a Buddhist monastery in Sarnath, Bengal. He sought help from Sangharakshita (born Dennis Lingwood) a British Theravada monk who had started a community called Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. Dillon told Sangharakshita everything about his prior life as a woman and the treatment he received to make him a man, and Sangharakshita gave Dillon a new name: Jivaka, after a doctor who had cared for the Buddha. Dillon discarded his former persona, including his beard and pipe.

ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/ TSsuccesses/TransMen.html

Dillon said Sangharakshita promised not to reveal his secret: “I trusted him because he was both a fellow Englishman and a monk.” But Sangharakshita claimed to have never made such a promise. He did not consider Dillon a real man, and actively undermined any chance of Dillon getting ordained as a Theravada monk since only men were allowed.

Dillon left Sarnath and joined the Vajrayana Buddhist order of Gelukpa monks in exile from Tibet in Ladakh, Kashmir, where he took on the name Lobzang Jivaka, and was reportedly ordained. There is some dispute as to whether this actually happened — other accounts say that Sangharakshita complained to the Buddhist authorities in Ladakh concerning Dillon’s being born female, and Dillon was refused ordination once more. He was forced to leave Ladakh due to his visa expiring, and died penniless in a hospital in Dalhousie, Punjab at the age of 47, still trying to return to the Gelupka monastery.

Dillon wrote two books on Buddhism: The Life of Milarepa (a Tibetan saint), and Imji Getsul (about life in the monastery).

– Mickey Weems
QEGF Authors and Articles
QEGF Introduction
Comments? Post them on our Encyclopedia facebook page.

Further reading:

Bland, Lucy and Laura L. Doan. Sexology in Culture: Labelling Bodies and Desires. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1998.

Kennedy, Pagan. “Man-Made Monk.” Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Summer 2007, 60-65.

Rubin, Henry. Self-Made Men: Identity and Embodiment Among Transsexual Men. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University, 2003.

Leave a Reply