Billy Lee Tipton was an American jazz musician and bandleader. Born Dorothy Lucille Tipton, he is also notable for the postmortem discovery that, though he lived his adult life as a man, he was assigned female at birth. You can read more about Billy’s extraordinary life here and here.
I first came to Billy Tipton’s story through the novel Trumpet by Jackie Kay. If you haven’t read it, pick up a copy. It’s a relatively quick and easy read, with a great story, made poignant by Kay’s poetic language.
Billy is my second hero of the week because he succeeded in doing what he loved and being who he was meant to be against the odds. Billy transitioned without drugs or surgery because they hadn’t been developed yet. He made society’s binary vision work for him, not against him. By using the social stereotypes of men and women, in an age where fashionable androgyny hadn’t yet blurred those lines, he was able to fool all of the people all of the time. For me, he represents all the FtMs through the centuries who found ways to live (some very happily) as the gender they felt they were born before they were able to ask health professionals for help with their transition. There’s a list of some notable cases here.
Film director Silas Howard is developing a movie about Billy’s life called Exactly Like You and you can follow news about it here.