Roberta Cowell (8 april 1918 – 11 october 2011)
easier to change a body
than to change a mind': The
extraordinary life and lonely death of Roberta Cowell
Later, Cowell became a fighter pilot, flying Tiger Moths and Spitfires. When her plane was shot down, she was captured and interned in Stalag Luft I
an early age he was
obsessed with cars, and showed
great mechanical ability. He would sneak into the pits of the banked
circuit, near his family home in Croydon, to help the mechanics. He
a racing driver, and joined the RAF as a pupil pilot in 1935.
In May 1941, he married Diana Carpenter, who he had met at London University. She was also a racing driver, and like him had a degree in engineering. They had two daughters: Anne was born in July 1942, Diana in August 1944.
So far, so conventional. What happened in the years immediately after the war was anything but. In the autobiography she published in 1954, Roberta describes a feeling of restlessness and dissatisfaction, and a sense that her life was "pointless and empty". She began to realise that her excessively masculine life up to that point had been an attempt to hide "what I knew deep down inside me though not consciously: my nature was essentially feminine and in some way my world was out of joint". Months of psychoanalysis and tests confirmed that "my unconscious mind was predominantly female".Physically, she also felt different. She was examined by a Harley Street sexologist, who gave his opinion that her body showed prominent feminine sex characteristics: "wide hips and narrow shoulders, pelvis female in type, hair distribution and skin female in type". Other female traits included "the absence of laryngeal relief (no Adam's apple) and a tendency of the lower limbs to converge towards the knees.
|My breast formation was examined and judged to be typically feminine though very little developed." The origin of these discrepancies is unclear. Whether she was born with them, or whether, as she suggests, they were caused by "a series of emotional upsets", is impossible to know.|
Cowell died on 11 October 2011. Her funeral was attended by only six people and (on her instructions) was unpublicised - her death was not publicly reported until two years later, when a profile of her was printed in The Independent newspaper in October 2013.
It's easyer to change a body than to change a mind
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