The life story of an aristocratic Scottish trans man—whose secret 1968 legal case had a profound impact on trans rights for decades.
Ewan Forbes was born to a wealthy, landowning family, holders of a baronetcy, in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, in 1912. Assigned female at birth, his true identity was nevertheless clear even in childhood—and so, with the support of his mother, he was taken to European specialists and eventually treated with early preparations of synthetic testosterone. Raised as a boy at home but socially obliged to present himself as a girl in public until his official coming out to the Queen, Ewan grew up, became a doctor, and got married. (This required him to change the sex on his birth certificate, which was possible at that time without much fuss.) For decades, he lived a quiet life as a husband, doctor, and a pillar of the local community.
But in 1965, Ewan’s older brother died unexpectedly—meaning that Ewan was set to inherit the baronetcy. His title could only be inherited by the next oldest man in the family and when his cousin John—spurred on by Ewan’s sister—contested the inheritance he was forced to defend his male status in Scotland’s supreme civil court, where he prevailed.
This hugely important case would have changed the lives of trans people across the world—if it hadn’t been hidden. The hearing was conducted privately, the media were gagged, and those involved were sworn to secrecy. The case remained unknown until 1996 and now finally is described here, along with the life of Ewan Forbes, for the first time. Enlightening and galvanizing, The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes is a singular contribution to trans history and the ongoing struggle for trans rights.
Zoë Playdon is the Emeritus Professor of Medical Humanities at the University of London and a Council member of the Association for Medical Humanities. She holds five degrees, including two doctorates. Zoë is a former co-chair of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Doctors and Dentists [GLADD] and co-founded the Parliamentary Forum on Gender Identity in 1994. She has thirty years’ experience of front-line work in LGBTI human rights, including supporting and advising on UK and European legal cases.