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March 17, 2021 Wednesday 11:23:10 AM IST

Challenging Gender Boundaries

Creative Living

A vast majority of humans have clear gender definitions, supported by their physical, psychological and social environments. However, approximately 3% of the population is estimated to be on the borderlines when it comes to gender expression, which radically depends on their SitzimLeben. People belonging to these gender minorities have been deftly discriminated, discretely discredited and persistently persecuted in almost all cultures. To excel in life against these odds demand tremendous moral courage and enormous resilience. Alan L. Hart is often portrayed as a typical representative of gender minorities who championed the fight against the Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, the bacterium causing tuberculosis in early twentieth century.

Alan Lucille Hart was born to Albert and Edna Hart as a female child (nee’ Alberta) in 1890 in Kansas, USA. As the child was just two years old, its father died following a typhoid fever epidemic and the family moved to Oregon, where its mother Edna got remarried. Even as the physical gender of the child was female, it began to develop masculine traits.The child preferred to be dressed like a boy and maintained boyish hairstyle, which its parents and relatives tolerated.It developed dislike for dolls but enjoyed playing doctor, typical to boys. It avoided traditional girl-tasks and preferred farm work. In other words, even as the child was female in gender, its psychological development was tuned to a male-like life and landed itself at the boundaries of gender distinctions.

Dual Identity

The child performed excellently in academics and consistently won laurels as an accomplished debater and student writer. However, her physiology and psychology was permanently at war! During her graduate studies, Hart adopted explicit masculine traits and was delighted in different masculine pursuits, including driving automobiles. She even developed love affairs with other women, which was considered abnormal by the academic community. Against this chaos in personal life, Hart obtained a doctor of medicine degree from the University of Oregonin 1917 with topmost rank.


However, life turned so desperate for Hart and she sought psychiatric help from J. Allen Gilbert,one of hereminent professors at Oregon University. Prof. Gilbert tried to clarify the situation by performing hypnosis in an attempt to revert Hart’s sexual orientation, with no avail. Hart decided to undergo hysterectomy, a female-to-male transformation in anatomy. As reported by Prof. Gilbert, “she entered a hospital at Berkeley, submitted to certain operational procedures, and emerged, an authentic male being.” Hartofficially notified his transformation and started living his male existence with a new name, Mr. Alan L. Hart. He continued his career as a doctor and lived a life worthy of his high degree of intellectual capabilities.Later on, as synthetic male hormones became available, Hart underwent further treatments to grow facial hair and obtain a deeper male-like voice and thus perfected his female-to-male transition.

In 1918 Dr. Hart took Inez Stark, a teacher by profession, as his wife and partner in life. They settled down in Oregon, where Hart established his first praxis. However, the community there kept on researching his past history to learn about his female past. As soon as peopleof a place identified Dr. Hart as a gender-transformed person, they chose to flee the place. That continued for many years and the couplekept fleeing from one state toanother in USA. Within five years, the enormous stress of keepinggender secrecy forced the couple to break up and divorce.However, Dr. Hart found for himself a new love in Edna Ruddickin 1925, with whom he lived till the end of his life. He died of heart disease in 1962.

Amazing Achievement

In early twentieth century, during the tuberculosis (TB) pandemic, Dr. Hart established himself as America’s foremost experts in Tubercular Roentgenology, the branch of radiology using x-rays for diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis. Tuberculosis was the killer number one in those days. Itused to attack the victim’s lungs first then grow and spread throughout the body, including the kidneys, spine, and brain, ultimately crashing the immune system. Tuberculosis was nothing but airborne bacteria that contracted to others in close proximity through coughing and sneezing. As no cure was available for TB in those days, the only hope was early detection and isolation of the diseased in an attempt to reduce the spread of the disease.


Equipped with an additional master’s degree in Radiology from the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Hart trained himself in the use of x-ray photography in the detection of tuberculosis infection. Invented in 1895 by Roentgen, x-ray radiography of the chest showed promises in detecting presence of tuberculosis infection. In early 1930s, USA undertook massive case finding surveys using chest radiographs, which helped screening of the affected people accordingly. Till 1940s, when effective antibiotics against Mycobacterium Tuberculosis were discovered, Dr. Hart’s invention helped devising preventive measures and managed to cut the tuberculosis death toll down to one fiftieth. That was but an amazing achievement!

In the meantime, Dr. Hart took another master’s degree in Public Health from Yale University and took charge as the Director of Hospitalization and Rehabilitation at the Connecticut State Tuberculosis Commission. Dr. Hart was in charge of popularizing the detection methods he has just discovered. He knew how the word “tuberculosis” carried a social stigma, so he insisted his clinics be referred to as “chest clinics,” himself as a “chest doctor”. He treated his “chest patients” with discretion and compassion. He also meticulously documented the spread of the disease and saved thousands of lives. He went around USA, spreading awareness on tuberculosis care and dedicated his free time to raise funds for TB research and tosupport economically challenged TB patients.

In spite of the disgrace with which he was treated by the society on account of his inaccurate definition of gender, Dr. Hart remained thoroughly professional in his approach and contributed heavily to the research and practice of medicine. Dr. Hart was in fact, a wounded healer, who could rise above his personal wounds in order to render healing touches to the fragile tuberculosis patients, who came to his praxis.

Literary Sublimation


Dr. Hart has authored four novels: Doctor Mallory (1935), The Undaunted (1936), In The Lives of Men (1937), and Dr. Findley Sees It Through (1942). His first novel, Doctor Mallory was about an idealistic doctor in a small Oregon town, very much resembling Dr. Hart himself.It received some critical acclaim from The New York Times, The New York Herald-Tribune, The Saturday Review of Literature, and other leading publications. Based on this success, Dr. Hart decided to remain like an “unofficial observer” of the medical profession and to further novelson a research institute, a hospital, and a family of doctors, respectively. It is this scheme of writing, which defines the themes of his further novels. In all of them, a critical reader may identify Dr. Hart himself and will be forced to conclude that his literary efforts were nothing but attempts to sublimate his life as a doctor with some unique features.

The Undaunted

Dr. Hart's second novel, The Undaunted, was the story of a physician working in a research institute to find a cure for pernicious anemia. In this novel, he presents a homosexual character as a sympathetic figure, Sandy Farquhar, who is a radiologist trying to get by in a world that treats him as an outcast, clearly a mirror image of his own person. “He had been driven from place to place, from job to job, for fifteen years because of something he could not alter any more than he could change the color of his eyes,” writes Dr. Hart in the novel. Like Hart, Farquhar also has a phobia of loud noises. Doctor Mallory’s wife, Katherine (supposedly based on Inez Stark), constantly laments his lack of money and prestige: “I want my husband to be a famous man, not a kindly, overworked, obscure country doctor.” All these suggest that Dr. Hart was trying to sublimate pathos of his life through his literary engagements, in an attempt to reconcile with them.

In the Lives of Men


The third novel, In the Lives of Men, was a sweeping story of Jim Winforth, a young physician who joins his father’s practice in Fair Harbor during the boomtown days of the Pacific Northwest. The fourth one, Dr. Findley Sees It Through (1942), portrays a skillful and trustworthy doctor, Dr. Finlays, who returns after his retirement to his Pacific Northwest small town and rebuilds his former hospital into after cooperative model.The novel exposes some corrupt practices prevalent in the society of those days. In both these novels, we find the career of Dr. Hart reflected.

Dr. Hart shows how literary engagement could help reconcile oneself with own persona, sublimate the unhealthy social isolation and manifest the treasured secrets of the heart to the world. Dr. Hart grants us a rare insider view of a person, who lived out both genders in his lifetime.


Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

Dr Varghese Panthalookaran, the founding Director of Rajagiri Media is a Professor of Engineering (Dr.-Ing.) at Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology (RSET) in Kochi, India. He is an author of four books in three different languages, Malayalam, English and German. His drama book in Malayalam titled: “Buddhan Veendum Chirikkunnu” (translated: “Buddha Laughs Again”) has won the Endowment Award of Kerala Sahitya (Literature) Academy in 2000. His book in German language, “Die Lehre Jesu als Schluessel zur Lebensfreude” is published in 2007 by LIT Verlag, Münster, Germany. His thesis “CFD-assisted characterization and design of hot water seasonal heat store” in published by Shaker Verlag, Aachen, Germany in 2007. His book on creative thinking skills and entrepreneurship, “Condemned to be Creative” is published by Pallikkutam Publications, India in 2019. It is a useful resource for students, teachers, academicians and management professionals to develop the skills of creative thinking in daily life. He has also recently developed a new pedagogy, named Pallikkutam Pedagogy, integrating the educational legacy of India with the requirements of imparting the 21st century skills that make next generation learners to render them future-ready.
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