We’re winding down another spectacular Black History Month with a salute to a revolutionary figure in the trans liberation movement, Carlett A. Brown. Hers is an extraordinary story that speaks to the health inequity that still plagues our communities today and the immeasurable strength it takes to affirm our existence.
According to a feature in JET magazine (t/w) that was published on June 18 1953, Carlett, who had been coercively assigned male at birth, joined the Navy in her 20s hoping to receive medical attention for what was later determined to be menstrual bleeding. Due to the stigma surrounding intersex bodies, doctors misdiagnosed her with a mental illness that they claimed was caused by what was described as the “abnormal existence of female glands” in her reproductive system and advised that she undergo surgery to remove these glands.
Carlett rejected this ignorant dismissal and decided instead to seek gender affirmation surgery in Europe after which she could legally marry the man she loved. This would require she renounce her American citizenship and travel to Europe where her contemporary, Christine Jorgensen, had her surgery done and subsequently made headlines with her own transition.
Just months before she could leave the US though, Carlett was arrested for cross-dressing, followed by an order to pay back tax money she owed the government to the tune of $1200 which forced her to take odd jobs, first as a “shake-dancer” and then as a cook at an Iowa State frat house, to pay off the debt. Subsequent reports (t/w) show that Carlett had made contact with a European surgeon but soon fell back into anonymity and does not appear in any further news stories beyond this point.
Carlett’s struggle is all too common and we will not let her legacy go uncelebrated so we’re inviting all you history buffs out there to reach out to us with any more information you can find on our very own #HiddenFigure.