Dr. Alan Hart, Unwitting Queer Pioneer

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GLAPN image By Robin Will, President, GLAPN This story is inspired by an old newspaper in GLAPN’s collection: a full-page article in the Oregonian of July 14, 1996, by Tom Bates, addressing the history and controversy surrounding Dr. Alan L. Hart. Hart graduated from University of Oregon Medical School in 1917, underwent a hysterectomy, and lived as Dr. Alan L. Hart until his death in 1962, writing novels, building a career in radiology and public health, and marrying twice along the way. His is the first documented transgender male transition in the United States. It is clear that Alan Hart intended to be remembered as a man. On his instruction, his personal letters and photos in a safe deposit box were destroyed after his death. His widow, Edna Ruddick Hart, whom he married in 1925, was likewise reticent, refusing interviews until her own death in 1982. On the record, the Harts were a prosperous, childless couple: a successful doctor/researcher and his wife, enjoying Edna’s extended family, joining the ACLU, and serving in their Unitarian Church. “He must have had nerves of steel,†said the late Brian Booth, a student of Oregon fiction, in the Oregonian in 1996, reflecting on the self-censorship that must have been necessary for a man in Hart’s position. Hart almost got away with it. Connecticut was a long ways from Oregon, and at the time of Hart’s death in 1962, the time was not yet ripe for histories celebrating sexual minorities. However, apparently there were some loose ends somewhere, and Alan (formerly Lucille) Hart showed up on the gaydar of a New York-based historian, Jonathan Katz. Hart was outed—as a lesbian!—in Katz’ Gay American History:  Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A., published in 1976. Katz was shrewd enough to identify Hart from an anonymous case study that her psychiatrist had published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders in 1920. Dr. Joshua Gilbert, a University of Oregon psychiatrist, had worked with Hart through his transition, and had reached the pioneering—almost heretical—conclusion that “from a sociological and psychological standpoint [Hart] was a man,†and that living as a man was his only chance for a happy existence. (It was a revolutionary thought in 1920, and it was still radical when it was raised again in 1961 by another University of Oregon psychiatrist, Dr. Ira Pauly.) Once the Alan-Oregon-Lucille connection had been made, investigation wasn’t easy, but it was possible. Hart had left a substantial paper trail in Oregon. He attended high school in Albany; he had attended Albany College (later Lewis & Clark) and, briefly, Stanford, leaving evidence in all three places; he had earned his M.D. under his own name at University of Oregon. Yearbooks and local newspapers had the stories. In the spirit of early gay liberation, eager to promote any positive gay role model (and with naïve trust in Katz’ research and conclusions), a young political action committee called Right to Privacy, based in Portland, adopted the young doctor as a sort of mascot, and named their annual fundraising party The Lucille Hart Memorial Dinner. Beginning in 1981, it became a major event on Portland civic-social-fundraising scene. However, there was a problem—or a cluster of problems—involved in RTP’s adoption of Lucille Hart. First, nobody except Jonathan Katz appears to have believed that Lucille Hart—or Alan Hart, for that matter—was a lesbian. Second, related to the first, Portland’s trans community was beginning to find its voice. They rightly identified Alan Hart as a man, and they resented the A-List Gays’ appropriation and misgendering of Hart for promotional purposes. Bits and pieces of that battle are still visible online. In 1996, when Right to Privacy changed its name to Right to Pride, the name “Lucille Hart Memorial Dinner†was retired. In the meantime, somebody else was investigating Alan Hart, someone unconcerned with gender politics. Brian Booth, a Portland attorney who knew almost everyone in Oregon fiction, was trying to figure out how Dr. Alan Hart had published four well-reviewed novels set in the northwest without attracting any local notice or leaving a trace of his existence. He probably wouldn’t have figured it out if he hadn’t stumbled on the Lucille Hart controversy. Booth hired Thomas Lauderdale, fresh from Grant High School and on his way to Harvard, to start investigating Hart’s background. They read the novels, collected the reviews, gathered yearbook photos and school literary magazines, and apparently interviewed people who had known Hart as a child. With the eventual help of GLAPN founder Tom Cook, a local trove of Hart data and memorabilia have accumulated—waiting for a historian to sort it out. In conclusion, there is no conclusion. Anybody with a Multnomah County library card can read The Oregonian’s July 14, 1996 article online. There is an admirably thorough and recently-maintained Wikipedia entry on Alan Hart. GLAPN doesn’t know who maintains it. If anyone has investigated Jonathan Katz’ research by perusing his personal papers, archived in New York, results have not reached GLAPN yet. Thomas Lauderdale and Tom Cook are the two individuals in Oregon—aside from the keeper of the Wikipedia article—who know the most about Alan Hart. Lauderdale is busy playing music. Cook is enjoying his retirement, but GLAPN has all of his notes. It will be interesting to see what happens next.