“…a ghastly mistake. I was carelessly registered as a girl in the first place, but of course, that was forty years ago…the doctors in those days were mistaken, too.”
– Sir Ewan Forbes
Ewan Forbes was born to a wealthy, landowning family 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.
Zoe Playdon draws on the fields of law, medicine, psychology and biology to reveal a remarkable hidden history, uncovering for the first time records that were considered so threatening that they had been removed from view for decades.
** This event will be held with an in-person audience at Conway Hall *AND* online, via Zoom. Everyone wishing to join this event must register for a ticket in advance, using the “Book Now” link **