April Ashley, a model, actress, and transgender pioneer, died at the age of 86
Following her death at the age of 86, actress, model, and activist April Ashley was honoured as a “trans trailblazer.”
In 1960, Ashley became the second British person to have male-to-female gender reassignment surgery. She was later photographed for British Vogue and starred in the film The Road to Hong Kong alongside Joan Collins. Ashley was awarded the MBE in 2012 for her efforts on behalf of transsexual people.
Ashley was one of nine children born into a working-class household in Liverpool in 1935, and he entered the merchant navy as a youngster. After repeated suicide attempts, she was carried ashore and spent time in a psychiatric institute before travelling to London and then Paris in 1955. To save money for her gender reassignment procedure, she worked at the Le Carrousel nightclub in Paris, which was famed for its drag acts.
In 1960, she underwent the procedure in Casablanca, Morocco, and later stated that being a woman made her the happiest she had ever been.
Ashley was photographed by Vogue as a model, and her acting credentials include a brief part in the Road to Hong Kong with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Joan Collins.
Her transgender status was not widely recognised, and her career was cut short in 1961 after she was outed by the Sunday People newspaper.
Ashley married Arthur Cameron Corbett, a British aristocrat, in Gibraltar in 1963. Their divorce in 1970 constituted a watershed moment in legal history when the judge determined that she remained a biological man and that legally changing sex was impossible, rendering the marriage null and void.
Despite the humiliation, she rallied and opened April and Desmond’s in Knightsbridge, but the attention she received from the court battle eventually proved too much for her, and she fled to Hay-on-Wye and later the US west coast after suffering a heart attack in 1975.
Ashley’s life was the subject of a year-long exhibition at Liverpool Museum in 2012. In 2015, she advised actor Eddie Redmayne on how to play a trans woman for his film The Danish Girl, for which she was acknowledged in the credits.