In a continuation of our last article, we move forward in our exploration of Alan L. Hart’s life post transition. Hart’s gender confirmation surgery along with his medical degree allowed him significantly more freedom in his career path than he would have experienced otherwise. He eloped with a woman named Inez Stark, and they moved to Oregon where he was given a job in a hospital. Underneath his success trouble soon breached the surface again.
Though in Hart’s career, most of his social life and in all of his work he was known as a man, it did not last. He came across a person from his life pre-transition, and this person recognized him. This began a pattern of moving from place to place, struggling to avoid being outed, while also attempting to keep his medical career moving forward. This constant state of worry and movement is part of what ended Hart’s first marriage in 1925. Within the same year, Hart remarried, this time the woman he would be with for the rest of his life, Edna Ruddick. With Edna, Hart would begin to engage in social advocacy and his work with tuberculosis research, a disease that carried a significant amount of stigma at the time.
His work comprised researching new ways to discover the disease earlier and he found that the development of tuberculosis could be seen using an x-ray. This way people could be treated before it was too late. Hart used this practice to give checkups to people all around America, going to many rural communities to help people discover the disease early, giving them greater chances of survival. It is estimated that his work alongside others saved thousands of lives within America.
Hart took up writing, releasing successful medical novels that included queer characters and how they dealt with discrimination within their workplace, something he had to deal with himself. His writing reportedly also helped his mental state as Hart himself wrote: “I am sure I would have done something rather desperate if I had not turned to writing.”
With four popular novels, Hart was doing well for himself. The opportunity to take hormones was given to him, and he began to pass more easily, growing facial hair and his voice deepening. He was by all reports happy in his marriage, his job, and his writing. He grew as an active member of communities and even became a leader at his local Unitarian Church.
In 1962 Hart died of heart failure at the age of 72. After his death his wife carried out his will, destroying his letters and photographs. She also established a fund for research into leukemia in his name as his mother had died leukemia much earlier.
It was long after Hart’s death that historian Jonathan Ned Katz identified Hart as the man from Gilbert’s notes, who had been recorded under the pseudonym “H.” Since that time there has been a significant amount of debate as to Hart’s sexuality and gender identity. Originally Katz believed Hart to be a lesbian, saying that Hart:
“"regarded herself as a boy"-but only in the sense of "wanting pockets on her clothes" (a poignant sign of "masculinity" mentioned twice by Dr. Gilbert), in wearing short hair end trousers, in playing boys' games, in reading adventure stories and fantasizing herself as the romantic, dashing hero, in hating housework and "small talk," in being inquisitive about the world, an active, "obstinate, independent child," in having "masculine ambitions," in loving and wanting to be loved by another female.
Clearly, "H" could only perceive her situation in the world in heterosexual terms, according to the traditional heterosexual model of male-female husband-wife relations. She found no alternative, no way of transcending this socially dominant model.
According to her report, "H" had "no thought of shame" about her first active sexual relations with women. Shame came later, she says; it was learned--from such sources as medical textbooks in which she read about her "true condition." It is noteworthy that this shame only comes to her as an adult; so prevalent and widely accepted today is the idea that all important feelings are acquired and set in childhood. It is noteworthy, too, that if her analysis with Dr. Gilbert did not itself create her feeling of shame about sexual relations with women, it intensified it. This story represents one more example of the pernicious treatment of gay people by the medical profession. "H" entered therapy to cure a specific, minor phobic; she ended by having a hysterectomy.
It is precisely the late-created shame "H" felt, and her analysis itself, that motivated her request to be sterilized. Since there was obviously no likelihood of "H" becoming pregnant, her desire to be sterilized expresses her need to neutralize guilt about sexual relations with women, to legitimize for herself her socially unsanctioned relations. Despite her history of sexual relationships with women, "H" apparently still needed to come to terms with feelings about the impropriety of two women having sex. Although her hysterectomy was in a sense voluntary, the social pressures to which she was subjected suggest that in another, equally true sense, it was socially coerced. Notable also is the complicity here of an even rather sympathetic, undogmatic psychiatrist in his patient's strange move to be sterilized–a move that may be characterized as justification for punishment, a psychic ploy gay people sometimes have in the past adopted to legitimize themselves. There is a macabre irony in this not unkind doctor's falling readily into the sadistic role offered him by his patient.”
And there is possible truth to some of these assertions. Hart went to Gilbert for conversion therapy, so it is unlikely that his sexuality was something he embraced, and Gilbert never encouraged Hart to embrace it. Even after Hart’s transition, Gilbert had doubts, writing:
“the final step of marriage was taken to complete the picture of normal life, so far as such is possible under the conditions detailed above. This feature of the affair was the most doubtful of the whole program, and it received my protest, though I must confess that my protest was indefensible except on the grounds of a prejudice and a habit of thinking begotten of long years of conformity to social dogmata, most of which are indefensible. At any rate, it was done-possibly for the best. There are certainly numerous and rational arguments in defense of the procedure.”
While the man concluded to allow it, he had problems with what he perceived as two women marrying, and it is near impossible that this attitude didn’t affect Hart at all.
But at the same time, Hart was able to be his full and authentic self after his transition, no matter what he considered his full and authentic self to be. According to his wife, he was not a lesbian, and she refused to talk to Katz after he made that assertion about her husband. Eventually, Katz backed down from his original position saying:
“In my earlier research on Hart, I made the mistake of trying to claim Hart as a lesbian. Now I think it's more important to try to understand how Hart identified her or himself at different times in her/his life cycle.”
And that is a fair position to take, one we agree with. Maybe, there were points in his life where Hart identified as a lesbian, but that doesn’t mean that lesbian is the only identity that can ever be ascribed to him.
It has been said many times, but it is worth repeating: gender and sexuality are fluid. Not only do people grow and learn more about themselves, but also words change. We don’t know how Hart would have identified today. While the word “transsexual” existed at the time, it was far from popular, so the fact that we do not know of him identifying under that label could just be because he simply didn’t know it existed yet.
His identity will always remain a mystery to us because he is not here to clarify it. In this article, we have used he/him/his pronouns, because those are the ones we are certain he preferred in his later years. Whether he wanted to be known as a woman is impossible to tell, so all we can do is respect his most recent wishes, which is he wanted to be known as a man.
And in the end, we have to accept that we don’t always get a simple answer, sometimes because there is too much nuance to condense into one, and sometimes because there isn’t one. And in Hart’s case, it is a healthy combination of both. We as a community need to move beyond always needing simplicity. Human’s are not simple creatures, as people change, labels become outdated, and we learn more about ourselves and others. If we’re not willing to move with the constant shifting, we are going to be left behind. We need to look at people like Katz, who change their views as more information and viewpoints come to light and commend them for that action. Growth and change should be encouraged, but by demanding “simple answers,” we hinder it, purposefully or not.
Hart was an incredible person, and someone we can be proud was a part of our community, even if we don’t know exactly where he would have fit
[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material.]
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