Out of the Ordinary: A Life of Gender and Spiritual Transitions

Out of the Ordinary: A Life of Gender and Spiritual Transitions

Out of the Ordinary: A Life of Gender and Spiritual Transitions

Out of the Ordinary: A Life of Gender and Spiritual Transitions


Now available for the first time--more than 50 years after it was written--is the memoir of Michael Dillon/Lobzang Jivaka (1915-62), the British doctor and Buddhist monastic novice chiefly known to scholars of sex, gender, and sexuality for his pioneering transition from female to male between 1939 and 1949, and for his groundbreaking 1946 book Self: A Study in Ethics and Endocrinology. Here at last is Dillon/Jivaka's extraordinary life story told in his own words.

Out of the Ordinary captures Dillon/Jivaka's various journeys--to Oxford, into medicine, across the world by ship--within the major narratives of his gender and religious journeys. Moving chronologically, Dillon/Jivaka begins with his childhood in Folkestone, England, where he was raised by his spinster aunts, and tells of his days at Oxford immersed in theology, classics, and rowing. He recounts his hormonal transition while working as an auto mechanic and fire watcher during World War II and his surgical transition under Sir Harold Gillies while Dillon himself attended medical school. He details his worldwide travel as a ship's surgeon in the British Merchant Navy with extensive commentary on his interactions with colonial and postcolonial subjects, followed by his "outing" by the British press while he was serving aboard The City of Bath.

Out of the Ordinary is not only a salient record of an early sex transition but also a unique account of religious conversion in the mid-twentieth century. Dillon/Jivaka chronicles his gradual shift from Anglican Christianity to the esoteric spiritual systems of George Gurdjieff and Peter Ouspensky to Theravada and finally Mahayana Buddhism. He concludes his memoir with the contested circumstances of his Buddhist monastic ordination in India and Tibet. Ultimately, while Dillon/Jivaka died before becoming a monk, his novice ordination was significant: It made him the first white European man to be ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Out of the Ordinary is a landmark publication that sets free a distinct voice from the history of the transgender movement.


If men and women had a Right Sense of Values there would never have been any need for this book to have been written and published—but then if the world had a Right Sense of Values it would not be in the mess it is today.

One day in March of 1958 when I was serving as surgeon on board the cargo-passenger ship, City of Bath, and we were lying in Baltimore, loading for India, I went down to my surgery as usual before breakfast to attend to any of the crew who might be sick. A steward put his head in and gave me a cable. It read: “Do you intend to claim the title since your change-over? Kindly cable Daily Express.”

At that moment my heart stood still. The secret that had been so well kept for fifteen years had at last leaked out, that I had been among the unfortunates who “change their sex” [he adds by hand: “and in addition was heir to a title”]. Before I had recovered from the shock the company agent came in and told me there were two reporters from the Baltimore Sun waiting in his office on the wharf and they wanted to see me. Putting the cable in the waste-paper basket and lighting my pipe to steady myself, I fetched . . .

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