April Ashley: Portrait of a lady

Museum of Liverpool

27 September 2013 – 1 March 2015

Looking at the history of transgendered people in Britain over the past 70 years by focusing on the experiences of the model and actress.

April Ashley

Previously unseen photographs and personal documents reveal the story of April Ashley MBE, one of the first people in the world to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

Ashley was born as George Jamieson in Liverpool in 1935 and even as a young child would pray to wake up as a girl.

Joining the Merchant Navy aged 14 in a bid to escape his unhappy home life and the confusion around his gender, Jamieson made two attempts at suicide before being admitted to a mental institution for electric shock treatment.

He later moved to Jersey and then Paris where he began living as April, working at Le Carrousel nightclub to earn the money he needed for surgery. In 1960 he had a sex change operation at Dr Georges Burou's clinic in Casablanca, one of the first people in the world to undergo the procedure.

Ashley returned to Britain a woman, carving a career for herself as a successful model and actress, photographed by David Bailey and appearing in Vogue. In 1961, her 'outing' as transsexual by the Sunday People turned Ashley's story into a public scandal.

And there was more controversy to come. Her divorce from The Honourable Arthur Corbett saw Ashley hit the headlines again; the judge ruling that she remained a biological man and the marriage to be invalid and annulled.

Ashley's divorce set a legal precedent for all transsexuals that remained in place until 2004 when the Gender Recognition Act was passed to legally allow people to change their sex.

Her experiences are used to investigate the impact that changing social conditions and legal rulings have had on transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual people from 1935 to the present day.

There is also a series of personal histories from other transgender individuals that illustrate the impact Ashley has had on the movement for inclusion and equality.

The exhibition is part of an ongoing project by Homotopia to record shifting social attitudes and representations of gender and sexuality.

Venue information

Opening times

Daily, 10am – 5pm

Closed 25, 26 Dec  (closed from 2pm on 24 Dec)

Please note the museum will be closed from 31 December - end of February 2017 due to essential maintenance work.

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)