Groundbreaking Welsh journalist and trans woman Jan Morris has died at 94.
Morris’ passing is a tremendous loss, on today of all days, the Trans Day of Remembrance. Her son, Twm Morys, announced her death in a statement: “This morning at 11.40 at Ysbyty Bryn Beryl, on the Llyn, the author and traveller Jan Morris began her greatest journey. She leaves behind on the shore her lifelong partner, Elizabeth.”
A lifelong travel writer and advocate for the trans community, Morris is best known for her 1974 memoir Conundrum, in which she documented her transition from birth, in Somerset in 1926. I’m reminded of its most famous passage:
“I never did think that my own conundrum was a matter either of science or of social convention. I thought it was a matter of the spirit, a kind of divine allegory, and that explanations of it were not very important anyway. What was important was the liberty of us all to live as we wished to live, to love however we wanted to love, and to know ourselves, however peculiar, disconcerting or unclassifiable, at one with the gods and angels.”
It’s a text that has become like a sacred tome to many trans people across the world over, wherever she traveled. In her writings after WWII, where she served in the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers, she explored Everest and the four corners of the Earth, from Spain to Hong Kong to South Africa, and then the whole world over again. In a profile for The Guardian, writer Tim Adams noted:
Hearing about most lives you have a sense of beginnings and middles and ends, but Morris’s 93 years resist very much in the way of this-led-to-that. It is a life that forms instead around improbable adventures a million miles from here – Morris, at 26, was the only journalist to accompany Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on their 1953 ascent of Everest; at other times she wrote about living on Field Marshal Montgomery’s family houseboat on the Nile, and in a palazzo on the Grand Canal; she met Che Guevara in Cuba; she visited Hiroshima after the bomb, and reported on the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961. In her dreamy books about cities – most memorably Venice and Trieste – the world can seem a permanent Xanadu.
In the 1960s, she began taking hormones while in Venice. It led to her landmark memoir Conundrum, which sparked criticism across the world, but she persisted, writing over two dozen more books, which won her countless awards and honors, like her CBE from the Queen of England, which she famously accepted “out of respect,” despite being an outspoken Welsh nationalist and advocate.
In Conundrum, Morris wrote that she would do her whole life over again, including transition, if she had to, “without fear, without qualms, without a second thought.” She echoed much of these sentiments, 40 years later, in her last profile in The Guardian:
“But I should say I would never use the word change, as in “sex-change” for what happened to me. I did not change sex, I really absorbed one into the other. I’m a bit of each now. I freely admit it. There is obviously all of this debate about it all at the moment, but for me it was never a black and white thing. Never could be. It was a sort of instinct. A question of spirit almost. But that’s all in that book I wrote, isn’t it?”
Rest in power, Jan Morris.