Transgender Awareness Week, held from the 13th-19th of November, raises visibility to the trans community, uplifting and celebrating its members and sharing lived experiences to bring a call to action for allyship. This preludes Trans Day of Remembrance, (TDOR)  annually commemorated on the 20th November to honour the lives of those we have lost due to transphobic violence. TDOR was founded in 1999 by activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith, as a vigil to honour the memory of Rita Hester – a trans woman who was murdered that year. Though her death left a legacy, her murder still remains unsolved, and trans people today face disproportionate levels of violence worldwide.


From Florence Nightingale to Leonardo da Vinci, historical retellings of iconic figures often erase the queer identities of the people behind the accomplishments. Alan L. Hart, born 1890, was a American physician, radiologist, tuberculosis researcher, writer and novelist. His pioneering work on using an X-ray to detect tuberculosis saved countless lives. Alan also happened to be a transgender man. 


After graduating top of his class at the University of Oregon Medical School in 1913, Hart transitioned and was hired as an Intern at San Francisco Hospital in November 1917. This was the beginning of a career that was characterised by both turbulence and genius. A former classmate recognised Hart in his application process for a nearby hospital, after which word spread, ending in the national news. Hart would then move state, looking to start again, but was once again recognised, unable to outrun rumours that followed him. Between 1918 and 1927 he worked in at least seven states, but not once did he give up on his conviction to both devote himself to save lives, and to live as his authentic self.


Alan graduated with a masters in radiology in 1928, from which he began his lifelong pursuit of helping Tuberculosis patients. No one was screening for TB at that time, meaning the disease wouldn’t be caught until one was coughing up blood, at which point recovery was impossible and numerous others had been infected along the way. Hart is credited as a pioneer in using chest x-rays to detect TB. This allowed treatment prior to complications and stopping the spread of it further. In the 20th century tuberculosis was the biggest killer in the US. Through researching the disease endlessly, conducting mass screenings and training new staff, doctors who used Hart's techniques cut the death toll down to one fiftieth of their prior numbers. Hart worked tirelessly until the end of his life, dedicating his free time fundraising medical research and supporting TB patients who could not afford treatment themselves.


Throughout the years, Hart suffered many blows, his various forced outings putting financial and emotional strain on his life, causing the end of his first marriage and forcing him into a lifetime of secrecy and uncertainty. Yet even with these barriers, Hart declared he was "Happier since I made this change than I ever have in my life, and I will continue this way as long as I live." And that he did, passing away at 71 after a lifetime in pursuit of extending the lives of others, studying a disease of which the carrier was stigmatised in a way not dissimilar to himself. In his Will, he stipulated that all his personal letters and photographs be destroyed, a final act of guarding his identity. It wasn’t until his doctors' notes were found years later, that Hart's story was revealed.


Alan L. Hart was a trans man in a time where the vocabulary was barely developed. Facing a life of social stigmatisation, he continued his research and saved many who surely disagreed with his way of life. His is a story of empathy for others, which, in the face of increasing violence against trans people in 2023, is something we must try to employ today. We have always lived in a world of diversity, and embracing a culture of acceptance will undoubtedly lead to a more prosperous society for all who live within it.






November 17, 2023 — Harvey Barrett

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