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The story of transgender brothers Mark and David Ferrow has become popular on Tumblr and Twitter in recent weeks. It claims

In 1934-1936, trans brothers Mark and David Ferrow of Yarmouth, UK both transitioned at age 13 with full parental support.

and goes on to describe these men's lives. The poster, Eli Erlick, is a PhD student, so she may very well have access to archives that I don't. However, I haven't been able to find any other accounts of Mark and David Ferrow being transgender youths. I have found some references to David Ferrow as a well-known local bookseller in Yarmouth (which corresponds with the story), although I can't seem to find clear references to Mark Ferrow.

Are there sources available online that support this story? Erlick does describe the story as "underreported", so it could simply be that the existing sources aren't freely available.

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  • Look at copyright symbol and format that appears to be used on the left image, I don't think that format and symbol was standardized until the 1950s. The background of both images is very clean, usually when you scan something, it doesn't look that clean. When I see scanned newspaper articles, I typically can faintly see text and images from the back side of the paper.
    – rtaft
    May 12 at 21:30
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    @rtaft: It looks genuine to me, and appears to have been published in the San Francisco Examiner on January 28th, 1940. (You can register for free to get a week's access, but I didn't bother.)
    – TonyK
    2 days ago

2 Answers 2

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These boys evidently had a difference of sexual development, commonly known as 'intersex', though definitions of intersex do vary, so DSD is preferred.

It quite clearly says that both boys were brought up as girls until they reached the normal age of male puberty where they experienced male puberty, "her voice was cracking just like those of the neighbor boys"

This is actually fairly easy to understand and these are clearly NOT 'transgender' children.

Specifically there are a number of disorders that can result in a biologically male child appearing to be female at birth. For example 5-alpha reductase deficiency type II, reflects the fact that there are three separate 5-alpha reductase genes in the human genome. Type II is expressed in utero and is responsible for the virilisation of the urogenital tract forming the penis. A defect in this gene can result in a child being born with apparently female or ambiguous genitalia, a so-called pseudo-vagina.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5%CE%B1-Reductase_2_deficiency

If this is diagnosed at birth, the baby should be dosed with topical testosterone and raised as male.

However in less developed medical systems this may go undiagnosed.

What happens next is essentially normal human biology - there are small differences in sex hormone levels between the sexes until puberty, when male testosterone levels become about 20x higher than female, and similar effects occur with oestrogen.

As mentioned earlier, there are three 5-ard genes and even without 5-ard type II, 5-ard type I can result in full masculinization at puberty

enter image description here

This is widely reported see e.g.

https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34290981

Where a particular community in the Dominican Republic has a high rate of this disorder

For two brothers in the same family to be born with the same genetic defect is hardly surprising.

Since 5-ar is a secondary sex hormone the normal testosterone production means that these men often have normal sperm production.

The tweet reports that David fathered a daughter (Jan Davey: https://www.edp24.co.uk/news/crime/emma-sandys-painting-stolen-in-great-yarmouth-sold-at-christie-1279442) with his wife, which should be another giveaway. Transmen can NOT father children. Transmen are biologically female and therefore can either be fertilised by a biological male, or are in some cases infertile. No transman is capable of impregnating a woman.

There are plenty of cases, see for example:

See also this 295 page thesis on the subject

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322596084_Diagnosing_sex_Intersex_surgery_and_'sex_change'_in_Britain_1930-1955

NOT trans, and appropriating intersex conditions to try and make a point about 'trans' is often considered unethical by intersex people. See e.g. https://ihra.org.au/13651/isgd-and-the-appropriation-of-intersex/

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jamiec
    May 13 at 12:34
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    Just someone saying on twitter "David had a daughter, Jan" is insufficient evidence to conclude that David actually was a biological father.
    – DavePhD
    2 days ago
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    @DavePhD it's not 'someone on twitter', it is clear he had a daughter. We can say 'was it his, biologically?', and we cannot answer that with certainty of course. But we have no reason to accept the claim that these were transgender children, either. So, skeptically, maybe not his biologically, but more fundamentally, no evidence whatsoever these children ever fit into what we understand as transgender.
    – thelawnet
    2 days ago
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    @thelawnet could you add this reference: edp24.co.uk/news/crime/… as evidence that David had a daughter, Jan Davey? or dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6272645/… or something ?
    – DavePhD
    2 days ago
  • 2
    I have added that reference
    – thelawnet
    2 days ago
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The thesis POPULAR AND MEDICAL UNDERSTANDINGS OF SEX CHANGE IN 1930S BRITAIN discusses Mark and David Ferrow for a couple pages starting at page 124, citing four references, all from August 1939, all from popular press rather than medical journals:

...

The medical aspect of the brothers’ change of sex was emphasised in each article. These medical procedures were treated as very matter of fact, as if they were standard procedures. The Daily Herald stated simply: ‘they had undergone a sex change’, elaborating: ‘Mark was operated on at a London hospital to complete his transformation. David has yet to undergo an operation.’ 146 The News Chronicle and the News of the World were no more specific than saying the brothers entered hospital for ‘treatment’, a quotidian description for such a life-changing occurrence. The Daily Mirror was slightly more specific, alluding to Mark entering the London Hospital for ‘injections’. The references to an operation and to injections point towards some of the earlier stories of sex change that detailed hormone research and adrenal surgery, but were not any more explicit in communicating what had taken place at the hospital.147

The brothers, including David, who had not yet undergone any ‘treatment’, were both described as unequivocally male: deep-voiced and ‘masculine’. Their ease with gendered accoutrement was highlighted: ‘5ft. 10in., Smokes a Pipe’ and ‘he wears boy’s clothes as naturally as if he had never known skirts’. 148 Being a man lay partly in their physical embodiment and their comfort in male clothing, but also stemmed from the brothers’ conviction that they were men: ‘I’ve always been a man at heart’, ‘I suppose, I have always been a man’. 149 ...

The four August 1939 references are:

‘Vanished Sisters Return as Boys’, Daily Herald, 26 August 1939, p. 9
‘2 Sisters Become Brothers’, Daily Mirror, 26 August 1939, p. 5
‘Sisters Are Now Brothers’, News Chronicle, 26 August 1939, p.11
‘Two Sisters Are Brothers Now’, News of the World, 27 August 1939, p. 6

There are about a dozen August 1939 articles about these siblings available from the British Newspaper Archive, as well as 2 articles from 1942.

A 12 February 1942 Daily Herald article makes the interesting statement:

The following year 24 men and women in this country changed their sex. Two Great Yarmouth schoolgirls, Marjorie and Daisy Ferrow, changed their sex. An 18-year-old Enfield girl changed her sex. Her brother changed his at 14.

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  • The original tweet supports its claim by showing two newspaper cuts that appear to be from 1939. Are these articles among the three references that your source uses as references?
    – Schmuddi
    May 11 at 16:40
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    Do you think that this somehow invalidates this source as evidence? After all, it's based on basically the same references that are used by the original claim.
    – Schmuddi
    May 11 at 17:23
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    @Schmuddi actually, I'm seeing a bunch of articles on these folks in the British Newspaper Archive. But should I sign up for a free trial again just for this question, hmm? And will I have to use a different email address and credit card to get another free trial?
    – DavePhD
    May 11 at 19:18
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    Also picked up by the Australian press and freely available to read without subscription or login.
    – shoover
    May 13 at 4:41
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    @JaredSmith I'm only trying to answer the question "Are there sources available online that support this story?" There seems to be good evidence that they socially transitioned by 1939. I can't say that the "1936" part is true or that they both transitioned in some other sense by 1939.
    – DavePhD
    2 days ago

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