A Surgeon for WWI and WWII Vets Also Helped a Trans Man

Lindsey Fitzharris’s new book ‘The Facemaker’

Tucker Lieberman
4 min readJun 7, 2022

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THE FACEMAKER book cover — a man with his entire face wrapped, except for one eye, sees his reflection in the surgeon’s knife
The Facemaker

Released today (7 June 2022), Lindsey Fitzharris’s The Facemaker is about how the devastating violence of the First World War drove demand for facial reconstruction techniques, especially for soldiers who narrowly survived combat.

If you read all the way to the end, there’s a story about surgery for a trans man in the late 1940s.

Facial Reconstruction for World War I Veterans

“From the moment that the first machine gun rang out over the Western Front,” as the prologue to The Facemaker sets the stage, “one thing was clear: Europe’s military technology had wildly surpassed its medical capabilities. Bullets tore through the air at terrifying speeds.…Noses were blown off, jaws were shattered, tongues were torn out, and eyeballs were dislodged. In some cases, entire faces were obliterated.”

“Before the war was over,” Fitzharris goes on, “280,000 men from France, Germany, and Britain alone would suffer some form of facial trauma.”

If, here, we are to ask “Why?,” we have to note the question and answer would have to be very broad in scope because the violence was employed so extensively. These battles destroyed the landscape together with the humans and other living beings therein. “The battlefield,” Fitzharris writes, “became a wasteland. In the words of one man, ‘there was not a sign of life of any sort…Not a tree, save a few dead stumps which looked strange in the moonlight at night. Not a bird; not even a rat, or a blade of grass...” There was, briefly, a lot of destruction, much of it apparently for its own sake.

Harold Gillies (1882–1960) was a plastic surgeon who dedicated himself to reconstructing faces for WWI veterans. Born in New Zealand, his work was based in London.

The First Successful Phalloplasty

Almost as an aside, in the epilogue, Fitzharris mentions that, later, Gillies performed genital reconstructions for WWII veterans.

Also in the epilogue, she tells the story of Michael Dillon (1915–1962), “who had been assigned female at birth, [and] had been unhappy with his…

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Tucker Lieberman

Editor for Prism & Pen. Author of the novel "Most Famous Short Film of All Time." https://tuckerlieberman.com/