The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes by Zoë Playdon review – a fascinating transgender life

Zoë Playdon uncovers the timely story of a Scottish lord who had to fight for his gender and his inheritance

Historical biography always involves a certain amount of detective work, but Professor Zoë Playdon has had to contend with an additional challenge in the writing of her first book, The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes. As the title implies, information about her subject was not just scant, but much had been actively suppressed. Now Playdon’s determined labours have brought this extraordinary story to light.

Playdon first came across Sir Ewan Forbes-Sempill in 1996 as the result of advising on a legal challenge to allow transgender people to change their birth certificate – something that had been the norm in the UK until the late 1960s, although it was unclear how or why the law had changed. In the wake of their defeat, they were approached by a solicitor named Terrence Walton, who provided a missing piece of the puzzle.

The Hidden Case of Ewan Forbes by Zoë Playdon is published by Bloomsbury (£20). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply

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