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LGBT People of History 71 - Billy Lee Tipton

Updated on April 16, 2012
Billy Lee Tipton as female and male.
Billy Lee Tipton as female and male. | Source

Billy Lee Tipton


Billy Lee Tipton (1914 – 1989) was an American band leader and jazz musician. He was born Dorothy Lucille Tipton in Oklahoma and grew up in Kansas City, where he developed an interest in jazz music. He played piano and saxophone. As he grew older he adopted his father’s nickname, Billy, and presented as male using breast binding and packing to hide his female attributes. By 1940 he was living his whole life as a man.


Musically he played in many places and with many people including with George Mayer’s Band. As the band became more popular and they got radio spots, they began performing with the likes of ‘The Ink Spots’.


Later he formed the ‘Billy Tipton Trio’ and got a recording contract. They made two albums of jazz standards. After this he worked as a talent broker in Spokane and moved more to swing music. In the late 1970s he developed arthritis and had to retire from playing music.


In his private life, Tipton had many relationships – all with women. His first two, with Non Earl Harrell and someone called “June” were seen as lesbian relationships. Later he lived with Betty Cox in a ‘heterosexual’ relationship. To hide the fact that he was in fact assigned female he made up a car accident story which damaged his genitals and some ribs – thus explaining the breast binding. Then, in 1960, he started a relationship with Kitty Kelly with whom he adopted three sons. They became quite respectable attending the PTA and being involved in the Boy Scouts. The boys had a hard time during their teenage years and the strain resulted in the breakup of Billy and Kitty. Billy then lived in a caravan in poverty until he died.


When, in 1989, Billy was suffering from a haemorrhaging peptic ulcer, his son William discovered that he was actually assigned female at birth. The rest of the family was also told and the media got hold of the story. He died in 1989 from this condition.



Ian and Callum.


With thanks to Wikipedia.


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    • profile image

      FutureDrKate 5 years ago

      Wow that was really interesting! Good find.

    • alian346 profile image
      Author

      alian346 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Glad you liked it, FutureDrKate! We have many more in our series.

      Ian.

    • calpol25 profile image

      Callum 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK (At Home With My Wonderful Partner)

      Well put and very interesting Alian x

    • alian346 profile image
      Author

      alian346 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Thankyou calpol25!

      Ian.

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