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30 January 2013

Nancy Valverde (1932–) barber.

Nancy was raised in East Los Angeles. She normally wore men’s clothing and short hair. Most week-ends in 1955, when she was a student at barber school, she was arrested for ‘masquerading’. She often ended up in the Daddy Tank at Lincoln Heights Jail, and sometimes was not booked in, so that friends could not find her for days or even weeks.

Lavender Los Angeles p47
In 1959 she visited the Los Angeles County Law Library and found rulings from 1950  that wearing men’s clothing was not a crime in Los Angeles. She informed her lawyer of this and he was able to use it in her defense. Finally the police stopped arresting her, but harassment did not. The beat policeman made a habit of knocking loudly on her Brooklyn Avenue barber shop window with his nightstick.

Nancy lived with the same woman for 25 years and they raised four boys. After a lifetime as a barber, Nancy moved into assisted living, where she was found by lesbian historians and playwrights, and became a Chicano butch legend. The Butchlalis de Panochtitlan wrote The Barber of East L.A. based on her life.
  • Lillian Faderman & Stuart Timmons. Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. New York: basic Books 430 pp 2006: 94-5.
  • Glenne McElhinney (dir). On These Shoulders We Stand, with Nancy Valverde and 10 others. US 75 mins 2009.
  • Raquel Gutierrez, Claudia Rodriguez & Mari Garcia (scr). The Barber of East L.A. Performed by Butchlalis de Panochtitlan. 2009.
  • Deborah Martin. "Tales of identity and culture at Jump-Start". MySA, 04/30/2009. http://blog.mysanantonio.com/artbeat/2009/04/tales-of-identity-and-culture-at-jump-start.
  • Tom De Simone, Teresa Wang, Melissa Lopez, Diem Tran, Andy Sacher, Kersu Dalal, Justin Emerick. Lavender Los Angeles. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Pub, 2011: 47.
  • Karen Tongson. Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries. New York: New York University Press, 2011: 187,193.
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Nancy was butch rather than trans.  Her clothing style would hardly be noticed today, but the prohibition on transvestity in1950s Los Angeles had an extra twist in going after female as well as male cross dressers.   Fletcher Bowron, who had been mayor of Los Angeles 1938-53, had a particular antipathy to women in trousers.  In 1942 he declared to the city council that he loathed "to see masculine women much more than feminine traits in men" and got them to pass a regulation barring female employees at City Hall from wearing pants.  This was re-inforced by William Parker (played by Nick Nolte in the film Gangster Squad) who was Police Chief from 1950 until his death in 1966 who repeatedly sent his men to raid gay and lesbian bars and to treat gays and lesbians as if they were criminals.

It seems that Edward D. Wood and Virginia Prince, Los Angeles' most famous transvestites in the 1950s, avoided the police by avoiding gay bars, but Nancy was arrested several times simply walking on the street.  It was particularly insensitive of Prince to claim that women could wear whatever they wanted.

Of course the Los Angeles police did not apply the same rules to the stars of Hollywood even off-screen.  In 1953 Warner Brothers had starred Doris Day in the transvestic classic Calamity Jane, and she had sung a song that went to number 1 and became a lesbian anthem, Once I Had a Secret Love.

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