This site is the most comprehensive on the web devoted to trans history and biography. Well over 1700 persons worthy of note, both famous and obscure, are discussed in detail, and many more are mentioned in passing.

There is a detailed Index arranged by vocation, doctor, activist group etc. There is also a Place Index arranged by City etc. This is still evolving.

In addition to this most articles have one or more labels at the bottom. Click one to go to similar persons. There is a full list of labels at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar. There is also a search box at the top left. Enjoy exploring!

29 February 2008

Men in kilts 1: Ewan Forbes (1912 - 1991) doctor, dancer, land manager, Baronet

Elizabeth Forbes-Semphil was raised in Scotland, and identified as a male from a early age. In his 20s as Ewan he was very involved in the Scottish country dance revival movement, dressing and dancing the man’s part. He graduated in medicine from the University of Aberdeen in 1944, and became a practicing doctor until 1955 when he retired to manage the family estates of Fintray (map) and Craigievar (map) for his brother the Baron.

In 1952 he applied to enter in the Register of Corrected Entries substitutions of his name and sex. This was granted, based on his oath and medical evidence. A few months later, he married Isabella Mitchell, his housekeeper.

In 1965 his elder brother died, and he was to assume the Baronetcy. His cousin, John Alexander Cumnock Forbes-Semphill, contested the inheritance on the grounds that Ewan was female. A two-year court battle ensued, first in the Scottish Court of Session where Dr Charles Armstrong gave evidence that Ewan was intersex, and then the case went to the Home Secretary (the future Prime Minister), James Callaghan. A letter from Ewan’s sister was produced to the effect that he was female, but Ewan’s wife testified that they had normal intercourse. The Session judge decided that Ewan was “predominately male”, though intersexed. The Right Honourable James Callaghan, after consulting with the Lord Advocate, directed that Sir Ewan Forbes (he had dropped the ‘Semphill’) should be entered in the Roll of Baronets as The 11th Baronet of Craigievar and The 20th Lord Semphill,  Sir Ewan Forbes of Craigievar,

John Forbes-Semphill finally became the 21st Lord Semphill when Ewan died.

No public records of either the Court of Session or of the Lord Advocate's advice are available. This would appear to be an aristocratic privilege, but resulted in the precedent not being considered in April Ashley’s divorce (Corbett vs Corbett) in 1970.


Men in kilts 2: Madeleine Sinclair, performer

Arthur Munby reports in his diary for 23 July 1862:
'Coming thence along Oxford Street, I saw before me, striding along in company with an Italian organ-grinder, a tall young man in full Highland costume; wearing a Glengarry bonnet, a scarlet jacket, a sporran and a tartan kilt and stockings, his legs bare from the knee to the calf.'
Having met this person previously, Munby recognized that it was Madeleine Sinclair. The crowd that gathered to watch the highland dance were a bit confused:
'For no one could make out whether she was a man or a woman. Her hair and the set of her hips indeed were feminine; but her hard weather-stained face, her large bony hands, and her tall strong figure, became her male dress so well that opinions about equally divided as to her sex. "It's a man!" said one, confidently: "I believe that it's a woman", another doubtfully replied. One man boldly exclaimed "Of course it's a man; anybody can see that!" I gave her a sixpence when she came round with her tambourine; and she told me she had been in Paris for five months for pleasure, and was now living on Saffron Hill, and dancing in the streets every day, always wearing her male clothes.'

  • Derek Hudson. Munby, Man of Two Worlds: the Life and Diaries of Arthur J. Munby, 1828-1910. Abacus 1974: 131.

28 February 2008

A female-impersonator impersonator

Penny Arcade is the stage name of Susana Ventura (1950 - ), performance artist and playwright. She has worked with many female impersonators and transgender actors. She performed with the Ridiculous Theater Company with Charles Ludlam, in the Jackie Curtis play Femme Fatal, and was in Women in Revolt, 1972, with Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn. She worked with Jack Smith, and was a friend of Quentin Crisp with whom she did a performance piece.

Her major drag performance is Margo Howard-Howard (1935- 1988 ) born Robert Hesse a New York drag artist who describes his adventures as a transy hooker in 1950s and 1960s New York, and his encounters with James Dean, the Windsors and Truman Capote. He was kept by a bigshot heroin dealer for four years, and after escaping the dealer and his drug addiction he met Judy Garland, Andy Warhol, Jackie Curtis, Tallulah Bankhead, Madonna and Elizabeth Windsor. He published his memoirs in 1988 as if an autobiography shortly before dying. The copyright page says: "This is a fictionalized memoir".

Most reviewers did not realize that Penny Arcade was performing Howard-Howard in her act, and took the autobiography at face value.

It is not known who posed as Margo in the photographs for the book, but here he is with Penny.


*Not Margo Howard, aka ‘Dear Prudence’, the daughter of ‘Ann Landers’.

27 February 2008

Flawless Sabrina, Rachel Harlow and 'The Queen'

Jack Doroshow (1939 -  2017) Drag Name: Flawless Sabrina. Drag performer and organizer of pageants from Philadelphia. Through his company, The Nationals Academy, Jack organized 46 pageants a year from 1959-1967. As local laws almost always prohibited cross-dressing, he would meet with officials and propose a charitable donation, and in return the town would pass a variance to permit the pageant. Usually the town officials did not understand that local people would be performing. The 1967 finals held in New York was a much bigger affair. The Muscular Dystrophy Association was announced as the charity, and Lady Bird Johnson, the President’s wife, and Robert Kennedy were initially co-sponsors, but quickly dropped out as the nature of the event became clearer.

The event was filmed as The Queen, 1968, which was a sensation at the Cannes International Film Festival. On this basis Jack was hired as special advisor on Midnight Cowboy, 1969, and Myra Breckinridge, 1970. He played a gay mufti part in the thriller, The Anderson Tapes, 1971.

The 2002 short film, Between Two Worlds, is mainly about him, and he appears in the 2008 documentary about the transgender rock singer, Lisa Jackson.

Rachel Harlow (1948 - ). Born Richard Finocchio in Philadelphia, aka Rachel Billeboult. In 1967 Rachel was a very passable female impersonator, described as a 'natural wonder’, who always won the drag contests she entered, and she became briefly famous in the film, The Queen, 1968.

The contestants are shown chatting in their hotel rooms, discussing how they were not called in the draft, their boyfriends, why they would never have a sex change. Richard throws a fit because he does not have a suitable wig (although her own hair is quite feminine enough). The film includes shots of only Richard (as male as he gets) arriving and departing, and Richard, as Harlow on stage, gets longer and better-lit close-ups than the other contestants. She went to Cannes International Film Festival with the film and was a center of attention. David Bowie, in his androgynous phase, cited her influence.

She transitioned in 1972. In later years she was active running nights clubs, including Harlow’s at 22nd and Market, and in local television in Philadelphia.

For a long while that was all the public knowledge about Rachel. Then Wendy Leigh published her biography of Grace Kelly, and included two pages on Rachel, who had an affair with John B. Kelly, the brother of Grace, who would have married her if his mother had not threatened to disinherit him.

Crystal Labeija (? - ? ). Crystal was the other standout among the contestants in The Queen, under the title, Miss Manhattan. She threw a tantrum at the end after losing to Rachel Harlow.

She was the founder of the New York House of LaBeija in 1972, which in turn inspired others to declare Houses, sometimes named after themselves – e.g House of Corey after Dorian Corey, sometimes named after established fashion houses such as Chanel or St Laurent. Crystal Labeija is discussed, but does not appear in the 1990 film, Paris is Burning.

The young Billy Schumacher, who will later become the famous International Chrysis, and the young Kim Christy are in the chorus line, but are not identified.

The film:

(note: Rachel is listed under her male name.   This is still the case in IMDB.)

Cataractonium Gallus (4th century).

The evidence for ancient transpersons is usually a line or two in some writing that happened to survive. So it was especially noteworthy in 2002 when archeological evidence was found.

The archeological dig at Catterick in North Yorkshire, near the Roman military base, revealed the skeleton of a castrate dressed in women’s clothes and jewellery. She is believed to be a gallus dedicated to Cybele. She was buried with two symbolic pebbles in her mouth, in case she needed her virility back after death.

View Larger Map
· “Dig reveals Roman transvestite”. BBC News. 21 May 2002.
· Martin Wainwright. “Self-made eunuch emerges from Roman grave”. The Guardian. May 22, 2002.,3604,719756,00.html.

25 February 2008

The Queer Encyclopedia of Music, Dance and Musical Theater - a review

This is a fun book, associated with the glbtq encyclopedia site, and I spent many hours looking up favourite musicians. You can tell that it is a US book from some of the entry names: John, Sir Elton; Tippett, Sir Michael; Ashton, Sir Frederick; etc. Although it doesn't bother with French or German honours. Most entries have a bibliography attached, although it is always a bibliography and never a mediography, that is only printed sources are listed, never documentary films, and only rarely online resources. There are no discographies as such, but an artist's major works are mentioned in the text.

This is a glbtq project, so we expect t=transy musicians. And indeed there are some. Frederick Ashton, ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, Gladys Bentley, Ray Bourbon, Boy George, Divine, Annie Hindle, Christine Jorgensen, Lindsay Kemp, Charles Pierce, RuPaul, Craig Russell, Ethyl Smith, Sylvester plus general articles on Drag shows, Male Impersonators and Female Impersonators, Kabuki and Takarazuka. Jayne County doesn't get an entry of her own, but is mentioned in the survey of Rock Music. Likewise Billy Tipton is in the survey on Jazz. This is fine as far as it goes, but ...

I quickly came up with a list of over 50 musicians, singers and dancers not in the Encyclopedia. Here are 15 of them:

Willmer Broadnax (gospel singer);
Angela Morley (saxophonist, conductor and composer, did the music for 29 movies and television shows, including the Goon Show, Scott Walker's early albums, two Eurovision Song Contests entries, earned two academy awards, etc etc.);
Amanda Lear (not just a disco singer);
Guilda (French singer-dancer who settled in Montreal);
Dee Palmer (Royal Horseguards, Jethro Tull, orchestral arrangements of rock classics);
Wendy Carlos (Switched-On Bach, electronic composer, several soundtracks);
Canary Conn (singles in 1960s);
Bridgett Martel (Quebec chanteuse);
Bülent Ersoy (Turkish singer in classical and Arabesk styles);
Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, over 200 records);
Angela Douglas (guitarist with Arthur Lee and Love, Euphoria, Warren Zevon, Jimi Hendrix)
Sharon Cohen (Israeli winner of 1998 Eurovision Song Contest, stage name: Dana International);
Keith Moon (drummer with The Who);
Romy Haag (Dutch singer, actor, club owner);
Logan Carter (singer and model).

Yes. It is easy to review almost any encyclopedia by finding entries that are missing. My turn will come when my own encyclopedia is published.

23 February 2008

Guilda (1924 - 2012). Performer and painter

He was born Jean Guida de Mortellaro in Paris to rich parents who lost their money in the crash of 1929. Still a child, he joined a touring revue and learned makeup, choreography etc, and was hired by the Ballets de Monte Carlo.
After the Second World War he became a travesti. He chose his drag name riffing the Rita Hayworth film Gilda, 1946, and the name of the bomb dropped at Bikini (also named for Rita). Guilda was soon starring in shows in Italy and north Africa. He starred at La Carrousel in Paris with April Ashley and others. He was mentored by the actor/singer star Mistinguett (Jeanne Bourgeois, 1875-1956) and was her stand-in, and toured with her in 1951 which took him to Montréal for the first time. He set up his own show and took it to North America.

When his US visa expired in 1955, he moved to Montréal, where he quickly was able to perform in cabaret and on television. His act was condemned by the Catholic Church, and cabaret culture was damaged by Mayor Drapeau’s moral crusade against them. However he went from success to success. Noteworthy was Guilda’s 1965 show at Place des Arts which also featured Barbette, and his playing the Chevalier D’Eon in the 1984 Québec television series, Les Grands Esprits. 

Guilda twice married women, but was also sexually active with men, which occasioned comments in the Québec gossip papers. In 1979 he published his autobiography.

Guilda is also a painter, and the Archdiocese of Montréal commissioned him to paint a portrait of Pope John-Paul II.

He died at age 88.

IMDB     FR.Wikipedia   


For some reason Guilda is not in The Canadian Encyclopedia, nor is he mentioned in William Weintraub's City unique : Montreal days and nights in the 1940s and '50s.

05 February 2008

Exile in Siberia

In the Great War it was the convention that, among prisoners of war, officers were separated from other ranks, and, unlike the other ranks, were not obliged to work. In fact they were paid a small wage (this was largely discontinued in Russian camps after the Revolution). This left them time and opportunity to put on theatricals. The German and Austrian officer prisoners in the Siberian camp of Achinsk were in a White-Russian controlled area and were not freed until the Soviet Government took over the area in 1920.

The officers produced no fewer than 88 different stage productions before liberation.

The star in Achinsk was Emmerich Laschitz (189? - ?), described as "Siberia's most famous female impersonator”, who played female leads in many of the productions, and especially in Oscar Wilde’s Salome (which would not be seen in England until 1931). Like other camp stars, he lived in drag off stage, and had a circle of admirers who washed and ironed his clothes. He received passionate love letters from other prisoners.