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29 November 2008

Perry Desmond (1936 - 1984) performer, prostitute, sailor, beautician, occult retailer, pastor.

Perry was born and raised in Louisiana. His father was a pilot on a Mississippi River boat who was frequently drunk. His mother beat him once when she came home early and found him dressed in her clothes, but his great-aunt Edna let him dress up in her room. He was subjected to homophobic bullying at school, even in front of teachers who took no notice.

When he reached puberty several of the other boys, who had been rude to him, volunteered him as the one who would be sexually passive.

At Louisiana State University he found his first gay friends, but was ejected for being gay. He found a lover in Baton Rouge until his mother interfered. He then went to Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now the University of Louisiana at Lafeyette) and found another lover before being kicked out for doing so. In New Orleans he became a waiter and a prostitute, and as a kept boy started wearing female clothing full time, until his mother interfered.

He then joined the US Navy where he was a nurse, and married a woman from high school. However he found himself unable to have sex with her. He then told the Navy doctors that he was a woman, and was discharged within a week.

He returned to waiting, and did his first drag show at the My-Oh-My Club on Lake Ponchatrain. He was recruited for the Jewel Box Review because his size allowed him to take over the costumes of one who had left. He quit the Revue when his father was in hospital.

After that he opened a beauty salon, but then performed in various drag clubs. An agent in New York named him ‘The South’s Most Beautiful Boy’. In 1958 he and 142 others were arrested at a big costume ball at the Manhattan Center in New York. At the same time he came down with jaundice.

One day on the street he met an old friend who was close to completing transition, and demanded the name of her doctor. Perry then started on hormones injections from Dr Ritter in New York, and started electrolysis. She also bleached her hair. She had a nose job and silicone injections.

Once she had breasts she passed easily as a woman, and went back to a mix of hooking and running a beauty salon. She gave that up to be a kept woman, but after a year of two-timing her husband, left him for the other man, Wayne.

In 1968 her father died, and she bought male clothing to attend his funeral.

She opened a new beauty salon in a haunted ante-bellum house in New Orleans, and then became a self-taught astrologer, and did lots of drugs. Her business evolved into an occult shop called The Age of Aquarius. She had her fortune read two or three times every day and constantly recalculated her horoscope.

After seven years together, Wayne beat her up and took off. Perry consulted a witch who sold her a spell to get Wayne to return.

After ten years on hormones, she contacted Dr Murphy Seeling in New York to be castrated. Wayne returned to go with her, and while she was there she had facial silicone implants as well. Seeling’s operation resulted in a painful abscess.

The next time that Wayne took off, Perry attempted suicide. Afterwards she bailed him out of jail and took him to a rehabilitation ward. In that ward Wayne embraced Jesus. After he got out, Wayne would not live with Perry because that would be a sin. He kept sending Christian leaflets to Perry and tried to get Perry to go to his church.

Perry found herself a new younger lover, but after a year of conflict with Wayne the new lover left for a ‘real woman’. This was 1974. Then her mother died, and wished to remember Perry ‘as you were’.

After an abortive visit to Wayne’s church she read the literature he had been sending to her, and approached the Baptist Church next to the laundromat. The minister visited her at home, and she converted, and was persuaded that to God she was still a man.

Perry reverted to male clothing, and he became a minister, and a celebrity on the Christian circuit. He became a pioneer in the Exodus movement. He supported the Anita Bryant crusade. He died of a heart attack at age 48.

*Not the singer, Perry Desmond-Davies


Both Drs Ritter and Seeling are obscure. I cannot find any other information about them, nor any other transsexuals who used their service.

At the end of the book Perry issues a blanket forgiveness to the homophobic bullies and other who made his life difficult. Surely even within Christianity, forgiveness should only follow repentance -- which does not seem to apply here. This is more serious than it sounds in my summary of Perry's life. He mentions two female impersonators who were his friends, and who were murdered in really horrible ways by homophobes. Are we to take it that he forgives these murderers too.

From the way that Perry chooses Dr Ritter we see that she is impulsive on making such a choice. Therefore it is not strange that she chose a church equally impulsively. This is a shame for there are churches that accept transsexuals, but they are not usually the one next to the laundromat. It is an enormous pity that Perry did not find a transy-positive church before changing back.


Lani said...

I was anxious to get this book from Amazon since I grew up in Louisiana as a transsexual, too (and was thrilled someone else had actually heard of it). However, 'Perry: A Transformed Transexual' does have a tendency to read like 'Go Ask Alice': a fabricated story by a journalist to use as a cautionary tale for teenagers who are thinking about using drugs. In the same way, 'Perry' seems like a cautionary tale NOT to become a transsexual or all you'll have is a life of pain, suicide attempts and other misery. Even though there are certainly many transsexuals who have similar experiences and do return to living as a male, or kill themselves, but Perry seems to be on a crusade here. Plus, his constant craving for the spotlight - as both a male and female - does come off as more than a touch annoying at times.

Although, aside from the religious mumbo-jumbo, I could relate to many of the experiences Perry had: the childhood bullies, the constant rejection by so-called 'heterosexual' men who say they like transsexual (even though I know I'm better off without them), the sometimes near-mental breakdowns... Plus the mention of the old Erickson Educational Foundation (now closed) and the liquid silicone injections he had (now illegal) was nostalgic.

Ephilei said...

I heard a rumor that Perry had a heart attack caused by the fem hormones he had taken. Is there any truth to this?

sallieparker said...

Ritter and Seeling are most likely Rish and Wesser.

Jan Hughes said...

I knew Perry, both before his Christian conversion and after. She often opened her home as a place for this poor runaway kid to "crash" and protected me from the dangers of the street. I became a Christian, and was taken in by my pastor and his family. My foster father was a pastor of a church on the edge of the French Quarter. One Sunday morning, I was really happy to see Perry and several of her friends show up one Sunday morning. However, Rev. Bresciani interrupted the service to ask them to leave as it was "wicked for Perry to be dressed in women's clothes", even though it was a pantsuit. I was crushed to see the woman who had sheltered me from the streets being rejected by the man who took me in as his child.

When I got married, we returned to New Orleans on our honeymoon, and I dropped in on Perry to see how she was doing. She had converted her little store into an all-night store front church and ministry. Anyone and everyone was welcome, Gay or straight. It was truly the way God has always intended; inclusive and accepting of people for who they are and how God made them. I lost track of her after we returned up North, but I always kept her in my heart.

In 1977, I gave birth to a little girl who was noticeably "different" from the time she could remove her dresses and put on her brother's clothes. She continually chopped off her hair, and as she grew older, finally refused to wear women's clothes. I knew she was either transgendered or a lesbian, but I did not care. She was the person God had put inside that body. She is now openly Gay, and although she has her moments, I love and accept her for who she is.

Human sexuality is not one or the other, but rather a continuum along a spectrum. We now know that many people are born in the wrong body and this is just an expression of nature; it's neither right or wrong. It just is what it is.

I hurt to hear that Perry died so young, and that she was deceived into buying into the lie that God expects Gay people to be something that they are not. Everyone should be loved and accepted for who they are, Gay, straight, bisexual, or transgendered. I am active in my church and work for the full inclusion of GLBT people in church life, including ordination into the clergy.

Christ would be ashamed of the church today if he saw how Christians are treating gays as if they were inherently evil. If you are gay, lebian, bisexual or transgendered, don't fall for the lie that you have to be something that you are not in order to please God. He said, "It was good" the moment you were concieved, and you are still perfect in His eyes today. Seek out other Christian sites that are accepting of all people, such as the Evangelic Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) or the United Church of Christ. We love God, put Christ first and love you for who you are. Welcome.

Ephilei said...

After reading Perry's book, I wrote an opinion piece:

I'd appreciate feedback, especially from anyone who knew him personally.

Kitty Sibley Morrison said...

I knew Perry. He ate in my home in 1976 to 1980 at least once a year. He loved giving his testimony. He did not feel pressured to change. He was happy with his decision to identify with being a man after so many years of confusion. His mother attended the church services in Baton Rouge, when he came with his team ... Diamonds in the Rough.

Anonymous said...


pam said...

I met Perry in the 80's.Perry had to be one of the most infectious, fanatical, in-love-with-Jesus Christians I have ever known. He extended a tremendous amount of kindness and love to whomever he met and i am proud to have known him.

Ephilei, you mentioned in your opinion piece that he did not seem close to his mother - I remember him referring (laughingly but seriously) as "Smother" which could be interpreted as "overbearing".

SD said...

I met Perry in 1980, at a place called Victory Farm, in Missouri. He was touring and speaking on his experiences. Oddly enough, the thing I remember most about him was that his earlobes had not completely closed from having been pierced. He had red spots where the piercings were healing. I'm sorry to hear he died so young.

SpermBank said...

That is awesome Jan I traveled with Perry for years and worked on his book. I went to Christ For The Nations with him and we were
good friends!