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!

26 April 2009

Esther Pirelli (1949 - ) family doctor, sexologist.

Esben Benestad is a doctor and sexologist and, as Esther Pirelli, an out transvestite in Grimstad, a small town on the south Norwegian coast.

He and his first wife, Liv, divorced in 1986 after 16 years together. The same year he met his second wife, Elsa Almås at a sexology conference. She has co-authored severed books on sexology with him, and is supportive of his female identity.

Liv and Esben are the parents of film director Even Benested who featured Esben in a small part in Begynnelsen på en historie, 1988, and made a documentary, Alt om min far (All about my father) about Esben, which was voted Best Documentary at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival, and made Esther a national celebrity.

In 2007 Esther was in the reality show, Skal vi danse (Shall We Dance), and was voted out after four episodes.

Esther is the only non-US person in the Kane-Demaios-Bullough anthology, Crossing Sexual Boundaries.

Esther as a doctor has helped several Norwegian trans persons who could not get help from the national gender clinic. In 2008 he was at risk of losing his licence after helping to obtain a mastectomy.

  • Even Benested (dir & scr). Alt om min far (All about my father). Scr: August B. Hanssen, with Elsa Almås, Esben Benestad and Even Benested. Norway 75 mins 2002.
  • Esben Esther Pirelli Benestad and Elsa Almås. “A Relationship Without a Template.” In J, Ari Kane-Demaios and Vern L. Bullough (eds) Crossing Sexual Boundaries: Transgender Journeys, Uncharted Paths Prometheus Books, 365 pp, 2006.
  • Christopher Behan interviews Elsa Almås and Esben Esther Pirelli Benestad. “Talking About Gender in Motion: Working with the Family of the Transgender Person“. Journal of GLBT Family Studies. 2,3/4 2006: 167-182.
  • “Esben Esther Pirelli Benestad”. Wikipedia: Den frie encyklopedi.
  • Tarald. “Support Norwegian transgender doctor!”. The Stranger.

24 April 2009

Anna-Varney Cantodea (?1952- ) musician.

She took the name Varney from the classic horror story, Varney the Vampire.

A birth date of 1952 is assumed from the booklet cover of Les Fleurs du Mal, which contains the phrase: "SOPOR: Sedating the heart since 1952”.

She grew up in Frankfurt, and has said that she spent nearly three decades in extreme depression, despair and loneliness. She was suicidal from age 12, has had encounters with cancer and blindness.

She is very religious and is mainly devoted to Saturn/Cronus, and less so to Morpheus, Uranus and Charon. Many of her albums contain astrological imagery. She has also been associated with the Thelemite tradition, and with occultist Raven Digitalis.

Sometimes Sopor Aeternus is considered a Darkwave project. She started recording under the name Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows in 1989 with the help of a person known as Holger whom she met in a Goth club in Frankfurt, and used to regain the ability to connect to society. They recorded three cassettes together.

In 1997 she started using the name Anna-Varney Cantodea. She has referred to herself as two-spirited, and as a warrior of the neutral zone. It is assumed that she is a trans woman, particularly as the images released with her albums have become more feminine over time.

22 April 2009

Zazu Nova (194? - ) sex worker, convict.

Zazu hustled in lower Manhatten in the late 1960s, sometimes in female drag. She advertised herself as the ‘Queen of Sex’.

She was from upstate New York, and a staunch Unitarian. She had a violent temper and had been in prison more than once. It was rumored that she had done time for murder. She often carried a large chain in her purse for self-defense.

She was in the frontline at the Stonewall riots in 1969 alongside Marsha Johnson.
  • David Carter. Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked The Gay Revolution. New York: St. Martin’s Press . 2004: 64-5, 162, 261, 298n11.

21 April 2009

Bert Savoy (1888 - 1923) female impersonator.

Everett McKenzie was a child performer in Boston doing hootchie-kootchie dances. He performed in a red wig in New York’s Bowery using the name Maude, in honor of a racehorse.

He worked as a chorus boy in a touring show that stranded its cast without pay in Butte, Montana (where Julian Eltinge had grown up). The 14-year old Everette worked as a female taxi-dancer until he had enough money to head for the Yukon to dig for gold.

He worked his way back east as a fortune teller, Madame Veen, but was arrested in Baltomore, and sentenced to 60 days.

In Chicago in 1904, using the name Bert Savoy, he married a showgirl called Ann Krehmker, and they worked in vaudeville as Savoy and Savoy for four or five years. She was last heard of in 1930 when she was arrested on a robbery charge.

In 1914 Everett joined the Russell Brothers drag act (they performed as Irish servant girls) as an understudy, and then stepped into a leading role when James Russell dropped dead.

A year later Bert was picked up on a streetcar by chorus boy Jay Brennan (1883 – 1961) who became his 'straight man'. By 1916 lovers Savoy and Brennan had made the cover of Variety. They were employed by Irving Berlin to train some soldiers in female impersonation for the wartime show Yip Yip Yaphank. In the early twenties they starred both in vaudeville and in The Greenwich Village Follies.

In his act Bert always appeared in a red bobbed wig, which he would never remove despite the tradition of the trade. He was always overdressed and sported a large picture hat. The act was built around 'dishing the dirt' re her friend Margie, and used a lot of double entrendres and homosexual patois. The act involved much fluttering of eyelashes and emphasizing of words. Brennon, in deliberate irony, came across as the more feminine half of the act.

Savoy had four classic lines: 'You should have been with us'; 'I'm glad you asked me'; 'You don't know the half of it, dearie'; and ‘You must come over’.
Mae West based much of her style on his act, especially her walk, and rewrote the last phrase as ‘Come up and see me sometime’.

George and Ira Gershwin featured ‘'You don't Know the Half of it, Dearie, Blues’ in their hit musical, Lady Be Good, 1924.

The critic Edmund Wilson said of the act, 'One felt oneself in the presence of the vast vulgarity of New York incarnate and made heroic'.

Off stage Bert was slightly balding, and slightly flabby. He usually wore a bright pink corset. He cultivated a camp style and referred to men in general as 'she'. Bert was a major contributor to the new perception that drag was somehow homosexual.

On 26 June 1923 he was walking with friends on a Long Island beach when a thunderstorm came up quickly. Bert is reputed to have said: 'Mercy, ain't Miss God cutting up something awful?' Mere moments later a lightning bolt came from the sky, struck Brennon’s locker key around his neck and killed two of them.

Jay Brennon continued the act with Stanley Rogers, who was able to copy Savoy’s mannerism and catchphrases almost exactly. They were in the 1927 W.C. Fields movie, Two Flaming Youths as ‘Savoy and Brennon'.

Brennon later had a short career as a Hollywood screen-writer.

18 April 2009

Mayhem: A legal concept.

++ added later

In early common law the crime of mayhem was committed by inflicting a wound that reduced a man's ability to fight. Women were not expected to fight and so one could not commit mayhem against them. The crime was committed against the king also in that he required the use of fighting men.

The loss of an ear or nose did not count because these do not affect the ability to fight; however the loss of a penis was deemed to be mayhem (which would seem to imply that rape is part of a soldier's duty).

With time the military angle faded out and mayhem is today regarded as injury to normal bodily functioning or disfigurement. Today one can commit mayhem against a woman. Castration is definitely an act of mayhem if it is committed maliciously.

Is transsexual surgery mayhem?

Sally Barry was approved for surgery in Wisconsin in 1948, but had her operation vetoed by the state attorney general’s office as it would constitute mayhem. She was also declined surgery in California in 1949 based on advice from that state’s attorney general’s office.

++In the early 1950s no British doctor would do an orchidectomy.   Both Roberta Cowell and Dorothy Medway sought such.  Roberta obtained hers from the about-to-qualify doctor Michael Dillon, and Dorothy went to the Netherlands.

++ In 1956  twelve New York physicians testified that Hedy Jo Star should have gender surgery but the New York State Medical Society refused permission because of the mayhem laws.

For a long time surgeons in the US declined to do transsexual surgery because of fear of being charged with mayhem. Elmer Belt, the pioneering US surgeon, preserved the testicles in trans women, pushing them into the abdomen, to preserve the hormones that they produced and to avoid such charges. Some patients got around this by doing a self-castration, or having a castration done in Europe, before going to Dr Belt. However no US surgeon was actually ever charged with mayhem.

Twice in Argentina, surgeons have been charged with mayhem after sex-change surgery. In 1966 a surgeon, Ricardo San Martin, was convicted of assault. The patient's consent was considered invalid because of 'his' low mental and emotional age and 'the fact that his neurotic craving for surgery made his consent involuntary'. In 1969 another Argentinian surgeon, Francisco Sefazio, was charged with aggravated assault but was acquitted on the technicality that all of the patients were actually ‘pseudohermaprodites’ and that he had clarified rather than changed their sex.
  • Melvin M.Belli, JD. “Transsexual Surgery: a New Tort?”. Journal of the American Medical Association. May 19, 1978 Vol 239, # 20.
  • Joanne Meyerowitz. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Cambridge, Ma, London: Harvard University Press. 363 pp 2002: 120-1.
  • Susan Stryker and Nikki Sullivan. “King’s Member, Queen’s Body: Transsexual Surgery, Self-Demand Amputation, and the Somatechnics of Sovereign Power”. Archive.

Otto Spengler (18?? – 19??) Benjamin’s first transgender patient.

Otto was born and raised in Germany. His father died when he was four, and from then he slept with his mother in her bed. He was girlish in appearance and his dressmaker sister used him as a dress model.

Although little attracted to women, he did marry at age 26 and they had three children. He wore female clothing at all opportunities and wore female underwear under his male clothing at other times.

He corresponded for many years with Dr Mary Walker and attempted to secure her collection of pictures and letters.

He was known to Magnus Hirschfeld when the latter was writing Die Transvestiten.

Later, after emigrating to New York, he headed 'a large business' and was a writer and lecturer.

His biography was the first of a transvestite to be presented in the US, in a paper given by Bernard Talmey to the New York Society of Medical Jurisprudence in December 1913, and published the next year in the New York Medical Journal. Spengler himself quoted this article in a letter to the New York Evening Post in 1933.

He became a regular medical patient of Harry Benjamin in the 1920s, and only in 1938, while treating him for arthritis, did Benjamin realize that he was a transvestite. At Spengler’s request he prescribed estrogenic hormone and x-ray sterilization of the testicles. This was Benjamin’s first transgender case.

Spengler is given the pseudonym Rudolph von H. in George Henry’s book.

*Not the German political philosopher.

  •  Bernard Simon Talmey. "Transvestism. A contribution to the study of the psychology of sex", New York Medical Journal, 21 Feb 1914, pp.362-368.  Incorporated into his Love, a Treatise on the Science of Sex-Attraction: For the Use of Physicians and Students of Medical Jurisprudence. New York: Practitioners' Pub. Co, 1915: 298-307. Partially reprinted in Jonathan Katz. Gay/Lesbian Almanac. Harper & Row. 1983: 344-8.
  •  Otto Spengler. Letter to the Editor. New York Evening Post, February 15 1933.
  •  George W. Henry. Sex Variants: A Study of Homosexual Patterns. New York: P.B. Hoeber 1948: 487-98.
  •  Leah Cahan Schaefer & Connie Christine Wheeler. “Harry Benjamin's first ten cases (1938-1953): a clinical historical note”. Archives of Sexual Behavior 24:1 Feb 1995: 3. Online at
  •  Joanne Meyerowitz. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Cambridge, Ma, London: Harvard University Press. 363 pp 2002: 46, 298n105.

13 April 2009

82 Club

A night club at 82 E. 4th St, between 2nd Ave and the Bowery in Manhattan. It was also called Club 82, and had previously been the Rainbow Inn.

It opened in 1953 after the 181, at that number on Second Avenue, around the corner, lost its liquor license after being mentioned in USA Confidential as a gay club. Both clubs had the same management, personnel and style.

Mobster Vito Genovese had bought up gay bars in the Greenwich Village area in the 1930s. He had married his second wife Anna after having her husband murdered because she could not get a divorce. She was lesbian, and he was okay with that. The original manager of Club 82 was Steve Franse. Don Vito, on the run in Italy from a murder charge, had left Franse to assist and watch over his wife. When she publicly divorced him in 1953, he had Franse killed.

82 Club became New York’s major drag revue. Ty Bennett was the headliner for a decade from 1958.  The waiters were women dressed as men. As was usual with such clubs, some performers moved on to living full-time as female, in some cases with transgender surgery, but others chose to continue going home as men. The performers were permitted to mingle with the guests during intermissions, but wearing trousers. The teenage Harvey Fierstein hung out there in 1965. The club was briefly featured in the 1968 Rod Steiger film, No Way to Treat a Lady. Show-biz royalty flocked to the club. Legend has it that Errol Flynn played piano there with his penis.

After Stonewall, the business drifted away, when people could be more open on the streets. At this time the club was run by two butch dykes, Tommy who worked the door and Butchie who ran the bar.

As the club had an outcast image, punk and early glitter and glam kids started going there from 1972. Another Pretty Face were the house band in 1973. For the Christopher Street Liberation Day in June 1973, Bebe Scarpinato went to the 82 Club and got the remaining showgirls, in full regalia to march behind an 82 Club banner.

The New York Dolls started to perform at 82 Club. For their first show, April 17, 1974, they performed in drag, except for Johnny Thunders who refused. They were followed by Wayne County (later to be Jayne) and short-lived glitter bands like Teenage Lust and Harlots of 42nd Street. David Bowie and Lou Reed and his trans lover Rachel were encountered there.

The rock bands stopped in 1976, and it continued as a disco bar until it closed in 1978. Later it became the Film Forum, an art cinema. In 1992 it became the Bijou Cinema. After renovation in 2006, it reopened as a gay sex club and porn theatre.

Performers included Terry Noel, Minette, Sonne Teal, Kim AugustTobi Marsh, Hans Crystal, Kim Christy, Gayle Sherman, Dorian Wayne, Tony Midnight, Betty.

Sonne Teal (193? - 1966) impersonator.

Spencer Teal was born in Canada, and then moved to North Dakota with his parents. He studied with a modern ballet group, and after college taught for a year in an art institute in North Dakota.

As Sonne, he then joined a female impersonation revue, before performing at the 82 Club in New York. There he was seen by the choreographer of Le Carrousel, who was appearing in New York, and was offered a contract to work in Paris with Bambi. This lead to two years at the Casino de Paris, and a European tour.

He was in one film, La Poupée (The Doll), 1962, in which he plays the dictator’s wife and also her robot double. Apparently the director, Jacques Baratier, did not realize Sonne's off-stage gender before casting.

He died on a Japanese tour, with four other members of Le Carrousel, in a freak accident flying over Mount Fujiyama.


++Diane et les sexe des anges gives the names of Sonne's colleagues on the flight as Christina, Coco,  Kismie and Cobra.

Avery Willard tells us that Jacques Baratier was parviscient, that he did not twig that Teal was a female impersonator. However look at page 178-9 (here) of Film Theory, 2004, by Philip Simpson, Andrew Utteron & Karen Sheperdson, where Parker Tyler in an essay "Mother Superior of the Faggots and some rival queens" says:
In two French films. La Poupée and Sweet and Low, the basic homosexual is seen in quite disjunct charades. The former, a heavy-fantasy farce, had a well-known female impersonator, Sonne Teal, playing a professional who doubles as a theatrical producer's wife. Here was someone with a high degree of impersonator talent who yet left his male identity tangibly visible. It seems as if the plot's inner dimension (the impersonation of a real female by a professional impersonator bent on deception) meant to ratify a oblique tour de force the overt tour de force of the nightclub act. Mr Teal had enough sheer acting talent to make his complicated film stint amusing. Bear in mind that there is no serious effort in such cases to make the sex impersonation more than a meaningful, though perhaps ambiguous illusion.

08 April 2009

Michelle Josef (1954 - ) drummer.

Bohdan Hluszko, of Ukrainian descent, played in Tesseract and with David Wilcox, and with other Toronto bands. He became one of Canada’s leading session drummers, and appeared on many albums. He played with over 50 bands including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

He joined Prairie Oyster for their fifth album, Blue Plate Special, 1996, but was fired the next year after coming out as transgender.

In 1997, Bohdan was voted Canadian Country Music Association's 1997 drummer of the year, and Michelle had surgery.

Michelle was refused a female membership at a Toronto YMCA and barred from using the women’s locker room. She complained to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which decided in her and others’ favour, to the outrage of the then Progressive Conservative government.

Michelle also sued the Ontario government for not covering sex-change surgery in the provincial health plan.

Michelle is featured briefly in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Psychology.

*Not Michelle Joseph, the actress.

05 April 2009

Sou Southevy (1940 - ) sex worker.

Revised February 2014.

Sotheavy was born in Takeo province, Cambodia.  She transitioned while working as a military nurse and studying performing arts.

At the beginning of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975, when Phnom Penh was forcibly evacuated, Southevy witnessed a massacre of female sex workers. 

She was sent to a village in Takeo province where she was arrested for illegally receiving food.

She escaped to Vietnam where she survived until the Vietnamese liberation of Cambodia in 1979.

She is one of the few transgender persons to survive the Khmer Rouge regime.

In 2008 she made a formal complaint to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, in the hope that the extermination of transgender, lesbian and sex workers will be acknowledged.

In recent years Sotheavy has been doing HIV/AIDs outreach work, and founded the Cambodian Network for Men Women Development, the first LGBT charity in Cambodia to support LGBT people. The charity also helps to support LGBT people in more rural areas of Cambodia, where education is low.

In 2014 she was awarded the David Kato award, the first international recognition she has received.
She said: “I have been working without funds for a very long time,” said Sou. “This award will allow me to help my organization, train my team, and ultimately strengthen the rights of LGBT people in Cambodia.

03 April 2009

Were Henry Lee Lucas (1936 – 2001) and Ottis Toole (1947 – 1996) transvestites?.

Henry Lee Lucas was born in a one-room cabin near Blacksburg, Virginia, the youngest of nine children. His father, a former railroad employee has lost his legs after being hit by a freight train, and was frequently drunk. His mother, a prostitute, often violently beat the children. Lucas was once three days in a coma after she hit him with a piece of wood.

She forced him to watch what she did with her tricks, and often dressed him as a girl. One of his sisters confirms that he was dressed as a girl for the first day of school.

When he was 10, one of his brothers stabbed him in the left eye. His mother ignored the injury for four days and he lost the eye. When he was 13, his father died of pneumonia after collapsing drunk during a snow storm.

Soon afterwards, Lucas dropped out of school and lived as a drifter doing petty crimes and burglaries. He was convicted of burglary in 1954 and released in 1959.

In 1960 while visiting his sister in Michigan he stabbed his mother during a drunken brawl, and she died. He was convicted of second-degree murder, but released after 10 years, perhaps due to prison overcrowding, even after he had told the parole board that he would kill again.

In 1976 he met Ottis Toole and traveled with him for many years. Lucas was arrested in Texas in 1983 for unlawful firearm possession as he was an ex-con, and then charged with two murders. He pleaded guilty and confessed to a hundred other murders as well. The confessions eventually went up to several hundred murders. It is likely that many of these confessions were to obtain prison privileges and for police officers to clear up unsolved crimes.

He was convicted of 11 murders. There were 153 death penalty convictions in Texas while George Bush was governor. Lucas’ conviction was the only one that Bush commuted to life in prison.

Lucas died in prison at age 64.

Ottis Toole was born in Jacksonville, Florida. His father abandoned the family. His mother, who was deeply into evangelical protestantism, abused him and frequently dressed him as a girl.

Several of his family including his elder sister and a friend of his father had sex with him while he was child. He was gang-raped by hobos when six years old. He scored low on IQ tests, had dyslexia and attention deficiency and was epileptic.

He had his first gay affair when 12. As a teenager he did some prostitution and sometimes went out crossdressed.

At 21 he married a 15-year-old girl, but she discovered his gay activities and left after nine weeks. He became a drifter, living by begging and prostitution. He was a prime suspect in murders of women in Nebraska and Colorado.

He returned to Jacksonville and married a woman 25 years older. After 13 months of domestic violence they divorced and Toole went back to prostitution.

In 1976 he met Henry Lee Lucas and they became lovers.

In 1983 Toole was arrested for arson and confessed to several murders. He was sentenced to death, but the sentences were commuted to life in prison.

He died in prison of liver failure at age 49.

  • John McNaughton (dir). Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Scr: Richard Fire & John McNaughton, with Michael Rooker as Henry and Tom Towles as Otis. US 83 mins 1986.
  • Peter Vieira (dir) Death Diploma. Scr: Richard Mason, Peter Priamos & Peter Vieira, with Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole. US/Canada 50 mins 1987.
  • Brad Shellady. “Henry: Fabrication of a Serial Killer”. In Russ Kick. Everything You Know is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Secrets and Lies. The Disinformation Company Ltd. 2002: 64-71.
  • David McGowan. Programmed to Kill: The Politics of Serial Murder. iUniverse, Inc. 2004: 71-6..
EN.Wikipedia(Henry_Lee_Lucas).     EN.Wikipedia(Ottis_Toole).

These are interesting case studies. Not only do both men have the dominant mother and absent or passive father so beloved of psychoanalysts, they were both subjected to the forced femininity that is a popular theme in transvestite pornography both hard and soft. It seems that Lucas just grinned and bared it, but Toole continued as a teenage transvestite. I have found no statement that he continued to dress as an adult, nor that he was a transy hooker.

The forced femininity is featured in the movie version of their lives, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Obviously the forced femininity did not contribute to making them fine upstanding citizens.

Obviously there are many factors in their lives that do not apply to 99%+ of transvestites.

As I said, these are interesting case studies. They are technically part of the spectrum of gender variance, but they are also extremely untypical.

01 April 2009

Gia Darling (198? - ) sex worker.

Darling was born in Guatemala. At age two, he was adopted by a US single mother, and they lived in Valencia, California.

Gia socially transitioned at age 15, and started taking street hormones. Three years later she had breast implants. She has not had genital surgery. However she has had 45 surgeries to feminize her face, and 100 other procedures on hips, buttocks, breasts, chin and cheeks – the cost of all this over $150,000, all with Dr Mayer in Los Angeles.

She has appeared in many porno films, and also many television programs. She won the Transsexual Performer of the Year AVN Award in 2006.

She has adopted two Maltese babies.