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17 October 2010

Frederick L. Whitam (1933 - 2009) sociologist.

Whitam was raised in Mississippi. He did his PhD at Indiana University. He also taught at Millsaps College in Mississippi, the State University of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, and the University of Texas at Austin as well as being a professor of Sociology at Arizona State University in Tempe for 30 years.

His first book was The Protestant Spanish Community in New York, 1960. He spoke Spanish and Portuguese fluently and traveled extensively in Latin American and the Philippines. He visited homosexual locations in Phoenix, Arizona; New York City; Cherry Grove, Fire Island, Long Island; Guatemala City; São Paulo, and Cebu, Philippines.

His major work is Male Homosexuality in Four Societies: Brazil, Guatemala, the Philippines, and the United States which was published in 1986, only one year after the Clarke Institute's Gender Dyphoria. He argues that homosexuality and transvestic homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality and occurs in all societies, and homosexuals in general tend to patterns of early cross-gender behavior.

He used a standardized interview schedule of questions mainly concerned with the informant's retrospective analysis of their pasts. As Donovan points out, Whitam waffles the distinction between homosexual behavior and homosexual identity. His interest is in the 'effeminate' male homosexual more than in masculine homosexuals. He says that "drag … an intrinsic aspect of homosexuality (p82)".

"The dichotomy between masculine and feminine homosexuals is not entirely a creation of the homosexual subculture. Rather, manifestations of cross-gender behavior appear early in homosexuals in all societies, and these persons usually enter the homosexual subculture with cross-gender patterns already evident, giving the subculture its cross-gendered dimension. (p69)".
He protests the general assumption that transvestites are mainly heterosexual.
"Some sex researchers have limited the use of the term transvestism to heterosexual transvestism, on the erroneous assumption that homosexual transvestism is just 'playing at cross-dressing'. Some heterosexual transvestites, not wanting to be identified as being homosexual, have insisted that they are the 'true transvestites' and take a demeaning attitude towards drag queens and female impersonators. (p80)."
Like Blanchard, Whitam sees two types of transvestite, defined by sexual orientation, and attracted to quite different occupations, and that it is mainly the homosexual transvestites who are cross-gendered as children. In the paper that Whitam wrote for the Bulloughs in 1997 he also includes observations made in Thailand and Indonesia by other sociologists. He repeats his complaint about the heterosexual appropriation of the word transvestite. He lists 10 characteristics of "homosexual TVs/TSs":
  1. cross-gendered as children
  2. low levels of athletic interest as children
  3. early appearance of 'sissy' behavior
  4. do not cross-dress fetishistically
  5. manner of dress is theatrical and glamorous
  6. communities of such produce conspicuous entertainment forms
  7. most appealing occupations are entertainment, singing, dancing, acting
  8. often work in prostitution, hair styling, seamstress, maids, manicurists.
  9. high levels of genital sexual interest
  10. their partners tend to be heterosexual or bisexual men.
He also remarks that the distinction between transvestite and transsexual is less important that the distinction between masculine gay men and transvestites/transsexuals.
  • Frederick L. Whitam. “The Homosexual Role: A Reconsideration”. The Journal of Sex Research. Vol 13, 1 Fed 1977: 1-11. Online at:
  • Frederick L. Whitam. “The Prehomosexual Male Child in Three Societies: The United States, Guatemala, Brazil”. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Vol 9, 2 1980.
  • Frederick L. Whitam and Robin M. Mathy. Male Homosexuality in Four Societies: Brazil, Guatemala, the Philippines, and the United States. New York: Praeger, 1986.
  • James M. Donovan. “Review: Male Homosexuality in Four Societies: Brazil, Guatemala, the Philippines, and the United States (Frederick L. Whitam and Robin M. Mathy, Praeger, 1986)" Anthropology Research Group on Homosexuality Newsletter Oct. 1987: 15-17”.
  • Frederick L. Whitam “Culturally Universal Aspects of Male Homosexual Transvestites and Transsexuals”. In Bonnie Bullough, Vern Bullough & James Elias (eds). Gender Blending. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. 1997.
  • Leonard Gordon. “Frederick L. Whitam, 1933-2009”. ASAFootnotes: Obituaries. 2009.

    Male Homosexuality in Four Societies: Brazil, Guatemala, the Philippines, and the United States and the Clarke Institute's Gender Dysphoria were published within a year of each other.  They both divide male born trans persons into two types based on sexual orientation and make rather similar comments about the two types.  There is no mention in Whitam of Blanchard, and I have not been able to find any mention of Whitam in the works of Blanchard or his followers.  Another example of two solitudes that should be talking to each other.  However it is a mark of pseudo-science that its authors are not interested in similar conclusions by other writers.

    Somewhat unusually for a sociologist, Whitam is a biological determinist.

    While he claims that transvestic homosexuals are universal, he pays no attention to, for example, Randolph Trumbach, who has written much on the emergence of the mollies in 18th century London.  Trumbach’s work would imply that transvestic homosexuals appear with a sufficient amount of urbanization, and as such are part of the modern world.

    In addition Whitam says nothing about Africa, the Arab nations or Europe.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Whitam re the heterosexual appropriation of transvestite (and also transgender).  See my comments on the non-inclusion of José Sarria in Susan Stryker’s Transgender History.

    However I am opposed to the post-Hirschfeld division of trans persons into two types based on sexual orientation.  There are heterosexual drag queens and female impersonators, fetishistic gay transvestites and gay transvestites whom you never describe as drag queens.

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