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29 March 2013

Virginia Prince: Jargon terms and general comments

Part 1 – Youth and First marriage
Part II – Second Marriage
Part III – Femmiphilic activist
Part IV – Full-time Living
Part V – Transgenderist dowager
Jargon terms and general comments

Jargon terms associated with Virginia Prince:

  • Transvestite, transvestism – the various forms of transvest* and the French form travest* have been around as noun, verb and adjective for almost 500 years. The Paris police have been issuing Permissions de Travestissement since 1800. Magnus Hirschfeld associated the word with eroticism, and psychoanalysts attempted to redefine it as a fetish. Prince cited Hirschfeld's usage as a justification for restricting the word to heterosexual transvestites.
  • Femmiphilic, femmepersonator -- these were terms for heterosexual transvestites of the type encouraged to join Tri-ess. Prince coined the terms in 1961 as she knew that her attempted restriction of the word transvestite was not successful, but other members largely kept using transvestite until after 1970 when Prince became more insistent that they not be used. Femmiphilia fell out of use towards the end of the 1980s and was replaced by cross-dressing.
  • ‘TV-TS’ Ekins claims that Prince pioneered this, but gives no citations. TV and TS are the obvious abbreviations for transvestite and transsexual and were almost certainly coined by many unconnected people independently.
  • Trangenderal -- a term used by Prince in 1969, but once only.
  • Male Woman - a person whose sex is one side of the binary divide and whose gender is the other side and whose sexuality vis-à-vis sex is heterosexual.
  • Dual personality expression
  • gender is between the ears, not the legs - a phrase that has become popular in recent years, and is not usually attributed to Prince.
  • Transgenderist -- a variation on transgender which had been picked up by Ariadne Kane around 1978, and copied by Prince in a few articles 1978-9. They used it to mean a Prince-style transvestite who goes full time. Such is a type of what Benjamin called a Non-Surgical Transsexual, but Prince would never admit this. As she had done with 'transvestite' Prince took an existing word and attempted to restrict it to mean only her own type. Richard Docter, 1988, and IFGE promoted the idea that Prince coined ‘transgenderist’, and in 1996, Feinberg popularized the idea in hir Transgender Warriors. From that time Prince started claiming that she had coined the term, but sometimes mocked the idea, depending on the audience. Vivian Namaste uses 'transgenderist' in her Invisible Lives with no connotation of the Princian usage.
  • The Girl Within -- a term coined by Susanna Valenti in the early 1960s. It was taken over with credit by Prince to express what is found in every male, but repressed in most. Neither Valenti nor Prince compare the term to Ulrichsanima muliebris.
  • Transposeur -- a term proposed by Prince in 1997 to replace transgenderist which was being confused with transgender. She never did follow up on this proposal.
  • Whole Girl Fetishist – proposed by Sheila Nile in 1968 for members who did not pass well enough, particularly if it were for lack of trying. Over the next few years it came to be that those who failed or didn’t bother to fashion themselves as truly feminine were fetishistic. Susanna even estimated that the majority of members were WGFs.
When to use female pronouns? Wikipedia and Ekins follow the confusing convention that the pronouns of a person's final gender should be retrojected to childhood and even birth. The not-TG people and Patricia Califia - who claim to follow that same convention - somehow deny Prince all female pronouns, some just to Prince and others to all non-op trans women. This is despite the obvious fact that Prince had a female gender identity before puberty. However she did not become a full-time woman until 1968. Like the rest of us, Prince had more than one persona. Much clarity is gained when Arnold, Muriel and Virginia are used to signify which aspect is doing what. Virginia did not do a pharmacology PhD, write Chemistry in Your Beauty Shop and marry two wives; Arnold did.

The US state of Virginia has three counties with Prince in the name: Prince Edward, Prince George and Prince William. This does make it difficult to google "Virginia Prince".

In the decades before Stonewall there were silly laws and there were draconian laws. People, gay, trans, lesbian were irritated by those laws, were harassed by them, they were sometimes arrested, less often jailed, and more often lost their jobs. Virginia Prince hobnobbed with the gay and lesbian organizations, with the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis. But she told the members of FPE and she told the police officers that FPE was not not gay, it was not fetishistic, it was not gender variant, and its members did not seek surgical transformation. We are different from people like that. Yes some members of the Mattachine Society were into a similar sense of false respectability, and emphasized that they were not transvestites. But in both cases saying we are different, there is always an unspoken 'jail them, but please not us'.

Was Prince a transvestite activist? Obviously not. I showed this by listing individuals who could be regarded as transvestites who were not supported. Felicity Chandelle stands out as an exception. Comptons Cafeteria, the Black Cat police riot, Sir Lady Java – Prince was not interested. Even Mauricio Archibald, where the charge was identical to that against Felicity, and where an appeal had been secured, Prince was not interested. When she spoke to police officers she always emphasized that her members were different from street transvestites.

Was Prince a transgender activist? Even less so. Non-femmiphilic transvestites were banned from FPE. Also banned were drag queens, all gender queers, all transsexuals, and most non-ops. Prince had transsexual friends. There is no record that she had any transgender friends. Nor did she she seek to co-ordinate or ally of her own accord with any transgender groups. IFGE did ally with various types of transgender groups, as did Leslie Feinberg. Feinberg and IFGE used Prince's name in proclaiming transgender umbrellas but Prince continued to write mean-spirited articles complaining about the umbrellas. In short she was transgenderphobic.

The other partner in Cardinal Industries of California is a well-kept secret. I presume that it was a private company, not quoted on the stock exchange. Attempts to google it mainly bring up Cardinal Industries of New York, a toy-making company.

Likewise the list of the original 12 members of the Hose and Heel Club is still a secret 50 odd years later. Are the names not in the papers left to either Rikki Swin or to Northridge University? Docter tells us that one member was a dress maker and that the second meeting was at his house. Darrell Raynor tells us that Robert Stevens/Barbara Ellen and Evelyn fell out with Prince late 1962 or early 1963. Presumably they were in the original group, but we know nothing about them other than what is in Raynor's book.

It occurs to me that the surviving members of the Alpha Chapter might tell a rather different account, but with the exception of JJ Allen they have not done so. I was able to find so much more about the New York chapter. I can work only from published accounts.

The most remarkable thing about Virginia Prince is that she had dealings with five sexologists: Bowman, Benjamin, Stoller, Bullough and Docter. While each of them disassociated from her published opinions, she did affect, even deform, the writing of Benjamin, Bullough and Docter.

Prince's quest was a quixotic one. She took the example of the femmiphilic and presented it as the ideal type of transvestite person, and that the membership of FPE was the universe of cross dressers. To do this she had to construct three dams of exclusion that were forever disintegrating.

a) Fetishism. Hirschfeld subtitled his 1910 book: The Transvestites: The Erotic Drive to Cross-Dress, and Psychoanalysts spent most of the last century developing the idea that transvestism is fetishistic. Quite reasonably Prince reacted against this. In addition, in the early days of Transvestia Prince had to be careful or else the magazine would have been banned by the US Post Office. This meant not only excluding discussions of eroticism, but also forced-femininity and petticoat-punishment fantasies. Nan Gilbert, a publisher of petticoat-punishment fantasies had had his mail stopped and was fined $500 in 1960. So it is certainly intriguing that Issues 1, 2 and 4 of Transvestia featured William Bessie Beck, the legendary recipient of petticoat-punishment whose amazing tale has now been published by Peter Farrer. What should we make of the fiction titles: From Martin to Marion, The Turnabout Party and The Birth of Barbara? They were published by Chevalier Publications, and advertised at the back of How to be a Woman Though Male. Amazon lists the author as "Anonymous (Virginia Prince?)". In fact the first draft of most of these fictions were published in Transvestia. Then there is Sandy Thomas, apparently a long-time friend of Prince. Thomas is the author of lots and lots of transvestite fiction. In the mid-1990s Prince sold the copyright of her major books and of Transvestia to Thomas who has reprinted them on his own imprint and listed them under his own name. Both the original Prince books and the Thomas-authored books are now available together on

b) Transsexuality. Prince had an initial enthusiasm for transgender surgery, as we saw above. There are rumors that she even applied to be accepted in the Stanford University program (although she had been in Los Angeles earlier at the right time for Elmer Belt's program at UCLA Medical School). However Prince completely denied that rumor. She decided against surgery, as did Yvonne Sinclair, Nicole Murray Ramirez and Leslie Feinberg, but of these only Prince then came down heavy on others who were considering surgery (other changebacks who are more like Prince in wanting to ban gender surgery include Charles Kane, Gerry Leach and Alan Finch). One of the first to receive this negative message was the teenage Diane Kearny who naively wrote to Prince and was told that she was ‘delusional’ in wanting such. Words such as 'mean-spirited' and 'bullying' have been used to describe Prince's antagonism to other people's possible surgery. A typical example was Mary who was Prince's assistant in 1967 and who had originally thought that she would seek surgery. On the other hand, in the period just before Doreen's departure, Prince was friends with Sherry, a post-operative. They would go to dances as two women, and Doreen was stressed that Prince would follow in Sherry's footsteps. In 1979 Prince wrote: "Although I personally try to dissuade people from having the surgery, except in special cases, it is interesting that three of my best girl friends are former men who have had the surgery". Docter (p58) says: "Over the years, Virginia has been very outspoken and dogmatic in her opposition in presenting her opposition to surgical sex reassignment, often going well beyond the simple expression of a personal preference and more into the mode of conducting an ideological campaign. Let's just say she has not shown much acceptance of contrasting opinions on this topic, and it has cost her some friends. But as strong as her views on this may be, she has sustained many close friendships with transgender women who elected to proceed with surgery." Despite her statements, there was a steady loss of FPE-Tri-Ess members to surgery.

c) Homosexuality. In The Transvestite and His Wife, Prince wrote "The femmiphile adopts feminine garb as a matter of personal internal expression – the homosexual 'Queen' does so for external effect – to attract males for sexual purposes and to ease the guilt of both." However in conversation Prince, while denying finding men attractive, did admit to enjoying being attractive to and flirting with men. She had a cross-dresser friend who was willing to play the male role and took her for lunch and drinks. Afterward they did mutual masturbation. She found kissing, hugging and affection from a man to be sexually rewarding. Hence we could take the attitude that by her own definition we can take her as a homosexual queen. The fashion in typology has changed since the sixties. Then the emphasis was on behavior; now it is on sex or gender identity. Prince did emphatically reject a gay identity, but if a police officer had encountered Prince and her date they could have been convicted. She insisted that "never once was there any kind of anal or oral sex". There is of course a significant minority of gay men have the same preference, but with a different sexual identity. Suzan Cooke says that she spoke to a male hustler who counted Prince among his customers. That is certainly possible but we need further confirmation.

Like the later HBS movement, Prince would use 'gender' where the context would imply that she meant 'gender identity'. And of course there is something a bit askew about Prince's gender identity. Even as late as the 2000s she insisted that she was heterosexual. It seems that she never accepted the argument that as a heterosexual woman she should be interested in men. Likewise she kept repeating that she was a pioneer of men's lib. If she were a women with a woman's gender identity then of course she would not be a pioneer of men's lib.

If Muriel were born not in 1912, but in say 1992, where would she be today? Would she have been a transkid on puberty blockers, and completing surgical transition in a gap year before going up to university? Or would she join those who say that it is a violation of the UN statutes against torture to compel trans persons to be sterilized? In none of the source documents is there an explanation of why Prince turned away from wanting surgery.

As TS Eliot famously said: a bad poet borrows, a good poet steals. Actually he did not. What he actually wrote: "One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion." On this basis Prince is a bad poet. 1978, when Kane introduced Prince to the word 'transgender', was early enough that if Prince had had the gumption and the resourcefulness she could have taken the word and made it hers. To do so would have involved using it more than only three or four times. It would have meant using it regularly and with a force that would have withered the competing usages. Prince was not a major intellect: she was making the same specious claims in 2005 as in 1965; and had not the slightest idea how to weld her theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn. Rather she defaced a rich multivalent word, 'transgender', and attempted and failed in her attempt to reduce and narrow it into something quite inauthentic. She threw it into something which has no cohesion.

One can see why Yvonne Cook-Riley and Kimberleigh Richards wanted to credit Prince with something that she never did, and never could have. It is an irony of note that Diane Kearny, Suzan Cooke, Jenifer Usher and Cathryn Platine all want to support Cook-Riley and Richards in this endeavor.


bonzeblayk said...

Thanks very much for this interesting review of what we might call… "The Prince Phenomenon"?

Still, it's a puzzlement to me; I don't really understand what motivates a person who seeks to stake a claim as "the" representative of a class of people who are somehow "legitimate", and exclude rafts of others who are kinda-sorta the same as merely perverse, or bizarre.

Or maybe I should say I find it difficult to find any "good" motivations for doing so?

And then gaining so much influence over the thinking of professionals… I don't really get why they buy into a prefab one-size-fits-all narrative of this sort, other than the false aura of simplicity it offers…

Do you have any thoughts on this, Zagria?

thanks again,
- bonzie anne

Zagria said...

I think that I have alredy given my many thoughts on the topic.

How come nobody else has any to say? Now that IFGE has been wound down Prince has lost her major cheer leader, and can slide into the oblivion of history. Yes/no?