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25 March 2013

Virginia Prince: Part V - Transgenderist dowager

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

In 1985 Virginia and Christine Jorgensen appeared in Lee Grant's documentary, What Sex Am I?    Dorothy Marie Shepherd, Arnold's first wife, died the same year.

This was also the year that the Clarke Institute in Toronto published Gender Dysphoria which laid out the dichotomy between heterosexual autogynephilics and 'homosexual transsexuals'. While this corresponded to Prince's insistence that homosexuals and femmiphics were, to use her term, "separate breeds of cat" there is no record that I have found of either Kurt Freund and Ray Blanchard of the Clarke on one side or Virginia Prince on the other discussing how femmiphilia and autogynephilia are different or similar, although later writers see them as two aspects of the same thing.

Frederick Whitam published his Male Homosexuality in Four Societies in 1986. He argues that homosexuality and transvestic homosexuality are as natural as heterosexuality and occur in all societies, and homosexuals in general tend to patterns of early cross-gender behavior. He sees heterosexual transvestites as a different category and protests their appropriation of the word 'transvestite'. "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) We now had three solitudes that should have been talking to each other, but did not.

IFGE (International Foundation for Gender Education) was founded by Merrisa Sherrill Lynn in 1987, initially as an outgrowth from Boston's Tiffany Club. Although proclaimed as a group for both transsexuals and transvestites, they built in a heterosexual transvestite bias by creating a Virginia Prince Award, and, apparently with no sense of irony, actually awarded the first one to Virginia Prince. The next two went to Merrisa Sherrill Lynn and Ariadne Kane.

Richard F. Docter published his Transvestites and Transsexuals: Toward a Theory of Cross-Gender Behavior in 1988. He gathered data from 110 male transvestites. He found that even after excluding those who were exclusively gay, 28% of the rest had some sexual experience with men. He purports a 5-part typology for heterosexual transvestites: fetishism, fetishistic transvestism, marginal transvestism, transgenderism and secondary transsexualism. He conceives these as stages which an individual can progress through. He has a 4-part typology for homosexual transvestites: primary transsexualism, secondary transsexualism, "so-called drag queens" and female impersonators. This is not a progression in the same sense. He treats Prince as one source among many and does not indicate that he knows her personally. Certainly he does not stick to her usage of the term 'transgender', although he credits Prince with coining it in her Understanding Cross Dressing, 1977 (but without giving a page reference and Google Books Search is unable to find it). He notes that his ‘transgenderism’ category corresponds to Benjamin's Type IV, Nonsurgical Transsexual. According to the diagram on p25, it is an heterosexual variation as in Prince, but Docter discusses only one example, a then 22-year-old Everett/Angela who is androphilic, sexually active and will probably shortly have transsexual surgery. (p21-5)

Robert Stoller died in a traffic accident in 1991. His wife returned the tapes and transcription of their 29 years of sessions to Virginia, who later passed them on to Docter for his biography.

By 1992, Yvonne Cook-Riley (who was awarded the Virginia Prince Award in 1995) was lobbying for the use of ‘transgender’ within IFGE, and would later, with willful ignorance, claim that she and Prince had created the ‘transgender community’.

In 1993 Vern and Bonnie Bullough returned to Los Angeles after his retirement. Vern again taught at Northridge as an adjunct professor until 2003. Their new book, Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender, while totally ignoring Reed Erickson and April Ashley, reducing Lou Sullivan to an erotic cross dresser, and refusing to give Jacqueline Dufresnoy's female name, builds up the importance of Prince. They claim that Prince was the only transvestite organizer of note from 1952 to the 1980s. They do see through Prince's claims: "Prince's quest for respectability led her to exclude cross dressers who were homosexuals, sadomaschists, women, prostitutes, or even partial cross dressers. Because the psychiatrists accepted Prince's definition of transvestism and incorporated it into the DSM-III-R, behavioral scientists, including the authors, blindly followed the accepted definition by studying club members as if they were the universe of cross dressers." (p302) They follow with a summary of Frederick Whitam's work in the third world, but do not name any European or North American gay transvestites. The organizing work by Sylvia Rivera in New York or of Rachel Pollack or later Yvonne Sinclair in London is certainly not mentioned, and, as I have mentioned before, there is a recurring pattern in Bullough's work of not mentioning either transvestites or transsexuals who have a male lover or spouse. The Bulloughs, despite knowing Prince personally, do not claim the she coined 'transgender', or even associate her with the word at all. They do use the word when referring to Ariadne Kane. The Bulloughs note "Originally, we planned to publish Virginia/Charles's original name, but she regards this part of her past a closed book she would rather not reopen." (308n5)

The internet forum, alt.transgendered, was launched 1992, did not even mention Prince until 1995 when Kimberleigh Richards, editor of Cross-Talk, entered to promote Prince as a pioneer of ‘transgendered’, but with almost no success.

Prince sold most of the remaining copies of Transvestia and the copyright on her major books to Sandy Thomas, an old colleague. There are now available along with Thomas' transvestite fantasy titles from

By 1996, the claims by Cook-Riley and Richards that Prince had coined ‘transgender’ were becoming widely known, and were repeated without citation in Leslie Feinberg’s Transgender Warriors: “But the word transgender is increasingly being used in a more specific way as well. The term transgenderist was first introduced into the English language by trans warrior Virginia Prince. Virginia told me, ‘I coined the noun transgenderist in 1987 or ’88. There had to be some name for people like myself who trans the gender barrier’ (p x) “. This is her only appearance in the book: Feinberg does not care to demonstrate Prince as a ‘trans warrior’. This seems to be the major source from which people claim that Prince coined the word. However there is no record of Prince using the word in 1987/8. This led to mainstream, albeit uncritical, acceptance of the claim.1

The same year, Prince published “Gender Fundamentalists” in Richards’ Cross-Talk, where she rejected the inclusions that IFGE and Feinberg had been putting out in her name and reasserted her separatism and her transgenderphobia. "It is strange but true that the ones who are most vocal, most in print and most publicly active are the transsexuals. Their main point of attack is Tri-Ess because of the policy (which in their anointed wisdom they like to term "exclusionary") of selecting heterosexuals only, which conflicts with what they proclaim to be the only right way for a group to be ... open to all comers." Prince is complaining that transsexuals are trying to include her and her group in an umbrella.

Bonnie Bullough died, just before the publication of Gender Blending edited by herself, Vern and James Elias. The tome is inclusivist except for the contributions by Prince and Kimberleigh Richards. In "Seventy Years in the Trenches of the Gender Wars" Prince actually claims: "As a matter of fact, I coined the words 'transgenderism' and 'transgenderist' as nouns describing people like myself who have breasts and live full time as woman, but who have no intention of having genital surgery". However she does not say where, and she objects to the inclusivist usage of ‘transgender’. She plays with the idea of adopting  ‘transposeur’, although she never returned to this term. She is also emphatic that she is a "congenital heterosexual" (perhaps having forgotten her claim to be a woman). She re-asserts her objection to the notion of "fetishistic cross-dressing", and asserts again that she is a pioneer of men's liberation.

On the other hand in 1999, in a meeting with Vanessa Foster: "She was bemused by my use (and the community's) of the word transgender, and how the story affixed its authorship to her, even though she'd referred to it as transgenderist as a self-descriptor once she'd moved from occasional crossdressing to living as female, though not transsexual (she was quick to correct that!)".

In 2000 Prince sold four sets of Transvestia, photographs and personal papers to Rikki Swin. They were initially in the Rikki Swin Institute in Chicago, and are now at the University of Victoria. Other files and papers were donated to the Special Collections Department at California State University, Northridge.

In 2003, Michael Bailey's The Man Who Would Be Queen, revived the Freund-Blanchard notion of autogynephilia to much alarm and controversy, but still there was no dialectic with the notion of femmiphilia
Virginia with Richard Docter
In 2004, Richard F. Docter, who had become a friend of Prince and the Bulloughs, at the urging of Vern, wrote and self-published his biography of her. Bullough provided a Preface. Unlike her reluctance in Bullough's book a decade earlier, Prince was now willing that her original name of Arnold Lowman, not mentioned outside her inner circle since the court appearance in 1961, should be used. While Docter had developed a 5-part typology in his Transvestites and Transsexuals, 1988, he does not locate Prince within it, although in chapter 13 he does discuss Step a: from being a fetishistic cross dresser to being a transgender women and then Step b: from being a woman in public to having the gender identity of a woman.

From 2005 the so-called Harry Benjamin Syndrome movement was developed. The European branch had little to say about Virginia Prince: Charlotte Goiar's bête noire is rather Carla Antonelli. The US HBS people following Diane Kearny set up Prince as that which they are not. It is therefore ironic that in several respects they follow Prince more than they do Benjamin:
  • they deny that there is a continuum from transvestite to transsexual
  • they disassociate from trans women who pass less well, and whom they regard as fetishistic
  • they disassociate from gays and lesbians
  • they disassociate from the transgender umbrella
  • They are also more like Prince than Robert Stoller in talking only of Gender but not Gender Identity.
Vern Bullough died in 2006. In his final book, Crossing Sexual Boundaries, co-edited with Aridane Kane, Bullough still does not use Prince's original name. His take on the term 'transgender' has now altered to: "In fact, Virginia was a main source of the popularization of gender as applied to cross-dressing. She and Ariadne popularized the term transgender, which has been a more encompassing term than cross-dresser."

Prince lived till 2009 and the age of 96, lastly in a retirement home in Los Angeles, and according to her friend, Richard Docter, she developed a taste for she-male pornography. She also dabbled in astrophysics and led a discussion group on being and consciousness in her retirement complex. She willed her body to the UCLA medical school. (Hill:39)
    1. This is comparable to the way that Agnes Gonxha (generally known as Mother Teresa) was uncritically treated as a saint after being endorsed by Malcolm Muggeridge.

1 comment:

  1. I took Photos of Virginia prince around the time of my change .
    Lost track of her afterwards .


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