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02 January 2014

Alice Purnell (1943 - ) chemist, activist, nurse, counsellor, poet

++February 2015 - revised after feedback from Alice.

Purnell was conceived in a haystack in the Wirral during an air-raid. He was sexually and physically abused at prep school by the headmaster who was later convicted. His parents had a 'messy horrid' divorce when he was doing his O-level examinations.

He felt confused in that he felt that he should be a girl but was not attracted to men. He developed an alternate identity as Anne who, by the age of 15, socialized only with people who knew nothing of Purnell's male life.

Purnell did a degree in chemistry. He found love with a woman to whom he explained about Anne. She accepted this side of him, but asked that Anne change her name as her sister was also Anne. Purnell had been called Dormouse at school, and, in homage to Lewis Carroll, became Alice.

They were living in Sussex. One evening on the way home from work as a research chemist, Purnell encountered, before the police arrived, a trans girl who had hanged herself in a tree. Her father showed up and expressed anger but not sorrow. Purnell felt that he could easily have been that trans girl, and this led to becoming a volunteer with the Samaritans, the advice line for those at risk of suicide. She found that a third of calls on the line featured gender difficulties.

Alice did not know how to express her femininity until she found a a copy of Virginia Prince's Transvestia in a sex-book shop in London's Soho. She used the Transvestia contact system to find like-minded persons, and became a member of the European Chapter of Virginia Prince's FPE.

Alice, Alga Campbell from Dublin, Giselle, a US expatriate, and Sylvia Carter, met in 1965 and agreed to found the Beaumont Society (named after the 18th century transvestite pioneer). The membership numbering was started at 100 (which was assigned to Alice, and then issued back and forth from that to give the impression of greater membership. Initially there were almost as many overseas members as in the UK, with some in Malaysia, Kenya and other parts of the Commonwealth. Alice became the overseas contact person because of her French. Regional contacts were appointed but were often the only member in their region.

After an initial meeting in Hampstead, the first full meeting was held in Southampton in 1966 with 12 in attendance including two wives.

Purnell had been attending the Charing Cross Hospital Gender Clinic under the care of Dr Randell, and that same year was offered surgery.  However Purnell married his lover instead after five years together. They had two daughters and a son.

Following the practice of Prince in the US, new members had to be vetted, and the application form explicitly stated that no hint of overt gayness would be tolerated.
"It was also risky meeting others to sponsor them. I remember a character from Gibraltar who was very cagey indeed, who I arranged via the contact system to sponsor so she could attend meetings when in the UK; (you could not do so if not sponsored as they were often in people's homes). At the meeting in a car park this person told me my date & place of birth, schools and University, bank balance and workplace. I was horrified. He had discovered all this via our Secret Service for whom he worked in the Colony. He said he did this to secure his own confidentiality in case we breached his. I felt disinclined to sponsor him and was really horrified that even then governments held so much info' on all of us. I did sponsor him after discussion with Alga. It was a bit of a mutual standoff, but what an invasion of my own privacy!"
Alice, Alga, Virginia, Sylvia - 1971
In 1969 Virginia Prince visited the Beaumont Society in London, Leicester and Scotland. On her return in 1971 she stayed with Alice. Alice was on BBC Radio 4 with agony aunt Claire Raynor. She attended the TV/TS conferences at Leeds University in 1974, and Leicester University in 1975 – the latter was organized by the Beaumont Society. Also in 1975, Alice was a co-founder of the Beaumont Trust, a registered charity, which separately from the Beaumont Society, set up a helpline and published educational booklets on transgender topics. In 1976 Alice became Vice-President of the Beaumont Society, and President a year later.

In 1977, Alice trained as a nurse, specializing in geriatric services. She then worked as such for 26 years, at one time becoming a matron, ++including nursing support for transgender surgery.

She ++finally had surgery in 1982 after the dissolution of her marriage, and remained President of the Beaumont Society until 1984. She also worked with Judy Cousins at SHAFT. She researched the then literature on trans topics and was disappointed. She joined HBIGDA (now WPATH) and attended its European meetings. She found that they were dominated by US concerns and that the Standards of Care were mainly to protect the surgeons, and that the emphasis was on psychiatry rather than on psychology/counselling. Using the contacts that she had made she organized the first of the GENDYS conferences which was held at Manchester University in 1990. This was intended as a British conference, and deliberately brought together each type of professional who deals with trans persons, and each type of trans person. There were a further seven GENDYS conferences held every two years. Alice edited all the GENDYS Conference Reports and often contributed papers.

Alice in 2011
After obtaining a masters degree in counselling and psychology, she co-founded Gender Trust and subsidized it in its first year. It was intended to help transgender rather than transvestite persons, and was, like the Beaumont Trust, a registered charity. However after a year the legal counsel to the Gender Trust was insisting that the trustees were to view her counselling notes. She regarded this potential breach of confidentiality re those she had counselled to be outrageous and resigned from Gender Trust. She also took them to court to establish that the copyright to the 2005 book was hers, and was not held by the Trust.  ++She estimates that she has counselled around 500 trans persons.  

She is also a poet, a dog lover and a fossil collector. She has lived most of her life in Sussex.

Alice Purnell was made an OBE in the 2012 New Years Honours List: "For services to Transgender People".
  • Alice Purnell. "Why does transexuality exist?" and "TV, TG, TS – What's in a label?" in Michael Trevor Haslam. Transvestism: A Guide. Beaumont Trust, 1993.
  • A. Purnell (ed.). Conference Report of the 1st International Gender Dysphoria Conference. London: BM Gendys, 1991.
  • A. Purnell (ed.). Conference Report of the 2nd International Gender Dysphoria Conference. London: BM Gendys, 1993.
  • A. Purnell (ed.). Conference Report of the 3rd International Gender Dysphoria Conference. London: BM Gendys, 1995.
  • A. Purnell (ed.). Conference Report of the 4th International Gender Dysphoria Conference. London: BM Gendys, 1996.
  • A. Purnell (ed.). Conference Report of the 5th International Gender Dysphoria Conference. London: BM Gendys, 1999.
  • A. Purnell (ed.). Gendys 2K: Sixth International Gender Conference Report. London: BM Gendys, 2001.
  • A. Purnell (ed.). Conference Report of the 7th International Gender Dysphoria Conference. London: BM Gendys,2002.
  • A. Purnell (ed.), Conference Report of the 8th International Gender Dysphoria Conference. London: BM Gendys, 2004.
  • Alice Purnell. Transexed and Transgendered People: A Guide. Gendys Conferences, 2005.
  • Alice L100. "A History of the Beaumont Society". Beaumont Magazine, 13,4, 2005. Online at:
  • Alice Kelly Purnell. Be the Flame Not the Moth: An Anthology of Poems (and Some Prose). Golden Flower Press, 2010.
  • Alice Purnell & Jed Bland (ed). Trans in the Twenty First Century: Concerning Gender Diversity. Beaumont Trust, 2011.
  • "New year honours for Brighton and Hove LGBT supporters". Brighton and Hove News, December 31st, 2011.
  • email from Alice Purnall, 7 Feb 2015

Christine Burns interviewed Alice Purnell,20 May 2013


We have a list of the 4 founders of the Beaumont Society, but we still don't have a list of the 12 founders of the Hose and Heel Club.

Alice says that the Beaumont Society was never really anti-gay, merely obliged to distance itself from being perceived as gay because of the laws at the time.  Whether you buy this or regard it as a post-facto PR position, the Beaumont Society has grown away from its Princian origins.  The interview with Christine Burns contains none of the mean spirited rhetoric that Prince herself retained till the end.

Note that Alice uses 'transgender' as a umbrella term apart from transvestites.  You find the same usage with Katherine Cummings, the Australian FPE alumna.   The sterile debate re transgender=heterosexual transvestite is mainly a US hangup.

++In the initial verion of this article I had assumed that Alice was non-op because a) she was president of a Princian organization and b) there was no statment to the contrary.   However it has now been clarified that the assumption was not so, and statements have been added in the narrative above.

Dallas Denny has an essay, Consumer relations: WPATH’s evolving relations with those it serves, in which she mentions that as late as 1989 she was still getting a run-around attempting to join HBIGDA. Alice had joined a few years earlier, but apparently in stealth.

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