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06 May 2014

Danielle O'L (1911?–?) bellboy, housewife

Daniel came from a family in Ireland which held the position of village postmaster for several generations. When he played house with younger girls, he would be the mother. Other boys called him 'mollycoddle' or 'sissy', but otherwise he was not picked on.
"I always liked to dress as a girl. At home they thought it was funny. It was the custom on the other side to dress boys as girls until they were six or seven but when it was time to get out of dresses I did not want to. … I liked to do housework but I wasn't allowed to because I had older sisters."   From age eight, he had relations with older boys "in which I played the part of a woman".
He emigrated to Boston at age 19. He worked as a grocery store clerk and as a bellboy. He found men who treated him like a woman, and mingled in gay circles and used makeup. He saved his money.

At age 21 he moved to New York where he again found men who were interested in him sexually. He dressed female to go to masquerade balls. He worked for a year in a men's club, but was frequently being pestered for sex. This led to an argument and he was fired.

Danielle took up with another who was as feminine and they lived off men. She met an Irish baker, four or five years older, in a speakeasy and he set her up in an apartment. He preferred to see her in female clothing, and gave her money for clothing and recreation.  She would always have a meal ready when he returned from work.  Danielle sometimes went with other men, usually for money. Sometimes the baker did not object, but sometimes he beat her.

Once she was entrapped by a policeman in a movie house: she served six days. Another time she was at a ball when it was raided, and they were all locked up overnight.

Danielle was one of the persons interviewed by the Sex Variants project in the late 1930s.
  • George W. Henry. Sex Variants: A Study of Homosexual Patterns. New York: Hoeber, 1948: 425-38.
  • Jennifer Terry. An American Obsession: Science, Medicine, and the Place of Homosexuality in Modern Society. University of Chicago Press, 1999: 228-9.
  • Henry L. Minton. Departing from Deviance: A History of Homosexual Rights and Emancipatory Science in America. University of Chicago Press, 2002: 62-4, 71, 72, 291n33.

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 "Daniel O'L." is a pseudonym assigned by the Sex Variants committee.   We do not know either her boy name or her real name.   I have called her Danielle to make the reading easier.

To our eyes Danielle is obviously an early-transitioning transsexual, or would be if the social and medical support available to us had been around in the late 1930s.  Danielle was 26 when interviewed by George Henry, and so was in her 40s when the Christine Jorgensen story broke and almost 60 in the summer of the Stonewall riots.  We hope that she was able to complete her journey to womanhood albeit in the latter part of her life.

Both Terry and Minton purport to stand up for the subjects of the Sex Variants project against the paternalism of the doctors who ran it.  However, in both books, Daniel O'L and the other pseudonyms are not in the index, and the books offer no way to find the sections about them.   I got around this by using Google's look inside feature - but that is not to the credit of either author.

Terry (p228) describes Danielle as a 'drag queen'.   What can she mean by that?   Danielle never performed on stage.   Nor does she get off on being read.  Could it be that for Terry any androphilic trans woman is a drag queen whatever type of trans she is: post-op, transvestite, performer.   This offense is further compounded by always referring to Danielle as 'he' and a 'man'.  As her book is published by the University of Chicago Press we can assume a peer reviewer who also failed to mention this to her.

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