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26 June 2014

Carlett A. Brown (1927–) sailor, performer, cook

Charles Robert Brown from Pittsburgh volunteered for the US Navy in 1950 to obtain medical treatment for periodic internal bleeding. He was treated for a 'serious mental illness', which Brown said consisted only of a passion to become female, and said that one doctor had diagnosed this as resulting from the presence of female glands. He was discharged from the Navy after six months.

Brown then worked as a 'shake dancer' in Boston and Pittsburgh at $10 to $15 a night. Brown's fiancé was an army sergeant stationed in Frankfurt. They had been corresponding for 2½ years and had known each other since childhood. Brown wrote to surgeons in West Germany, Denmark and Yugoslavia. Dr Christian Hamburger in Copenhagen said that it would be possible if Brown became a Danish citizen. Dr Thomas Dehler, West German Justice Minister said that such operations were only for residents taking steps towards citizenship. Jet Magazine in 1953 designed Brown as the "first Negro 'transvestite' in history to transform his sex".

Brown signed papers at the Danish Consulate in Boston renouncing US citizenship and was issued a passport in the name of Carlett Angianlee.
"I regret leaving the United States, but after the Christine Jorgensen affair, the United States refuses to give an American citizen permission to alter his sex. I want to become a woman as quickly as possible so that I can marry."
Carlett also announced that she would be going further than Christine Jorgensen in having female ovaries transferred so that she can have children. She announced that she would be leaving on the SS Holland on August 2.

Brown then, while presenting as male, went shopping for a wedding gown in downtown Boston until ejected by a policeman. A subsequent purchase of a women's coat-suit ensemble led to Carlett being arrested when she wore it under a Boston law forbidding men to appear in female garb. Brown was unable to pay the $5 bail and had to await the arrival of her manager. She admitted that she sold blood at $5 a pint to pay rent and food, but hoped to work as a female impersonator to raise the cost of passage to Denmark.

She did not sail on the SS Holland, and instead announced that she was to have a $500 face lift operation first in New York.
“I feel that female impersonators are being denied their right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness when they are arrested for wearing female clothes – especially when they are minding their own business".
Shortly afterwards, Brown was informed by the Internal Revenue Service that he owed $1,200 in back income taxes, and could not leave the US until it was paid off. A cousin arranged a $60-week job as a cook at an Iowa State College fraternity house.

After that the press lost interest in Carlett A Brown.

There is something called the Panache Report, a jumble of fact, rumour, supposition and nonsense. Amongst much else it takes the text I wrote about Delisa Newton and adds a claim that Delise was born "Carlett Brown". Delise and Carlett were both proclaimed "The First Negro Sex Change" but 12 years apart and obviously were different people.

It is unusual to have cause to criticize Joanne Meyerowitz, who wrote the best book so far on trans history. However in the case of Carlett she cites only the June 18 article, and gives only Brown's male name.

The August 6 Jet Magazine article gives the name of the New York face-left surgeon as George Weiss, which by coincidence was also the name of the film producer in Los Angeles who commissioned Ed Wood to make Glen or Glenda at around the same time.

It is not clear whether the $1,200 tax debt is genuine, or a vindictive charge for renouncing citizenship.

Of course someone who is selling blood to survive shouldn’t buy a wedding dress, and certainly cannot afford a $500 facelift ($4,455 in 2014 dollars).   The determination to sail to Denmark is different in being existential, but spending on facelifts prevents her from getting there.

It was common for transsexuals in the 1950s and 1960s to invent implausible intersex conditions, see also Betty CowellDawn Langley Simmons.  It was also the sometime practice to arrange the operation first, and take hormones and learn to pass only afterwards.

There is no mention of Carlett Brown in Vidensbanken om kønsidentite, the Danish encyclopedia of trans history maintained by Tina Thransen, which implies that Carlett never did make it to Denmark.
  • "Male Shake Dancer Plans to Change Sex, Wed GI in Europe." Jet Magazine, June 18, 1953: 24-5.
  • "Male Dancer Becomes Danish Citizen to Change his Sex." Jet Magazine, June 25, 1953.
  • "Jail Male Shake Dancer for Posing as a Woman in Boston." Jet Magazine, July 9, 1953.
  • "Shake Dancer Postpones Sex Change For Face Lifting". Jet Magazine, August 6, 1953.
  • "Tax Snag Halts Male Dancer's Trip for Sex Change." Jet Magazine, October 15, 1953.
  • Joanne Meyerowitz. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Harvard University Press,. 2002: 86.
  • Corey. "Who is Carlett (Charles) Brown and what is she to you?". I'll keep you posted, November 19, 2009.
  • Glenda Elizabeth Sherouse. The Politics of Homosexuality In the Twentieth Century Black Freedom Struggle. University of South Carolina PhD Thesis, 2013: 99.
  • Katie Bruno. "Carlett Brown: The Extreme Marginalization of Transwomen of Color". OutHistory.

1 comment:

  1. Seems it was quite possible for Brown to make up an implausible intersex condition. Too bad, because that gives most transsexuals a bad rap and a hard row to hoe!

    I strongly hope she eventually got to sail to Europe and the operation was a success, and I hope she was able to finally get married, but given the circumstances of the situations that all seems unlikely.

    I can understand why the press lost interest. Details are very telling!


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