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07 August 2015

Joe Carstairs/Tuffy de Pret (1900 – 1993): Part I: youth and war

Part I: youth and war
Part II: powerboat racer
Part III: Lord of the island

Jabez Bostwick (1830-1892) of New York was the Secretary of Standard Oil (ruled to be an illegal monopoly in 1911) and, along with his partners the Rockefellers, became very rich. He and his wife, Nellie, had two daughters and a son (genealogical tree).

The younger daughter, Frances Evelyn (1872-1921) mainly lived in England and eventually had 4 husbands: the first was Captain Albert Joseph Carstairs of the Royal Irish Rifles, the legal father of Marion Barbara Carstairs, born 1900. The Captain disappeared shortly after the daughter's birth.

In 1903 Evelyn married her second husband, Captain Francis Francis, with whom she had Evelyn and Francis Francis Jrs. Five-year-old Marion was thrown from a bolting camel at London Zoo, and afterwards renamed herself 'Tuffy'. She would later say
"I was never a little girl. I came out of the womb queer."
At age eight, Tuffy was caught stealing her step-father's cigars, and seeking to punish her by making her sick, Francis Francis, Sr, ordered her to sit down and smoke one, which, already being an accomplished smoker, she did with no problem.

Evelyn, dependent on alcohol and heroin, was variable as a mother. She fired a nanny for being too close to Marion. Even as a child Tuffy loved boats and had her own dinghy. At age eleven, she was put on an ocean liner bound for New York, and had been enrolled in Low-Haywood, then a girls' boarding school in Stamford, Connecticut. Tuffy loved the school uniform and used her pocket money to buy boys' clothes, a hobby shared by her room-mate.

In 1915 Evelyn married Count Roger de Perigny, a sub-lieutenant in the 19th French Dragoons. To his stepdaughter's delight he treated her as a boy, adapted his racing car so that she could drive it, offered her cigars, introduced her to his mistresses, and even took her to a Parisian brothel.

At age 16, using Nellie Bostwick's influence, Tuffy went to Paris as a ambulance driver for the American Red Cross, arriving shortly before the US joined the war. Tuffy had an affair with Dolly Wilde, niece of Oscar. Dolly was a popular member of the expatriate lesbian scene on the Left Bank dominated by Natalie Barney, but Tuffy was left at the periphery.

In 1917 Evelyn met Serge Voronoff (1866-1951) who rejuvenated old men by transplanting monkey glands and who briefly inspired Harry Benjamin. Evelyn became his laboratory assistant and financial investor, and by dint of this, the first woman admitted to the Collège de France. With Evelyn's money, Voronoff was able to continue his research despite the skepticism of the medical establishment.

In 1918 Evelyn summoned her daughter to her rooms at the Paris Majestic Hotel, told her that she knew that she was a lesbian: "If you don't do what I want you to, just walk out that door". "Thank you, mother", said Marion, and walked out. However, later that year, she married a childhood friend, Comte Jacques de Pret, and they split the $10,000 dowry. They then parted amicably, non consummatum.

The War over, the Comtesse de Pret, as she now was, went to Dublin and joined the Women's Legion Mechanical Transport Section which served as drivers to British officers. The Comtesse was referred to as Tuffy de Pret, and took up with the Coleclough sisters, Bardie and Molly. She cut her hair short (and kept it so for the rest of her life). She also took to wearing men's boots and puttees.

In 1919 as the Irish Independence War (Cogadh na Saoirse) was beginning, a dozen of the drivers, including de Pret, volunteered for work in northern France clearing battlefields, burying the dead, driving troops, labourers and prisoners-of-war. They did their own repairs. They became friends with Joan MacKern who had been driving under fire since 1917. They worked alongside the remnant of the Chinese Labour Corps who had been recruited after China entered the war in 1917.

Tuffy completed his transition to Joe, wearing only male clothes, including a beret, which he continued to wear throughout the twenties. "Joe” was his father's middle name, but he claimed not to know that.

The four were demobilised on 23 April 1920. On arrival in London Joe took them to the theatre, and put them up in a hotel. Four days later Joe's grandmother Nellie Bostwick died aged 77, leaving an estate of $30 million (over $350 million in today’s money). Until the will was executed, Joe had no money, and for the only time in his life, had to work for income. However his inheritance income was $145,000 in 1921 and $200,000 in 1922 (this at a time when the average male wage was less than £2 a week or £100 a year). Joe, Molly, Bardie and Joan set up a chauffeuring business in London, The X Garage, based in Kensington, and they lived in the flat above. They bought 'a handful' of Daimler landaulettes.

Later in 1920 Evelyn and Serge married. That year her English translation of his Life: a means of restoring vital energy and prolonging life was published in New York by Dutton. Evelyn died aged 48 in March 1921. Carstairs would always maintain that Voronoff had murdered her and arranged for a doctor friend to sign a death certificate saying 'natural causes'.

Following Evelyn's death, the marriage with Jacques de Pret was annulled, and Joe changed his legal surname back to Carstairs by deed poll.

The X Garage prospered, driving clients all over Europe and North Africa. The fashion in the 1920s was for women to be boyish in their dress and hairstyle. This of course suited Joe who took it further than most: navy-blue jackets, ties, cufflinks, dinner jackets, the extra wide Oxford Bags. A barber came regularly to Joe's home to crop his hair. His suits and jackets were from the best men's tailors.

He was frequently seen at the best parties. He would pose, three fingers inside his jacket pocket, thumb and little finger outside. He imitated photographs of Rudolph Valentino. He usually posed with a cigarette, and sometimes a pipe or cigar, but said that it was merely for effect: that he never inhaled.

Joe liked impersonations and disguises. He turned up at the house of his lover, variety star and horsewomen, Gwen Farrar, as a workman and plastered the front with posters; he arrived at the flat of Norah Blaney, Gwen's stage partner, and examined all the light fittings before being rumbled. He had a brief affair with Tallulah Bankhead when when she was the darling of the London stage in 1923.

Joe bought and developed a secluded estate near the Coleclough farm in Hampshire, which he named Bostwick. He bought a yacht, Sonia, and became so proficient that by 1924 he was winning yachting prizes.

Both Nellie's and Evelyn's wills were settled. Francis Francis Sr, Voronoff and Joe had contested Evelyn's. Voronoff received all the income from the residue of the estate, $325,000 a year, to be redistributed between Joe, Sally and Francis Jr on his death.

Probably just as well that Frances Evelyn Bostwick preferred to be known as Evelyn, given that she married Francis Francis.   However Evelyn Waugh’s first wife was Evelyn Gardner – a marriage that lasted only one year.

Joe avoided his birth name of Marion although it was/is a unisex name: note especially Marion Morrison who acted under the stage name of John Wayne.

Evelyn died at age 48, an early age even in the 1920s.   However we should remember her heroin habit.   Also her sister Nellie died age 38, and her brother Albert aged 35.   See genealogical tree. So she was actually the survivor.   On the other hand Joe lived to be 93, and Albert’s two children lived to be 101 and 79.

The key text for the life of Joe Carstairs is Kate Summerscale's The Queen of Whale Cay, 1997.    As you may deduce from her title, she regards Carstairs as an eccentric woman.  Although she mainly refers to him as Joe rather than Marion, she persists in using female pronouns and nowhere in the book raises the question whether Joe should be regarded as a trans man.    In this period, and until after the Second World War, there was no clear distinction between lesbian and trans.   They were both types of 'inverts' - a term that Summerscale does not use.    Some inverts designated others, ones that they did identify with - for example for being working class - as perverts.   To some extent inverts were regarded as having been born that way, and perverts as having been corrupted, as having made a sort of choice.    Actually things have not changed that much.

To simplify a little, we can identify three groups of female trans persons.   There were the working class ones, often referred to as 'female husbands' (although not all took wives).    Some feminist writers deny that these persons were trans, and maintain that they transvested only to earn a man's wage.   However many of  these lived as men outside work and stayed in the role for many decades.   Generally they passed, even without any access to male hormones (which did not become avialable until the 1940s).  They had to - otherwise they would lose their jobs.  A good book on these is Alison Oram's Her Husband was a Woman!, 2007.  Some examples that we have already discussed are Ernest Wood, Harold Lloyd, Michael Johnson

Secondly there were upper-class lesbians, some of them fabulously rich, who played with gender.   Some of these are famous:  Natalie Barney, Dolly Wilde, John Radcliffe Hall, Colette.   Transvestism was a game.   And in the early 1920s women wearing men's clothes became the height of fashion, for those who were rich enough to follow fashions - that is, not for serving maids, mill girls or shop girls.   See Laura Doan's Fashioning Sapphism, 2001, for a good account of this fashion.   This group did not need to pass, and usually were seen as women in men's clothes.   They did not need to worry about laws against transvestity for they were rich and had special privileges.

The interaction between the female husbands and the rich lesbians was almost nil.  Unlike amongst gay men it was not the done thing to take a lover from the lower classes.

Thirdly we can also pick out, not a group because they did not network, but individuals who were not simply transvestites, but took their masculinity much more seriously.   We have already discussed Mathilde de Morney, Madelaine Pelletier, Violette Morris.  These persons, like the female husbands, stayed in a masculine role for decades, but were either professionals or had inherited wealth.   One wants to label them as trans men avant le lettre, but annoyingly (to us) they did not take a masculine name - thus when I wrote about them I decided, with reservations, to stick with female pronouns.    Joe Carstairs has much more in common with de Morney, Pelletier and Morris than he does with Barney, Wilde, Hall and Colette.   And he took a male name.  Each of the four made their own way through life without any trans role model to follow.   They were real pioneers.   Of these only Carstairs lived beyond the Second World War into an era when surgical ftm operations became available.  But he was quite old then, and set in his ways.

In watching de Morney, Pelletier, Morris and Carstairs we are watching the social construction of 'trans man' emerge from its birth pangs.

In Jack Judith Halberstam's Female Maculinity, 1998, he pretty much ignores the working class female husbands and under that term mainly discusses the aristocratic Gentleman Jack (Anne) Lister.   He also discusses the rich lesbian transvestites of the 1920s such as Radcliffe Hall, but has almost nothing to say about de Morney, Pelletier, Morris and Carstairs.   

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