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01 September 2015

Who was Bunny Eisenhower?

Several trans histories tell us that Bunny Eisenhower and Lee Brewster founded the Queens' Liberation Front in 1970, and that they worked with Sylvia Rivera. We know quite a lot about Lee Brewster, but who was Bunny?  Nobody seems to have dug into this question.     David Kaufman's Ridiculous!: The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam mentions her several times in that she was a minor actor in the plays considered in the book.   However Arthur David Kahn's The Many Faces of Gay contains a fairly detailed biography of Bunny.  This was published in 1997 and nobody seems to have noticed.  Kaufman has details that Kahn does not.   Putting them together we get the account below.

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Eddie Dame (1940 - )  began cross-dressing at age 3, but usually only when the parents were away. The family regarded him as effeminate, and called him 'Butch' to toughen him up. Cousins slapped him around, to the same end. By age 13 he had started drinking, as did most of the family. Eddie's sisters helped him with makeup, and Nellie, the elder, introduced him to her fiancé with the comment: "my brother wears my clothes". However the rest of the family played a game of denial.

Anticipating being drafted Eddie volunteered for the US Air Force in 1959, where he entered into a relationship with Larry. From 1963, the year that they completed service, to 1967, they lived as a couple in New York. Larry refused to escort Eddie when he was cross-dressed. In 1967 Larry, announcing that he wanted children, married a woman. Eddie was the best man, and Eddie and Larry had sex the night before, as they continued to do occasionally until 1982 when Larry was seriously ill. Eddie never heard from him again.

After the wedding, Eddie went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and bought a full set of female clothing. Back in New York Eddie started going out dressed female.

In 1968 he joined Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatrical Company, and had a part in When Queens Collide. The name Inez Bunny Eisenhower was first proposed for cis actress Regina Hirsch, without her approval, and both names were listed for her in the flyer for Jack Smith's film Big Hotel. However she settled on the nom d'etage of Lola Pashalinski by the time that she was in Bill Vehr's Whores of Babylon. By the time of the production of Ludlam's Turds in Hell, 1969 the name had been assigned to Eddie.

He took up with Esther who was active in a Communist anti-war group. She had had lesbian affairs and was okay with his transvestity, however felt that the group would not be, so she left the group. Esther was not accepted by the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, so Eddie gave up acting. Eddie's father died in 1970, and later they were married in a Unitarian Church. His mother came, but was already drunk.

Bunny and activist Lee Brewster founded the Queens' Liberation Front in 1970. They also worked with Sylvia Rivera. They campaigned successfully to de-criminalize cross-dressing in New York. Previously a bar or club could be closed and patrons arrested, simply because a single person, deemed to be cross-dressed, was present.

Eddie and Esther stayed married for seven years. When Eddie let his hair grow and grew a beard, Esther though that his cross-dressing would stop, but he continued with a scarf to hide his beard.

In 1977, Eddie got a position as a proof-reader in a law firm. The next year he and Esther divorced.

Eddie now considered the possibility of transition. A therapist provided a referrence to an electrologist and an endocrinologist. She came out at work after speaking up when the supervisor made comments about transsexuals. Word spread though the firm, and as Eddie became increasingly androgynous, colleagues would stop by her office to see 'the company freak'. Outside Eddie was taken as a woman, but at work was still addressed as a man. She was unnerved by this, developed ulcers and thought of suicide. After a bad experience with a Catholic family values psychologist, Eddie was referred to a therapist who was positive and helpful. She gave up drinking at home and worked overtime to accumulate savings for the operation, which, as Barbara, she achieved in 1982.

Barbara was able to retain her job as a proof-reader. She became active in gay organizations. In 1990, the Gay Veterans Association was excluded from the Veterans Day Parade and Barbara joined the GVA. She became a member of the board and editor of the newsletter. In 1993 she was arrested while marching in the unofficial St Patrick's Day Parade with the Irish and Lesbian Gay Organization.
  • Jayne County & Rupert Smith. Man Enough to Be a Woman. London: Serpent's Tail, 1995: 64.
  • Arthur David Kahn. The Many Faces of Gay: Activists Who Are Changing the Nation. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 1997: 3, 15-20, 266-9.
  • David Kaufman. Ridiculous!: The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam. Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2002: 95, 98, 107,119.
  • Susan Stryker. Transgender History. Seal Press, 2008: 87.
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In Stryker’s book the only mention is that “drag queen Lee Brewster and heterosexual transvestite Bunny Eisenhower” founded the Queens Liberation Front.  As you see above, to simply describe Eddie/Bunny/Barbara as a ‘heterosexual transvestite’ raises a lot of difficulties.

The following is found on p98 of Kaufman's book:
 A flyer about the cast of a theatrical production by custom may take liberties with the truth.   Either way I could not see how to fit in the work in Chicago and Los Angeles between the marriages to Larry and to Esther.

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