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07 June 2016

Betty (?1938 - ?) female impersonator, salesgirl, model

Betty was raised in the US Northwest, one of five children. He was initially permitted to dress as a girl, but his parents divorced when he was five, and the step-father objected to the cross-dressing.

At 15, Betty was raped. At 16 she read about Christine Jorgensen and knew what she wanted. She had seen the Jewel Box Review when it came to town, and a close friend had obtained a position there as a chorus boy. After winning first prize at a local Halloween ball she sent photographs to the friend at Jewel Box Review, and got back a wire from the manager offering a job.

She grew her hair to shoulder length, which led to complications when out in male guise – this being over a decade before men began growing their hair long. After a two-month club residency, the troupe played Betty’s home town, and then she was laid off.

She asked her parents to permit that she have a sex change – she being a minor – but they refused, and at their request she visited a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist discovered what Betty already knew: she was androphilic and desperately wanted to become a woman. She continued to find find work as a female impersonator.

At age 20, after a period of despondency at not having a female body, he decided to return to being a man, cut his hair short and then volunteered to join the US Navy. He was almost rejected when the medical inspection discovered the old rape, but he asserted that he had been a victim, and was accepted. He was assigned to record keeping, and deployed to Japan, where he quickly discovered the gay bars, and then a male geisha house. Citing his female impersonator experience, he was taken on as a male geisha. She had a thrill when several of her shipmates came into the bar, but they did not recognize her. Back in the US he had an affair with a man in Oklahoma City.

One day after being honorably discharged she was back on the stage as a female impersonator. During a nine-month engagement at a “well-known club” in New York, she met two performers who had transitioned, and knew instantly that she wanted to do the same. She grew her hair again, and started going out as a woman, quite successfully even before starting female hormones. When her show went on tour, she stayed in New York to continue hormone treatment. She found another job as an impersonator-dancer at a “major nightspot”.

Late in 1961 she was invited to the table of a man, an ambassador of a Latin American country, who invited her first to have a drink, and then offered to pay for her transformation. He “took me to an internationally famous endocrinologist, whose prices I could never have afforded”. She also underwent electrolysis to eliminate her facial hair.

A year later, July 1962, she was ready for surgery, and the ambassador arranged a trip to Casablanca. In Paris she was joined by another impersonator making the same journey. The cost at the Casablanca clinic was US$1250. The operation apparently went well. However a week later when she was back in Paris, she suffered continual vaginal bleeding, and went to a US hospital. A week of douching fixed the problem. On return to the US, Betty felt obliged to explain to immigration why she had only female clothes in her suitcase: that she was a professional female impersonator.

For a few months she worked as a prostitute, “to prove to myself that I was really a woman”, but then found such work distasteful. She worked as a salesgirl, and as a fashion model. She finally won acceptance from her mother and step-father. She started writing, with the aid of professional writer, her autobiography. During the mid-1960s she acted as a confessor and adviser to other transsexuals in the city.
  • Harry Benjamin. The Transsexual Phenomenon. Julian Press, 1966. Warner Books Edition 1977: 239-255, 308-313.
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The Transsexual Lives Appendix to Harry Benjamin’s book by REL Masters says that “Betty” is a pseudonym, although she uses it for herself in her autobiographical segment. Other than that we do not have a name for her.

It is a problem for the historian that Betty does not give the name of the clubs where she works, or the doctors that she went to, although the “internationally famous endocrinologist, whose prices I could never have afforded” is obviously Benjamin and the surgeon in Casablanca is obviously Dr Burou. If there is any information about her after 1966, it is not found in that we do not have her name. Is the “well-known club” in New York the 82 Club?

Jan Morris also had need of further medical attention after returning from Dr Burou’s clinic.

One wonders if the unnamed ambassador asked for anything, sexual of otherwise in return. However we have come across another rich man, Rex/Gloria who paid for younger trans women to go to Dr Burou without such requests.

The information about Betty is in two parts. An excerpt from her unpublished autobiography, and a clinical overview by Masters. Despite having her account to consult, Masters is sloppy with facts. He puts her first attempt at surgery, which was vetoed by the parents, before the first period of working as an impersonator; he says that Betty joined the Army rather than the Navy. Also he continues to refer to Betty as ‘he’ even after surgery.

We have no information about Betty after Benjamin's book in 1966.

2 comments:

sallie parker said...

Betty was an interviewee in an article called 'The Transsexual Operation,' April 1967 issue of Esquire, where she is given the pseudonym Suzanne. Apparently HB brought this subject into contact with the writer, Tom Buckley. Buckley was the NYTimes reporter who had covered the Hopkins clinic story a few months earlier.

Zagria said...

I agree with Sallie that Suzanne and Betty are probably the same person. As Sallie noted to me in an email, Suzanne's benefactor is said to be a European eccentric rather than a Latin American ambassador. Sallie suggests that it might be Salvadore Dali, who did mentor, or at least associate with quite a lot of trans women: April Ashley, Amanda Lear, Mario Montez, International Chrysis, Manuela Trasobares, Yeda Brown.