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07 July 2016

Two California pioneers

Carla Sawyer (192? - ?)

In 1949, Carla was arrested in Los Angeles under the 1922 municipal anti-masquerading law. This was a year before two lesbians, in separate cases, challenged the Los Angeles anti-masquerading law, and in both cases the courts declared that cross-dressing alone did not constitute guilt under the ordinance unless there was further intent to conceal one's identity. However the police force and the local politicians simply ignored these two rulings.

Carla later wrote “I didn’t think there were any other transvestites in the world, until after my arrest”. Because of publicity in the press she received letters from and met others. From these she learned of the possibility of changing sex.

A few years later Louise Lawrence encouraged her to write to Harry Benjamin.

This led to her being involved in a study of transsexuals by Federick G Worden & James T Marsh. In 1954 Carla participated hoping that it would lead to approval for her surgery. However they interviewed her without bothering to read the six-page letter she had provided, and did not provide the desired approval.

Carla then had an encounter with Robert Stoller, then new to the field, who attempted to reverse her ‘sexual tendencies’.

Finally Benjamin helped her obtain surgery in Mexico.
  • Federick G Worden & James T Marsh. “Psychological Factors in Men Seeking Sex Transformation: A Preliminary Report”. Journal of the American Medical Association, 157, 15, April 9 1955: 1292-8.
  • Joanne Meyerowitz. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Cambridge, Ma, London: Harvard University Press, 2002: 156, 157, 163, 187.

On p187 Meyerowitz says that Sawyer had surgery in Mexico, but on p163 she talks of the difficulty of her surgery with Elmer Belt.


Caren Ecker (1905? - ?)

Caren first lived as a woman in Mexico City, until one night a drunk touched her in just the wrong place.

In the late 1940s, Caren gave her life story to Alfred Kinsey, “in hopes that any information … may in its small way eventually be of help to others of my kind”.

At the age of 43, then living in northern California, using a local anesthetic, and succeeded in removing her testicles. Dr Karl Bowman, at San Francisco’s Langley Porter Clinic, then recommended further surgery to remove the penis - this was done late 1953 at the University of California in San Francisco. While recovering she gave offprints of Harry Benjamin’s "Transsexualism and transvestism as psychosomatic and somatopsychic syndromes".

She worked with Louise Lawrence, and was involved in the study of transsexuals by Federick G Worden & James T Marsh, in a vain attempt to show “the true idea that I’m happy with my new life, and that for suitable subjects it is right to make these changes”.

She pursued a career in nursing.

  • Joanne Meyerowitz. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Cambridge, Ma, London: Harvard University Press, 2002: 143, 145, 155, 165, 167.

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