This site is the most comprehensive on the web devoted to trans history and biography. Well over 1700 persons worthy of note, both famous and obscure, are discussed in detail, and many more are mentioned in passing.

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29 January 2017

Some recurring untruths in trans history: Hirschfeld as trans

“The story’s told/ With facts and lies”. Leonard Cohen. Nevermind – theme song to True Detective.

This is a new series analysing repeated untruths, canards, lies and misinformation with regard to trans history.

Tim Armstrong in his Modernism, Technology, and the Body: A Cultural Study, 1998, page 167, writes of Magnus Hirschfeld “Himself homosexual (like Haire) and transvestite, he was less dogmatic than Krafft-Ebing had been”. Of course Armstrong gives no citation or quote to support this.

Where does this canard come from, that Hirschfeld was trans. Yes, he was gay. We know of his two lovers, Karl Giese and Li Shiu Tong. But there is actually no gossip dating to Hirschfeld’s lifetime that suggests that he was trans. Christopher Isherwood lived in Hirschfeld’s institute and has no such gossip in his autobiography Christopher and his Kind: A Memoir, 1929-1939, published 1976.  And of course if there had been any such rumours, the Nazis would have delighted in repeating them.

Can we find this idea in a book or author that should know? There is Vern Bullough. Only a few months apart Bullough published two books that discuss Hirschfeld and crossdressing: Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993: 207-213, and Science in the Bedroom: A History of Sex Research, Basic Books, 1994: 62-75. Given the vagaries of publishing we cannot know which was written first. In Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender, Bullough starts his 6-page essay with “A physician, Hirschfeld was a self-avowed homosexual and reformer of sex laws, as well as a pioneer in the study of sexuality”. In Science in the Bedroom, Bullough starts his 14-page essay with “Undoubtedly influenced by his own homosexuality and transvestism ….”.  Again there is no footnote or any other citation for the claim that Hirschfeld was trans.

So did Bullough add the claim that Hircshfeld was trans in Science in the Bedroom, or did he have second thoughts and remove it in Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender? Nobody seems to have discussed this issue.

The other source is Find a Grave. Its Magnus Hirschfeld page says: “As a Jew living in a historically anti-Semitic country, and as a gay man and transvestite living at a time when homosexuality was still believed to be a form of mental illness, he knew the importance of being organized and having a voice …”. Of its nature, Find a Grave does not do citations.

Then of course there is the fact of Hirschfeld’s bushy moustache. Which is always there – not shaved off and grown back.   Now Edward D Wood had a trick at parties of disappearing and reappearing en femme, sometimes even shaving off his moustache to do so, but Hirschfeld's was a much more significant growth, and there is no record of it ever not being there.

Here is a photograph from Ralf Dose. Magnus Hirschfeld: The Origins of the Gay Liberation Movement, 2014. Review  

25 January 2017

H.H. (185? - ?) musician, circus performer

From 1899 to 1923 Magnus Hirschfeld was editor of the  Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen.   In 1901, volume 3, he published "Vom Weibmann auf der Bühne" (Women-man on the stage), by Dr W.S.*, a study of 15 Damenimitatoren (female impersonators).   They are referred to by a series of double initials: A.A.,  B.B., etc.    The 8th is therefore H.H.  We have no no other name for her.

According to H.H.'s own account, his parents died when he was young.  He left school and Germany, and worked his way to the US as a ship's boy.

In New York he became a musician, a flautist, but was unable to find a  place in a men’s orchestra. However, presenting as female, H.H. was engaged by a women’s band and chorus (Damenkapelle). She travelled for several years with this band as a flute player, without being read.

Eventually, H.H. left this post, but she felt so natural in female clothes that she continued so. She worked in succession as a chambermaid, a soda-seller, a waitress, and a buffet-maid.  She then joined a circus, and advanced quickly from an extra to performing as an equestrian acrobat.  A fall from the horse, which stretched a tendon, put an end to this. However she then became a female musical clown in the circus, and later formed a singing group with other women, in which she sang the second voice.

In later life, back in Germany H.H. worked as a Damenimitator.

Dr W.S. commented that H.H. was  "A very strong character, when dressed as a man he was almost tough.  Not at all sweet or affective. Dressed as a woman, as he now preferred on the street, he was graceful, amiable, and so confident that one would hardly believe his story."

  • Dr. med. W.S.  "Vom Weibmann auf der Bühne".  Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen, 3, 1901: 313-325.  Online.
  • Vern L. Bullough & Bonnie Bullough. Cross Dressing, Sex, and Gender. University of Pennsylvania Press 1993:  223n16,

The Bulloughs - who claim 'no author' for the article although it clearly says 'Dr. med. W. S.', further propose that Hirschfeld "was probably also the author of the article, since it was his custom to write articles without attribution for the journal".  

Modern readers would want to know how H.H. managed to pass, at close quarters with a travelling band, without electrolysis and without female hormones.   Dr W.S. shows no interest in this aspect.
Possibly she was one of the lucky few like Rachel Harlow or April Ashley who appear female even before attempting transition.

I hope that H.H. getting a job only in a female band does not imply lower standards in female orchestras.   Just as likely is that as an immigrant, H.H. was not accepted by the male musician unions.

Would a cis male disguise as female in this way to get a job and keep up the disguise day and night (when travelling) for several years?   While such a situation is a common trope in fiction, and also in cross-dreaming, I am not able to find a real-life example of such,   However if H.H. were trans she would be delighted with the opportunity. 

There is a passing resemblance to the plot of Some Like It Hot, 1959, but that was 70 years later.  

20 January 2017

J.W. (1883 - ?) fairy sex worker, New York 1906

J.W. was born in Brooklyn, NY, and, after the parents died, was raised by a guardian in Pennsylvania. J.W. had pierced ears by age 14. J.W. could sing soprano well, but could not whistle, and was said to throw a stone like a girl.

J.W had only a little education, and could read English only moderately. However J.W. was free from religious belief of any kind, and was quite accepting of her sexuality “he sees no immorality in it”. From age 16, J.W. sought male paramours. Later, using the trade name Loop-the-Loop (from the ride at Coney Island) J.W. became a 'fairy' and a sex worker in Brooklyn, and on the Bowery in Manhattan. While the police would arrest any perceived male in full or partial female clothing, “Fifty cents or a dollar will buy off any cop, and that from dark to daylight. We all do it.”

From 1903 J.W. used eight bottles of a preparation that had been recomended as a depilatory, but had in fact caused leg and arm hair to grow back more luxuriously.

In 1906 J.W was sent for examination to Dr R.W. Shufeldt, previously of the US Army Major Medical Corps. Shufeldt found J.W. to be typically and distinctly male: 130 lbs, 5’8”, “his features are seen to be coarse and of a criminal cast”, free of any syphilitic disease, but of “very marked uncleanliness”.

J.W assured Dr Shufeldt stoutly that she had never had congress with a woman, “having a powerful aversion for anything of the kind”. J.W.’s husband, a musician came along for the July appointment, smartly dressed in his uniform. The husband laughed at J.W.’s claim of having been pregnant a few years before, and stated that J.W. though “honest in other respects, was a most outrageous liar”. Dr Shufeldt: “I found him to be one of the most skilful pickpockets that had ever come under my observation, and that is admitting a good deal”. J.W. boasted to Shufeldt of satisfying “as many as Forty men in twentyfour hours”.
  • R W Shufeldt. “Biography of a Passive Pederast”. American Journal of Urology and Sexology, 13, 1917: 451-60. Online
  • George Chauncey. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. Basic Books, 1994: 68-9, 84, 87, 96.
  • Mack Friedman. Strapped for Cash: A History of American Hustler Culture. Alyson Books, 2003: 29, 34-5.

Shufeldt describes J.W. as a “passive pederast”. By pre-WWI usage this has no necessary implication of sex with younger persons.  The street term at that time was "fairy".

The middle-class doctor refers several times to J.W.’s non-conformity to middle-class notions of hygiene (although J.W. knew enough to not become infected with syphilis or other sexual diseases) but we should remember that at that time slum tenements were not equipped with either toilets or bathrooms.

While Shufeldt agreed that J.W. had more than usual arm and leg hair (whether or not it resulted form a supposed dipilitary) it is not obvious in the nude photograph that Shufeldt also included.

18 January 2017

Chelsea Manning - a true hero

Why the wait of four months before release?    Does this give time for the new regime to reverse it?

14 January 2017

[Tr]an[s]tiquity – a session at the 2017 Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting

The Society for Classical Studies (previously the American Philological Association) held its 2017 meeting in Toronto 5-8 January. On Sunday, the last day, there was a session, [Tr]an[s]tiquity. Which looked at trans and intersex in the ancient world. The session was chaired by Walter Penrose, author of the new book, Postcolonial Amazons: Female Masculinity and Courage in Ancient Greek and Sanskrit Literature (US$95), and Thomas Sapsford.

The introduction gave a quick summary of North American trans history mentioning the Cercle Hermaphroditis at Paresis Hall in 1890s New York, Virginia Prince, Leslie Feinberg and Rupert Raj.

The first paper “An Intersex Manifesto: Naming the Non-Binary Constructions of the Ancient World” (abstract) was by Chris Mowat from the University of Newcastle who criticized the still ongoing practice in Classical discourse of using the term ‘hermaphrodite’ although it has largely been dropped in other areas of discourse, replaced by intersex, and more contentiously Disorders of Sexual Development. He cites 1990s writers such as Alice Dreger and Cheryl Chase (but does not mention that she is more latterly known as Bo Laurent). Should modern terminology be used, “transposed into ancient constructions” or should classicists stick to the terms used in ancient Greece and Rome: ἑρμαφρόδιτος/ hermaphroditus and ἀνδρόγυνος/androgynous? Mowat also discusses using ‘intersex’ for mythical/art persons such as “The Sleeping Hermaphrodite” in the Louvre, and a wall painting in Pompeii. He proposes that Diodorus Siculus (1st century BCE) “constructs intersexuality as a medical condition” when he wrote: “It was assumed, however, by those who were privy to the strange secret that she was a hermaphroditos, and as to her past life with her husband, since natural intercourse did not fit their theory, she was thought to have consorted with him as male to male”. This is compared to later writers such as the Elder Pliny, a century later, who commented that such persons were previously considered prodigia (monsters) but were now considered deliciae (sexual pets). Mowat concludes: “this paper is not to argue that ‘intersexuality’ and its derivatives are perfect terminology – and their own shortcomings will be analysed – but to posit the idea that they can and do create a more nuanced understanding of non-binary bodies in the ancient world”.

The second paper by Rachel Hart at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was titled: “(N)either Men (n)or Women? The Failure of Western Binary Systems”(abstract), but was actually mainly about the Enareës, the shamans among the Scythians, Iranian nomads who roamed from the Black Sea to central Asia. Hart cites only old articles on Enareës as Shamans (Meuli 1935, Ballabriga 1986, Asheri 1977) but nothing from the large library on shamanism or two-spirit. What she does is a close reading and comparison of the mentions of the Enareës in Herodotus (5th century BCE) and Hippocrates (a generation later), and concludes “It is more likely that the Enareës would self-identify as intersex or perhaps even transgender individuals”. She admits that “this terminology is anachronistic” and turns for a less-rigid gender system, not to two-spirit studies but to gender in the Rabbinic tradition. Her rational for this is: “I do not apply the rabbinic analogue arbitrarily: Herodotus notes that the Enareës were originally a group of Scythian men who defiled a temple at Askalon, located in Palestine”.

The third paper was by Jennifer Weintritt of Yale University, titled “Textual and Sexual Hybridity: Gender in Catullus 63” (abstract). Catullus’ poem is about the godling Attis and his/her celebration of the rites of Cybele (which includes castration and taking female dress). While the original manuscripts use male endings describing Attis, several editors have revised them as female endings: e.g. excitum, ipse become excitam, ipsa; tenerum, ille become teneram, illa etc. A key line is 54: “ego … earum omnia adirem furibunda latibula”, àwhich could mean either “that I should approach all of their hiding-places as a frenzied woman” or “that I should approach all of their frenzied hiding-places”. Weintritt comments: “Surprisingly, earlier discussions, for all their well-researched arguments, have underappreciated that the phrase occurs in a purpose clause: if furibunda is determined to agree with ego, then Attis may have come to Phrygia with transgender intentions”. Line 63 “ego mulier, ego adolescens, ego ephebus, ego puer”à “I have been a woman, a young man, an ephebe, a boy”. Remarkably some editors altered ‘puer’ to ‘puber’ (adult male) which breaks the age order.

The fourth paper was by Kelly Shannon of the University of Alabama, titled “Life After Transition: Spontaneous sex change and its aftermath in ancient literature” (abstract) There are a good handful of ancient accounts of supposed women who spontaneously change into men. Similar stories are recorded in the early-modern period (see Thomas Laqueur’s Making Sex, 1990), and in Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, 1886, and the most prominent 20th century account is that of Peter Stirling. Shannon discussed six examples who had varying consequences. They either became successful men or were put on trial and even, in one case, burned alive, but the gender binary stands firm.

The fifth paper was by Barbara Blythe of Wheaton College, titled “Gender Ambiguity and Cult Practice in the Roman Novel” (abstract). She demonstrates that Roman novels differ from Greek novels in that the male protagonist is depicted as effeminate. In Petronius’ Satyrica the protagonist Encolpius often takes a passive role in sexual encounters (many of which involve beatings and bondage), including one with a cinaedus during a ritual for the god Priapus. At various points in the narrative we hear that he wears makeup, ornate hairstyles and wigs, and effeminate Greek slippers. Twice he is mistaken for a male prostitute. At one point he contemplates severing his penis while reciting a poem in Sotadeans (132.8), a meter associated with cinaedi. (This novel was filmed by Fellini in 1969 adding extra gender variant episodes.) In Apuleius’ Metamorphoses Lucius is likewise dominated, sexually or otherwise, by almost every female character he meets. When he accepts Isis as his saviour goddess, he submits yet again to a powerful female figure. His vow of sexual abstinence and shaved head do not feminize him per se, yet they signal his willingness to compromise his youthful virility in order to please his new mistress. Apuleius seems to imply that the reader should view Lucius alongside the galli who are often taken as transgender.

The sixth paper was by Anna Peterson of Pennsylvania State University, titled “Dio’s First Tarsian Oration and the Rhetoric of Gender-Indeterminacy” (abstract). Dio Chrysostom also called Dio of Prusa, lived in the late 1st century CE. He left about 80 orations. A couple of these were delivered in Tarsus (whence Saul/Paul of the Christian testament is said to come from). While speaking in analogies, Dio harangues against “a mysterious fault that he refuses to name, despite the threat he says it poses to the reputation of the city”. Scholars debate what this ‘fault’ was. Peterson comments: an “unmistakable rhetorical cue comes at the speech’s conclusion, where Dio turns his attention to the Tarsians’ treatment of their bodies. Assuming the role of doctor, Dio diagnoses his audience’s decline into effeminate behavior as the result of excessive depilation, sarcastically quipping in the final line of the speech: ‘if it were possible to borrow from women other attributes, then we should be supremely happy, not defective beings (ἐνδεεῖς), but whole and natural ἀνδρόγυνοι (androgynoi)’ ” . Peterson expands: “ I explore how the uncertainty caused by Dio’s refusal to speak in specifics brings into relief, reflects on, and ultimately stages the gender-indeterminancy inherent to the term androgynos. Dio’s speech, as I suggest, reaffirms through its vitriol the idealized masculine identity of the time, even as the confusion it inspires in its audience mimics the indeterminate nature of its concluding image.”

A friend with very good Latin read this and commented on Catullus’ poem: “Furibunda means ‘frenzied’ or ‘mad’ and is used of people prophetically inspired. Therefore it cannot describe the hiding-places, and must agree with ego. However, this may not be a purpose clause, but a result clause; Attis regrets these consequences.”

While Virginia Prince, Leslie Feinberg and Rupert Raj were mentioned in the introduction, nobody at all like any of them is discussed in any of the papers.

Weintritt, discussing Attis and Cybele, does not mention that there is a Cybele Maetreum run by trans women in upstate New York.

The paper by Shannon is the only one to name actual persons who probably did live at the time.
The paper by Blythe on novels is not, of course, about gender variant persons, but about heteronormativity and panic about departing from it.

Peterson does not mention Saul/Paul of Tarsus. Let us turn to p61 of Donald Akenson’s Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus, 2000: “ ‘Saulos’ despite its Hebrew origins, had a slang meaning in demotic Greek that would have been impossible for the apostle to live with. ‘Saulos’ meant ‘slut-arsed’ and referred to the swinging gait of prostitutes. Given his adamant condemnation of homosexuality, one can hardly expect the apostle to accept a name that would liken him to the mincing posteriors of rent boys and queens. His dignity could take the word play that would come from Paulos – little guy, short-stuff, things like that – but Saulos, never.” Dio and Saul/Paul were roughly the same generation. So how come, no-one, New Testament scholars, Dio scholars, ancient sexuality scholars, has put Dio’s oration to the Tarsians and the sex-implied name of the most famous Tarsian in juxtaposition?

Who are the most famous trans persons in antiquity? Many would say Sporus and Elagabalus. They were not mentioned in this session.

Pioneering work on trans in the ancient world was done by Werner Krenkel, professor of classics and philology at Rostok University. He wrote a paper, “Transvestismus in der Antike”, 1990 which was included in a collection of his work, Naturalia non turpia. Sex and Gender in Ancient Greece and Rome. Schriften zur antiken Kultur- und Sexualwissenschaft, 2006. Nobody seems to mention it any more. Here is a review of the book.

There is a new book, to be released in February, called TransAntiquity: Cross-Dressing and Transgender Dynamics in the Ancient World, edited by Domitilla Campanile, Filippo Carlà-Uhink & Margherita Facella (US$140).

11 January 2017

A village on the Loire, 1950.

SC, a "faithful" reader, has pointed out a passing reference in

Simone de Beauvoir (ed. Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir): A Transatlantic Love Affair: Letters to Nelson Algren. The New Press, 1998: 379.

On 15 Octobre 1950, de Beauvoir wrote:

'It is an average village...on the banks of the Loire...she was upset to discover that the landlady and her cook, were two lesbians. I saw pictures of them: aged, huge, full-breasted, full-buttocked women; strange to think of anything like love between them...they told there were three couples of peasant women, oldish women all clad in black and church going, who lived the same way. One is married, lot of children, and goes every week to the next town to meet her true love. Then, there is in this village a married father of three children who is the head of the village orchestra and likes just one thing: dressing as a woman. His wife is as bald as an egg, wears scarf on her naked skull and dresses in a nondescriptive way. But he takes care of himself lovingly. He has long hair, paints his face and lips, wears a silken open shirt, pants, but high-heeled woman's shoes and silken stockings. They say his buttocks and breast are fake. Yet, they accept him; it is no fault of him, they say, his grand-father was lame, his father had a hunched-back, so it is and hereditary disease. He never sleeps with boys, just dresses like a woman. He is a tailor and sews daintily all day long...village where they can accept anything from a native.'

See also The Railwayman's Wife, incidentally discovered in a village in Gloucestershire in the 1960s.

04 January 2017

Terre Thaemlitz (1968 - ) musician, DJ.

Originally from Missouri, where his first social musical experiences were at roller-discos, Terre moved to New York at the end of the 1980s to study fine art, and became a DJ immersed in the queer house scene.

Terre became a resident at the trans hangout Sallys II. Sallys was a
“site of education, where people could share information about their transitioning experiences. There were times when you really learned things on a political level, on a social level – that’s what’s interesting. Music is usually one of the least interesting things about clubs. (quoted in Hutchinson)”
“I was identifying as Transgendered at that point. Before that I had identified as Queer in sexual terms. If I had to identify, I’d identify as Transgendered rather than male but yeah, back in the Nineties, by the time I was at Sally’s, I was identifying as Transgendered. The scene at Sally’s was dominated by Transsexuals. For a person like myself, who is not interested in surgery or hormone therapy, there was a lot of pressure to dress and look a certain style that I just couldn’t. So, I don’t think most of the people at Sally’s even knew that I was Transgendered-identified at that time. (quoted in Petros)“
Terre was fired from Sallys and other trans clubs for refusing to play music that was in the charts, particularly “wailing diva stuff”. By 1994 Terre was known as a composer in the ambient/ computer synthesis field, and established her own Comatinse label. By 1998 she was also releasing music as DJ Sprinkles.

The first DJ Sprinkles single, ‘Sloppy 42nds’ was subtitled “A Tribute to the 42nd Street transsexual clubs destroyed by Walt Disney’s buyout of Times Square”.

In interview with Carlos Pozo, Terre explained:
“Anti-essentialist transgenderism is about an appropriation and recontextualization of cultural signifiers around gender. Anti-essentialist refers to an outlook that does not believe in an inherent "essence" or content, as opposed to an essentialist transgendered outlook that one is "trapped" in the wrong body, etc. I think computer synthesis is also very much about appropriation and recontextualization, drawing from external audio sources and materials much like quotations in a book. There is no essentialist core of creativity, or sense of originality - but there can be an awareness of difference and change. So from my experience, transgenderism and computer synthesis definitely have resonations between them. When you ask about fetishization, are you asking about people fetishizing or tokenizing my music as "Queer" above any other contents? I haven't really seen that happen.
I like to think when I talk about Queer issues in my projects they arise in a complex way that doesn't reduce easily. Queer sensibility, as opposed to Lesbian and Gay sensibility, is also about anti-essentialist appropriation (the appropriation of a derogatory term to reference a notion of one's sexuality being inextricably tied to a larger social condition) and notions of pan-sexual diversity, not rigid Heterosexual vs. Homosexual binarisms. To be honest, I'm not sure how much of that gets across to people who equate Queer with Gay, but I haven't really sensed any problems with negative over-simplification. All of these ideas are simultaneously about processes of identification and processes of transition between points of identification, so that inability to solidify an essentialist identity can lead to misrepresentation or offending those with essentialist outlooks, but you can't worry about that or it will socially paralyze you.”
Terre moved to San Francisco and then to Japan, where she released material under the K-S.H.E. alias. On the Routes Not Roots album, one track, ”Saki-Chan”, incorporates a monologue from a Japanese transsexual, and in “Stand-Up” Thaemlitz tells how she was beaten senseless by Latino queens in New York. Terre has become an established figure in the Japanese house scene, and many of her releases are Japan-only.

In 2004 she recorded Trans-Sister Radio for radio. Her 2012 album Soulnessless is the “world’s longest album in history”, a 29-hour piano solo split into five cantos. It was released on an SD card, and comes with a 150-page commentary.

Her debut mix CD, 2013, “Where Dancefloors Stand Still”, protested Japan’s restrictive fuzoku law (prohibiting dancing in clubs beyond 1am).
“It seems that the queer factor of today’s house events is really low,” she says. “If you’re in the US and it’s a straight, white club then it’s just a fucking nightmare. These events are the celebration grounds for heteronormativity. There is a historic connection between queerness and deep house, and also things like transgenderism and vogue, that, to me, was really important – and it’s utterly absent.” It’s not just about the music having broader appeal, either: “It has to do with this cultural shift away from the necessity to actually have clubs function as safe spaces for different types of sexual enactment. (quoted in Hutchinson)”
Carlos Pozo asked: “Is Terre Thaemlitz your real [sic] name?” And got the answer: “Yes, the family name was a little mangled by US immigration several generations back (it was originally Thamlitz). As for the spelling of my first name (pronounced "Terry"), I think my parents were trying to name me after St. Teresa of the Roses, but they didn't want to spell it "Terri" because that's for GIRLS, and they didn't want to spell it "Terry" because that refers to St. Terence, or something weird like that. This whole gender-ambiguity thing goes way back! It's made for lots of free tampon mailings over the years.”

Terre suggests to Kate Hutchinson that “if pronouns really have to be used, Terre is ‘she’ and Sprinkles is ‘he’”.    EN.Wikipedia    Discogs     Factmag