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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.
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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 air (whether or not it resulted form a supposed dipilitary) it is not obvious in the nude photograph that Shufeldt also included.

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