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20 April 2018

Charlotte McLeod (1925-) a bookkeeper goes to Copenhagen

Part 1: Youth and Copenhagen
Part II: fame and marriage

Charles McLeod Jr., the only child of a Ford Motors salesman, was born in Nashville and raised in Dyersburg, Tennessee. The parents divorced when he was 16: both remarried. He was a lonely sensitive boy who lacked interest in masculine things. He was sometimes taken as a girl in boys’ clothing.

He consulted doctors and in the early 1940s went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He also stayed with cousins in Los Angeles in the hope of finding a medical specialist in that city who could help – but without success.

McLeod served three months in the US Army 1948 before being medically discharged with a 4-F rating. McLeod found doctors sympathetic to the idea of a sex change, but they apologized that the US laws re Mayhem would not permit such surgery.

 McLeod was advised to “find such little happiness as I could in life by going to one of the ‘colonies’ that abound in our large cities” (McLeod, 1956:12). In 1948, McLeod moved to the French Quarter in New Orleans, but did not fit in the gay world either. He did find work as a bookkeeper for $75.00 a week (a good wage at the time). He tried Boston for a while, but returned to New Orleans.

He went to the Mayo Clinic a second time. They still could not offer anything, because it would be illegal.

In April 1953 McLeod, at age 28, read about Christine Jorgensen and her operation in Copenhagen. He quickly packed, and went to Dyersburg to tell his father what he was doing. With apparent parental approval, McLeod continued to New York and quickly took ship to Denmark using a minor inheritance from a grand aunt. He sailed on the MS-Maasdam. Many of the people on the ship were crossing to England for the Coronation in June.

In Denmark, the Folketing had passed a new law restricting sex-change operations (that is the ‘first’ operation, the orchiectomy or castration) to Danish nationals who were not over 26. By asking around, McLeod was directed to a renegade doctor, Dr Emil Petersen:
“a rather unscrupulous physician, a man who had been charged with collaborating with the Nazis and who had only recently returned from exile. … of frightening appearance who, from the results of a British bullet through the base of his skull, habitually walked so bent over that he never met one’s eye.” (McLeod, 1956:13).
McLeod moved into the doctor’s apartment and waited five days while Petersen came down sufficiently off narcotics to regain his surgical skill. His wife and eldest son were to assist with the operation which took place on the kitchen table. The wife administered the anesthetic.

McLeod awoke in great pain and hemorrhaging. Petersen retreated into drugs, and collapsed outside McLeod’s door. She tore the stitches in her abdomen attempting to get him up, and then an infection set in. She fled and found that she no longer had her passport. She reported this to the police, and she was told that she had to leave the country, but was allowed time to settle her medical problems.

McLeod was admitted to Bispebjerg hospital. The first operation being already done, it was now legal to complete the transition. The Danish doctors led by Dr Jens Foged (1897 – 1956) agreed to do a penectomy and relocate the urethra. Christian Hamburger, who had attended to Christine Jorgensen, was the endocrinologist, and explained to Charlotte about the need for external hormones. She was unable to pay for the medical attention, and so the medical team worked free of charge.

Charlotte then started wearing female clothes, and applied to the US embassy for a new passport. It was re-issued but again in the name of Charles. Her father was contacted, but said that he would give neither financial nor emotional support.

After recovery, Charlotte went with a church outing for a weekend in Bergen, Norway, where she met a US-Norwegian, Ralph Heidal, a seaman, who helped her with skiing.

Twice in 1953, on 5 March and 20 May, a Polish pilot defected to the West by landing his MIG fighter plane on the Danish island of Bornholm in the Baltic. It was probably the second occasion when Charlotte was there having been invited to visit for the weekend. She created a stir: “ I never saw so many Russian troops. Microscopic was their examination of all of our papers and when it was found that my passport didn’t match, I think they thought that they had found the master spy.” (Stryker: 23)

In early 1954 Charlotte gave a very brief interview to journalists in Copenhagen. A 47-page pamphlet, Da Karl blev Karl: En dansk læges bedrift, came out telling of a second US person operated on – this time on a kitchen table. The book names the person as Karla, and the doctor as Petersen.

A few weeks later, on 24-5 February the Danish publication, Aftenbaldet (Evening Magazine) told almost the same story of Charlotte McLeod – and in retrospect it is apparent the Karla and Charlotte were the same person.

The US press picked up on the story immediately.

In early March the story broke that Roberta Cowell in England had also completed a gender change.

In late April the Copenhagen police found that Dr Petersen was the doctor who did the initial operation, and after statements that perhaps he would not be charged, finally he was charged with violating the castration law.

Charlotte inadvertently interrupted a press event for the Canadian actress, Yvonne de Carlo:
“She had all the press lined up for this big landing that she was going to make when she came in from Europe. And they found that I was in next car coach and everybody that was supposed to interview her came gang banging on me.” (Stryker p24)
It was 16 April 1954 when Charlotte arrived at New York’s Idlewild airport. She intended to transfer and fly directly to Tennessee. However fog grounded the plane. She stayed overnight in a hotel, and was swarmed by the press, to the point that she fell over. It was said that in the struggle she struck a photographer with her umbrella, and she and they were arrested and charged with assault. However the charges were quickly dropped.

She returned to Dyersburg and was reconciled with her father.
Charlotte reconciled with her father.

Continued in Part II.

Thank you to Tina Thranesen of Vidensbanken om kønsidentitet who first identified that Da Karl blev Karl: En dansk læges bedrift was actually about Charlotte.

The high quality photographs are from Transas City.

In an interview with Susan Stryker in 2002, Charlotte said (p6) that her father was a Ford Motors salesman. However several newspaper accounts in 1954 said that he was in insurance.

She also said that she was in Denmark for ‘two years’ (p24, 29). However April 1953-April 1954 is one year.

Charlotte did not know, most trans persons in 1953 did not know, but Elmer Belt had quietly started doing vaginoplasties for trans women at the University of California at Los Angeles. He got around the Mayhem restrictions by preserving the testicles, pushing them into the abdomen.

The encounter with Yvonne DeCarlo. This is recounted on p24 of the interview with Susan Stryker. Charlotte says it immediately after saying that she was in Denmark for two years which implies that it was at about the time that she returned to the US. It is unclear whether it happened in Denmark or the US. The expression ‘next car coach’ implies that that they were on a train. I have placed the anecdote immediately prior to her flight to the US, but with further information this may have to be adjusted.
  • Bent Rosenwein. Da Karl blev Karla: En dansk læges bedrift. Self published, 1954.
  • “Ny amerikansk Chris Jørgensen skjult her I byen efter operation”. Aftenbaldet. 24 feb 1954. PDF. Text.
  • “Danes Change 2d GI to Girl”. Boston American, Feb 24, 1954: 3. Online.
  • “Charlie to Charlotte Operation Successful on New Orleans Patient: ‘Christine’-type Surgery in Denmark changes Sex to Female”. Baton Rouge State Times Advocate, 2/24/1954: 1-a, 8-a. Online.
  • “Operation Changes Sex of American”. Eugene Register-Guard. 24 Feb 1954. Online
  • “Ex-Gi ‘Charlotte’ Goes into Hiding”. Boston American, Feb 25, 1954: 3. Online.
  • “Now His Daughter, Says Ex-GI’s Dad”. Boston American, Feb 25, 1954: 3.2. Online.
  • “Medicine: In Christine’s Footsteps”. Time, March 8. 1954. Online.
  • “Charlotte, Who Was Charles, Falls in Hotel Scuffle”. Sacramento Bee, 17 April, 1954:6. Online.
  • “Danes Check on Sex Change”. Sacramento Bee, April 19, 1954: 7. Online.
  • “Sex Change or Suicide Choice”. Boston Daily Record, May 13, 1954:3. Online.
  • Charlotte McLeod. “I Changed My Sex”. Mr Annual, Winter 1956. PDF.
  • Susan Stryker interviews Charlotte McLeod, transcribed by Loren Basham. GLBT Historical Society, August 22, 2002. PDF.

TransasCity Collection           Vidensbanken om konsidentitet

16 April 2018

The first Canadian surgical transsexual?

By some accounts trans history in Canada starts in 1962 when Jackie Shane was doing her gender ambiguous act at Toronto's Sapphire Tavern; legal secretary Dianna Boileau was arrested and outed after her best friend was killed in a car accident; Marie-Marcelle Godbout arrived in Montréal to start living as female; and  the Soeurs-du-Sacré-Coeur pushed the police to charge trans entertainer Lana St-Cyr with giving an indecent performance.

However, eight years earlier in August 1954, a trans woman became the third North American to seek surgery in Copenhagen.   In the footsteps of Christine Jorgensen and Charlotte McLeod she arrived in Denmark.  As had Charlotte McLeod a year earlier she found that the Folketing had passed a new law restricting sex-change operations to Danish nationals.   She self-castrated in her hotel room, forcing the medical authorities to step in. 

We do not know her name, or what happened to her afterwards, either in Denmark or in Canada.

Ottawa Citizen?, 19 August 1954. 

Tina Thranesen of the very informative trans history site Vidensbanken om kønsidentitet (in Danish) has provided the corresponding article from Ekstra Blatet, also 19 August 1954.

Her translation:


Canadian, rejected by Copenhagen doctors, taken to hospital after desperate action

A young Canadian came to Copenhagen recently for the purpose of being transformed into a woman. He had heard that Danish doctors had done this miracle with others, among them the often mentioned Chris Jorgensen.
But since then it has been forbidden to do this kind of operation on foreigners, and the Canadian was therefore rejected by the doctors he addressed.
It depressed the Canadian terribly that no-one would help him, and he has therefore performed a desperate act. In a hotel room in Frederiksberg he operated on himself with a regular knife with the result that he has now been hospitalized at Frederiksberg Hospital. His condition is quite critical, it is said.
There is, as will be remembered, something similar in the past. An American citizen, who had been rejected by Copenhagen doctors, also took an intervention on himself, which almost cost him his life. He got up, and a doctor in Frederiksberg later made an operation on him in his private consultation room.
The doctor is Emil Petersen, who during the investigation has claimed that it was only compassion that caused him to operate the American, known as McLeod.
He is, however, charged with violation of the Castration Act.

09 April 2018

Caitlin R Kiernan (1964–) novelist

Kiernan started life as Kenneth R Wright in Dublin, and a few years later moved to Leeds outside Birmingham, Alabama, with his mother, Susan Ramsey Cleveland.

Susan, an avid reader, introduced Wright to Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker. Wright also became strongly interested in paleontology, and as a teenager, volunteered at the Red Mountain Museum where fossils of Cretaceous mosasaurs, extinct seagoing reptiles, could be seen in the rock. Wright also spent several summers on archaeological and paleontological digs.

After studying geology and vertebrate paleontology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Colorado at Boulder, Wright then held both museum and teaching positions at the Red Mountain Museum, and published in paleontology journals, mainly on mosasaurs.

By 1992 Wright had transitioned, and was using the name Caitlin R Kiernan. She wrote her first novel, The Five of Cups, but it was not published until a decade later. Caitlin continued to be published in paleontology journals using her new name.

Her 1995 short story “Persephone” was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award by the Horror Writers of America, and led to Neil Gaiman and the editors of DC/Vertigo Comics asking her to write The Dreaming, an anthology comic book spun off from Gaiman's popular Sandman, featuring both existing supporting characters from Gaiman's title and new ones of Kiernan's own creation.

Her first published novel, Silk, came out in 1998. It was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and British Fantasy Award and won the International Horror Guild Award for Best First Novel. More novels, short stories and comics followed. Her most acclaimed novel to date is The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, published in 2012 and set in Providence, Rhode Island.

Like HP Lovecraft, a major influence, Caitlin lives in Providence with her wife. She describes herself as an atheist pagan.

Caitlin has used the Red Mountain cut, as a setting for four of her novels – Silk (1998), Threshold (2001), Low Red Moon (2003), and, to a lesser extent, Murder of Angels (2004).
She has also written as Kathleen Tierney.
Encyclopedia of Alabama     EN.Wikipedia    EN.Wikipedia(Bibliography)    Wikiquote     Amazon Author Page     Queeraday    LocusMag    LiveJournal

Of the people whom I have featured in this encyclopedia, Caitlin is one of the few listed as a notable in the Wikipedia article on her home town.

05 April 2018

Aurora (1873? - ?) hairdresser, sex worker

Aurora arrived in Buenos Aires, from Paraguay, in the late 1890s.

He quickly drifted into prostitution, however was arrested only when found brawling in cafes, or when dressed as a female. He was persuaded to become a women’s hair stylist, and as such found work in bordellos. He was arrested several times, but there was never enough evidence for a conviction.

One time Aurora was placed in ‘preventative arrest’ after clients at a costume ball in a bordello became angry in that she was too realistic as a woman.

Aurora’s life history was taken by Dr Francisco de Veyga, and published in 1903. In it she asserts that she was born a marica. De Veyga avoided referring to Aurora as a prostitute: he called her a ‘professional’. He regarded Aurora as having an acquired mental disorientation caused by a misunderstanding of female sexuality.
  • Francisco de Veyga. "La inversión sexual adquirida. Tipo de invertido profesional. Tipo de invertido por sugestión. Tipo de invertido por causa de decaimiento mental", Archivos de Psiquiatría y Criminología aplicadas a las ciencias afines. Medicina Legal. Sociología. Derecho. Psicología. Pedagogía, año 2, 1903: .193-208.
  • Donna J Guy. Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Family, and Nation in Argentina. University of Nebrasca Press, 1991:86.
  • Jorge Salessi. “The Argentine Dissemination of Homosexuality, 1890-1914”. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 4,3,Jan 1994: 356, 359-363. .
  • Osvaldo Bazán. La historia de la homosexualidad en la Argentina: De la Conquista al siglo XXI. Marea, 2006: 127.
  • Kristen Loehr. Tranvestites in Buenos Aires: Prostitution, Poverty & Policy. MA Thesis, Georgetown University, 2007: 30.
  • Matthew J Edwards. Queer Argentina: Movement Towards the Closet in a Global Time. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017: 13-7.
  • María Belén Ciancio & Alejandra Gabriele. “El archivo positivista como dispositivo visual-verbal. Fotografía, feminidad anómala y fabulación”. Mora (Buenos Aires), 18,1, ene/jul 2012. Online.


Francisco de Veyga writing in 1903, several years before Hirschfeld's Die Transvestiten, 1910, uses the word 'travestida' (tranvestite).