I have previously referred to the triple whammy of 1928-9 - when, within a few months, trans men and masculine women in London and Paris were involved in three much publicised trials which, while they did not lead to legislation about clothes, gender or civil rights, did sent a message to trans men that they should be careful.
Note regarding pronouns: Most of the persons discussed here never stated a preferred pronoun. In addition, Swann
, Radclyffe Hall and Sackville West
had considerable inherited wealth, and were therefore less affected by the laws about clothing and gender which the lower orders had to conform to. Swann, Gluck, Carstairs and Barker
masculinised their names and wore male clothing. Barker, Wood
, and Holtom
had to work for a living, and therefore they had to pass. They are close enough to the 21st
century concept of a trans man that anything but male pronouns would be wrong. Pelletier
both kept their female first name, but dressed in male clothing, and worked at a time when women of their class did not, Pelletier as a doctor and Morris in sports and with motors. Morris also had a double-mastectomy (top surgery). But because of their retained first names, Madeleine and Violet, it is difficult to use male pronouns for them.
The biographers of Gluck, Lowther, Carstairs, Morris and Pelletier use female pronouns, but I expect that this will change for future biographies.
Contrariwise to Pelletier and Morris, Radclyffe Hall did take a male name: John, and was so addressed by friends. However her manner of dress was only in-between: usually a skirt topped with a male-style jacket and tie – a style that had been very fashionable for upper-class women through the 1920s. Laura Doan
, author of Fashioning Sapphism c
omments on Radclyffe Hall:
“Her haircut was thought to be the most feminine of all the short cuts popular at the time, and she had her hair done at Harrods — not a barbershop. Even Hall’s famous sartorial choices were on the feminine side of what was known as the ‘severely masculine mode’… Nor did Hall and her partner Una Troubridge dress in a bizarre manner, wearing, as some biographers have claimed, clothing from a costume shop. The couple studied fashion magazines and built their wardrobes not from men’s tailors in Savile Row, but from the most chic of London’s department stores for women. [unlike Gluck who bought suits from the expensive men’s tailors]. Hall always wore a skirt and conducted herself in a completely womanly way - in short, Hall definitely didn’t model her protagonist, Stephen Gordon, after herself.”
Diana Souhami’s biography frequently refers to Radclyffe Hall as John, but she never uses the pronoun ‘he’. While Radclyffe’s anti-hero Stephen Gordon in the Well of Loneliness is very definitely a trans man, perhaps also intersex, his author was not so. And we should note that Radclyffe Hall uses female pronouns for her protagonist in The Well of Loneliness
Sackville-West had done soldier drag as part of her affair with Violet Trefusis, and as such the pair had fled to France pursued by their husbands. However she did not persist in such gender expression.
Trans men not mentioned below: Madeleine Pelletier
was a doctor in Paris; Camille Bertin
and his wife were residing with their three daughters in Juan-les-Pins on the Côte d'Azur.
|Radclyffe-Hall, Carstairs, Barker and Morris|
Wynsley Michael Swann
, Lieutenant-Colonel in the Women’s Army Corps during the Great War, quietly transitioned.
, cellarman, waiter, died age 24 from consumption, and was found to be female-bodied. He was buried as “Miss Ernest Wood”.
, now having taken male clothing and appearance, has first one-man show of 56 paintings in South Kensington.
bought and developed a secluded estate in Hampshire, which he named Bostwick after his grandfather. He bought a yacht, Sonia, and became so proficient that by 1924 he was winning yachting prizes.
had run an ambulance unit that was incorporated into the French Army, 1917-8, and in the 1920s ran a lesbian salon, and Radclyffe Hall and other female writers popular at the time attended. Toupie loved to tell how, while motoring, she was stopped at the Franco-Italian border for masquerading as a man. On the return journey she wore a skirt and was arrested for masquerading as a woman. In 1926, Toupie Lowther was elected a member of the French Academie d’Armes, the only woman to that date to be so.
Multi-event athlete (put-shot, javelin, football, swimming, cycling, motor-racing) Violette Morris, who had set new records in the 1922 Olympics, opened a car/motorbike accessories shop, Spécialités Violette Morris
, at 6, rue Roger-Bacon, Paris, using the inheritance from her mother. The rent was 8,000 francs per annum, and the 41,000 franc valuation was all in the stock. She lived in the flat upstairs.
- Vita Sackville-West. Challenge. George H. Doran 1924. A novel, based on the affair between Vita and Violet Trefusis, with Vita’s male persona, Julian Davenport, the leader of a revolution on a Greek island. His cousin Eve (Violet) joins him as his lover but becomes jealous of his attachment to the island. The book was published in the States only, for Vita’s father found the portrayal obvious enough to identify his family. In the real world, Julian and Violet broke up because the latter had sex with her actual husband.
Joe Carstairs commissioned the best motorboat that money could buy, a hydroplane from Samuel Saunders of East Cowes, Isle of Wight. Joe named the boat Gwen after his lover, Gwen Farrar. After the boat capsized and came up again, Joe reversed the name to Newg.
Carstairs took part in and won the Duke of York’s International Trophy. On Lake Windermere Joe set a world record of 54.97 mph for a 1½ litre class boat.
Morris had been temporarily suspended for giving performance-enhancing drugs to her football team, for questioning the referees and for doing nothing when the referee was hit by a member of her team. In 1926 Morris was indefinitely suspended from football. She used her name to recruit female athletes for a film. She refused to transfer her licence to another club.
Gluck had an exhibit at the Fine Art Society in London.
Radclyffe Hall wrote a short story, "Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself", although it was not published until 1934. It drew on Toupie Lowther's accounts of her life during the war, her masculinity and her lack of fit in society. Ogilvy, "My God! If only I were a man", who, even as a child had insisted that "her real name was William and not Wilhelmina", finds a role in the war leading an ambulance unit, but afterwards finds that again her masculinity has become absurd. She commits suicide.
- Oscar Paul Gilbert. Men in Women's Guise: Some Historical Instances of Female Impersonation. John Lane The Bodley Head Limited. 284 pp 1926
Wynsley Michael Swann
took a wife. Unlike what happened to Victor Barker two years later, this marriage was never challenged.
was the live-in secretary of National Fascisti. After a fracas with dissident members, he was charged with “uttering a forged firearm certificate”. He was found not guilty, but his firearms certificate was cancelled. The Public Prosecution Office did find rumours about a woman masquerading as a man, but did not pursue them.
Joe Carstairs commissioned Samuel Saunders to build three hydroplanes designed to be the fastest craft ever at a cost of £50,000. In a significant lapse of memory, Joe named the boats Estelle I, II and III after his mother Evelyn.
, artist, moved to Paris from Budapest taking a male name and from then wearing male clothes, a beret and smoking a pipe. Picasso would greet him as "Monsieur Madame".
The Fédération française de sports féminins
(FFSF) notified Morris that she was suspended for violations, and for wearing male clothes. Her smoking and drinking did not help. The FFSF also banned shorts that were too short, playing without a bra, and costumes that were too tight.
A journalist from Paris Midi who questioned Morris apropos the new regulations thought that he must be meeting her husband or brother, "mais non, c'était bien elle, en chair plus qu'en os, habillée d'un complet veston, avec pantalon - comme vous et moi, monsieur - faux col et cravate (but no, it was her in the flesh, dressed in a full jacket with trousers - like you and me, sir - collar and tie)".
Morris won the motor-racing Bol d'Or against male competitors, and practised boxing, sparring with Raoul Paoli (1887-1960), the male Olympics athlete, champion boxer, wrestler, and rugby player for France.
Morris attended a meeting of the FFSF, and issued a defense of her dress style: "L'habit masculin n'a, à ce que je sache, rien de malséant. J'y suis tenue de par mes obligations professionnelles et tant que les lois de la République française ne m'en empêcheront pas, rien ni personne ne peuvent m'interdire un costume qui, vous en conviendrez, est toujours décent (There is nothing, to my knowledge, unseemly about male clothing. I am bound by my professional obligations and as long as the laws of the French Republic do not prevent it, nothing and nobody can forbid me to dress in a way that you will agree, is still decent)". However this argument did not convince, and Morris was expelled from the FFSF, and thereby from all French championships and the French team for the Olympics where she was expected to win gold medals.
The novel The Well of Loneliness by Radcliffe Hall was rejected by three publishers, and then accepted by Jonathan Cape, who priced it at 15/-, twice the price of an average novel.
- Radcliffe Hall, with an appreciation by Havelock Ellis. The Well of Loneliness. Jonathan Cape, 1928. The cover page names the author as ‘Radclyffe Hall’, not as Marguerite nor as John.
Plot: Aristocratic parents, the Gordons are expecting a boy and so call the child Stephen anyway. Stephen is narrow-hipped and broad-shouldered, hates dresses, wants short hair and longs to be a boy, and from age seven develops crushes for heterosexual women. The father reads Ulrichs and Krafft-Ebing to understand Stephen, but does not share his findings. After his death Stephen opens his locked bookcase and discovers the concept of ‘invert’. Stephen is an accomplished fencer, tennis player and motorist, and during WWI is in the ambulance unit in the battles at Compiègne, and is awarded a Croix de Guerre. This draws on the life of Toupie Lowther
. The book presents inversion as natural, but Gordon’s self-loathing leads him to pretend an infidelity so that his girl-friend will leave him to go with a real man. The word ‘lesbian’ does not appear in the book at all. Radclyffe Hall uses female pronouns for Stephen throughout.
27 July: published. Reviews were mixed. No calls for it to be banned.
28 July-12 August The Olympics were held in Amsterdam. Although only a few women's events were included, Morris was not on the French team.
19 August: Christian reactionary James Douglas’s editorial in the Daily Express: "I would rather give a healthy boy or a healthy girl a phial of prussic acid than this novel. Poison kills the body, but moral poison kills the soul”. Cape sent a copy to the reactionary Home Secretary William Joynson-Hicks who had been supressing alcohol, nightclubs and gambling. Joynson-Hicks replied after two days that the book was "gravely detrimental to the public interest". Proceedings would be brought if publication not stopped. Cape secretly transferred printing to Pagasus Press in Paris.
28 September: Pegasus editions on sale in London.
3 October: Joynson Hicks issued a warrant for shipments of the book to be seized.
11 October: publication of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando: A Biography
. A magic sex-change novel.
"Orlando had become a woman - there was no denying it. But in every other respect, Orlando remained precisely as he had been. The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity".
Based on Woolf’s affair with Vita Sackville-West, imagining Vita as Orlando. Despite the fuss about The Well of Loneliness
, no fuss was made about Orlando
- Virginia Woolf. Orlando: A Biography. Hogarth Press, 1928
19 October : the Chairman of the Board of Customs balked. He had read The Well and considered it a fine book, not at all obscene; he wanted no part of suppressing it. On 19 October he released 250 seized copies for delivery. However police were waiting when they were delivered. Jonathan Cape and the bookseller were summoned to appear at Bow Street Magistrates Court.
9 November: the trial. Havelock Ellis was not willing to testify, his book Sexual Inversion having been previously convicted of obscenity and thus his presence might be counter-productive. Sexologist Norman Haire
was to be the star witness for the defence – he argued that homosexuality ran in families and a person could no more become it by reading books than if he could become syphilitic by reading about syphilis. However he and the other witnesses were not called.
16 November : The chief magistrate ruled that the book was obscene.
For a while after the trial, Toupie Lowther took to dressing as a heterosexual woman: skirts, silks etc, and disassociated herself from Radclyffe Hall and her wife Una Troubridge.
- Havelock Ellis. Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Vol 7 Eonism and Other Supplementary Studies. FA Davis 1928. “On the psychic side, as I view it, the Eonist is embodying, in an extreme degree, the aesthetic attitude of imitation of, and identification with, the admired object. It is normal for a man to identify himself with the woman he loves. The Eonist carries that identification too far, stimulated by a sensitive and feminine element in himself which is associated with a rather defective virile sexuality on what may be a neurotic basis.” Perhaps not the very best time to publish this work.
- Anonymous. The Sink of Solitude. 1929. A lampoon in verse by "several hands", satirised both
sides of the controversy over The Well of Loneliness. Its primary targets were Douglas and Joynson-Hicks, "Two Good Men – never mind their intellect". The introduction, by journalist P. R. Stephensen, described The Well's moral argument as "feeble" and dismissed Havelock Ellis as a "psychopath". The Sink itself endorsed the view that lesbianism was innate: “Though Sappho burned with a peculiar flame/ God understands her, we must do the same,/ And of such eccentricities we say/ "'Tis true, 'tis pity: she was made that way”. It portrayed Hall as a humourless moralist who had a great deal in common with the opponents of her novel. One illustration, picking up on the theme of religious martyrdom in The Well, showed Hall nailed to a cross. The image horrified Hall; her guilt at being depicted in a drawing that she saw as blasphemous led to her choice of a religious subject for her next novel, The Master of the House.
January: Victor Barker
was arrested after he did not respond to a bankruptcy notice that he did not receive. He was arrested and put in Brixton prison until medically examined. He was then quickly transferred to Holloway women’s prison.
February: using the excuse of fitting into a racing car, Violet Morris publicly had a double mastectomy (what today we would call top surgery) at the clinic of Dr. Cazalis in the suburb of La Garenne-Colombes.
10 March: both Victor Barker and his wife published accounts of their marriage in different newspapers.
- Valerie Arkell-Smith. “The Man-Woman – My Story” Sunday Dispatch, 10 March 1929.
- Elfrida Barker. “My Story: By the Man-Woman’s Wife: Mrs Barker Reveals the Truth”. Sunday Express, 10 March 1929.
27 March: Barker was charged with “wilful and corrupt perjury in an affidavit” re his bankruptcy. Of this he was discharged, but was then charged with having “knowingly and wilfully caused a false statement to be entered in a register of marriage”.
24 April: the second trial. Barker was sentenced to nine months imprisonment.
11-12 May: William Holtom
of Evesham, Worcestershire, coal heaver, a cow-man, a road mender, a timber haulier and a navvy, was taken ill, and admitted to the Evesham Poor Law Hospital men’s ward with enteric fever. He was then 42. This led to a discovery of strapping around his chest, and he was hastily transferred to the women’s ward.
Radcliffe Hall wrote: 'I would like to see [Colonel Barker] drawn and quartered. A mad pervert of the most undesirable type'. Radclyffe Hall considered herself an invert and Barker a pervert, but despite what was said at Barker’s trial about passing as male to earn a wage, it was Barker, not Radcliffe Hall who lived full-time as male.
16 June: Claude Lowther, brother of Toupie, died age 59 after a period of illness. He was unmarried but the father of two, and had established a career as a right-wing Conservative. The outing of his sister during the trial cannot have helped.
9 September: The World League for Sexual Reform held its third congress in London in 1929, organized by Norman Haire.
The two trials were not on the programme.
Toupie spoke of being the inspiration for Stephen Gordon and some books say that John and Una dropped her for saying so. Una wrote in her life of Radclyffe Hall: “She passed out of our lives when John wrote The Well of Loneliness, and we afterwards heard that she had resented the book as challenging her claim to be the only invert in existence. Later still, when she was growing very old, I was told that she had moreover acquired the illusion that she had served as a model for Stephen Gordon.”
Morris sued the FFSF for reinstatement and 100,000 francs in damages. While her case was against the arbitrary use of power, the trial focused on the right to wear male clothing. Her male lawyer defended the inherent decency of trousers, and questioned why trousers had been okay with the FFSF for ten years, but no longer. He contrasted Morris with Victor Barker in England who had attempted to pass as male. The FFSF had two female lawyers, one of whom, Yvonne Netter, was a noted feminist, divorced and an advocate of planned parenthood. They explained that because of their responsibility to the government (which provided grants) and to parents, they must set good examples. Morris was accused of cross-dressing to attract attention. They noted how female clothing had evolved from the long skirts and corsets of the pre-war era. They portrayed Morris as being a moral danger in female locker rooms, and criticized her in that she had never applied for a permission de travestissement. Morris' lawyer produced a letter from the Commissioner of Police giving assurance that they no longer pursued women in trousers.
The court ruled: "nous n'avons pas à nous occuper de la façon dont se vêt à la ville et dans ses autres occupations Mme Violette Morris, mais nous estimons que le fait de porter un pantalon n'étant pas d'un usage admis pour les femmes, la FFS avait parfaitement le droit de l'interdire. En conséquence, le tribunal déboute Mme Violette Morris et la condamne aux dépens"(we do not have to deal with how Mme. Volette Morris dresses in the city and in her other occupations, but we believe that to wear trousers is not permitted by custom for women, FFSF had every right to prohibit it. Accordingly, the court dismisses Mme. Violette Morris and awards costs)".
- Gladys Mitchell. Speedy Death. Victor Gollancz, 1929. The first (of 66) Mrs Bradley detective novel. Explorer Everard Mountjoy is discovered dead in the bath, and to everyone’s surprise – especially his fiancée – he has a female body. Review. Included the delightful untrue story of Captain Jack Tremain who was part of the British team sent to Khartoum in 1884 to rescue General Gordon. Tremain died of malaria and a post mortem revealed his secret. He was previously Miss Wilhelmina Nash.....who wrote in a diary "to be a woman with ambition beyond that which society will allow is to endure a slow death. I was determined to live a life."
- Joan Riviere. “Womanliness as a Masquerade”. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 9, 1929: 303-313. Analyses how intellectual women in particular practice an artificial femininity as a defensive mask that is put on to hide masculinity. An important contribution to the concept of gender as social construction.
in a village near Salisbury, Wiltshire, had been declared male at age 29 after examination by a doctor, and supported by Salvation Army solicitors had his birth certificate changed. Saturday 30 March he married a childhood friend. This was reported favourably by local and national newspapers.
The boyette fashion style of a skirt with jacket and tie had, as clothing fashions do, run its course by 1928 and was being replaced by more feminine styles. While Radclyffe Hall’s appearance had been regarded “on the feminine side of what was known as the ‘severely masculine mode’” before 1928, afterwards it came to signify lesbianism, much as effeminacy came to signify male homosexuality only after the Oscar Wilde Trial in 1895.
Despite this, skirt, jacket and tie in later decades became the standard female school uniform – without any suggestions of lesbianism.
- Gerald Berniers writing as Adela Quebec. The Girls of Radcliff Hall. Privately published, 1932. A spoof which featured Berniers, Cecil Beaton and others as lesbian schoolgirls at an institution named after the famous writer. Beaton attempted to have all the copies destroyed and it became a very rare book until reprinted in 2000.
had seen an advert in a US newspaper for the sale of an island in the Bahamas. He bought Whale Cay for $40,000, and moved there. He was sensitive to the growing hostility about gender variant persons in the press. He never returned to England.
- Radclyffe Hall. Miss Ogilvy Finds Herself. William Heinemann, 1934.
had a mysterious stay in hospital, and afterwards claimed that he was now a man.
, previously England’s best female shot-putter and javelin thrower, underwent two operations by Lennox Broster
at Charing Cross Hospital, and was declared male. Unlike Violet Morris, he took a male name. Two months later he married a female friend. Not Britain’s first surgically completed trans man – there had been others operated on by Broster – but the first to garner press attention because Weston was a well-known athlete.
Una Troubridge, Hall’s partner, petitioned the Home Office to reconsider the ban on The Well of Loneliness (as she hoped to include it in the republication of Hall’s major works), all the relevant files were drastically purged and then closed for one hundred years.
Falcon Press brought out an edition of The Well of Loneliness with no legal challenge. It has been in print in the UK continuously since.
It is ironic that Douglas and Joynson Hicks regarded The Well of Loneliness as dangerous in that it would lead young women into an inversion composed of depression and self-hatred, while they had no problem with Orlando that presented inversion as a high-spirited romp – in fact as gay in the old sense. But experience teaches that those who would censor are rarely consistent.
Both Woolf and Radclyffe Hall seem to be incapable of imagining inverts who are not aristocratic and wealthy. Readers had to wait until the 1950s for invert stories where the protagonists are ordinary people.
Radclyffe Hall’s books give the author’s name as just that, without a given name, and many write as if Radclyffe were her given name (what in the 1920s would be called a ‘christian name’). Radcliffe Hall’s given name was Marguerite and later John. Radclyffe-Hall was a double-barrelled surname. Her father was Radclyffe Radclyffe-Hall.
You could easily argue that Morris’ law case was wrong-headed. It is a pity that Morris did not follow Weston’s example of, after gender surgery, taking a male name and pronoun and leaving female sports behind. However Morris was 13 years older than Weston and had her operation seven years earlier. It is indicative that she did not claim top surgery as gender surgery, but excused it on the grounds of fitting into a racing car. Morris had been sparring with the male Olympics athlete Raoul Paoli, and in motor racing had held her own against male drivers – and actually won the Bol d’Or in 1927. It was time to leave female sports behind – and she was already 36. Neither Morris nor her lawyer nor the FFSF discussed whether a trans man should be involved in female sports. No-one used those concepts in 1929.
Either way, Morris’ trial came immediately after those of Radclyffe-Hall and Barker, and the three together had an impact.
So where are the trans women and female impersonators in this period? Actually there were very few in England and France 1924-9. Once we move into the 1930s it changes significantly. Also of course the situation in Berlin was significantly different and Magnus Hirschfeld oversaw the surgical completion of a few trans women.