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29 February 2020

Judy Bowen (1944 - ) business woman, activist

Judy Bowen was assigned male and so raised in Virginia and Tennessee despite feeling otherwise.  The family was religious – church three times a week – and Bowen was a teenage reporter for the local evangelical paper, The Daily Beacon.

This led to a journalism scholarship at the University of Tennessee. Bowen became involved with the civil rights movement where she found greater acceptance as a trans woman. There were several transsexuals at a racially mixed party when three white men came in and started stabbing people. Judy escaped through a window. However they could not call the police because racial mixing was then illegal in the State, and those who were stabbed had to be taken to hospital in separate cars.

A male friend was moving to New York to be a teacher, and Judy went with him. They lived on Long Island. Judy started going to transsexual clubs and one night won a contest at the Queen of Hearts club in Garden City, Long island, when it was raided and they were all arrested. As her friend was a teacher, he would have lost his job if seen with her.

She and three others found a third floor studio apartment at Christopher Street and Gay Street in Greenwich Village, a short walk from the Stonewall tavern. In 1967 Judy became a patient of Harry Benjamin. For a while she worked, as a bookkeeper in male guise, always keeping her jacket on to hide her newly grown breasts. Then she found that she could make good money as a taxi-dancer in the Times Square mafia establishments.
“I started in the dance clubs, like the Tango Palace. It was usually 60/40; 60 percent cis female and 40 percent trans. It was a place where lonely men with problems would go, and they would pay to sit with a girl for an hour. They had to buy champagne and we’d drink water. From there, I graduated to a gentleman’s club in the Times Square area. I was the only transgender person, that I knew of, who worked in that place.” 
She also had a wealthy benefactor.

Judy was not at the Stonewall riots in July 1969 because she was working, but she was part of the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade a year later. Afterwards she organized two short-lived groups. Transvestites and Transsexuals (TAT) was formed in 1970 but lasted only a couple of months. Bowen was quoted as saying that she found the transvestites “too politically radical”. Transsexuals Anonymous had its inaugural meeting in the office of surgeon Benito Rish in early 1971. About twenty attended, the most prominent of whom was Deborah Hart.
“I started Transsexuals Anonymous because we needed to talk and we had to be anonymous or we might be murdered if someone found out. As transsexuals we were motivated to become as close to genetic females as possible. Transsexuals were living, working, and transitioning into female roles. That's what made us different from transvestites. Some transsexuals go through with the surgery, and some don't. In that group [TA] we basically gave each other confidence. We helped each other with jobs and school. That sort of thing. Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson had STAR. They had no desire to become female.” 
Judy had surgery from Drs George T Whittle and John Clarke at the Jersey Shore Medical Center in 1971. There were complications and then litigation that continued for many years. The Jersey Medical Center discontinued transsexual surgery in response.

Judy in 1974
In 1974 the Gilded Grape announced a Miss Gilded Grape Contest. The most sensational contestant was Judy who spoke for ten minutes about her operations. However her operations seemed to count against her. Drag Magazine commented that rules against surgery should be spelt out clearly in advance. The winner was Eddie, a bartender at the Grape, in drag for the first time.

The FBI were going after the mafia dance halls, and Judy was warned by a lawyer to get out. She had been buying property since before Stonewall:
“I ended up owning an Italian restaurant in Queens for 35 years. I added an art gallery. Eventually I had four buildings on the block and started publishing the Western Queens Gazette, a community-based paper which is still going today, and the Long Island City News. I raised money for youth and senior programs and I got appointed to the community board. I worked to get a gymnasium converted into a youth center to keep the kids off the street. I was and am very community minded.” 
During this period she was mainly non-disclosing of her gender history.

In the late 1970s Judy became a regular at Studio 54, and met Andy Warhol, and was an extra in a couple of Woody Allen films. In the mid-1980s she met the man who became her husband.

In 1998 Judy’s mother passed on, and Judy and her husband decided to move to Las Vegas.

Today, in her 70s, she is an active member of The Center in Las Vegas, which supports the needs of LGBTQ people, as well as a champion of the Safety Dorm for transgender individuals at The Salvation Army, which houses and provides professional support for homeless transgender people in Las Vegas.
  • “Drag Drops in on New York’s Drag Oasis: Beauty at the Gilded Grape”. Drag: The International Transvestite Quarterly, 4, 14. 1974: 32, 38. 
  • “Transsexual nears trial in malpractice suit”. Drag: The International Transvestite Quarterly, 7, 26. 1978: 4. 
  • Joanne Meyerowitz. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Harvard University Press, 2002: 236.
  • Brendan Zachariah O’Donnell. Definition and Redefinition: Alliance and Antagonism in Homosexual and Trans Communities in the U.S. BA Thesis, Wesleyen University, 2014: 59. Online
  • Owen Keenen. “Trans pioneer Judy Bowen looks back at community changes”. Windy City Times, 2016-11-30. Online
  • Zackary Drucker. “Transgender Activist Judy Bowen Recalls the Stonewall Riots”. Vice: Identity, Nov 29 2018. Online.
  • Daniel Villarreal. “This trans activist recently shared her memories of the Stonewall uprising and early life in NYC” LGBTQNation, December 2, 2018. Online
  • Enzo Marino. “Local transgender woman recounts experience during Stonewall Riots”. Fox5Vegas, Jun 28, 2019. Onine
  • “Judy Bowen: Center Legacy Award”. The LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada, 2020. Online.

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