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16 September 2020

More on Angela Douglas

 I have previously discussed Angela Keys Douglas:

There is a new biography on Morris Kight, the long-time gay activist in Los Angeles (EN.Wikipedia) which contains extra information on Angela Douglas.

  • Mary Ann Cherry. Morris Kight: Humanist, Liberationist, Fantabulist. Process, 2020: 152, 161-4, 227, 294-6.

Kight did pioneering work in gay activism from the late 1950s onward, and was a co-founder of several enduring organizations. However he did tend to exaggerate his work. As Cherry reports:

“In 1994, Kight said: 'Transgender is very real. Whatever that may be, that’s transvestites, cross-dresser, male/female trans—female to male. And there’s transvestite heterosexuals, male to male, female to female. I created "transgender." I’ve been recreating the language, and that’s one of the terms. First, I tried "transpeople," and that didn’t fly. Then I created "transgender," and that flew, and it’s now in the language. I think that’s appropriate.' Kight frequently took credit for the creation of nomenclature." (p162)”

       (See my 6-part series on the history of the word 'transgender' which does not mention Kight at all). 

By 1970 Kight was acquainted with Angela Douglas, who was then using the name Douglas Key and was a writer for the Los Angeles Free Press. Comments from activists described Key: 

“I remember one member named Doug who was an attractive, masculine, muscular young man who always wore a dress to the meetings. Sexual attraction was always a feature of these get-togethers." (p161)

And 

“A pre-op trans white guy who was very male and loud. A royal pain in the ass—had male privilege written all over him. The women did not want him in their group. He was upset that Morris made some funny comment about ‘transsexuals need to learn how to keep their seams straight,’ referring to Key’s inability to keep facts straight." (p161)

Cherry: 

“Key, a pre-op transsexual, was still writing under the name ‘Douglas Key’ in 1970 and may have had a hormonal reaction to gay lib. Key reported thoroughly on GLF meetings, gatherings, schedules of upcoming events, and wrote eyewitness accounts as well as editorials. Key, who was not homosexual, pushed for the inclusion of ‘trannies’ in the gay movement; it was not an automatic love-fest. Transsexuals and transvestites were not guaranteed the understanding and acceptance in a room full of out-of-the-closet gays and lesbians." (p161)

In February 1970 Los Angeles was hosting the Western Homophile Conference. Key wrote: 

“Attempts to obtain the use of the Masonic temple were crushed when temple officials discovered ‘homophile’ was not ‘hemophilia’ and rejected the WHC request.”

Key was generally considered disruptive and difficult. Key’s reports almost always mentioned ‘transvestites’ within the movement, and often violent reactions from ‘gaylibbers’. She also made it news when Virginia Prince spoke at GLF.

Cherry writes that Kight:

“respected the way Key used his byline to advance his personal agenda. Key compared gender re-identification issues with homosexuality. Most homosexuals did not agree that the two were the same, acknowledging that transsexual is not homosexual. The gay movement had never before embraced gender issues—role-playing, yes. But not gender. . . Key instigated what was perhaps the largest 'ripples of discontent' in the early movement when he reported that 'transvestites and transsexuals have come to the conclusion that the Gay movement is not valuable to their manifestations.' Key pushed it at GLF meetings for quite a few months and the tension mounted on both sides of the 'discussions'.”

GLF member Craig Hansen spoke with Connie Vaughn, a transsexual member of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) who expressed an opinion that Key was not a real transsexual but did have a severe gender identity problem complicated by paranoid fantasies.

Key spoke of the end of GLF, and several times published that she was quitting the organization, but was back the next week, until one week she was not. The Advocate reported: 

“Sunday was orderly and amiable. Key was not present”.

Cherry says that Kight recognized that Douglas was a pioneer in her cause, that of transgender rights, which was a difficult battle, but that 

“Angela probably did not possess the right temperament to achieve the goal”.  

Shortly afterwards Douglas left Los Angeles, and via Chicago, New York and Atlanta ended up in Miami. She frequently wrote to Kight. In an early letter, Douglas wrote that she had befriended the local MCC pastor for 

“desperately needed assistance … I am a physical wreck—horrid leprous sores on my feet and legs. The sun, air and cleanliness of the city is curing me quickly.”

She had ups and down: “I am really quite the lesbian now, very well accepted as such by most gay sisters and I am most happy about this” but later ““No money and I’m living on the street. Where are the so-called brothers and sisters? Bullshit....”

Later she wrote:  

"It is so hard to be a woman, so hard, & I am proud to be even a partial one. Inside me, I am a woman; my exterior is beginning to match the inside. It seems you understand me better now—I miss all of you, of course, very much. You are all such a big part of my life. Yes, freedom, Morris, freedom to be a man or a woman, to be gay, to be straight whatever.”

Cherry mentions Douglas’ surgery with Butcher John Brown – although she gives the year as 1976. 

Afterwards Douglas returned to Miami and mailing and phoning Kight. Cherry says 

“She had become more mentally unhinged; her letters demonstrate a constant emotional pendulum swinging from lonely and distraught to sociable and manic”. 

The phone calls degenerated into death threats. According to Cherry, by 1984 Kight had become aware that Douglas using the birth name of Douglas Czinki was communicating with the Secret Service and had named Kight as a Libyan agent. 

After Douglas won a substantial sum on the Florida lottery in 1991, Kight heard no more from Douglas, not even after she squandered the money was again impoverished.

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As I have mentioned before, as Douglas was gynephilic, why did she not attend meetings of Virginia Prince's organization?

Cherry’s book is based on a personal acquaintance with Morris Kight and access to his papers. Her end notes do include Douglas’ writings for the Los Angeles Free Press, but offer no way to connect the quotes in the main text to a particular piece.

In addition to my own writings, The major writings about Angela Douglas are:

  • Kay Brown. "Angela Keyes Douglas". Transsexual, Transgender, and Intersex History. 1998. Archive
  • Joanne Meyerowitz. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Harvard University Press. 2002: 236, 237-241, 257, 271, 333.
  • Mark Hinson. "Angela's ashes: Farewell to a wild pen pal". Tallahassee Democrat, August 24, 2007. Reproduced.
  • Susana Pena. "Gender and Sexuality in Latina/o Miami: Documenting Latina Transsexual Activists". In Kevin P. Murphy & Jennifer M. Spear (eds). Historicising Gender and Sexuality. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011: 755-772.

Cherry apparently consulted none of these. There is no mention of Douglas as a musician; no mention of the controversial letter to Sister magazine in 1977.

The letter was just after her unsatisfactory surgery with John Brown. Every other source gives the date as 1977. Cherry say 1976 but gives no reason for disagreeing with the others.

Twice in Cherry’s book there is reference to an anonymous source: Douglas “was described by a prominent Professor of Gender Studies as ‘A really important figure in the gay lib history of Los Angeles’ “ (p181) and “One prominent historical researcher also described her as ‘a really important figure in the gay lib history of Los Angeles’ “ (p294). The end notes contain a letter from Susan Stryker, PhD, so she is presumably the ‘prominent’ source – why not just name her in the text?

Stryker’s 2008 “primer text” for undergraduates, Transgender History, contains one and a half pages on Douglas, but also is not referenced, even though it is one of the very few sources to mention Kight and Douglas together.

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