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20 September 2021

Trans London in the 1970s - Ruminations

 See also:

Part 1: 1971-5
Part II: 1976-80

David Bowie and Androgyny

The 1970s are, of course, when the images of David Bowie were said to be androgynous. While he presented a multitude of images of himself, none are to my mind androgynous. He broadened what was acceptable as male wear, a relief after the compulsory suit and tie look that had repressed male fashion almost until the end of the 1960s - although sartorial variation had started in the later 1960s with the Beatles and Elton John, and with the long-haired ‘hippy’ look.

Bowie drew on Camp, and is much commented on for the cover of The Man Who sold the World, 1970 where he wore a rather masculine dress (but not for the US release). But the proper sense of ‘androgynous’, a mixing of male and female, is not there. It was more Gender Appropriation in that it was done in such a way that it was signalled that the person was actually male or female, and that the supposed Androgyny was merely performance.

Some 1970s feminists dismissed Androgyny as “patriarchal pseudo-wholeness”. And, ironically, at the same time they were actually androgynous in their own lifestyle, clothing and in asserting themselves in what had previously been professions restricted to men. However given what had been presented in the media as Androgyny, their criticism is understandable.

Glam Rock

Glam rock acts dominated the UK charts 1971-5. Again, it was more gender appropriation than androgyny. Acts included T Rex, Mott the Hoople, Sweet, Slade and Roxy Music.

The Pink Fairies

The Pink Fairies pop up a few times. Some members of the group had previously been in The Deviants, and others in The Pretty Things - all three names having a somewhat queer connotation. One member used the stage name of Twink. In the 21st century a ‘twink’ is a young and pretty man, new on the gay scene. However the word was not used like that back in the 1970s.

However their members were apparently not queer at all, neither gay nor trans. But they were gay positive in that they were quite willing to play at gay events.

On their third album, Kings of Oblivion, they had a track actually entitled “I Wish I was a Girl”:

As a street fighter I don't make it

When the boys cut loose I can't take it

The sight of Blood don't turn me on

When the trouble starts I'm long gone

Oh, I wish I was a girl.

Guitarist Larry Wallis was quoted,

“Well, everybody thought I was saying, “I’m a homosexual [sic]. I’m a girl trapped in this man’s body.” Well I wasn’t. I was just saying, “I wish I was a girl ’cause they get it so easy. Any girl can go home with a chap seven nights a week if she wants. That’s why I wished I was a girl.”

Neither of which implies an understanding of the transgender yearning

On the other hand the drummer Russell Hunter performed in drag and makeup, and was in the 1971 zap against the anti-sex Festival of Life. But if he went any further, it is not recorded.

Numbers of activities & GLF

Reading my time-line it is noticeable that the number of activities drops off in the second half of the decade once GLF has run its course. This is because GLF, of its nature, was into street theatre and zapping. CHE endured and did good work, but it did not have the radicalness and colour of GLF.

Lifelong bachelors

In the 1970s and earlier, lifelong bachelors were often taken to be gay but secretive.

Danny La Rue, drag star, for many years, insisted that he was a “normal heterosexual”. However he had met his life partner Jack Hansen in 1947. Hansen became his manager, and they lived together for many years before Hansen’s death in 1984.

Cliff Richard, one of the best-selling music artists of all time, left behind his early image as a rebellious rock-and-roll singer and became mainly known as a Christian singer. He was associated with various women but never married. Rumours that he was gay persisted, but were never confirmed. For many years he shared his home with manager Bill Latham, and Latham’s mother and Latham’s girlfriend. When Latham moved out after 30 years in 2008, he was replaced by John McElynn, a Catholic priest. More.

Edward Heath, Conservative Prime Minister 1970-1974, never married and never lived with anyone. His biographers disagree as to whether he was closeted gay or asexual. The previous bachelor Prime Minister was Arthur Balfour 1902-5.

Change of generations

With the coming of the 1970s, the Boomer generation (born 1945 onwards) had come of age. Members of the previous two generations often did not know how to deal with them.

Ernest Marples (born 1907) and Arthur Corbett (born 1919) had expressed their transvestity with prostitutes. Kenneth Tynan (born 1927) went to parties cross-dressed, but nothing more.

Gladys Shufflewick (born 1924) became a fixture of the thriving gay scene of the 1970s. He gave an interview to Gay News in 1973, and was now open about his own sexuality. He did not seem to understand what the Gay Liberation Front was about, but twice Shuff was on a prominent float in the Gay Pride march.

Danny La Rue (born 1927) and Jack Hansen were more candid about their private life in later years.

Georgina Somerset (born 1923) who had earlier written that trans persons were “ within a reasonable scale of variation, really physically normal people, and not like me at all”. She allied herself with Justice Ormond after the Corbett v Corbett case, sued for libel when compared to Christine Jorgensen and continued throughout her life to differentiate herself from trans women.

Betty Cowell (born 1918) when interviewed by The Sunday Times in 1972 disapproved of the Permissive Society and Women’s Lib. “I was a freak. I had an operation and I’m not a freak any more. I had female chromosome make-up, XX. The people who have followed me have often been those with male chromosomes, XY. So they’ve been normal people who’ve turned themselves into freaks by means of the operation.”

Kimber in Sunday Mirror, compared to Ashley in News of the World

April Ashley told her story - as dictated to Noyes Thomas - in The News of the World each Sunday 6 May - 10 June 1962.

Bobbie Kimber - without a ghost writer - told her story in The Sunday Mirror 13-27 February 1972.

While both accounts ran in Sunday tabloids, both by show-biz performers, both told of their trip to Dr Burou in Casablanca, the former is well known while the latter was largely forgotten.

However the differences were greater than the similarities:

April was an attractive young woman of 27 in 1962 while Bobbie was a middle-aged 54 in 1972.

April became embroiled an major divorce case that altered the law for transsexuals.

April - with ghost writers - published two autobiographies, 1982 and 2006.

Still, the fact that Bobbie died during the 17 years of Thatcherism and thus did not also get an MBE.

Ackroyd & Raymond - books for the 1980s

The last years of any decade foreshadow the coming decade. Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in May 1979, and stayed until November 1990. This of course - despite (or indeed because of) her friendship with paedophiles like Jimmy Savile - prevented any advances on LGBT rights in that decade.

There were two influential book on trans topic in 1979: Peter Ackroyd’s Dressing Up: Transvestism and Drag, the History of an Obsession, and Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire. Both books were noted and cited in almost every book on the topic for the next decade, despite their different messages.

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