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26 May 2022

Pre-Stonewall Trans peer-support groups

Outside of Europe and the Americas peer-supporting trans groups have thrived for millennia, the Hijra in India and the Kathaoy in Thailand being the best known. Many of the First Nations across the Americas had two-spirit roles with community support, but were repressed by European colonialism. The major trans community in the Roman Empire was the Cybele worshipping gallae, but they were repressed in the 4th century with the Christianisation of the Empire.

This account is of the recovery of trans communities in Europe and North America.

Peer-support groups as we know them do not appear until after WWII, but earlier trans persons sought out each other at clubs and balls and in select publications, and also found each other in unexpected places like POW camps. The major Female Impersonation nightclubs are also listed here, even where cross-dressed customers were discouraged, in that there was often back-stage peer support and information exchange for the performers re clothing and makeup, and later hormones and surgeries.

See also Three Centuries of Police raids.

1709 onwards Molly Houses

A new development in the early 18th century was that of houses where queers, some of them transvesting, sought their own kind. Their dressing was distinctly different from the cis cross-dressing found in the masquerade balls, and their gender-role sexual activities were very different from the heteronormative sodomy that had been common until that time. 

1860s Fanny and Stella

Fanny and Stella were the best known of a circle of trans women who frequented fashionable places in and around London, until Fanny and Stella were charged with 'conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence'. Sodomy was not proved, and their acquittal established that transvesting was not a crime in England. GVWW

1897 - 1917 Storyville, New Orleans

The District, a 38-block area, was designated as the part of the city in which prostitution would be tolerated. This had been proposed by Alderman Sidney Story and the area became known as Storyville. Miss Big Nelly was the Madam of a gay brothel. The Frenchman’s was a small jazz club which was popular with trans women. The District played an important part in the evolution of early jazz, and was an area where queer persons were more comfortable.

1914 - 1918 Prisoner-of-war camps

All-male POW camps had theatricals and needed persons to play female roles - some of whom stayed in role off-stage. A major example was the German officer Emmerich Laschitz held in the Siberian camp of Achinsk until 1920.

1919 - 1933 Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, Berlin

In addition to Magnus Hirschfeld’s general support for trans persons, some also lived at the Institut, of whom the best known are Dörchen Richter, Toni Ebel and Charlotte Charlaque.

1920s Club D’Eon in Berlin

A transvestite social club. Hirschfeld’s associate Felix Abraham was on the committee.

1922 - 1923 Eldorado, Berlin

Three dance halls opened sequentially and run by Ludwig Konjetschni, where trans persons were welcome. GVWW.

1923 - 1941 London Life

The major British publication between the wars that paid attention to cross-dressing and similar topics and printed readers’ letters on such. Google Books.

1923 - 1938 the Faggots’ Ball or the Dance of the Fairies at the Hamilton Lodge, Manhattan.

This became the most popular gay event in town, attended by both black and white queers, and also artists and writers. About 800 attended in 1925 and fifteen hundred in 1926. Growing numbers of spectators attended not to dance but just to gawk, particularly at those in dresses. Three thousand spectators in 1929 watched two thousand dancers, and in the next few years a total of up to seven thousand spectators and dancers attended. GVWW.

1926 DamenKlub Violetta, Berlin

Run by female transvestite Lotte Hahm.

1929 Transvestitenvereinigung D`Eon, Berlin

Founded by Lotte Hahm for both male and female transvestites. This was so successful that a few weeks later they had to find a larger meeting place. Later the Association had its own dance events at Violetta. Its events were reported in Die Freundin.

1930s - The Lady Austin Balls, London

Mainly “Hotel Staff Dances” in private ballrooms attended by domestic servants and hotel staff, mainly men, but many cross-dressed. In 1932 it was raided and 33 men and 1 woman were arrested. GVWW,

1933 - 1940 La Paloma Club, outside Miami

A club of which it was said that the clientele included “homosexuals in evening gowns, trousered lesbians, and prostitutes”. It acquired nationwide fame in1937 when it was raided by the Ku Klux Klan. It was finally closed on charges of under-age heterosexuality. GVWW.

1933 - 1999 Finocchio’s, San Francisco

The most glamorous of the US Female Impersonation clubs, popular with celebrities and with tourists. It ran for 66 years, and most professional drag artists appeared there. GVWW.

1935 - 1950s. The Finnie Balls, Chicago

Following the raid on the Cabin Inn, Alfred Finnie organized a small extra ball on the South Side at 25¢ to get in, mainly attended by blacks. Each year it grew, and by the 1950s Finnie’s Balls attracted thousands both gay and straight, black and white, and was featured in Jet and Ebony magazines. Apart from the balls, Alfred worked as a club doorman and street hustler. He was killed in a gambling brawl in 1943, but the balls continued in his name. GVWW.

1939 - 1945 WWII Prisoner-of-war camps

As in WWI, all-male POW camps had theatricals and needed persons to play female roles - some of whom stayed in role off-stage. A major example was Bobbie Spong in Changai camp, Singapore.

1939-1972 The Jewel Box Revue, touring US

The Revue toured for 30 years, was racially integrated and was the best known drag show of its kind in the US. GVWW.

Mid 1940s - 1975 The Phil Black Funmaker Balls, Manhattan

The precursor of the later Voguing balls. GVWW.

1944 - mid 1950s Soldiers-in-Skirts Revues, England touring

About the only option in England at the time where assigned males could wear female clothes outside their homes. You had to have some inclination, if not actual talent, towards singing and dancing, although you did not have to have actually served in the forces. The first such show was actually a US import, Irving Berlins' This is the Army, which played the London Palladium for four nights in 1944. The initial idea had been to put men into dresses to make them look dreadful, but that soon started to change because the audience liked the prettiest ones best - which much suited the performers.  GVWW.

1947 - 1985 Le Carousel and Madame Arthur, Paris

Two clubs owned by Marcel Ouizman. While originally the performers had been the type who changed to male clothing before leaving, increasingly they were replaced by trans women who lived as women full time, took hormones and went to Casablanca for surgery. They were a community that shared advice and support, and exchanged addresses of doctors and electrolysists. Hormones were available in pharmacies without a prescription at that time. They also toured five continents, bringing an inconceivable example to countries where transgender surgery was not at all available.

1946 - 1956 The Garden of Allah, Seattle. 1946-1956

Seattle's most popular gay cabaret and one of the first gay-owned gay bars in the US. Local talent was encouraged. Unlike Finocchio’s in San Francisco, local queers were encouraged to attend, and amateur night contestants were often encouraged to become performers. GVWW.

1945 - 1981 Marie Schwidenhammer, Paris

After release from a German concentration camp and a forced resignation from the French Army, Schwidenhammer started living as female. She obtained diplomas in para-medical specialities and practiced as a masseuse therapist nurse, mainly in Paris. She was in contact with most French transsexuals and transvestites. It was she who happened to meet La Carousel star Coccinelle by chance on a train, and informed her of hormones, and of the possibility of transition. GVWW.

1944 - 1978 Louise Lawrence, San Francisco

The mother of trans organizing in the US. She networked with the performers at Finocchio’s, the homophile Mattachine Society, and educated professionals Karl Bowman, Alfred Kinsey and Harry Benjamin, and put trans women in touch with each other. GVWW.

1949 -1972 Club My-O-My, New Orleans

A performance venue in the West End of the city on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain. This was far enough out to avoid city rules and police harassment. For several decades it was a popular tourist stop. In 1972 the building was destroyed in a fire.  White performers and audience only. 

1945 -1969 the Dew Drop Inn, New Orleans

Renowned for music, drag and cross-dressing by performers, bar staff and customers. Patsy Vidalia hosted the Gay Halloween Ball each year. Unlike Club My-O-My not racially segregated.

1946 - 1973 Justice Weekly

A Toronto Tabloid that was published weekly with accounts of international criminal trials, but also accounts of and letters from readers re homosexuality, cross-dressing and fetishism.

195? - 1963 Chevalier D’Eon Resort, NY State

A country home in the Catskills, owned by Susanna Valenti and her wife Marie. It was an isolated 150 acres with a main house, a barn and several snug but unheated bungalows. For $25 ($200 in 2022 money) a weekend visitor from the city got food and board and lessons in passing as female. Of particular note is the gathering there of 71 transvestites at Halloween 1962 dominated by Virginia Prince. GVWW.

1958 - 2008 Chez Nous, Berlin

A nightclub at Marburger Straße 14 in Charlottenburg, the oldest surviving Travestietheater in West Germany. It was featured in the Michael Caine/Harry Palmer espionage film Funeral in Berlin, 1966. GVWW.

1959 - 1967 National Pageants, 1959, US touring

Jack Doroshow/Flawless Sabrina, drag performer and organizer of pageants. Through his company, The Nationals Academy, Jack organized 46 pageants a year from 1959-1967. As local laws almost always prohibited cross-dressing, he would meet with officials and propose a charitable donation, and in return the town would pass a variance to permit the pageant. Usually the town officials did not understand that local people would be performing. The 1967 finals held in New York was a much bigger affair. The Muscular Dystrophy Association was announced as the charity, and Lady Bird Johnson, the President’s wife, and Robert Kennedy as co-sponsors, but they quickly dropped out as the nature of the event became clearer. The event was filmed as The Queen, 1968, which was a sensation at the Cannes International Film Festival. GVWW.

1959 - 1986 Transvestia Newsletter

Published by Virginia Prince and sold by subscription and later in adult book stores. It would become influential in introducing heterosexual transvestites to each other.

1960 Hose and Heels Club, Los Angeles

The first group organized by Virginia Prince.

1962 Full Personality Expression (FPR), Los Angeles and then nation wide.

Virginia Prince attempted to organize Transvestia's readership into a nationwide group. FP (from FemmePersonator) also stood for Full Personality. What was needed was Full Personality Expression (FPE). That was Hellenized into Phi Pi Epsilon in the fashion of university sororities. The Hose and Heel Club became the Alpha Chapter. Homosexuals, transsexuals and fetishists were not admitted. Soon afterward there were three other FPE chapters: Beta in Chicago, Delta in Cleveland, and Theta in Madison, Wisconsin. GVWW.

1960s Stella Minge was running the last Molly House in Silvertown, London.

A queen herself, she often encouraged younger queens. GVWW.

1964 - 1969 Casa Susanna, NY State

In 1963, Susanna and Marie sold their resort property as it was unprofitable. In early 1964 they bought another 150 acre property with a large house, close to Hunter, New York. This became Casa Susanna, and like the Chevalier D’Eon Resort was frequented by the transvestite crowd. GVWW.

1964 - 1977 Erickson Educational Foundation (EEF)

Reed Erickson, trans man, scion of wealth, philanthropist, founded the Erickson Educational Foundation (EEF), financed entirely by himself. He employed Zelda Suplee to run the EEF. She met with transsexuals and others who asked for help, and Erickson made the final decision whom to donate to. The EEF financed gay and trans organizations, and research into New Age activities such as acupuncture, homeopathy, dolphin communication and altered states of consciousness. The EEF published booklets on various aspects of transsexuality, sponsored addresses to various professionals, and sponsored two of John Money’s books, and three of Vern Bullough’s. It donated money to the Harry Benjamin Foundation, until Erickson fell out with Benjamin in 1968. It subsidized the transsexuality program at the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic. It sponsored three symposia that grew into the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association (HBIGDA).         GVWW.

1965 l'Aide aux Malades Hormonaux (Amaho), Paris

Marie Schwidenhammer managed to register under the French law re voluntary associations.

1965 Dewey’s Coffee Shop, Philadelphia

Dewey's was a Philadelphia chain restaurant. The Dewey's at 208 S 13th St was the 'fag' branch where drags queens, hustlers, lesbian and cops ate and drank side by side. The other branches, especially the 17th St branch wanted it that only the 13th St branch be so. They started refusing service to known homosexuals and "persons wearing non-conformist clothing". 150 protesters staged a sit-in and the police were called. 3 protesters were arrested. At a second sit-in a week later the police declined to take any action, and the management agreed to end discrimination.

1965 onwards. Beaumont Society, England

Alice Purnell, Alga Campbell from Dublin, Giselle, a US expatriate, and Sylvia Carter, met in 1965 and agreed to found the Beaumont Society which was initially much the same as Prince’s FPE.

1966 Compton’s Cafeteria, San Francisco

This branch of Compton's was one of few places in the city where trans persons could go. However the staff started calling the police to arrest trans persons. By August a picket was launched. One night friction exploded into riot, dishes were smashed and the windows were smashed. The next night was a repeat.

1967 Change: Our Goal

A peer-support group in San Francisco. However it lasted only a year or so.

1968-1973 National Transsexual Counseling Unit

A peer-run counseling service established in San Francisco. Funded by EEF.


Of course, after Stonewall, many peer support groups were founded. 

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