This site is the most comprehensive on the web devoted to trans history and biography. Well over 1700 persons worthy of note, both famous and obscure, are discussed in detail, and many more are mentioned in passing.

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26 May 2024

Phil Black (1903 - 1975) female impersonator, ball organizer.

Original version December 2008.

Pittsburgh’s Hill District had been settled in the 1820s when those who could afford it moved out from Pittsburgh’s industrial core.   It became the city’s primary neighborhood for immigrants and other newcomers.  During the Great War, many black migrants came from Alabama and other parts of the South to fill Pittsburgh’s wartime labor shortage. By the 1930s African-Americans constituted a small majority in the area alongside various immigrant communities. Unlike the segregated theatres and nightclubs downtown, those in the Hill District, particularly the jazz clubs, were racially mixed.   The ethnic mix was open to sex/gender diversity in a way not found downtown.  Some female impersonators like Gilda lived as female off-stage as well as on, and as such visited hairdressers and attended church - Purcell and Coco sang as such in church choirs.  Grantmyer writes 

“female impersonators carved out a space for themselves in the Hill by performing in local nightclubs; by being themselves as they meandered down the neighborhood’s streets, shopped in its stores and drank in its bars; and by forging personal relationships that helped transcend stereotypes”.

Phil Black was born in Sharpsburg, 5 miles/8 km northeast of Pittsburgh. In 1924, 21 years-old and dressed as female, he went to Cake Walks with a buddy and they won first prize as the best couple. Friends told him that he was as good as the professional female impersonators. As such he started with bookings in the Pittsburgh area. He performed for two years at Pittsburgh's Little Paris nightclub, and the at various clubs around the city, and then joined a touring group, the highly popular Shufflin Sam from Alabam, again as a female illusionist.   

For six years from 1927 he played in and around Atlantic City, often as the only colored member of the troupe.

From the mid-1930s he was based in New York City, appearing in Greenwich Village and Harlem. 

Thomas H. Robinson on October 10, 1934, kidnapped Alice Stoll in Louisville, Kentucky and released her unharmed in exchange for $50,000 ransom.  He then went on the run.  A customer at the Harlem nightclub where Phil Black was appearing gave a $10 tip to dance with Black, who immediately realised that the customer was not a cis woman.  She gave the name ‘Jerry’ but when questioned further quickly departed.   Afterwards Black saw a photograph of Robinson in a newspaper and recognised the mysterious customer.

The first drag ball organized by Black was on Thanksgiving Day, 1941.

Performance Card

In 1944 Black played Montréal for four months, and in 1948 was promoting boat rides on the Hudson River. Black made seasonal appearances at the Harlem Club in upstate New York, and in the early 1950s appeared in Washington DC.

Black put on the Funmaker drag balls at the Rockland Palace ballroom located on 155th Street and Frederick Douglass Avenue, where the Hamilton Lodge balls had previously been held.  Anyone who cared to could be in drag, or express their inner self.

Phil Black was interviewed in 1953 in the black community magazine Our World, which emphasized his normality: 

"I don’t join the many parties that take place after some clubs close and I have very little use for alcohol. I have never been married chiefly because of my mother. She has no other means of support and has been living with me for 18 years”

The article also wondered if ‘Phil Black’ was a stage name signifying lover (philia) of black persons.

Black was included in E Carlston Winford’s pioneering 1954 book, Femme Mimics, the first ever collection of photographs of female impersonators.  Perhaps in reply to Our World, Winford wrote of Black: 

“He prefers to use his real name, contrary to the practice of many in this profession who choose a ‘feminine’ stage name”.

In 1956, Leslie Matthews wrote in The New York Age

“There were ladies exhibitionistic belles, unmindful of the night’s chill doffed their minks, beavers and rabbits and gave the hungry sidewalk onlookers a little of what was in store for them if they entered Rockland Palace, Thanksgiving night, where the ‘Funmakers’ were staging their 15th annual extravaganza. The ‘girls’ came from all over (there were two from Mississippi and one from San Diego, Calif.) ‘played’ within the confines of the auditorium…. Everyone was a celebrity. Attired in expensive frocks and gowns the ‘girls’ who disliked being called ‘fags,’ had their faces reshaped to photogenic proportions by new cosmetological techniques.” 

Black had a second job in that a Harlem private detective agency needing a woman to follow husbands in divorce cases, hired Black for the task.

The stage show was both a song and dance routine. Black made his own gowns, but such was his reputation that Josephine Baker in Paris also sent some of hers.  Black's transformation took only 20 minutes, and his reputation was such that tourists to New York, even from Europe made efforts to catch his act.  He was a member of the Negro Actors Guild.

In 1963 a reform group called the Committee for Racial Pride protested the event, citing that drag and homosexuality were blights on the black community, the latter wrought by white people. Black nationalists also picketed the event, their signs posted with the slogan “Rear Admirals Stay downtown” and some of those who came to the ball were harassed. This lead Black to cancel the 1964 event. However that year Black appeared as himself, a stage performer, in an uncredited role in the film The Pawnbroker.

The 1965 event was also cancelled in that Black’s diabetes led to gangrene in his left leg and amputation.  However a prosthetic was fitted and the balls continued. While previously Black had done a song and dance act, now it was simply a song and joke act – in particular the high kicks he had been famous for were now not on.

The balls had lasted from the mid-1940s and, with only the two cancellations, continued until after Stonewall, until his death, and became the standard for the later voguing balls.

*Not the auctioneer, nor the fitness consultant.

·         “Robinson Disguised as Woman: At Least So New York Newspaper Declares in a Copyright Article, Hammond Times, October 15, 1935 (based on article in The Evening Journal, October 14, 1935).  Online.

·         Black, Phil. “I Live in Two Worlds.” Our World, October 1953: 19.

·         “Phil Black” in E Carlton Winford.  Femme Mimics.  Winford Company, 1954.  Online.

·         “Leslie Matthews Unlimited,” The New York Age, December 1, 1956, 4. 

·         ‘Luscious Limpwrist’. “ ‘Les Girls’ had a Ball at Rockland, Honey!” The New York Age, December 7, 1957, 4. 

·         “Phil Black Loses Leg.” New Pittsburgh Courier, 16 Oct, 1965, p. 1

·         “Phil Black’s Annual Valentine Ball!”  Female Impersonators, 2,1969 :12-7.  Online.

·         Tony Gild.  “Tripping the Light Fantastic at the Gay Funmakers Ball”.  National Insider. April 20, 1969.  Online.

·         Avery Willard. “In Memoriam Phil Black 1903-1975”.  Drag, 5, 20, 1975:22.  Online

·         “The Last of the Balls”. Drag, 6, 24, 1975 :10-18. Online.

·         Stephen P Knadler.  “White Dissolution: Homosexualization and Racial Masculinity in White Life Novels” in The Fugitive Race: Minority Writers Resisting Whiteness.  University Press of Mississippi, 2002: 161-3.

·         Jeffrey Callen.  “Gender Crossings: A Neglected History in African American Music” in Sheila Whiteley & Jennifer Rycenga (eds).  Queering the Popular Pitch.  Routledge, 2006: 191-3

·         Laura Grantmyre.  “’They lived their life and they didn't bother anybody’: African American Female Impersonators and Pittsburgh's Hill District, 1920-1960”.  American Quarterly, 63, 4, 2011.

·         Rebekkah Mulholland. Historical Erasure is Violence: The Lives and Experiences of Black Transgender Women and Gender Nonconforming Women of Color in the 19th and 20th Century.  PhD Thesis, University of Memphis, May 2020: 190-205.

·         Elyssa Maxx Goodman,  Glitter and Concrete: A Cultural History of Drag in New York City. Hanover Square Press, 2023: 62–64, 119, 122, 145.

Queer Music Heritage     


Phil Black is not listed as a notable person in the Wikipedia Sharpsburg page.

Gilda in the Hill District is not the same as Guilda in Montréal.  However both took their name from the 1946 film Gilda with Rita Hayworth. 

16 May 2024

Ajita Wilson (1950 – 1987) prolific actress

Original March 2007.

Wilson was born and raised in Brooklyn.

After a start as a transvestite entertainer in New York in the last remaining burlesque spectacles of the time, Wolson also posed for some adult magazines,

Around 1970, bankrolled by a rich boyfriend, said to be from Denmark, Ajita Wilson went to Europe, and had completion surgery. It is rumoured that she was featured in hardcore loops at this period – however such are not documented.

Her first non-porno film was Cesare Caneveri’s La Principessa Nuda,1976. in a leading role as Miriam Zamoto, an African princess on a fund-raising mission who encounters Italy’s La dolce vita. The film is a light Comedy/satire poking fun at celebrities and the so-called jet set. Suddenly Ajita Wilson was a star.

With an uncritical approach to scripts, Ajita was constantly employed throughout the 1970s, in both mainstream genre movies, and also in softcore and even hardcore porno. She was often top-billed.

She often played characters simply named ''Ajita''.

In 1978 she made a crossover into Euro-trash such as women-in-prison flicks, and a number of films directed by Jesus Franco.

There were suggestions that she was trans, but they were not taken too seriously. Some knew, other did not. She was frequently featured in European nudie magazines simply as a woman.

1981 was the year of her best-known film, Jesus Franco’s Sadomania, aka Hellhole Women, where Ajita plays the cruel lesbian prison warden who takes delight in the inmates’ suffering – who is named, for some reason, Magda Urtado (said to be the maiden name of Ajita’s real-life mother). In a confusing scene, director Franco, in the role of a gay brothel owner, is sodomized by Ajita, in a second role as a mustachioed man. 

That year she was featured in magazines: the Afro-American magazine Jet featured Ajita as their “Beauty of the Week”: 

“Beautiful Ajita Wilson from Rome is a movie actress in Europe”. 

She was also featured on the cover of Players Magazine and High Society.

She co-starred opposite trans singer/actress Eva Robin’s in Eva Man (1980) and El Regresso de Eva Man (1982). 

Another Jess Franco film, Macumba Sexual, has Ajita in the role of Princess Obongo, a voodoo princess returning from the dead and haunting a woman by using sexual hallucinations.

In the 1980s she starred again in women-in-prison films such as Hell Behind Bars, Hell Penitentiary and Savage Island (with Linda Blair from The Exorcist, an incoherent production using footage of two other movies from the 1980s).

By the mid-1980s Ajita’s career was declining. She was mainly in obscure Greek softcore films. Part of the decline was that softcore porn was being pushed out by US hardcore porn at this time, and the advent of VHS videos.

In 1986 she was arrested by the carabinieri in a brothel in Florence and tried to escape running naked through the street. In 1987 she died from the complications from a road accident.

The rumour that she was trans was more said after her death.

After Wilson's death, an interviewer for "Sinister Tales" asked director Carlos Aured to comment on speculation as to whether she was a transsexual. Aured simply replied, 

"She was charming, beautiful and very professional. The rest is not important.".

Alternate accounts:

There is an alternate story that says that she is Magda Urtado from Rio, but that is the name of her character in Sadomania – it is also supposedly her mother’s maiden name.

Jesus Franco suggested in the 2003 documentary Sadomaniac, that the mysterious star hailed from Ethiopia.

According the October 1981 edition of the American magazine Players (vol. 8, no. 5), she was born in 1951 in Flint, Michigan, the offspring of a Brazilian mother and a US father. In Marco Giusti's book Dizionario Dei Film Italiani Stracult, Sergio Bergonzelli, who directed her in “La Doppia Bocca di Erika”, said that “Ajita had been a firefighter in an American city".

  • “Ajita Wilson, mujer de la noche”. Interviu, 189, 27 diciembre 1979.
  • “Beauty of the Week: Roman Beauty”. Jet, August 20, 1981:43. Online.
  • “Ajita Wilson la veneren era”. High Society, Edizione Italiana, Settembre, 1981.
  • “Film Star: Ajita Wilson Goes Nude”. Players Magazine, 8, 5, October 1981.
  • Bob McCann. “Ajita Wilson” in Encyclopedia of African American Actresses in Film and Television. McFarland, 2009.
  • Monica Roberts. “Black Trans History-Ajita Wilson”. TransGriot, august 21, 2012. Online
  • “Before Laverne Cox there was Ajita Wilson”. Welkom, 8.sep, 2015.
  • Johnny Stanwick. “Created by Cinema: The Enigma of Ajita Wilson”. The Grindhouse Effect, Online
  • Matt Richardson. “Ajita Wilson: Blaxploitation, Sexploitation, and the Making of Black Womanhood” Transgender Studies Quarterly, 7, 2, May 2020. Also at edu.
  • Sierre B Holt. “Ajita Wilson’s Jet Set Style”. The Stylestorian, July 26, 2020. Online.
  • Rebekkah Mulholland. Historical Erasure is Violence: The Lives and Experiences of Black Transgender Women and Gender Nonconforming Women of Color in the 19th And 20th PhD thesis, The University of Memphis, May 2020: 28,38, 63, 69-71,73-4 . Online.

IMDB      EN.WIKIPEDIA       FINDAGRAVE      MySpace       Cult Sirens

La Principessa Nuda (aka The Nude Princess, 1976)
Gola Profonda Nera (aka Black Deep Throat, 1976)
Sylvia im Reich der Wollust (aka The Joy of Flying, 1977)
Candido Erotico (aka Copenhagen Nights/The Exhibitionists, 1977)
La Bravata (1977)
Nel Mirino di Black Afrodite (aka Black Aphrodite, 1978)
Le Notti Porno Nel Mondo nº 2 (1978)
L´Amour Chez Les Poids Lourds (aka Traveling Companions, 1978)
Proibito Erotico (1978)
La Pitoconejo (1979)
Pensione Amore Servizio Completo (1979)
Libidine (1979)
Femmine Infernali (aka Escape from Hell, 1979)
Eros Perversion (aka Twelfth Night, 1979)
Los Energéticos (1979)
Una Donna di Notte (1979)
Luca il Contrabbandiere (aka Contraband, 1980)
Orinoco-Prigioniere Del Sesso (aka Hotel Paradiso, 1980)
Evaman, La Máquina Del Amor (1980)
Erotiki Ekstassi (aka Love, Lust and Ecstasy, 1980)
Sadomania - Hölle der Lust (1981)
Erotiko Pathos (aka Blue Passion, 1981)
Apocalipsis Sexual (1982)
Catherine Chérie (1982)
Triferes... Gatoules (1982)
Bacanales Romanas (1982)
La Amante Ambiciosa (1982)
Macumba Sexual (1983)
Töchter Der Venus (1983, aka The Pussycat Syndrome)
Inferno Dietro Le Sbarre (aka Detenute Violente/Captive Women Hell: Hell Penitentiary/Hell Behind Bars, 1983)
La Doppia Bocca di Erika (aka Naked Wild Erections, 1983)
Anomali Erotes Sti Santorini (1983)
Corpi Nudi (aka Nude Strike, 1983)
Stin Athina Simera... Oles Ton Pernoun Fanera! (1984)
Ke To Proto Pinelo (1984)
Idones Sto Egeo (1984)
Savage Island (1985; re-uses scenes from 1979´s Femmine Infernali)
Bocca Bianca, Bocca Nera (aka Love Boat. 1987)
Joe D'Amato Totally Uncut (1999, stock footage)


IMDB lists her as appearing almost 50 films. This compares with 6 for Aleshia Brevard, 26 for Eva Robin's, 28 for Holly Woodlawn, 79 for Bibi Anderson and 75 for Alexis Arquette. Most of Alexis' film were in her pre-op phase, so on the crude criteria of counting films Ajita is second only to Bibi as the major transsexual film star of that period.

08 May 2024

Annette/Sheldon (1931-1971) businessman, engineer

Sheldon was raised in Idaho, grew to 6’2’’ (1.88m) and served in the military as a Marine sergeant. Sheldon had been cross-dressing since early childhood, with an initial emphasis on shoes. He married but did not tell his bride, Gail, of his cross-dressing until two months afterwards. She did not understand, but allowed him to ‘dress-up’. He over-did it and Gail was afraid of friends finding out. So, Shelden quit doing so but fell into periods of deep depression – which led to Gail consulting the family doctor. 

The doctor called Sheldon in for a talk, and referred him to a psychiatrist in another city. This doctor advised that his feminine side not be pushed aside. Sheldon worked with his wife on finding a balance. She suggested the name Annette. Annette needed a place to go to, and they confided in two couples who were close friends and Annette was accepted – although they still referred to her as Sheldon and treated her as a man, even when they went to a restaurant as a foursome. Annette and her wife also went to costume dances and to movie theatres. 

On the psychiatrist’s advice Sheldon wrote to his mother, explaining his hobby and enclosing photographs. She wrote back "you do make a snappy looking gal", and remembered the child Sheldon in dresses.

This was only a few years after the 1955 “Boys of Boisie” homosexual scandal and witch hunt in the Idaho state capital, when adult men loving other adults were accused of paedophilia.

Sheldon was an engineer and business manager, and was appointed to a position in the Lewiston city council.

Annette sent an account of herself with photographs to Virginia Prince’s Transvestia newsletter. 

Transvestia #5 1960 featured its first cover girl. Potential cover girls were asked to supply several photographs and a personal history, and were requested to pay for their page of photographs. The first such was Annette of Idaho. A year later, issue #10 contained supportive letters from Sheldon’s wife and mother.

Word spread about Sheldon being Annette. He even passed around photographs of Annette at the city offices. Annette never passed himself off as a woman; on meeting strangers he always mentioned that he was a man. Some refused to believe it. Once at a party, a young man, making a play for Annette, had it confirmed again that Annette was a man and grabbed her wig in fury. Not a wise move against an ex-Marines sergeant.

In 1962 Donald Wollheim/Darrell Raynor, planning a business trip to the US Northwest, used the Transvestia mail forwarding system to contact Annette, and was duly invited to visit. Raynor flew to the Lewiston airport where he was picked up by Sheldon. Raynor described the home where Annette/Sheldon lived with Gail, two children and his mother: 

“Imagine then that on the outskirts of this town there suddenly rises one single hill, a hill that looms above the city and dominates it. Imagine that on top of this solitary hill, there is a grove of trees, the only such orchard to be seen for miles around. Within this grove of trees there is a ranch-type, sprawling house, surrounded by lawns, concealed from view by the encircling green arbors. This was Annette’s house, as perfect a home for a cross-dresser as can be imagined. Complete privacy, open air, beauty against the drabness and sereneness of the land.”

The next year, using his femme name of Doris, Raynor wrote an account of the visit for Transvestia. This first draft was reworked as Chapter 10 of Raynor’s 1968 book.

Sheldon, after much consideration, started his own business, including a car-wrecking yard. He also invented a mobile car crusher designed to pick up abandoned cars and compress them into a cube of scrap metal on the spot. 

Most years Annette invited members of Virginia Prince’s FPE and others to her home with an overflow to a local motel if needed. She spoke to the local police officials explaining what transvestism is and promising to be “the model of discrete behavior, conducting herself as a lady should and drawing no public attention to herself” (Maureen).

In 1968 Katherine Cummings and most of the Seattle Chapter went. Virginia drove up from Los Angeles. Cummings observed that Virginia managed to alienate most of the wives by telling them that she was just as female as they were. (Cummings: 185).

The 1970 event was written about by Virginia (Transvestia 62) and by Maureen (Transvestia 63).

Only a few months later, Sheldon died of a sudden heart attack at age 39. There were several fond rememberings in Transvestia # 68. 

1971 was also the year that a new Idaho criminal code repealed the anti-sodomy laws dating from 1864. However strong opposition from the Mormon and Catholic churches and Republican Party led to a reinstatement of the anti-sodomy laws just one year later.

  • “Miss Annette – Our COVER GIRL of the Month”. Transvestia, 1.5, 1960: Cover, 3-13. Online.
  • “My son is a Transvestite” and “My husband is a Transvestite”. Transvestia, 2,10, Aug 1961: 68-73. Online.
  • Darrell Raynor writing as Doris. “Visit to a Happy Man”. Transvestia 2, 20, 1963:32-4. Online.
  • Virginia Prince. “Travelling Saleslady”. Transvestia, 2,62, 1970 :65-6. Online.
  • Maureen. “Weekend Women”. Transvestia, 2, 63, 1970: 73-80. Online.
  • “In Memoriam”. Transvestia,2, 68, 1971 :26-31,
  • Darrell G Raynor. A Year Among the Girls. Lancer Books, 1968: Chp 10, 76-83.
  • Katherine Cummings. Katherine’s Diary: The Story of a Transsexual. Beaujon Press, Revised edition, 1993: 104-5, 185.
  • Robert S Hill. As a man I exist; as a woman I live’: Heterosexual Transvestism and the Contours of Gender and Sexuality in Postwar America. ‘PhD Thesis, University of Michigan 2007: 1-6, 9, 44, 92-3, 147n28, 238, 354-62.
  • Sophie McMahon. “Finding Annette: Uncovering Trans History in Idaho, 1950-70”. Outhistory, 2023. Online.


McMahon makes no mention at all of the books by Cummings and Raynor nor the thesis by Hill that discuss Annette. She uses Raynor writing as Doris –but ignores Raynor’s book.

McMahon writes: “I try and picture Annette sitting cross legged at the kitchen table reading articles such as these that condemn homosexual life, and then taking off her long white dress and earrings and going out into the world as a man named Sheldon, knowing that she could likely face similar levels of anger and villainization if people knew about her secret life as a woman.” Surely this misses the point. Annette/Sheldon – remarkably – was by force of personality, social skills and self-confidence able to be semi-out as trans in the 1960s– even in the city council – in a state noted for its homophobia.

Darrell Raynor writing as D Rhodes in Turnabout #3 1964 contributed “Overs and Unders” in which he proposes two kinds of male heterosexual transvestites, of both of which he says: "The ‘Overs’ first fixate on shoes, the ‘Unders’ first fixate on under garments".  In this scheme Annette would be an ‘Over’, and was probably in his mind as he wrote.

The major book on the homosexual panic in 1955 Boise is John Gerassi’s The Boys of Boise: Furor, Vice and Folly in an American City, 1966, in which he proposes that the investigation began as a means for the wealthy elite of Boise to assert and maintain economic control of the city and the state. He asserts that a gay millionaire known as "The Queen" was the target of the probe, although he was never charged. This person is still anonymous almost 70 years later – “the name itself carries the name of one of the big huge families in America, entrepreneur families dating back a century”. Other men with less money, clout and access to lawyers were charged instead, some being sent to prison – one was given a life sentence. Collateral damage!!

Of course Annette/Sheldon – like Virginia Prince – maintained that transvestites were not homosexual. However this perception was not common in the general public or in most police forces.