Category Archives: History

OBITUARY: Transgender Actress Holly Woodlawn (1946 – 2015)

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My friend Eve Golden, an author, actress, and New York socialite who writes celebrity obituaries, has sent me information on the passing of transgender actress Holly Woodlawn, and I’ve added some bits from research I’ve done.

Holly Woodlawn died of cancer today (December 6) in Los Angeles. Born in Puerto Rico, Woodlawn hit New York in the 1960’s and soon fell in with the crowd of admirers and protégés surrounding artist Andy Warhol. She, Candy Darling, and Jackie Curtis were among the first openly transgender actresses in the New York stage and film world (and all of them were named in Lou Reed’s hit, “Walk on the Wild Side.” Woodlawn appeared in the films Trash and Women in Revolt, and in low-budget films such as Night Owl and Heaven Wants Out. She also had roles in the somewhat more well-known Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss and several cameo appearances on the award-winning Amazon series Transparent. In 1982, Holly was hired by the producers of Tootsie to coach Dustin Hoffman in his role. In recent years, Woodlawn worked in West Hollywood as a cabaret artist.

In 1991 she published a memoir titled A Low Life in High Heels, and in an interview in 2014 was quoted as saying “Aging is the best thing that could have happened to me…I have calmed down a gazillion compared to what I was younger. It is nice seeing all the kids around and thinking, ‘Oh God, if only they knew what is ahead of them!’ I hope they’re prepared! At least with me, it was never dull or boring.”

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A Kansas City Transgender Event – Free Screening of “The Danish Girl”

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As Caroline Gibbs, founder of the Transgender Institute announced on my Trans Talk program on KKFI last Saturday, Kansas City is honored to be presenting a screening of the Universal Pictures film The Danish Girl. The film is a semi-biographical drama of the groundbreaking journey of Einar Wegener, the husband of artist Gerda Wegener, to become one of the world’s first transgender women – Lili Elbe (I have only posted a very small amount of information about Lile Elbe on my site here).

Academy Award winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables) directs the remarkable love story inspired by the lives of Einar/Lili and Gerda. Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, Les Misérables) and Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, Anna Karenina), star as Einar/Lili and Gerda, respectively.

What’s more, thanks to the sponsorship of the Transgender Institute, you can register online to receive free tickets for the screening! There are 200 seats available, and they are given out on a first-come, first-served basis. You can register for the event by clicking the link below, and you need not create an account to use it, just proceed as “Guest.” Click here to get your free tickets, while they last!

Date: Tuesday, December 15, 2015.

Time: 7:00 P.M.

Location: The Glenwood Arts Theatre, 3707 W. 95th St., Overland Park, KS, 66206.

There will be a brief introduction before the film to provide some historical background, and yours truly has been invited to deliver an introduction – so I hope to see many of you there!

History: A new Christine Jorgensen 3-Fer on Transas City

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I recently purchased a large number of original wire photos, books, magazines, and other memorabilia from transgender history, and I will be posting them as I process them. As always, I include a link to the high-resolution scans, because our history is too important to be a “squirrel” and hoard away these things, out of the fear that someone might copy the works. Go ahead and copy and download all you want – if you want to give me a shout-out for credit, cool, but otherwise just keep these images safe so our past, what little of it still remains, shall never be forgotten.

Now to the photos: being a celebrity upon her arrival into the United States, Jorgensen was able to meet many famous and semi-famous personages for the first few years after her transition. The photograph below is from March 22, 1953, and shows her hobnobbing with comedian Milton Berle. Berle at the time was the host of NBC’s Texaco Star Theater. If you click on the photograph below, you can download a high-resolution scan of this original photograph.

Christine Jorgensen and Milton Berle

This next photograph is a little bit of a mystery. It’s often reported as being from 1958, but the earliest time-stamp on the reverse of the photograph is “20 Jan 1954.” No description tells me the name of the gentleman standing behind her. You can click on the photo below to download a high-resolution scan.

Christine Jorgensen

This final photograph for this update is a wonderful photograph which I’ve never before seen on the web, so naturally I bid on it and bought it. It shows Christine Jorgensen on the beach in a white Chevrolet Impala convertible, having what looks to be a wonderful time. It’s dated August 17, 1960, and the writing on the rear of the photograph says: “Ex-GI Dazzles Male Audiences in Cabaret. CHRISTINE JORGENSEN TO BE A BRIDE. Evidence of success – Christine drives off to the beach.” Click on the photograph below to download a high-resolution version.

Christine Jorgensen

These and many more photographs and other Christine Jorgensen information can be found on the Transas City Christine Jorgensen site.

Una Nowling to Speak on “Trans 101” at Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ

Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ
Hello everyone,

I will be speaking about the basics of the transgender experience, along with giving a transgender history lesson, at 7:00 pm, August 19th, 2015. The venue will be the Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ, which is located at 205 W 65th St, Kansas City, Missouri 64113 (there is a map link below). Anyone who wishes to come and hear a little bit of “Trans 101” is welcome!

The electronic flyer put out by the Church reads as follows:

Trans 101 with Una Nowling
August 19th at 7 p.m.

Are you interested in learning more about the transgender community and how to be an ally to transgender individuals? If so, you are invited to an evening with Una Nowling on Wednesday, August 19th at 7 pm!

Una Nowling will share her own story and also speak about issues affecting the transgender community. Una is a transgender activist, researcher and historian who mentors local transgender folks, especially throughout the coming out process. She is the hostess of “Trans Talk” on KKFI. She also spends her time working on Transas City, a non-profit educational website and blog for the transgender community in Kansas City. This is an important educational opportunity for our church as we continue to evolve in our understanding and celebration of the LGBTQ community.

Please contact Bethany at bethany@cccucc.com for more details.

New York Times Runs Factual Article About Transgender Issues

Sylvia RiveraIt’s not just about Caitlyn Jenner.

The article and accompanying 11 minute video is an overview of the present day and a very brief history of transgender people since the Stonewall Era. What struck me most about it was the lack of hysteria and the (mostly) non-judgmental approach. Transgender women interviewed are not celebrities nor are they sexpot hyper-feminine stereotypes, nor are they “men in drag”.  They are much more ordinary, and in my opinion that’s what the public needs to see, that transgender people are human beings trying to live normal, ordinary lives.

The article and video covered some of the appalling violence transgender people experience, stories those of us reading this blog have heard before, but that get left out of the typical news story featuring people like Caitlyn Jenner or Chaz Bono. It mentions how transgender people were and continue to be the marginalized sub-group of the larger group of LGBT. The people in this article do not have happy Hollywood or Hallmark movie of the week endings that the mass media seems to be in love with, no, these are real lives with real suffering along with whatever good also occurs.

In other words, ordinary people trying to survive.

Link to article

Minor Update to a Charlotte McLeod Resource

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As some of you know, I purchase old media (photographs, magazines, prints, and books) relating to transgender history and post them here as full resolution scans, free of watermark, restriction, or charge. Recently it was pointed out to me that on page 2 of Charlotte McLeod’s autobiography, published in Mr. magazine’s 1956 Winter annual, one of the photographs had a piece of loose paper covering it (it was a piece of the magazine which fell off during scanning). And another reader asked if the autobiography could be uploaded in higher resolution.

To that end, I’ve rescanned the article in higher resolution, and fixed the damaged photograph. Those of you who have downloaded a copy to host elsewhere will need to download a new copy this page.

A Personal and a Website Update

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Hello everyone. I know several folks believe that after all the hard work which I’ve done that Transas City is in the doldrums. It has been, but not due to activism fatigue.

Since I had my liposuction surgery in April of this year something has gone horribly wrong with my body. I have been suffering from pain and fatigue, chronically, which is only slowly going away. This last week and a half, as I was working overseas, I thought I would have a lot of spare time to catch up on updates and actually try to post some current and topical posts, most importantly about Caitlyn Jenner. However, it appears I developed pneumonia right as I came to England, and have been so severely impacted that I’ve even been to the hospital here. Let me tell you, it’s really scary to go to a hospital for any reason when you’re alone and 5,000 miles from home.

I could make some promises about what I plan on doing, now that I’m recovering, but instead I’ll just start doing rather than talking. I’m going to start at the oldest part of my backlog and work my way forward, along with some news updates.

The photograph at the lead of this post is a new archival photograph which we’ve purchased, showing famous British transwoman April Ashley receiving a kiss at the opening of her new Chelsea, London restaurant. This occurred shortly after Ashley lost her infamous divorce case, which helped set the stage for a high court ruling that transsexuals in the United Kingdom must be considered their birth gender with respect to marriage – something which was not changed until the Gender Recognition Act of 2004. The full-sized image, as well as other information about Ashley can be found at this link on Transas City.

Two New Historic Photographs, and Thoughts on Transgender Stereotypes

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I’ve recently purchased two more original archival photographs for Transas City’s research division, and you can see one of them as the lead image of this post. The photograph shows Tamara Rees, the third “Atomic Age” transsexual woman, in a stereotypical domestic setting (for more information and photographs about Rees, including a copy of her incredibly rare autobiography which we were able to obtain, please visit our Tamara Rees page). The other photograph follows, and shows Rees both before and after her gender transition.

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Tamara Rees, from Army paratrooper to housewife.

At first blush the vacuuming photograph looks quite silly and pointless – why on earth, when she has gone through so much in her gender transition, did the press think it was newsworthy to portray her vacuuming her floor? To a 21st-century eye, this photograph smacks of silliness at best, and a rigid bowing to paternalistic stereotypes at worst. But because we study history, and do not go by first impressions only, we can tell some of the back-story behind the lead photograph.

Jorgensen_Andrea_DoriaChristine Jorgensen, in a typical “starlet” pose on the deck of the Andrea Doria.

When Christine Jorgensen entered the public eye on December 1, 1952 as the first of the Atomic Age transsexual women, she was heralded as a wonder by many reporters; a triumph of Western science. And when the blonde-haired and svelte Jorgensen landed in New York in February of the following year, she was greeted by a nova of flashbulbs and untold levels of publicity. Most of the publicity was positive, albeit there were some detractors and naysayers. Jorgensen continued to maintain this image of a starlet, impeccable in dress, poise, and manners; with that bright smile and great figure through almost all of her career.

McLeod_Charlotte_1954_05_12_MCharlotte McLeod with her father.

Charlotte McLeod was the second of the Atomic Age transsexual women, and she immediately discovered that being the “second” in something is not nearly as exciting as being the first. McLeod returned to the United States fully expecting the Jorgensen treatment, and instead ran into a crowd of reporters who were much more skeptical, with one of them even having an altercation with her which dumped her to the floor of a hotel. McLeod was pretty, but she was not the smiling, socially-conscious blonde beauty that Jorgensen was. McLeod was a quiet and reserved person, who shunned the press and did not react with grace and poise when confronted about her gender identity. At the same time, McLeod resented her second-place status bitterly, and has been quoted in several historical documents in our Transgender Newsbank stating just that.

So then Tamara Rees arrived on the scene, and the public was starting to wonder: OK, Jorgensen was an interesting case, but now…where is science leading us? Boys becoming girls; where does it end? Instead of gender transition being a once-in-a-billion thing, it now is showing up regularly in the news. Every dad and mom in America had to start wondering, as they looked at their little boy playing with the gender-typical trains, guns, and baseballs – is he going to be wearing a dress some day? It’s at this time in history that the backlash against transsexual women begins to foment.

Rees_Tamara_1954Tamara Rees in an unflattering pose.

It did not help that Rees was also much less able to “pass” than Jorgensen or McLeod. Being of a larger frame and not having the dazzling looks of Jorgensen, or the petite darkness of McLeod, Rees was much more of an average transsexual woman. She did not turn heads, despite her being much more amenable to the press and publicity than McLeod. She was not nearly as polished in her speech as Jorgensen, and fumbled through the couple of interviews which I’ve seen of her. Like McLeod before her, Rees also resented Jorgensen, and again we have quotes of Rees lashing out at her “rival.”

Rees tried very hard to present herself as a typical American woman, and thus she appeared in several photographs showing her doing stereotypical female activities – such as vacuuming the floor in a dress and heels. This is similar to the photographs found in the autobiography of British transsexual woman Roberta Cowell (q.v.), which featured her playing the piano at home, cooking, shopping, etc. All to try to create a better image for herself and to portray an air of “just another woman; nothing to see here…”

Cowell_Roberta_CookingRoberta Cowell in a stereotypical setting.

At that era in history, transsexual women were required to be strongly gender binary. Remember, there were perhaps less than 5 surgeons in the world performing sexual reassignment surgery (the exact number is not known), and each of them and their associated psychiatrists demanded that a transsexual woman be rigidly gender-binary in their thoughts and feelings, or else surgery would be disallowed. Recall that even the late, great Dr. Harry Benjamin denied Renee Richards estrogen in the late 1960’s because she expressed that she was lesbian.

Richards_2Renee Richards – denied estrogen for insufficient heteronormativity.

Now yes, in truth to the best of my research it appears that Jorgensen, McLeod, and Rees were in fact all strongly gender-binary transsexual women. But if they hadn’t been, they would have still had to go through the same theater – Jorgensen flashing her legs, McLeod dressed in a fur stole, and Rees running her Eureka. It would have been a matter of survival – doing anything, absolutely anything, so you can have your body aligned with your brain.

New to the Archives: An Original Photo of Coffee with Christine

Christine Jorgensen

Christine Jorgensen, the first of the American “Atomic Age” transsexual women, is one of the most famous transsexual women in history. Born George Jorgensen, she suffered through gender dysphoria until her 20’s, when she traveled to Denmark and had the first of the modern sexual reassignment surgeries performed upon her by Dr. Christian Hamburger (Christine often said she chose her feminine name as a tribute to her surgeon.) I have a page with a collection of photographs and other material at this link, and recently I’ve purchased an original photograph dated March 30, 1953, to add to the collection.

The photograph shows Jorgensen relaxing with coffee at her parents home, possibly from early that March. Jorgensen had many advantages in her life, namely that being the “first” gave her tremendous publicity and uniqueness. One of the biggest advantages which she had was the support and love of her family, which as we all know, can make or break a transition process. She did experience her share of discrimination, as she writes in her autobiography, but overall her life turned out pretty well for her.

You can download a high-resolution scan of it at this link here.

Join Us for a Free Film Screening and Panel Discussion

Kuma Hina
On Saturday, April 11 at 11am, Community Cinema presents Kumu Hina.

Imagine a world where a little boy can grow up to be the woman of her dreams, and a trans boy can rise to become a leader among men. Welcome to Kumu Hina’s Hawai’i.

During a momentous year in her life in modern Honolulu, Hina Wong-Kalu, a native Hawaiian māhū, or transgender, teacher uses traditional culture to inspire a student to claim her place as leader of the school’s all-male hula troupe. But despite her success as a teacher, Hina longs for love and a committed relationship. Will her marriage to a headstrong Tongan man fulfill her dreams? An incredible docudrama that unfolds like a narrative film, “Kumu Hina” reveals a side of Hawai’i rarely seen on screen.

After the film, a panel will discuss recent events impacting KC’s transgender community as well as its history. Una Nowling from Transas City, and community partners from The Transgender Institute will be on the panel.

Please note: The program and film start at 11 a.m., so please plan to arrive at least a few minutes early.

Kumu Hina
Saturday, April 11 at 11am
Tivoli Cinemas – 4050 Pennsylvania Ave Kansas City, MO 64111

You may RSVP by this link.

Transgender History – Georgina (Turtle) Somerset

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Georgina Turtle (born George Turtle, later Georgina Somerset) was a transsexual woman who claimed to be intersex, bearing an ovary and rudimentary womb. She was born March 23 1923, and died November 30 2013. She lived her life in England.

Although her earliest recollections were of wanting to be a girl, these were suppressed as she entered young adulthood being trained in her father’s profession as a dentist. After being called up as the war in Europe ended, Turtle served as a surgeon-lieutenant in the Royal Navy until 1948, at which point she established a dental practice in Croydon. In the mid-1950’s, Turtle began taking estrogen and living as a woman, and underwent her first surgery for gender confirmation in January, 1957. Later that same year she was attacked and raped, an event which she never completely recovered from and which led to a gender back-lash for her.

In 1960 Turtle’s birth certificate was finally corrected to show “him” as a girl named Georgina Carol Turtle. Two years later, she married Christopher Somerset, a design engineer. At her 13 October 1962 wedding at St Margaret’s in Westminster, Gina (as she liked to be called) asked her brother to give her away. When he declined, she asked two uncles, and then her family doctor: all declined. Her landlord stepped in, and the wedding went ahead. The couple settled at Hove, where Turtle ran a busy dental practice until her retirement in 1985.

At the link below, I have collected 8 photographs for my readers, three in high-resolution.

Transas City’s Georgina Turtle Page

Equality House Celebrates Two-Year Anniversary With ‘Plant One For Peace’

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It’s always good to see events that promote a positive image in the LGBT community. Last Saturday one such event was held as the Equality House celebrated its 2nd Birthday in Topeka, Kansas. For those of you that may not know the house is located across the street from the infamous and much publicized Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) that was once headed by the now deceased Fred Phelps. The people who were in attendance seemed to be filled with a positive sense of fellowship and joy as they mingled and participated in the fundraising events of the day. Everything culminated in a giant group kiss or “Planting one for Peace” as it were.

We did this to remind the world what we stand for at the Equality House: individuals celebrating and taking pride in who they are, and never being afraid of showing acts of love, even in the face of bigotry. “Planting Peace” President Aaron Jackson told The Huffington Post

We are happy to report all kinds of people — queer couples, straight couples and families showed up to participate and ex-members of the WBC even dropped by including Libby Phelps who, organizers told The Huffington Post, was in the crowd with her husband kissing her baby.

For more information on Equality House and how to participate go to Equality House

In the end this was a very positive event for both the Topeka LGBT community and the LGBT community at large. For more information on Planting Peace and current fundraising efforts, follow the link Planting Peace

Meet Mildred M., 1942

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If one wanted to characterize the history of transgender persons prior to December 1, 1952, one might be hard-pressed to arrive at a better moniker than “the dark ages.” Very little is known about transgender persons and their treatment prior to the dawning of the Age of Christine [Jorgensen], with the greatest amount of data being either from medical journals and textbooks, or in the exceedingly rare biographies and autobiographies which exist (such as that of Lili Elbe and Ralph Werther, q.v.).

Meet Mildred M. (unknown last name), a clearly transgender woman born in 1908 who had an unhappy and turbulent life. All we know of her story thus far is contained within a single medical report from 1942, after she approached the University of Illinois Psychiatric Clinic asking for a letter certifying her gender identity. Unfortunately for Mildred, she was misdiagnosed under an array of psychiatric qualifiers, and is featured in a series of 8 photographs and commentary on the page which is linked below.

This report represents a rare snapshot of how a transgender woman was viewed by the medical profession in the 1940’s, and it’s definitely a sobering but interesting read.

A Distant Mirror – Mildred M., 1942

New to Transas City: Pictures of Bambi

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Marie-Pierre Pruvot (born Jean-Pierre Pruvot, 11 November 1935) is an Algerian-born French transsexual woman who performed under the stage name Bambi. She performed in a transgender showgirl revue at Le Carrousel de Paris for approximately 20 years, and appeared in several documentary films, such as Costa Azzurra (1959) and 90 Notti in Giro per il Mondo (1963). While working as an entertainer she attended the Sorbonne in Paris, receiving several degrees and becoming a teacher of literature in 1974. She was profiled in Sébastien Lifshitz’s documentary film Bambi, which won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary Film at the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival.

Featured at the link below are several pictures of Bambi from her career.

Bambi

The Lost Autobiography of Tamara Reese – FOUND!

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Exclusive to Transas City, I have acquired an incredibly rare copy of the lost autobiography of Tamara Reese, the third American “Atomic Age” transsexual woman. Working with the support of the Mayo Clinic History of Medicine Collection, I am presenting a high-resolution scanned copy of this public domain work for everyone in the world to read, archive, and preserve as a part of our shared transgender history.

You may find the link to the book on my Tamara Rees page.

The work starts out intriguingly with the information that she was born in Kansas City – I confess to getting goosebumps when I read that! – and lived in Wichita for a while. The book tells of a youth filled with gender dysphoria and failure, as well as several attempts to escape into some service or corps (she spent time with both the Navy and the Army), and finally takes her to WWII and her service as a paratrooper in the conflict. From there we learn of her being wounded in action, her stunt-diving and airplane-flying career, her marriage of convenience, and again a directionless life. The details of her actual medical transition, both the procedures and the processes, is very sparse. Her tales of being mobbed by the press and learning how to act and live as a woman in public are somewhat interesting, and some light is finally cast on her suicide attempt (she claims it wasn’t, however) which led to her suddenly being evicted from the Netherlands.

I admit I felt like there was so much else which could have been written, so many details which were missing, and so much opportunity lost to preserve more of our early history. However…the work is what it is, and as such it nonetheless provides an enormous amount of information about Rees which was unknown by myself, and I’ll wager by even most transgender researchers. Especially interesting are some notes by the book’s prior owner, Dr. Alvarez, which explain that he knew Reese personally, and that she had married and adopted a daughter – the latter fact being something I never knew. But still, I wanted to know so much more…and the search for more information will continue, as always.