This site is the most comprehensive on the web devoted to trans history and biography. Well over 1400 persons worthy of note, both famous and obscure, are discussed in detail, and many more are mentioned in passing.)

There is a detailed Index arranged by vocation, doctor, activist group etc.

In addition to this most articles have one or more labels at the bottom. Click one to go to similar persons. There is a full list of labels at the bottom of the page. There is also a search box at the top left. Enjoy exploring!

24 March 2007

The missing word

Consider the following pairs of words:


There is an importance difference of meaning between the first and the second in each case. The first word is simply the state or condition. The second word turns it into something that is being advocated, an ideology.

There is another usage of the 'ism' ending. It is used by doctors for diseases. Both 'transvestism' and 'transsexualism' were coined by doctors to label diseases.

In English both 'transsexuality' and 'transsexualism' are used. I and others use the former by preference to diminish the medical implications of the word. Even 'transsexualism' had lost much of its medical implications by the 1970s, and the doctors came up with a new phrase: 'gender dysphoria syndrome' frequently shortened to 'gender dysphoria' to remedicalize the concept.

So, as we have both 'transsexuality' and 'transsexualism', why don't we have both 'transvestity' and 'transvestism'? A google search for 'transvestity' shows that it is used in Czech, but not much in other languages. I seem to be in a small minority in my use of it in English.

I have been using 'transvestity' since the early 1990s, and will continue to do so. I urge others to follow.

21 March 2007

Ajita Wilson (1950 – 1987) prolific actress

Ajita Wilson  was raised as George Wilson in Brooklyn.

Wilson started out as a tranvestite entertainer in New York, and completed a sex change in the mid-1970s. After the operation she started appearing in adult films in New York.

She was discovered by a European film producer who got her roles in various French and Italian porno-films. In 1978 she made a crossover into Euro-trash such as women-in-prison flics, and a number of interesting films directed by Jesus Franco.

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

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 her mother’s maiden name and birthplace.

IMDB lists her as appearing in 39 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.

19 March 2007

Norma Jackson (1906 - ?)

In 1931, Norma Jackson was the most famous 'transvestite' in England:

Norma Jackson was raised in St Helens, Lancashire, by parents who called her Austin Hall. Austin's parents treated him much like a girl: he did the housework and took female roles in theatricals. Austin left school at 14 and worked for a while as a haulage hand at a local colliery. From age 16 Austin experimented with dressing as a woman, for which he was cautioned by the local police and thrashed by his parents. Even dressed as a man, Austin was often taken to be a woman. People followed and stared at him. At the age of 16, when returning from church on a Sunday, he was arrested and taken to the police station where he was stripped on the supposition that he was a woman masquerading as a man.

When when in a convalescent home at Grange-over-Sands, the nurses reported him to the doctors on suspicion of being a woman. He later, at his trial, agreed that he did like to pass as a woman. He spoke in a light feminine voice.

In January 1931, as Norma, she met George Burrows, an unemployed labourer. By mid-February they moved into a bed-sitting room in St Helens and lived as man and wife. In June they moved to London, initially living in the sex-segregated hostels of the Church Army. She then claimed that she had found a position as a lady’s companion, but George found out that she was scrubbing floors at 10/- a week. They agreed to return to St Helens, but Norma then disappeared, although she wrote to him from Edinburgh.

George started asking around in St Helens, discovered her parents, and indeed that she was Austin Hall. He went to the police, and Norma was tracked down and arrested in Blackpool in September. In November she was tried with 'procuring another to commit a gross indecency', with George as the major witness. To the titillation of the press, the judge made the defendant appear in her female clothes until the prosecution case was completed. As George testified that he never realized that Norma was not a woman, the resident medical officer at the prison argued that gross indecency could hardly have taken place. The visiting psychiatrist described Hull as ‘an invert and not a pervert’.

However ‘Austin Hull’ was convicted and sentenced to 18 months hard labour. She burst into tears and then fainted. Mr Hull, the father of Norma, was so shaken by the trial, that he was admitted to a mental hospital, and his wife and the other children were forced onto relief. There had been sufficient publicity about the case that ‘Austin Hull’ was adopted by the sex-reform movement who argued that she should be treated in a hospital, not in a prison. They raised a petition and wrote articles in the press, especially the Week-End Review. They were successful to the extent that Hull was transferred to HMP Wormwood Scrubs, so that he could attend the Tavistock Clinic three times a week for psychotherapy. Even so he was accompanied by two uniformed warders, to one of whom he was always handcuffed.

After release Norma/Austin disappeared from view.

Norma's story can be read in various newspapers from 1931. It is also told, with different emphases from my summary, as chapter 9, 'Transvestites' of Angus McLaren's The Trials of Masculinity: Policing Sexual Boundaries 1870-1930, published in 1997. Thank you to Angus Mclaren for doing the research, but there does seem to be a problem. With modern hindsight, it seems fairly obvious that Norma was transsexual, not a transvestite. And more than that, she was a primary transsexual, and a natural beauty. McLaren concedes this point in his text, but denies it with his chapter title. And surely what McLaren needed for the thesis of his book is a transvestite as opposed to a transsexual, for his thesis is the testing of the social construction of masculinity. There is no indication that McLaren - despite teaching at the same university as Aaron Devor, the author of FTM: Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society - actually knows any transgender persons. His chapter is typical of a quick reading of standard books in the field, without the depth that comes from meeting real people. He refers to Lili Elvenes (Elbe) using only male pronouns; and includes Janice Raymond in his survey of theorists without seeing through her paranoia.

What are we to make of Norma's story? Let us start with George Burrows. Could he be that naive? McLaren reminds us of Marie Stopes, the pioneer feminist and birth control advocate. A university-educated woman, it took her some months to realize that her first marriage had not been consummated. In later decades we know that there are transy prostitutes who can go with tricks without the trick ever knowing. But I don't think that Norma would have known such skills. It could be that George had realized Norma's sex, but denied it for otherwise he also would be guilty of 'gross indecency', and worse than that, he would be 'homosexual'.

The 18 months hard labour is of course completely outrageous. That is a punishment for an unmitigated villain. It is difficult to even argue that George was a victim in some sense. It certainly widened his experience. Young men who play with young women, and often leave them with a baby, almost never draw such a punishment.

From our time perspective, the sex-reform progressives are amazingly conservative. It shows how far we have come. Still their appeal for psychotherapy rather than imprisonment with hard labour is a step forward. However we should remember that the pioneering sex-change operations on Lili Elvenes (Elbe) and Dorchen Richter had already been done in Berlin by 1931.

Norma managed to stay away from the attentions of authorities after she was released in 1933. The centenary of her birth was last year. One hopes that she was able to return to being Norma, but is afraid that the trauma may have persuaded her to impersonate a man afterwards. In the early 1950s, when sex-change operations first became available in England, she was in her 40s. One hopes that with whatever name she was going by at that time, she was able to obtain one.

12 March 2007

Frances Anderson (1871 - 1928) billiards champion

Revised 6/2/1012.

Frances Anderson was the first female billiards champion, from the 1890s. At that time there were very few women's touraments.  Frances, from Kansas or Indiana, offered $5,000 to any woman who could beat her, and went undefeated for 25 years. She also beat most of the men whom she played against.  She was paid well for her appearances, taking on challengers and giving exhibitions, even into the 1920s, and toured North America and Europe. 

By the late 1920s she was aging, and her nerves and eyes were letting her down, and was often ill.  She wasn't the first professional billiards player to take the suicide route.   She chose her end in a hotel room in Sapulapa, Oklahoma in 1928.  Only when her body arrived at the mortuary was it discovered that she was male-bodied.  A Mrs W.D. May (née Anderson) read the newspaper accounts and travelled to Sapulapa to identify the body, whom she claimed as her missing brother, Orie.  She produced an 18-year letter and the writing matched writing by the deceased. The body was released to the Anderson family who took it back to Newton, Kansas for burial.

* not the art therapist.


Frances had lived exclusively as female for 40 years, and owned only female clothing.   She was obviously a trans woman, but newspaper journalists in 1928 were not aware of such a concept.

Whatever happened to ... Miss Destiny?

The record left by some transgender persons can be tantalizingly brief. Take Miss Destiny, apparently her own name for herself. She became one of the most famous transgender persons in 1963 when she was featured in John Rechy's City of Night. She was then in her early 20s, and living off men. She was part of the scene in Pershing Square, (map) Los Angeles, where she met John Rechy and he used her for a chapter in his book. A year later she was interviewed in the September 1964 issue of ONE magazine, and expressed scepticism of Rechy's masculinity.

As she was in her early 20s in the early 1960s, she will be in her late 60s now. Did she ever have the operation? Did she give up on femininity and become butch? What did she do with the rest of her life? Neither Charles Casillo nor Lillian Faderman & Stuart Timmons have any extra information.

    • John Rechy. City of Night. New York: Grove Press. 1963: 94-119.
    • “The Fabulous Miss Destiny”. ONE Magazine. Sept 1964. 6-12. Interview.
    • Charles Casillo. Outlaw: The Lives and Careers of John Rechy. Advocate Book 2002: 93-7, 158-160.
    • Lillian Faderman & Stuart Timmons. Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. New York: basic Books 430 pp 2006: 114,115.

10 March 2007

Capucine (194? - ) performer

Updated 6/2/2013.

Capucine was a gender performer at Le Carrousel in the 1960s working with Coccinelle and April Ashley. She was a star when Le Carrousel toured Japan in 1963. Like some other gender performers, she took the name of an existing star.

Others to do this were Lynne Carter; Murry Pickford (almost a star name: who was deaf and dumb, and the only drag artiste allowed in Boston after the 1947 crackdown because she had no other way to make a living); Gloria Swanson (who was a big name in Chicago and New York drag circles in in 1920s): Jean Malin who performed drag under the name of Imogene Wilson, one of the most famous of the Zeigfeld Follies showgirls; Helen Morgan who used the name of the famous torch song singer; Brenda Lee the Brazilian activist. and Bibíana Fernández, the transgender actress who used to be known as Bibí Andersen, only two letters away from the name of the Swedish actress Bibi Andersson.

For readers not up on French movies I will explain the other Capucine. Here is her IMDB entry. For her, as for her namesake, 'Capucine' is a stage name. She was born as Germaine Lefebvre. She was in 51 films from 1949 to 1995, although she had committed suicide in 1990. For English speakers, her most famous films would be Walk on the Wild Side, The Pink Panther and Fellini's Satyricon. Here she is as Clouseau's wife in The Pink Panther.

Some people seem to get confused if two persons have the same name. Here is a chap called Ben Boxer: "the Parisian avant-garde nightclub Le Boeuf sur le Toit where I once saw a perfomance by the beautiful transgendered (male-to-female) singer known as "Capucine" who later became an international movie star of the same name. Capucine starred with gay British star Dirk Bogarde in Song Without End". On a site called Mex Text we find: " Did you know that Capucine jumped eight stories to her death, perhaps partly due to accusations that she was a transsexual?"

Come on folks, they are two different people. Here is a photograph of the Carrousel Capucine so that you can compare.

The Carrousel  Capucine was in the film I don giovanni della Costa Azzurra, 1962, but if you click through on her name you go to the other Capucine.

Capucine is the French word for the nasturtium flower.

April Ashley says of her
"Anyway, Capucine's heart was pierced by a conflict: the ancient sugar-daddy and luxury, or the young blades and penury?  Of course the lusury always won in the end because Capucine's keeper was a very famous millionaire, enabling Capsy to compete with and overtake coxy's mink collection.  But unlike Coxy, Capsy wanted to be 'a lady' as well.  This put him into agonising quandries when he fell for a bricklayer or a road-digger (which was frequently, because Capsy couldn't resist the boue)."