Female Mimics Magazine — Part 1, The Early Years

| Jan 16, 2012
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INTRODUCTION

Transgendered people often feel isolated and alone. We try to see our image reflected in the culture only to find that Kate Bornstein’s observation about transsexuals is true for us all: “Since transsexuals in this culture are neither fairly nor accurately represented in the media, nor championed by a community, we develop our world views in solitude.”

Now, however, there is a newly established dialogue among transgendered people and a growing body of transgender writing is beginning to articulate the existence of a history, a community and the passability for positive self-identification for the transgendered in contemporary culture.

BACKGROUND

Even though Female Mimics  (FM) was not always produced by members of our community, it contains information about the transgender community and supplies a view of us to the world. Any researcher would be justified in saying that our community supported this publication and, therefore, it reflects much about us.

We believe that the vast majority of men examining their feminine selves in this era encountered FM very early in their explorations. Many of us knew that transgender behavior, such as crossdressing, had something to do with sex, and our libidos took us to the porn shops. There, FM was prominent, if not unique. Lee G. Brewster, who was selling and publishing transvestite related material at Lee’s Mardi Gras Boutique in New York and by mail since the early 1970s, said that FM was always a “consistent best seller.” This applies to its successor, Female Mimics International (FMI), too. “They have such a long, loyal following,” Lee Brewster told us.

Even among those who set out seeking information rather than titillation, it was harder in the 1970s to find more serious publications. The books we coveted had been stolen from the library. And magazines, such as Virginia Prince’s Transvestia, started in 1960, were much harder to find. Their distribution network was small and concentrated in heterosexual transvestite clubs. So, it didn’t reach those just beginning their process of gender exploration.

In spite of the professional distribution afforded authors like Leslie Feinberg or Kate Bornstein, television talk shows and online services, many still have their first exposure to gender publications in sex shops. That this is the case for those who don’t frequent book stores or those who cannot afford to go online is obvious, but, if one is in any way embarrassed about their transgender interests the sex shops will exploit those feelings. They draw the novice in before books of more substance can be found, certainly before there’s the courage to seek out others in the gender community.

There are a number of other reasons for selecting FM for in-depth examination. It was the first glossy-cover, crossdressing photography periodical in standard size magazine format (approx. 8 1/2″ by 11 “). Prior to this, all publications, both photo and fiction, were digest size (about half standard size or approx. 6 1/2″ by 8 1/2”). The standard size magazine pioneered by FM, with its largely pictorial content, became a staple of the industry. There were perhaps a dozen publications of this size and format such as LadyLike, Crossdresser’s Quarterly and Transformation. In transvestite publications, the digest size became exclusively the format of fantasy fiction, such as the hundreds of stories published by Empathy Press, Lee’s Mardi Gras Entertainment, Sandy Thomas Publications, Reluctant Press and others.

Also of importance is FM’s 16 year publication history, which allows us to view significant editorial trends. The contents of FM and similar magazines are our history, if only by reflection. This history is not what we wrote about ourselves, but what publishers found was of interest to us. These images and articles sold the magazines, or they wouldn’t have been included issue after issue. Members of our community must have enjoyed them, even if we blushed.

We assume that the vast majority of FM readers were men who crossdressed or fantasized about it. To go one step further out on a limb, since a majority of male crossdressers are probably heterosexual, we believe that the majority of FM readers were, too. So one question this article asks is. “Where’s the hetero-tv in all this?”

METHODS

This article is not an insider’s view. It is written from the perspective of the consumer, vendor or collector. At this time, we are less interested in the editors and publishers than the documents they created. Therefore, this article is an attempt to see ourselves as others examining FM will see us in its pages.

FM actually provided transgendered folk with two views of ourselves. The first is through the eyes of the editors and publishers. They tried to sell us many different things during these 16 years. What sold? What didn’t? And can we determine what forces made some things more popular than others? The second is the view of the social historians. Many academic social sciences programs, and not only those with a feminist perspective, are beginning serious study of the transgendered. Shouldn’t we examine this material also? Aren’t we better qualified, at the very least entitled, to our view of what this material means, why it is significant?

With this in mind, two authorities were interviewed in preparation of this article: Lee G. Brewster and Joseph Vasty. Lee was prominent in the transgender and gay communities since 1969, when he founded Queen’s Liberation Front. He sold magazines and clothes to the community through Lee’s Marti Gras Boutique for over 25 years, which gave him a unique firsthand perspective which few others enjoy. Lee passed away in 2000 at the age of 57.

Our other authority is the internationally known erotica collector and dealer, Joseph Vasta. His larger view of the field, not limited to crossdressing publications, has provided many valuable insights and confirmed observations about parallel developments in other areas of pornographic publishing.

EARLY YEARS
Volume 1: 1963-1968

The “PREMIERE ISSUE” of FM (1.1) appeared in early 1963. It was 70 pages of black and white with glossy color covers and two-page color insert. The covers and insert featured Kim August, a professional impersonator fr0m New York’s 82 Club in the East Village. Unlike so many later issues, a staff was credited: Editor J. King; Associate Editor : L Crane; Art Director: E. Stanton. The publisher of this and the next three issues was Selbee Associates (1.1 1.4).

Before discussing FM ‘s contents during this period, a bit of the publisher’s background is in order. Beginning in the late 1950s, Selbee published material of fetishistic interest in digest size publications.

In the early 1960s, before FM, they made the jump to publishing full size magazines fetish titles like Masquerade in Leather and girlie-high heel/garter-belt titles like Paris Taboo. They did not publish transgender material exclusively. All of Selbee’s publications are like FM in that they all have the same editorial voice and same graphic style, down to the same typefaces and fonts for the titles and the covers. This gives the impression of a small operation with many deadlines to meet.

By sticking to formulae, the editorial/design team could work fast and keep quality consistent, perhaps too consistent to allow much innovation. As a producer of fetish material, Selbee’s style seems indebted to John Willie’s magazine Bizarre, which first appeared in 1946. John Alexander Scott Coutts, the man known as John Willie, stands atop the highest pedestal in the history of bondage illustration. He set the standard for all who would follow after him. He was a consummate professional and a master technician. But he was even more than this, he was an artist.

Many who do not know his name will recognize Willie’s creations; “Sweet” Gwendoline, the ultimate submissive cartoon heroine and her foes. the Mysterious Countess and Sir d’Arcy d’Arcy (the foul fiend), who bears more than a passing resemblance to Willie himself.

Transitional between Bizarre and Selbee was another fetish magazine. Exotique, by Burmel Publications, is important to us for several reasons. Publishers of erotic material during this period found it convenient to change names and addresses at various times, for whatever reason. Often only the name would change and the content would stay the same, as we’ll see in FMs history. Joseph Vasta feels that it is possible that Burmel Publications became Selbee Associates in this way.

It can be stated with greater certainty that such a publisher’s shuffle happened to FM after the fourth issue. The next eight in the series were published by Health Knowledge [1.5 1.12]. This change wasn’t unique to FM either. All the Selbee publications changed publishers at this time, most to Health Knowledge. So, in this era there are several publisher names (Selbee, Health Knowledge, S-K and Marquis among others) who may be, in fact, all the same. Let’s compare elements from Selbee’s FM with Health Knowledge’s.

First, there’s absolutely no change in the editorial or graphic style. Second, Health Knowledge freely reprints Selbee material, as it does features from S-K Books and Marquis. Health Knowledge’s first issue [1.5) reprints the Statement of Purpose editorial and its provocative graphics by Stanton from the Premiere Issue [1.1], which was a good way to tell readers that nothing had changed. Also, Health Knowledge used the Selbee cover logo for their first two issues [1.5 6. 1.6].

STARS OF THE EARLY YEARS

During FM’s first five years, the majority of its pages were devoted to professional impersonators and nightclubs that featured these performers. Many of these names are still familiar.

A non-inclusive list includes Americans T. C. Jones [1,1], Ricky Rene [1.3, 1.8 5. 1.10], Pudgy Roberts [1.8], La Rey [1.7], Minette (1.4), Baby Martell [1.4], Randy Taylor [1.6 5. 1.9], “Kicks” Wilde [1.’1 0], twins Hiimar 5. Christian Dubois [1.11], as well as Emilo Teliez [1.5] and Hans Crystal [1.2, 1.7 6 1.10) from Puerto Rico. There is also a pictorial of International Chrysis” and Kim Christy (1.12). American nightclubs include 82 Club (NYC, 1.6), Beige Room [San Francisco, 1.2], Crazy Horse Cafe [NYC, 1.5 E. 1.9], Nite Life Club (Chicago, 1.8) and the touring Jewel Box Review [Miami, FL based, 1.2 5. 1.5]. The international scene is covered, too. France is represented with features about Bambi [1.1 6 .5], Capucine (1.6), Coccinelle [1.2], the famous clubs le Carrouse/ (1.1 5 1.8) and Madame Arthur’s in Paris (1.2). There’s Holli White [UK, performing in NY, 1.4), Shalimar [Juarez, Mexico, 1.1], two German clubs, Frau Helen’s (Frankfurt, 1.3) and Cabaret “Pointe”(Hamburg, 1.6] the touring company Cherchez La Femme [Canada, 1.4].

There are also drag kings from Elle et Lui and Paris clubs Le Monocle, Chez Moune, and Froude’s Cabaret “where Women do the Man bit” [1.3, 1.S 6 1.11]. This emphasis on the theatrical side of travesti would never be seen in RM again.

Let’s examine why, before going on to subjects that received lesser coverage. Were there more professional impersonators then than now? If so, it’s partially because there were more places to perform and be paid for it in the ’60s and earlier. It was much easier to run a nightclub than it is today. Inflation, regulation and legislation have all taken their toll on profitability. Impersonator clubs of this era enjoyed a large crossover audience of straight tourists, fans, curiosity seekers and hetero TVs, closeted or not. This audience hasn’t entirely vanished.

Today, they venture out to the old school venues like Finocchio’s in San Francisco, Darcelle XV  in Portland, and The Baton Show Lounge in Chicago. It seems FM’s publishers were trying to tap this audience. Certainly the editors wanted straight and closeted people to feel as safe reading the magazine as they were at these shows.

The audience had to feel secure in their heterosexuality and protected from the “freaks and queers” on the other side of the footlights or in the photos. Thus in these early issues, there is no sex mentioned, not even implicitly.

Lee Brewster felt that this heterosexual, crossover market was primarily aware of professional impersonators at this time. If a non-transgendered editor, deciding how to put together a crossdressing magazine, looked around New York, where FM was published, he’d see plenty of performers. There were venues featuring impersonators nightly, and the Jewel Box Review came to town, annually, performing to sellout crowds at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. The run was a month long and was often extended. Lee Brewster claimed that the profits from this run kept the theater open the rest of the year. And remember the editor’s busy offices with its many deadlines and small staff? This, too, worked in favor of featuring performers. Performers were accessible, easy to contact, interested in the exposure, and might even provide their own photos. If not, it was no problem to send a photographer to the club to shoot the show or make friends with the girls and arrange for private sittings later.

This informality is evident in the many pictorials obviously shot in apartments, not photography studios. After professional performers, the next largest coverage is of drag balls, followed by anonymous transvestites called “amateur impersonators” in the earliest issues. Drag balls, like impersonator shows, were easy to photograph.

These events were held in public places, such as hotel ballrooms, so it was not necessary to have the subject sign a release in order to print the photos. This is confirmed by the lack of names in so many of the ball photos. There’s the feeling that the ball queens are a commodity to be captured on film. The photo captions that were written are not informative, and make the ball queens creatures of fantasy, not real people. This lack of recognition, which is still common in many magazines, definitely seems exploitative and dehumanizing.

This article appeared in TGForum in the late 1990s. It has been edited slightly to include new facts. Coming next month, Female Mimics Part 2, The Late ’60s and Early ’70s.


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Category: Transgender History

Ms. bob

About the Author ()

Ms. Bob is Dean of Liberal Arts and the Castro Campus at City College of San Francisco. She is the former Transgender Outreach and Advocacy Coordinator at City College and board secretary of the GLBT Historical Society. She is an avid collector of books, photos, magazines and ephemera on transgender related subjects and loves to trade or purchase new items for her collection. She can be reached c/o TGForum.

Comments (4)

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  1. says:

    I remember the magazine and had a number of originals which disappeared after a party. I also submitted a number of photographs of English FIs which were published in this magazine and for which I was never paid. However, remembering the era, which as before the Wolfendon Report this was a very risque magazine and difficult to buy.

  2. victoria victoria says:

    Supposidly, the original Female Mimics magazines have fallen into the public domain, and there is someone on eBay selling eBook copies of them. At least that is what they claim, I don’t know, But it does make finding copies of these pieces of history much easier. I have a handful of the original print FM magazines but they are very expensive.

  3. says:

    I loved that magazine and still have some copies.

  4. says:

    I met Lee Brewster several times in th 1970s at his Manhattan store. He was a very nice person. I also recall the smutty smaller Mutrix publications. They appeared in many adult book stores.