Girls Night Out — The Early Support Groups 2

| Jul 13, 2009
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“The person who moves a mountain begins by carrying small stones” – Ancient Chinese Proverb

OK, we’ve pretty much established that crossdressers had been meeting informally since at least the end of the 19th Century. But an organized group of these closeted, socially ostracized people? It would take three remarkable personalities to pull that off.  The first two we covered last month, Louise Lawrence and Dr. Alfred Kinsey.  Time now to meet our third player.

He was born in Los Angeles on November 23, 1913 as Arnold Lowman. But he wouldn’t be keeping that name for long.

By his own account at age 12 Lowman started trying on his mother’s clothes and by his teenage years knew he was a crossdresser. This being the 1920s and all, Arnold didn’t share this knowledge with anyone — until his marriage in 1941. The couple had a son and at first Lowman’s wife tolerated his crossdressing until she became convinced he must surely be a homosexual. After seven years of marriage (Arnold would never be clear on the exact date) his wife left him in an ugly divorce that revealed his crossdressing to the public for the first time.

Stung, Lowman became a patient of Karl Bowman of the Langley Porter Psychiatric Clinic who told him to “relax and accept yourself.” Arming himself with a Ph.D. in biochemistry Lowman secured a position as research assistant and lecturer at the University of California at San Francisco. During 1950 he began following its transvestite patient programs with more than passing interest. Cautious and still smarting from his public divorce, Lowman began making contact using a pseudonym: “Charles Prince” (‘Charles’ being his father’s name and ‘Prince’ from his residence on Prince Street). He even had a feminine name: Muriel.

Still closeted and desperate to talk to someone like himself, Muriel then tentatively approached Louise Lawrence. Using his staff position Muriel was able to acquire her name and address. (For more information on Louise, see last month’s article). Lawrence agreed to a meeting and became Muriel’s ticket into the local transvestite underground, furnishing the names of several crossdressers in the Southern California area. Then in 1951 Lawrence personally took Dr. Alfred Kinsey to a social gathering of Muriel’s crossdressing group. These get-togethers were held at the rundown Long Beach apartment of a crossdresser named Johnny Thornton. (In a sign of the times, not all crossdressers used female names exclusively as is general practice today. It wasn’t at all unusual for crossdressers to go by their male name or a combination of the two: “Don/Dawn.” This was in keeping with the prevailing attitude that crossdressing was a temporary expression of femininity by somebody who was still very much a man. As a side benefit this made it harder to justify being arrested for masquerading as a woman if you were all dolled up but still calling yourself Bruce).

Anyway, Lawrence’s introduction of the world-renowned Dr. Kinsey into the group got some of its members thinking about launching their own newsletter. Thornton, financially down on his luck and with nothing to lose, graciously allowed his name and address to be used for the venture. To get the newsletter off the ground a pledge letter was sent to a list of correspondents provided by Louise to ask for donations. This “Dear Friends” letter (signed by Thornton but actually written by Muriel) noted that Kinsey had left transvestites out of his landmark 1948 book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, and was now trying to make amends. Their newsletter, it noted, could prove a valuable education tool for the public. This first ever publication produced by transvestites about transvestites appeared in 1952. It was called Transvestia.

A rare photo of a younger Prince.

A rare photo of a younger Prince.

Subtitled the “Journal of the American Society for Equal Dress”, Transvestia was intended to combat prejudice against transvestites and change existing laws and attitudes. Most especially it was aimed at distancing crossdressing from homosexuality. Since Dr. Kinsey’s name was repeatedly cited for effect, it’s probably a good thing they were unaware that Kinsey, though married, had bisexual leanings, a fact he carefully hid. Muriel and Eddie/Edythe “a retired lawyer with a penchant for multisyllabic prose” created most of the newsletter. It lasted only two issues before money and interest ran out. Still, Transvestia would return again – this time to stay.

More on that next month…

Pioneers of Transgendering: The Popular Sexology of David O. Cauldwell, Richard Ekins and Dave King
The Transsexual Phenomenon, Dr. Harry Benjamin
Crossdressing, Sex, and Gender, Vern & Bonnie Bullough
A Year Among the Girls, Darrell Raynor
Sex Research at the Borders of Gender: Transvestites, Transsexuals, and Alfred C. Kinsey, Joanne Meyerowitz
Carol Beecroft, Director Emeritus, Founder, Jane Ellen Fairfax.
Transvestites & Transsexuals: Mixed Views, Deborah Heller Feinbloom
The Man in the Red Velvet Dress: Inside the World of Cross-Dressing, JJ Allen.
Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism, Pat Califia
Transgender Warriors, Making History From Joan of Arc to RuPaul,  Leslie Feinberg
Virginia Prince interview, Gendertalk, May 10, 1999

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Category: Transgender History


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