Tabloids and Men’s Soft Core — Part 5

| Aug 20, 2012
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“THE MOST PERSISTENTLY STARTLING WORLD NEWS”

Now we turn our attention to transsexuals in the tabloids. The tabloids loved transsexuals, though the feeling was not always mutual. Tabloids and men’s soft-core porn magazines printed more articles about transsexuals between 1953 and 1967 than any other gender expression we have considered. These were national publications whose readers were straight men seeking cheap thrills though exposé, girlie smut or adventure stories. In our sample of 103 articles, 45 are about, or purport to be about, transsexuals. That’s more than double the 17 about crossdressing in public (part 1 of this series). And seven times the 6 about drag balls (part 2). Though transsexuals and ball queens do have something in common; being singled out by some authors for the most virulent displays of homophobia and transphobia. Professional female impersonators (parts 3 & 4) were also editorial favorites with 34 articles. But transsexuals won this popularity contest.

One theme that runs through these articles is confusion of terms. The number of times homosexuals, transsexuals, intersexuals and transvestites are confused with each other defies tabulation. The word “transsexual” rarely appears, which indicates how new the concept of changing genders was. For lack of the better word transsexuals are called sexual inverts, pseudo-hermaphrodites, transvestites and even “sex changlings.” But these articles can’t be blamed too much. The word, coined by Dr. Harry Benjamin, wasn’t in common usage yet. There isn’t even a entry for it in Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, published in 1965. At this time society was forming its concept of gender dysphoria. These articles show the popularization of misconceptions which are still too common.

 

Many facts are often plain wrong. One article describes Sexual Confirmation Surgery (SCS) as removing the genitals. All of the genitals! Another implies that SCS creates transsexuals from transvestites. Its clear that anyone seeking information from these publications was in a world of hurt. The articles present as gospel half-truths and downright lies. This negligent reporting could do real harm to those both naive and desperate for information. And, though these misconceptions may seen laughable to some readers, we doubt that the public’s average level of understanding is much higher today.

In this set of articles the writing and grammar seem worse than in the others we’ve considered previously, though they’re from the same publications we’re reviewed before. Could it be that these articles were not considered prime assignments? Perhaps they fell to the least experienced writers, while the senior staff received the plums assignments like, Tabum — Invisible Death — The Gas that Drives Men Mad. Therefore, we’d like to put one big (sic) over this entire article. Anything in quotation marks is exactly the way it appears in the original, warts and all: including missing words, elliptical phrases and the all the bane’s of a 9th grade English teacher’s existence.

IT ALL DATES BACK TO CHRISTINE

Not surprisingly there are no articles about transsexuality until after Christine Jorgensen’s operation in 1952 and return to the US in 1953, even though articles in our sample go back to 1947. Though many of our clippings do not provide complete dates or sources, it seems that in the years following Christine’s return there was a flurry of publishing on transgender topics. There’re not as many articles about Christine as you would expect, but her story was immediately covered by the daily press and national magazines with articles in Time (Dec. 5, 1952) and her five part autobiography in The American Weekly (Feb. 15 – March 15, 1953). Though our sample only contains 4 articles about her, Christine is mentioned in many, many others. Other transsexuals often cite an article about her as the first time they felt any hope or heard of anyone else with similar longings. And her photos appear in even more articles, no matter if their inclusion is irrelevant or confusing.

The earliest article we have about Christine reads like an editor reaching for a story. An editor wanting something sexy, even though Christine was modest and proper. At this time there weren’t any photos available of her in a short skirt, let alone a bathing suit. Well, since they couldn’t find a photo, they built one. Exclusive! A Composite of Christine Jorgensen in a Bathing Suit (Dare, v 1, #7, July, 1953, Fiction Pub, NY, p 6) is very strange. Dare culled through photos of Christine, picked several and had an artist make sketches from the photos which removed Christine’s clothes and put her in a bathing suit instead. Then they found a woman with similar measurements, took her photo wearing a bathing suit and collaged Christine’s head on the other woman’s body. (And all without Photoshop, too.) Very weird.

The Third Sex — Transvestites — The Truth About Christine (HE – The Magazine for MEN, v 1, #4, July 1953, HE Publications, NY, p 12) claims to be based on interview with Christine’s “personal medical advisor,” though they never print the adviser’s name. The editors call this article “the first authoritative report” and present a series of facts: Christine was not a hermaphrodite. Christine was not a homosexual. At one point they lapse into a few paragraphs about homosexuality and the Kinsey Report, trying to distinguish between Christine and homosexuals, but the arbitrary inclusion of this material serves to connect, not separate, the two in the reader’s mind.

The choice of titles is peculiar. The term “Third Sex” is usually reserved for homosexuals, not transsexuals. “Sexual inverts” is another term which was applied to homosexuals earlier in this century, but this article says that “doctors all over the country . . . have been swamped by calls from sexual inverts for ‘the operation which fixed up Christine.’” Is the writer simply confused or is he saying that homosexuals are asking for SCS?

The term “transsexual” is never used, instead they classify Christine as an “extreme transvestite,” “Those who want to be women.” And what a price she had to pay, according to this article! “Operation, such as Miss Jorgensen’s, does little more than remove the penis and testes . . . Inhibiting sex life by removal of organs does not bother them. Fact is, most extreme transvestites loathe organs.” ‘Nuf said.

Christine Jorgensen – The Men in Her Life (Pose! v 1, #1, Oct. 1954, Dodshaw Publications, NY, p 60) is a playful, flattering little piece. It reports that, though “Her name has been linked legitimately with many people in Washington and Eastern Society,” dating is a problem, “Just as Christine is the butt of many jokes, none of them very nice, these young escorts are also made fun of and stared at.” Though there are 10 photos, there’s none with any suitors and few with men: just a posed shot with actor Forrest Tucker and Carleton Carpenter and one where she’s being spun around by an acrobat. So, where are the men in her life? The end of the article is typical of this style of yellow journalism, which promises much, but delivers little. On the next to the past page there’s a big arrow and the message, “For the really important man in Christine’s life, turn page.” And there she is standing next to Charles Yates, her theatrical manager.

By 1959 Christine’s star was no longer ascending. In this most recent article, Is Christine Jorgensen a ‘Perfectly Normal’ Woman? by Calvin Hunter (Hush-Hush, v 5, #24, Sept. 1959, Hush-Hush Magazine, Inc., Derby, CT, p 38), there is a definite change in tone. Now Hush-Hush usually has a decidedly nastier tone than other, more playful publications (as fans of the film LA Confidential, where Danny DeVito played the unlucky publisher of Hush-Hush, know). So, it’s not too surprising that this article is an attack on Christine’s womanhood. “Christine was back in the news this year. Her application for a license to marry Howard J. Knox was turned down until she “could prove beyond any doubt that a sex transformation had taken place.”

(Ed. Note: The license request was turned down because Knox’s divorce was not yet final.)

The article makes it sound like her femininity was constantly under attack. A Washington police inspector order her “to stay out of the ladies’ room or face arrest for masquerading.” In Boston the liquor license of the Latin Quarter was suspended after they booked her because “a local ordinance forbids licensed clubs to present female impersonators.” And in Las Vegas the Hotel Sarah insisted on “medical proof that the representations made by you that you are a woman are true.” The article calls her “a castrated male transvestite.” Going on to say “And Christine Jorgensen does not function as a woman” claiming “no female organs were ‘constructed’” and that her sex change is only a change from “m” to “f” on her passport. The article ends on a snide note, City Clerk of New York Herman Katz “said Christine could get the license any time the ex-GI could prove that he is now biologically a woman, prove it with ‘legally competent evidence.’ That’ll be the day.”

WOMEN FATHER CHILDREN, MEN GIVE BIRTH
YOU CAN’T KEEP ‘EM STRAIGHT WITHOUT A SCORE CARD


Together in 1956

If you thought the last crop of writers was confused, hold on to your dictionaries. Trying to keep “trans” and “homo” sexuals straight was difficult enough, then editors threw intersexuals into the mix. The Sex Change (Man’s Day, p 15) is a good example. The article is filled with photos of transsexuals (such as Christine and FtM Dr. Ewan Forbes-Sempill) but identifies them as “pseudo-hermaphrodites, the name given by medical science to persons who are sexually part male and part female.” It never used the term “transsexual,” who obviously don’t exist, and completely misunderstands the purpose of psychotherapy before surgery. They make it sound as though SCS is done because doctors demand it, not because transsexuals crave it. They have no concept of gender dysphoria. “If an individual believes all his life that he belongs to one sex and then is transformed into another without adequate psychiatric preparation, mental explosions are bound to occur. That is why Christine Jorgensen underwent intensive psychotherapy before and after her conversion. Her male thinking had to be transformed and it was just as important as transforming her body.” Does this mean that the Harry Benjamin Association requires psychotherapy, not to determine if surgery is right for the candidate, but to change their thinking, just like surgeons change the body? Is the author just confused or are they trying to provide the public with an explanation of why doctors would cut away healthy tissue. It couldn’t be because people are taking control of their bodies, so the writer invented a medical problem.

The worst article in so many ways is Male? Female? Pseudohermaphrodites — Can They Choose Sex? Can They Bear Children? (HE – The Magazine for MEN, judging from layout and red page numbers, p 12). It repeats all the errors previously mentioned, such as confusing transsexuals and intersexuals or claiming “many homosexuals are undoubtedly pseudohermaphrodites.” But the writing is just horrible. The worst of the lot. They spread the misinformation, that transsexuals treated with cortisone can bear children, with the astounding sentence, “Drug may make it possible for girl to have children, first time this has happened in cases of changed sex.” It’s difficult to believe that some editor, or even a proof reader, didn’t red pencil this. “Conclusion: sex repairs can and should be made by doctors, nature’s mistakes corrected…But one of the great difficulties is person’s psychology. Individual brought up as female not easily made to think as male. Result: socially maladjusted person. And more: tough questions are raised.” They go on a bit longer, but, fortunately, we don’t have to.

THE REAL TRUTH, TABLOID STYLE

We have 8 other articles from the ten years between 1954 – 1964 which try to explain the transsexual phenomena. Though most are deficient and have a jaundiced view of transsexuals, there’s one gem, A Doctor Answers…What Everyone Wants to Know About Sex Change Operations by Larry J. Chieco. Since we only have a clipping, we have no idea where this piece is from or when it was published. In an opening note the editors thank Dr. Harry Benjamin and acknowledge that their article is “based largely on his articles…the only reliable sources of information of transsexualism available in this country.” Though they claimed to have taped interviews with other authorities, they quote Dr. Benjamin at such length, that its hard to see any other sources. The best part is that they quote him accurately. This article is probably the best advice ever available to transsexuals for under a dollar.

Two articles are guilty of the same ignorance of the difference between intersexuals and transsexuals we saw before. Sex Change Surgery — A Frank, Revealing Report asks the question, “What type of person would consent to undergo a sex change?” They say there are three types. True hermaphrodites, who need surgery “to be made into a reasonably whole member of one sex of the other.” Pseudo-hermaphrodites, who have “confusing external characteristics.” And those who are “physically normal” but “emotionally disturbed.” “There is little doubt that the ballyhooed sex converts you’ve read about were physically normal men who suffered with transvestism, a fundamental feeling that they are women.” So now transvestism is a disease whose cure is surgery. But before the operation “the transvestite is treated by a psychiatrist in the hope that he can still be adjusted to his masculine state.” If he can’t, its the knife for sure. “Moral objections have been raised throughout the world by churchmen, educators and even doctors. But, the Danish surgeons feel they have served humanity by creating useful, happy citizens from neurotic misfits.” So transsexuals are “useful, happy citizens” created by doctors and transvestites are “neurotic misfits.”

New Facts about Sex Changlings (People Today, v 8, #9, May 5, 1954, Hillman Periodicals, NY, p 15) also states that “sex changlings” fall into three groups: true hermaphrodites, pseudohermaphrodite and transvestites. The latter are “normal men and women whose trouble is psychological.” “Transvestism, many psychologists believe, may be an unwholesome extension of ‘dressing-up’ games of childhood spurred by latent homosexuality. Like many mental disturbances, transvestism sometimes may be cured. Since Christine’s case, some men keep asking doctors to make them women. Such tampering is forbidden by law everywhere in the U.S.” The article ends on this patriotic note, defending our shores from the “unwholesome” transsexuals who want their bodies “tampered” with.

 

There are two articles that are such a hodgepodge of loosely connected paragraphs about different aspects of gender, that they’re barely coherent. Men Who Wish They Were Women by Sigmund Sigfried (Thrilling Adventure, Dec., p 21) is really mildly offensive fiction. It begins in an almost a novelistic style immediately confusing transsexuals with transvestites. It’s biggest issue is stated right below the title, “One night he asked, ‘Do you mind if I put on your panties while we make love?’” It explains that all crossdressing as either a fetish or fear of manhood. The closest it gets to talking about transsexuals is a long quote from a frustrated mid-19th century Hungarian doctor, a married doctor, who always thought of himself as woman. Uninformative in the extreme.

Why People Switch Sexes, (Exposed, v 1, #6, May, 1956, Whitestone Publications, Louisville, p 36), is worse because it’s mean spirited. Though it develops no real points and rambles incoherently about transvestites, female impersonators, berdache, parents wanting a girl, homosexuals, drag balls, gay bars and hormones, nothing is as offensive as the homophobia. When discussing professional female impersonators they say, “Perhaps it’s just a way of earning bread, but on the other hand, psychoanalysts say that in every case transvestism is evidence of a homosexual trend.” They defend the two gender system and say that anyone who isn’t a stereotypical male or female is sick. But there’s hope, “it may soon be possible for men to get a ‘re-charge’ for defective testes,” which they see as the cause of male transgender behavior. They close with three telling points. The first two may still be true today. “First, transvestites and homosexuals are becoming more and more open…Second, legal authorities both here and abroad are coming to a more humane view of the sexual deviate. Finally, science may soon have some ways to make these half-male, half-female people into complete men or complete women. that will be the only real solution to the problems of the tragic transvestite.”

Two others articles are indeed the same article with a new titles, sub-heads, photos and a bit of rewriting. Real Truth About Those Sex Change Operations by Manuel Cordoza (Confidential Flash, July 25, 1964, John Blunt Pub, Toronto, p 3) is virtually identical to The Uncensored Truth About Those Sex Change Operations by Manuel Cordoza (Uncensored, p 39). The article(s) features lots of short bios and facts about well-known transsexuals, both male and female with lots of talk about the differences between intersexuals and transsexuals.

There is also discussion of unhappy marriages to transsexual women. “A lot of guys have walked down the middle-aisle with ‘altered’ boys but the marriages never work out.” It recounts the details of Coccinelle’s bitter divorce, which we will cover in the next installment, and ends with the misinformation that “artificial female organs don’t have nerves and muscles, therefore are incapable of erotic response.” No nerves or muscles? Sounds like scar tissue. Too bad they couldn’t have ended with Kate Bornstein’s appraisal of her surgery, “The plumbing works and so does the electricity.”

The final article, a model of sensationalism, is the cover story, Exclusive! MD Reveals THE FOURTH SEX! Not Male, Not Female and Not Homosexual by Arnold Wells (The National Insider, v 5, #3, July 19, 1964, p 4) is the cover story of this tabloid. Above the title it promises, “Shocking Photos! Sensational Story!” This is one of the most recent articles in our sample and it uses the word transsexual in the caption to the cover photo of Coccinelle, “Transsexual Coccinelle, a member of the fourth sex.” The caption to the other cover photo says, “An operation made Barbara Bulick a transsexual,” but never tells us what she was before.

It includes some decent information and credible quotes from Dr. Harry Benjamin. But Dr. Ira B. Pauly, who is credited with delivering a report to the American Psychiatric Association, said some outrageous things about transsexuals. “They are convinced they are women in men’s bodies through some biological mistake. And this is a disavowal of the responsibility of being a male. They believe that women are taken care of,” says Dr. Pauly. Quite an attitude for a helping-professional. His studies of transsexuals have also discovered that, “The only consistency about the ‘fourth sex’ shows up there in the early years. It is in the fact that most of these men had alcoholic fathers who punished them brutally” (the bold print is reproduced from the original).

The National Insider in its “intensive study” found that, “Many become prostitutes, taking men into their arms again and again to prove that they are women.” This must have been written by a man. One who couldn’t see the social traps of lack of education, discrimination, drugs, low esteem and family rejection, but only knew that these women publicly craved male attention. Christine is seen as a “ray of hope” because she “settled into a happy and well-adjusted life as a woman.” By “well-adjusted” we’re sure they mean she’s white, middle class and heterosexual. “But there is no return and the new woman is in a world of her own, a world that few understand, many condemn as Godless — and many are seeking to enter at this moment.”

CONCLUSION

In the 1950’s there was hardly a word to describe changing genders. The word “transsexual” was poorly understood and rarely used in these publications. The concept had yet to infiltrate the American consciousness. Though a minority of articles asked for greater understanding, most tabloids and soft-core porn magazines defended the status quo. There were two, and only two, sexes; two, and only two, genders. If you weren’t happy being one or the other, you were sick. The writing in these publications was so loose that facts were fabricated. The writers were either lazy or sloppy. Perhaps that can be excused. But there is no excuse for the ridicule in some articles or their concerted effort to portray transsexuals as deviants, psychos and something other than people.

There’s a lesson to be learned from how these magazines group together and confuse the various gender and sexual minorities. To people outside the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender community, which Ms Bob calls “The Gay BLT,” we’re all alike. This is as true today as it was forty years ago, (Ed. Note: Now 53 years) when these rags were hot off the presses. The gender mainstream won’t bother to learn the distinctions, because they don’t see them. Some might say that these lowlife publications are hardly indicative of the country as a whole. But, if these authors, who were being paid, didn’t take the time to get the story right, the public won’t bother either. The first step for any minority, trying to make itself understood, is to get your facts out to any group that’s part of the mainstream. Maybe these magazines were read by the lowest common denominator, but who says that’s not the best place to start.


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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.

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  1. gracebacon gracebacon says:

    Remember back to the days when ‘Transvaal’ was a country that you found when trying to look up ‘transvestite’ in a public library card catalog; in that same library (Flint, Michigan) Harry Benjamin’s book, “The Transsexual Phenomenon” was held in the reseve section until well after 1975 or so. The softcore men’s mags were the only source of info that the public could find — anywhere.