Tabloids and Men’s Soft Core — Part 6

| Sep 17, 2012
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We’re now reaching the end of our six month exploration of how transgendered people and behavior were depicted in sensationalist magazines and newspapers from 1949 — 1977. The magazines we’ve considered were sold in corner newsstands and drug stores, but you usually had to ask to see them. They lacked the sophistication of Playboy or the raunch of Hustler. They represent an almost innocent form of titillation which in the ’21st century can only be seen as “camp.”

It is important to remember that the articles in our sample cannot be considered factual. Though some are based on facts, the interpretation is often wildly off the mark. It seems that confirming prejudice and bigotry is more important that furthering understanding. Others stories are obviously from the whole cloth. The value of these articles to us is not their accuracy, but rather their perspective. They tell us what people wanted or were willing to believe about crossdressing, transsexualism and transgendered expression.

The previous installment (part 5 of this series) began the discussion of how these magazines reported on transsexualism. As soon as Christine Jorgensen returned to the United States after her famous surgery, the presses started to roll, but the writers rarely got the facts right. Several articles labeled her a hermaphrodite, which she wasn’t, and wrote confusing articles about intersexuality. Others did try to discuss transsexualism but, with only one exception, ended up confusing it with homosexuality, transvestism, intersexuality or all three. What else could you expect? These magazines specialized in sensationalism, not accuracy.

Though trying to describe the phenomena of transsexualism was over the heads of these writers, they were right at home writing about the lives of transsexuals themselves. Slightly over one third of the articles in our sample (34 out of 101) are feature stories about one individual transsexual. We are fortunate to have 10 complete magazines, instead of just clippings, in this sample. From them we can see that when there were articles about transsexuals they were considered selling points for the magazine. Nine out of 10 of these articles are cover stories and 5 of the covers include photos. These stories, which put a human face on a barely grasped concept, were probably more intelligible to the readers, too. And, since gossipy feature stories were the bread and butter of these publications, the reporters were right at home snooping around people’s lives, twisting facts and sensationalizing even the most ordinary things into the greatest wonder ever seen.


George Turtle, the “Before” Photo

There are 15 different transsexuals profiled. Two thirds of these women (10) have only one article written about them, while one third (5) are the subject of over two thirds of the articles (24 out of 34). These darlings of the pulps are: Latina Seville and English TS Georgina Turtle with two articles each, French performer Bambi with 3, trail blazer Christine Jorgensen with 4, and most featured by far, the French ladybug, Coccinelle with a stunning thirteen articles! Of the five MtF’s with more than one article apiece the most unfamiliar name is Latina Seville, the subject of the two-part cover story which gave the tabloids a chance to use the headline they’d been hoping for: “Sex Change Wants to Change Back — I WANT TO BE A MAN AGAIN” (The National Insider, v 6, #7, Feb. 14, 1965, Chicago, p.4) and “I Changed My Sex Change But Now I Wish I Were A Man Again!” (The National Insider, v 6, #8, Feb. 21, 1965, Chicago, p.8). The article is a very typical tabloid transsexual autobiography. The 2” headlines about wanting to be a man again stem from her lack of “sexual interest” since her operation. Though claiming to be neither a lesbian nor frigid, she says that, “I simply don’t like men romantically…Maybe this is because I still think like a man. I know what they are thinking, I know what they want from me.” She sums it up as “My one wish is that I could go back to being a man. But it is too late for that. So I work and try to look as good as I can.” And, not surprisingly as we shall see later, she works as a stripper, the “Latin Bombshell,” and opens her act with a classic flamenco number.

Transsexuals are usually seen in one of two lights: either as bravely suffering souls trying to deal with the lot Nature has given them or strippers, showgirls and exhibitionists. A third possibility is represented by Hedy Jo Star’s advice column “Both Sides of Love” (The National Insider, p 22) which hints at the possibility of the TS as sage, but this is the lone example in our sample. The binary “Virgin or whore” view of TS women parallels the offensive and narrow attitude toward generic women found in many of these publications. This indicates that these publications did not consider transsexuals the same as homosexuals. And though there was some transphobia seen in part 5 of this series, it was not as vindictive or as rampant as the homophobia found in articles about drag balls (part 2 of the series).

The most positive portraits are reserved for those transsexuals who: felt that they were “different” from childhood, were drawn to girls’ toys, games and companionship, were uncomfortable with their bodies, which resulted in modesty or downright prudery and, though revolted by homosexuality, found themselves strangely attracted to men. The most amazing part of the attitude in these low-life, seedy publications is how similar their view of MtF transsexuals are to the early Standards of Care developed by the Harry Benjamin Association (Now The World Professional Association for Transgender Health). All of the characteristics listed above are carved in stone in the Standards of Care and the similarities go on and on. Both the Standards and tabloids’ views can be reduced to this: the more middle class and heterosexual you were, the more sympathetic would be your treatment by both the tabloids and the doctors.

This makes us wonder who’s really setting the Standards, the doctors or the tabloids? It has been said that the Standards, beside defining the acceptable limits of treatment, are also designed to assure the TS some level of comfort in society after transition. If this is true then the doctors are looking outside of the medical community to society as a whole to see how acceptance is achieved. And it cannot be denied that these dreadful little rags represent one attitude prevalent in society. Since these yellow journalists never consulted the Standards of Care, some of these article even pre-date them, finding such congruity between the views of the doctors and the panderers makes it seem as though the latter are calling the shots. As Sam Rayburn said, “When two people agree all the time, only one is doing the thinking.”

Some or all of these Standards can be seen in articles like “Why I Want To Change My Sex” by George Jackson, where surgery is presented as salvation, or “I Want to Be A Woman — Nature Gave Me A Woman’s Body But A Man’s Sex” by Gayle Shermann (The National Insider, Nov. 3, 1963, p 12). Both of these articles purport to be autobiographical, though the writing style indicated that, even if they were written by the women themselves, they’ve been heavily edited to match the style and tone of the magazines in which they appear. Even so, a somewhat positive slant in these articles cannot be denied. They give a feeling of “fixing” nature, which, though it doesn’t guarantee acceptance, at least holds hope of a happier life. In “The Personal Tragedy of a Sex Changling,” the “tragedy” seems to be Charlotte McLeod’s troubled youth and not her post-surgical future: “It is still too early to tell whether life as a woman will bring her the emotional security and social acceptance sought throughout a lifetime.”


Unfortunately middle class conformity doesn’t always shield the transsexual from snide ridicule. This is true of the two articles we have about former British Navy officer, dentist and “sex-change character” Georgina Turtle. Georgina is a very proper woman and, like the modest Christine Jorgensen, we doubt if she was ever photographed in a short skirt or revealing outfit. Her marriage to Christopher Somerset is covered in the offensively titled “The Wedding of the Queers” by Donald Shearer. This article seems to be a paraphrase of the earlier, “From George to Georgina in one easy operation! — HOW THAT NAVY OFFICE BECAME — A GIRL!” by Jay Collins (Hush-Hush, p 13) with the addition of some coverage about the marriage.

This story uses a technique still common in tabloids today. The titles blow things out of proportion with outrageous and inflammatory statements which are not supported by the article. The facts and the article’s generally offensive tone don’t come close to the outrage expressed by the title. And though Hush-Hush is usually more offensive and sensationalist than other publications, it is still sad to read disparaging remarks about someone who is trying so to desperately to conform.

Jeannette Jiousselot (left) with ex-wife

Another example of being damned for no apparent reason is “The Papa who became a Mama…Fifty Million Frenchmen Just Can’t Be Wrong, They Say, But Here’s One in a Million,” which might also be from Hush-Hush. This is the story of French transsexual Jeannette Jiousselot, who, as a man, was a member of the French underground and a marine during World War II. The article makes it sound as though Jeannette began changing into a woman spontaneously. It goes on and on about his wife and two daughter’s distress and talks of divorce. Yet all the photos show a very happy family of four. It makes you wonder if the divorce and Jeannette’s “plans to settle in Paris and become a barmaid” are fabricated. There’s a theme in these male centered magazines that wanting to display one’s self before men, excite them and have sex with them is, perhaps, the only valid reason for sexual conversion surgery. This reduces the MtF transsexual to a man’s play toy, who, without a man, is doomed to being empty and unfulfilled. It robs the MtF of any potential for happiness outside heterosexual relationships.


Roxanne Alegria

Most of the transsexuals featured (8 out of 15) are exhibitionists either on or off stage. Many are professional performers such as Zorana Pop-Simonovic, subject of “Car Crash Uncovers a 12-Year Secret…Belly Dancer is a Man!” by Thomas Porter (National Enquirer, Oct. 1, 1967). At 17 Zoran couldn’t get a job as a male dancer in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, so he changed his name to Zorana, performed as a chorus girl, then a belly dancer and presumably lived as a woman for the next 12 years. Only after the doctors “outed” her after a car wreck did anyone know. Club owner Mirko Pluhar said, “I was astonished…We’ve had many a drink together and I’ve often danced with her…I hope one day she’ll come back.” For her part Zorana is hoping for State sanctioned surgery, “And this time when I dance, the men will know they really are whistling at a woman.”

Displaying one’s femininity is central to “The Man Who Became A Woman — America’s Top Topless Star Tells All…” by Roxanne Alegria (Confidential, v 15, #1, Jan, 1967, by-Line Pub, NY, p 12), an excellent article which, even if Roxanne didn’t write it, feels closer to the genuine feelings of a transsexual woman than many of the other articles. This is also a theme in articles about Latina Seville, who performed with the Jewel Box Revue, Gayle Shermann, and, of course, the French nightclub performers Bambi and Coccinelle.

But even if they’re not professional performers, these magazines seem to laud MtF’s who want to flaunt their femininity. Consider this hearing for indecent exposure in “My Sex Ruined My Life … So I Changed It!” where a New York magistrate asks Patricia Ann Morgan, “‘Did you really walk down East 57th Street on August 4 (1963, two years after surgery,) wearing shorts that were too short?’ ‘No, your Honor,’ I said, ‘my shorts weren’t too short. It’s just that my legs are too long!’ ‘Case dismissed,’ the magistrate laughed.” These articles portray the transsexual woman as being morally looser than generic women. There’s usually a bit of mild titillation or at least statements suggesting availability like at the end of Particia’s article when she says, “I have been changed into a woman who likes men, needs men and appreciates them for the grown-up little boys that they really are.”

Final Chapter Next Month

Ms. Bob’s original series ran on TGForum in the 1990s. We have updated some of the text to reflect the new century.

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Category: Transgender History

Ms. Bob

About the Author ()

Ms. Bob Davis, MFA, founder & director of the Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive in Vallejo, CA, served two terms on the GLBT Historical Society board of directors.

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  1. faller faller says:

    This roxana picture is awesome. Too bad the black and white touch is no more used these days.