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TG History — GIRLS NIGHT OUT: The Early Support Groups

| Aug 3, 2009
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“I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me as a member” — Groucho Marx

WHAT WAS THE FIRST NATIONWIDE CROSSDRESSER SUPPORT GROUP AND WHO FORMED IT?

OK, for most people in the know this question definitely falls under the “no brainer” category. Still even if you already know the answer the story behind it is less known and worth retelling.

Last month we covered the first organized crossdresser support group and first newsletter Transvestia which came and went in 1952. Still, Transvestia would return again — this time to stay.

The Long Beach group dissolved but Transvestia’s architect, Muriel, stayed active. Around 1950, Muriel had endured a messy divorce with tales of her crossdressing splattered over screaming local headlines and even picked up by the national wire service. Outed against her will, Muriel gained the unique position of being approached by other crossdressers without having to seek them out. A financially successful biochemist she had the resources, the time, and the determination to make the rights of crossdressers her personal crusade.

Muriel eventually changed her name… to Virginia Prince. (Note to Nitpickers: Born Arnold Lowman, Prince went by more names than a James Bond super spy. She was Virginia Bruce in the late 1960s and wrote under male pseudonyms, “CV Prince” starting in 1957 and “Charles Prince,” ‘Charles’ being her father’s name and ‘Prince’ from her former residence on Prince Street. She settled on Virginia Charles Prince before quietly dumping Charles. Whew, got all that?).

Prince resurrected Transvestia with its first issue seeing print in January 1960. Transvestia was a conservatively styled, pocket-sized magazine published in black and white “by, for, and about transvestites.” Shunning transsexuals, homosexuals, female crossdressers, and sexual deviants, Prince sought articles from sympathetic professionals, heterosexual crossdressers, and their wives. Scholarly in tone, it had all of 25 subscribers. But in that first issue Prince wrote a tribute to Sexology Magazine’s recently deceased editor, Dr. David O. Cauldwell. Sexology reciprocated with an article about Transvestia and combined with its distribution in fine adult bookstores everywhere Transvestia subscriptions took off. By the early 1960s Transvestia became the first international transgendered publication registering overseas sales in Britain, Australia, and Scandinavia. While not the first crossdresser to publish (in 1695 no less, see August, 2008 article) Prince did establish the first transgender owned company, Chevalier Publications.

WELCOME TO THE CLUB

Using a decade of personal contacts plus responses culled from Transvestia, Prince finally established her own group in 1961, known as the Hose and Heels Club. Their name wasn’t just poetry. In those days fear of arrest was foremost on the minds of every crossdresser venturing out in public. At the early meetings Prince devised an elaborate safeguard designed to thwart even the most intrepid undercover vice officer posing as a crossdresser. Meetings began with members wearing their male clothing and bringing two bags. From their first bag members would produce various snack foods. Discussion would follow — then came the moment of truth. At a signal from Prince each member would first remove his male shoes. Each man then dipped into his second bag and slipped into a pair of silky hose (some were already wearing theirs). Then members produced their own high heels and as a group slipped them on. This act of initiation was also regarded as a form of protection designed to literally catch any undercover flatfoot flatfooted — as it was hoped he’d either lack the appropriate footwear or else have a pair of heels that just didn’t fit. The effectiveness of this ploy is debatable but helped ease the concerns of emerging crossdressering. Gradually this broadened into bi-monthly meetings: a non-dressing discussion featuring a speaker or professional and a second meeting devoted to dressing. Meetings were first held at the house of Virginia’s friend Evelyn and at a small Los Angeles church near Sunset and Bronson.

(Note to Nitpickers II: The Hose and Heels Club is often incorrectly credited as being the first TV support group. As we saw last month support groups go back to the early 1950s. But there were also at least seven other known groups meeting the same time as Hose and Heels. Now back to our story.)

THE EMPIRE BUILDER

Virginia clashed with her one-time best friend Evelyn over meeting place issues and the philosophy of the Club. Prince also engaged in a nasty business dispute with fellow Chevalier Publishing associate Barbara Ellen, made even more contentious by Barbara Ellen’s sudden divorce in which Virginia took the wife’s side. If that weren’t enough, Prince engaged in a third feud with Club Vice President Barbara Jean. While full details have never been completely known, the result of these reality show-like catfights caused the demise of the Hose and Heels Club.

But once again Prince rallied. Having doggedly retained hold of the Club’s super-secret membership lists, Prince used her contacts and excellent organizational skills to fashion a second group. Based on a sorority concept this group was dubbed Phi Pi Epsilon, which stood for “Foundation for Full Personality Expression” or FPE. (Note to Nitpickers III: FPE is alternately referred to “Full Personality Expression” and the “Foundation for Personality Expression.”  Take your pick.)

The old Hose and Heels Club was reorganized as the Alpha Chapter. Chevalier Publications also expanded. Later projects included co-producing the first regularly scheduled transgender newsletter, The Femme Mirror, as well as the short-lived Clipsheet, featuring mimeographed copies of crossdressing related news stories. Prince also began distributing transvestite adult fiction, mostly nonsexual stories involving forced crossdressing. Virginia much disliked the word “transvestite” and so coined another word instead; no, not “Transgendered” but “Femmiphilia,” or love of the feminine. Prince preferred calling herself a Femmiphile (FP) rather than a transvestite in those days.

Prince expanded FPE into an international organization by introducing another “first” for transgender groups: a bureaucracy. Prince would enlist sympathetic area contacts as “councillors” who then worked to integrate the local group into the FPE system. Homosexuals, “gender benders,” female crossdressers, and transsexuals were barred membership (though early chapters sometimes looked the other way on emerging transsexuals). However, wives and girlfriends were encouraged to attend. After a lengthy screening and interview process that could take up to a year, prospective members paid a fee and were issued a deluxe crossdressers’ membership kit. At its peak, FPE membership numbered in the hundreds — then it got bigger. Carol Beecroft had formed the Los Angeles based Mamselle Sorority, the first crossdresser group with its own Board of Directors. In 1976 the two organizations merged, forming the Society for the Second Self , aka Sigma Sigma Sigma or the Tri-Sigma sorority. Since 1981 you’ve known them as… Tri-Ess.
But wait, there’s more. Next month, it’s Party Time as we look for the first TG Convention.

Bibliography
Pioneers of Transgendering: The Popular Sexology of David O. Cauldwell, Richard Ekins and Dave King
Having It All: Transvestia’s Gender Community, Robert Hill
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
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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Michelle

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