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TG History: Girls Night Out The Early Support Groups — Part 2

| Jun 8, 2009
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In part 2 of Girls Night Out Michelle Moore introduces us to the woman who started the whole concept of support groups for crossdressers. And no, it’s not Virginia Prince. Click “more” to read…


“Although I’m dressed up, out and all, Everything considered they forget my name. “They call me ‘Hell,”They call me ‘Stacey’, They call me ‘Her’, They call me ‘Jane’ “That’s not my name! That’s not my name! That’s not my name!” – Ting Tings

Since most crossdressers are straight why did they attend gay drag parties? Through the early 20th Century rather than form their own groups, most straight crossdressers attended gay drag events instead. Since gay drag is usually a theatrical production this provided a veneer of respectability. It meant they were better organized and even publicized openly — something that would be unthinkable to straight crossdressing groups at the time. In those pre-Internet days, gay events were much easier for solitary heterosexual crossdressers to locate. Finally, the very fact they were gay events actually served to ease closeted crossdressers fears since any potential witnesses had to explain what the heck they were doing at a gay event in the first place.

So let’s recap: to avoid being perceived as gay straight crossdressers attended gay events. Confusing? Imagine how they felt. Wouldn’t it just be simpler if straight crossdressers had their own groups?

So when was the first crossdressing support group? Well, since every group needs a founder we first have to ask:


Our Godmother, Louise Lawrence

Surely someone as famous Virginia Prince needs no introduction. And the reason Virginia Prince needs no introduction is because it wasn’t her. Someone else who got it all started first, pushed crossdressers (including Prince) out of their closets, and is the Godmother of every crossdressing group, event, or party that followed. Ladies, meet Louise Lawrence.

Born Lew Lawrence, Louise began living full-time in 1944, smack dab in the middle of World War II and long before the world ever heard of Christine Jorgensen. Moving to San Francisco she managed an apartment building for working women and had a female partner, Gay.  Before Virginia Prince introduced the concept of “transgendered” Louise began living as a female without surgery until her death in 1976. But it was her outreach efforts that are most memorable.

It all began in 1948, when Dr. Alfred Kinsey caught the world by surprise when he published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, the first bestseller about sex. But the book had one glaring omission — no mention of crossdressing or gender variance. This was surprising since in those postwar times transvestism had again captured the public imagination. The popular military drag shows of World War II had revived the fascination with female impersonation. In the early 1950s, according to one observer, “the number of entertainment places featuring female impersonation doubled.” But as Professor Joanne Meyerowitz noted: “Transvestism also elicited hostile reaction, as evidenced in postwar arrests for crossdressing. …Changing gender roles provoked what popular magazines dubbed a ‘crisis in masculinity.’ Commentators feared a decline in masculine strength that seemed to threaten the nation’s vigor.” Stung by critics for omitting this hot button issue Kinsey set out to learn what he could about transvestites. That’s when Louise Lawrence entered the picture. Kinsey interviewed Lawrence in the summer of 1948 and asked if she knew any crossdressers. Boy, did he ever come to the right place.

For the past decade Lawrence had corresponded with crossdressers and had contacts through a vast transvestite underground stretching nationwide. More importantly, she was on a mission to educate the public about transvestitism with a particular emphasis on previously close-minded scientists like Kinsey. (Lawrence was equally influential for transsexuals but that’s another story). Lawrence opened doors that otherwise would’ve been slammed shut on Kinsey, introducing him to a wide variety of crossdressers and professional female impersonators. Lawrence encouraged her transgendered friends to give their life histories to Kinsey, hoping she said “to point out the value of it, the sincerity of Dr. Kinsey, the complete anonymity as well as the personal pleasure they will get from the interview itself.” Now part of the Kinsey Archives, Lawrence also provided a massive collection including personal correspondence, scrapbooks of clippings and photographs, a diary started in 1944 when she began to live as a woman, and other autobiographical writings. Lawrence even transcribed manuscripts and case histories for Kinsey’s library. By 1954 Lawrence had put Kinsey in touch with all interested crossdressers she knew: 19 in the San Francisco area and 152 nationwide.

Through her constant networking Lawrence put otherwise closeted crossdressers around the country in touch with each other. They quietly began meeting and eventually formed the social clubs and support groups we know today.

Then one day Louise was approached by a closeted crossdresser named Muriel…

NEXT: Virginia Prince, the first organized support group, and the first TG newsletter.

How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States, Joanne Meyerowitz.
Sex Research at the Borders of Gender: Transvestites, Transsexuals, and Alfred C. Kinsey, Joanne Meyerowitz
The Louise Lawrence Collection, Kinsey Institute

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Comments (3)

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  1. ronnierho ronnierho says:

    This is fascinating stuff. I’m glad we have someone keeping track of our history, and I’m glad it’s someone as good as you, Michelle.

  2. Michelle Michelle says:

    Thanks, Cena. You sound like someone with a colorful history. As for Louise Lawrence, she was one of those early TG pioniers who never got her due. We’ll have more on her (and new protegee, Virginia somebody) next month.

  3. cena cena says:

    Great job again, as usual Michelle. Very informative as I had never heard of Louise. By the by, my first “coming out” occasion was a drag ball in NYC organized by Lee Brewster in concert with the old Mattachine society!
    Cena Williams

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