TGF Rerun — Tabloids & Men’s Soft Core Mags Pt. 1

| Apr 30, 2012
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Look Close They're Really Guys!

This is the first Rerun installment of a TGF series which ran in the late 1990s examining how we classy transgendered folks were portrayed in cheap tabloids, the progenitors of today’s supermarket sensational press, and risqué men’s magazines; an innocent genre of porn which was more naughty than raunchy. Men were the target audience for these publications, and their yellowed yellow journalism tells us how we looked to some guys in the years between 1949 and 1977.

Stay Off The Streets If You Know What’s Good For You

It’s a comfort to have an editor who believes in you. Cindy Martin, former TGF editor, encouraged us to write this series. She had an collection of clippings from tabloids and a pile of loose pages from Clip Sheets, Virginia Prince’s series of reprinted articles of transgender interest. Everything looked twenty-five years old and more. “Maybe you can sort of do something with this stuff, she shrugged.

Being acquisitive, as well as inquisitive, Ms. Bob lunged at the pile greedily, almost taking the lace off Cindy’s cuff in the process. The Clip Sheets are an entire study unto themselves, a matter for deeper inquiry. The articles, the ones Cindy’s never gonna get back, were combined with those in Ms. Bob’s collection. The result was a sample of 91 articles and photos about the transgendered community which appeared in either newsstand tabliods or soft core men’s photo magazines form the mid-’50s to the early ’70s.

The newsstand tabloids have names like National Insider, Confidential Flash and National Enquirer, now in it’s 86th year of publication. These are, obviously, the forerunners of today’s supermarket tabloids. Contemporary tabloids are about either sensational celebrity gossip or sensationalism without the celebrities. These older ones combine both with a stronger machismo image, probably a reflection of prevailing cultural attitudes.

The soft core photo magazines (Man to Man, The Lowdown, Confidential, Exposed, Modern Man, Vice Squad to name a few) really don’t exist anymore. Their cheap pulp contents were consigned to the dust bins of history by the glossy-covered slick sophistication of the Playboy philosophy and the unapologetic raunch of Hustler and Penthouse. These magazines are the publishing world’s equivalent to the strippers and baggy-pants comics of Burlesque, who are often featured. Both were created for titillation and humor, but their appeal is barely understood today. They’re too pre-electronic and not media-oriented enough for comprehension.

It is important to remember that our research is at the mercy of the previous owners of these clippings and magazines. In some cases we have the entire magazine, but usually all we’ve got is what someone wanted to put in their scrap book. And “scrap” is truly the operative word: articles are incomplete and sometimes only the photos were saved and the article is missing. And considering what many of these writers have to say about the transgendered, saving the images and tossing the words may make sense. So let’s consider our sampling “representative,” rather than “exhaustive.” We’ll cite the sources, whenever possible.

The articles on transgendered subjects divide themselves into four groups: professional performers, transsexuals, drag balls and crossdressers in public places. The subject of this installment is the latter: dressing in public. Our sample is 17 articles, about 18% of the total, dating from 1954 to 1971.

In no case should these articles be accepted as the facts. Much is highly editorialized and some stories are obviously from the whole cloth. But if these clippings are short on facts, they are long on attitude. This isn’t the truth about us. It’s what America was willing to believe about us and, as you can imagine, it’s not too flattering.

The majority of the articles and photos, ten in all, are about crossdressers as criminals. Four cite serious crimes: murder, rape, armed robbery and blackmail. One of these articles, Male Criminals Who Dressed as Women by John Charr (Man to Man, vol. 5, #6, Sept. 1954, p. 16), includes malefactors from the 18th century, such as Englishman Jack, The Lady Bandit Sheppard, and French murderer Francois Dernes. Another about a particularly grizzly Houston homicide is incomplete and ends before the transvestite suspect is identified, much less apprehended, even though there are several photos of this criminal queen (Texas Murder and The Female Impersonator – Houston Cops Sought a Man Who Might be Wearing a Frilly Evening Gown). Likewise all we have about the blackmail and rape cases are captioned photos, which have been obviously clipped from longer articles. We may never know the full story behind the photo of Fag in drag Mario Dragnomi will do 5 years for blackmail. (Inside News, January 31, 1971) Is that his real name?

The informative caption is “Fags in drag, Antonio Del Bravo and Raffaele De Vitto, face 2 years in jail for rape.” With the rest of the article missing we are forced to leave the details of the crime to the reader’s imagination. But it is interesting to note the pejorative use of fag, considering the nature of the crime. It emphasizes the public’s linking of crossdressing with homosexuality and the difficulty of removing the stigma of shame from either. This was recently (Ed. Note: At the time this article was originally published) emphasized in Newsweek, which quoted Texas Republican party spokesman Robert Black as saying, We don’t allow pedophiles, transvestites or crossdressers, either, as the reason the GOP barred the gay Log Cabin Republicans from attending their state convention.

Of the ten clippings about criminals, however, most recount arrests for just being in drag. One photo caption reads, “DRESSED AS GIRLS, these two youths (no optical illusion) were picked up by police early Saturday morning as they rode in a taxicab with a sailor.” (Evening News Photo) The offensive part of the photo is the laughter of the six leering police officers who surround the youths. If the police act this way, the girls reception in the drunk tank can only be guessed at.

Police were very busy protecting our boys in uniform, it seems. One photo from Columbia, South Carolina, shows three queens in the dock arrested for posing as women and picking up soldiers at a local night spot. This image must have been a popular one. Our sampling features it three times. Only one publication gives the facts of the case, as stated above. The other two use it for atmosphere, since it has nothing to do with the stories it is attached to. The first seems to be about the different types of crossdressers. The caption here is, “There’s quite a difference between people needing sex changes and transvestites.” The latter simply are men who wish to dress as women, never saying which the photo is an example of. The second use is from an article titled, Why Can’t the Law Help TV’s Like My Husband? about which there will be more later.

Another popular photo is from a raid on a nightclub favored by the ‘gay’ set in Lomita, California. It is featured in two clippings from different publications. One shows seven drag queens, the other is cropped to show only six. The charge is impersonating women in public.

Of all these stories the one which seems to be most fully a fabrication is, unfortunately, also the one which attempts to put crossdressing in the best light. The title of the article is Why Can’t the Law Help TV’s Like My Husband? by Barbara X, though on the cover of the magazine the title is given as Why Does the Law Help TV’s Like My Husband? (The Lowdown, vol. 12, #2, May 1966, p. 15). Supposedly written by the wife of a crossdresser, who refuses to give her real name because of the narrow mindedness of some people, this article recounts her coming home to discover he husband in her clothes, her supportive acceptance and their being stopped by police when walking together one night when hubby was dressed.

“I heard words like ‘fag,’ ‘weirdies,’ and ‘queers,’ and my stomach turned as the police accused Bill of being a man, as they put it, ‘in drag.’ … you walk like a stevedore and you need a shave. We grabbed you and your nutty girlfriend here by accident. We were looking for a rapist. And look what we got. A hot looking babe, and a fruit. Ha!” That “Ha” must have hurt and what’s with the rape again? Can you imagine a police captain saying, We just had a rape reported on the South Side. Pick-up every crossdresser in the neighborhood!

The good wife defends her husband’s appearance, Why, my husband was dressed beautifully! He was in the latest fashion and looked more desirable than some of those hags who parade about the streets in stretch pants, curlers in their hair, and makeup smeared. She also quotes the New York Civil Liberties Union as saying that a man who wears woman’s clothes is not ‘a danger to the safety, health and welfare of society and it is unconstitutional to arrest a transvestite as a vagrant simply because he has done nothing more than wear clothes of the opposite sex. The latter is in reference to the case of a 58 year old man arrested under an 1845 vagrancy statue for wearing a brown, two-piece woman’s suit, high heels and a fur cape.

But in spite of all this good press, too much in the story sounds like a staff writer spinning a tale. It reads like a fantasy digest, especially when the wife buys spike heels and a bra for her husband. She does his make-up and says, “I had heard of things like this, but let me tell you personally that I had never seen a man dressed as a woman. It excited me so much I almost went mad. The neighbors must have heard me scream hours later when we enjoyed a climactic experience I will never forget.” If this is true, she did well to hide her identity. Not because of narrow minds, but because every heterosexual transvestite in the country would be after her phone number and address.

The last article which concerns crossdressers and the police is also the only article in this category about a woman. England’s Amazing Sex Impostor by H. W. Twyman (Man to Man, vol. 5, #6, Sept. 1954, p. 28) is the story of Lillias (sic) Irma Valerie Barker, a female transgenderist, who lived as a man. The story is long and follows Valerie Barker for over six years though several identities: Harold Arkell Smith, Ivor Gauntlett, Major Victor Barker, Sir Victor Barker and finally Leslie Ivor Victor Gauntlett Bligh Barker, Colonel in H.M. Army (retired). Barker had girlfriends, marriages and even had his real son, Tim age eight, play his innocent part calling his mother ‘Daddy.’ The deception came to an end at the medical examination in Brixton Prison where Barker was taken for failing to appear in bankruptcy court.

The article is surprisingly unbiased. The writer lets the bankruptcy judge pronounce the condemnation: “You are an unprincipled, mendacious and unscrupulous adventuress. You have profaned the house of God, outraged the decencies of Nature and broken the laws of man.” However, the writer’s summation sounds almost like admiration. “Nevertheless, she is unique in our generation: a phenomenon among females and a challenge to legal lore; a male impersonator who could so convincingly play the man that she got away with it year after year. Had it not been for that medical examination she would probably be still getting away with it . . .”

After crossdressed crime the next most popular subject is crossdressed prostitutes. We have three articles, all about Singapore’s famous Bugis Street. Two bear the same date, January 24, 1971, and might be from the same publication. In all three cases the reason for the article is to alert the American public about how soldiers on leave from the Vietnam War are spending their R&R vacations. The articles are full of warnings with titles like Singapore’s Beware Men…They’re Not What They’re Cracked Up to Be by Mike Mann or Phony Sirens.

The longest article, Boys Prance, Screech, Pout in Drag – – Providing Great Entertainment for Tourists by Allistair Wong, claims that there are 300,000 girl prostitutes in Asia whose business is the pleasure of Uncle Sam’s fighting men. He says there are at least 30,000 love-for-sale ladies in Singapore, but doesn’t say how many are cross-gendered. The author calls them homosexual transvestites, though he admits that a few of them have had sex-change operations to make them appear to be genuine females. Isn’t that just like a man? He makes it sound like these women had their operation for their clients, rather than for any needs of their own.

The article is filled with derisive writing like “ersatz Suzie Wongs” or “When a passerby pinches the merchandise, they scream in high falsetto alarm.” The story of the Marine sergeant, who threw one girl out of his hotel in only her high heels, is printed in bold type, to help the reader relish the derision of this poor queen. The final third of the article digresses into a discussion of a proposed WW II monument and the prediction that, “The end of the Vietnam war will be the start of the biggest depression the Asian sex market has ever seen.”

The four remaining clippings don’t really fit neatly into one category. One is just a joke at our expense. A photo of two young, attractive crossdressers captioned, “How would you like to bring one of these beauties home to mother? But could Dear Old Mom stand the shock when she learned they are Jacques Perret and George Jamerson, a couple of ‘the boys’ in ‘drag’?” Even passable, we’re susceptible to sarcasm.

An article, Exclusive! Homosexuality is BIG Business (People Today, vol. 7, #2, April, 1959, p. 2) makes passing reference to drag and mentions that “In the past, bars and night clubs catering to homosexuals were kept secret, but a ‘drag’ (ball) that winds up as a Roman orgy isn’t even news.” (Italics from the original.) This article also features two photos of female impersonators with small head shots inserted showing the same performers out of costume. The performers are not identified. The photos are from programs for the Paris clubs Carousel or Mme Arthur. The performers are Kiki Moustic & Coccinelle.

The third article is a mini documentary, which tells us more about America’s midset during the Cold War than the country’s view of crossdressing. It concerns the exploits of The Female Impersonator Who Tricked the Russians, a spy identified as only Him-her. This isn’t the first time drag queens have been enlisted to spy on the Russians. Over two centuries earlier French King Louis XV sent Chevalier D’Eon as a transvestite spy to the Russian court. But Him-her is much more ruthless and cruel, just as those God-less Communists deserve. According to the article, it is believed that ‘Him-her’ has killed over a hundred Russian officers. The article ends by postulating that, “Perhaps the secret of his (His-her’s) bitter vendetta is that the Russians, when they held him prisoner, emasculated him. His revenge is terrible” — and ironic! Not to mention incredible.

The last article begins the best and ends among the worst. Why Some Men Dress Like Women by Louie Bolinger is mostly an even-handed discussion of the many reasons for male crossdressing. He discussed married transvestites, masochistic transvestites, Lord Cornbury (the crossdressing governor of New York), Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Theatre, Christine Jorgensen, Cocinelle’s flirtation with King Farouk, Chevalier D’Eon and transgenderist Charles Ernest McLeod’s living as the respectable Miami widow, Mrs. Ralph M. Heidal. He even sides with performer T. C. Jones against the Las Vegas County Board of Commissioners, who in December, 1959, ordered him to stop performing at the New Frontier Hotel because, female impersonators attract the wrong kind of people to the Strip, like pedophiles and homosexuals. He mentions female crossdressers like Joan of Arc and Mary Ann Talbot, who served as John Taylor in the British Navy. He quotes informed authors such as David O. Cauldwell and British psychologist and criminologist Dr. Norwood East.

However, too typical of the era and the genre, he can’t let us go without casting a few stones. The article ends with a psychological explanation of male crossdressing, which relies heavily on neurotic parents who obsessively desire a daughter and give their son an androgynous name like Marion, Leslie or Evelyn. In 94 per cent of case histories, it was found that in childhood the boy had been dressed in girl’s clothing.

But the poor heterosexual transvestite fares the worst. If he is married, his wife may be understanding and co-operative, but sooner or later she is bound to begin asking herself whether she is doing right in living with such a man. How long can his wife and children respect him? Sooner or later, it seems likely, he is going to feel their ridicule. And it will hurt. The article ends with a warning to parents — one to which the Republican Party of Texas would gladly give support. These articles may be quaint now, but, style aside, they sometimes seem more contemporary than we’d like to believe. It’s hard to say what’s changed.

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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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