TGF Rerun: Tabloids & Men’s Soft Core Mags — Part Two

| May 28, 2012
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Star of An "Odd Ball" ca.1957

Part One


This is the second installment of our series 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.

Like the cockroach, tabloids are ubiquitous and indestructible. National Enquirer has been around for over seventy years. It and its sisters in sensationalism can be found in every supermarket, late night convenience store and drug store chain in the country. A generation ago newsstands would display only the titles of such soft core smut. The covers with their daring photos and provocative headlines were guiltily hidden behind other magazines or sheets of cardboard. Often you couldn’t even handle the magazines without asking the clerk for a copy. Now anyone can read that Elvis and Space Aliens were seen hunting Big Foot and see amazing un-retouched photos while waiting to have a prescription filled at Walgreen’s.

And in those thrilling days of yesteryear the transgendered were a recurring theme in the tabloids and other soft-core porn, as we are today. It’s interesting how very little the subject matter of these publications has changed. Papers from 30 or 35 years ago feature stories about the end of the world or the dead sea scrolls, just as they do today. But it is amazing to realize all the mileage they’ve been able to get out of people like Frank Sinatra or Elizabeth Taylor. Who’d have thought that these stars would keep selling as well as the Loch Ness monster.

In the first article of our series we examined 17 articles published between 1954 and 1971, trying to discern the tabloid’s opinion of crossdressing in public. It was pretty grim. The focus was on crossdressers as criminals or prostitutes. Though there was some even-handed coverage, words like prance, screech, unprincipled, unscrupulous, fag and queer abound. “You have profaned the house of God, outraged the decencies of Nature and broken the laws of man,” an English bankruptcy court Judge told Valerie Barker, who had been living as a man for six years. But no matter how strident the tone, it pales before the descriptions of drag balls.

In our sample of 89 articles there are fewer article about drag balls and parties than any other subject; only 7, about 8% of the total, less than half the number about public crossdressing. It should be noted again that in many cases we have only a clipping, not an entire magazine. So there are times we can’t provide the name of the magazine, even though we have the article.

TG at 1960 Event

Several of the articles that mention drag queens are about big carnival-like celebrations, such as the annual Bal Fantastique presented by Artists’ Equity Association, a New York charity event for artists and art students which started in the 1920s. These events are filled with all kinds of costumed revelers, not just drag queens. There are photos of topless harem girls, lingerie pussy cats, kissing bi-racial couples, pantless gang molls wearing little more than motorcycle jackets, seamed hose and heels, plus photo of two of drag queens for good measure. The usual editorial attitude is, Look at the freaks!

In The Waldorf’s ‘Undress’ Ball by Clarence Addams (Mr. Magazine, vol. 5, #2, Dec. 1960, p. 26) the text digresses wildly. With little to say about the events the articles ramble from explanations of Mardi Gras and Octoberfest to descriptions of the ball scene from Strauss’ Die Fledermaus or costumes from Mexico City. In some of these articles the drag queens get off pretty easy. Drag is accepted as a matter of course.

Mr. Magazine reports that: “As is customary, a number of boys came dressed as girls and showed a fiendish desire to be photographed in their gay attire.” In another article, The Ball That Rocked Them All, author John Turner finds nothing amiss in crossdressing. Since costumes were the order of the evening, these gents had a ball merely by masquerading in fancy feminine attire. As someone said, clothes make the woman!

The publishers seem to get lots of use out of some of the drag shots. Once you start looking, they turn up everywhere. One photo, featured in The Waldorf’s ‘Undress’ Ball by Clarence Addams (Mr. Magazine, vol. 5, #2, Dec. 1960, p. 26), has really gotten around. The model is wearing a skin-tight pink mesh number festooned with large pearls and topped by ostrich feathers. Beside appearing in Mr. Magazine, a soft-core men’s photo magazine, this photo also appears in at least five additional magazines aimed at the gender community between 1963 and 1967. The first is in an article entitled Wildest Ball of Them All in Female Mimics (vol. 1, #2, p. 26, 1963). Female Mimics runs a different photo of the same model and costume in a ball retrospective the same year. (vol. 1, #3, p. 26, 1963). The next year, 1964, the original photo graces a digest size photo book called Queens in Drag – Female Impersonators…on Parade published by S-K Books. In 1965 Female Mimics vol. 1, #2 is reprinted as Boys Will Be Girls (vol. 1, #2, Aug-Sept, 1965), but since the title and covers are the only change, the photo is again in print. Female Mimics does another ball retrospective in 1967 (vol. 1, #10, p. 27, 1967) and, of course, the photo runs yet another time. That’s getting the most out of an image.

Other articles are more censorious like Bohemians Invade Hollywood, which claims that an odd ball group of ‘intellectual’ dilettantes…moved, en masse, from GREENWICH VILLAGE to HOLLYWOOD — much to the satisfaction of even the most liberal minded New Yorkers. Now it is the citizens of Hollywood — to whom the unusual and bizarre are commonplace — who are shocked. It seems the transplants are supporting themselves by staging outrageous parties. Everyone is welcome to these orgiastic affairs — as long as they can pay the price of admission. And, of course, transvestites are common sights at these wild affairs. Aren’t crossdressers de rigueur at an orgy?

Articles about drag balls can take on a decidedly nastier tone. There are three ball articles, only slightly more than 3% of our sample. All three of them are clippings. It seems likely that anyone who kept a crossgender scrapbook wouldn’t miss an article about a drag ball. This means that these stories weren’t that popular. Maybe the readers didn’t want to see smiling ball queens, fresh after hours of primping. Perhaps they enjoyed the guilty, ashamed faces of crossdressers in custody. There are three times as many stories about blackmail and murder as drag balls. The readers and editors would rather see us in misery, than in joy. But in spite of the fun everyone is having in the pictures, these articles paint a depraved picture of transgendered behavior, which they regard as almost sub-human. Each one worse than the last.

"First Prize Winner Billie Baker"

The most benign, though still pretty snide, story is from a bawdy, silly nudie magazine called Photographers Odd Ball. The feature is called, Oddest Ball of the Year (vol. 1, #1, 1957, p. 39). The table of contents describes it as a pictorial goof. The text is in the form of an apologia. Let’s be kind and call it an attempt at humor. Illytch, the staff photographer, was sent to:

find a bevy of pinup material…he blunders into a curious conclave in a big renovated barn beneath the Polo Grounds (which ought to have a significance that momentarily escapes us…spends an entire precious evening clicking away…runs his rolls (it should have been his head) through the developer…and the next thing we know — it’s printed!…Imagine our consternation! …Life sure is becoming complicated.

No matter what the text says, the photos are not bad and they make the event look like fun: lovely outfits, beautiful queens, camping, cleavage, one woman in drag who looks like an extra from the Godfather and First prize winner ‘Billie’ Baker with two huge ostrich feather fans. ‘Marcelle’ Steven & friend seem to be having a wonderful time as they cavort for the crowd outside the hall. Throughout the captions they put femme names in quotes. Maybe it makes them look cuter, like having dimpled cheeks.

Transvestite Ball records a Chicago event. There are many similarities between this article and the last. In both the photos show people having a wonderful time. There’s a photo of the winners (this time with trophies), one drag king among the queens and even another mention of the gawkers. More than 1,000 transvestites crowded into the smoke-filled ballroom where they twisted, drank, and made love while the band played and curious ‘normal’ people were held outside by cordons of police.

The queens are in gowns with long gloves and stoles, the men in tuxedoes, no chorus girls or French maids at this event. The poses look almost formal, no camping or cavorting. It could be a Court System coronation. Even so, the guests are described as orgy-goers. We are told that the revelers can never give their real names, as many are professional people who are prominent in their communities. There are also a great many couples who live together the woman assuming the role of the husband, and the man playing the role of the wife.

The article has a problem with definitions. When describing the people at the ball they say that, “Most are lovers — working as normal men and women during the day, but rushing home at night so they can change into the clothes of the opposite sex.” So that’s what lovers do! They also define transvestites –” those boys who yearn to be girls, and girls who wish they were men.” Even though there is no author credited, since they mixed up transvestite and transsexual, we can be reasonably sure it wasn’t Virginia Prince or a member of the Tri-Ess Board of Directors.

The premise of the article is that these people can only come out one night a year, kind of like goblins walking the earth on Halloween or Mr. Hanky on South Park. One queen claims that:

All year long, we watch our weight, pamper our skin, tape our feet so they will fit into high-heels, and wear heavy bandages around our chests so that the skin is pushed upward until it resembles a woman’s bust.…Then for weeks before the ball, we tape various parts of the leg, so that we force the flesh upward into a more feminine shape. With practice it’s possible to walk in such a way that little-used muscles (which are very well-developed in a woman’s legs) stand out, while muscles that normally bulge in a man’s leg, hardly show at all.

What a regimen! It must be like having a tape habit! Taping your feet, chest and legs everyday! Is there a Freudian interpretation to taping the legs? What brand of tape do they use? Tuck?

The drag kings get off a bit easier.

We tape our breasts so that we appear flat-chested…We don’t apply any make-up…we very carefully apply padding so that it appears we have the muscles of a man, and if possible, we spend a great deal of time outdoors so that the weather can roughen up our faces.

Not too specific about which muscles, says Dr. Freud. And, not to insult the dedication of the drag kings, but it would be more fun to get packed and go for long walks than to sit around the house pampering your skin all wrapped up like a mummy.

The article call us maladjusted and ends in a pathetic portrait, The ball lasts for one night, and the next morning finds the transvestite back in his (or her) normal routine of desiring to be something he (or she) isn’t. So either you is a man or you is a woman or you just isn’t. In their polarized mindset it’s as if anyone not strictly male and masculine or female and feminine ceases to exist.

Sorry to end on a sour note, but the final article is vicious, New York’s Fancy Faggot Fracas by Lance Rockwell. The event, billed simply as a Costume Ball, took place in Greenwich Village at Chateau Gardens where the management:

will rent the place to anybody who has the price – no matter how screwy they may be. Last February the place was the site of the national convention of the Communist party…to figure out how to take over the White House — or blow it up, or something. The Marxists had hardly finished…when the boys and ‘girls’ shown on these pages minced in.

We’ve become America’s greatest threat, exploited as the embodiment of the Cold War’s worst fear, the dread Pinko/Commie/Faggot/Drag Queen. It’s like a carnival barker in front of the freak show saying, Step right up ladies and gentlemen (and, folks, every night you should get down on your knees and thank God you can tell the difference). Step inside and see the end to your way of life.

The photos in this piece look wilder. The guests are described as hundreds of flaming faggots. Everyone is in motion. There’s dancing in the ballroom and on the stairs. Queens camp it up at the urinals. There are prominent limp wrists, queens on men’s laps and the fashion parade looked more like a strip show. But what else can you expect from an event where, “There were few guests who didn’t have sexual inclinations as weird as the garments they wore. By the end of the evening, Buoyed up with booze, the gay boys became flittier and more flirtatious. It’s no wonder that, As the hour gets late and the boys just too gay, we say ‘bye to Fagville.’”

Linking rampant homophobia and transphobia to the Red Menace explains a lot of things, like why homosexuals and gender nonconformists became the scapegoats of the right after the Communist empire fell. Or why politicians link us to the most unacceptable behavior they can imagine, like pedophilia. Or why some churches’ opposition has taken on the proportions of a jihad. This article shows that the equation of transgender behavior with a threat to society already existed. Crossgendered criminals or prostitutes weren’t vilified to this extent in other articles. It was the photos of men dancing with men or sitting on each others laps or couples completely reversing their gender roles that elicited this response. When you couple homosexuality with transgendered behavior it’s as though society’s reaction doesn’t increase arithmetically, but exponentially. Hate doesn’t simply double, it increases by the square.



Drag at Balls and Parties (1957 – 1960) – 6 (7%)

1. Oddest Ball of the Year photos by Illytch, staff photographer
(Photographers Odd Ball, vol. 1 # 1. 1957, p. 39, Skye Publishing Co., NYC)
one clipping & one complete magazine

2. The Ball That Rocked ‘Em All by John Turner
Artists’ Equity Ball, mixed event
two drag photos: couple (devil & queen) and four queens
The four queen photo is also in:
Queens in Drag – Female Impersonators…on Parade, 1964, S-K Books,
In this digest the event is called the Art Student’s Ball, held in
Manhattan each year under the auspices of the Art Student’s
League of NY. annual event since the mid-1920’s
The Balls That Make New York Flip from Female Mimics vol. 1,
#3, 1963, p. 20, Selbee Assoc, NYC, Artists Equity and the Art
Students League balls
3. Bohemians Invade Hollywood
mixed event, one drag photo of three queens
4. New York’s Fancy Faggot Fracas
held at Chateau Gardens last February
5. Transvestites Ball
6. The Waldorf’s ‘Undress’ Ball by Clarence Addams
(Mr. Magazine, vol. 5, #2, Dec. 1960, p. 26, Mr. Magazine Inc., NYC)
annual Bal Fantastique given at the Waldorf-Astoria by Artists Equity Assoc
two photos of queens (possibly)
two photos are also in #3 (The Ball That Rocked ‘Em All)
two other photos show same person as #3, but in different shots here

One photo from #6 is also in:
a. Boys Will Be Girls vol. 1, #2, p. 26, Aug-Sept, 1965, Selbee Assoc, NY
Wildest Ball of Them All, Beggers’ Ball
which has the same contents as
b. Female Mimics vol. 1, #2, p. 26, 1963, Selbee Assoc, NY
c. Female Mimics #3, p. 26, 1963 (same person/outfit, different pose)
from same Artists Equity and the Art Students League balls refered
to in #3 above
d. Female Mimics #10, p. 27, 1967 (same person/outfit, same pose as c.
above) retrospective of Art Student’s Artist’s and Model’s Balls
e. Queens in Drag – Female Impersonators…on Parade, 1964, S-K Books,
In this digest the event is called the Art Student’s Ball, held in
Manhattan each year under the auspices of the Art Student’s
League of NY. annual event since the mid-1920’s

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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.

Comments (1)

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  1. dina dina says:

    Mr. Bob, I love the photos of TG’s and DQ’s of a now bygone era that mimic’ed the women of my formative years. The stylized wigs, the tight dresses, the “innocent” looks on the ladies. Well done.