Virginia Speaks

©1987 by Virginia Prince. The thumbnail photo appeared on the cover of Richard Ekins’ and Dave King’s Virginia Prince: Pioneer of Transgendering (2006, CRC Press).

Your editor is working on a remembrance of Virginia Prince as a complement to this post. When finished, it will appear here in Chrysalis.

I recently came across this remarkable speech by Virginia Prince in a book of transcripts from the first IFGE Coming Together conference. It was delivered on March 7, 1987.

Held in Chicago, the IFGE conference was arguably the first time transsexuals and crossdressers met on common ground and in considerable numbers. Out of this commonality a network of support groups, advocacy organizations, and nonprofits quickly grew and began to examine and refine the prevailing wisdom about both crossdressing and transsexualism. Within five years this community had advanced the term transgender as an umbrella definition for this new community and it had already come into wide use. The pathology-based model of transsexualism was under attack and giving way to a new healthy-person model; and new identity options had become available for gender-variant people.

Virginia was a polarizing figure in the transgender community. She had an abrasive personality and her leadership style was  autocratic and domineering. She policed the many groups she started, purging gay crossdressers and transsexuals from the ranks. This prevented formation of true community for more than fifteen years– and yet her positive contributions were many and sometimes legion. Without her work we would not be in the same place. I’m not sure where we would be, but most likely I wouldn’t be writing this post and you wouldn’t be reading it.

The homophobia for which Virginia was famous doesn’t show in this 1987 speech, but her sexism certainly does. Her ideas about manhood and womanhood are firmly mired in the 1950s, as you will see as you read on. Transsexuals– most of them, anyway– will be outraged that she considers us men who crossdress. And yet she does a marvelous job tracing the history of the new community and laying out a course of action for the future that foreshadows contemporary thinking.

So far as I know, this is the first appearance of her speech since the release of the 1987 IFGE conference transcript book. I’ve done some light editing; consequently, I’ve included a PDF of the relevant pages from the program book. I’ve also added end notes.

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Or Where We Were, Where We Are, Where We Might Go in the Future

A Keynote by Virginia Prince, Ph.D. at the First IFGE Conference

7 March, 1987, Chicago


Hello, My Sisters! [1] (There is an enthusiastic “Hello Virginia” from the audience.)

Where We Were

Virginia Prince in 1948.

Virginia Prince in 1948

Let me start out by welcoming you not just to a gathering of crossdressers in Chicago in March of 1987, but to what we may all hope becomes a historical occasion. [2] It is rather fitting that I should have been asked to give the keynote address at this convention because I opened one era for people like us when I started to publish Transvestia in 1960. Today I am participating in the closure of that era and the opening of a new one. But, following my title, let us start with where we were 27 years ago.

Crossdressing has occurred all down the ages and in all cultures. Those individuals who practiced it and who have come to our attention through historical records were usually isolated. The situation was still that way in 1960. I had come to know about eight or ten other crossdressers because we used to visit one of our number who was on welfare and had a rather beaten-up house in Long Beach, California. So, when in 1960 I decided there ought to be a publication for people like myself, I approached these people and asked them to mention the idea to their contacts. I asked four dollars for a year’s subscription; over the next two months the number of subscribers reached 25 and I felt it was time to proceed. So, issue number one of Transvestia Magazine came off the press. Twenty-five subscribers at four dollars each meant the venture started with $100 of capital. Issue #1 consisted of 61 pages, which my secretary typed, and which was then photocopied.

By asking all subscribers to recommend the magazine to their friends, by some small advertising effort, and mostly by hope, Transvestia gradually grew. With issue No. 5, we had our first cover girl. Her name was Annette, and some of you knew her. We also had internal pictures.

At the time Transvestia was begun you couldn’t find ten transvestites [3] in one room at one time anywhere in the world. That was 27 years ago, and now look at us here. Progress has indeed been made.

A preview of our gathering here today occurred in 1962, when an early friend of mine named Susanna opened her resort in the Catskills for a famous weekend; some 62 TVs gathered.[4] My clearest memory of that event was waking in the morning and going to the bathroom, only to find it crowded with about 10 of the “girls” in nighties, slips, panties, bras, and the like, all trying to see themselves in the mirror while trying to shave. It was so crowded that they missed their own cheeks and cut the girl [5] beside them.

Dr. Wendell Pomeroy, one of the original Kinsey researchers, was there too, and was heard to remark afterward that it had been the most asexual weekend he had ever spent. I mention this because it illustrated the general conception amongst professionals at the time that crossdressing was done primarily for sexual reasons; it was therefore expected that some kind of erotic activity would be going on behind every bush. Of course, everybody was having too much fun just being girls to worry about sexuality, and I think the experience was not lost on the good doctor and other non-TVs who were there. [6]

The following year, Susanna repeated the performance and I took the occasion to announce the formation of the Foundation for Personality Expression. This was the first organization for crossdressers in this or, as far as I know, in any other country. Chapters were formed in many cities; over the years other groups formed on their own or sometimes broke away from FPE. As most of you know, in 1980 we renamed the group The Society for the Second Self, or Tri-Ess for short. FPE still survives in Scandinavia, where I helped establish the group called FPE of Northern Europe. They, too, have an annual gathering at a resort with 60 to 80 attendees. The Beaumont Society in England, formed by British members of FPE, has also survived for nearly 20 years and has chapters all over England. It got its first rush of members as a result of an interview I gave to The Manchester Guardian, in which I mentioned the group; they had 30 or 40 applications. Another group of former FPE members started a TV group in Australia. They named it  The Seahorse Society because I had selected the Seahorse as our symbol, since it is the male seahorse that guards and brings up the young. [7] Recently, a former member set up the Femme Travestie Society in Switzerland. So we are not alone in being organized in the United States.

As a result of these organizational activities and the publications that resulted from them, crossdressers in all the Western countries now at least know there are organizations, that they are not alone, and that if they wish to do so they can meet and associate with others of the same persuasion.

I mention these things not to brag of my part in them, but simply to review the situation as it was, the yesterday in the title of this talk. It all started with 25 members scattered across the country, and it has grown to many hundreds of members of several dozens of groups, some of which are chapters of Tri Ess, and others which are independent organizations. Those early efforts have paid off far beyond my imaginings of 1960.

Where We Are

Dallas Denny, Virginia Prince, and Ari Kane, 1st Intl. Congress, 1993

Dallas Denny, Virginia Prince, and Ari Kane in 1993

So much for yesterday. What of today?

Today we have several focal points in what Ariadne Kane [8] likes to call our paraculture. Beginning at about the same time a dozen years ago, Ariadne and other members of the groups in Boston put together Fantasia Fair in Provincetown, and Marilyn in Seattle put together the DREAM gathering on the Oregon coast.[9] These two gatherings were on opposite sides of the continent and were quite different in other ways too. DREAM took place in a fancy leased group of condominiums where the participants lived in some pretty fancy apartments but didn’t mingle with the outside world. Fantasia Fair, on the other hand, is in a resort city which is tolerant of gays and other minorities and where the participants are free to wander around town on their own, visiting shops and restaurants like any other tourist. The interesting thing about that experience is no TV passes in Provincetown for the simple reason that the only ladies in town who wear dresses, heels, and makeup are the TVs. All the local women and most of the tourists who come to visit the town are in slacks and flat shoes and not particularly feminine as we would define it.[10]

I will put in a plug for the Fair at this point because it is an experience all of you who have not been able to get out on the town elsewhere should have.

These two pioneering groups were followed by the formation of the Tiffany Club in Boston, which also held special events in Provincetown. In due course there were weekend affairs organized in various places like the Poconos in Pennsylvania and Shangri-La and Tri Ess gatherings in New Orleans and San Francisco. Groups in the Bay area, in upstate New York, in Orange County in California, and others I’ve probably forgotten have gatherings from time to time.

The mid-continent, not to be outdone by the East or West coast, has its Be All You Can Be weekend. The Be All is sponsored by four separate groups: the Chi Chapter of Tri Ess, Crossroads in Michigan, Paradise Club in Ohio, and TransPitt in Pennsylvania. The gathering last year had 191 attendees, of which there were something like 41 couples, and was, I’m sure, the largest gathering of crossdressers that has ever occurred anywhere at any time. It was also outstanding in the large number of wives and girlfriends who attended. [11] [12]

On the publishing side, there is still Transvestia, now published by my friend Carol Beecroft, and Tapestry, published by the person who has been the instigator and driving force behind this convention, Merissa Sherrill Lynn. Tapestry has become a respectable-sized magazine, and one which serves all shades of opinion in our culture.[13] And of course there are a number of newsletters put out by the various chapters and groups around the country. The amount of printed material available today is considerable, and no crossdresser anywhere need be without at least correspondent contacts even if she lives in the middle of the badlands of the Dakotas. [14]

Unfortunately, there are a lot of other publications which directly relate sex and crossdressing and which don’t improve our image.[15] Not that CDs aren’t as sexual as anyone else, but unfortunately there are many shrinks, as well as the lay public who think the only reason we crossdress is to get our sexual kicks. When so many magazines of this type appear, it tends to vindicate their position and thus blinds them and the rest of the public to any understanding of the real nature and purpose of crossdressing. [16]

The other aspect of our contact with the main stream lies in appearances and lectures. As most of you know, I initiated such appearances on radio and TV back in the early sixties. In fact, probably a fair number of you here today first learned there were others like yourself and there were publications and groups for people like you either from catching one of my appearances or hearing about me from a friend. Out of curiosity, will those of you who made your first contact through one of my appearances please raise your hands? (Nearly one-half of the audience raised their hands. )

I exposed myself like that so others could find me and because I had no means of finding them.[17] [18] I guess I must have made about one hundred appearances around the country between 1963 and 1970. I didn’t mind doing it in those days, but once I started living full time as Virginia and traveling around the world with tour groups, I had to stop it. When I could retire back into the personality of Charles, I felt fairly safe I wouldn’t be recognized as also being Virginia– but once I started living full-time as Virginia and traveling around the world with tour groups I had to stop it because I couldn’t take the chance some member of the tour group might have seen me on a show and would recognize me. Since I often had to share rooms with other women, you can picture the consternation that recognition would have caused. [19]

Fortunately, there are many other individuals now in all parts of the country who have followed me and appeared on various TV and radio shows to spread the word. Since two of the most effective and experienced of those performers are in our audience today, and because they have done such a good job of carrying the word to the public on many occasions and on many shows, I think they should be acknowledged. I refer, of course, to Naomi Owens and Eve Burchart, whom most of you know. This is not to overlook the many others who have appeared, but with the exception of Ariadne of the Outreach Institute and Carol Beecroft of Tri Ess, and Betty Ann Lind of Our Sorority, I don’t know the names of most of them. We all owe a debt to any of our sisters who will do this, since making appearances where they can be seen, be questioned, and have a chance to present themselves as intelligent, friendly, and non-threatening individuals are one of the few ways open to us to make our position known to the general public. I salute all those who have been brave enough to do this, and I hope many more of you will in the future. [20]

I think I can take a little credit for educating a number of professional people through lectures given to various medical school classes, regular university classes and private organizations, and through presenting papers to professional societies and publishing in professional journals. Of recent years I have been joined in this endeavor by several others. Two who come to mind are Ariadne Kane and Dr. Roger Peo. There are probably others I don’t know about and thus can’t acknowledge, but whose efforts we should appreciate. [21,]

I can’t leave this review of where we are at the moment without a word about my research surveys, to which many of you have contributed. The first was a survey of 504 cases of transvestism. I presented it to the American Psychiatric Convention in Honolulu in 1965 and it was subsequently published in Psychological Reports in 1972 as an article co-authored with Dr. Peter Bentler of UCLA.[22] The current project has by now been responded to by over 700 of our sisters and is in the process of being computerized by my collaborator, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of New York.[23] This is a terribly long job when you consider there were 52 questions and on average about 5 parts to each– so 5 x 52 x 700 = about 180,000 entries. That explains why the results won’t be available for perhaps another year. They will be submitted to both Transvestia and Tapestry for publication, and to an as-yet-unidentified professional journal. [24] The large number of responses should make a real contribution to professional knowledge of the subject.

Well so much for the past and present. There are probably areas and contributors I’ve overlooked. No offense is intended by such oversights. There are lots of things I don’t know and others I don’t remember.

Where We Might Go in the Future

Vern Bullough and Virginia Prince and Sandy Samons and Alison Laing 2 2004_0331_223114AA

Virginia explains her theory of cosmology to Sandra Samons at the IFGE conference in 2004. In the background, Alison Laing and Vern Bullough have tuned out.

The main thrust of this convention is the future. Where do we go from here? Do we just keep struggling along as we have for the last twenty-seven years, with a few public activities, a few publications, and a bunch of widely-scattered social groups which have no real goals individually or collectively? Or, alternatively, do we come to see the activity of crossdressing and those who practice it as something more than just a kind of weird behavior on the part of some isolated and in some way abnormal individuals?[25] This has been the situation throughout history. But history is a process of building up some aspect of human life or social behavior little by little until a situation comes to pass in which slow quantitative change relatively suddenly develops into a qualitative change. This change of quantity into quality is a philosophical proposition which occurs over and over again in both nature and human relations. [26]

My reason for bringing this up in the present connection is I think our movement, if you will permit the term, is ready to undergo such a change. But the movement made is up to you, the individuals, so for the movement to change, you– the individuals– have to change. Individual drops of water don’t move, but when many come together in one place, the pool starts to move. That is what we are doing at this convention. The pool is made up of many drops–each of you–so for the pool to start to flow, to become a movement, you individual drops have to move. [27]

I’m not suggesting you change your way of living. I neither want you to suddenly go down to the office in heels and a chiffon formal or to tell all the neighbors and relatives about your crossdressing. No, I don’t want you to change what you do, I just want you change what you think! After all, there is an old saying–“As a man thinketh, so is he.” If I can change your thinking, I will change you.

“So what do I have to do?” you ask. It’s easy! All you have to do is to stop thinking of yourself and other crossdressers as kind of kookie, as something of an oddball because you do something most other men neither do nor understand, or as a sort of psychological and medical curiosity. All of us have entertained these and similar ideas in the past, and many of us still do. But the times they are a-changin’, so the song says, and it’s time for us to stop looking upon the act of crossdressing in these negative ways.

“Well what other ways are there?” you ask.

Every one of you is well-acquainted with the idea of women’s liberation, and I expect most of you support and some of you are members of the National Organization for Women. But few men or women have stopped to consider that men need liberation even more than women. Men don’t know it because, being the ruling class, it never occurs to them that there is any better place to be than where they are–the nobles of society. With women having been the peasants of society, and having served the nobles for thousands of years, the possibility of their wanting to change their status is both reasonable and clear. But if you are born a noble, how can you improve on that? What is better is to be a free noble, and not one bound to a centuries-old set of behaviors, expectations, requirements, and lifestyles that prevent men from ever realizing a lot of their own potentials. Yes, men need liberation, but not in the same way as women. Women have needed liberation to— that is, the freedom to do the kind of work that interests them, to become a professional person like a doctor, a lawyer, or a scientist, or to go into politics and government at local, state and federal levels. They needed to learn how to stand on their own feet, make something of themselves, and to be independent persons, not appendages to some male, father, brother, or husband. And those possibilities have largely been achieved. [28] [29]

But men already have these things. Men need liberation from, not to. They need escape from the conceptions of manliness as one who is supposed to now about all manner of things, who is able to handle almost any situation, who is there to comfort others not as strong as he, to provide a shoulder to cry on and an encouraging pat on the back and words of cheer. He is expected to always be strong, capable of handling whatever may arise and to be a leader. If he falls too far behind his peers in these ways he is regarded as a wimp or a pantywaist by other men and his self-esteem drops proportionately. It’s liberation from these expectations that men need. If such liberation should be achieved some day, men would be able to be and do what they felt like being and doing and not what society or other men tried to get them to be. This would be reflected in their work, their attitudes toward others, the kind and degree of expectations that would show up in independence of behavior, interests and dress. A society composed of both liberated women and liberated men would indeed be a remarkable place to live. [30]

Well that’s all very nice, you say, but what has it got to do with us? The answer is everything, because as crossdressers you are already well on the way toward that goal. Any man who is held captive by others or by ideas and customs has enemies– namely his captors, masters and concepts. Thus, in the drive to live up to society’s expectations of masculinity, there is one big enemy– one’s own femininity. This is any man’s greatest enemy because it is diametrically opposed to the masculinity he is expected to feel and manifest to others. Thus, ever since a boy was called a sissy or watched what happened to some other boy who was so labeled, he has made a great effort never to let that happen again. This leads either to isolation out of fear, going through life in frustration and anger with accompanying physiological symptoms of ulcers, heart attacks, and other conditions, 0r at the extreme the development of the overcompensating attitude we call machoism where, by making enough noise, attracting enough attention, and doing enough daring and possibly destructive or criminal things, a man proves he is a real man.

The result is that for most men their biggest enemy is their own inner femininity because its discovery would destroy them in the eyes of other men. It’s well-known men don’t develop physically close relationships with other men as women do with other women. Men don’t show emotions such as hurt, grief, fear, or tenderness lest such manifestations be taken as a sign of weakness–read femininity. Thus, men keep other men at a physical and psychological distance, just as a moat around a castle keeps the enemy out. This is done because should the invader get inside the moat he might destroy the castle’s owner. Should another man manage to penetrate a man’s psychological defenses, he might, just might discover something about that man which could be interpreted as not sufficiently masculine, which is to say, somewhat feminine. That information in the hands of another man would destroy the victim’s self-esteem. You all understand what I’m talking about because you’ve gone to great lengths to keep your crossdressing secret from brother, father, coach, boss, and friends lest they decide you were indeed too feminine and not a real man. Have you ever reflected on the fact that you can hold hands, hug or give a hello or goodbye kiss to another crossdresser if you’ve both dressed, but you wouldn’t think of doing the same thing if you were both dressed in men’s clothes? That’s because you’ve escaped from those masculine expectations and requirements when you are dressed as a woman. But unknowingly, you behave that way when dressed because you can behave that way. It’s a touch of freedom.

Well where does this leave us as far as the future of crossdressers is concerned? It leaves me with the feeling that I want to get all of you to see yourselves in a different light– not on the defensive and apologetic side concerning your feminine interests, but on the aggressive, proud and self-confident side. And why not? Crossdressers of whatever persuasion, gay or straight, TVs, TGs, or TSs are in point of fact the very vanguard of mens’ Liberation. Why? Because we have faced up to that enemy, our own inner femininity that frightens so many men. My personal comment about myself is, “I have met the enemy and she is me.” All of us have met this erstwhile enemy that so concerns other men and we have made a degree of peace with her. We’ve given her real-time existence and three-dimensional reality and we enjoy her when she is present. In this process we have to a degree and for the time being literally been liberated from all that masculinity that so encumbers the lives of other men and our lives– when our femme-self is not present.

If we can begin to see our activity in the positive light of being a liberation movement all men will someday enjoy and that we are simply first in the field, we can see ourselves as pointing the way to others. Now let me hastily make a statement before you misinterpret the above. I’m definitely not saying what we do– namely wearing dresses, heels and makeup– should be done by all other men. That’s not it at all. It’s merely the technique we’ve developed to contend with the repression society puts on us to conform. However, we sometimes place more importance on the clothing than is warranted. Clothing, besides keeping the wearer both warm and modest, is only a kind of admission ticket to a certain way of life. Women’s clothing is a means to an end, not an end in itself. To most crossdressers, whether they know it or not, the feminine clothing simply gets them out of jail so they can, for a limited time, be the kind of person they cannot be the rest of the time. Ideal liberation for both men and women is not to become women or men respectively, but to achieve the right to express and enjoy any of the various ways people can react to life without having to deal with the labels masculine or feminine.

Merissa has suggested that we need to become a real community, and I agree. A community is a group of people with common interests, common goals, and some consensus on how to achieve them. In the past we’ve been just a disorganized group of people with common interests, but not common goals, because we’ve not taken the trouble to think beyond ourselves. We have enjoyed our pleasures and suffered our guilts on a personal level, never really asking why there are so many others with the same interests and the same fears and guilts. We are a community without really knowing it. What we really need to do to become a true community is to realize: a) each of us is one of a large number; b) both the pleasures and the pains are shared with others, and c) we all have a common opponent–the social idea that men should not try to become whole human beings by developing their yins as well as their yangs, to use the Chinese terms, but rather should be satisfied to remain only half humans–nobles who live in their castles on the cold but stimulating mountain tops, never to enjoy the flowers and the warmth of the meadows below.

I see this convention as a kind of collimating lens–one that receives light coming in from many directions and sends it out in one direction. That is, it makes all beams parallel. We come to this convention not only from all geographic directions, but from many different psychological directions too. We are of various persuasions regarding our dressing. Some among us are gay. Most are just straight TVs. A few of us are transgenderists, and some are postoperative transsexuals. Naturally, the views of these various groups are diverse and each of us is primarily concerned about the meaning and importance of crossdressing to our own selves and our own group. This means each group presents a different picture to society, and society is therefore confused. A society that is confused and doesn’t quite understand something will react negatively to it in order to protect its own values, which it does understand.

The various types of people who make up our subculture should therefore recognize we have a common opponent and we would all be better off if we could present a common front to society in the hope it could learn to understand us, hopefully to accept us, but at a minimum, to just let us do our thing. To bring this about we have to stop confusing society with multiple presentations and differing explanations which induce society’s negative reactions. To do this we have to find the common denominator between gay and straight crossdressers, and between full-time transgenderists and pre- and post-op transsexuals. In short, we have to markedly reduce the internal strife and polarization between the various types of  crossdressers. Like the collimated beam of laser light, all of us must face in the same direction and realize the real antagonists are not each other but social ignorance, misunderstanding, and opposition. We have to find what we all have in common and present this to society in a way that will educate the ignorant, provide a rationale for understanding our crossdressing, and thereby undermine its opposition.

From where I sit it no longer seems of vital importance whether you are gay or straight. That’s a personal decision basically unrelated to dressing. It isn’t really important whether you dress intermittently according to desire and opportunity, as most of you do, or whether you live full time as I and some others do, nor is it important whether you plan on or have achieved sex reassignment surgery. The common thread running through all these lifestyles is the need and desire to express and experience one’s own self-concept and total potential. In doing so we can become both better and more complete human beings.

Once we have a common understanding of what we are accomplishing when we dress, we can accept a common goal, which is to make society understand there is a need in our society for people to be free and to be complete. This doesn’t mean just political freedom or racial freedom, but social freedom–the freedom to express whatever is part of oneself as long as other people’s rights and freedoms are not trod upon in the process.

Gender as an outgrowth of sex and the division of labor in life’s tasks served a useful purpose for past generations, but under modern economic and social conditions, with modern knowledge and modern understanding of ourselves and the world we live in, gender is pretty much an anachronism. Sexual differences of anatomy, physiology, and psychology will remain, of course, but distinctions of social expectation, requirements, and limitations as to life styles, interests, talents, dress, and occupations will slowly disappear. This is already visible in the younger set. If you were an 18 year old TV today, how would you dress to satisfy your desire to be like a girl? About all you could do would be to wear two earrings instead of one, like the boys do. Young women of today wear little makeup or jewelry and many of them have boyish haircuts. They dress, act, drink, smoke, swear, and give you the finger if they get angry at you just like the boys do. About the only differences left are those based on anatomy. Boys wear jockstraps and girls wear bras.

I’d like to see each of you leave this convention and start your own personal tomorrow with a new outlook on your crossdressing– namely, that it isn’t a kinky behavior, that it isn’t sick, that in itself it isn’t an indicator of sexual partner preference, but rather, that crossdressing is merely a means of your achieving a condition of more complete human­ness. Be proud of the fact that you are in fact one cut above other men, not below them, by virtue of having discovered the other side of yourself. You are one of the leaders of mens’ liberation because you, too, have met the enemy, made a degree of peace with her, given her real life, and brought her to this gathering. And as I look out over this crowd of “enemies,” I hope I am looking at the future commanders of the real war–the war to achieve full human status for both men and women. Remember– if you can imagine something, it is human. If something is possible, it is human. If it is desirable and satisfying, it is human. If it is enjoyable and fulfilling, it is human, and if it indeed is human it ought to be available to all humans regardless of their sex.

Having made that peace with your own enemy, you have more freedom to interact with other people and problems because you now have a handle on both extremes of human nature. You understand the active and the passive, the assertive and the receptive. You have the outer strength to act if the situation warrants it and the inner strength to let the situation pass you by, if that is a more appropriate response. You know from personal experience what it is like to be a man and what the benefits and privileges of being a woman are, and you are able to select whichever pattern you wish at a given time. Moreover, you are beginning to understand that your clothing at the time really has little to do with it. A liberated human, whether in pants or skirts, has a choice between an assertive, attacking reaction to a situation or a passive, accepting and a let-it-go-by reaction. It makes no difference what the sex of the human being is.

So go forth from this convention to your own personal futures, love your enemy as yourself (which she really is), and do your part in our common effort to liberate not only ourselves but all other men.

Dallas’ Notes

[1] There was at least one FTM in the audience– Rupert Raj. Rupert, who lived, and still lives, in Canada, has been a tireless educator about trans issues for the past 40 years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the irritating “Hello ladies” greeting in front of mixed audiences at conferences like Fantasia Fair and IFGE and Southern Comfort.

[2] There were crossdressers in the audience– but there were more than a few transsexuals. Virginia considered transsexuals just another form of crossdresser. It was a peculiar and infuriating blindness of her and it crops up a number of times in her speech.

[3] In 1987, many in the community still used the term transvestite. I’ll give Virginia a pass on this one.

[4] A 2006 The New York Times article by Penelope Green describes how a furniture dealer discovered photos from Susanna’s retreats at a Manhattan flea market and turned them into a book.

[5] Any female over 18 deserves to be called a woman, and not a girl. I suppose that should apply to crossdressers.

[6] In 1969 psychiatrist Hugo Beigel described his experience at Casa Susanna in The Journal of Sex Research (A weekend in Alice’s Wonderland, V. 5, No. 2, pp. 108-122).

[7] Many of the crossdresser-only groups Virginia started, or helped to start, are still in existence. Feel free to Google the organizations she mentioned.

[8] Aridane Kane’s early appearances on The Phil Dohanue Show and other nationally televised programs brought hundreds into the community. Ari, who styles himself (he prefers male pronouns) as an androgyne, provided an alternative to Virginia’s strictly policed heterosexual-only crossdressing groups.

[9] DREAM is, alas, no more, but Fantasia Fair is flourishing.

[10] That is, femininity as she would define it. Virginia had strict sex-typed notions of what was appropriately masculine or feminine. It’s true, however, that heels and purses are rare in Provincetown except during the week the Tall Ships are in town.

[11] To Virginia, everyone was a crossdresser. I’m sure there were plenty of transsexuals at the first Be-All.

[12] Sadly, the Be-All for 2013 was cancelled.

[13] This is a nod to transsexuals.

[14] … but getting back to crossdressers…

[15] That is, which don’t reinforce the image of transpeople as heterosexual and chaste.

[16] Virginia acknowledged the role of eroticism in the early careers of herself and other crossdressers, but emphasized the eventual emergence of a of a nonsexual “woman within.”

[17] In an oral interview in the mid 1990s, Virginia told me how she began her efforts to educate the public about crossdressing. Convicted of a felony (corresponding with another crossdresser through the mails was considered felonious by postal authorities, believe it or not), she was justifiably terrified of having her parole revoked and being sent to prison if she crossdressed in public. She petitioned the court for permission and was granted the right to crossdress when speaking at schools, churches, and civic organizations. When imprisonment was no longer a threat, she continued to speak publicly. The audio recording of my interview with Virgnia is now housed in the Labadie Collection of the University of Michigan Library System.

[18] I wrote about Virginia’s prosecution and conviction in Transgender Tapestry in 2000. Here’s the citation:

Denny, D. (2000, Spring). Virginia’s ordeal. Transgender Tapestry, 1(90), 21-22.

[19] Virginia spent her last few years in an assisted living facility. She was circumspect in her communications because she feared exposure. Above all, she wanted to be considered just another elderly woman in her residence.

[20] And thousands of others indeed have.

[21] In 1987 there were few or no out crossdressing or transsexual academics, medical professionals, or therapists. Ari was an exception, but his credentials were sometimes questioned. He went on to complete a doctoral degree.

[22] So far as I’ve been able to determine, Virginia’s earliest contribution to the professional literature was a 1957 article in The American Journal of Psychotherapy. Here’s the citation, and the citation for her article with Bentler:

Prince, C.V.  (1957).  Homosexuality, transvestism and transsexualism:  Reflections on their etiology and differentiation.  American Journal of Psychotherapy, 11, 80-85.

Prince, C.V., & Bentler, P.M.  (1972).  Survey of 504 cases of transvestism.  Psychological Reports, 31(3), 903-917.

[23] Virginia was most likely referring to The City University of New York or The State University of New York.

[24] I’ve no idea whether the paper was ever completed or submitted.

[25] Transsexuals crossdress, so far as Virginia was concerned. As is clear throughout her speech, she considers transsexuals just another type of crossdresser, just another type of male. Needless to say, this has not made her popular with transsexuals.

[26] Obviously, Virginia had read Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

[27] Well into her 90s, Virginia was taking college classes on physics and cosmology. She often drew upon those disciplines in her writing.

[28] Women have come a long way in their struggle for equality, but we’re still far from that goal today, and we certainly hadn’t achieved parity with men in 1987. Clearly, Virginia’s profound sexism made her blind to the struggles of women. She saw only the struggles of crossdressers.

[29] Virginia is trying to affirm women here. I think you’ll agree she does a poor, poor job.

[30] Virginia’s idea of a society in which men are free from macho bullshit is an admirable one; it’s unfortunate she chose to contrast that with the repression of women. She’s really not that far away, in her vision, from activists of today who want to do away with binary gender roles. The remainder of her talk, mired as it is in her archaic view of manhood and maleness and sexist as it is, is a clarion call for gender equality.


IFGE Transcript Book Pages (PDF)