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Trans Trading Cards: Reed Erickson (1999)

Trans Trading Cards: Reed Erickson (1999)

©1999, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1999, July). Trans trading cards: Reed Erickson. Two-Spirit News: The Newsletter of the Atlanta Gender Explorations Support Group (electronic version).





 Transsexual and Transgender Trading Cards?

Reed Erickson

By Dallas Denny


In the first issue of this e-zine I presented a list of potential candidates for a deck of transgender and transsexual trading cards. Each month I’ll highlight one of the selections.


Reed Erickson’s story, although obscured by time and his history of protecting his privacy, is a fascinating one that was almost lost but is slowly emerging through the historical research of Dr. Aaron Devor, a sociologist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

Reed Erickson's Trading Card


Reed Erickson's Trading Card

Here’s what I’ve learned about Reed; some I already knew, but I learned most of what follows from Aaron.

Reed Erickson was an FTM who transitioned back in the bad old days, the early 1960s. He came from a wealthy family and inherited a lead smelting and recycling business, which he ran for a while and then sold for several million dollars. He bought land which contained petroleum, increasing his fortune. Reed also owned a business making seats for stadiums.

Reed’s money allowed him not only to look into his own gender issue, but gave him the financial resources to develop programs for himself and others. Reed was deeply interested in transsexualism, and more importantly, transsexuals. He was also fascinated by UFOs, parapsychology, altered states of consciousness, alternate forms of spirituality, and branches of the healing sciences which are respected today but which were ridiculed at the time. He funded the first English translation of any book on acupuncture, leading to the current-day U.S. acceptance and popularity of acupuncture and acupressure. He also funded the first edition of The Course of Miracles and John Lilly’s early research on dolphin communication.

But it was transsexualism and homosexuality that were the primary targets for Reed’s philanthropy. What he did for transsexualism was nothing short of amazing. First, he provided money for the Harry Benjamin Foundation, paying for meetings of a small group of researchers at Dr. Benjamin’s offices in New York City. He also provided funding for the lab of Dr. John Money at Johns Hopkins University and funded the Hopkins gender program, the first in the United States. Aaron notes it’s unclear how much money Reed provided and how essential he was to the operation of the Hopkins program, but he has been able to verify his involvement.

Reed also funded the groundbreaking textbook by Richard Green and Money, Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment, which provided a method of sex reassignment to fit the theory brought forth in Harry Benjamin’s 1966 book The Transsexual Phenomenon, which defined the “syndrome” of transsexualism. He also funded other important early books on gender identity.

Reed funded the first several conferences of the physicians, psychologists, and researchers who were working on transsexualism; out of this grew the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association and its Standards of Care.

Reed’s philanthropy was channeled through the Erickson Education Foundation, which was headquartered in Baton Rouge, LA and which had an office in New York City and other small offices. The late Dr. Zelda Suplee was the Foundation’s most well-known director.

The Erickson Foundation did more than provide seed money for professionals who worked with transsexuals; it was the world’s primary source of information on transsexualism and gave referrals to the desperate transsexuals of the day. The Foundation published several booklets and flyers, including Guidelines for Transsexuals, Religious Aspects of Transsexualism, and Transsexualism: Information for the Family, copies of which can still be found today.

When Reed’s attention eventually turned away from transsexualism, he closed the Erickson Foundation. Alice Webb, the current President of HBIGDA, remembers helping Zelda Suplee burn the papers and correspondence of the Foundation, a tragic loss of historical information. Aaron notes the Erickson Educational Foundation re-opened for a while in the 1980s, but was less involved with transsexualism in that incarnation.

The Erickson Foundation’s mission to educate the world about transsexualism and educate the world’s transsexuals about themselves was passed on to psychologist Paul Walker, who founded the Janus Information Facility in Galveston, Texas. Paul distributed new editions of the Erickson literature until he came out as a gay man and moved to San Francisco, where he died in 1991 of AIDS.

When he moved, Paul himself passed the torch to Joanna Clark and Jude Patton, who are themselves transsexual. Using their initials as the basis for the name, they formed J2CP and continued the work Erickson started. Eventually Jude moved to Oregon and began practicing as a therapist, leaving J2CP to Joanna.

Both Jude and Joanna are themselves icons in the history of transsexualism. Jude was one of the first visible FTMs in the United States, and served on the Board of Directors of HBIGDA in the early 80s. Joanna, who was a decorated combat helicopter pilot in Viet Nam, rejoined the Army after her sex reassignment and is still the only known person to have officially served in the armed services as both a man and a woman.

Joanna later became an Episcopal nun and changed her name to Sister Mary Elizabeth. When she made a trip to rural Arkansas to look after some cows she had inherited, she discovered many HIV-positive men and women in rural areas, cut off from information and support. She founded AEGIS, an AIDS information service, about the same time and probably a little before I founded another AEGIS, which happened to be a transsexual information service. At the IFGE conference in Houston in 1991, Sister Mary Elizabeth passed the Erickson Foundation torch to me. I carried that torch for nine years, retiring it only because I could find no one foolish enough to take it from me. Sister Mary Elizabeth continues to run her AEGIS, which has grown to be the primary source for AIDS information in the world.

But back to Reed.

Even before he began his work with transsexualism, Reed provided funding for One, Inc., a California-based homophile organization. One was an information clearinghouse for homosexuality in those pre-Stonewall days, and is still in existence. Reed supported One for nearly 20 years. He bought land for the One Institute in what is today a multi-million dollar spot in downtown Los Angeles. Eventually, One and Reed had a falling out and the ownership of the L.A. property came into question: did it belong to Reed, or had he given it to One? The dispute intensified after Reed’s death in 1992, when his heirs became involved.

What do we know of Reed himself? Not a lot, but Aaron is still researching his life. We know he died in 1992. We know he had several wives who survived him and who are still alive. We also know that for all he did for transsexualism, he was no one-dimensional hero, but rather a living human being with all the associated warts. Dr. Vern Bullough once told me of a time when Dr. John Money and Zelda Suplee had to make a trip to Mazatlan to pay a ransom for Reed, who was in the hands of desperados who had more or less kidnapped him. We also know that, not surprisingly in light of his arcane interests and of the time, Reed used psychoactive drugs, especially cocaine and ketamine, sometimes heavily.

It’s sad Reed didn’t leave us an autobiography, but his legacy is nonetheless a great one, for without the seeds he sowed, transsexualism would not be what it is today.

Gentle reader, if you have information about Reed, please contact Dr. Aaron Devor, Professor, Sociology Department, University of Victoria, Box 3050, Victoria, BC, CanadaV8W 3P5