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Transgender Education Through the Decades (2010)

Transgender Education Through the Decades (2010)

©2013 by by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (2010, 22 May). Transgender education across the decades. Invited keynote, TransEvent 2010: The Albany Conference, Albany, NY.





The Empire Conference is a transgender event held every spring in Albany, NY. Event organizers Kristine James and Alison Laing invited me to present a keynote, and I or someone else recorded it




Transgender Education Through the Decades

Notes and Images for Keynote Address.

Slide1Thank you Alison and Kristine, for having me here, and than you, everyone, for being trapped in this room and having to listen to me for twenty minutes.


I’m here today to talk about transgender education efforts, and how they’ve changed over the past sixty or so years. I’ll argue that as the community first formed, education was primarily personal—one-to-one; that by the 1970s education became primarily top-down and corporate, and that in recent years education has moved back toward the personal. And I’ll argue that in a community as small as ours, personal is essential.

There have always been transgendered and transsexual people, of course, and they often managed to find one another, even in repressive times. Anyone know the identities of these miscreants?

Boulton & Park ArrestedRight. Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park. The next slide is a photograph of them.

Frederick Boulton & Ernest Park

Boulton and Park made headlines in 1870 in London newspapers when they were arrested for being crossdressed. It was quite a scandal because of a relationship they had with some Lord or other.

Transgendered and transsexual people have always found one another.

Slide5Showboat Express Poster Finnoccio's Club Cast

Revues, cabarets, and drag shows were one way transgendered people came together in the early part of the Twentieth Century. Somehow they found family. Above you see a show poster and the cast from a drag revue.

Backstage in Paris

Somehow they were able to find family. Above the cast from the Paris nightclub Le Carousel having dinner in the late 1950s.

Show business offered at least a semblance of legitimacy to crossdressing—and in many cases ensemble performers in venues like drag clubs provided mutual support to one another, but there certainly were no organized ways of doing transgender education. Most transgendered people were entirely alone. They had no support. Not from their partners, not from their families, not from their churches, not from their communities, not from medical professionals. They held their counsel and suffered in silence—often for their entire lives.


I love the photo below. I bought it on eBay for about six bucks. You have to wonder, what is this person’s story?

Dust Bowl Crossdresser

I was hoping this person would be here today.

Billie Hennings 1Billie Hennings 2

That’s Billie Hennings. She attends a lot of transgender conferences. She took the above photos in 1956. Here’s Billie today:

Billie Hennings 3

It wasn’t until the sixth deacde of the XXth century—the 1950s—that things began to change.

Crossdressers Out Standing in A Field

First, crossdressers began to meet in small groups in California and upstate New York.

Christine Jorgensen, Before and After

Christine Jorgensen

Second, ex-GI Christine Jorgensen went abroad and came back a broad. News of her sex reassignment in Denmark made news all over the world.

1952 Headlines

News of the H-bomb tests in the Marshall Islands were knocked from the front page of the New York Times.

Let’s follow these two early and separate branches of the transgender community—small groups of crossdressers and Jorgensen’s legacy— as they evolve separately for nearly thirty years until they come back together in the mid-1980s.

First, the crossdresser branch.


Virginia Prince (Center); Ariadne Kane (Right). That’s Me on the Right.

Can someone tell me the name of the woman in the middle? Yes, Virginia Prince. That’s me on the left and Ariadne Kane on the right. In the 1950s Virginia was on her way to becoming the figurative head of the fledgling crossdresser movement. She founded a number of organizations, some of which are still in existence today.


The most important is Tri-Ess, The Society for the Second Self. It came about with a merger of Virginia’s Foundation for Personality Expression and Carol Beecroft’s group Mamselle. By the 1970s, Tri-Ess was publicizing itself in print media and on radio and TV in its attempts to reach and offer comfort to heterosexual crossdressers. Eventually Tri-Ess would have 40 or more chapters across the United States.


In 1960, Prince began to publish the magazine Transvestia, which featured not only photos and mildly erotic crossdressing fiction, but thought-provoking essays and letters to the editor.


Hugh Heffner

In the various issues of Transvestia, Virginia laid out her philosophy of heterosexual crossdressing, much like and at about the same time as Hugh Heffner was laying out a philosophy of personal freedom in his Playboy magazine.


DREAM Conference


Fantasia Fair Registration, 1987
Photo by Emily Sheldon

Tri-Ess, Transvestia, and early transgender conferences like Dream on the West Coast and Fantasia Fair on the East Coast played important roles in the growth of the crossdressing community.

By the early 1980s crossdressers in the U.S., Europe, and Australia were well organized, with any number of support and social groups, planned outings, and an extensive if largely underground literature.

Now let’s look at the second prong—the transsexual prong.


Lili Elbe


Michael Dillon

Slide 25

Roberta Cowell

Christine Jorgensen’s wasn’t the first sex reassignment. There had been a number of others including Lili Elbe in the 1930s, and Michael Dillon and Roberta Cowell in the 1940s, but the notoriety that surrounded Jorgensen’s transition had a huge effect on the popular imagination. The notion that it was possible to change one’s sex stunned the world—scientists included. Her transition provided a road map for thousands of men and women who felt much like her and now saw a way clear to acting on their feelings.


Dr. Harry Benjamin

Soon they were finding their way to endocrinologists like Dr. Harry Benjamin in New York…


“Of all the gender joints in all the cities in all the world, you had to walk into mine.”

… and to Casablanca for sex reassignment surgery by Dr. Georges Burou.

Oops, wrong Casablanca! Here’s a rare photo of Dr. Burou:


Rare Photo of Georges Burou

In 1966, Harry Benjamin published his magnum opus, The Transsexual Phenomenon. In it, he defined transsexualism as a mental disorder and argued that since there was no cure, it was in the best interest of both transsexuals and greater society to alleviate this intense suffering of transsexuals by sex reassignment—in selected cases.


Now, Benjamin was a compassionate man. I’ve no idea if he really believed transsexualism to be a mental illness, but certainly, considering the era, he packaged transsexualism in the ONLY way that could justify hormonal and surgical treatment. I don’t think anything else would have convinced other physicians to allow treatment.

It was, as it were, a necessary medicalization. Without his work, without his ideas, things would have been grim indeed for transsexuals. Benjamin was a wonderful man who lived to be 100 years old and cared about his patients, but still, medicalization is an albatross hung around all of our necks.

With Benjamin having laid the theoretical rationale for sex reassignment, it fell to this psychologist—who knows who he is?


Psychologist John Money

Right. That’s John Money… and this then-young psychiatrist—Richard Green…


Psychiatrist Richard Green

 … to publish a multidisciplinary volume that described the nuts and bolts—as it were—of sex reassignment—with chapters on hormonal therapy, surgery, voice, electrolysis, grooming, employment, religion, the whole shebang.


Published in 1969, the book was called Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment. My copy of the book is in Ann Arbor, Michigan with the rest of my collection, which was donated to the Labadie Collection at the University of Michican—so I can’t show you the special contributor’s copy of Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment donated to AEGIS (my nonprofit) by the widow of Dr. Leo Wollman. I can’t show you a cover at all because for once in its life, Google failed me.

(I found a photo as I was moving my talk into this post. Here ’tis:

Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment


And so I’m going to show you a picture of my 1996 text Current Concepts in Transgender Identity, which was published nearly 30 years after Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment, , and which included chapters by three of the original contributors—Dr. Green, Dr. Money, and Dr. Ira Pauly.

I bring up Current Concepts because it’s in part a tribute to Green and Money’s book, and I’m happy three of the original contributors wound up in my book, 30 years later.


Johns Hopkins University

Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment was an operating manual for the new gender clinic at John Hopkins University. Yes, transsexualism, the subject of tabloids and titillation, was being championed by the most prestigious medical school in the United States.


Opened in 1966 and championed by psychologist John Money, the clinic lasted until 1979. It served as a model for as many as 40 gender clinics scattered throughout the United States.


Page from Chrysalis Quarterly


This is a paper I wrote in 1993, criticizing the many gender clinics that formed, doing their best to conform to the Hopkins model. They provided sex reassignment for only a few people. The vast majority of applicants, including myself, were turned away as unsuitable for one reason of the other.

Applicants were subjected to bizarre and often sexist treatment by staff who expected their patients to conform to absolute sexual stereotypes— Rambo/Bimbo standards of masculinity and femininity. Those who refused or were unable to march in lockstep to these requirements were turned away.

A clinician at one of the programs was quoted in Suzanne Kessler and Wendy McKenna’s Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach saying if a male-to-female applicant didn’t appeal to him sexually as a woman, she clearly wasn’t a candidate, That’s how sexist the clinics were.

The clinics nevertheless flourished until 1979 when a Machiavellian scheme orchestrated by this man:

Paul McHugh


That’s psychiatrist Paul McHugh , who was offered the position of Chair of the Psychiatry Department at Johns Hopkins University. He took the job, he wrote in 1993 in American Scholar, that one reason he accepted was to shut down Hopkins’ gender program.

McHugh’s scheme contrived to show “no objective advantage” to sex reassignment surgery for male-to-female transsexuals.

This was accomplished by a booooogus—can we all say booooogus?—post-hoc-engineered paper in the Archives of General Psychiatry and accompanied by a media blitz that planted the news in every major media outlet in the United States and much of the rest of the world.

All of this resulted in the closing (within about a year) of not only the Hopkins clinic, but every gender clinic in America except for two programs which converted to for-profit surgery centers, and the clinic at the University of Minnesota, which became a non-surgical program.

And so the transsexual prong comes to an ignominious end.

The closing of the gender clinics was actually of tremendous benefit to transgendered people—and especially to transsexuals. In fact, I wrote a letter to Paul McHugh in the mid-1990s, thanking him for that bogus study. I told him that because of what he had done any American with the financial means and the will could have sex reassignment at THEIR OWN decision and not because some doctor at a gender program allowed them to. For some reason, he didn’t reply.

Why were the gedner clinics bad?

* Because the gender clinics’ confidentiality requirements isolated transsexuals, keeping them out of contact with their peers

* Because the clinics advised their patients to disappear into the closet of “normality” because they were now “curred,” and to TELL NO ONE of their past

* Because the clinics perpetuated harmful and untrue stereotypes about transsexuals and attributed to them mental disorders that were in fact the result of the selection criteria of the clinics.

* Because the clinics disempowered transsexuals, depriving them of information and robbing them of personal choice

* Because the clinics forced all-or-nothing solutions onto transsexuals (full sex change or nothing)

and worst of all…

Because they kept transsexuals and crossdressers out of communication with one another.

I’ve long contended that the closing of the gender clinics was the keystone event that led to the formation of our modern transgender community. It’s a community in which we look to professionals for help, but not for direction. It’s a community that rejects medical models of transsexualism and crossdressing and the harmful labels that accompany them. And it’s a community that has demolished all-or-nothing binary notions of gender and embraced our diversity and wholeness. It’s a community of which we should be proud.

I know you all think I’m done, but I have a few things yet left to say.

Winslow Street

Winslow Street, Provincetown

 So—we have two prongs not yet joined.

The platform that allowed us all to come together was born here, on Winslow Street in Provincetown, Massachusetts on a dark and stormy night. Just kidding about the stormy night. A group of Fantasia Fair attendees met and developed a philosophy and plan that led to the formation of the Winslow Street Fund and the International Foundation for Gender Education.

IFGE conference

IFGE’s annual conference was the first to aggressively welcome EVERY gender-variant person. Transsexuals were unwelcome or at best tolerated at HBIGDA conferences, and—I know the Tri-Ess folks are perpetually mad at me for saying this—decidedly unwelcome at Tri-Ess’ conferences.

But at IFGE, suddenly, for the first time, transpeople of all stripes could meet face-to-face and come to know one another, learn about one another, and become friends.

Other conferences, of course, soon followed.

Be All You Can Be Conference

Be All You Can Be Conference


Southern Comfort Conference Logo

IFGE’s Transgender Tapestry Journal provided a forum for the community to throw around ideas about itself.

Tapestry 101

There, and in the pages of other newsletters and journals—including my own Chrysalis..

 Transgender Gothic Chrysalis…we talked about who we were—and we discovered we weren’t the people the medical community had always told us we were. This was something that couldn’t possibly have happened without the two prongs of community having come together.

Benjamin Scale

Benjamin Scale

Gender Binary

Once transsexuals and crossdressers were talking to one another, it took only a few years to cooperatively develop a healthy transgender model that effectively demolished the medical model.

The transgender model is, of course, built on the premise that we’re a natural part of nature, that it’s okay to abandon the gender binary, that we’re free to modify our bodies and our social roles as much or as little as we see fit.

In those heady days a number of national organizations existed to disseminate information about transsexual and transgender issues. Those included the aforementioned Tri-Ess, IFGE, the Renaissance Transgender Association out of Philadelphia (take a bow, Alison! Alison was one of the co-founders of Renaissance), FTM International, and my own American Educational Gender Information Service, which took over the work of the earlier Erickson Educational Foundation.

There was a problem, though. The transgender community was small—it’s still small—and there simply wasn’t enough money to support the national organizations in a reasonable manner. The small donor base couldn’t provide money enough, and grants—except for occasional small amounts from the Winslow Street Fund simply weren’t available. We weren’t on anyone’s radar.

I can attest to how difficult it was run a national operation on a shoestring. I had to do everything. I was responsible for answering the phones, replying to correspondence, writing, printing, and distributing leaflets and booklets, talking to reporters, putting together a national magazine, and doing outreach all over the country. There was no paid help—myself included, and damn few volunteers.

In fact, I was wearing myself to a frazzle. For nearly a decade I worked 40 hours a week at my day job and spent almost every remaining waking hour doing gender work. And I wasn’t the only one working at such an unsustainable pace.

I wasn’t sure how long I could keep it up, and no relief was in sight. And yet it was critical work, it was essential work. I COULDN’T stop. Too many lives were at stake. And so I began thinking about how gender education could and should and had to change.

In 1993, I believe it was, something happened that got me to thinking. It was a small thing, but it triggered me.

Riki Ann Wilchins

Riki Ann Wilchins

IFGE was having its annual conference in my home town, Atlanta. At some point Riki Anne Wilchins and one or two others in Transexual Menace t-shirts handed out leaflets asking IFGE to take action to actively help transgendered people.

Riki Anne was taking aim at IFGE’s recently completed Vision 2000, an enterprising but largely incomprehensible look toward the future. A lot of the Vision 2000 people were upset about the leafleting, but to me it was a clarion call.

I devoted all four 1996 issues of the quarterly AEGIS News to what I called, with tongue in cheek, Vision 2001: A Gender Odyssey. I did my best to take a snapshot of the community, from national organizations, to the fledgling political movement, to regional and local groups, to conferences, to helping professionals and professional organizations like HBIGDA, to transpeoples’ relationship to the larger LGB (as it was then called) community. I was ably assisted by Jessica Xavier, who took on the political writing.


In April 1998 I followed with a fifth issue of AEGIS News; The lead was an article called On The Future of the Transgender Community. That issue was my analysis of where the community was heading.

Here’s the way it began:

For several years now I have had a growing sense that the community’s national organizations are on the verge of unprecedented change, of realignment. I’m not prescient; I certainly don’t know just what the changes will be or what will cause them, but I expect they will be significant, and things will unfold fast once they start to happen.

I pointed out that the community would likely never reach a mass sufficient to adequately fund even one national organization. I pointed out that the level of sophistication and knowledge of many local organizations matched or exceeded some of the nationals. I acknowledged the critical role the nationals had played in the formation and growth of the community, and I questioned whether they’d outlived their usefulness. And I said this:

Recently I typed in the word “transsexual” on a search engine on the World Wide Web and got over 4000 hits. With such a wealth (of information available in seconds, who in the future will be inclined to wait a couple of weeks for an information packet from a gender organization? And which organization will be able to afford packets sent by mail at a cost of a dollar or two apiece, when a website can disperse ten or a hundred or a thousand times as much information instantly and for free?

(I did the same search just a week ago and got more than 6,000,000 hits! This slide shows 8,000,000 plus hits for the word transgender.

8.5 Million Hits

Maybe I was a little bit prescient after all, for several of the national organizations have gone by the wayside or become primarily political rather than educational, and yet the community has flourished.

Imagine for a moment it’s 1952—or even 1985. You have a dire need for trans-related information, but you have no idea how to go about getting it. There are no books on the subject in your local library, and this…

Trans Porn

… is what you find at the newsstand. There are support groups operating, perhaps even in your own town, but they’re invisible to you. You’ve no idea how to find them.

There was little support available, but if you got any help at all, it was highly personal. You met with another crossdresser at a restaurant for a screening to the support group, or you responded to a personal ad to meet another transsexual, or you went to a discrete weekend gathering of like-minded folks.

Compare to the 1990s. There was more support, and a lot of it was indeed personal, but then again, much of it was impersonal, corporate, top-down. You sent a letter to a national organization and got back a fat envelope which you read 40 times. You bought a copy of Tapestry at a bookstore and thumbed through it until the cover fell off. You went to a large gender conference like Southern Comfort where you arrived knowing no one and left in much the same state. You got online with your very first computer and read personal pages and the pages of various organizations.






TwitterGlitter Blog

Transgender Resource Center 2

Transgender Resource Center
In The Virtual World Second Life

Over the last several years something exciting has begun to happen. Transgender support has once again become personal. Today you open a Facebook account and immediately have 250 transgender friends with whom you correspond. You Twitter all day long with your friends. Or you write a blog and correspond with your readers. Or you join a virtual world like Second Life and create your avatar in your target gender and live a full and fulfilling virtual live.

Tri-Ess Dinner

Or you meet like-minded people online or at a conference and become friends.

Trans Lobby Day

Or you get involved in transgender politics.


Or you create transgender art.


Or you run a support group.


Or you work on health issues.



Gianna Israel and Donald Tarver’s Recommended
Guidelines for Transgender Care

Or you write your very own transgender educational materials.

 First Event

And you charge your batteries by coming to transgender conferences.


Maybe even this one.

As much as I would love to talk all afternoon, I won’t,

Today we’ve looked at the transgender community as it emerged, as it matured, and as it has been and is still being transformed by technology. Thank you for putting up with me for so long. Thank you, Kristine and Alison, for inviting me to give this talk.