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Virginia’s Ordeal (2000)

Virginia’s Ordeal (2000)

©2000, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (2000, Spring). Virginia’s ordeal: S.P.I.C.E. organizers should be ashamed. Transgender Tapestry, 89, pp. 21-22.





Virginia’s Ordeal

S.P.I.C.E. Organizers Should Be Ashamed

By Dallas Denny


Billy Jean Jones once called Virginia Prince our “godmother,” and in many ways she is, for without her vision and courage this magazine would not exist. In the 1950s and 1960s she popularized the notion of male crossdressing, telling an at-first unbelieving world crossdressers could be heterosexual and crossdressing was not entirely sexual in nature, but had an identity component. She published one hundred issues of a magazine, Transvestia, started a number of crossdressing organizations, and wrote and published widely about heterosexual crossdressing. Today, all over the world, there are support groups which evolved from organizations Virginia started or which were started in opposition to her philosophy. It is from these support groups that today’s transgender community arose.

More than 30 years ago, Charles Prince began to live as a woman, Virginia. After her transition, Virginia dressed as a man only once, a long time ago, when her father died. She had to borrow a suit, for she owned no “male” clothing.

In appearance, Virginia, at 87 years of age, is but another elderly woman— with not inconsiderable breasts. It’s very difficult to see any “Charles” there.

Virginia calls herself a transgenderist, a term she invented some 30 years ago to describe someone, who like herself, lives permanently in one gender role with no desire for genital surgery. Although she is quick to affirm her maleness— that is, the fact that she is an XY person and does not have XX chromosomes, she is quick to say she is a woman. In fact, in the speech which accompanies this article, she makes it clear she has been an XY woman longer than many of the XX women in the audience.

This year Virginia was invited to be the keynote speaker at S.P.I.C.E., a conference for the female partners of heterosexual crossdressers. A condition was placed on her participation, however— she would be required to attend the conference as “Charles.” She agreed to this, she told me, because she had something important to say to the wives.

As soon as she arrived at the hotel, Virginia told me, she was whisked into a suite and transformed into a not-very-male-looking Charles Prince. It was every crossdresser’s dream come true, but in reverse— a forced transformation at the hands of domineering women. Virginia was not allowed to reappear until she was ready to leave the conference to return home.

Now, S.P.I.C.E. has a no-crossdressing rule, which makes some sense, since it would otherwise tend to become just another chance to crossdress rather than a setting in which to work on relationships. The no-crossdressing rule makes little sense, however, when applied to husbands who have transitioned and are living full-time as women, for they aren’t crossdressing— not, that is, until they’re forced to put on male drag, as was Linda Phillips, some years ago. Linda, who has not a single hair on her face, made a gentle protest by gluing on a mustache, making sure it dropped off into her drink at opportune times.

This year it was Virginia’s turn. Trapped by the false you’re-either-a-crossdresser-or-a-transsexual dichotomy, she was transformed into “Charles,” someone who hasn’t existed for more than 30 years— and coerced into making the switch which was viewed as some sort of moral triumph.

It wasn’t. What it was, was sad and pathetic. It merely enforced the notion that male crossdressing often isn’t about happily putting on women’s clothes, but about an inner identity that can lead to, among other things, gender role transition. Virginia’s transformation was an attempt to say, “See, our men really are men, even when they are women,” ignoring completely the fact that the person standing before them wasn’t a man robbed of his clothes and thus the illusion of femininity, but a woman unconvincingly and uncomfortably crossdressed as a man. As Virginia told me about the S.P.I.C.E. organizers, “They don’t understand the difference between a tourist and a naturalized citizen.”

Inviting Virginia to speak at S.P.I.C.E. under the condition that she do so dressed as a man was profoundly disrespectful. Not only does Virginia deserve better, but so do the wives who attend S.P.I.C.E., who deserve to know there’s a chance their husbands are not crossdressers at all, but transgendered women who may eventually walk the same road as Virginia.

“They don’t understand the difference between a tourist and a naturalized citizen.”

—Virginia Prince, commenting on the requirement that she dress as “Charles” at the 1999 S.P.I.C.E. conference.


The following is reprinted from The Sweetheart Connection, Summer 1999.


Virginia Prince was the keynote speaker at S.P.I.C.E. VII, July, 1999 in Minneapolis. Since crossdressing is prohibited at S.P.I.C.E., he appeared as “Charles.” Following is a transcription of his speech, thanks to sjo/Beta Gamma—Editor, Sweetheart Connection


S.P.I.C.E. Keynote Talk

By Charles “Virginia” Prince


I am appearing as Charles Prince, in deference to your rules about crossdressing. As a matter of fact, I am crossdressed right now! I was listed on your program as “The Prince formerly known as Virginia.” Formerly means yesterday afternoon, and Sunday morning, Virginia will be back.

The border between girl and woman is generally accepted as being age eighteen. I’ve been a woman for 32 years; 18 and 32 makes 50. How many of you women are under 50 years of age? Quite a few. That means that I’ve been a woman longer than many of you. Please note I said woman, not female. I’ve lived full-time as a woman for those 32 years. This leads to the distinction between woman and man, female and male. That is the distinction between sex and gender.

This leads right into the matter of the wilderness, the theme of this conference. So what is a wilderness? A wilderness is a place where nothing is familiar and everything looks the same in all directions. No guidelines, no organization; you don’t know which way to turn.

There are four kinds of natural wildernesses: the rain forest, the desert, frozen sea or snow field, and the mountains. But sometimes there is a wilderness between your ears when you can’t find any familiar signs to lead you out. Yet nature and psychological wildernesses have something in common: namely, you can’t see the way out and there are no signs directing you out. You are lost and feel helpless.

In the city, there are places to go for directions or help. In your mind there aren’t any, so you stumble around blindly trying to find a solution. Well, you found one called S.P.I.C.E. [Spouses and Partners International Conference for Education—Ed.], and there are people to give you some guidance. But back to wildernesses. If you are lost in a natural wilderness, what do you need most? Answer: information about the situation, such as compass points and which way to go to get back home. Well, that’s what you need in your mental wilderness, too. Before you were married, you lived in a city with streets, directions, and familiar people and places. You knew that boys and men were different from girls and women, but you assumed it was all a matter of anatomy and parenthood. You thought you knew how each kind should behave and expected they would behave that way. You knew your place and what was expected of you, and you thought you knew what men were like and how you could expect them to act.

Then you woke up one morning and found by accident or on purpose that your man liked to wear some feminine garments. Crash, bang, your world more or less collapsed and you found yourself in a wilderness with no expectations of such a situation. There was no satisfactory explanation for it, no preparation for dealing with the phenomenon of a man wanting to do what women do. And there was no apparent escape or solution to the problem. That is what a wilderness is! Wives are caught by a conflict between expectation and reality and they struggle with it and that is why you’re here.

You ask yourself, “Why would he want to do that? Is he mentally disturbed, a homosexual, a transsexual, a lunatic, or what?”

Let me relieve your mind by saying he is probably not any of these things. He’s just a victim of the kind of culture we live in and have lived in for the last several thousand years. It has been a culture that divides humans into two types based on the two sexes.

But the information I promised to provide starts with understanding what gender is and how it came to be. Animals don’t have gender, they just have two sexes doing two different tasks in life and are naturally built anatomically and physiologically to perform them effectively. Humans also come in two sexes and have the necessary anatomy and physiology to reproduce the same way as other mammals. But beyond these abilities, we also have psychology and sociology to assist us.

Gender started with the invention of agriculture, growing crops and living near them. This occurred ten to twelve thousand years ago. Differing jobs and expectations developed between males an females, leading to different identifications in clothes, decorations, and activities. Thus, gender came into being. In modern times, it’s really just a visual presentation of one’s self which, when genitals are not visible, seems to indicate the sex of an individual.

The population increased. Villages became towns, then cities, and finally states and nations. Laws were written, wars fought, discoveries made, and cultures started, flourished and died out. Through it all, behavior became stylized and stereotyped. That is, clothing, activities, jobs, talents, and expectations became divided between those befitting men and those fitting for women. This process went on for thousands of years.

Men, being bigger and stronger and not burdened with childbirth and child care, took over the operation of society, protecting, conquering, governing, controlling, building, and inventing. Females did, however, make four of the most significant of human inventions: agriculture, cooking, weaving, and ceramics. But in the process, men became persuaded they were the most capable and important gender and demoted women to second class citizens primarily responsible for children, home, and keeping their husbands happy. This went on regardless of other changes right up to the latter half of the 19th century.

All of this does have something do with crossdressing, I promise.

People who live under stereotypic conditions sooner or later get tired of the limitations of such societies. They want to escape and explore other ways of life. Women fidgeted under such limitations for hundred of years but were helpless to do much about it because men dominated all the important aspects of life and there was no escape, until democracy was invented. Because in Greek the very word “Demos” means “the people,” democracy means the people have something to say about their lives. By the early 1800s, they began to say it. As the most restricted and limited members of society, women were the ones saying it. They wanted the vote so they would have some say in lawmaking and governing.

The early suffragettes included Eliza Bloom, who broke the rule that circular garments— that is, skirts— were proper for women and bifurcate— two legged— garments, trousers or pants, were for men only. Bloomers became the underwear of the day for the well-dressed suffragette.

It took women nearly a century to get the vote and begin to break down the barriers to progress in politics, occupations, business, education, and the professions. World War II gave rise to Rosie the Riveter, with women taking men’s places in the war effort. This required appropriate clothing— trousers — and shorter hair, and women have never looked back. They didn’t all want to return to the kitchen and nursery. They looked for careers in about every field you can imagine.

Today, there is no garment of masculine clothing that is not worn by women, except possibly the jock strap. Even that is pretty well copied by the popular thong panties made famous by Monica Lewinsky.

Now, isn’t there an old saying that “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander?”