August 31, 2020

Another Way of Understanding The Diversity of Transgender Lives

Koloa presents a model for MTF transgender people that helps us understand how personality traits may explain why trans people take different paths on their trans journeys.

The two type model for transgender women

One of the most important lessons I have learned when writing about trans and queer issues, is to make sure that we distinguish clearly between between the terms and the model you use to understand the world on the one hand, and reality on the other.

As most well informed philosophers will tell you: We do not have direct access to "reality in itself". All we have access to is our own interpretation of our world. So when we see patterns in the world around us, we should always ask ourself: Is this pattern only a mirage produced by my own mind? Is it simply a reflection of my personal prejudices? Are there other models and terms that may explain what I see in a better way?

Since this is a blog covering transgender and queer issues, an obvious example of how badly this can end, is the way the two type typology of transgender women has been used to invalidate them. 

Many researchers have noticed that trans women who come out and transition late are more likely to be gynephilic (being attracted to women) than those who come out as trans at an early age. This has, until quite recently, been quite true on an aggregate level.

August 25, 2020

Zagria on Transgender History 4: Living as a Transgender Person

Roverta Cowell, transgender Spitfire pilot and racecar driver.

Zagria is the researcher, writer and editor behind “A Gender Variance Who’s Who”, the most extensive repository for transgender history on the web.  In this part  our interview we look at her own personal history and how that one reflects shifts in the way we think about transgender issues. We also talked about misgendering, the use of pronouns, deadnaming and those who do not transition.

See also:
The Transgender Historian Zagria, Part 1: "A Gender Variance Who's Who"
Zagria on Transgender History, Part 2: Key Concepts and Terms
Zagria on Transgender History 3: Key Transgender People and “The Tipping Point”

The Clarke

The Clarke Institute’s Gender Identity Clinic in Toronto (later known as the Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – CAMH) has played a controversial role in recent North American transgender history. 

It was the institution of researchers like Kenneth Zucker and Ray Blanchard, people who have actively contributed to an invalidation and pathologsation of trans men and women, for instance by presenting their identities as “paraphilias”.

Since Zagria did approach The Clarke to get help, she is also a witness to this part of transgender history, so we asked her about her meeting with the institute.

Russell Reid is a retired British psychiatrist who specialized in sexual and gender-related conditions.

You have a rather unusual transition history in first going to The Clarke, and then to Russell Reid. Could you compare and contrast the two?

My interactions with The Clarke was a series of interviews with the different personnel. I was fortunate that Freund was away that week so that I was not asked to experience his Plethysmograph [an instrument used to measure volume changes in body organs].

It is difficult at this length of time to member what each member asked. The major thing that I remember was the marked disinterest in my husband. Being in my mid 30s and working in informatics, I suppose that they assumed that I should not have one. They did have him in for an interview but it was pretty cursory.

The final session was with the entire team. It was like being fired by committee. It was made clear that they would not do anything for me, despite me being able to name others whom they had helped.

Their major comment was that I had not met the right woman yet. As I got up to leave one of them interjected that I should keep in touch as it was a research facility. Fat chance of that! I saw my doctor the next week and he then started me on hormones. I think that he had referred me to test my determination.

August 24, 2020

William Shakespeare’s Love for a Transfeminine Crossdreamer

Southampton in his teens, c. 1590–93, attributed to John de Critz
The third earl of Southampton en femme.

If I told you William Shakespeare was in love with a transfeminine crossdreamer, would you believe me? 

Some will tell you that gender variance is a recent phenomenon. It is not. Transgender and gender variant people have existed all the way back to Antiquity and beyond, and they have been found many different cultures. See, for instance, my post on the poem written by a European Medieval transgender woman  and the article on transgender characters in the Indian Kama Sutra.

And yes, Shakespeare was in love with a male to female crossdreamer/gender variant person/transgender woman.  Our modern terms do not translate easily into the context of the English Renaissance, and we cannot ask dead people about their identities, but I am pretty sure that at least one of these terms hits pretty close to home.

August 23, 2020

Zagria on Transgender History 3: Key Transgender People and “The Tipping Point”

Zagria is the researcher, writer and editor behind “A Gender Variance Who’s Who”, the most extensive repository for transgender history on the web. In part 1 of our interview we talked about how she does her research. In part 2 we discussed key concepts of gender variance. In this part we ask her about trans people who have influenced her thinking. We also look at recent political and cultural trends, including the increased visibility of transgender men.

April Ashley, transgender Vogue model and actress in the 1950s and 60s. Photo Ken Walker.

Most influential transgender person

If you were to pick one person from transgender history who has influenced you the most, who would that be? And which trans and  gender variant persons are the most underrated, as you see it?

There was no internet when I transitioned in the 1980s. The most famous trans women were performers such as Coccinelle and April Ashley. I never thought that I was going on the stage. So there is no one such person. I was influenced in many things large and small by the individual cis and trans women whom I knew. 

Some trans persons have been overrated, as I see it. Overrated does not mean that they did not achieve anything. It means that a lot of attention has been directed to them while other people who have done as much or more are ignored.

The following have been given a lot of press and academic attention. They don’t need more. The attention would be better directed to those in the underrated list.

Some examples of those overrated: John Radcliffe-Hall, Gertrude Stein, Lili Elevenes (Elbe), Caitlyn Jenner, Major Griffen-Gracy, Sylvia Rivera, Virginia Prince, Jack Bee Garland, Susan Stryker.

Underrated:  Most activists etc in South America, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. North America/Western Europe is well reported, but at the cost of the rest of the world.

Some underrated individuals: Barbara de Lamere, Masha Bast, Janine Roberts, Diana Sacayán, Simone Heradien, Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi. Sally Mursi, Yollada Nok Suanyoy, Rachel Webb, Toni Ebel, Demet Demir, Marie André Schwidenhammer, Chloe Dzubilo, Johnny Science, Brenda Lee, Marcello Di Folco, Alejandro Portadino. There are many, many more.

August 18, 2020

Zagria on Transgender History, Part 2: Key Concepts and Terms

Zagria is the researcher, writer and editor behind “A Gender Variance Who’s Who”, the most extensive repository for transgender history on the web. In part 1 of our interview we talked about how she does her research. In this part we ask her about her understanding of key concepts like transgender and gender variance.

Part 1 of the interview can be found here.
Transgender historian Zagira (private photo)

The word "transgender"

Your site is very inclusive. You explicitly refer to gender variance in the name of the blog, instead of transgender people. 

Could you say something about how you see and understand the transgender community, and the development of the terms used to describe it?

I wrote an extensive discussion of the history of the word Transgender and pointed out five distinct meanings of the word:

1. To change gender full time, but without surgery.

2. As a synonym of transsexual, e.g. in the expression ‘transgender surgery’ (which turns out to be an early usage). Given that transsexuality is not a sexual orientation and that it is more a matter of gender.

3. Rejection of the gender binary. This has a definite history, and was articulated by Gay Lib, etc. and encompasses gender queer, non-binary, street queens etc. Such persons were generally rejected both by gays concerned to be gender normative and by people such as Virginia Prince with their false-consciousness concepts of respectability.

4. At least as far back as Magnus Hirschfeld there has been a need for an umbrella term for all who do not conform to the expectations of their birth gender. Harry Benjamin designed a scale. Leslie Feinberg and others proposed the term ‘transgender’ as an umbrella term, and it has been generally accepted since.

5. As a rejection of the medical pathologization implicit in ‘transsexualism’ and ‘gender dysphoria’. As an articulated usage, this is associated with queer theory, but the implicit attitude goes back to the early days of Gay Lib. Some of the anti-transgender people, especially those who identify with HBS or Truscum [i.e. communities of transsexual separatists], actually affirm themselves as having a medical condition.

In some ways Trangender is a good word because it is polyvalent, it has a richness of meanings. However – particularly when discussing pre-1950 and more so previous centuries – the term has baggage that is better avoided.

It is also damaged by boundary disputes. Some of the people are said by other people not to be transgender: drag performers, femmiphilics, cross-dreamers, gay transvestites, ‘female husbands’, butch women, non-binaries etc.

The Transgender Historian Zagria, Part 1: "A Gender Variance Who's Who"

Zagria is, as far as I see it, one of the most important transgender historians around. She is running “A Gender Variance Who’s Who”, an amazing repository for transgender history. The site contains a large number of posts, over 1500, about transgender and gender variant people from all over the world, spanning centuries.

We talked with Zagria about the site, her work and important transgender issues. Here follows part 1 of the interview.

(Above: Private photo of Zagria at Iguazu Falls in 1989)

A site about transgender history

How did you come up with the idea of starting a site about transgender history?

A major influence was Kay Brown’s Transsexual, Transgender, and Intersex History web site. I quickly noticed the narrow range, but thought that the basic idea was good. I had made an HTTRACK [web site copier] copy so could still refer to it when it was taken down.

Now of course it is available to all via the Wayback Machine.

I cannot help thinking that finding information about all these transgender and nonbinary people, and writing about them, must require a lot of research. How do you identify the people you are writing about, and where do you find the information you need?

Yes, a lot of research indeed. Basically I read widely. Sometimes while researching A, I encounter B, and follow up B and encounter C. I find inspiration from books, news articles, academic journals, academic theses, the internet, gossip, history, transphobic sites etc.

It is nice to discover someone while reading a book not about trans history at all. Such as Dudley Clarke, whom I discovered in a biography on the mid-twentieth-century popular novelist Dennis Wheatley, Charlotte Bach whom I discovered in Colin Wilson’s Mysteries, or the trans candidates for being Jack the Ripper.

There is a lot more information out there than there was 13 years ago. Google even suggests which books discuss a person or topic. However the amount of data is itself a growing problem, and results in a lot of reading before I can write something.

Access to journals

As I am not associated with a university, access to journals was a problem. An academic friend allowed me to use his library ID and I was thereby able to access journals until he retired and the ID stopped working. 

 However these days almost all journals and even many books are available via TransReads, LibGen,, ResearchGate, Erudit, etc. Increasingly academic theses are available online, and older ones were available – until recently – at the UCalgary Gay, lesbian, Bisexual, Queer, Transgender & Two Spirit Info Site (Archive).

I was frustrated when Google News was restricted. However we now have the Digital Transgender Archive which would be worthwhile for the issues of Drag Magazine alone, but has so much more.

August 6, 2020

Gender Variance in the Movies: The Bugs Bunny Story

2020 US stamp of Bugs Bunny crossdressing.
This is not a prank. The American cartoon character has actually been a positive role model for crossdreamers, queer and transgender people.

In the very interesting Netflix documentary Disclosure, on transgender presentation in American movies and TV, the transgender movie director Lilly Wachowski (of Matrix fame) tells the story about how the Bugs Bunny movie What's Opera Doc? helped her in her transgender journey.

The actor Laverne Cox agrees: "It was just fabulous".

As the documentary explains, most Hollywood representations of crossdressers and transgender people have been  transphobic at the core. The positive view of Bugs Bunny may therefore come as a surprise.

US Crossdreamer Stamp

Given that the US Postal Service is now celebrating Bugs Bunny's 80 year anniversary with a series of stamps, two of them depicting him as a crossdreamer, I decided to write  more about this over at my Trans Express blog in the article "Bugs Bunny as a Positive Transgender and Queer Role model".

Role models 

Here I would like to look into how important media coverage is for young trans and queer kids who are trying to find out who they are. They do not read science papers or follow LGBTQA media. They watch cartoons, play games and read comic books, and if they cannot find anything there (or have good friends who can help them), they will have no language to help them.

The young MTF crossdreamers Lilly Waschowski and Laverne Cox watched the cartoon below and saw a male assigned person dress up as a woman with great confidence and with no shame, embodying femininity with impressive bravado and in a positive way. 

Sure, today we will probably comment on all the gender stereotypes, but the fact is that Bugs Bunny embodies a proud and beautiful crossdreamer (or crossdresser or drag queen or trans woman) in a way that is affirmative and helpful.

Discuss crossdreamer and transgender issues!