I’m always at a loss when people tell me about the “Bad Old Days”.
I wonder when they are talking about.
It is unlikely they could be talking about the 1950s because the incidence of people getting sex change operations in the 1950s was incredibly rare.
Things improved by the early 1960s with Dr Burou in Casablanca and Dr Barbosa in Tijuana both of whom were refining techniques that gave birth to the techniques used today.
Why by the late 1950s early 1960s major University Medical Centers were starting to look at doing SRS along with some Drs. in the US actually doing surgery.
Not only that… The fact that tabloid newspapers were starting to regularly carry stories about April Ashley and the sisters who had worked at the Carousel made what had been a fantasy for kids like me start to seem like something one could really do.
The whole climate of the 1960s with the youth fashion revolution, the sexual freedom of the pill, the music, the psychedelic drugs. Political liberation struggles, personal liberation struggles, feminism, gay and lesbian liberation all created a climate that some of us found so easy to come out in.
I was 20 in 1967. Books like “On the Road” and “City of Night” along with the whole hippie movement were all I needed for the final push.
In the late spring of 1967 I met a transkid in the Village on Sixth Avenue and hung out with her for a little while. At that point she was a feminine hippie boy pre-hormones but she had heard SF was the place to go because transsexuals out there really had it together and you could wear women’s clothes without being sent to jail.
No one talked about Johns Hopkins because they did crappy surgeries and because they got thousands of applications and did only a couple of dozen surgeries.
I wound up in the Haight in late 1967. I was political and honestly I was still working on the courage to actually come out. I was part of a red/black cadre. A really tight family that tripped together and watched each other’s back.
The times called for serious honesty. we were outlaws and the line from the Dylan song applied, “If you live outside the law you must be honest.”
I took a lot of acid. Deep introspective trips of the sort people like Leary and Ram Das wrote about. Broke through the inhibitions, found the courage and came out.
Got hormones from a Free Clinic. Women friends gave me clothes, the hippie clothes I wore were so androgynous as to be girl clothes when a girl was wearing them, bell bottom jeans and loose paisley tops.
The hardest things were earning money because they only paid women about half of what they paid men and most “women’s jobs” paid minimum wages. But rent was cheap. Berkeley Welfare gave me General Assistance and Food Stamps. They used me as a test case to try to get the government to pay for my surgery.
In San Francisco the Transsexual Counseling Service was being funded by the War on Poverty.
It cost me less than 20 dollars to see Dr. Benjamin. Electrolysis was 10 dollars an hour which was a small fortune.
Rent was cheap. Chic “vintage” Clothing Stores weren’t raiding the Goodwill, Purple Heart and Salvation Army Stores yet, so clothes were cheap.
Mostly though if you passed even half way and lived some place outside the ghetto no one ever read you and you could start the process of assimilation.
We weren’t on the radar screen. I had a deserter boyfriend because it was safer for women to have a boyfriend than to live alone, but also because I loved him.
There was a much looser form of SOC. Basically you had to live full time and show you could hold down a job or go to school full time.
You also couldn’t be actively and obviously insane. You had to convince the Dr. you knew the ramifications of what you were doing and were sure it was the right thing.
Now I’ve heard some folks claim there was “mandatory heterosexuality” in your target sex, but even Dr. B’s book mentions people who had been married and fathered children. There were definitely sisters who had married women and fathered children in the program at Stanford.
But let’s go back to the boyfriend part… That was a whole lot better before we were colonized by the Transgender Borg Collective and grafted on to the Gay and Lesbian Movement because our boyfriends were straight for the most part. They were reacting to our being cute girls and there wasn’t this whole huge trip hanging over our relationships.
I can so totally understand heterosexual sisters not wanting to have the whole “Transgender as Umbrella” load of baggage contaminating their relationship with their boyfriend/husband.
If you wanted to be out being transsexual was sort of a gateway to a minor form of celebrity. Writers would buy you lunch and dinner as well as pay for long interviews.
We were really pretty empowered in those days before the reactionary ascendency of the Religious Reich that accompanied Reagan.
When I hear stories about how impossible it was I tend to think fear was the main block.
People tell of going to one place, being told they weren’t transsexual and being so devastated that they put the whole idea on the shelf for 20-30 years. Early on I encountered a Dr. who played a mind game on me. He hypnotized me and asked me my”real name” so I gave him my legal name. He claimed that was how I sub-consciously thought of myself. I though, “fuck you… If I get arrested… that’s the name they book me under until I get SRS and can legally change my name and official ID. I went to other doctors and spread the word about what a shithead this one particular doctor was.
Oh I know you are thinking pre-ops couldn’t change their ID in those days. But ID requirements were so much easier. A Student ID card, even the treatment card from the Center for Special Problems where they gave out hormones for free meant you could open a bank account, rent an apartment, get a job.
I had a rocking good time in the 1960s and 70s. I went on to be part of the Women’s building in LA, model, do extra work in movies and be a photographer/layout artist for The Lesbian Tide.
Yes a couple of people got trashed, but there were a whole lot more of us who were in the lesbian movement who didn’t, and people knew our histories.
Now there is this myth about mandatory stealth…
That was more a matter of collective wisdom. As too was getting out of the trans-ghetto. The ghetto was focused on drugs and sex work.
My generation was more likely to have High School diplomas and both grants and loans were easy to get as well as feminist encouragements, government provided career guidance etc.
Things like the “hard-on” test were a sort of an in-joke among us. But common wisdom was that you wanted to impress the doctor who had the power to okay your surgery and looking good along with coming off sane was to one’s advantage. Looking sexy was a message we absorbed from Helen Gurley Brown and Cosmopolitan Magazine. I got my dress for success idea from Mademoiselle Magazine and dressed like the Berkeley hippie/college girl that I was.
Actually being TOO feminine could work against you and I had to intercede on the behalf of a friend who was very Candy Darlingish, but she was from the south and I had known a couple of other women with similar traits. when Dr Laub asked me what I thought about her and did I think she was more drag queen than transsexual, I answered, “She’s southern, it’s cultural.” That was all it took.
She got her surgery. She passed away last year and I still miss her.
At the same time I learned that even before I had come out some of the folks at Stanford thought I was probably lesbian because of my feminism.
When I moved to LA I found folks like Carol Katz, Joanna Clark and Jude Patton were running a similar organization in the Los Angeles area.
Sometime I think when people talk about the “Bad Old Days” they must be speaking about the early 1980s when we were subjected to the reactionary Reagan/Thatcher era.
AIDS was pretty fucking devastating and those neo-Nazi shits did so little in the way of research, treatment or much of anything else.
The 1980s were truly the bad old days as far as I am concerned.
McHugh and the NARTH/Opus Dei gang as well as the APA were run amok.
Programs were being closed.
But even then private surgeons were stepping in and filling the gap left by the closing of the University programs.
And you know people were still getting surgery and sisters were making a niche in the computer industry.
Maybe the Transgender Borg ideology has to paint the past as darker than it actually was in order to convince sisters with transsexualism of how much they need the TG Borg Collective.
Maybe folks need to look at the biographies of people from that era as well as books like Joanne Meyerowitz’s book.