Yvonne Cook Riley: The Invention of Transgender

This short piece represents a bit more of the actual history rather than some of the revisionist material that has recently been circulated by Christan Williams.  While some details are wrong because they omit aspects that were happening in different arenas.  These few paragraphs out line the role played by the people of Tapestry and IFGE who actually brought the modern “Transgender Movement”together in the early 1990s.

She omits the fact there were lesbians post-ops in the 1970s hence the trans vs lesbian wars.  the early TV movement, early TS movement and the early drag queen movement, which were all separate movements.

However this is a matter of her perspective not historical revisionism.

From Bilrico: http://www.bilerico.com/2011/08/yvonne_cook_riley_the_invention_of_transgender.php

By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss
August 16, 2011

Reposted here with permission of Jillian Weiss
Thanks also to Bil Browning for his permission

I returned yesterday from Kindred Spirits, a transgender spiritual retreat held in Hot Springs, North Carolina, at the old Sunnybank Inn, built in the 1840s. There, several of us sitting around the porch one night, slapping at the gnats, had a fascinating hour-long discussion with Yvonne Cook-Riley. Yvonne was very involved in the trans movement in the 80s and early 90s. She’s retired now, and lives a quiet and spiritual life in North Carolina. She was a tireless advocate for the community back in the day, however, and there wasn’t any place one could look without seeing her. Something she said about the transgender movement fascinated me.

She said she was the founder of the transgender movement.

That set off a light bulb over my head, as we have recently had some discussion of the history of the term “transgender” and of the “transgender community” here on Bilerico. So here’s the one we should thank, or vilify, when we talk about the “transgender community”! She also credited Virginia Prince and Phyllis Frye as co-founders of the movement, as well as a number of others who participated in making it happen.

She agreed to a short interview in the morning, and the audio file (11 minutes long) is at the end of this post.

The hour-long discussion from Saturday night couldn’t be replicated in the short 11 minute interview posted here, but I tried to steer the conversation towards the most fascinating part: how did the “transgender movement” get invented?

As a background to this interview, it’s important to understand there was no “transgender movement” at the time of which Yvonne speaks. Rather, as I learned when I was coming out in the mid-90s, there were three distinct communities that never mixed: a heterosexual transsexual women’s community, a heterosexual transsexual men’s community, and a separate heterosexual male crossdresser community. It was considered an oxymoron to be a lesbian transsexual woman (who sought women as partners) or a gay transsexual man (who sought men as partners), though they did exist. But there was no “community” for them, and if they wanted any medical help or sympathy from the rest of the community, they had to be silent about their sexual orientation. It was well-known that there were gay and bisexual crossdressers, but they were not wanted in the crossdressing community. The crossdressing community stressed, with few exceptions, that it was composed entirely of men who liked dressing en femme on a strictly part-time basis, that they desired only women as partners, and that they would not admit anyone who openly stated that they were open to men as sexual partners. The intent was to try to mollify the wives of the members, and to get them to look upon crossdressing as a hobby, rather than a threat to their marriage. In the few meetings that I attended in the 90s, the wives were there in force, and the tactic seemed to be successful. It was equally obvious to me that I was on a completely different path, and that was useful information for me.

The important point of this background is that there was no middle ground. There was no recognized way to transition to living as the opposite sex without surgery. It was for this reason that the term “transgenderist” was coined, which denoted this middle path for which there was no path.

Back to Yvonne Cook-Riley’s interview: She was the founding operations manager of the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE), which opened in 1987, to advocate for freedom of gender expression. Its tagline is “We promote the understanding and acceptance of All People: Transgender, Transsexual, Crossdresser, Agender, Gender Queer, Intersex, Two Spirit, Hijra, Kathoey, Drag King, Drag Queen, Queer, Lesbian, Gay, Straight, Butch, Femme, Faerie, Homosexual, Bisexual, Heterosexual, and of course – You!” It runs the magazine “Transgender Tapestry.” Yvonne noted that she was the one to add the word “transgender” to the title. Prior to that, it was simply known as “Tapestry.” The organization is still chugging along, with annual conferences and its Transgender Tapestry magazine.

Yvonne and a few others worked hard to create a “transgender movement” from the few disparate groups whose main goal was to disappear into the woodwork and remain secretive. She worked with a major gay advocacy organization in the early 90s to incorporate the word “transgender” and its associated concepts, and that effort took off into the “transgender movement” that we see today. She had a fascinating response to my question about what she would say to transsexuals concerned about being co-opted into the transgender movement. The flute you hear in the background is my friend Kara, who is an expert shakuhachi player (and YouTubes a lot on her transition experiences), giving an impromptu concert downstairs.

Click here for the interview audio file: Voice 002.amr

9 Responses to “Yvonne Cook Riley: The Invention of Transgender”

  1. Andrea B. Says:

    That article is not a perspective. It is blatant revisionism.

    Those organisations back then were blatantly homphobic and vehmently anti sex reasignment surgery.

    Up to the mid 80s they vehemently opposed sex reasignment surgery, to the point of writing to psychiatrists, clinics and lawmakers trying to get SRS stopped.

    Some of them actively wrote letters to the DSM committees vehmently oppossing the delisting of homosexuality from the DSM in 73.

    As for transgender. Prince on several terms used the terms transgender, transgenderist and transgendered when making speeches back in the 70’s, contrary to the lies perpetrated today. Prince used all three of those terms in the late 60’s in speeches.

    Christan Williams, Jillian Weiss and Yvonne Cook-Riley should apply for jobs in Fox News as story writers. They would do well.

    • Suzan Says:

      I actually welcomed the admission that Prince and the Tri-Ess crew were behind Transgender Inc and the Transgender Borg. that Transgender as Umbrella was a 1990s social construct, even as Yvonne Cook Riley perpetuated the big lie about how one couldn’t be transsexual and lesbian in the late 1960s or early 1970s even though the meeting in the clinics were if anything more diverse than they are today.

      Nonetheless having one of the founders of the Borg/Inc admit this is a good thing.

    • Suzan Says:

      Do you have evidence of those letters? Copies? If so I will run them…

  2. aformeroldfriend Says:

    Thank you Andrea
    It’s nice to see someone who ACTUALLY KNEW what was going on back then.

    I was there, and I knew what was going on. It’s about god damned time someone spoke the truth about how the panty wackers thought and lobbied against us and our then new found freedom and acceptance.

    Is it really any wonder why some of us really hate those people. They tried and partially succeeded in destroying our lives.

  3. catkisser Says:

    Further, it counters the false claims of that Williams texican person that Lowman’s (Prince) hands were clean in this umbrella transgender crap once and for all by a co-conspirator of Lowman.

  4. aformeroldfriend Says:

    I agree it’s a good thing, with any luck this can be used against them.

  5. Andrea B. Says:

    @ Suzan,

    Almost every so called transgender archive, has copies of those letters. University archives, have the originals. Contrary to what most people assume, a lot of the letters to the DSM committees back then were archived, instead of destroyed.

    Arnold Lowmann went completely mental in 1972 about the proposal to delist homosexuality in 1973. He wrote to Stoller and others about that and got a lot of transvestites to do the same.

    Every university department that had staff members on the various DSM committees recieved those letters. Usually they were handed to researchers in sociology or psychology departments who covered some T stuff of various kinds. Anywhere shrinks like Richard Green, Robert Stoller, John Money or any other money grabber who failed to get a job on Wall Street has worked, will have material like that in archives. Request to see it.

    Any of the long term transgender archives that are complete will have copies of various stuff, assuming they have not destroyed them as inconvenient. Those in universities will be the most complete as individuals and organisations have a nasty tendency of rewriting their histories every 18 to 24 months these days.

    I am constantly amazed at the brass neck of the revisionists claiming they don’t know where information is or saying it does not exist because it is not on the internet, due to it being pre-world wide web, when they are in full knowledge it is on paper in boxes in archives.

    I also find it amazing that anyone has the nerve to state that Tri-Ess was not a blatantly homphobic and anti-SRS organisation.

    As for the non profit organisation IGFE, when it started it more or less was the same as Tri-Ess. It had a very homophobic membership as well, althgouh a bit more open minded. There attitiude to FTM’s left a lot to be desired. It took a while for there attitudes to change.

    I am amazed at Dr. Jillian T. Weiss asking me for sources. She is a professor of law at Ramapo College in New Jersey. There are no archives in her college as it is a basic college, but in New York just up the road from her, there are in the larger universitites. She can request from those various sociology and psychology departments for inter-univerity loans of material and read it herself. She should know how to find the information herself and can readily access it.

    As I said before, Christan Williams, Jillian Weiss and Yvonne Cook-Riley should apply for jobs in Fox News as story writers due to their revisionism ability. They would do well.

  6. Andrea B. Says:

    Correcting my memory. Got the hormone supplier info wrong. It was from a post someone made on a listserve a few years before lawrences website. Lawrence put the same list of hormones on her site later.

    Seems like a distant echo these days instead of just 20 years ago.

  7. Karen Says:

    I met Yvonne Cook Riley in the early 90’s at the IFGE offices… I must say in my interactions with her I was not impressed ad could not relate to her…


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