Some Things Never Change

I just finished rereading Roberta Cowell’s book.

She got her surgery around the same time as Christine Jorgensen.

She had been involved in auto racing and served as a fighter pilot in the RAF during World War II, was shot down and spent time in a German POW camp.  She married and fathered two children before divorcing and coming out.

Christine Jorgensen also served in the military (US) and filled a position (clerk) that according to Allen Berube in Coming out Under Fire was one of those jobs where the military place queens.

They both expressed a sort of revulsion towards the idea that they were presumed to be gay.

Now the psychiatrists who worked with both of them as well as other early sisters were not working with a huge knowledge base regarding matters such as transvestism and homosexuality. We are talking Krafft-Ebing, Mangus Hirschfeld and Sigmund Freud. Urnings, sexual inversion, total transvestism etc. So it is sort of understandable how psychiatrists viewing these early cases might have thought that transsexualism had elements of avoiding the social pariah status of homosexual, a staus made plain by Roberta’s expressions of disgust regarding “pansies”.

Roberta’s book makes it far more obvious that neither of them was “a first”.  She discusses Lili Elbe and other cases that were written about in the popular press.  Lili Elbe’s story appeared in Man Into Woman (1933) edited by Ernst Ludwig Hathorn Jacobson using the pseudonym Niels Hoyer.

The very fact that she mentions all these other cases suggest that like Christine, she spent some serious time in libraries grasping at threads and reading almost anything that even hinted at offering her an answer as to what was going on with her.  We did then and we still do today.

Like people today she offered explanations and like Christine describe her physical build as androgynous leaning towards feminine.  She too believed she was”born that way”.

These are the details I speak of when refer to the importance of the narratives, not for the details but for the tropes, those elements that show the common thread.

As I said some things never change.  She defends her realness by attacking Christine Jorgensen as someone who was a “transvestite” and whose body didn’t change naturally.  Yet Roberta describes getting an early version of FFS.

In reading these 1950s biographies at a later time it is easy to see why feminist claim that transsexuals reify gender stereotypes.  Changing sex is a process of resocialization and learning done at a point in time and consistent with the contemporary social milieu.  The 1950s were an era of backlash against the feminism that had produced women’s suffrage, no less so in the UK than in the US.

Today we still have post-op sisters trashing other sisters with the same claim that they are real and others are not even though both had the same operation(s).  We still have those claiming to be more real than others based on physical traits even when both may well have had similar physical traits.

As Linda Ellerbee used to end her news shows…

And so it goes…

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