Trans in 1970

You know you are the opposite sex. You know this is mad, and shameful, and no-one must know. You think you are the only one. But brave people are making paths, and transition is becoming possible. Government and society are tolerant if contemptuous. You can be you.

The case of Corbett v Corbett or Ashley decided in England that a trans woman, even after an operation, could not marry a man, and that decision stood until the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which had certain insulting restrictions. However, it says something about what it was like to be trans in 1970, when it was decided.

It wasn’t easy. First, you had to hear that other people were like this too. In her teens April Ashley had attempted suicide and been admitted to mental hospital, where she said she wanted to be a woman. In 1956, aged 21, she went to the south of France where she met and joined a troupe of female impersonators from the Carousel club, Paris. She was taking oestrogen.

In 1961 April was working as a model, until this was reported in the press. In 1962, the News of the World published a series of articles about her, telling her life story in considerable detail. Reporting was exploitative, but it was out there. Jan Morris’ book Conundrum was published in 1974. I found it unreadable, too close to my experience, and it was written to explain us to educated cis people rather than to ourselves, but it was there.

In 1961, April changed her name by deed poll, and obtained a passport in her female name. “The Ministry of National Insurance issued her with a woman’s insurance card, and now treat her as a woman for national insurance purposes.” The doctors had arranged this for several patients. The rules were different, based on the idea that women would marry and become housewives. There was a widow’s benefit but no equivalent for widowers. So the rules were inappropriate if you could not marry, but the thing was done.

In court, her husband’s barrister badgered her over whether she had had erections or ejaculated. The judge, contemptuously, records, “She simply refused to answer either question and wept a little”.

A lawyer in Gibraltar succeeded in getting a special licence for her to marry. So the High Court in London scotched that idea, but some officials would have given it a go.

There was a surgeon, Georges Burou, in Casablanca, who would perform the operation, and April had it in 1960. There were specialists in London who recommended it: Dr JB Randell, at the Charing Cross gender clinic, which had started in 1966, had recommended 35 patients for surgery. Patients had to sign a consent form saying “I understand it will not alter my male sex and that it is being done to prevent deterioration in my mental health”.

Arthur Corbett pressed her to marry, though she knew this was a mistake. Arthur was unhappily married, and had cross-dressed from 1948. They rarely dressed, saying “I didn’t like what I saw. You want the fantasy to appear right. It utterly failed to appear right in my eyes.” A man who had had an amputation told me those turned on by this didn’t last, as they wanted the amputation themselves. So Arthur pressed her to marry, but though April had had sex with others, Arthur could not go through with it. “On several occasions he succeeded in penetrating her fully, but immediately gave up, saying ’I can’t, I can’t’ and withdrew without ejaculation, and burst into tears.” She left Arthur, saying the years since they met had been the worst of her life.

I am not using pronouns for Arthur. I am pretty sure she was trans, and born fifty years later would have transitioned. She felt that, looking like she did, it would have been impossible. While the judge, and probably the psychiatrists, made a rigorous distinction then between “transsexuals” and “transvestites”, the difference is what you see as possible, rather than your true nature.

Lawyers soon began arguing that the Sex Discrimination Act 1970 made it illegal to discriminate against transsexuals.

Transition was even harder than now, but there were pathways, and official recognition, and exceptionally courageous individuals could do it, and make a life.

Cross-dressing for comfort and pleasure

My friend, assigned female at birth, pronouns she/her at least for now, is wearing a packer. She likes the way it feels, how it makes her feel. She’s talking about it more, too. My idea of butch lesbian style had not moved on from denims and DMs, and a particular hair cut: I see the haircuts are more varied, and men’s jackets and ties are in. It is very close to dressing as men. I don’t think they are trying to pass as men, and the voice would make that difficult. You need T, and most people need chest masculinisation, to pass as a man: it grows facial hair, produces male pattern baldness, and alters the voice. Even with T, many would not pass as men before someone attuned to checking them out, as the voice and face shape can be distinctive, as well as physical size and waist to hip ratio. Facial masculinisation…

(pause to Google)

Oh gosh, facial masculinisation is a thing! Augmenting the adam’s apple, altering the nose, producing “a more chiseled and defined chin and jawline”, forehead and cheekbone treatments… “Since 2015”, the website says, and probably for a few intrepid and determined people before then.

Anyway. You can probably but not certainly pass, with extensive surgery and hormone treatment; or you can just put on a jacket and tie. You can change your name if you like.You should be able to decide your own pronouns.

I tend to feel that you will be accepted by others if you accept yourself. People will pick up on your self-consciousness or self-confidence, and often reinforce it; if you think you’re all right, others will too. Some people conform, and some cannot. Those who cannot or will not, if they have sufficient brass neck to face it out, others take them at their own estimation.

Regular readers know what I think about the “Some people are trans, and need surgery and hormones” argument- it’s doubtful. Trans people insist it’s “Dysphoria”- we get shirty when others talk of dysmorphia, which is a matter of dislike of body shape, as in BIID. People undergo surgery for self-acceptance, societal acceptance, and sexual performance. It’s a crutch. You’re not being yourself, you are conforming to an ideal you think people will grudgingly accept.

Surgery for self-acceptance is a blind alley. It will make you a “true transsexual” but being that is no improvement on being a feminine man or a masculine woman. I have the additional thing to accept: not just who I am, but what I have done. I paid to be castrated in a fruitless, foredoomed attempt at Acceptance. Some say they will tolerate a trans woman in women’s changing rooms post-op, and that means they will strongly object to a glimpse of a penis. I found swimming pool changing rooms less threatening after the op, but that is a high price to pay. Some people are more likely to tolerate you if you have surgery, but is that worth it?

As for sexual performance, everyone has to learn how their body works, and changing it won’t necessarily increase pleasure. You can still orgasm post-op, but I find that I do so far less often, and others probably do too.

So, what about just cross-dressing, for trans women? The more you do it, the more going back to presenting male becomes unpleasant, and at last unbearable. It is associated with sex in a way women’s jackets are not: high heels put you in a female courting position, while women put on make-up to please themselves, and to look good to other women, etc, etc, it makes them attractive to men; it is a turn-on, as well as a way of expressing your true self and relaxing. That we may be aroused when dressed female is used by our opponents to falsely suggest we are a danger in women’s space.

Someone I know wears skirts without any attempt to pass as female. Their pronouns are “They/their”. It is brave.

Or you could dress as a fop, or dandy, pushing or transgressing boundaries with a silk scarf.

It is hard being a feminine male. Society denigrates feminine characteristics, though everyone has them and they are necessary. I don’t have an answer here for anyone else, for I have not reached one for myself. Trying to be manly was a painful failure, as was moulding myself to a box marked “transsexual”: to be myself I hardly know how to start. When I say society should be more tolerant, it could be that I am projecting, that I need to tolerate myself better. Whatever, I am delighted that my friend is enjoying packing, and hope it does not mean she will seek surgery.

Cross-dressing and trans women

I see that some people in the trans community as well as outside it try to put up a fixed boundary between crossdressers and “real” transgender people. That is unfortunate, writes Jack Molay.

I agree. Some people who later identify as trans women, or who transition, start off identifying as cross-dressers. I am one. I thought I was a “transvestite”- not an objectionable word, then- as I slowly grew towards wanting to transition, deciding to transition, transitioning. As he says, “cross-dressing is an act, not a condition”. However, people show who we are by what we do, and someone who cross-dresses occasionally but has never seen a doctor about it has not shown to anyone that socially she is a trans woman. What we are entitled to depends on what we show we are, rather than what we claim we are, and fear and prejudice distort this.

Everyone is entitled to respect. Someone who cross-dresses occasionally is not respected, and this is a shame. My neighbour refused to speak to me after he saw me leaving home during the week for work dressed male but in the evenings and weekends for fun dressed female. He began speaking to me again after I transitioned. The cross-dresser may be disrespected by the cis person who thinks that is a man, a pervert, and it is unseemly for a man to do that, or by the trans woman who thinks that is a man and his flaunting may decrease respect for trans women.

Loos have cubicles. A cross-dresser using a woman’s loo for masturbation is disgusting, but then I disapprove of men using any public places for masturbation. That includes watching porn on the train. A cross-dresser using a woman’s loo to urinate does no harm at all, whether or not s/he wants to transition. Someone who cross-dresses occasionally (me again, twenty years ago) might want to use a woman’s loo as part of checking out whether transition was possible for her, before seeing a doctor or confessing she was considering transition to anyone else.

Trans women might object to any cross-dresser using a woman’s loo because they fear the cross-dresser makes it difficult for them, such as by increasing the fear of cis people. Some androphile trans women try to delegitimise gynephile or late-transitioning trans women, sometimes by conflating the two groups, or calling them ugly. That comes from misplaced fear, of being excluded and disrespected in turn. “I’m not like them, I’m a real transsexual” they wail. If you’re doing your best to appear to be a woman I don’t object to you.

What about going to work? I feel anyone should be able to wear what they like to work, if it is sufficiently formal. There are non-binary people, who go to work sometimes presenting female, sometimes presenting male. The more that happens, the more normal it becomes, the more unnecessary taboos are worn away.

Prisons and hospitals, though, women’s spaces are for trans women but not cross-dressers. That means having commenced transition. In prisons, you should need a diagnosis, because prisoners are dishonest, and may pretend to be trans for wicked purposes.

Trans women are mostly harmless. Judge us for what we do as individuals, not as a group for all wrong done by all trans women ever. Fear of trans women comes from irrational prejudice. Trans women seeking to exclude cross-dressers can come from fear of being a victim of that prejudice.


Where, in the late 1970s, would you get the idea of cross-dressing from, anyway? Dick Emery, perhaps:

Or there was an orgy scene in I Claudius, where the bra of the fleeing coquette is seen to be stuffed.

Where did I get the idea of cross-dressing from? I just wanted to, so I did. Arousal, compulsion, shame followed almost immediately-  not in my memory of the first time I did it, but ever thereafter. I knew no-one must know I did this awful thing, but then people keep sexual matters private. The people I saw in women’s clothes were women.

Here’s Johan Zoffany, The Last Supper.


Zoffany, like most artists, used real people as models for his Last Supper. St John, leaning on Jesus’ left shoulder, is WC Blackwell, police sergeant of Calcutta, a cross-dresser who would round up criminals while dressed as a woman. Very fetching she looks, too. At different times, there are different levels of acceptance, and sometimes we can be brazen. You hear about other people who do it: I read two articles in the Mensa magazine by Christine-Jane Wilson, and got in touch. Her magazine published my poem, but we never met. But we do it spontaneously, before we get the idea from others.

Rachel the Trans Philosopher wondered how she knows she is trans. She does not have direct knowledge that she is female, contrary to The Script, “I knew I was a girl from the age of five”. She infers she is trans from her desire to transition and her delight in proceeding with it. Either it’s circular: I have the desires, therefore I am trans, therefore the desires are right for me; or it is “I can do what I like”: I need no excuse to follow these desires. I judge them harmless.

I don’t think I would have transitioned without the example of other people.

I read of a man executed by drowning in the Nor’ Loch, where Princes St Gardens are now, for bestiality. It was done at 4am, because he told his trial that he got the idea from a previous execution. It has never appealed to me, but I condemn it less than others might because of my own inexplicable desires.

Explanations tend to be descriptions- I express female because I want to, with no justification for the desire, because it needs none; or rationalisations- I am in some way a woman, which sounds good until someone asks what that could mean. We may tell ourselves stories about it because they are the stories we have heard, or we make up our own, but we start cross-dressing spontaneously, because that is what we want to do.

Binge. Purge.

The title “Recovering Crossdresser” might make you think of recovering alcoholic- a person who will always have the temptations but is doing their best not to give in. Take it one day at a time. However, this blogger keeps cross-dressing. He loves lingerie. He was worn a skirt and a top, occasionally, but that does nothing for him.

I am not here going to look down on the man. Anyone prejudiced against us would see no difference between him and me, except in degree. “This kind of trans are disgusting weirdos, that kind of trans are completely acceptable, almost normal in fact” said no non-trans person ever. I am weird enough not to mock another’s idiosyncrasies. I have fellow-feeling.

If I tell you not to think about an elephant, you will think about an elephant. I don’t know how not to think about something, but writing a blog, detailing exactly what he was wearing, is not it. It can feel that way. Naming it- one of the wife’s white lacy bras, plus my own recently acquired white suspender belt, white hold up stockings and one of my white g-strings– may bring back the feeling of revulsion which led you to purge all your stuff in the first place, but will also foster the incipient feelings of arousal. That’s the way it works.

His wife’s bra? Well, she wears sensible underwear, rarely bothering to have it matching, and almost never wears the sexy frillies he buys for her. I have not read the whole blog, but not saying stuff may be the saving of the marriage. He buys expensive lace, it sits in her drawer, does she expect him to get a message not to buy more?

Possibly, thinking of cross-dressing with as little detail as possible, and dwelling on the shame, the feelings of not being in control, and the experience of being caught might stave off the desires. It was the only time, he said, in April 2015. “All hell broke loose”. However, now she “loves” it when he has his whole body waxed. She might have made the connection, and might be hinting she could bear his cross-dressing. I hope so. It would take a lot of the shame away, and that might reduce the compulsion. It would just be something he did.

He may seek out the shame, though. He wears lingerie to work. He calls this “underdressing”. He is careful to wear baggy sweaters so that cami-suspender lines do not show. But he is self-conscious:

I felt sure that there were people passing me by, who, as I sat there, minding my own business, casually reading, were, I felt, taking a slightly longer look in my direction slightly longer than might be naturally expected.

Maybe it was just me, in a partial state of paranoia, but then again maybe it wasn’t. 

I wonder if he has heard of shadow-motivation- acting to achieve something you are not conscious of desiring. He wants to be found out, or wants that delicious state of paranoia. If they are studying him, it is probably because they see he is more self-conscious than usual, not that they guess he has women’s underwear on. More likely, he is just imagining it.

Fear and shame are a great deal of the excitement. People are aroused a lot of the time, including at work, but an employer might disapprove of doing things there deliberately to get aroused, and colleagues might object, as women object to men watching pornography in public. Or, getting away with it might please him, but how would anyone know?

Here we are, with our fear, shame and compulsions. I might like to be free of them, but is anyone?

Labels and desires

A search term: “Are hijra and autogynephilia the same?” Yes and no.

First, they are different because hijra is a cultural phenomenon, grown in a society, and autogynephilia is the stringing together of Greek words by a psychiatrist, to label a hypothesis. Second, they are different because hijra are generally thought of as attracted to men, and autogynephiliacs as attracted to women, though they may claim to be bisexual or attracted to men.

They are the same because they are people born with testicles who express ourselves female.

I was crossdressing, and I wanted to express myself female all the time. The label “transsexual” gave me permission to do this. I would not, perhaps, have been the pioneer, living female when no-one else had, but seeing people who did somehow made me see it was alright to do the same. I had a diagnosis from a psychiatrist, who recommended the hormones and surgery I desired, and had the treatment.

Another possibility used to be called “transgenderist”. Pip Wilson is an example: she expressed herself female all the time, but associated with “cross-dressers”. Janett Scott of the Beaumont Society is another.

The transsexual “support” groups had some members who policed membership and definitions. “Pre-op” or “Post-op” were welcome, but “Non-op”, those who had decided they would not have The Operation were dodgy, and might be attacked as Not Really Transsexual. They had some defenders, but those who identified as autogynephiliac did not: the latter were fair game.

With the Northern Concord in Manchester, some of the people seemed feminine to me, and some blokes down the pub who happened to be dressed rather strangely.

So are they the same? I don’t know. We can create words and categories which say they are, or say they are not. The word Trans* includes all of them: AMAB expressing ourselves female, AFAB expressing themselves male. The term “primary transsexual” has been used to include those who want surgical alteration, and are attracted to the sex they were assigned at birth.

Some assert that “gender identity is separate from sexuality”. This is true in that ones gender identity does not produce a particular sexuality, and trans women can be attracted to men, or attracted to women; but it is possible that there are separate phenomena, with separate causes: the trans woman attracted to women, the trans woman attracted to men, and the latter may be the same phenomenon as the trans man attracted to women, or not.

All these phenomena have this in common, that one expresses onesself in the “other” gender from that assigned at birth. Some have a sense of gender as a spectrum, and not fitting the “gender binary”. Some AMABs who assert they are “women” might also feel that they do not fit that binary, if they really thought about it.

Some assert that AMAB person’s desire to express herself female is legitimate if she is a “true transsexual”, however defined, and perverted and disgusting if she does not fit that definition.

Are autogynephilia and hijra the same? Culturally no; scientifically, yes if gender presentation is the most important thing, and no if certain other things are considered to be important.

Every human being is unique.

Adverse reactions

I started work in that office years before I came out, and grew to like and respect J, who had worked there several years before me. She was perhaps a bit depressive, committed to the clients, without illusion about their virtue or capability or what she could do for them, keen to do something useful. “Action”, she would say, kicking herself up the butt, pushing herself on. We worked together well, sharing a dry sense of humour. She would hear me if I needed to emote about a client or situation.

Then in the pub after work, A was telling of his friend. Her ex-husband was a transvestite, and they split up not because she could not stand him cross-dressing but because he could not stand her laughing at him. It was the two glasses of mead talking: I said, “I do that”.

Silence, then they tried to persuade me that I was just fooling, and then eventually B said, “You know, I think he’s telling the truth”. As if I was not there.

It got round the office. The manager, who was keen on Diversity, said that now I had come out it would be a shame if I went back in again, and next time we went out for a meal I went dressed female. I got called “sir” by the waiter, but my colleagues were fine- even J. Then she told me, quite matter of factly, that she found me dressing female revolting. She did not want to be rude, but it was just too much. When I went full time female at work, we stopped talking to each other except when absolutely necessary.


I got friendly with Colin, also known as Fiona, at Northern Concord dos. There we were in our ballgowns, having decorous fun. He invited me on to his boat on the Norfolk Broads: his wife would not go with him when he cross-dressed. We would go round pubs in Norwich, and drive the boat around, and eat in country pubs. It was great fun.

Colin went away for long weekends as Fiona, and once decided to spend a whole week. He went around various friends, staying with me last. He had had acrylic nails applied. By the end of the week, he was heartily sick of it, and relieved to dress male again. What was exciting for a weekend had palled completely.

He was unenthusiastic when I told him I would transition. He thought I was a transvestite who had lost all sense of proportion. He told me of an accountant he had known, who transitioned and went to a hairdressing college course, who reverted after nine months. He told me I would have no friends, in a long, depressing dinner on Canal St. So I made a fantasy, and told him I would find an international solo musician, and tour with him as his muse. This never happened, but shortly after another friend took me to meet a pianist in the soloist’s dressing room at the Bridgewater Hall: which I found reassuring. Not everyone would reject me.

Just after I went full time, Colin agreed to take me to the theatre in Manchester. He would dress male for the evening. He brought a suit to wear: but only a pair of old trainers, as he had driven over in jeans. When he realised he did not have appropriate shoes, he insisted on going in drag. I parked a short way from the theatre and strode off in my sensible flats, angry, not wanting to be seen with him, and he tottered behind, protesting. I put him up that night, and then never saw him again.

Sunshine and Community

In the meeting house garden, the plums are out. Apply the gentlest pressure, upwards, to the base of the fruit, and if it falls into your hand it is perfect, ready for feasting on. You can tell it is a meeting house because of the grave stones, plain, uniform, below knee height, simple and unadorned.

My friend tells me the brambles will not be out until October in Edinburgh, but here they have been out for two months. At first either wersh and characterful or with that wonderful, explodes in the mouth sweetness, now they have a soft, gentle sweetness. I stain thumb and forefingers.

I have been noticing, more, since that programme on the Impressionists. Tiny plants cover the surface of the field by the river. Looking down, I see their leaves green and red, but further away there is a sheen on the field, far too complex for any pointilliste, green and red and- blue? And purple. I have been looking at the difference in one colour, in sunshine, in shade, under cloud, after sunset.

On the bridge over the river I meet a couple taking photographs. The man is not so interested in the swans, as in the light on the water: with the sun at this angle, the ripples make clear precise patterns of light and dark. I took the photo above before- noticing the effect, he captures it better. I do not have my camera, because with my camera I am tempted to concentrate on creating an image I can delight in later, rather than delighting in the reality, around me, now. Just over the bridge, the chirping of the grasshoppers is as loud as a car engine, but as I walk on it is soon replaced by birdsong.

The park is mine, today, I only see six other people. It is too hot for the wig, so I take it off, and feel the wind in my own, so terribly sparse hair. Down by the lock a few weeks ago I met a man who goes there to chat to tourist narrowboaters, who told me his great delight and his great fear and called me “me duck”, a beautiful endearment for a stranger which I had not heard around here before. By some branches, cut and planted in a pattern and now, amazingly to me, putting forth new shoots, I met a man with two dogs of a breed common in Portugal but rare here, who read me, and told me of his own experiments with cross-dressing- his wife does not approve.

Inspired by this post. If you like what I write, please tell people.

Being transsexual- what’s it like?

When asked, I want to explain, because I want people to understand.

The first thing is, I have not had a “sex change”, I have changed the way I express myself. I am the same person, with the same gender. There are sex differences in the human brain, and on some of those my brain shows as female. Transition is liberation: as a friend noticed, I was acting when I was presenting male, real when expressing myself female.

On the operation, it is easier for women to understand than men. Ladies, you may have a great deal of fun with penises, but you would not want one of your own. Gents, as you would feel about losing it, I felt about having it. After my op, I did a thought-experiment. How would I feel if I had to lose one of my little toes? Well, if I had to, I could come to terms with that, but I find the idea horrible. And yet hearing the psychiatrist dictate his letter recommending the operation was one of the happiest moments of my life. Someone condemned me as “unnatural”- if what I have done was unnatural, I would not be able to continue with it. It is profoundly right for my nature. And transitioning has liberated me from a black and white view of gender; I can express myself over a wide range of “masculine” or “feminine” behaviours, whereas before I was limited.

If it is wrong for you, and you tried it, you would find that out very quickly indeed: my transvestite friend once cross-dressed for a week, and by the end of that week he was completely sick of it. If it is right for you, it is just, right: it was the most important thing in my life to transition, I could not move forward in my life in anything else, I had to deal with this first.