In the mid-90s I found an important phone number in the back of a magazine. These were pre-internet days for me when magazines were a main source of information on most topics. I found this particular magazine in an adult bookstore, despite the fact that it could hardly be considered pornographic. Its offensiveness was simply that it contained pictures and stories of men who liked to dress as women. Still, I was too embarrassed to purchase it, so I memorized the number just long enough to write it down once I got back to my car. The number was for a local chapter of a crossdressing support group called Tri-Ess.

This was also a time before cell phones were ubiquitous, so I had to call Tri-Ess on a weekday from my glass-walled office at work. An elderly-sounding lady named Virginia answered and told me it was her job to interview me before I could attend my first meeting, just to make sure my intentions were honorable. She asked me about my history as a crossdresser and I began answering her in a somewhat hushed tone, so as not to be overheard by my nearby co-workers. Virginia was struggling to hear me and I could tell she was getting frustrated. I felt our connection begin to slip away and this opportunity was far too important to me to let that happen, so I dug deep for courage, raised my voice, and let my personal history pour out. I don’t know if anyone else in the office heard my story, but thankfully Virginia did and she invited me to join the club.

My first Tri-Ess meeting was in a cavernous Holiday Inn conference room. Despite the drab setting, I felt like a debutante at her coming-out ball at the age of 26. It was truly thrilling! My favorite memory from that evening was listening to Virginia’s stories of crossdressing in the 1940s and 50s. She was about the same age as my grandmother and I felt like a bright-eyed young lady attentively soaking up her exciting tales. At the time, I knew she was a crossdressing pioneer who co-founded Tri-Ess, but I didn’t realize how incredibly important she was in blazing the very trail that I was taking my first, high-heeled steps on.

Virginia established the roots for Tri-Ess with a crossdressing social group called the Hose and Heels Club, which had its first meeting in a little church in Hollywood, California in 1960. The twelve original members arrived in male dress with a pair of stockings and high heels in a bag. Then they simultaneously put them on so nobody had anything on anyone else. The members quickly became friends and began having fully dressed meetings at each other’s homes.

En Femme Style

About the same time, Virginia co-founded Transvestia magazine which published its first issue in 1961. The mission statement for Transvestia was to serve “the needs of those heterosexual persons who have become aware of their ‘other side’ and seek to express it.” The magazine began with 25 subscribers, each of whom contributed four dollars to get the initial issue off the ground. It caught on quickly and could soon be found in adult bookstores throughout the United States. Transvestia was in publication for more than twenty years and for many crossdressers around the country, and later the world, this magazine would be the first time they would ever see pictures and hear stories from others just like them.

Virginia was the editor and subscribers would contribute content by sharing their photos and stories (remind anyone of a website we know?). I recently discovered that the University of Victoria in Canada digitized nearly the entire Transvestia catalog from Virginia’s personal collection and it is available to the public for free. Every issue includes a cover girl and her personal story. I have read many of these profiles and find them endlessly fascinating. They are from a totally different time and world, yet the feelings and emotions expressed are very similar to our own. Some things never change.

Each issue contains dozens of photos, all in dramatic black and white. Personally, I love the fashions from this era. Everyone looks so elegant, feminine and stylish, but beyond the clothes, these ladies get all the details right as well. Their accessories, poses, and carefully chosen settings are all perfectly on point. Striking looks include a housewife in a tailored dress posing in her kitchen, a perky young woman in capri pants, headscarf, and sunglasses aside a tail-finned Cadillac and a chic, sophisticated woman in an evening gown descending a staircase. Across the board, these ladies present their very best and are a true inspiration.

Virginia was not one to rest on her laurels. In 1962, a year after starting Transvetia, she organized its subscribers into a nationwide sorority called Phi Pi Epsilon and the Hose and Heels Club became the Alpha chapter. This was the beginning of what would become the first transvestite organization in history. New chapters rapidly sprung up throughout America. For the first time, in cities all over the county, crossdressers could connect with each other and attend meetings to socialize, make friends and find support.

EnFemme Style

I’m absolutely floored when I think about the bravery of these women. Imagine how hard it must have been to share your secret in the mid-twentieth century. Simply taking photos presented a risk that they might be caught – they weren’t snapping away on smartphones, they were shooting on film which was often processed and printed by a stranger. As nerve-wracking as that sounds, imagine venturing out dressed in public, even for a walk or a drive. This was a time when crossdressing was actually illegal – both New York City and Los Angeles still had ordinances that made “masquerading” as a woman in public a criminal act. You could not only go to jail, but you could lose your family, friends, and career in the process. There was a great deal at stake and still, these courageous ladies were willing to share their pictures and stories and form connections with each other.

Virginia was fearless and did a tremendous amount to advance a positive image of crossdressing in the public eye at a time when it was dangerous to do so. She traveled the globe, en femme, speaking on behalf of crossdressers at universities, medical schools, psychiatric conferences, and on more than a hundred radio and television talk shows. She wrote books and published research papers that helped shape much of what we understand about transvestism today. If you want to know more, I urge you all to start with Transvestia issue #100, which is Virginia’s life story in her own words.

I certainly will never forget sharing my personal story for the first time and I feel fortunate that it was Virginia on the other end of that call. I see now that I was adding my story to the hundreds of stories that Virginia had been told over the decades. The pages of Transvestia hold many of these stories for us to read and acknowledge today, and with every new story that we share on CDH, we are adding to the fabric of that glamorous tapestry. I believe that connecting with the generations that came before us and leaving a record for the ones yet to come is something we should all strive to do for the sisterhood!

Here are a few questions from my editor to spark discussion:

  • Are you familiar with some early history of crossdressing?
  • Have you met in person with others at crossdresser meetings or conventions and how was your experience?
  • Imagine how brave you must have been to come out of the closet as a crossdresser back in the 1950s or 1960s?

Thank you girls for taking the time to read my article and I encourage you to look up Virginia’s Transvestia magazine editions on line.

And please take the time to send in either a comment to my article or to answer one or more of the questions we’ve posed to you above!

Sincerely, Marie

(The portrait of Virginia courtesy of University of Victoria Libraries, Transgender Archives.)

EnFemme

 

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Marie Chandler

I’m a happily married, heterosexual crossdresser in my 50’s. I’m lucky to have a supportive wife who loves me for who I am. Full disclosure, if you are considering a friend request or messaging me, please know that I will only respond to people who have taken the time to write a full bio. Preferably with photos, but I totally understand that not all of us are in a home situation were we can express ourselves fully and take photos. My goal is not to offend anyone, but to connect with others that are willing to be vulnerable enough to share their stories, feelings, photos and experiences with the rest of us. I'm also not interested in chatting about underdressing or lingerie and I have no interest in discussing anything sexually or fetish related with dressing. My hope is to connect with like-minded ladies and learn more about myself along the way.

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Ellie Davis
Ambassador
Active Member
2 months ago

Anyone wanting to read the full Transvestia archive need only Google just that … ‘Transvestia Archive’ 🙂
All hail to the University of Victoria in British Columbia for making this wonderful digital resource available, and to Marie for the amazing article. I’m glad it’s resurfacing on the Forums!
I plan to work through the entire collection 🙂
Ellie x

Ellie Davis
Ambassador
Active Member
2 months ago
Reply to  Marie Chandler

@Marie Chandler It’s wonderful stuff 🙂

Thea Patrick
Duchess
Active Member
2 months ago

Dearest Dr Ellie,
How are YOU OLE FRIEND?!
…OK, so I just GOOGLED it, read ‘Consider this"….In the gospel according to Thomas…..
NOW I’m interested…
I need to catch up with you anyway but I love how we BUMPED INTO EACH OTHER AGAIN…Serendipity!?…
Sincerely and With Love,
Thea

Ellie Davis
Ambassador
Active Member
2 months ago
Reply to  Thea Patrick

@theapat 
If you want to know an interesting fact, look up where the word ‘Serendipity’ comes from 🙂
Hugs
Ellie 

Thea Patrick
Duchess
Active Member
2 months ago
Reply to  Ellie Davis

Ellie,..for my and our edification…

serendipity … orgin. 1754: coined by Horace Walpole, suggested by The Three Princes of Serendip, the title of a fairy tale in which the heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of’.

Till we meet again,

With Love,

Thea

Ellie Davis
Ambassador
Active Member
2 months ago

Yes 🙂
Serendip became Ceylon.
Ceylon became Sri Lanka.
But ‘Serendip’ lives on in ‘serendipity’ 🙂
Aren’t words fun?
Ellie x

Petita Ravens
Lady
Member
2 months ago

@Marie Chandler what an incredible article I found it fascinating thank you marie.

Sarah Kanter
Lady
Trusted Member
2 months ago

@mariec 
Thank you Marie for this lovely recap.

Mona
Duchess
Noble Member
2 months ago

Marie,  Thank you for this well-written article, summarizing what was clearly a great deal time spent researching and composing. I too am fascinated by this history, especially what I have learned about the connection between Virginia and Susanna (of Casa Susanna) during the 60s and 70s in New York. I enjoy scrolling through the back issues of Transvestia magazine that thankfully have been digitized and preserved online. Can you imagine the manual labor that went into producing each issue of that magazine? Truly a labor of love. The most remarkable thing for me is that Tranvestia was essentially the forerunner… Read more »

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