Gender Identity and Gender Expression are areas of everyday life that have developed over time and differently within various cultures and societies. Within the United States there are Revolutionary War stories of women impersonating men in order to fight, or as some suggest, to break away from the expectations placed on women. Gender Identity and Expression are complex topics, and the history of them is no different. Today, we see the harmful and fierce debates surrounding athletics and gender identity across the nation and around the world. Here in Pennsylvania a handful of state lawmakers introduced a bill seeking to ban transgender students from participating in athletic programs that fit the students’ gender identity, but not the one they were assigned.
In exploring the history of Gender Identity and Expression in Central PA, one can see the historical development of communities, organizations, and peoples that played and continue to have an influence on both local and national thinking around gender identity and expression. From the entertainment of female impersonators to the promulgation of the International Gender Bill of Rights, the vital role of the people of Central PA can be seen and felt.
Through your exploration of this exhibit, it is hoped that you go on further to learn about gender expression and identity. Especially since they are often simplified or overlooked in media, politics, historical narratives, and other spaces. By putting this exhibit together, the LGBTQ+ communities of Central PA and the nation grow in historical diversity.
Logo for TransCentral PA’s Keystone Conference
Jeanine Ruhsam speaks to Dr. Rauhut’s class at Dickinson College – Photograph - Undated
Philly Trans March is an annual protest against the hate, social injustice, and inequity faced by trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals and communities.
Sophie Kandler talks about her younger days and when she started dressing in clothes deemed not to fit her gender. Her life covers the span of this exhibit and connects with the events and developments regarding gender identity and expression.
This exhibit and history are heavily connected with the development of identity terminology. The terminology that is provided is to assist virtual visitors in getting acquainted with the meanings of these identity-based terms. The terms and definitions are not defined by everyone in the same way. We recognize peoples’ varied interpretations of these terms.
In post-Civil War America, as interstate travel expanded due to railroad construction, many of the comedic routines of music halls branched out into traveling groups or solo performers. Many of these included female impersonators who gained national and regional attention, one of the most famous being Julian Etlinge (1881-1941). From the start female impersonation was about entertainment, however over time it and the people doing it changed.
From the world of female impersonation, drag and cross dressing started to develop. One of the earliest references to the existence of widespread cross dressing among male groups in the United States dates from 1871; it describes restaurants in Philadelphia that were frequented by men dressed in women’s attire.
One of the better-known performers was T.C. Jones (1920-1971), who performed with The Jewel Box Revue, on Broadway and solo tours, and was born in Scranton, PA. Starting in the 1950s, Jones performed comedic routines as a female across the nation. Countless newspaper cultural reviewers described him as the best female impersonator at the time.
“T.C. Jones is the greatest female impersonator I have seen and heard since Julian Etlinge….” LA Times
Another performer from Pennsylvania who worked as a member of The Jewel Box Revue was Benedict A. “Wesley” Trautwein, using the stage name Francis Parker. After departing the Revue, he moved back to Harrisburg and continued preforming at local bars and clubs, such as The Neptune Lounge.
“His mimicry is feminine rather than effeminate…” Daily Variety
Increasingly, the female impersonator began to be associated with the queer community, although not all who included impersonation in their acts were part of the community. As female impersonation started to lose its popularity, the focus of gender expression shifted to cross dressing and drag performance, and these communities and individuals started to come together, especially after the early years of the Gay Liberation Movement.
Photograph of Wesley in his house – Central PA LGBT History Collection
Photograph of Wesley in his house – Central PA LGBT History Collection
A year after the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, Paul Foltz and others founded Lily White & Company, which performed from 1982 into the late 1990s. Formed with the intention to raise funds for HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ+ organizations, this troupe of drag performers toured throughout Pennsylvania and the United States.
The members of the troupe believed one of their main goals to be upheld was “to produce events that typify the Gay culture…” The success and range of places the organization traveled to show that drag was becoming a vital part of the community. Not only as a form of entertainment, but as a way to express alternative forms of gender expression.
LGBT-043: Mailer, "Miss Lily Say to All...", undated
LGBT-043: Into the Woods & Out of the Bushes, SCAAN Benefit Show, August 1988
LGBT-043: Aids Benefit at Stallions bar, 1987
Paul Foltz talks about the origins of Lily White & Company and its purpose. He also describes the success of the company and its personal impact.
Miss Tina talks about identity terms and the difficulty of identifying with a particular definition, and the troupe Miss. Tina performed with to raise money for LGBTQ+ and HIV/AIDS groups, similar to the work of Lily White & Company.
Right here in Pennsylvania an event pre-dating Stonewall, the Dewey’s Counter Sit In, was sparked due to the enforcement of conformity. Dewey’s was a chain of restaurants in Philadelphia, and as certain locations started attracting a perceived queer customer base, management decided to act in the Spring of 1965.
The restaurant started to deny service to those the management deemed as people wearing “nonconformist clothing.” It resulted in a sit in style protest, which then lead to picketing of the restaurant by members of the LGBTQ+ community. The management eventually gave in and stopped the denials of service. Those wishing to express themselves in ways alternative to gender stereotypes won the day and took a right step in the direction of permitting one to express their gender as they see it, not as others may.
As people challenged societal norms surrounding gender expression by wearing and acting in nonconformist ways, peoples’ desire to be true to their gender identity started to become increasingly public.
Reed Erickson Collection University of Victoria Special Collections Erickson Educational Foundation Newsletter, Vol. 1 No. 1, Spring 1968
A photograph from the events surrounding the sit in, John J. Wilcox Jr. LGBT Archives
A photograph from the events surrounding the sit in, John J. Wilcox Jr. LGBT Archives
A lesser known figure in the early LGBTQ+ movement was Reed Erickson. Erickson grew up in Philadelphia and through inherited wealth established the Erickson Educational Foundation, which oversaw the Institute for the Study of Human Resources. Through the funding provided by these organizations, medical studies related to transsexual medicine, the precursor to modern medical services for transgender individuals, started to take shape. Erickson himself was assigned female at birth and started masculinizing his body in 1963.
Reed Erickson through his money and foundations, helped fund early LGBTQ+ studies, organizations, and movements. He is a complicated figure in other aspects of his life, but he contributed to the development of gender identity and expression studies.
Reed Erickson Collection University of Victoria Special Collections, undated
In the United States, many more people know about the American Psychiatric Associations inclusion than removal of homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), with homosexuality in the first edition then removed by the time of the second edition in 1973. Fewer people know about the American Psychiatric Association’s dealings with gender identity and gender expression.
Unlike homosexuality, gender identity was never mentioned in the first two editions of DSM. In 1980 with the publication of the third edition, the diagnosis “transsexualism” was included. The term Transsexualism and what it meant was laid out by Dr. Harry Benjamin in his work The Transsexual Phenomenon, 1966. Dr. Benjamin received funding from the Erickson Educational Foundation and Reed Erickson was one of his patients. He advocated the use of hormonal treatments if the person desired it as part of their gender transition. The medical world was becoming increasingly interested in gender identity and how to interact with individuals pursuing gender transition.
Photo of Dr. Harry Benjamin in 1978, World Professional Association for Transgender Health
Due to connotations surrounding the phrasing and methods surrounding transsexualism, it was revised in each of the subsequent editions of the DSM. In the fourth edition, 1994, it was replaced with gender identity disorder and then in the most recent DSM it was changed to gender dysphoria. From the very beginning, the American Psychiatric Association’s dealings with gender identity met with push back from those who saw its work as harmful in similar ways to the inclusion of homosexuality in the first edition. However, some saw the diagnoses that occur as beneficial and that it is only meant for a small number of transgender peoples. A gender identity disorder diagnosis, before its replacement by gender dysphoria, was necessary in many cases when it came to legally changing names, gender on government identification, and seeking medical treatments.
The medical world's connection with gender identity and the transgender community is a complicated one. The work funded by Erickson and laid out within the DSM was controversial at the time and still is. Nevertheless, it started the formalization and acceptance among the medical community of working with those seeking a medical path during their gender transition.
Image courtesy of Reed Erickson Collection, University of Victoria Special Collections Erickson Educational Foundation Newsletter Information Brochure, Undated
One of the earliest and influential publications that focused on and circulated among people expressing and identifying their gender in various ways was Transvestia. This publication, which was based in Los Angeles, California, was started by Virginia Prince and her organization the Foundation for Personality Expression in 1960. Both the magazine and the foundation spread across the nation and laid the groundwork for organizations and communities focused on gender identity and expression to be formed. The foundation and Prince can be reproached on their beliefs in other areas of life, such as classism, racism, and other isms, but they are an initiating force in transgender and gender expression history in modern America.
Transvestia stopped being published in the 1980s, but it was soon replaced by regional and organizational based publications. Here in central and eastern PA LadyLike Magazine and Renaissance News started being published in 1987 by the Renaissance Education Association, which later became the Renaissance Transgender Association. The publications at first were in the realm of what its members defined as cross dressing and various other forms of gender expression, which can be gleamed from LadyLike and Renaissance News. However, towards the end of their publication run in the early 2000s a switch occurred within the organization and publications away from gender expression to gender identity, especially dealing with transgender related topics and issues.
Renaissance Education Association was founded around the time when what we know now as Transgender started to take shape and gain traction. Renaissance Education Association was the first major organization focused on supporting those not conforming to societal expectations around gender identity and expression in central PA. It still operates through local chapters such as Lehigh Valley Renaissance and Renaissance of South Eastern PA (ROSE). The organization and its branches have been and continue to be a source of community building, social life, and resource center.
LadyLike, Vol. 29, 1197, Front Cover, Boston Public Library
Renaissance News, Vol. 2 No. 5, 1998, University of Victoria Special Collections
Mara Kiesling talks about the role of early publications in Transgender community. (Audio Only)
Miss Tina talks about the interplay between gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation on a personal level.
Even though Amanda Hecker (formerly Porter) didn't become a member of Renaissance until 2007, her story still conveys the role it played in many people's lives.
Creative Design Services was the publishing house that produced the newsletters for the Renaissance and its branches. JoAnn Roberts, a founder of Renaissance, owned and ran Creative Design Services. Roberts not only ensured the publication and distribution of Renaissance’s publications, which helped build the organization and a community, but also conducted various programs through Creative Design Services in Central PA. One, “Crossing the Lines of Gender” was a series of workshops held in Wayne, PA in 1994. The workshops focused on cross dressing, hormonal options, and cosmetic surgery. Roberts, the company, and Renaissance were building up a movement in the 1990s to educate, provide resources, and advocate for those with varying gender identities and ways of gender expression.
In 1996 the International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy issued the Bill of Gender Rights with a Renaissance founding member as one of its authors, JoAnn Roberts. The Bill of Gender Rights became one of the foundational texts for the modern transgender rights movement. It outlines many of the aims of the movement and those who identify with or support the transgender community.
Central PA individuals and organizations stayed connected with and supported the community and movement for gender identity and expression protections and rights not only regionally, but nationally. Renaissance Education Association in the 1990s worked closely with the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE), which eventually became a national organization after being founded in Boston in 1986. In 1993 Renaissance was the hosting organization for IFGE’s 7th annual “Coming Together Working Together” conference. The “Coming Together” conference was the leading convention in 1990s America that brought people together from across the nation to learn about and work on topics and issues such as cross dressing, advocacy, community building, and transsexualism.
The 1990s saw local, regional, state, and national community and platform building that would produce results and a push for protections for those with nonnormative gender identities and expression.
JoAnn Roberts from the Bill of Gender Rights Texas A&M Uni. Phyllis Frye Collection, Undated
7th Annual International Foundation for Gender Education Conference Brochure University of Michigan Joseph A. Labadie Collection
Crossing the Lines of Gender, 1994, Brochure, University of Michigan, Joseph A. Labadie Collection