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Tri-Ess and the Heterosexuals Who Organized the Trans Movement
Where have all the crossdressers gone?
“Hello, my sisters!” said a man who called himself Virginia Prince in his keynote speech at the Coming Together—Working Together convention in Chicago on March 7, 1987.
Prince, born Arnold Lowman, was speaking to other men who identified as either transvestites or transsexuals. According to the Book of Program Transcripts by the International Foundation for Gender Education, the goal of the conference was to “promote self-validation and self-respect, to develop a sense of togetherness and working together to benefit all.”
To this end, Prince called on various members of the loose community to forget about their differences and join together for one common cause:
The various types of people that make up our sub-culture should, therefore, recognize that we have a common opponent and that we would all be better off if we could present a common front to society in the hope that it could learn to understand us, hopefully to accept us, but as a minimum, to just let us do our thing. But to bring this about we have to stop confusing society with multiple presentations and differing explanations which induce society's negative reactions. To do this we have to find the common denominator between gay and straight CDs [crossdressers], and between full-time TGs [transgenders] and pre- and post-op TSs [transsexuals]. In short, we have to markedly reduce the internal strife and polarization between the various types of CDs and like to the collimated beam of laser light, all of us face in the same direction and realize that the real antagonist is not each other but social ignorance, misunderstanding and opposition. We have to find what we all have in common and present this to society in such a way as to educate its ignorance, provide a rationale for its understanding of our cross-dressing and thereby undermine its opposition.
This conference, and Prince’s speech, are an example of how trans activism was developing concurrently with gay rights activism for several decades before it went mainstream. Others might argue that some gay rights activists and feminists helped the trans rights cause and therefore bear some of the blame, and this is absolutely true. But it’s impossible to say one or both led to the other.
As I have written elsewhere, I believe that where the gay movement, the feminist movement, and the trans movement all went off the rails is when they were all captured by postmodernism. The idea that someone can actually be the opposite sex in some real sense based on strong feeling or self-declaration is an idea only made possible by adherence to a relativistic and subjectivist philosophy.
To miss that and to blame everything on feminists and gays (or a combination of the two) is also to miss another major driving force behind what’s going on with trans activism. Modern-day trans activism is in many obvious ways a (heterosexual) men’s rights movement. Sure, trans-identified women get a bit of attention thrown their way when they are pregnant but, for the most part, it’s about allowing these men access to women’s private spaces.
Crossdressing organizations were all about heterosexual men’s desires as well. Tired of dressing up in secret, these men wanted to get their wives on board. As they got more organized, they started planning events where they could go out dressed up in public. The idea of being seen as a woman by more and more people was sexually thrilling.
Tri-Ess (which stands for Tri “S”, as in Society for the Second Self), presents a good case study of how the trans movement owes much of its existence to these groups. It was co-founded by Prince in 1976 from the merger of two crossdressing groups: The Foundation for Personality Expression started by Prince and Mamselle started by Carol Beecroft.
Tri-Ess was initially described by Prince himself as a group strictly limited to heterosexual crossdressers. At the time, he believed that a true transvestite was exclusively heterosexual, usually married, often a father, and didn’t want to remove his penis. In fact, in 1978, Prince said that “Sex reassignment surgery is a communicable disease.”
These sentiments were echoed throughout the organization. For example, an “Our Special Joy” Tri-Ess brochure from the 1980s informed prospective members that:
Perhaps the most misunderstood minority groups is the male, heterosexual transvestite or “crossdresser”. Society has many incorrect opinions about this group. In fact, many professionals admit ignorance about heterosexual crossdressing… These men are not homosexual, bisexual nor transexual. Many of them are family men, successful in their fields and respected in their communities.
But the truth is that there isn’t really such a strong distinction between “crossdressers” and “transsexuals,” and this reality would eventually be the demise of crossdressing societies like Tri-Ess. After all, just over a decade after founding Tri-Ess and describing crossdressers as strictly heterosexual, Prince was delivering a speech arguing for an end to such distinctions.
This is because what drives most men to either crossdress or pursue medical transition is a fetish called autogynephilia. Coined by the sexologist Ray Blanchard, it refers to a man’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as female.
Blanchard, who has been working in the field since long before the current crop of captured clinicians who clap along like seals to the absurd myth of “gender-affirming” care, has held that in Western countries, heterosexual autogynephiles outnumber homosexual transsexuals, accounting for “75% of cases of male-to-female transsexualism.”
But don’t take my word for it. The Tri-Ess society admitted the sexual aspect of crossdressing itself in an information pamphlet on the organization, writing:
Regardless of when or how, the impact is usually the same. It FEELS nice, both emotionally, sensually, and perhaps even spiritually. And often, especially among newly emerging Tv's [transvestites], it is a sexually stimulating feeling. Whatever the feeling, it's a potent magnet, drawing the Tv back time and time again!
The idea of an “old-school transsexual” being a highly effeminate gay man has always been a fantasy. Such individuals do exist, but they are and have always been outnumbered by heterosexual men who wish to appear as the opposite sex for fetishistic reasons. Yet, those are the individuals who are conjured up when women are cajoled and pressured into sharing our spaces with men.
“They are harmless,” we are told. “They are victims of the patriarchy just like you.”
Notwithstanding that women have the right to male-free spaces no matter how feminine or homosexual the men in question might be, it simply isn’t the case that these men currently or have ever made up the majority of trans-identified men. The majority have always been autogynephiles, many of them crossdressers.
Already in 1996, Dallas Denny of the American Educational Gender Information Service, Inc. was writing about how the boundaries between “heterosexual crossdresser” and “transsexual” had blurred. Denny was an early pioneer of the transgender rights movement and, like many such early pioneers, he began as a crossdresser and a member of Tri-Ess.
Denny explained that crossdressers and transsexuals were not all that easy to separate from the very beginning:
When men who crossdressed began to meet socially in the 1960s, they indeed considered themselves to be men who dressed for the pleasure of it, or to express the “inner woman.” And yet many of these “men” went on to live as women, and, in some instances, to have sex reassignment surgery. An example of this is Katherine Cummings, whose photo appears in early issues of Virginia Prince’s Tranvestia, and who published an autobiography shortly after her SRS in 1992. Another example is Virginia herself, who has been living as a woman these past twenty or so years.
Note that he says even Prince himself was living full-time as a woman despite his earlier insistence that crossdressers were traditional family men.
Recently, the Phoenix-based Alpha Zeta chapter of Tri-Ess conducted a survey, to which about 70% of its members responded. The survey disclosed that nearly three-quarters of the members would prefer to be women, that more than 20% had taken or were taking hormones and had had electrolysis, that 25% had seriously considered SRS, and that 10% were definitely planning on having SRS. That fits with my observations of Tri-Ess’ Atlanta-based Sigma Epsilon chapter, of which I am a charter member. Over the years, many members have come to me privately to disclose their gender issues.
Imagine if these same men were responding now, nearly 30 years later, when gender ideology has taken over society with its message that merely a passing wish to be a woman, even in a purely sexual context, means you are really a woman. If 75% of these men were willing to admit they wished they were women in 1996, imagine how much higher those numbers would be now.
We don’t even have to speak purely in hypotheticals here. Tri-Ess, which had 25 chapters at its peak in the early 2000s, is down to just four chapters across the United States today.
So, where did all the crossdressers go? Surely, in such an accepting time where all expressions of gender and sexuality receive state- and corporate-mandated celebration, they’d be loud and proud along with the rest of the alphabet acronym?
Oh, they are still around, they just don’t identify as crossdressers anymore. They are the William Thomases on women’s sports teams, the high-ranking Adam Levines in the government, and the Johnathan Yanivs accusing women who don’t see them as female of human rights violations.
Today, Tri-Ess still maintains that it is a social group for heterosexual male crossdressers, but that puts a limit on the autogynephilic fetish. When gender ideology came along and told these men that their fetish meant they were really women, they jumped ship over to the “trans” label en masse.
Denny saw this coming in 1996, writing:
In the consensual reality which is Tri-Ess, such men are considered heterosexual crossdressers—so long as they continue to claim to be so, and are not too overt about their desire to be women or too obvious about their sexual activities—but by any objective standards, they are not heterosexual crossdressers. Some are not heterosexual, some are not crossdressers, and some are neither. Terms such as transgenderist, transsexual, bisexual, and homosexual would better describe their inner feelings and outward-directed behaviors.
I disagree with him here, of course. Most of these men are indeed heterosexual, and wishing themselves to be women doesn’t change that, even if it drives them to sexual acts with men. As Blanchard has written, they are often better described as pseudobisexual:
In my opinion, bisexual gender dysphorics' erotic interest in males is qualitatively different from that experienced by homosexual gender dysphorics. In their fantasies of sexual interaction with men, bisexual gender dysphorics are primarily aroused by what is, for them, the symbolic meaning of such acts, namely, the thought that they themselves are women. This type of "bisexual" orientation need not reflect an equal erotic attraction to the male and female physiques and would perhaps be better characterized as pseudobisexuality.
Denny was coming from the perspective of someone who believes that a heterosexual man who desires to change his sex is no longer a heterosexual man. Nevertheless, he certainly agreed, as I believe, that there is no essential difference between a “crossdresser” and a “transsexual.” It all comes down to what body modifications one has chosen to pursue:
Not long ago, I asked a member of the Tri-Ess Board of Directors what she would call a crossdresser on hormones. “A crossdresser on hormones,” was her reply. Of course, this is nonsense. A crossdresser who is modifying or even considering modifying his body with hormones, surgery, or electrolysis has the same need as any transsexual for good information and counsel. Her answer supposes a distinction between transsexuals and others who merely change their sex. Those who are “transsexual” have some mystical inner quality which makes them women after their transition, while those from a Tri-Ess background are just men who have had the change.
Many transsexual women, unfortunately, also believe this to be true. They distance themselves from crossdressers, proclaiming they “don’t understand why a man would want to dress up like a woman,” meaning that they, of course, are real women, and crossdressers are merely sick men. What I find pathetic about such disavowal is that in practically every case, it wasn’t that long ago they were using thick makeup to hide their beards or masturbating into a pair of panties. I don’t think there is such a thing as a “real” transsexual; there are only those who change their sex, or want to, and those who don’t want to. And most importantly, the need for medical and psychological support is exactly the same thing for a Tri-Ess member who is gender dysphoric and is sneaking his wife’s hormones and a “true transsexual,” whatever the devil that may be.
Of course, while Denny might say that the crossdresser who hasn’t pursued medical transition is no less “trans” than the one who has, I would say that the crossdresser who has pursued medical transition is no less a man than the one who hasn’t.
Whichever view one takes, I believe, is a testament to how far one believes men’s sexual rights should go. Crossdressing organizations started with the mission that this fetish was not something a man should have to keep secret—first, that he should involve his wife. The trans movement was a logical extension of these ideas, arguing that all women had to be witness to these men’s “feminine” selves.
Many of the first crossdressing activists and organizations went on to become pioneers in the trans movement. For example, in his 1987 speech, Prince mentions the Beaumont Society in England, which at the time had chapters all over the country. Today, the Beaumont Society describes itself as “help and support for the transgender community.” Consider, as well, that the “International Bill of Gender Rights,” was created by two crossdressing activists who called themselves JoAnn Roberts and Sharon Stuart. The bill was focused on the right to define one’s own gender identity and access single-sex spaces accordingly.
I still largely blame postmodernism for gender ideology, and I don’t believe that crossdressing organizations necessarily had to lead to the trans movement without the injection of postmodern ideas into society. But to ignore the direct link between them is to have a massive blind spot about the origin of this problem.
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