Tracing the modern transgender rights movement from its beginnings in the dress code reform of the 1800s up through Stonewall to today, when Texas A&M has honored trans advocate Phyllis Frye
The transgender movement since the Stonewall Riots, especially in the last 30 years, has gained an almost surprising strength and a proud sense of validation. Its rich history is closely tied to both gay and feminist liberation movements, which seek various forms of gender freedom.
Those desired freedoms have come in many forms such as in regard to the right of equal opportunity employment and the right to control and change one’s own body.
Feminists in the U.S. started initially fighting for gender freedom and equality for women in the mid-1800s, when city populations began to accumulate and gatherings could take place. Dress code reform was an important part of this first wave of feminism, and Amelia Bloomer argued that the long skirts and heavy undergarments of the day were a hindrance and form of bondage.
This firestorm of dress rebellion set off an anti-feminist backlash leading to the passage of laws throughout the country prohibiting the wearing of clothing of the opposite sex. The clear goal of these laws — one of which was passed in Dallas in 1880 — was to maintain distinct categories of men and women. Cross-dressing would not be tolerated.
Transgender liberation and gay liberation are perhaps most intimately bonded today in their common struggle to validate domestic partnerships. FTM (female-to-male) and MTF (male-to-female) transgender marriages continue to frustrate state lawmakers who are inconsistent nationwide as to what constitutes a legitimate heterosexual marriage when one partner has changed their sex.
Gay advocacy organizations have other common interests with transgender organizations, such as employment nondiscrimination, HIV healthcare and hate crimes legislation. But they have not always agreed on how progress should be made. Gay and lesbian organizations have not always been welcoming or supportive of transgender individuals, but relationships have grown more solid since the AIDS epidemic of the early 1990s.
Feminists and transgender advocates have also split on any number of issues surrounding body/identity politics and the use of personal spaces such as bathrooms, prisons and women’s shelters.
What continues today to be of utmost importance to the transgender movement is the right to define one’s own gender identity regardless of body anatomy and to express that identity.
Another issue of importance includes the right to change one’s sex, which is still illegal in four states today.
Transgender history cannot be understood without recognizing that sexologists and other medical professionals of the past have tended to pathologize any gender-variant behavior. Even today, the entry "Gender Identity Disorder" in the American Psychiatric Association’s "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" remains intact and controversial. Dr. Kelley Winters, a GID reform advocate, calls for compassion, saying, "It is time for the medical professions to affirm that difference is not disease."
The Stonewall rebellion has become an important historical event for transgenders, because transgender individuals fought back against corrupt police injustice. Transgender individuals have historically been a central target for anti-gay sentiment and actions because of gender-variant attributes.
But Stonewall, while considered the most important single event signifying the beginning of the gay movement, was not the first.
In the late 1950s and ’60s, predating the Stonewall Riots, several smaller riots across the country had broken out in response to police discrimination against gender-variant and gay individuals. Key events, as documented by Susan Stryker, include the riot at Cooper’s Donuts in 1959 in Los Angeles, the Dewey’s Coffeehouse Riot in 1965 in Philadelphia and the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in 1966 in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood.
These smaller events, alongside other movements of the day, including the anti-war movement and Black Power, were indicative that the time was ripe for a gay and transgender movement to begin, and clearly that movement would not step forward without transgender individuals.
On Saturday, June 28, the Stonewall Inn, a Mafia-run gay bar in Greenwich Village, is raided by police officers arresting gender nonconforming patrons and workers, hauling them off in paddy wagons. Though reports vary, transgender individuals such as Sylvia Rivera have been cited as among the first to resist police harassment.
This same year, Stanley Biber performs his first sex change operation and his practice in Trinidad, Colo., later becomes known as the "Sex Change Capital of the World."
Angela Douglas leaves the Gay Liberation Front, established in response to Stonewall, on grounds of anti-transgender sentiment and forms TAO (Transsexual Activist Organization), the first international grassroots transgender organization.
Transgender woman Paula Grossman, a music teacher at Cedar Hill Elementary School in Basking Ridge, N.J., is fired on the grounds she was "an impairment of the school system." Grossman lost her case at the N.J. state and federal levels and was denied a U.S. Supreme Court appeal.
Transgender woman and lesbian singer Beth Elliot is ousted from the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization in the U.S., on the grounds she wasn’t "really a woman," causing a schism in the organization. Elliot, though, is embraced by a two-thirds majority of lesbians at the 1973 Westcoast Lesbian Feminist Conference and allowed to musically perform.
Love it or hate it, the world is introduced to Dr. Frank N. Furter, the self-identified "sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania," in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," originally a British stage musical.
British historian and transgender woman Jan Morris publishes her transitional memoir "Conundrum," and is later named by The Times as one of Britain’s top 15 writers since The War.
Fantasia Fair makes its debut in P-town and has today become the longest-running annual transgender event.
Transgender man and science teacher Steve Dain is arrested for "disturbing the peace" in his Emeryville, Calif. high school classroom when an administrator overreacts to his transition.
Transgender woman Renee Richards is barred from the tennis U.S. Open.
Mario Martino’s memoir "Emergence" becomes the first FTM transgender autobiography published.
Sandy Stone, an MTF transsexual woman and recording engineer, is targeted as invading women’s spaces at Olivia Records, and subsequently resigns.
A Philadelphia art teacher is fired on the grounds of "incompetency and immorality," and becomes another statistic of transgender firings.
Janice Raymond, a doctoral student of Mary Daly, publishes her book, "The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male," which becomes the most widely known anti-transgender publication even to today.
The American Psychiatric Association adds "Gender Identity Disorder" to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, seven years after removing "Homosexuality," prompting widespread debate and calls for reform lasting to this day.
Pilot Karen Ulane sues Eastern Airlines for $4 million after being fired because of her sex reassignment operation. Though she originally won her case, it iss overturned on appeal and that decision is let stand by the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that transgender people are neither men nor women and hence not protected by laws prohibiting sex discrimination.
The 1982 Academy Awards bring three gender-bending films into the light, including "Victor/Victoria," "The World According to Garp" and "Tootsie." The four nominated actors — Robert Preston, Julie Andrews, John Lithgow and Dustin Hoffman — all lose their bids.
In France, doctors announce they have identified the virus causing AIDS. HIV remains a high risk factor for the transgender population today. The AIDS epidemic, through the formation of support organizations, has been noted as an impetus in bringing LGB and T individuals closer together.
Anthropologist Gayle Rubin, in her influential article "Thinking Sex," challenges feminism as being an appropriate framework to study sexuality. Her work leads to the founding of sexuality and queer studies programs, which see transgenderism as a serious topic of study rather than just a curiosity.
William Hurt wins an Academy Award for his role as a cross-dressing effeminate gay character in "Kiss of the Spider Woman."
Harry Benjamin, a German endocrinologist known as the "Father of Transsexualism" for his pioneering clinical transsexual work, dies at the age of 101.
Lou Sullivan, a transgender man in San Francisco, forms the first female-to-male transgender support group which grows into FTM International, the largest FTM group in the world today.
The nonprofit International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE), publisher of the flagship magazine Transgender Tapestry, is founded in Boston to help overcome transgender intolerance.
Twenty years before transgender man Thomas Beattie announces he is pregnant, molecular biologist Lee Silver addresses a New Jersey task force, stating future reproductive technologies will allow males to give birth.
Jazz musician and band leader Billy Tipton dies at age 74, and it is revealed he had been breast-binding and genital packing to hide his transgender male status.
Christine Jorgensen, the first individual widely known to have undergone sex reassignment, dies of lung cancer at age 62.
Philosopher Judith Butler publishes "Gender Trouble" and promotes the concept that the reality of gender for everyone is in the "doing of it" rather than an inherent essentialist quality of the body, which becomes a central tenet of transgender self-understanding.
Holly Boswell writes her influential essay "The Transgender Alternative" in Chrysalis Quarterly, leading to a widespread gender-bending grassroots movement empowered by use of the unifying term "transgender."
Southern Comfort, now the largest transgender conference, holds its seminal "family" gathering, giving many their first chance to feel accepted and normal.
Pioneering surgeon Douglas Ousterhout publishes his life-changing facial feminization (FFS) surgical technique for transgender women in "Aesthetic Contouring of the Craniofacial Skeleton."
Moviegoers who watch the film "Crying Game" are asked to "keep the secret!"
Transgender man Brandon Teena and two friends, Lisa Lambert and Phillip DeVine, are murdered south of Humboldt, Neb., on New Year’s Eve by two men who had found out Teena had a vagina.
Leslie Feinberg wins the Stonewall Book Award for her groundbreaking and influential book on gender, "Stone Butch Blues."
Internet browsing explodes with the release of Netscape Navigator, bringing together isolated transgender individuals and providing transitional resources.
Emergency medical technicians refuse medical treatment and ridicule transgender woman Tyra Hunter after she is injured in a car accident and discovered to have a penis; Hunter’s family is awarded $2.9 million in her wrongful death suit.
Transgender man Robert Eads is refused medical treatment for ovarian cancer by more than two dozen doctors; his life and death are filmed in the movie "Southern Comfort."
Raped transgender woman Dee Farmer loses her U.S. Supreme Court case alleging prison officials knew of her pre-operative transgender status, but failed to take steps to protect her from sexual assault, from which she contracts HIV. She dies in 2005.
The unsolved murder of transgender woman Rita Hester in Boston inspires Gwendolyn Smith and other activists to begin the "Remembering Our Dead" project, which leads to Transgender Day of Remembrance vigils being held nationwide each November.
Feleshia Porter, a former Grand Marshal of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade and a recipient of the Extra Mile Award, begins her now preeminent Dallas counseling practice supporting gender transitions.
In San Antonio, the 4th Court of Appeals rules the seven-year Kentucky marriage of Jonathan Littleton to Christine Littleton, a post-operative transsexual woman, to be invalid as Christine was "created and born male."
Pfc. Barry Winchell is murdered by a fellow soldier for dating transgender actress Calpernia Addams, leading President Bill Clinton to order a review of the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy.
Truck driver Peter Oiler is fired by Winn-Dixie for cross-dressing outside of work and loses his case when a U.S. district judge rules Oiler’s claims did not fall under Title VII, the federal statute outlawing sex discrimination, or under Price Waterhouse v. Cooper, barring sex stereotyping in the workplace.
San Francisco becomes the first city in the nation to pay for gender reassignment surgeries.
The terrorist attacks on 9/11 result in increased security measures, increased attention to travel documentation and more stringent requirements for state identification, thus complicating travel matters for many transgender individuals seeking international surgeries.
Ethan St. Pierre forms the TransFM Internet broadcasting network giving a voice to all GLBTQI individuals.
Transgender teenager Gwen Araujo is brutally murdered by a group of young men after they discover her male genitalia; the young men’s attorneys unsuccessfully argue Araujo was deceptive regarding her transgender identity, resulting in a justified "trans panic."
The Vatican issues a ruling stating that the church will not recognize the new gender of Catholics undergoing sex reassignment.
The National Center for Transgender Equality is formed in Washington, D.C.
Identical twin sisters Liana and Juanita Barbachano become brother and sister when Juanita undergoes hormone treatments and surgery to become Juan, giving researchers evidence that identical genes do not predict identical behaviors.
Felicity Huffman receives an Academy Award nomination and a dozen other Best Actress awards for her role as a transsexual woman in "Trans America," leading to increased nationwide transgender awareness.
Resource Center Dallas begins its Gender Education, Advocacy and Resources (GEAR) program providing Transgender Health Night at the Nelson-Tebedo clinic and transgender services such as community networking.
Transgender woman Donna Rose, a member of HRC’s Board of Directors, and transgender man Jamison Green, a member of the HRC Business Council, both resign in response to the organization’s position on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA).
Stu Rasmussen becomes America’s first openly transgender mayor in Silverton, Ore.
Memphis police are caught on tape beating transgender woman Duanna Johnson, who is murdered 10 months later before her lawsuit against the city is settled.
Special Forces veteran Diane Schroer wins a landmark sex discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Library of Congress, affirming that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act states discrimination against someone for changing genders is sex discrimination.
In College Station, Texas A&M names its Advocacy Award after Phyllis Frye, a transgender advocate and Houston attorney who changed the city’s law against cross-dressing.
For more information, see historian Susan Stryker’s recent book "Transgender History."
Renee Baker is a licensed massage therapist and transgender diversity consultant. She can be reached on her Web site at www.renee-baker.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 19, 2009.