Virginia Prince is oftentimes given credit for coining the term “transgenderist” and “transgenderism” in 1978. In 1977, Prince writes of three types of different types of trans experiences: “regular transvestite or femmiphile”; class two—those males who live as women openly and in society; and class three—those who undergo or who “seriously plan” sex change surgery. There’s no mention of “transgenderism,” “transgender,” “transgenderal” or “transgenderist.” She goes on to wrote: “People in class two know the difference (between sexual and genderal identity) and consciously elect to change their gender identity without surgery . . . Since class two people recognize the difference between sex and gender we can make a conscious decision to become a woman—a psycho-social gender creature.” As late as 1977, Prince is not using this term.
It should be noted that when Prince was 81 years old, she said that she the thought she might have said the term “transgenderist” at a conference in 1974 or 75; however, around that same time, she also told Leslie Feinberg that she coined the term in the late 1980s:
“The term transgenderist was first introduced into the English language by trans warrior Virginia Prince. Virginia told me, ‘I coined the noun transgenderist in 1987 or ’88. There had to be some name for people like myself who trans the gender barrier – meaning somebody who lives full time in the gender opposite to their anatomy. I have not transed the sex barrier.'” – Transgender Warriors by Leslie Feinberg, 1996, page X of introduction
Ariadne Kane Speaks of the Transvestites
Ariadne Kane is an experienced, sensitive and articulate lecturer on the subject of transvestism. transgenderism and transsexualism. She has coordinated three New England Conferences on Alternate Sex and Gender Lifestyles and was the organizer of the Fantasia Fair in Provincetown last fall.
To present and clarify some of the misunderstood and confusing attitudes and practices within the TV subculture, she has consented to give this interview to GCV. It is her hope that what follows will provide a new window through which to view this subculture. She can be reached by writing P.O. Box 161, Cambridge. MA 02140.
SB: Obviously a person is not born a transvestite. At what point in your life did you express yourself as “Ariadne Kane”?
AK: Five years ago I came “out of the closet” and developed close relationships with other TVs. This was when Ariadne began to grow.
SB: What is a transvestite?
AK: The term “transvestite” describes someone who crossdresses — i.e. wears fashions suitable (by whatever conventions) to the opposite sex.
SB: Do male transvestites want to be women?
AK: No. The desire to portray the role of a woman is an expression of gender feelings. “Gender” refers to the feelings, roles and behavior our culture considers “masculine” or “feminine.” A person’s sex, on the other hard, is either male or female as determined by anatomy and genetic make-up. Parents, society, the child’s earliest environment tend to reinforce the development of a gender role commensurate with the biological sex a person is born with. However, a person’s gender feelings do not always match his or her biological sex, and these submerged feelings may be expressed through crossdressing.
The behavior, motives, sexual preference, and lifestyles of people who crossdress vary from individual to individual. When a person functions publicly its either gender role we use the term “transgenderist.” A transgenderist goes beyond crossdressing to convey an image and express feelings we usually associate with femininity. Some of them characteristics are behavioral — the way one walks, sits, crosses one’s legs, carries himself. Some are physical — such as hair removal or hormone injections to develop secondary sexual characteristics. Some transgenderists live most of their lives in their preferred gender role, functioning as women or men socially but not biologically. For others, this is not enough. When a person decides that he or she can no longer live in a physical body that does not match his or her preferred gender, he or she may opt for reassignment surgery. When we we the classification “transsexual.” None of these classifications are absolute.
SB: What do you consider yourself.
AK: I consider myself a tansgenderist.
SB: Which means you go out in public dressed as a woman?
AK: Yes. Or as a man. Either role. I feel I have to express both gender roles. I have reached the level of confidence where I feel I can present a suitable image and elicit the kind of responses I want as Ariadne Kane.
SB: What pressures do you feel from leading this kind of double life, where some people know you as one person and others know you as another?
AK: I do not consider it pressure. I feel very comfortable in either role. Making a transition from one role to the other is an option — something I can do when want to do it.
SB: Do you enjoy the duality?
AK: Very much. I think that a person who can experience real interactions from both points of view has a kind of wisdom that is unique.
SB: In your experience in going out in public as a woman, do you find that the public sees you as a woman, or as a man dressed as a woman?
AK: I work hard at giving myself an acceptable feminine image. I think that the responses I have gotten in public — from catcalls, to invitations, to compliments, to not getting any second looks — indicate to me that I am not looked on as someone extraordinary.
SB: Is it illegal in Massachusetts to be a transvestite?
AK: It is not illegal to crossdress in Massachusetts and it is not illegal in the City of Boston. However, there might be local ordinances concerning crossdressing and in some towns there might be a fine.
A person arrested for crossdressing has a right to legal counsel and should not answer any questions until legal counsel has been provided. Often people are picked up for crossdressing who do not know the law and are willing to pay a fine —even if it is not a legally imposed fine—to avoid making a public issue of it.
SB: It becomes legal blackmail?
AK: Yes. Some TVs who go out regularly in public carry something identifying them in their femme role which can be used as evidence in court if necessary. The law enforcement looks on crossdressing quite differently if its purpose is not to commit a crime or solicit for prostitution.
SB: How do you differentiate transvestites from people into “skag drag.” i.e. Divine, the Cycle Sluts?
AK: I assume what these people are interested in is making money. I am interested in expressing an aspect of my gender identity.
SB: What about drag queens?
AK: A drag queen’s essential purpose in crossdressing is to attract members of the same sex by masquerading as a member of the opposite sex. My purpose is to derive pleasure from expressing my gender state in public.
SB: Do you think crossdressing is threatening to most heterosexual men?
AK: Yes. Men are expected to be strong, brave, assertive, competitive, sexually potent and financially successful. Many men would not risk doing anything outside the confines of what society considers masculine.
SB: Many feminists feel that transvestites rely on stereotypes of femininity – clothes, mannerisms, attitudes — which feminists now consider destructive. How do you reconcile your views to theirs?
AK: We are all victims of society’s stereotypes. In the long run it is self-defeating to polarize feelings which are not intrinsically either masculine or feminine. Men need the freedom to be frivolous, tender, vulnerable, coy, bitchy, dependent, etc., just as much as women need to be free of the limitations of traditional femininity in order to express the full range of what it means to be human. I feel crossdressing gives me that opportunity to best express my “feminine” feelings.
SB: Do the transvestites you know hate women?
AK: Most of the transvestites I know are married. I don’t hate women and most of my transvestite friends enjoy relationships with women. Of course, I can’t speak for all transvestites.
SB: Do you feel your life is dominated by transvestism?
AX: No. No one is “just” a transvestite, or transgenderist, or homosexual or heterosexual. People are very complicated. The behavior we see in public is just the tip of the iceberg.
I do spend a large part of my time, however, on activities concerning the TV-TG-TS community. Social acceptance of the TV subculture is about where the gay subculture was five years ago. Because so many TVs are in the closet, the general public rarely has a chance to go beyond the stereotypes and gain more understanding of the TV-TG-TS world through exposure.
We are currently developing a TV Outreach program as a resource both for members of the TV-TG-TS community and for people who wish to learn more about it. Speakers are available for groups such as mental health workers, personnel managers, students, clubs, hotline training classes and members of the medical profession. We are also planning a third New England Conference on Alternative Sex and Gender Lifestyles which will be held this spring. For more information write P.O. Box 161T, Cambridge. MA 02140.
SB: You were also one of the organizers of the Fantasia TV Fair held in Provincetown last October. Are any other events being planned?
AK: Yes, Letters from last fall’s participants have encouraged us to begin planning Fantasia Fair 1976, which will again offer a chance to spend nine days “en femme” October 15-24 in Provincetown.
SB: Have you felt ostracized from the Gay Community?
AK: No, on the contrary. I am a person who is interested in meaningful encounters between two human beings whether they be of the same biological sex or not. Because of this I feel I share the spirit of gay liberation. We are grateful to the enlightened members of the Gay Community for their support, friendship and cooperation. It is only through mutual understanding and tolerance of different social minorities that we can really achieve social justice.