Virginia Prince was born Arnold Lowman in Los Angeles in 1912 and began using her mother’s clothes to cross dress at the age of 12. She later married a woman, which ended in divorce and the proceedings publicly exposed Prince’s cross dressing. Prince began living as a woman by the early 1960s and was a pioneer of transgender activism, working primarily through the written word.
She edited the independent magazine Transvestia in 1960, a role she would hold for a further two decades. Transvestia was for “the needs of those heterosexual persons who have become aware of their ‘other side’ and seek to express it”, but marked a starting point in exploring complexities of gender identity and performativity. The publication listed three aims: “To provide EXPRESSION for those interested in the subjects of exotic and unusual dress and fashion. To provide INFORMATION to those who, through ignorance, condemn that which they do not understand. To provide EDUCATION for those who see evil where none exists”.
Content in Transvestia included the ‘Our Cover Girl’ column, which highlighted the story of the cover model, a member of the cross dressing community. The magazine also had a recurring series for wives to write about their relationships with their cross-dressing husbands called ‘The Letters from Wives’. Prince was arrested for the crime of “sending obscene material through the post” though, and pleaded guilty which resulted in a sentence of five years probation.
The scholar Susan Stryker stated that “Prince believed that the binary gender system harmed both men and women by alienating them from their full human potential, and she considered cross-dressing to be one means of redressing this perceived social ill.” Stryker also attributes the term “transgender” to Virgina Prince, although when Prince used the term it had an alternative meaning to our modern one, instead referring to people who lived socially in a role not normally associated with their birth-given sex.
Virginia Prince represents a complicated time for the LGBTQ+ community where gender identity was largely untouched terrain. Thanks to those like Prince, a community was able to establish through print publication and people could messily work out the linguistics, objectives, and identity of a marginalised community.
Read More – Tolerance and Community: Virginia Prince and Transvestia Magazine: https://library.csun.edu/SCA/Peek-in-the-Stacks/transvestia
The Alternative Press: A Look Back at Transvestia: https://www.nypl.org/blog/2017/06/21/look-back-transvestia
–Charlotte ‘Fozz’ Forrester