Post-World War Two Trans Life


Transvestia, Dec. 1963. Courtesy of University of Victoria Libraries.

Post-World War Two Trans Life


Annette was, in the words of a trans woman named Doris who spent time at Annette’s house, “a good father, a good son, a successful businessman, a good husband, a creditable citizen, and just a darned nice guy all around. So­ if [s]he wants to become a Big Blonde for a par­ty or a ball or just for fun, why that's just O.K. with everyone.”[1] (Read Doris’s account of visiting Annette at her home in Idaho here.) Annette’s acceptability as a woman in private appeared to be predicated on her success as a man in public.


In 1950s America, the end of World War Two and the start of the Cold War cultivated attitudes that promoted order, conformity, and control in the arenas of gender, sexuality, and family life. The blueprint of the perfect American man was hardworking, masculine, straight, white, middle-class (or striving to be), supportive of American military interests, and family oriented. The presentation of such an image in public granted a man opportunities to explore other possibilities behind the veil of privacy.


A year after Annette was the cover girl for Transvestia, her mother wrote an article in the 1961 November issue titled “My Son is a Transvestite.” Annette’s mother wrote: “My son is a transvestite!... A mother dreams of a son as being the essence of manhood; the acme of masculinity. My son showed no indications at any time that he was not all of this. You can understand, then, how I felt when I received a letter from ‘Annette’ explaining to me his desires that had been a problem to him for many years…. I had never been closer to Transvestism than seeing the word used in a book on rare occasions. I was frightened at first, as ignorance of any­thing causes a fear of it. Since then, I have seen ‘Annette’ dressed up many times. She is a beautiful girl and relaxes gracefully in her clothes.… My feelings for my son haven’t changed an iota. How could they?”[2] (Read the rest of Annette’s mothers letter here.)


In the 1950s, trans identities and gender nonconformity were just beginning to pick up notoriety nationally. In 1952, Christine Jorgensen, a trans woman from New York, was the first widely publicized person from the United States to undergo sex reassignment surgery.[3] In 1959, a riot at Coopers Do-Nuts in Los Angeles involving LGBTQ+ patrons and the police was followed by other uprisings led by trans people at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco and the Stonewall Inn in New York City.[4]  Broader tensions around sexual expression and repression began to coalesce into the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s and 1970s. In this period there was both an increase in the prosecution and targeting of gender and sexual deviancy and an increase in people choosing to identify with or explore identities at odds with a cis-hetero society. Annette described in her 1960 letter some of her early explorations of cross dressing and the tensions that surrounded those developments: 


“Before marriage I was worried that I might marry and find that I could not keep my desires secret from my wife. She loved me as a normal male, but I was afraid that she might leave me if she discovered the truth, so I did not disclose my secret to her until about two months after the wedding. This I did one night as we lay in bed. I related to her in a very serious manner that I had a longing to wear high heeled shoes and for some unknown reason it was very exciting to me to do so.”[5]


Annette then described starting to dress in women’s clothes in the evenings, liking it so much that she began wearing women’s underwear under her suits to work during the day. She had a longing to go out in public as Annette and so came out to two of her closest friends, who said she was welcome to visit them dressed as a female:


“Now I visit them 3 or 4 times a month in feminine attire.… Although I wear the clothes of a girl, they still cannot accept me as a female person. They find it impos­sible to call me by a feminine name or to pretend with me that I am a girl. However, the sight of me dressed as a girl does not repulse them at all. They differ in their thoughts of how I should cope with the problem, however. One couple does not think I should let my secret go any further; they do not share my enthusiasm in wanting to be a part of those sending information about themselves to TRANSVESTIA or doing any­thing else to publicize my problem. They are looking for some way to have me cured.”[6] (Click here to read Annette’s entire letter.)


This pathologized notion of gender and sexual deviance has dominated the discourse surrounding gender identity, sexual transition, and same-sex attraction in the United States. The first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 1952, classified transvestism under sexual deviation in the “sociopathic personality disturbance” category, alongside homosexuality, pedophilia, fetishism, and sexual sadism, including rape, sexual assault, and mutilation. This classification is what substantiated the further development and usage of gay conversion therapy as a viable form of “treatment” for the homosexual “disease” and psychotherapy as a treatment to “cure” transexuals. It also functioned to validate the American concern that gender and sexual deviancy is as dangerous to society as rape and pedophilia.[7]


In 1966, fourteen years after the first edition of the DSM was published, Harry Benjamin published The Transsexual Phenomenon.[8] The book made ripples in the medical community by providing a researched argument for the viability of gender reassignment surgery (GAS) as a valid and effective form of “treatment” for trans individuals, rather than using psychotherapy. At the time, this was a radical suggestion because it suggested that people could medically transition according to their preferred gender and live a happy life. (Read a 1963 letter written to Harry Benjamin in Transvestia here.[9]) What followed was a wave of institutionalization of transsexual health care. Before his book was published in 1966, there was no significant institutionalized care for trans therapy or transition, and by 1975 there were over twenty major medical centers offering treatment for transexuals.


Unfortunately, none of these treatment centers were in Idaho; the closest was at the University of Washington in Seattle. While the medical landscape in Idaho has changed since then, with hospitals in Moscow and Boise offering trans health care and Gender Affirming Surgeries (GAS), it is getting increasingly difficult for care providers in Idaho to safely and legally care for their trans patients. Idaho Governor Brad Little recently signed a bill into law that will take effect in 2024, making it a felony for doctors to provide puberty blockers and hormones to patients under eighteen years of age.[10] Governor Little wrote in a public statement, “This bill is aptly named the Vulnerable Child Protection Act because it seeks to protect children with gender dysphoria from medical and surgical interventions that can cause permanent damage to their bodies before they are mature enough to make such serious health decisions.” To find gender affirming healthcare in Idaho, try True U Clinic, Planned Parenthood, and St. Lukes Hospital.[11]

[1] Transvestia, Jan. 1971, 32.

[2] Transvestia, Jan. 1971, 68. 

[3] Lee Boomer, “Life Story: Christine Jorgensen,” Women & the American Story, July 9, 2022,

[4] “Cooper Donuts: The Fascinating History of an Inclusive Chain,” Cooper Donuts,

[5] Transvestia, Sep. 1960, 5.

[6] Transvestia, Sep. 1960, 9.

[7] Sara E. McHenry, et al.,“Gay Is Good’: History of Homosexuality in the DSM and Modern Psychiatry,” American Journal of Psychiatry Residents, Sep. 8, 2022,

[8] Harry Benjamin, The Transsexual Phenomenon (New York: Julian, 1960).

[9] Transvestia, Dec. 1963, 73.

[10] Brad Little, House Bill 71, Idaho State Legislature,

[11] True U Clinic, “Gender Affirming Care in Idaho,”; Planned Parenthood, “About PPGWNI: Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho,”; St Lukes Hospital, “LGBTQIA+ Health Care at St. Luke’s,” For other resources, see Transgender Map, “Idaho Transgender Resources,”