Jennie June/Ralph Werther/Earl Lind: The "Cercle Hermaphroditos"
Last edit Oct. 10, 2022, 8:53 PM ET
Introduction by Jonathan Ned Katz.
Two autobiographical books by the pseudonymous author who also called himself Jennie June, Ralph Werther, and Earl Lind, The Autobiography of an Androgyne (1918) and The Female Impersonators (1922), are major texts of what we today call transgender history. If the author's birth name could be found it is likely to provide major insights, not only into this individual's world but into the gender history of the writer's time.
Referring to himself using male pronouns, the author argues for the legal and social acceptance of those he calls "androgynes," "bisexuals," and "female impersonators" (later described as effeminate male homosexuals, and more recently, transgender persons).
He also refers to "gynanders" (later described as masculine female homosexuals, butch lesbians, and, more recently, transgender men).
In particular, his use of the terms "bisexual" and "bisexuality" to refer to persons of a two-sexed, male and female character, may be confusing for today's readers.
The two books (and a third unpublished manuscript) present the life history of this female-and feminine-identified male born, he says, in 1874. These rare, first-person accounts also convey a sense of the social attitudes toward men who had sex with men, and of one aspect of underground sexual life in New York City at the turn of the 19th century.
The author argues that androgynes are subject to a congenital condition that carries no moral guilt, cannot be spread by example, and harms no one. Therefore legal and social penalties against them should be abolished.
He also reports that as a young boy and in college he often considered suicide.
He reports that he had himself castrated at age twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Explaining this act, he says that he was "unutterably downcast at being the victim of an obsession [to perform oral sex on men] which led me to commit what are commonly regarded as revolting crimes", fellatio and, occasionally, submitting to anal intercourse. He was also concerned about "the wrecking of my health through emissions during sleep." The loss of his testicles, he says, "by removing the exhausting effects of [seminal] emissions, gave me a new lease on life." But, he adds: "Not until two years after castration was there a perceptible diminution in my craze for fellatio."
The author's understanding of himself, his self-presentation in his published works and reported encounters, and our ways of understanding this person, remain a complex subject for future analysis.
Although it is difficult to know exactly where the author's accounts pass from fact to fiction, his reference to "Paresis Hall" as an androgyne "resort" in New York City in the late 1900s is documented by other reliable contemporary witnesses.
The author's account of "the Hall" includes a description of a group that is, if not apocryphal, one of the earliest organizations in the United States for gender and sexual emancipation, the Cercle Hermaphrodites, formed by "androgynes" (men who identify as feminine or female and who desire sex with men) to "unite for defense against the world's bitter persecution." Even if the Cercle Hermaproditos did not exist, the author's dream of it 1918 still represented an amazing, resistant hope that his people would unite to fight for freedom.
Jennie June/Ralph Werther/Earl Lind writes:
Evenings at Paresis Hall
- During the last decade of the nineteenth century, the headquarters for avocational female-impersonators of the upper and middle classes was Paresis Hall," on Fourth Avenue several blocks south of Fourteenth Street. In front was a modest bar-room; behind, a small beer-garden. The two floors above were divided into small rooms for rent...
- Paresis Hall bore almost the worst reputation of any resort of New York's Underworld. Preachers in New York pulpits of the decade would thunder Philippics against the "Hall," referring to it in bated breath as "Sodom!" They were laboring under a fundamental misapprehension. But even while I was an habitué, the church and the press carried on such a war against the resort that the '"not-care-a-damn" politicians who ruled little old New York had finally to stage a spectacular raid. After this, the resort, though continuing in business (because of political influence), turned the cold shoulder on androgynes and tolerated the presence of none in feminine garb.
- But there existed little justification for the police's "jumping on" the "Hall" as a sop to puritan sentiment. Culturally and ethically, its distinctive clientele ranked high. Their only offence--but such a grave one as to cause sexually full-fledged [later, heterosexual] Pharisees to lift up their own rotten hands in holy horror--was, as indicated, female-impersonation during their evenings at the resort. A psychological and not an ethical phenomenon! For ethically the "Hall's" distinctive clientele were congenital goody-goodies, incapable (by disposition) of ever inflicting the least detriment on a single soul...But the "Hall's" distinctive clientele were bitterly hated, and were scattered by the police, merely because of their congenital bisexuality. The sexually full-fledged were crying for blood (of innocents), as did the "unco' good" [those professedly strict in matters of morals] in the days of witch-burning. Bisexuals must be crushed-right or wrong! The subject does not permit investigation!...
- ...The full-fledged had innumerable opportunities for the satisfaction of their instincts. Androgynes had only "the Hall" with the exception of three or four slum resorts frequented by only the lowest class of bisexuals who had never known any thing better than slum life.
- Why deprive cultured androgynes of their solitary rendezvous in the New York metropolitan district and give carte blanche to the thousands of similar heterosexual resorts?
- Paresis Hall was as innocuous as any sex resort. Its existence really brought not the least detriment to any one or to the social body as a whole. More than that: It was a necessary safety-valve to the social body. It is not in the power of every adult to settle down for life in the monogamous and monogamous love-nest ordained for all by our leaders of thought...
- While in this book I use the resort's popular name, androgyne habituraries always abhorred it, saying simply "the Hall." The full nickname arose in part. because the numerous 'full-fledged male visitors to-it was one of the "sights" for out-of-towners who hired a guide to take them through New York's Underworld-thought the bisexuals, who were its main feature, must be insane in stooping to female impersonation. They understood "paresis" to be the general medical term for "insanity." The name also in part arose because in those days even the medical profession were obsessed with the superstition that a virile man's association with an androgyne induced paresis in the former, it not yet having been discovered that this type of insanity is a rare aftermath of syphilis...
Paresis Hall, January 1895
- On one of my earliest visits to Paresis Hall--about January, 1895--I seated myself alone at one of the tables. I had only recently learned that it was the androgyne headquarters or "fairie" as it was called at the time. Since Nature had consigned me to that class, I was anxious to meet as many examples as possible. As I took my seat, I did not recognize a single acquaintance among the several score young bloods, soubrettes, and androgynes chatting and drinking in the beergarden.
- In a few minutes, three short, smooth-faced young men approached and introduced themselves as Roland Reeves, Manon Lescaut, and Prince Pansy--aliases, because few refined androgynes would be so rash as to betray their legal name in the Underworld. Not alone from their names, but also from their loud apparel, the timbre of their voices, their frail physique, and their feminesque mannerisms, I discerned they were androgynes...
- Roland was chief speaker. The essence of his remarks was something like the following:
- "Mr. Werther--or Jennie June, as doubtless you prefer to be addressed--I have seen you at the Hotel Comfort, but you were always engaged. A score of us have formed a little club, the CERCLE HERMAPHRODITOS. For we need to unite for defense against the world's bitter persecution of bisexuals. We care to admit only extreme types-such as like to doll themselves up in feminine finery. We sympathize with, but do not care to be intimate with, the mild types, some of whom you see here to-night even wearing a disgusting beard! Of course they do not wear it out of liking. They merely consider it a lesser evil than the horrible razor or excruciating wax-mask.
- "We ourselves are in the detested' trousers because having only just arrived. We keep our feminine wardrobe in lockers upstairs so that our every-day circles can not suspect us of female-impersonation. For they have such an irrational horror of it!"
- On the basis of different visits to an upper room permanently rented by the CERCLE HERMAPHRODITOS I am, going to build up a typical hour's conversation in order to disclose into what channels the thoughts of ultra-androgynes run when half-a-score find themselves together. The reason for its unnatural ring is that I omit the nine-tenths that were prattle, retaining only the cream that I consider of scientific value.
Paresis Hall, April 1895
- It was about eight o'clock on an evening of April, 1895. Some of the hermaphroditoi were still in male apparel; some changing to feminine evening dress and busy with padding and the powder-puff; some in their completed evening toilette ready to descend to the beergarden below to await a young-blood friend.
One of the "hermaphroditoi" remarks how common it is for "rather mannish women [to] fall in love with us Mollie Coddles." An androgyne named Angelo-Phyllis is reminded of the murder of a young heiress, a "gynander" (in modern terminology, a "lesbian"). Lind notes that this "anecdote deals with only one of a number of similar occurrences in New York. Gynanders, as well as androgynes, are doomed to suffer murder at the hands of hare-brained prudes because of the false teaching of the leaders of thought."
Angelo-Phyllis recalls the story:
- "Perhaps you read in the paper two years ago how a New York young woman disappeared, and the utmost efforts of the police were not rewarded with the least trace. She was of that mannish type..."
- "I myself have no doubt of the fate of the poor girl. When the papers were full of rumors and hypotheses about her, I repeatedly wrote my theory to her father. When he ignored my letters, I gave the police my theory. They likewise thought it absurd and refused to investigate along the lines I suggested."
- "When some mannish women find it impossible to marry an effeminate man, they adopt some petite cry-baby woman as their soul-mate. The papers stated that the last trace of Mollie Dale was her carrying away from O'Neil's several purchases. The latter immediately struck me as such alone as a gallant would buy to present his lady-love. When I told the police, they said: 'Absurd! Who ever heard of one woman being in love with another!'"
- "On leaving O'Neil's, Mollie Dale absolutely dropped out of sight for all time. It was as if the earth had suddenly yawned for her body and closed again so rapidly as to be unseen by the people nearby..."
- "My theory, hermaphroditoi, is that Mollie went right from O'Neil's to her crybaby chum's. Probably within walking distance, because every soul in, New York was asked through the newspapers over and over again if they had met on any public conveyance the morning of Mollie's dropping out of sight a young lady of her description, so detailed as to give even the pattern of her shoes, besides her much published photographs. Her disappearance was at the time the seven-days wonder of New York and every one was discussing it."
- "The rule with men-women--with us women-men--is never to breathe to any one of their every-day circle a word about their sweethearts because of the misunderstanding and horror evidenced by people ignorant of psychology. As a rule the soul-mates of us better-class bisexuals belong to a much lower social stratum. Very likely Mollie's lived in one of the thousands of tumbledown tenements within walking distance of O'Neil's."
- "According to my theory, hermaphroditoi-and I have seen a hundred times more of life than the average man, and possess some sense notwithstanding people not knowing me well set me down as only a high-grade idiot because of my outward frivolousness and an unfortunate infantile carriage-the cry-baby's husband or father had only just learned of what he, as well as ninety-nine out of every hundred men, mistakenly regarded as the horribly corrupting influence of the poor martyr Mollie on the harebrained cry-baby. Ignorant that men-women are victims of birth and that their so-called 'depravity' brings not the least harm to any one, and insanely angry with Mollie into the bargain, he that very morning bludgeoned her in his apartment. And he happened to succeed in disposing of the corpse."
- "I thought of Mollie when last week the papers told about an unrecognizable female body, bent double, having been found in a trunk filled with salt that for two years had rested unclaimed in the trunk-room of the third-class Hotel X--just the type that a tenement-dweller would select to harbor such a trunk. The murderer was evidently a meat-packer, familiar with the processes of salting down."
- In such strange ways a continuous string of both, men-women and women-men are being struck down in New York for no other reason than loathing for those born bisexual. And public opinion forbids the publication of the facts of bisexuality, which, if generally known, would put an end to these mysterious murders of innocents.
A little later, another member of the Hermaphraditos makes his appearance.
- "Here's Plum. Plumkin, you look as if you had lost your last friend!"
- The 23-year Mollie Coddle sobbed: "Everything looks dark. Two days ago I was fired. I have hardly slept a wink since. I have hope for the future only in the grave. Some bigot denounced me to the boss. He called me into his private office. As this had never happened before, I guessed the reason..."
- Plum outlined his conference. I have listened to several similar confessions. The following is a composite.
- PIum: "I confess to being a woman-man and throw myself upon your mercy."
- Fairsea: "That confession is sufficient, and proves you an undesirable person to have around!"
- Plum: "It will be hard to find a new job, since I have been with you for five years and must depend on your recommendation."
- Fairsea: "Knowing your nature, Plum, I could not recommend you even to shovel coal into a fume!"
- Plum: "But you have steadily advanced me for five years! Why should to-day’s discovery make any difference in your opinion of my business ability?"
- Fairsea with a sneer: "An invert ought to leave brain work for others! He ought to exhaust himself on a farm from sunrise to sunset so that the psychic movings would be next to non-existent. He should pass his life in the back woods; not in a city. He has no right in the £rout ranks of civilization where his abnormality is so out of place!"
- Plum: "You mean that he should commit intellectual and social suicide in obedience to the aesthetic sense of Pharisees?"
- Fairsea: "Certainly! The innate feelings and the conscience, as well as the Bible, teach that the invert has no rights! I myself have only deep-rooted contempt for him! Every fiber in my body, every cell in my tissues, cries out in loud protest against him! He is the lowest of the low! I dare say that at the bottom of your heart, Plum, you are thoroughly ashamed of the confession you made a moment ago?"
- Plum: "By no means. I have learned to look upon bisexuality as a scientist and a philosopher. But you have just shown yourself to be still groping in the Dark Ages.
- "No, Mr. Fairsea, I can hardly bring myself to be ashamed of the handiwork of God. A bisexual has no more reason than a full-fledged man or woman to be ashamed of his God-given sexuality.
- "You appear, Mr. Fairsea, to be unable to get my point of view. All in my anatomy and psyche that you gloat in caIling depraved and contemptible I have been used to since my early teens. If your views have any justification in science or ethics, I am unable to see it. Although it almost breaks my heart to be made an outcast and penniless by yourself, I prefer that lot, knowing I am in the right, than to be in the wrong even if sitting, as yourself, in the chair of president of the X- Company.
- "How do you define 'depraved', Mr. Fairsea? If in such a way as to exclude Socrates, Plato, Michael Angelo, and Raphael, then you exclude me also."
- Fairsea: "But the phenomenon works against the multiplication of the human race. Nature, with this in view, instilled in all but the scum of mankind this utter disgust for the invert. To the end of the continued existence of the race, he must be condemned to a life of unsatisfied longing. For this reason he should be imprisoned for life, not for only ten or twenty years as the statutes now provide!
- "We strictly segregate diphtheria and scarlet fever, Plum. Why should we not similarly quarantine against inversion?"
- Plum: "...THE BISEXUALS' BEING AT LIBERTY OCCASIONS NOT THE LEAST DETRJMENT TO ANY INDIVIDUANLO,R TO THE RACE AS A WHOLE…the segregation of bisexuals would affect for a lifetime tens of thousands of our most useful members of society. It would occasion, among these already accursed by Nature, additional intense mental suffering, despair, and suicide...
- "And as to race suicide, Mr. Fairsea..."
- "...Hasn't the human race survived the best decades of classic Greece? While the Greeks are acknowledged by all modern historians to have attained the highest development of mind and body ever known, they at the same time gave to the women-men who happened to-be born among them-as among all races of all ages--an honorable place. And by far more place, both in their personal and social life, than in the case of any other nation of the ancient or modem world."
- Fairsea: "But I had hoped that the human race had evolved above this phenomenon! I hate to believe it of the human race! Because the phenomenon lowers humanity down to the lowest levels of animal life!"
- Plum: "So does eating!"
- Fairsea: "I detest it! My disgust is innermost and deepseated! To begin now to show any mercy to the invert, after having for two thousand years confined him in dungeons, burned him at the stake, and buried him alive, would be a backward step in the evolution of the race! "Plum, the invert is not fit to live with the rest of mankind! He should be shunned as the lepers of biblical times! If generously allowed outside prison walls, the law should at least ordain that the word 'UNCLEAN' be branded in his forehead, and should compel him to cry: 'UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!' as he walks the streets, lest his very brushing against decent people contaminate them!"
- Plum: "All that is only bigotry and bias! Nearly every man's conduct is still governed by bias!"
- Fairsea: "I even acknowledge that it is bias! For bias is justifiable in matters of sex!...You say that medical writers have declared inverts irresponsible! That declaration proves that they know nothing about them! You say inverts are assaulted and blackmailed! They deserve to be! It would be wrong for any one at all to show any leniency! Their existence ought to be made so intolerable as to drive them to lead their sexual life along the lines followed by all other men! Your case, Plum, fills me with such disgust that I could not rest knowing you were around the office!"
- Roland brought the conversation to a close: "Mankind are so steeped in egotism! Whatever they are not personally inclined to is always horribly immoral! Whatever they are instinctively inclined to is always supremely right!"
- Rewritten by Katz from Gay American History (1976).
- Earl Lind ("Ralph Werthern-"Jennie June"), Autobiography of an Androgyne. ed. with an introduction by Alfred W. Herzog (N.Y. : Medico-Legal Journal, I918; photo reprint, N.Y.: Arno, 1975). Lind's sequel is titled The Female-Impersonators. . .ed. with an introduction by Alfred W. Herzog (N.Y.: Medico-Legal Journal, 1922; photo reprint, N.Y.: Arno, 1975). See also the sections of Lind's third, unpublished memoir, Riddle of the Underworld, published for the first time on OutHistory.org.
- Autobiography of an Androgyne, ed. Scott Herring, pages 34, 38, 42, 49, 91, 92, 97, 118, 141.
- Autobiography of an Androgyne, ed. Scott Herring, pages 158, 159, 161. Other references to his castration on pages xii, 14, 68, 69, 82, 85, 162, 185, 188, 189, 195. Dr. Hertzog, who introducesAutobiography, says that Lind said he was castrated to relieve "spermatorrhoea" -- involuntary seminal emissions, thought to be health impairing (page 14).
- See the references to Paresis Hall in the 1899 testimon before the New York State Committee investiating conditions in New York City, quoted in Katz, Jonathan Ned, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (NY: Crowell, 1976), p. 46-47, and is on OutHistory.org at: New York State Investigation of New York City: May 16, 1899.
- The exact official name and location of "Paresis Hall" has not been established with certainty. Lind says it was "on Fourth Avenue several blocks south of Fourteenth Street." Wood's and Harris' testimony during the New York State Investigation of New York City: May 16, 1899 places Paresis Hall at 392 Bowery, near 5th Street."
- Lind, Female-Impersonators, p. 146-48,150-52.
- Lind, Female-Impersonators, p. 154-57, 15963.
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Bibliography and Chronology