Transfixed

 

collage Bruce Jenner Olymoics star and cover of Book "As a Woman"

In 1976 while Caitlyn Jenner then known as Bruce Jenner catapulted to fame as America’s all American hero, a remarkable photo book was published showcasing the transgender community in Sydney, Australia. L) Bruce Jenner at 1976 Olympics Getty Image (R) Book Cover – “As A Woman” by Barry Kay 1976

It’s a long way from the summer of 1976 when a hunk named Bruce Jenner catapulted to fame at the summer Olympics personifying the red, white, and blue red-blooded male athlete.

That same year while Caitlyn Jenner, then known as Bruce, became the media darling celebrated as the very model of manhood, a revealing book of photographic portraits of transgender women in Australia was published causing barely a ripple in the mainstream media.

In 1976 while Gay liberation, Black liberation and Women’s Liberation were all making their voices heard, dispatches from the trans community was deafeningly silent.

Times have changed.

As a nation it seems as if we have become transfixed.

In a world where Caitlyn Jenner is starring in her own reality show, gushed over by fashionistas for rockin’ a pair of kitten heels, while winning awards for her courage, it’s easy to assume that the transgender community are finally getting the respect they deserve.

But such perceptions would be wrong.

While her reality show I Am Cait is groundbreaking, the reality is the trans community are still some of the most marginalized individuals in our society.

40 years ago it was even worse.

Bicentennial Summer of 1976

Bruce Jenner Bicentennial Superman

Superheros Spirit of 1976

In 1976 while Bruce Jenner was basking in the glow of adulation, the T in LGBT was not even acknowledged.

That summer American’s were celebrating our big bicentennial, lauding our birthright that all men are created equal; each entitled to the pursuit of happiness.

Coined the Me Decade by Tom Wolf in N.Y. Magazine,  the very definition of Me was coming under scrutiny.

Despite being “free to be you and me,” traditional ideas of gender identity were still firmly entrenched. That promise of happiness was often unattainable for many.

While Jenner won the decathlon at the summer Olympics propelling him to stardom, another star athlete Renee Richards was shunned.

Richards who had undergone sex reassignment the previous year, was denied entry into the 1976 U.S. Open by the U.S. Tennis Association citing an unprecedented woman-born woman policy.

Only 4 years earlier, Sweden had legalized gender reassignment, becoming the first European nation in the world to allow citizens to legally change their sex. America lagged far behind.

Transsexuals and transvestites were often misunderstood (the term transgender had not been coined yet) and dwelled on the fringes of society.

So it is fascinating to take a look at photographer Barry Kay’s revealing book capturing the transgendered women in 1976.

 "As A Woman" 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

“As A Woman” by Barry Kay 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

As a Woman is an extraordinary book showcasing un-extraordinary transgender folk.

The stark black and white portraits of members of Sydney Australia community of transvestites were photographed in their private spaces at home, with friends, and at work and about town.

Transgender woman 1976

Carol- Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

 

 

Transgender Woman 1976

Ayesha – Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

Transgender woman 1976

Rikki- Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

Just as we should today, it is important to remember that most trans people don’t look like a ciswoman or a cisman. Nor that the vast majority of trans people are nowhere near as wealthy enough to afford the health care needed to ensure that they do.

Though published without much fanfare, the book was banned by leading bookshops in England, because of the book’s topic.

Transgender Woman 1976

Ruby- Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

Transgender woman 1976

Trixie- Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

Macho Man

Bruce Jenner Athlete Champion

Australians like Americans have made a myth out of manhood.

Barry Kay writes in his intro:

The Australians profound need to prove himself…is a recurrent theme best illustrated in the unique importance that the country gives to competitive sport, where the champion is usually elevated to hero status.  Australia’s myth of heroism through physical achievement cultivates a belief in male elitism, a notion inevitably undermined by the presence of a transsexual community.

Some of the reviews of the book are reflective of the misconceptions of the time, some sound as though written today.

Transgender woman 1976

Robbie Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

 

“After the initial shock, one review stated,  “when you grasp that the women portrayed in Barry Kay’s book really are men, the book begins to fall apart. What begins as an earnest picture record of Australia’s growing cult of transsexuals and transvestites slowly blurs into a series of sleazy peeks of sexual oddments.”

 

Transgender woman 1976

Photo by Angelique – Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

The women, one review explains,  come in all shapes and sizes they are blonde bombshells comfortable suburban housewives and femmes fatale.

From a review in The Spectator November  1976 London by Gillian Freeman:

“If you think Australian men are nothing but a load of Bruce’s drinking Fosters waiting for their billies to boil take at look Barry Kay’s extraordinary book of photographic portraits of Australia transvestites.

Sidney was possibly the fastest growing transvestite community in the world. “one of the most surprising aspects is that less tan 10 years ago, an Australian transvestite was literally in the closet with his clothes. Now as Barry Kay’s photographs demonstrate hes visibly alive and well in the parks and on the streets and beaches .”

2 transgender women 1976

Mel and Pearl – Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

Appearances

The introduction goes on to explain the advancements that have helped people transition.

“There has been indeed physical achievement quite astonishing at times. Hormones. electrolysis and much publicized and glamorized sex change operations have created a kind of femininity although the expected tranquility of mind does not always follow man created-woman.”

transgender woman 1976

Angela – Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

“Suicides have not deterred others from seeking sex change, but the solution is not so simple.

“Even the few who have actually acquired a deceptive appearance and look touchingly vulnerable; in moments of truth, life must seem lonely frenetic and a desperate sham.”

The use of the term “deceptive” in regards to appearances is instructive.

Cait Jenner vanity Fair Cover and trans woman 1976

Some may ask are we celebrating Caitlyn Jenner because she looks like a ciswoman? (L) Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of “Vanity Fair” Annie Leibovitz photo (R) Bubbles- Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

Today many marvel at how great Jenner looks, i.e. so “convincing,”one can’t help wondering if they would dismiss her  if she looked like a guy in a dress.

 

transgender woman 1976

Cinnamon – Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

Like today’s feminists who criticized Jenner’s appearance as too stereotypical, feminists in 1976 who were trying to break out of stereotypes sometimes took the trans community to task.

In a review from the Sydney Morning Herald 1976 by Jill Sykes:

“Looking through the photographs I was struck by the number of stereotypes femmes fatale that had taken over the male bodies. It’s a curious mirror of womanhood: a fantasy of femininity in many cases.”

Sound familiar?

As a Woman Mel c SWScan04846

There has been much criticism of Cait Jenners’s glamor shots and emphasis on surface beauty. Many feminists are put off by her conflation of womanhood with her seductive appearance long nails thick eyelashes, glossy tresses.
Her corset photo unleashed a debate as feminists and the media have had a field day dissecting Caits look on the Vanity Fair Cover.

Trans woman 1976

Pearl -Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

The review continues: “Often the clothes that transvestites and transsexuals choose for themselves are in the style that their mothers would have worn. And their names have a ring of familiar exotica : Chase Manhattan, Crystal, Delilah, Monique, Simone, Tanya, Destiny, Kandy.”

Transwoman 1976

Simone – Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

“They are sometimes critical of women,” says Mr. Kay. “You often hear them talk of women’s grooming and how women take so little care of their appearances compared with them. But appearance is a very great part of their existence. Whereas you take it for granted, they are totally preoccupied in creating theirs.”

transwoman 1976

Mel- Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

 Glamour Girls

transwoman 1976

Lenore – Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

From a review in  Campaign –issue 12/76:

It has been said by many critics of transvestites and transsexuals ( that is critics from within the gay movement) that, while women are attempting to escape from stereotyping and over femininity, transvestites and transsexuals tend always to be beautiful women. They’d never be seen dead wearing dirty jeans and a scruffy pullover and their hair in curlers even tho many women do dress that way.”

“Transvesites and transsexuals seem always to be making themselves into glamor girls rather than women generally, say the critics. That might be true. But Kay has caught many of his subjects in glamorous moods. As well some have attired themselves in anything but glamour gowns.

 Ordinary People

2 transgender women 1976

Danielle and Sandra – Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

In the  review from the Sydney Morning Herald 1976 by Jill Sykes:

The very normalization of the subjects has disturbed some people.

There is Rikki hanging out the clothes, pearl sitting on a swing in a playground, Judy chatting to the conductor of the 324 bus, carol cuddled up on a regency striped sofa with her little Yorkshire terrier, and Daniell with their plastic garden chairs, fluffy slippers and Pekingese.

Transgenderwoman 1976

Sandy – Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

 

Transgender woman 1976

Pearl – Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

 

Transgender woman 1976

Amanda- Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

“Mr. Kay has often been told by transsexuals that their real goal was to be suburban housewives.
“There is a great deal of confusion about transvestites and transsexuals,” says Mr Kay. “The only thing they have in common is that they dress as women.”

transgender woman 1976

Barbara – Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

transgenderwoman 1976

Carol- Photo by Barry Kay “As A Woman” 1976 Mathews Miller Dunbar Ltd.

The book offers diverse representations of trans folks not merely cisnormative beauty standards, either by choice genetics or finances.

It’s a lesson worth remembering.

Caitlin and other trans folks value shouldn’t be valued solely based on how much they look “convincingly” cisgender.

 

© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2015.

 

 

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4 comments

  1. Susan

    A friend recommended a book called She’s Not There, by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Boylan’s autobiographical account of her transition to female — and how it affected her friendships and especially her family — seems to me to be honest, painful, and sometimes LOL funny. I liked it so much I’m now reading I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted, by the same author. We can always use new insights into what it means to be human.

    Like

  2. Well put, and thanks for the recommendation

    Like

  3. The big controversy will break when considering sex-change women and transvestites in sports and track and fields, and so on. The risk is, that people born male will make a clean sweep in the classes for ladies?

    The best sex-change operation I know of is the late 70’s and early 80’s disco queen Amanda Lear. From the very revealing photos on the web, I can’t spot that she wasn’t born a woman. Considering that the operations must have been done in the years when they weren’t too common, the results are quite astonishing.

    The deep, husky voice didn’t appear too strange for us Swedes – we had the 40’s icon Zarah Leander, and later Anita Lindblom with a deep alto, having her greatest hits approximately in the same period as Amanda Lear. And both were born women.

    Amanda Lear – Fashion Pack (Studio 54)

    Amanda Lear – Follow Me (1978) Original Single Version

    —————————————————————————–
    The Kinks – Lola.mp4
    https://vimeo.com/85769629

    Liked by 1 person

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