Male Cross Dressing, Sex Changing and the British Press

Dr Dave King

Department of Sociology, University of Liverpool, Gender Trustee
Gendys Conference, 1990

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In the professional literature on transvestism and transsexualism and in the newsletters of TV and TS organisations you will frequently find comments on press and television coverage of these topics, but you will find little which goes beyond brief comment and hardly anything which counts as serious research.

This paper is a small attempt to push things a bit further. It is not a research report but an effort to bring some order to my own thoughts and what I have read in the press about cross dressing, and observations on what I have read in the press about cross dressing and changing sex. The pool of press reports is a vast one and locating and cataloguing it is a major problem before any analysis can begin. Hopefully, in time, the Transgender Archive will be able to assist future researchers in this respect.

Cross dressing and sex changing seem to have attracted media, more precisely press, attention for some time. In 1928 Henry Havelock Ellis wrote that what he called 'eonism' was 'the commonest of all sexual anomalies to attain prominence in the public newspapers.' I have collected press cuttings going back to 1904 and in Peter Farrer's book 'Men in Petticoats', he presents extracts from newspapers and magazines going back to the 1880s. In the early 1870s the famous Boulton and Park case received prominent press coverage. So for at least 120 years crossing the gender line has been a topic of interest to the popular press.

The vast majority of reports which I have seen published since 1950 have focused on male cross dressing and sex changing. Interestingly in the small number of reports available which were published between 1900 and 1950 women subjects slightly outnumber the men. It may be that this small number of reports is not representative although the sex ratio seems to be similar to that found in the professional and popular literature of the period. A future project is to look at the way in which the press reports on females who cross dress or change sex. At the moment, as the title of this paper suggests, my remarks will be confined to reports on males.


The terrain covered by press reports is not the same as that covered by medical practice. There is some overlap but press interest does not begin or end with the medical categories of transvestism or transsexualism.

Transgressing the boundaries between the categories of male and female in whatever way seems potentially to be always of interest to the press embracing not only the activities of those who would probably clinically be described as transvestites and transsexuals but also those of amateur or professional entertainers, disguised policemen and burglars and the once only cross dresser at a party or church fete as well as many others. Not surprisingly therefore the press has its own language - its own labels.

Foremost among these is the term 'sex change'. This was in use before the Second World War and a Daily Mirror story of 1936 (7/8/36) under the headline NINE POUND CHILD BORN TO EX-SOLDIER A YEAR AFTER 'HE' CHANGED 'HIS' SEX, stated that 'this is believed to be the first time in history that a person who has changed his sex has given birth to a child, suggesting that cases of sex change were not unknown to its readers.

In 1950, nearly three years before the case of Christine Jorgensen, Norman Haire complained in the Journal of Sex Education about sensational press reports of sex changes. Over the years the press has introduced its readership to, amongst others, the sex change cop, the sex change bride, the sex change sailor, the sex change prisoner, the sex change burglar, the sex change vicar, sex change surgeons, sex change conferences, sex change tennis and has proclaimed London as 'a sex change capital of the world' (News of the World 12/10/80). Here are two headline examples from 1971 and 1980: SEX- CHANGE JULIA BATTLES TO SAVE LOVER, (Daily Star, 17/10/80), SEX-CHANGE PAT TO MARRY A WELDER, (The People, 14/3/71).

The general term 'sex change' covers several phenomena which might be distinguished by the medical literature. Although the details given are usually sparse it seems to be used to cover various forms of physical intersexuality as well as transsexuals. And although it covers cases where surgical and hormonal intervention has taken place, it also covers those where it has apparently not. The Sun (14/10/82) for instance, reported that a teacher had 'stunned students by changing sex for a second time'. The college principal said 'Last term he dressed as a woman... .now he and his medical advisors feel he should become a man again'.

Twisting the reader's tongue, a recent innovation has been the introduction of 'sex swap (or swop)' as in SEX SWAP SHOCK OF A CHURCH ORGANIST (The Sun 24/7/82), SEX SWAP WORKER REINSTATED (Guardian 3/6/82) or SEX SWOP SHOCK FOR VICE COPS (News of the World 27/12/81).

In the press reports available before 1950, another term was common - that of masquerade: THE MASQUERADER: FAMILIAR FIGURE IN SKIRTS PROVES TO BE A MAN (Evening News 10/4/15). The same mode of interpretation was conveyed in a number of similar terms; pose, impersonate, hoax, disguise; but the most commonly used was masquerade. This theme also appears in the medical and popular literature of the period. Impersonation has persisted in reports on entertainment but, that apart, the terminology and imagery of masquerade is now rare and, in contrast to the earlier period before 1950 is confined to reports in which a 'rational' motive is imputed, as in the Guardian story DRESSED FOR A 'KILLING' (4/11/82) which reported how a boy dressed as his sister 'in a masquerade intended to dupe a court official out of £931'. Here is an exceptional example of the use of the term from 1964. SIX 'WOMEN' ARRESTED WERE MEN (Glasgow Evening Citizen, 17/8/64).

Although the term has been available since 1850 (Baker, 1968, p.18) 'drag' only seems to have entered the press vocabulary in the 1960's. It is used to cover a range of behaviours and persons from those also described as transvestites and homosexual 'queens' through cross dressing in entertainment to 'fancy dress'. It seems, in the seventies and eighties, to have become the preferred term when there is no possibility of using that of 'sex change'. BLESS MY SOUL, ITS THE VICAR IN DRAG exclaimed the Sunday Mirror (11/8/74) when a cleric appeared in fancy dress at the church fete. Another clerical gentleman appeared in the Daily Express (3/11/77) under the headline THE RECTOR WORE DRAG with the newspaper informing its readers that 'clergyman has admitted going around dressed as a woman'. An Observer magazine article on the murder of Maxwell Confait described him as a 'homosexual prostitute and transvestite' under the headline THE MEN WHO WORE DRAG (17/4/77). More recently the Sun (27/7/82) proclaimed ANGER OVER LEGACY FOR A DOC IN DRAG over an article which began 'Transvestite doctor'... and a 'top doctor' who admitted to the same paper (6/10/83) that he was a transvestite, was described in its headline as 'Dr Drag'. In May this year the Guardian had a piece headlined DRAG ADDICTS (18/5/90).

The Sunday Pictorial seems to have first introduced 'transvestism' to English readers in its serialisation of Christine Jorgensen's life story in 1953 when the term, and Hamburger's intersexual conception of it were mentioned. A year later however the same paper was using the term 'transvetist' (sic) in a way which parallelled the later medical conception of the transsexual, in order to dispute the claim that Roberta Cowell had become a 'real' woman. At the same time, The Guardian (19/3/54) picking up on a timely article in the British Medical Journal, also used the term 'transvestist' (sic).

Over the next ten or twelve years it seems that the press did not give much prominence to medical terminology. Then in the second half of the sixties and early seventies there was a great deal of coverage of transsexualism drawing on medical experts and transsexuals themselves. Some medical practitioners in both the U.S. and Britain had become more involved with transsexualism. Johns Hopkins University hospital formalised its sex reassignment activities complete with press releases in 1966. Also at this time the subject of transsexualism made its first television appearance in Britain on BBC 2's Horizon (21/11/66). In 1969 the First International Symposium on Gender Identity was held in London and there were many press reports on this. In 1970 the Ashley v Corbett case was widely reported as was the discussion of transsexual marriages in Parliament in 1971. Then in 1974 Jan Morris's autobiography appeared with a lot of press coverage. Many of these events were obviously considered ones which the heavy or serious newspapers could legitimately concern themselves with and items on transsexualism began to appear in The Guardian, The Times, The Observer and so on. The 1970s also saw the growth of more formalised associations of transvestites and transsexuals which in some cases served as sources of information for journalists.

The main focus at that time was and probably still is on transsexualism. Transvestism was often discussed as background material but it also received some coverage in its own right. For example, MEN IN GIRLS CLOTHING, (Evening Mail, 25/8/71); A MAN IN WOMANS CLOTHES, (Yorkshire Post, 15/5/72).

Even so, the use of medical terminology seems to have remained rather a hit and miss affair. Sex change stories still appeared (and still do) without reference to transsexualism. When it is used though transsexualism always seems to have some reference to changing sex. Transvestism is also used to refer to this and to almost any form of cross dressing; TRANSVESTITE TURNED TO CRIME FOR SEX CHANGE proclaimed the Newcastle upon Tyne Journal in a bold headline (11/3/80) and on 2nd November 1980, the Observer printed a story about Brazilian transvestite prostitutes having sex change operations. The Star on the 15th. August 1987 under the headline, SEX-SWOP MR BOOTE GETS BOOT said 'transvestite Alan, 36, who hopes to have a sex change operation....'


There are obviously many ways in which reports could be categorised. I have categorised them here according to whether their main focus is on something specific and concrete or whether their main focus is more general and abstract. In each category there are two sub categories.

Firstly there are reports which are person focused. These tell the life story of a person and/or focus on their life style and personality. The obvious example is the sex change story: SEX CHANGE FOR PC STEVE (The People, 17/4/88). In this type of report there is little reference to general aspects of changing sex or to the issues involved; it is told as a personal story.

Secondly there are those which are event focused. These items report events or happenings with a minimal concern for the persons involved or for the wider context or implications. They may concern a fancy dress occasion DRESSED UP FOR CHARITY (Birkenhead News, 31/1/78), a suicide BOY WHO DIED LIKE HIS IDOL MARILYN (News of the World, 1/6/80), a court case YOUTH WITH SEX PROBLEM IS JAILED FOR 6 MONTHS (Lancashire Evening Telegraph, 21/6/80), a marriage SECRET OF THE BRIDE IN WHITE: SHE'S THE FATHER OF TWO SONS (News of the World, 25/3/79), losing a job SEX-OP LANDS PILOT THE SACK (News of the World, 16/8/81), or facing eviction TRANSVESTITES FACING EVICTION THREAT (The Sheffield Star, 10/4/72).

The phenomenon report outlines the nature of the condition, its prevalence, causes and so on in a general way. On the same day on which the final part of Jan Morris's serialised autobiography appeared in the Sunday Times, The Observer published such an article headlined simply TRANSSEXUALS (28/4/74). These reports may rely on professional sources as in the Observer article just mentioned or they may present it from the point of view of the transvestites or transsexuals themselves. A MAN IN WOMAN'S CLOTHES (Yorkshire Post, 14/5/72) or their wives, WHEN WIVES FIND OUT HE WANTS TO BE A WOMAN (Sunday People, 7/4/74).

Finally there are the issue reports which focus on an issue or controversy. Legal issues have been a common source of stories. WHAT IS A MAN? PARLIAMENT MAY HAVE TO DECIDE (Manchester Guardian, 19/3/54); COMMONS DEBATE ON MARRIAGE AFTER SEX CHANGE (The Times, 2/4/71). Other reports have focused on the right to cross dress at work or college, STUDENT IN A SKIRT COLLEGE ROW (Manchester Evening News, 7/11/80), the treatment of transsexual prisoners, A BLOND LOCKED UP WITH 15,000 MEN IN THE SCRUBS (Guardian, 30/1/80) or the merits of sex change operations, SEX OPS THAT END IN MISERY (Daily Mirror, 31/5/79), SEX CHANGE SECRETS AT CHARING CROSS HOSPITAL (Fulham Chronicle, 23/6/78).

Many reports combine two or more of these foci, although one is usually dominant. At times different items in the same or another publication or medium may display different foci on the same 'story'. Some reports embody other elements in addition to cross dressing or sex changing; elements which may be seen as supplementing the news value of the particular item. Among these other elements are the following;

1. The involvement of elite persons or celebrities;

A PEER'S SON LOVES A SEX CHANGE GIRL (Sunday Pictorial, 29/4/62)

IT'S GOLDEN GAL TOMMY (Sunday Pictorial 10/7/60). Picture of Tommy Steele in a dress and a wig taking part in a show with Alma Cogan.

YARD IN VIP SEX PROBE (Sunday Mirror, 20/3/83). Revelations by a 'transvestite prostitute'.

2. The presence of a controversy, dispute or conflict.

The first television programme (BBC2 Horizon 21/11/66) on sex changes was linked to the dispute over the sex of Russian women athletes.

SEX CHANGE VICAR HAS TO RESIGN (News of the World 28/5/78)

SEX OP MAN SHOCKS LADIES (Daily Mirror 28/6/79)

3. A linkage with crime, vice or other forms of deviance.



4. Female Glamour.


JAMES BOND'S GIRL WAS A BOY (News of the World 6/9/81)

MISS TURNED OUT TO BE A MR (News of the World 8/11/81). Part of a series on 'Miss World Scandals'.

5. Novelty, the bizarre, humour.

SEX OP BID TO BE DORIS'S DOUBLE (The People 14/1/79). An article about a man who planned to have not only a sex change operation but also to have plastic surgery to become a replica of Doris Day.

BIRTHDAY SEX CHANGE AT 77 (Yorkshire Post 13/12/80). Concerned a grandfather who hoped to change sex before his 78th birthday.


Most reports imply or explicitly invoke the notion of a long standing condition which explains or makes understandable the specific acts of cross-dressing or changing sex. Biological or psychological factors may then be offered as an explanation of the condition from which the subject is often said to 'suffer' or of which he is a 'victim'. It is rare to find an article which suggests that transvestism or transsexualism may be a temporary 'illness' brought about by a specific 'cause'. One such report is to be found in the Woking News (19/8/71) which declared that 'Depression turned a young man into a transvestite'. The subject, a man charged with stealing women's underwear, said, "It all started when I was in the RAF when I was depressed. I turned into a transvestite to help me get over it". There are, though, a small number of reports in which the apparent motive is the main focus because of its unusual or bizarre nature as in SEX-OP BID TO BE DORIS'S DOUBLE.

HUSBAND CHANGES SEX TO KEEP LESBIAN WIFE WHO FELL FOR A NANNY announced the News of the World (10/9/78) although the article under this headline recounted a story which suggested that the desire to change sex was only tenuously related to these circumstances.


I will first of all focus on the effects on the subjects of press or other media reports. Most obviously, I am thinking of the individual TV or TS whose status as such becomes known through media reports and their families and friends. It doesn't require much imagination to think of some of the likely negative consequences in, for example, the areas of personal relationships or employment. On the other hand there can also be some positive consequences at least for the TV or TS; the need for secrecy is removed and for some individuals the publicity may further new careers. Christine Jorgensen, for example, complained in her autobiography of the invasion of her privacy and that of her family by the press. But she also recognised that the publicity she received had furthered her career as a night club performer. Thus she concluded that 'like Janus, the press has pres ented two faces; one detrimental and one advantageous.' (1967, p.331). I suspect, though, that for most 'ordinary' TV's and TS's the consequences for them and their families and friends of media exposure are on the whole likely to be unwelcome.

Transsexual celebrities are also likely to find that they receive letters from people in similar circumstances requesting help and information and they may find themselves being placed in the role of spokesperson or expert on the topic.

I also want to consider the consequences of media exposure for those members of the medical profession who achieve fame through the press. As do most TV's and TS's, most of the members of the medical profession practising in this area try to avoid publicity. In the past some surgeons feared criminal charges; more recently there is still a fear of negative reactions from colleagues, damage to a career or simply the trivialisation and perhaps the jeopardisation of their work. Certainly articles such as that which appeared in the News of the World on 12th October 1980 claiming that John Randell and Peter Phillip had made London the 'sex-change capital of the world' are hardly likely to encourage medical practitioners to speak to the press. So I was not surprised to be told by one transsexual that her psychiatrist had threatened to terminate her treatment if she spoke to the press about it.

Another consequence of publicity for the medical profession is an increase in the number of patients referred. Consider this quote:

From time to time one reads sensational reports in the newspapers of persons who are alleged to have had their sex changed, usually by operation. And, whenever this occurs, well-known sexologists usually receive a spate of letters from persons who have read the newspaper reports and who write asking for the operation to be carried out on themselves.

This was written by Norman Haire in 1950 (p.200) nearly three years before the press coverage of the Christine Jorgensen case.

In 1953 Christian Hamburger, one of the doctors involved in the Jorgensen case, wrote an article based on an analysis of the many letters he received from people around the world who learnt of his existence through the press reports and who were seeking similar treatment to Jorgensen. The involvement of Charing Cross hospital with transsexuals apparently began in the 1930s when work with physically intersex persons by Lennox Broster and Clifford Allen was reported in the press in terms of sex-change. I think these are two examples: WERE ONCE SISTERS (News of the World, 2/8/43), TWO SISTERS TURN INTO BROTHERS (The Star, 25/8/39). Obviously a certain level of demand for one's services is to be welcomed but when, as seems to be the case, it is hard to meet the current demand, increasing it even further can cause problems.

So these are some of the possible effects of the media on those who become their subjects. I want now to turn to the effects on the receivers, the audience or readership. Firstly we can consider the influence of the press or the media as a whole on the knowledge which the general public (if we can speak of such a thing) has about cross dressing and sex changing and also the attitudes which are common towards these topics.

There has been no research as far as I know to indicate what the effects in this area might be. I will make some comments based on the content of media reports although this does not necessarily mean that the messages found therein are passively received. Where people have no alternative sources of information it is reasonable to assume that the media will be most influential although this influence will be limited by pre-existing attitudes towards, in this case, such things as gender and sexuality.

It is probably unrealistic to expect the media to function solely in an educational capacity although clearly they do this to a certain extent and in the case of particular programmes or articles they may do so very well. The terms transvestite and transsexual have, as I have discussed, been absorbed somewhat erratically into the media vocabulary. Some of the body of knowledge behind these terms has also made an appearance although less than 13% of the press reports I have studied dealt directly and primarily with 'expert' knowledge by, for example, reporting a conference or by presenting brief accounts of various causal theories. It is quite likely though that the general public has through the media acquired some knowledge of transvestism and transsexualism although to what extent is anybody's guess.

In addition to giving people knowledge about transvestism and transsexualism it is possible that the media may influence their attitudes towards these phenomena. Some writers have argued that the American media, pushed by a greedy medical profession and self interested transsexual groups, have presented a glowing picture of transsexualism and sex-reassignment to the public. That may or may not be true for the U.S.A. (and I suspect that it is actually more complicated than that) but in Britain there are plenty of reports of the less glamorous aspects of transsexualism although the tone of most reports is not condemnatory. Most often the reader seems to be being asked to share in a sense of wonderment, to be amused, to be titillated, to be sympathetic perhaps even to feel admiration.

Consider the following from a piece about Julia Grant:

The physical pain afterwards was shrugged off bravely by Julia who had endured far greater mental anguish as a woman trapped inside a man's body.
(West Lancs. Evening Gazette 18/10/80)

The damage done by sex change exposées would seem to lie usually in the mere act of exposure not in the facts or the tone of the report. But there is quite a lot of coverage which paints a less favourable picture of transvestism and transsexualism. TV's and TS's involved in prostitution appear regularly as do those involved in stripping and pornography. There are also occasional reports of violent criminals who are described as transvestites or transsexuals.

A man described as a 'brute' who murdered and mutilated three teenage girls was said to be a 'sexual deviant and transvestite' (Manchester Daily Express, 3/5/77). GUN LOVING TRANSVESTITE KILLER was the title given by the Cardiff Western Mail (31/3/76) to one man charged with murder. I have already mentioned the Cambridge rapist's 'plea to be a woman'.

Arson (News of the World, 24/1/82), mugging (Sunday People, 23/9/79), armed robbery (The Journal, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, 11/3/80), behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace (Kidderminster Times, 3/12/71), theft and burglary, (Daily Express, 13/2/76), grievous bodily harm (Daily Mirror 26/8/78), assaulting a police officer (Yorkshire Post 4/11/80) are among other reported offenses involving transsexuals or transvestites. Relatively few reports seem to be downright nasty. In 1981 (11/10) the News of the World reported on a 'kinky copper' said to have a 'sinister side' and also described as 'creepy' and 'mincing'. His 'insatiable fetish' for women's underwear was said to be behind the burglaries for which he received a suspended prison sentence. The report reassured us that 'he is now receiving psychiatric treatment'.

The Sunday People would, no doubt, have liked to have said the same about Roberta Cowell who, contrary to the picture painted in the remainder of the press, they portrayed as an 'unhappy freak', and a 'horror' with an 'abnormal craving' (11/4/54; 18/4/54).

Then there are reports of cases of transsexuals who have regretted surgery, from THE TRAGIC CASE OF THE WOMAN WHO WAS ONCE CALLED DONALD (The People 5/11/67) to I WANT TO BE A MAN AGAIN (Sunday Mirror 1/5/83). The cautions of experts also appear; SEX CHANGE NOT ALWAYS THE CURE (Kilburn Times 14/6/68); SEX OPS THAT END IN MISERY (Daily Mirror 31/5/79).

In addition to reports such as these there are also those which, although they do not present sex changes as 'failures', focus on the problems faced by some transsexuals. MY SHATTERED DREAM (Daily Star 14/3/81) focused on the fate of one well- publicised transsexual facing eviction, financially insecure, her marriage hopes 'dashed' and with an operation that had not been totally successful. Other reports have emphasised loneliness, legal entanglements, long waits for operations, suicides and 'botched' operations, summed up by the News of the World as the PRICE OF NEW LIFE IN SEX CHANGE CITY (12/10/80). Such reports, whilst sympathetic to the plight of the transsexual, are clearly expressing a scepticism about the presumed benefits of changing sex.

I decided I couldn't leave that as my last example so here is a more positive report; TRANSVESTISM IS OK, SAYS PSYCHIATRIST, (Hampstead and Highgate Express, 13/11/78). Obviously the psychiatrist in question was male.

I want to move on now to consider the effects of media material on a particular section of the audience; that is those readers viewers and listeners who are, or might be considered transvestites or transsexuals themselves.

In the stories of transsexuals in particular, encounters with media reports occur frequently and are accorded some significance. Here are two:

By 1951 I knew for certain that I wanted to be a woman . . . Much as I tried I could find none who would help me. I waited and hoped.... Two long years later Christine Jorgensen achieved that which I had almost grown to accept as the imposs ible. She had changed sex. My pitiful little life became no longer liveable in the knowledge that it was possible. Dr. Hamburger, to whom I had immediately written, recommended that I should consult Dr. .....
(letter written in 1954)

In this story I found the answer to the question I had been asking myself since I was sixteen. It may have been ascertained from a 'trash' newspaper which published the series of articles but the details of this persons life were so much similar to my own that I was not prepared to regard the matter as mere coincidence. ... The most important fact was that Christine's quest which she had triumphantly completed was my own.
(Unpublished autobiography, written in 1954)

Both writers then saw the Jorgensen story as having a profound effect on their understanding of themselves and in the first case it opened up an avenue which eventually led to sex reassignment.

The impact of such media reports does not seem to have diminished over the years. In the following quote a writer to the SHAFT newsletter in 1983 describes the impact of the three part television series on Julia Grant;

By the end of the third part I knew what I had to do. I didn't quite know how and I didn't really believe it would be possible, but I had to try to get the medical profession to reassign my gender and give me the appropriate medical and surgical treatment.

Of course all media reports do not have such a dramatic impact on all transvestites and transsexuals as my examples might suggest. By itself, the latest sex- change sensation is not going to send people scurrying off to the nearest gender identity clinic. Some people fight against their wish to change sex and find reports that suggest it is possible to be disturbing.

Nevertheless, it is clear that media reports are used in various ways by people who are struggling to reach an understanding of their own feelings and experiences. They can also suggest possible courses of action and provide information which is sometimes used.

This is not a state of affairs which is welcomed by some writers. Newman and Stoller, for example, wrote in 1974 that;

The press, television and the movies have so popularised the idea of sex change that the patient may come to the psychiatrist already sure of his diagnosis and treatment. (1974, p.438)

In 1978 Prince expressed the view that 'sex reassignment surgery is a communicable disease' and argued that exposure to it

........occurs every time an operated person, a doctor or an organisation publicly speaks about the subject on radio, television or lecture platform, writes about it in magazines, books and news papers or otherwise brings it to the attention of the public. Such publicity acts like a spring shower on dried ground, hundreds of new shoots spring up. It acts like a trigger mechanism to fire up another whole crop of so called 'transsexuals' who fervently say, after reading or hearing about the surgery, "Why, that is what I am. Surgery is the answer to my problems." (1978, p.271)

Such writers are arguing or complaining that the problem of distinguishing the 'true' transsexuals from those patients who are 'really' something else is exacerbated by the publicity given to the process of changing sex. Some of these writers such as Newman and Stoller evidently believe that the vast majority of people who request sex reassignment are not true transsexuals. Some writers such as Raymond (1980), Sagarin (1978) and Billings and Urban (1982) have argued that transsexualism itself is a mythical condition produced by sections of the medical profession and promoted by the media. There does not seem to be so much concern about the effects of the media on those who identify themselves as transvestites but presumably, here again, media reports can influence self identification and understanding and provide practical information.


In our culture as Annie Woodhouse (1989) has said sex, gender and gender appearance form a kind of 'holy trinity'; we presume and expect that they will fit together in some natural way. The topics of sex changing and cross dressing are startling because they question this natural 'fit'. This may explain why they receive so much press attention.

This attention, though, is a double edged sword for transvestites and transsexuals. Individual TV's and TS's may be damaged by the exposure they receive; but other TV and TS viewers or readers may be inspired, educated or entertained by it. The general public may be misled or misinformed but it may also be educated and enlightened.

The media of mass communication are a central component of modern culture. The development of printing, the growth of literacy and then the spread of films, radio and television have brought about new forms of cultural transmission and information diffusion. Many people, probably the vast majority, will never, knowingly, meet a transvestite or a transsexual in their lifetime. But mass communication makes them available to everybody. To understand the meanings which transvestism and transsexualism have in our culture then, we have to look at how media products in these areas are put together and at how they are received. And I think that this needs to be seen in a much wider context. Something I haven't done here, but which needs doing, is to consider what these reports are telling us about the nature of gender in our society. And that too is part of a wider task; that of analysing the ways in which men and women in general are portrayed by the media.


  1. Baker, R. (1968), Drag; A History of Female Impersonation on the Stage. London, Triton Books.
  2. Billings, D.b. & Urban, T. (1982), The Socio-medical Construction of Transsexualism; An Interpretation and Critique. Social Problems, 29:3, Pp.266-282.
  3. Fallowell, D. & Ashley, A. (1982), April Ashley's Odyssey, London, Jonathan Cape.
  4. Farrer, P. (Ed.) (1987), Men in Petticoats, Liverpool, Karn Publications.
  5. Haire, N. (1950), Change of Sex, Journal of Sex Education, 2:5, Pp.200-203.
  6. Hamburger, C. (1953), The Desire for Change of Sex as shown by personal letters from 465 Men and Women, Acta Endocrinologica, 14:4. pp.361-375.
  7. Jensen, C. (1967), Christine Jorgensen; A Personal Autobiography, New York, P.s. Erikson.
  8. Newman, L.E., Stoller, R.J. (1974), Non-transsexual Men Who Seek Sex Reassignment, A.J. Psychiatry, 131:4, Pp.437-441.
  9. Prince, C.V. (1978), Transsexuals and Pseudo-trans-sexuals. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 7:4, Pp.263--272.
  10. Sagarin, E. (1978), Transsexualism. Legitimisation, Amplification and Exploitation of Deviance by Scien-tists and Mass Media, in Winick, C.(Ed.) Deviance and Mass Media. Beverley Hills, Sage.
  11. Woodhouse, A. (1989), Fantastic Women: Sex, Gender and Transvestism. London, MacMillan.
Citation: King, D., (1990), Male Cross Dressing, Sex Changing and the British Press, Beaumont Trust International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. Last amended 18.07.06