African-American Transgender History-50’s Style

by Guest Contributor Monica Roberts, originally published at TransGriot

One of the beauties of surfing the Net is that from time to time, you’ll stumble across a nugget of history or some photo that you weren’t even aware existed.

I’ve mentioned that JET, EBONY and the now defunct HUE magazines when they first started back in the day served as historical chroniclers of the Black experience in America. Google just negotiated a deal in which they will be digitizing pre-1960’s EBONY and JET magazines so that you can access their content on the Net.

One of the things I discovered to my delight is that in order to fulfill their mission of documenting the Black experience, EBONY and JET also covered events and discussed Black GLBT issues.

In addition to asking pointed questions about the Black GLBT experience, they also covered the New York and Chicago drag balls as well.

The other night while searching through Flickr and other places for photos of African-American transwomen for future posts, I stumbled across some African-American transgender history.

Most of it is the coverage of Chicago’s Finnies Ball and the New York ones. I chuckled when I saw the HUE article that asks if you can tell the difference between female illusionists and genetic women.

I also noted the incorrect pronouns and the ‘her’ in quotation marks used in some of the articles.

While it was atrocious in the 50’s, I noted that by the 70’s, JET was doing a better job of discussing transgender issues with accuracy and sensitivity two decades before the AP Stylebook guidelines even were published.

But unfortunately some of the attitudes reflected in those articles are still expressed by some of my people.

Some of my peeps think that me and my fellow transpeople aren’t serious about this path we’re taking, or think it’s a joke.

It’s serious business. Why would anyone subject themselves to the amount of ridicule, physical violence and abuse if they weren’t serious about this?

The other fallacy that keeps popping up is that Black transgender people are a new phenomenon. These articles dating back to the early 50’s and the history of the Harlem Renaissance say otherwise.

(Photo Credit: Ebony, Jet, and Hue Magazines)