LGBT+ History Month Event at Birkbeck on the Beaumont Society

The blurby bit

Trans identities, experiences and everyday lives 1966-2004

What is the talk about?

A look at the different ways trans people understood and expressed their gender crossing identities within the context of the Beaumont Society, a UK trans support network. Using oral history interview testimony from those involved with the group, the talk will explore the private and public lives of gender crossing people in the 1970s, focusing on the way Beaumont Society members explored their gender identities both within the privacy of their homes and within their encounters with wider society and its gatekeepers.

From Eventbrite

In the room

About forty people attended this free lecture, and interestingly a number of older men too, around the age that I would suspect a typical Beaumont Society Member to be. It was held to celebrate LGBT+ History Month, held by Birkbeck College, part of the University of London. Of course, we were warned right at the start that the event that it was not an opportunity to discuss any of current issues about trans-identities, nor were people to ask any improper questions. The lecture would last just 20 minutes with the Q&A twice that.

The lecturer

Leila Sellers is a PhD student in the history department at Birkbeck whose thesis is ‘The Beaumont Society: Trans Cultures, Identities and Everyday Subjectivities, 1966-2004’. She is funded by Wellcome. She wanted to tell us about her research project and why she was doing it, then she would explain how she was doing it (the methodology) and finally how ‘gender diversity behaves in different social spaces’.

Defining terms

Before she got onto any of that though, first she wanted to educate us on the nuance of all the different words used to describe people who are trans-identified. I have to say this lecture was the clearest example I have ever experienced on how people get hooked on language which then obstructs a dispassionate look at the facts, as almost the entire Q&A was taken up by people ruminating over the meanings of these terms.

Hence Sellers began by explaining to us the ‘difference’ between sex and gender, and revealed that she was ‘cisgendered’ and warned us to brace ourselves as she was going to use outdated terms.

She told us that ‘transvestite’ meant ‘someone who crossed gender on a temporary basis’ and that ‘transsexual’ meant ‘people who had transitioned on a more permanent basis’ which sometimes involved surgery and sometimes it didn’t.

She would also use the terms ‘gender non-conforming’, ‘gender variant’, ‘gender crossing’ and occasionally ‘crossdresser’. To keep things simple, these were the myriad terms she was going to use to describe just one phenomenon; straight men who dressed up as women.

It covered 1966 to 2004

Sellers described the Beaumont Society as a ‘trans organisation’ and the ‘very first trans support group in the UK’. The period of time covered was from its inception in 1966 until the passing of the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

She explained that the Beaumont Society excluded homosexual cross dressing men because they wanted to distance themselves from other stigmatised minorities. Which is rather at odds with the choice of words that Alice Purnell, the man who set the Beaumont Society up, that ‘no hint of overt gayness would be tolerated’ (page 30 of Trans Britain, edited by Christine Burns).

Sellers told us the Beaumont Society did finally open its doors to people other than straight men eventually but failed to mention the date.

Sellers claimed that ‘trans people’ had been under-researched and that it felt like they were ‘missing from history’, explaining this was because it was more difficult to access the private lives of individuals. She wanted to focus on personal lives and prove that there was a ‘long and diverse history’.


Her two key sources for her project was the Beaumont Bulletin and oral history interviews with Beaumont Society members.

The Beaumont Bulletin

The bulletin was only distributed within the Society itself and Sellers said that it ‘provided information about being trans’. The Bulletin would include jokes, poems, letters and cartoons (we were shown a cartoon).

Sellers was particularly interested in the arguments which would ping back and forth between the pages of the bulletin because she felt it gave an insight into the different opinions within the Society about the rules excluding gay people (this was somewhat her preoccupation). One cover excuse was that homosexuals had their own organisations. Two years later a man who called himself Justine bemoaned this ‘mean and exclusive clause’, claiming it had almost stopped him from joining. Sellers clung to the hope that there were many in the Society who felt the same but missed the rather obvious fact that it hadn’t stopped ‘Justine’ from joining.

Pamela produced the first Beaumont Bulletin; a three-page purple typed and copied Official newsheet of the Beaumont Society UK.

In January 1968 the Society produced an 8 page typed Bulletin (vol. 1) on coloured paper at first, published each 2 months.

Someone coined the terms ‘GG or RG’ (genetic-girl or real girl) when referring to wives etc. I can barely believe how mutually offensive those terms were. Crossdressers were called ‘TV’s’. This covered TV, TG and TS at first.


Sellers like the idea that she was ‘listening in on conversations’ and one of the reasons she was interested in history was because she was interested in peoples’ lives.


She forgot to mention that the Bulletin would have been a highly editoralised publication and that only the ‘right’ wrong views might get into its pages. Certainly the organisation the Beaumont was descended from, Virginia Prince’s Phi Pi Epsilon, as I understand it kept its own bulletin (Travestia) free of strong sexual content. In the second video below Virginia Prince explains how cross dressing begins with intense sexual excitement.

Prince starts speaking 50 seconds in.

– Was it a sexual turn on for you?

– It is for almost everybody to begin with. You have to go past the stage of being an erotically aroused male in a dress, which results eventually in an orgasm, but when the orgasm is over, if you continue to stay in the dress you eventually begin to discover that there is this other part of yourself, you cease being an erotically aroused male and you simply become a man who becomes to recognise, ‘Gee there’s something nice about girlness’.

From the video posted above, Charles/Virginia Prince on transvestism

Oral history interviews

The other main source were oral history interviews with men who had been members of the Beaumont Society. She explained oral histories were very useful because you got a sense of their everyday lives and crucially how they felt about things. If she had just looked at the newsletter, she would have had a lot of information but with an oral history she could ask specific details.

Problems with doing oral history included being an outsider to the group as a ‘cisgendered woman’ and not being automatically trusted (trust me, she was too dense not to be trusted). It could also mean it could be harder to develop a rapport with a subject because there was no obvious shared common ground. The best way round to was to relax and make things informal. She felt opening herself up and giving details about her own life often opened her subjects up (meaning, really, she wasn’t strictly conducting an interview).

She forgot to mention the other problem with oral histories, that people misremember things, make stuff up and/or change a narrative in order to fit an ideological track.

A blinkered approach then?

How refreshing. Seriously, Sellers had just admitted that her only source of information for her project was the Beaumont Society itself. Even we, just tapping away on our Mac of a weekend, was able to unearth more salient information about the Society through doing simple searches. On Twitter.

For example, the wives of these men were talking about the psychological impact crossdressing had on their lives. They even had their own sub-group within the Society itself called ‘Women of the Beaumont Society’ and was run by one of the wives, Diana Aitchison, which had existed since at least 1988 according to the quote below.

I have been taking calls from wives, partners and family members on the WOBS Helpline for about ten years. I have spoken with probably more than 2,000 women during this time. Most are shocked and sometimes frightened by the discovery that their husband, partner, son, father or brother wears women’s clothing from time to time. In some cases, he has declared his intention to seek gender reassignment surgery. As a participant observer I have met many hundreds of wives. I am the wife of a crossdresser myself and can therefore offer an empathetic approach. My experience over the years closely parallels that of Peggy Rudd whose background is described in Crossdressing, Sex and Gender.

Source: The Psychological Effect on Wives, and Partners of Transsexuals, talk given by Diana Aitchison, Co-ordinator, Women of the Beaumont Society at the Gendys Conference, 1998

By-the-by, the Women of the Beaumont Society is now known as Beaumont Partners, and the fact that it was ‘run exclusively by women, for women’ is now deleted from its page but still available when you look at the cache. The word ‘woman’ has now been replaced by ‘gender female’.

Cached search.

A taster of her ‘actual research’

Private lives in public spaces

Sellers wanted to explore the boundary between public and private spaces and how the Society was conflicted by a need for public acceptance and ‘an internal need for secrecy’, and by this she really meant how the wives of these men were responsible for ‘oppressing’ them. Meaning that Sellers had swallowed whole the narrative set out by current trans activism. I would argue that the existence of WOBS meant that the Society itself recognised that the behaviour did have a deleterious effect on others.

… by private spaces I usually mean the home. I will look at the Beaumont and its members interacted with society and its gatekeepers, people like police, before moving onto to explore the private lives of crossdressers and how they were liberated or restricted by their domestic spaces.

Leila Sellers explaining the scope of her research

Sellers went onto explain that post Second World War men were encouraged to spend more time in the home which was encouraged by the invention of television and home improvement culture. This put pressure on everyone to conform to an idealised version of family life but it especially affected crossdressers. Additionally, such men faced a double whammy, because not only couldn’t they dress up around their wives and kids, but also they couldn’t do it in public either. Sellers claimed this was due to the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which she described as a ‘partial decriminalisation’ of homosexual acts (it was in fact a full decriminalisation albeit a different age of consent), and argued the Act lead to increased surveillance of public spaces by the police.

One writer to the Bulletin recommended that members restrict their crossdressing to the home and only to leave it if they successfully passed as women, which required ‘attention to detail’. Other members did meet in public but dressed as their normal selves but were forced to ‘talk in a car’. David, whose girl name was Diana, faced ‘sheer terror’ when he finally went out in public dressed as a woman, but he completely passed (so why worry then?). David also told her ‘police didn’t like poofs and perverts, so they would make life hell for you’. Sellers, using the Bulletin as her only source, claimed that members were regularly arrested and questioned by the police. She rather took the line of the interviewees that the Society’s events weren’t attended, but why even bother joining then?

‘Pat’, who had left his house for the first time as his ‘femme self’, had been arrested at 10pm on a deserted road and questioned for three hours by a ‘succession of men’. The police tried to get Pat to admit that he was soliciting for sex and a ‘homo’, was ‘stripped of her femme wear’, fingerprinted and photographed, and charged with breach of the peace. Sounds like an AGP fantasy to me.

Many of these transvestites had to wait until their wives and children were out the house before they could explore their gender. They were mostly middle class. David/Diana owned his own house in his mid-20s, having a lucrative engineering career, and would regularly travel down to London to meet other members. Sellers told us this was proof of how the trans community needed to socialise and feel part of a group (as if this weren’t a universal human need). Even the events that the Beaumont organised felt too public for some and they wanted instead private homes in which they could meet completely in secret to dress together, supposedly with their wives in tow. So a flat was rented in London for this very purpose in 1971, however it appears not all members had access to it. In Sheffield ‘Rose’s House’ opened in the late 70s, by ‘Martine Rose’ and also provided a facility for members to store clothes as it was too dangerous to at home. Parties were also held, but mainly in the winter, when there was little light, because ‘trans like to be under the cover of darkness’ according to ‘Martine’.

Another interviewee, ‘Rachel’, told Sellers that he had to hide his clothes in secret locations around the family home. Rachel likened himself and his ilk to ‘vampires’ in that they ‘only went out at night’. For Sellers this quote bought to the fore the need for these men to be socially visible and the fear of what this exposure could bring. Sellers finished by again repeating that crossdressing men were at risk of violence in the public space and lack of access to private space affected their personal happiness.

Question and Answer

Trans youth

A 20-something year old woman talked about ‘trans youth’ revealing that she was non-binary and wondered what her relationship was with the past. Sellers said that ‘lots of people I spoke to’ said that things were much different now. These men were now in their 70s and 80s. Many of them were still transvestite in that they still presented male and crossdressed for fun. Sellers described them as transvestite, as this was the word they used to described themselves. A few of them felt that had they been young now they would have lived different lives, meaning they would have transitioned. That made Sellers sad.

A fellow researcher

A woman told us she was doing a similar project on queer Malaysia youth and could see the parallels from these British men through to the teens she was studying. It was all about oppression. So not exactly a question but Sellers responded that in the Bulletin there was a common refrain that crossdressing had always existed and that it required society’s acceptance. Marginalised groups needed to look back at themselves in history and see themselves.

Transvestite is now a forbidden word

Another woman said that transgenderism had usurped the experience of the parttime crossdresser, making the term forbidden, observing that Sellers’ talk seemed to imply that transvestism was a separate thing.

Sellers admitted that the men she had spoken to did identify as transvestite but that it was now understood by them that the word was now considered impolite. Some liked the trans umbrella of terminology, others didn’t. Sellers got the slide back up with all the terms on it. The host from Birkbeck chipped in there had been a prior discussion on the issue of terminology, on the one hand you wanted to use accurate historical terms, on the other you needed to keep the session ‘accessible’.

In today’s terminology is there a difference between ‘transvestite’ and ‘crossdresser’?

Asked the same woman. Sellers wasn’t sure, suggesting that there was a nuance between the two. The host from Birkbeck repeated her mantra about making sure we use the right words to protect people. Then it occurred to Sellers to say that crossdresser was more like a description of an action, rather than an identity, before contradicting herself by admitting that some did identify that way.

How many people did you interview and how did you find them?

So far Sellers had managed to interview twelve people and wanted to ‘interview as many people as I can, maybe about twenty’. She found them in ‘all different ways’ which turned out to be ‘through the Beaumont Society’, interviewing Kay and Rachel and then being introduced to all their friends. She had also contacted ‘a trans organisation’ about speaking to somebody there and then they put it out to their members and ‘we sort of go from there’. She loved doing the interviews, it ‘literally bought things to life’.

Sorry, but am I wrong in thinking that 20 interview participants, who all know each other, is a piss poor sample to work from?

Your research is male-to-female?

Sellers said that the Beaumont Society was ‘almost exclusively’ male-to-female crossdressers. Sellers claimed that they were ‘very open now’ (now that it is practically defunct) but was aware that there was a ‘gap in the research’ (i.e. there is little academic interest in trans-identified females).

How diverse was the Society in terms of race and class?

Sellers admitted that it was not diverse and admitted that most of the men were still white heterosexual middle class professionals. Some of the men, when they got stopped by the police, could pull rank to get the police to let them go. Sellers admitted now that their ‘quest for liberation’ was not very radical since they fitted into society so well in many other ways, and indeed were well served by it, often holding high status.

What about the medicalisation of the trans identity?

Sellers answered that the timescale of her project was from the Beaumont Society’s inception in 1966 to the GRA in 2004 and thus her research covered the early years of the internet, things like blogs and chat rooms. She was only focusing the ‘social aspect of identity’ but admitted that some of the men she had spoken to had ’embraced it’ while others had no interest in medical transition. It appeared she either had absolutely no interest in the huge industrial complex now built up around these identities or rather scared of talking about it.

What percentage of these transvestites now identify themselves more generally as trans?

Sellers explained that the word ‘trans’ could cover a lot of different identities, but other times people didn’t have a different identity, they just identified as trans. So one of the men she had interviewed had identified as transvestite back in the day but now identified as gender fluid. Sellers wanted to investigate these ‘nuances’. One interviewee, who was in his 80s, claimed ‘I don’t care what you call me’ but interestingly Sellers referred to him as ‘her’, so I suspect he did really care. Sellers mumbled some gibberish about holding ‘an ethic boundary around an individual identity’.

It is interesting that you’ve noted that identity has changed with age, as I’ve noted that exact same arc with older lesbians and gays.

The gentleman went onto explain that some older gays and lesbians now did not feel they could identify as gay anymore as the term no longer held meaning. One had said to him ‘Tell me, how I can know I’m still lesbian when I’m 80?’ and explained that this woman felt unable now to articulate her identity (the unspoken part, I’m guessing, was now heterosexual men use that word to describe themselves).

Sellers responded by telling us that labels and language changes all the time and that we are all equally affected by it.

Did your interviewees focus on their experiences or on the language aspect?

Sellers thought this was a ‘great question’ and explained that being old made it difficult for them to remember what had happened in the 70s. However, one interviewee, David, had strongly felt that he was a heterosexual transvestite, but later emailed her to say that he would have transitioned if he could have, but didn’t expand on what identity that would make him if he had and she didn’t ask, but reflected that he probably wanted to ‘live his life as a woman’. Sellers also returned to the ‘woman’ she had spoken about earlier, who had supposedly never cared about labels, to repeat that ‘she’ didn’t much care about labels.

Sellers also told us that some of her interviewees felt that gender fluid/non-binary was a good fit for them but on questioning it appears they declined to use the language that they would have used to describe themselves in the past, now claiming they had always been non-binary. It sounded as if Sellers was not prepared to challenge such assertions.

I was interested in how the meaning of gay and lesbian has changed? (To man who had raised the original point)

The older man explained that elderly gays and lesbians did not identify with the term ‘queer’. There was a long emotional pause, as he realised (I think) that he was not permitted to say what he really wanted to say and must use the politically correct terms. He explained the older generation of gays and lesbians were in a wilderness, having lost their meeting spaces, and were now asking themselves, ‘Who am I?’ The younger generation were describing themselves as ‘queer’ but it was not as we would recognise it (i.e. straight people with blue hair).

The host from Birkbeck was very keen to move things on.

People like labels because labels offer validation. It’s all very well for me, a white cisgender straight male here, who conveniently gets to hang my hat on the male peg, and like I can look like a man and get validated as one.

This white cishet male expressed support for David, who had to dress up in secret (quelle sorprise) and that finally finding the label of transvestite must have been very comforting. Sellers said labels were imperfect and like you could call yourself a man, and then someone could be like, ‘what do you mean by man?’ and one person could like give an answer and like someone else could have another answer.

Has the Beaumont changed it rules [on membership]?

Sellers now claims that the Society is now very inclusive and that current members and the current president were desperate for it be different. It wanted younger people. One member she spoke to kept up with his subs but felt that it was a redundant organisation which he no longer engaged with socially. Another felt it had become more important to him as he felt less safe in society.

Were there female transvestites?

Yes there were, Sellers claimed, and recommended Female Husbands by Jen Manion (the book appears to be about lesbians who had to live as men to disguise their same sex relationships, not the sexual enjoyment of wearing opposite sex clothing, which transvestism is).

Was medical transition available in the NHS at that time?

Yes, but not widely available. Sellers had managed to spot that it was increasingly becoming more available over time.

Where can we look at the original Beaumont Bulletins?

The British Library and the Wellcome Collection library.

Did Members feel comfortable in queer spaces which conventionally belonged to gay men and lesbian women?

Although the Beaumont held their own meetings, Sellers believed that not many people went to them. The Way Out Club was popular with Society members and the Philbeach Hotel which catered to gays was also a regular destination spot. The Society had a reputation and its members weren’t always readily accepted in these places.

Sellers finished by recommending people watch Casa Susanna stating that the men featured in the documentary were very similar to the men she had interviewed, my review of that documentary is here and you can watch the documentary, here:

Our research

We can no longer claim to be shocked by the piss poor research that is coming out of academia. As we have already said, when even we can do better just tapping away at the weekend on our Mac with our only friend being Mr Google, know that you are doing very poorly indeed Leila Sellers.

Particularly interesting were the following sources:

Nig Heke’s thread on the documentary Let Me Die A Woman

Nig Heke’s thread on the documentary What Sex Am I?

A blog from Women Speak Scotland – The Trans Umbrella Is Older Than You Think

Written by Gerry Davies and includes a link to podcast interview with Alice Purnell, the founder of the Beaumont Society, and part of an interview with Stephen Whittle, founder of Press 4 Change and first female member of the Beaumont Society – see here (both produced by Christine Burns). Purnell discusses the setting up of Gendys.

Throughout the history of trans rights campaigning there has never been a time when transsexuals and transvestites were not working together, involved in the same groups, pursuing the same aims, or at least intertwining their aims in mutually beneficial ways. All that happened in the mid 2010’s is that they started being open about this and stopped pretending it was all about rights for a tiny number of transsexuals.

From The Trans Umbrella Is Older Than You Think

STILLTish examining the 1998 Aitchison talk in detail

Other talks at the 1998 Gendys Conference

One given by a Beaumont help line volunteer is very interesting, describing the difference between transvestism and transsexualism as:

A TV needs to be seen for the woman that they are not and a TS wants to be recognised for the woman, or man, that they are.

Transvestism, A Positive Aspect, see

Mermaids also involved

Mermaids also spoke at the conference on the topic of Gender Dysphoria in Younger Children (the mother speaking on behalf of Mermaids took her daughter to see Dr Di Ceglie, who went on to found the Tavistock Clinic).

Malcolm Clark’s thread on Della Aleksander/Gendys

Our conclusion

All of the sources we looked at point towards crossdressing beginning as a sexual fetish, which sometimes flirts with/ or develops into seeking medical and surgical treatments, as the pathological behaviour becomes more ingrained. It is hugely relevant that the Society set up the Gendys conference in 1990 and sponsored it until 2004 (see Clark’s tweet above). At the 1998 conference it appears no fewer than four speakers were from the Beaumont Society. Let’s remember that the original rule of the Society were that only heterosexual men could join the main group activities, meaning that ‘trans women’ (who supposedly ‘are women’) should really have been barred, and yet here they were …

Thus, the Beaumont Society was extremely involved in the medicalisation of gender dysphoria in the UK. It’s anyone’s guess whether Sellers is aware of this. Surely Gendys and WOBS would have been mentioned in the Bulletins.

However, the main problem with academics like Sellers, is that they aren’t prepared to accept that words have to have defined meanings, and she was clearly stuck in a spin on how to describe a phenomenon that she daren’t define and in awe of the pitiful abusive men she’d claerly befriended. The absence of her mentioning anything about sexual excitement experienced by these men spoke to either a pact by the group of friends she had interviewed or her own stupid self-censoring. Regardless of all these shortcomings, we can be sure her paper will be published and referenced.

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