Virginia Charles Prince and Transvestia Magazine
Virginia Charles Prince was born on November 23, 1912. In her early developmental years, Virginia recalls showing interest in the expression of the opposite gender. At twelve years old, Prince developed an obsession with high heeled shoes and cross-dressing. At this age, she was not yet aware of the social implications of cross-dressing or what this meant about her gender identity. She continued to crossdress and adventure down the streets of downtown Los Angeles in secret.
During Prince’s time at UCSF Medical Center, she was able to attend a case presentation about a transvestite, Louise Lawrence. Up until this point, Arnold had no connection or had ever met any other crossdressing individual. She later requested to meet Lawrence personally and it was through their encounter that “Virginia Prince” was born, with Prince choosing to introduce herself with a feminine name from that point on. Following the meeting, he continued to keep close ties with Lawrence who acted as a transvestite communication network of sorts.
For much of her transition and throughout the rest of her life, the distinct differences between sex and gender, and, to a lesser extent, the different categories of being transgender, transvestite, or transsexual were important to Prince. According to Richard F. Docter in From Man to Woman: The Transgender Journey of Virginia Prince, “She insisted that the term, sex, should be biologically defined, while the term, gender, should refer to attributes of masculinity and femininity. Hence, for sexologists from then on would speak of male and female, while the words, man and woman, would apply to gender” (Docter 62). Prince prefered to be designated a transgenderist which meant that “...[she] live[s] in the feminine gender but  ha[s] no desire to change [her] sex.” (Docter 57). She was actually opposed to the idea of getting sex reassignment surgery. She explains “...the only thing SRS does is to permit a transsexual woman to have vaginal intercourse with a man, and I’m not into that.” (Docter 57). Prince draws a clear line; transgenderists identify as the opposite sex but this does not mean that they are homosexual, however, transsexuals identify as the opposite sex and they are typically attracted to their biological sex.
This was an important distinction that Prince kept when she founded the first transvestite organization in history, The Foundation for Full Personality Expression (FPE) which later became Tri Ess, the Society for a Second Self, in 1976. It was an organization exclusively for male heterosexual crossdressers, which became a source of controversy later on because people wanted to expand to further support transsexuals, homosexuals, and others. Despite objections to the organization’s exclusiveness, Tri Ess had a significant impact on the community because it was the first time an organization successfully brought together transvestites and created a sense of community and safety. The original Los Angeles support group was assigned the name Alpha Chapter and soon grew to be a national organization that branched into multiple chapters throughout the nation, including the Beta Chapter and Gamma Chapter. After gaining recognition as the leader of the organization, Prince was recruited to help organize many other groups including the Beaumont Society in England, FPE of Northern Europe (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland), and Tri Ess in Canada.
In 1960, Prince began publishing Transvestia Magazine. This magazine acted as a networking and communication outlet for many transvestites across the nation and all over the world. In a time when transvestites were persecuted and marginalized, subscribers to the magazine were able to feel connected in their experiences and not alone. They could not only reach out to Virginia and the editors about their concerns, but also communicate with each other through ads placed in the magazine. In the section called “Virgin Views,” Virginia wrote extensively and to great detail the entire process of her transition and other stories that might be of help to others going through the same transition as herself. Transvestia Magazine also included ways in which crossdressers around the world could organize and come together to create a safe space.
Throughout her career, Virginia Prince worked tirelessly for the transvestite community, trying to bring them together, create a safe haven, and work toward shifting public perceptions that held incorrect beliefs and prejudices. Her list of contributions is semmingly endless, her university lectures, TV appearances, interviews, books, and research helped shape much of what we understand and know about transvestism today. She is seen quoted in textbooks, psychiatric research papers, and more. For this reason, Virginia Prince is remembered and respected as the pioneer of the transgender movement.
Docter, Richard F. From Man to Woman: The Transgender Journey of Virginia Prince. Docter Press, 2004.
Prince, Virginia, et al. Virginia Prince: Pioneer of Transgendering. Haworth Medical Press, 2005.
Transvestia. Los Angeles, Calif.: Chevalier Publications, 1960. Print.