Virginia Charles Prince and Transvestia Magazine
Virginia Charles Prince was born as Arnold Lowman on November 23, 1912. The Lowmans were part of the upper middle class in early Los Angeles due to the success of both parents. Prince’s father, Charles LeRoy Lowman, was the first orthopedic physician in Los Angeles and owned his own large orthopedic hospital. Dr. Lowman was well respected because he devoted much of his efforts to giving back to the community and helping those in need regardless of their financial ability. Prince’s mother, Elizabeth Hudson Lowman, was quite the entrepreneur herself and her real estate business often kept her busy.
In his early developmental years, Arnold (Virginia Prince) recalls showing interest in the expression of the opposite gender. As early as at twelve years old, Arnold developed an obsession with high heeled shoes. He would steal his mother or his sister’s dresses and cross dress. At this age, he was not aware of the social implications or what this meant about his gender identity. All he knew was that seeing his own cross dressed reflection in the mirror gave him significant satisfaction and even sexual arousal. This rush led him to continue to crossdress and adventure down the streets of downtown Los Angeles in secret. Because his father was greatly opposed to the idea of cross dressing and thought of it as immoral Virginia hid this activity. Even though Virginia's mother was more supportive than his father was, her priority in her business kept her from sufficiently being there for Arnold for much of his childhood. He continued struggling with his identity mostly in secret by himself, until going away to Pomona College as a chemistry major and then later to the University of California (CAL) for graduate studies in the same field with special emphasis on pharmacology.
Later and back in Los Angeles, Arnold met Dorothy Shepherd at church and instantly fell in love. Shortly after in 1941, they got married and moved to the Bay Area because Arnold had a job offer as a research assistant at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center.
During Arnold’s time at UCSF Medical Center, he was able to attend a case presentation about a transvestite, Louise Lawrence. This exposure to Lawrence was an important moment for Arnold. Up until this point, Arnold had no connection or had ever met any other crossdressing individual. He later requested to meet Lawrence personally and it was through their encounter that “Virginia Price” was born because Arnold wanted to introduced himself with a feminine name. Following the meeting, he continued to keep close ties with Lawrence who acted as a transvestite communication network of sorts. Later, Lawrence chose to live full-time as a woman without transitioning surgically and this became another reason Arnold treated Lawrence as a role model and saw her with great respect.
A year later, at the end of the research project, Arnold and Shepherd moved back to Los Angeles where Arnold worked primarily as a chemist, working on beauty products for the market. He co-established Cardinal Industries which became a successful facility for the production of these goods. For the most part, Arnold kept his cross dressing tendencies a secret from Shepherd and effectively decided that it would be best to give it up for their marriage. Soon, their son, Brent Lowman, was born in 1946. However, before long, Arnold began picking up his old hobby, often sneaking away with Shepherd’s dresses. His sometimes careless acts gave it away and when his wife found out, she was not happy. She became increasingly intolerant as time passed. In a last attempt of amending their relationship, Shepherd consulted a psychiatrist who claimed that transvestism was linked to homosexuality. In hearing this, Shepherd immediately demanded a divorce from Arnold, taking with her their son in 1951. Their divorce was not pretty; Arnold wanted more time with his son than Shepherd was allowing so he brought it to court. Though he managed to win his case, the cost was cruel publicity about their court case to the general public. Shepherd played a dirty game where she attempted to use his transvestite tendencies against him, arguing his character made him unfit as a father. The news headlines wrote humiliating articles of Arnold’s cross dressing episodes.
Between marriages, Arnold met Doreen Skinner. Skinner was their former family housekeeper and it was Mrs. Lowman that encouraged them to get together. Skinner was well aware of Arnold’s crossdressing and she was supportive of it, letting him borrow her clothes. Virginia Prince and Doreen Skinner even went out doing activities as two ladies together. Looking back, Prince recounts that her most rewarding sexual experiences were with Skinner. Skinner would allow her to dress as a woman and sometimes act as the man herself during sex. This second marriage was an important relationship to Prince and she cherished it because she was finally accepted for who she was. However, over the years Skinner grew uncomfortable over the possibility that Arnold may choose to transition to a woman full-time and perhaps due to her own identity-reltaed insecurities, or for one reason or another, Skinner asked for a divorce in 1966.
By 1968 it was the end of these two marriages. Despite the great amount of hurt and betrayal he felt especially from Skinner, for the first time in a while Arnold was free from all burden of relationships. There were two important milestones during this year that prompted him to fully transition and live as Virginia. The first was a six week travel across the U.S. and Canada. During this trip, she traveled only as Virginia, without a single article of clothing that belonged to Arnold. It was the first time that she was able to pull off such a long, extensive period of time as Virginia. The second event was a nude marathon group therapy session led by psychologist Paul Bindrim. At this event, Virginia was able to test her ability to interact with others as Virginia while having her male anatomy on display. Both these events gave her confidence that she could in fact get away with living as Virginia.
For much of his 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, or transvestite, and 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 of the Alpha Chapter and soon it grew to be a national organization that spread chapters throughout the nation including the Beta Chapter and Gamma Chapter. After gaining recognition as the leader for 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 lectures at Universities, 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.