Sex Is Between the Legs, Gender Is Between the Ears

by Michael Abernethy

14 December 2011

Dana International 

Transforming Reality

Internationally, though, Dana International is not alone in being a star. April Ashley had performed as a drag queen in Paris’ famous Carousel Theater during the ‘50s. After completing her surgery in 1960, Ashley returned to her native Britain, where she established a successful career as a model. This lead to film work, including a minor part in 1962’s Road to Hong Kong with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby (when producers learned Ashley was trans, they removed her name from the film credits). The years since have seen her write two books about her life, The First Lady (John Blake, 2006) and The Art of Promotion (Xulon, 2010). Although she does give some talks about her journey, she mostly lives a quiet life in England with her husband.

One of Ashley’s co-workers at the Carousel was Coccinelle, who became a media sensation in France upon returning there after her surgery in 1958. She made six films total, recorded two albums, and wrote two books. According to How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States by Joanne Meyerowitz (Harvard University Press, 2004), Coccinelle was revolutionary in the trans movement because she used her sexuality as a woman to full advantage, performing stripteases in her revues and posing for erotic pictures, adopting the “more explicitly sexual femininity of Marilyn Monroe and Bridgette Bardot” (Meyerowitz).



Following her entertainment career, Coccinelle established Devenir Femme, a resource center for trans persons, as well as helping to open the Center for Aid, Research, and Information for Transsexuality and Gender Identity in France.

Unlike Coccinelle, Canada’s Barbara Amesbury enjoyed her commercial success while she was still male. As Bill Amesbury, she recorded several hit songs in Canada in the ‘70s, among them “Virginia (Touch Me Like You Do)”, “Can You Feel It”, and “Nothing but a Fool”. His hit “A Thrill’s a Thrill” addresses gender identity and sexual orientation and has been recorded by Mitch Ryder and John Cougar. Prophetically, one line of the song announces “I know a boy who’s growing tits”. Amesbury had her surgery in the early ‘80s and retired from show business. Nonetheless, she became the subject of a hit song in the ‘90s, James Collins’ “Do You Mind If We Talk About Bill?”:



Korea produced a noteworthy act, Lady, within the past decade. What made this all girl group unique was that all its members were trans individuals. Although the group’s run was short, from 2005 to 2007, and they only had a couple of hits, they garnered considerable press. One report said over four hundred auditioned for the band. Their biggest hit, “Attention”, got considerable play throughout Asia:



The group made the news again this past year, as a video comparing Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” with Lady’s “Be Happy” made its way through the blogosphere. While the songs do have many similarities, the assertion that Gaga had ripped off Lady is a stretch.

The first noted gender reassignment surgery was in 1930, when Lili Elbe underwent five surgeries to transition from male to female. Although it has been noted that Elbe was originally intersexed, her procedure is noteworthy as the first time that surgeons had undertaken the task of determining a person’s gender. Unfortunately, Elbe died shortly after the last surgery. It’s been over 70 years since Elbe began her surgeries, so isn’t it time that so-called ‘advanced’ cultures began to recognize the presence of trans persons in their midst?

This may actually be happening, finally, in the United States. Shortly after Chaz Bono appeared on Dancing with the Stars, he made comments that elicited a response from Stephen Ira Beatty, son of Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. Stephen was born Kathlyn Beatty, and he has a beef with Chaz’s description of his transformation process, arguing that Bono is not representative of the trans community and that Bono was a misogynist. The supposed ‘pissing contest’ between the two has generated considerable press. While it might be easy to dismiss such press as fodder for the feud-happy paparazzi, it’s important because it helps put the subject of trans lifestyles in the public consciousness, which is something that needs to happen, at least here in the United States. More importantly, Beatty is a rare example of a FTM trans to garner public attention.

For many straight people, the “trans” lifestyle consists solely of the drag queens that they see on their adventurous night into an LGBT club. However, trans persons are a part of every culture, even in those which are oppressive of trans choices. Consequently, it shouldn’t be surprising that trans individuals are starting to show up on the cultural horizon, even becoming a part of our media experience. What is surprising is that they have been hidden for so long.

Cheers, Queers to the Australian Labor Party, which formally came out in favor of gay marriage, thus putting the issue one step closer to becoming reality. Although the conservative and ironically-named Liberal Party still opposes same-sex marriage, the majority of Australians support it. The debate has also sparked one of the best pro-marriage spots ever, which has gone viral. In case you’ve missed it, grab a hanky and check it out:


Here’s Mud in Your Eye to U.S. Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann, who bone-headedly argued that LGBT persons had the right to marry, as long as they married someone of the opposite sex. So, if I marry someone I don’t love of the opposite sex, with whom I have no plans to procreate and plan to cheat on regularly with my same-sex lover, I’m preserving the sanctity of marriage?

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