Lawrence, Louise

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LAWRENCE, Louise (b. 1912; d. 1976), educator.

Louise Lawrence was a male-to-female transvestite who cross-dressed from an early age. She grew up as a boy named "Lew" in an upper middle-class family and worked in a bank after she graduated from high school. In the 1930s, while still living as a man, she began corresponding with other cross-dressers, and in 1944, after her second marriage had failed, she moved from Berkeley to San Francisco and started to live full time as a woman. From the late 1940s on, she lived with a female partner, Gay, who worked as a nurse. To support herself, she managed an apartment building for working women and sold some of her own artwork.

Lawrence had an abiding belief in science, and she devoted herself to educating doctors and researchers about transvestism. From the mid-1940s she worked with Karl M. Bowman, the psychiatrist who directed San Francisco's Langley Porter Clinic, to help doctors under-stand transvestism. Eventually, the doctors at Langley Porter presented her as a role model to some of their transgendered patients. Lawrence met Alfred C. Kinsey in 1948 when he was visiting San Francisco, and she began a concerted campaign to convince him that transvestism was a relatively common condition worthy of scientific study. Over the next several years she introduced Kinsey to numerous cross-dressers, professional female impersonators, and eventually transsexuals. She encouraged her friends and acquaintances to give their life histories to Kinsey, and she sent him clippings and books for his library.

In 1950 Kinsey started paying Lawrence for typing the life histories of the cross-dressers she knew and for copying fictional accounts of transvestism, especially stories of petticoat discipline, an erotic genre in which cross-dressed men were humiliated by sadistic women. Lawrence sent Kinsey stacks of manuscripts, letters, life histories, and scrapbooks of clippings and photographs. She also donated the diary of the year she began to live as a woman and other autobiographical writings and compiled a list for Kinsey of the 152 transvestites she knew in the United States. (All of these items reside in the archives of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.)

In the late 1940s Kinsey introduced Lawrence to Harry Benjamin, a sexologist and endocrinologist soon to become the nation's foremost expert on transvestism and transsexualism. Benjamin relied heavily on Lawrence for advice and information on transvestism. In face-to-face visits and through years of correspondence, he bounced ideas off of her, even though the two differed in their hypotheses about the underlying causes of cross-gender identification. While Benjamin searched for biological causes of transvestism and transsexualism, Lawrence focused on early childhood experience. In 1951, with Benjamin's encouragement, Lawrence published an article, "Transvestism: An Empirical Study," under the pseudonym Janet Thompson, in the International Journal of Sexology.

After the male-to-female transsexual Christine Jorgensen made the news in 1952, Lawrence extended her educational efforts to include transsexuals as well as transvestites. In the 1950s she was at the center of, and to a certain extent created, a transsexual social network. Lawrence had Benjamin introduce her to his patients, including Jorgensen, and she made additional contacts on her own. She corresponded with transsexuals, introduced them to each other and to Kinsey, met with them, and counseled them informally. Lawrence considered herself a "permanent transvestite," not a transsexual. She did not seek transsexual surgery but experimented with female hormones under Benjamin's guidance.

Lawrence established herself as an expert on and a champion of transvestites, but she also had an interest in other sexual minorities. Earlier in her life, when living as a man, she had experimented with homosexuality but discovered that she did not derive satisfaction from sexual relations with men. She continued, though, to socialize with gay men, lesbians, and female impersonators. In the 1950s she established contacts with homophile (or early gay rights) activists, especially in the San Francisco chapter of the Mattachine Society.


Lawrence, Louise. Collection. Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind.

Meyerowitz, Joanne. "Sex Research at the Borders of Gender: Transvestites, Transsexuals, and Alfred C. Kinsey." Bulletin of the History of Medicine 75 (2001): 72–90.

——. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Joanne Meyerowitz

see alsobenjamin, harry; kinsey, alfred c.; prince, virginia; transgender organizations and periodicals; transsexuals, transvestites, transgender people, and cross-dressers.

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