Prince, Virginia

views updated

PRINCE, Virginia (b. February 1913), transgender activist, author.

Virginia Prince, a male who has lived socially as a woman since 1968, coined the term "transgender" in the 1980s. She has been a leading advocate for heterosexual cross-dressers since the early 1960s. She also played an important role in defining cross-dressing primarily as a heterosexual male activity and in distinguishing cross-dressing from transsexuality as well as from gay and lesbian styles of gender nonconformity.

Prince was born to a socially prominent family in Los Angeles, where her father was a surgeon and her mother a successful realtor. Prince's cross-dressing began around age twelve. By age eighteen, she had acquired a wardrobe of women's clothing and had begun nervously venturing out in public dressed as a woman. Although she initially cross-dressed for erotic gratification, Prince eventually developed a theory about "full personality expression" (FPE) in which the erotic pleasure of cross-dressing was not an end in itself. In Prince's view, the social process of gendering individuals was inherently limiting, reducing men and women to less than their full human potential. She saw cross-dressing as a means of tapping into that suppressed potential, nurturing neglected parts of oneself, and attaining a more complete and fulfilling sense of being.

After graduating from Pomona College, Prince married a woman and moved with her to the Bay Area to attend medical school at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Prince was at this point in her life an isolated, furtive cross-dresser with no contact with a broader transgender community. That changed in 1942, when, as a postdoctoral research fellow, she attended two presentations of "transvestite cases" at UCSF's Langley Porter Psychiatric Clinic and met the individuals who had allowed their lives to be discussed: Barbara Richards, an early male-to-female transsexual, and Louise Lawrence, who did more than perhaps any other person in mid-twentieth-century America to call sympathetic scientific attention to transgender lives, and to lay the foundations for a transgender community. Lawrence was at the center of a large correspondence network of other transgender people, a network in which Prince came to play an increasingly central and influential role.

Around 1950 Prince divorced her first wife and soon thereafter remarried another woman who was more accepting of cross-dressing. By this time, Prince was president of her own medical manufacturing business and had a comfortable home in the Hollywood Hills. She was also a leading figure among Southern California members of the Lawrence correspondence network. In 1952 Prince and other network members launched a short-lived newsletter, Transvestia. The low-budget publication folded after only two issues, but it set the stage for a more successful and sophisticated magazine of the same name that debuted in January 1960. This second Transvestia was the flagship publication of Chevalier Press, which also published Femme Mirror (later Sorority), TV Clipsheet, and Prince's self-help books The Transvestite and His Wife and How to Be a Woman Though Male.

The fledgling cross-dressing community achieved several benchmarks in 1962. That year Prince organized the nation's first social and support organization for heterosexual cross-dressers, the Hose and Heels Club, which drew its membership from Transvestia's subscription list. The group soon changed its name to Phi Pi Epsilon, a Greek-letter play on the initials FPE, and established chapters across the country. Also in 1962 the first national gathering of heterosexual cross-dressers took place in the Catskills, at a resort owned by Susanna Valenti, the nomme de femme of a wealthy Transvestia subscriber. More ominously, Prince was arrested that year on charges of mailing obscene materials—a blatant attempt to shut down Chevalier Press that coincided with a broader federal crackdown on shipping homophile publications and sexually explicit materials. Prince pleaded guilty to avoid publicity and served eighteen months of probation.

Prince's second marriage was floundering by the mid-1960s; she was also growing weary of balancing life as a businessman with her increasingly public activism on cross-dressing. She divorced and sold her company in 1966, and in June of 1968—after undergoing facial electrolysis and starting estrogen therapy—began living full time as Virginia. She did not seek sex-reassignment surgery, preferring to live as a woman with male genitalia. It was for this practice that Prince eventually coined the term "transgender," which she viewed as a middle ground between the episodic cross-dressing of the transvestite and the permanent genital transformation of the transsexual.

After retiring from business, Prince traveled extensively, both recreationally and to promote various transgender causes. As of 2003 she is still living in Los Angeles and remains active in the transgender community.

Bibliography

Prince, Virginia. "The Life and Times of Virginia." Transvestia 100 (1979): 5–120.

Susan Stryker

see alsoerickson educational foundation; lawrence, louise; transgender organizations and periodicals; transsexuals, transvestites; transgender people, and cross-dressers.

About this article

Prince, Virginia

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article