The only clue to understanding this photo is the beer. Regal was a San Francisco brewer that stopped producing about 1961. The young girl in the center has carefully executed her feminine persona. Her gown glimmers with an elegance absent from the rest of the bar. It fits provocatively. Her hair is her own. She’s committed to being seen as trans, even though her elegant toilette was against the law at the time.
The LLTA has two small photos (2.25″ X 3.5″) of these jolly cross-dressers. They’re wearing the same outfits in the other photo, but without the coats. In this image they’re lifting their skirts to expose their gorgeous gams, which are neither shaved nor stockinged. The taller model on the right lifts her skirts to mid-thigh in both mages. It might be possible to date the photo by the car, which looks like it’s from the 1930’s or 1940’s. The pose and public setting incline me to think this is a lighthearted masquerade and not a statement of identity, though we can never be really sure what’s going on in another person’s head.
Ella Shields (1879-1952) was one of the most famous male impersonators in both American vaudeville and English music hall. She began performing with her sisters in 1898. Six years later she went solo, performing in women’s clothes as The Southern Nightingale. The story goes that one night in an English music hall, when one half of a two-man act was sick, she filled-in and the audiences loved her. She was most famous for the song and dance routine “Burlington Bertie from Bow”, written by William Hargreaves, her first husband.
This Associated Press photo, taken in New York on April 3, 1959, is an example of the old adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The incomplete caption reads, “DENIED MARRIAGE LICENSE–Christine Jorgenson and Howard J. Knox leave Marriage License Bureau here today after she was denied a license because her birth certificate listed her as a male. She said her attorney would go to Washington, where the certificate is in the hands of the State Department. She and Knox would re-apply in New York for a license within the next six week. She says she underwent a sex-change operation in Copenhagen, Denmark, eigths”
Ladies, gentlemen, gentlemen ladies and lady gentlemen, allow me to present a San Francisco original, Ambi Sextrous. In the 1980s she was one of the constellation of queens in the Sluts A Go Go orbit. With her beard and uncanny sense of color, she labeled herself a “female approximator,” rather than the more traditional female impersonator. LLTA has over three dozen images of Ambi in an astounding array of dyed and glittering breads. They were donated by her lover Ed after Ambi died of AIDS in the early 1990s.