Sunday, April 05, 2009

Musing About Avon Wilson's Blended Life

One of the things that I've lamented in terms of being a transwoman of African descent is that unlike my white sisters, I don't have marquee transwomen to point to such as the Christine Jorgenson's, April Ashley's and Coccinelle's of the world.

We know from Teenie Harris' Pittsburgh Courier photos of the Pittsburgh TBLG/SGL community, the coverage of Finnie's ball in Chicago and the New York balls that we existed during that time period, so why didn't a Black transwoman emerge with the same kind of star power?

In October 1966 transsistah Avon Wilson was revealed by a New York Daily News gossip columnist as being the first client of the Johns Hopkins Gender Clinic in Baltimore.

"a stunning girl who admits that she was once male less than one year ago had her sex change surgery done at, of all places Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore."

I always wondered since I discovered that tidbit of information what happened to her.

Recently I received a tip that shed some more clues toward what happened to Avon Wilson. Johnson Publishing Company cut a deal with Google to digitize Ebony and Jet magazine back issues for easy web searching. One of the commenters on a Racialicious thread discussing Tami's post on whether Ebony/Jet magazines should be saved left a link to that, and after clicking on that link just for grins I Googled Avon Wilson's name to see what would pop up.

In addition to some other African-American transgender stuff I'll share with you in later posts, the July 13, 1967 issue of JET popped up as well. This interesting note pops up after you scroll down to page 58 of that issue with the late Yvonne Brathwaite Burke on the cover.

A former New York City dancer who appeared under the name of Avon Wilson underwent special treatment at the Gender Identity Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital and married a man in Baltimore, MD. A hospital official disclosed that Wilson had undergone treatment at the clinic whose pioneering also includes 'sex changing' techniques. The former dancer became the bride of Warren Combs, a musician.

So far that's the extent of what I know happened to the first African-American to undergo SRS at the now closed Johns Hopkins Gender Clinic. (no thanks to right wing Catholic transphobe Dr. Paul McHugh, the Vatican advisor on transgender issues)

But it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions for me. The obvious one is if she's still alive. Was her marriage a happy one? Did she stay married or did the transsexual history play a role in breaking them up? What were her thoughts and feelings as she lived out her life as a married transwoman?

It would have been nice to know the answers to those questions and had a role model that shared my heritage to follow.


Cassidy Brynn said...

Interesting. That's a novel, sister. Imagine it, live it, give it life...let your griot voice hum and bend...

gogojojo said...

i agree about the novel!

and thanks because I didn't realize about ebony and jet being online. i'm still figuring out how to use the search engines but i imagine that this will be a great tool for the future.

gogojojo said...

please keep me up to date on what you find. the history nut in me is over the moon.

gogojojo said...

sorry you've got my queer history nerve popping. i went to my copy of joanne meyorowitz how sex changed to see if wilson was mentioned.

there is a brief discussion on p219-220 but on the development of the program at john hopkins. but it does mention that a press release about the surgery was sent to a reporter at the New York Times named Thomas Buckley.

perhaps you can find more information there?

VĂ©ro B said...

Is Christine Jorgensen a role model only for European-American trans women? Are African-American trans women, including yourself, role models only for other A-A trans women?

I might look to any trans woman as a role model, and that includes white, black, brown, or whatever.

Monica Roberts said...

While Christine was a role model, it helps to have people that share your ethnic background to point to as well, especially in a culture that denigrates and erases you.

Monica Roberts said...

Cassidy, Jo Jo
That is an intriguing idea of doing a fictionalized account of a stealth AA transwoman's life.

PinayTG said...

Although writing a transgender history of African Americans will be good too! ;)

Monica Roberts said...

That's a good idea too..