Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The Story of Carlett Brown

One of the cool benefits of the recent Johnson Publishing Company deal with Google that allows digitizing of the iconic African-American magazines JET and EBONY is that it not only provides a record of Black history as it happened, it also is a cultural time capsule as well.

One of the things I've always pondered is African American transgender people and our history. I know I and other African-American transpeeps didn't just pop up out of thin air. We have a long fascinating history that just begs to be told.

One of those fascinating stories starts unfolding across several JET issues during 1953. Coincidentally it starts around the time Christine Jorgensen had become a household name after the December 1, 1952 news story broke about her surgery and just before her February 13, 1953 return to the United States from Denmark.

It centers on a 26 year old professional female illusionist and shake dancer from Pittsburgh whose birth name was Charles Robert Brown but later changed it to Carlett Angianlee Brown.

Carlett was in a relationship with a 24 year old US Army sergeant stationed in Germany named Eugene Martin. She'd served in the Navy, and during her service time was checked out for an issue with recurring monthly bleeding through her rectal area.

The medical exam revealed that she was intersex and had some feminine plumbing. The surgeons wanted to remove it, but she declined to have that done and opted for SRS instead.

In the process of weighing her SRS options with three surgeons in various countries, she discovered that the laws of those countries at the time didn't allow foreign nationals to obtain SRS.

Dr. Christian Hamburger, the endocrinologist who supervised Christine Jorgensen's transition, advised Carlett that if she gave up her US citizenship she could have it done in Denmark. Germany's then justice minister advised Brown that if became a German resident and took the steps to become a German citizen, she could have it performed there as well.

So Carlett decided to do just that. She applied for her US passport and made arrangements to travel to Bonn, Germany in August 1953 and meet Dr. Hamburger there for her initial checkup before having SRS.

Carlett's game plan once she completed SRS was to get married to Sgt. Eugene Martin

"I just want to become a woman as quickly as possible, that's all. I'll become a citizen of any country that will allow me the treatment that I need and be operated on," she said at the time.

Fast forward to June 25 issue. Carlett has now traveled to Boston and signed papers at the Danish consulate renouncing her US citizenship. She's doing some bookings in the area to help pay for her looming August 2 overseas trip and even hit Filene's to shop for her wedding dress.

She now has her US passport with her new name of Carlett Angianlee on it and all systems are go to become the 'First Negro Sex Change'.

Then fate intervened. Crossdressing back in the 50's could earn you a trip to jail, and the Boston po-po's promptly arrested and jailed her overnight for doing so as the July 9 issue reported. Carlett was still undeterred and was still planning to leave for Denmark and her date with history.

She then postponed her departure in order to get a feminizing face lift in New York with Dr. George J.B. Weiss, as the August 6 issue reported. It even mentioned that Carlett's face lift was going to cost $500 dollars.

Then she was hit with the news that she was ordered not to leave the United States until $1200 in back taxes were paid. The October 15th issue reported that she ended up taking a $60 a week cook's job at Iowa State's Pi Kappa frat house that a friend helped her get in order to earn the money to pay off those back taxes.

At that point the trail through those back issues of JET in terms of Carlett's fascinating story starts turning cold. As of yet I haven't found out if she ever did earn the money to pay off the back taxes, make that trip to Europe, have SRS, get married or even how the rest of her life turned out. If Carlett is still alive she'd be well into her 70's.

But thanks to JET, mine and future generations will get to read it.