Jennie June

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Jennie June (pseudonyms Ralph Werther and Earl Lind, 1874 - ?) was a Victorian and Edwardian era writer and activist for the rights of people who didn't conform to gender and sexual norms. He was one of the earliest transgender individuals to publish an autobiography in the United States.[1][2] June published his first autobiography, The Autobiography of an Androgyne in 1918, and his second The Female-Impersonators in 1922. June also wrote an unpublished third autobiography in 1921, which was discovered in 2010. June's goal in writing these books was to help create an accepting environment for young adults who don't conform to gender and sexual norms, because that was what he would have wanted for himself, and he wanted to prevent youth from committing suicide.[3] June also created an organization for the rights of androgynes, together with others like himself. June wrote under the pseudonyms of Earl Lind and Ralph Werther, which are sometimes incorrectly mistaken for birth names. June's birth name has been lost to history, and his legal name is not certain. Although June expressed a lifelong desire to be a woman, June consistently used he/him pronouns in reference to himself in his own writing. June wrote of feeling like a combination of male and female, and of his practice of alternating between these two gender expressions.[4]

Early life[edit | edit source]

Jennie June was born into a Puritan family[1] in 1874 in Connecticut.[citation needed] He was assigned male at birth. At the time of his birth, his mother was twenty-eight, and his father thirty-two. June was their fourth child, out of eleven children.[5] During that era, it was common for people in the US to have many children, because the infant mortality rate was high. His family was white, middle-class, and wealthy.

Education[edit | edit source]

June became very shy and introverted when his parents sent him off to a boys' school.[6] The other students had been sent to boarding school because of being especially boisterous and needing strict discipline. June was not like them at all. June focused his attentions on his studies, and achieved the highest marks ever in his school on all tests.

June graduated with honors from a university in uptown New York. That university may have been Columbia.[7]

Then, June went on to graduate study. Unfortunately, June's physician notified the university president that June was a sexual invert. As a result, June "was expelled from the university for being an androgyne," which caused him to suffer neurasthenia (depression), and he came close to suicide.[5][7] Because of June's ordeal with being expelled for his difference, he wrote this plea in his third book, in capitals:

"I BEG ALL ADULTS, PARTICULARLY SCHOOL OFFICIALS, TO BE EXTRAORDINARILY CHARITABLE AND SYMPATHETIC WITH GIRL-BOYS AND OTHERS SEXUALLY ABNORMAL BY BIRTH WHO MAY SEEM TO HAVE LOST THEIR SENSES. GUARD AGAINST DOING ANYTHING THAT WOULD LEAD THE DISGRACED TO COMMIT SUICIDE, WHICH EVENT IS FAIRLY COMMON AMONG THESE 'STEPCHILDREN OF NATURE.'"[5]

The suicide rate of LGBT youth is still high today, due to discrimination.

Career[edit | edit source]

In his professional life, June presented as a man. He had a reputation for being an innocent who was startled and uncomfortable when men around him made sexual talk. As a result, most people did not suspect another aspect to his life. He was known for being very studious and hard-working.[5][8]

June was a law clerk for Clark Bell, who was the editor of the publishing company of the Medico-Legal Journal. This is the same company that published June's autobiographies. June likely used this personal contact with Bell in order to get the books into print.[9]

Identity and transition[edit | edit source]

During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, people did not yet use words like transgender, transsexual, or gay. June described himself with all of these contemporary words for his gender and sexual variance:

  • androgyne, an ancient word meaning having a combination of masculine and feminine qualities
  • invert, a new contemporary word from psychiatry and sexology for all kinds of people who we would now call LGBT+
  • urning, a new contemporary word meaning someone assigned male at birth who is attracted to men, and this word was created by urnings themselves who advocated for their rights
  • bisexual, in the more old-fashioned sense of being somehow both male and female (June said he was never attracted to women at all)
  • instinctive female impersonator, meaning that it was his nature to want to live as a woman
  • fairie, a word widely used in the contemporary underworld for people who were assigned male at birth, and who had receptive sex with men[10]

Many of these names reflect the contemporary way of thought, which saw no difference between gender identity (what you are) and sexual orientation (who you want to be with). There was a popular misconception during that era that if a man was attracted to men, then it must be because he was somehow partly a woman, in brain or even body. Some contemporaries recognized this was not true for everyone, arguing that men who liked men could be just as manly.[11] However, for June, it was a suitable description of how he felt.

As young as the ages three to seven, June expected that he would only ever wear skirts after growing up, and asked playmates to call him Jennie.[5] In that era, in order to make hand-me-down clothing easy for large families, all very young children wore dresses. When older, boys would be "breeched," that is, switched to wearing masculine attire, with trousers. When June's parents breeched him at seven, he was so heartbroken that he wished he were dead. He occasionally borrowed a sister's clothing. He often prayed to be turned into a girl, and sometimes almost believed that his prayers were being answered. He began to have some breast growth in his middle teens, possibly gynecomastia, which is not rare in people who were assigned male at birth. He was disappointed that his genitals remained the same. At fourteen, he began to instead pray for one to two hours a day to no longer desire to be a girl, and to no longer desire males.[5]

At eighteen, June became so depressed about being an invert that he sought medical help to make him feel like a "normal male." The two New York medical professors he went to first, venereologist Dr. Prince A. Morrow[5][12] (1846 - 1913[citation needed]) and then alienist Dr. Robert S. Newton[5][12][13] both saw inversion as a defect, and attempted for months to cure him of it by every known method. (Alienist was an early Victorian word for a psychiatrist.) The treatments included drugs, hypnosis, aphrodesiacs in the hope of making June attracted to women, and electrical stimulation of the brain and spinal cord.[14] These treatments had no effect: June remained an invert, depressed, and also a nervous wreck from the drugs.[5] Indeed, it is understood today that trying to make someone stop being LGBT (called conversion therapy) is not effective, and is even abusive.

June's third doctor was an alienist who understood inversion better. (The transcription of the manuscript of The Riddle of the Underworld also calls him Dr. Robert S. Newton, giving this name to two different doctors, which is a transcription error.) The alienist taught June that being an androgyne was natural for him, and not a "depravity." This finally cured June's lifelong depression, because instead of trying to purge himself of his inversion out of the fear that it was a sin, he instead concluded that God had predestined him to be an invert.[5]

At the age of 28, June fulfilled his lifelong desire to have an orchiectomy, removal of the testicles. June expected this would make him healthier and decrease his extreme and "disturbing" desires for sex, and eliminate some masculine features he disliked, such as facial hair.[3] During that era, there was the incorrect but widespread medical belief that night emissions would damage a person's intelligence, and June was fearful of that possibility.[5] Castration was also one of the commonly recommended treatments thought to cure males of inversion.[14]

Community and activism[edit | edit source]

As a young adult, June found safe havens in places such as Paresis Hall in New York City to express his feminine identity. Paresis Hall, or Columbia Hall, was one of many establishments considered the center of homosexual nightlife where male prostitutes would do as female prostitutes did, soliciting men under an effeminate persona. Places like Paresis Hall provided a place where people like June could gather and feel more free to express themselves and socialize with similar people in a time when cross dressing was socially unacceptable and illegal.[15]

June then formed the Cercle Hermaphroditos in 1895, along with other androgynes who frequented Paresis Hall. The purpose of the organization was to "to unite for defense against the world's bitter persecution," and to show that being an invert was natural.[16] This is one of the earliest known organizations in the US for LGBT rights.[17][18]

Autobiographies[edit | edit source]

June published his first autobiography, The Autobiography of an Androgyne in 1918, and his second The Female-Impersonators in 1922. This makes June one of the earliest instances of someone who is transgender or gender nonconforming in American history to publicize their own story. In June's preface to the book, June explains that he has kept diaries of his life and that his autobiography has been taken from those.

June organized the book into episode-like sections, wherein he discusses incidents in his life as well as his opinions on certain social matters.[19] June's stated goal in writing the book was to rally the support of Americans to create an accepting environment for young adults who do not adhere to gender and sexual norms, because that was what June would have wanted for himself, and he wanted to prevent them from committing suicide.[3] June discusses his desires, which he struggled with because they were so different to what was considered normal.

The memoir describes in detail many personal narratives as well as June's sexual encounters and desires, including the story of his castration, but also contains pleas for understanding and acceptance of "fairies". The Autobiography of an Androgyne also describes how June felt that he lived a double life in the sense that he was an educated, middle-class white male scholar, but also had intense yearnings for performing sexual acts that distressed him.

The Riddle of the Underworld[edit | edit source]

In 2010, Dr. Randall Sell, a professor at Drexel University, was intrigued by the first two volumes of the trilogy. Dr. Sell made an almost twenty year search for the long-lost third volume of June's autobiography. He asked every scholar of gay history he could meet, but none knew where to find it. Dr. Sell finally discovered the manuscript in the archives of the National Library of Medicine.[20]

Called The Riddle of the Underworld, written in 1921, this third volume was to focus on the communities of inverts all over the world. It includes an encounter in which June was beaten by men whom June tried to pick up. June once again defends gender and sexual nonconformists, insisting that they were simply born of a different nature, but natural nonetheless.[21] These newly discovered volumes provide an opportunity to look into more of June's deeply personal encounters and issues, and provide the possibility for other narratives to exist.

Death[edit | edit source]

Currently, historians do not know the date or circumstances of June's death. The fact that his birth name is unknown makes it more difficult to find this biographical information. The other known details about his family, education, and associations might provide some leads. We do know that June left instructions for the creation of a memorial plaque. June wanted the plaque to be placed on the Grand Street facade of a new police building, near the site of the autobiographer's debut, where the autobiographer had first taken the name Jennie June. A police building was an intriguing choice, because police harassed and terrorized June and his friends, giving him frequent nightmares.[9]

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Autobiography of an Androgyne, published 1918
  • The Female-impersonators, published 1922
  • The Riddle of the Underworld, written in 1921, unpublished. Only three chapters of the manuscript are known to survive

Photos[edit | edit source]

Jennie June published these photographs of himself in his books. Along with June's use of pseudonyms, these photos mostly obscure June's face, as a further protection of anonymity, even while exposing June's body, because there were laws in New York against cross-dressing. Some of these photographs treat their subjects as medical specimens, because a popular Victorian pseudoscience called physionomy believed that the personality could be seen in the shape of the body.[8]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale: Earl Lind 1874". Yale University. n.d. Archived from the original on 4 June 2008. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  2. "Earl Lind (Ralph Werther-Jennie June): The Riddle of the Underworld, 1921". Out History. October 9, 2010. Archived from the original on June 27, 2013. Retrieved May 5, 2012. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Meyerowitz, J. "Thinking Sex With An Androgyne". GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 17.1 (2010): 97–105. Web. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
  4. Jennie June. "Prologue: I. How I Came to Write This Book." The Riddle of the Underworld (partial manuscript). Out History. 1921. https://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/earl-lind/manuscript/prologue
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 Jennie June. "II. The Boy is Father to the Man." The Riddle of the Underworld (partial manuscript). Out History. 1921. https://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/earl-lind/manuscript/two
  6. Madison, Mila. "Jennie June and the Cercle Hermaphroditos". Transgender Universe. N.p., March 5, 2016. Web. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Museum of the City of New York, "Transgender in Gilded New York." Hidden Voices. Page 3. https://cdn-blob-prd.azureedge.net/prd-pws/docs/default-source/default-document-library/learn-at-home-2020/grade-12-learn-at-home-social-studies-compiled.pdf?sfvrsn=812fa9bf_4
  8. 8.0 8.1 Museum of the City of New York, "Transgender in Gilded New York." Hidden Voices. Page 2. https://cdn-blob-prd.azureedge.net/prd-pws/docs/default-source/default-document-library/learn-at-home-2020/grade-12-learn-at-home-social-studies-compiled.pdf?sfvrsn=812fa9bf_4
  9. 9.0 9.1 Museum of the City of New York, "Transgender in Gilded New York." Hidden Voices. Page 4. https://cdn-blob-prd.azureedge.net/prd-pws/docs/default-source/default-document-library/learn-at-home-2020/grade-12-learn-at-home-social-studies-compiled.pdf?sfvrsn=812fa9bf_4
  10. Jennie June, Autobiography of an Androgyne. p. xxiv. https://books.google.com/books?id=KXxTbGocCvQC&lpg=PA68&ots=G_-s_fmwR8&dq=%22Robert%20S.%20Newton%22%20alienist&pg=PR24#v=onepage&q=%22Robert%20S.%20Newton%22%20alienist&f=false
  11. Edward Carpenter. "The Intermediate Sex." Love's Coming-of-Age. London: Swan Sonneschen & Co., 1906. Transcribed at Sacred Texts. Accessed July 3, 2020. https://www.sacred-texts.com/lgbt/lca/lca09.htm
  12. 12.0 12.1 Bert Hansen, "'Discovery' of homosexuals." Framing Disease: studies in cultural history. 1992. Page 119. [1]
  13. In re Alma Louise Larner. New York Supreme Court. February 21, 1902. P. 16. https://books.google.com/books?id=Ad84AqOJaAwC&lpg=PA16&ots=Vm0r-Dde4J&dq=%22Robert%20S.%20Newton%22%20alienist&pg=PA16#v=onepage&q=newton&f=false We are citing this legal document as proof that there was an alienist in New York around this time period named Dr. Robert S. Newton. This shows this name was not an invention of June's autobiography.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Jennie June. Autobiography of an Androgyne. P. 68. https://books.google.com/books?id=KXxTbGocCvQC&lpg=PA68&ots=G_-s_fmwR8&dq=%22Robert%20S.%20Newton%22%20alienist&pg=PA68#v=onepage&q=%22Robert%20S.%20Newton%22%20alienist&f=false
  15. Gross, Tasha. "LGBTQ History: Cooper Square and Bowery". LGBTQ History: Cooper Square and Bowery. N.p., December 4, 2014. Web. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
  16. Katz, Jonathan Ned. "Transgender Memoir of 1921 Found". Humanities and Social Sciences Online. N.p., 10 October 2010. Web. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
  17. Out History. "Introduction." Earl Lind (Raph Werther - Jennie June): The Riddle of the Underworld, 1921. October 11, 2010. Retrieved July 2, 2020. https://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/earl-lind/intro/intro
  18. Susan Stryker, "Why the T in LGBT is here to stay." Salon. October 11, 2007. http://www.salon.com/2007/10/11/transgender_2/
  19. June, Jennie (1918). Autobiography of an Androgyne. Rutgers University Press.
  20. Randall Sell. "Randall Sell: Encountering Earl Lind, Ralph Werther, Jennie June." Earl Lind (Raph Werther - Jennie June): The Riddle of the Underworld, 1921. Out History. October 11, 2010. Retrieved July 2, 2020. https://outhistory.org/exhibits/show/earl-lind/intro/intro
  21. "Earl Lind (Ralph Werther-Jennie June): The Riddle of the Underworld, 1921". OutHistory.org. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved April 13, 2017.

External links[edit | edit source]