Review of From Female to Male: The Life of Jack Bee Garland


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ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE

A Review of From Female to Male: The Life of Jack Bee Garland

by Louis Sullivan

Boston: Alyson Publications

Review Copyright © 1990 by William A. Henkin

Originally published in Spectator

 

 

In recent years the psychic membrane that separates female from male has shown itself to be remarkably thin for some individuals. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but world-wide it seems enough people with penises have declared themselves to be women, and enough people with vulvas have announced themselves to be men, to populate a small town. Assisted by hormone treatment and surgery some of these folks have changed their physical sex and proceeded to live the lives they felt were truly theirs, rather than those the plumbing of their births would have dictated.

Though the psychological, medical, and subcultural languages are in flux, people who cross the gender line are presently known as transsexuals – at least until their crossings are complete, when they are likely to be known again as men or women, depending on the nature of their new forms. Their experiences differ from those of transvestites, who desire or need to wear clothes of the complementary gender – men in women's clothing, women in men's – and who cross, instead, the clothing line (trans = cross, vestia = clothing).Transsexuals, according to present knowledge, already are people of the complementary gender, whose bodies and souls are in irrevocable discord. Since their spirits will not change, their bodies must. Transsexualism has far less to do with clothing, then, than with a deep-seated self-identity.

Jack Bee Garland (1869-1936) was born Elvira Virginia Mugarrieta at 806 Green Street in San Francisco, second of the five children of José Marcos Mugarrieta, renowned commandante in the Mexican army and first Mexican consul in San Francisco, and Eliza Alice Denny Garland, daughter of a United States Congressman who later sat on the Louisiana Supreme Court. Garland lived too soon for either sex reassignment surgery or hormone therapy; nonetheless, this genetic female not only wore male attire throughout his adult life, he also lived that life as a man, consorted with men, preferred the company of men to the company of women, and all in all comported himself as a male of his times.

In his late 20s, known as Babe Bean, Garland resided on a small houseboat or "ark" on McLeod's Lake in Stockton, CA. The neighborhood was generally considered too rough for women, but Babe Bean found it good for peace and quiet while he made a name for himself as a journalist writing social welfare articles for the Evening Mail. He carried a gun, single-handedly stopped a team of runaway horses, drank lemonade sodas in men-only saloons, went out for midnight rambles on his own and befriended the poor people he met along the way, infiltrated the local hobo camp for a story, toured the Male Department of the State Hospital for the Insane, became an honorary member of the Naomi Bachelors' Club, and went duck hunting with "the boys." During these years Garland made no effort to deny his female anatomy, but said that men's clothes were both safer and more practical than women's for the life he wished to lead. He was arrested because of his garb a couple of times, but there was – and is – no California law against crossdressing unless its intent is to defraud. Babe Bean had no larceny in his heart, and did have a way of getting along with police officers, so no charges were ever filed against him.

The Spanish-American War broke out early in 1898, and before it was resolved by a treaty that ceded the Philippines to the United States, the American Secretary of War and the Surgeon General decided that no women would be permitted to serve in the war in any capacity. But Babe Bean, now also known as Jack Bean, secured passage on the City of Para by working as a cabin boy. He was found out and arrested and jailed and escaped; he returned to the boat and was found out again and put off the boat and slipped back aboard: always Jack returned to the task he felt was his. He lived the life of a solider with soliders, earned the nickname "Lieutenant Jack," got tattooed with his mates, and reported on his experiences for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sunday Examiner Magazine. When he returned to San Francisco he resumed his urban rambles and his fealty with society's male outcasts, giving away to them much of the money he earned.

When San Francisco passed an ordinance against crossdressing in 1903, "Babe," the female living the life of a male, disappeared forever, as did "Bean." Jack took his mother's surname and soon blended with the city's life. He worked as a journalist and as a nurse for the Red Cross after the Earthquake of 1906 and was commended by General Funston for his efforts. He became friendly enough with one Mary L. Haines to tell her the truth about his anatomy, and the widowed Mrs. Haines kept his secret for 16 years. Garland lived in Berkeley at the end of the 1920s, and returned to San Francisco in 1930 where he continued until he died, but his sex was not discovered until the autopsy surgeon undressed him. At the coroner's inquest Mrs. Haines reported that Jack had always felt "middle sexed." Through the offices of his family Jack was buried in an unmarked grave in Cypress Lawn Cemetary, in Colma, crossdressed as he might never have imagined: wearing not the blue serge suit and slouch brim hat that had been his trademark for nearly 40 years, but a white satin dress.

I have referred to Garland as "he" throughout this review, just as Louis Sullivan does in this first full-length biography, to indicate my belief that Garland was a transsexual rather than a transvestite. Though clothes were an important gender issue at the turn of the last century, when one argument in favor of women's right to wear pants could be that the "maximum weight of clothing (without shoes) approved of by the Rational Dress Society does not exceed seven pounds," Garland's wardrobe was no closet drag: it was an appropriate reflection of the man within. Certainly this is the position Louis Sullivan takes.

Jack Garland demonstrated, through his lifelong adherence to his male identity, that his reasons for living as a man were more complex than just his dissatisfaction with the way society expected women to dress. He was a female-to-male transsexual....

 

 

As Sullivan notes, Garland was not the only female who lived as a man back then. Sullivan specifically mentions Milton B. Matson, born Luisa E. B. Matson, Garland's San Francisco contemporary, who discarded corsets by the time he was 26 and lived the life of a man from then on, but Garland and Matson were by no means alone. Sullivan also points out that in the era before gay liberation numerous lesbian relationships were made to appear conventionally legitimate by masquerading one member as a husband so the couple "could live together in peace."

But Garland was not a lesbian, and his life as a man calls "into question our definition of sexual orientation (homosexual or heterosexual), which is usually based on a person's physical identity." Garland denied emphatically that he disliked women, though he acknowledged that he disliked the affectations that were considered feminine in those days, to which most women of his acquaintance subscribed. He thought women were too concerned in general about clothing and appearance for his taste, but he also disliked the "new woman" of the day, and was opposed to women's suffrage. His feelings were male-oriented, his thoughts were male-oriented, his opinions were male-oriented. Garland was a mystery to many of his contemporaries, but from our historical perspective it is easy to see him as a clear embodiment of the gender dysphoric female who got along better in a man's universe than in a woman's because he belonged in a man's body rather than a woman's.

This biography is not only a tribute to its subject, Jack Bee Garland, but also to the author, Louis Sullivan, for his research. The book contains many of Garland's own writings, as well as editorial cartoons and portraits other journalists of his day made of him; the rendering Sullivan chose allows us readers a fair glimpse of the public life Garland led, and the social and historical context in which he led it.

What I regret is that Sullivan's approach does not let us see deeply enough into that public life to really grasp the nature of the private human being underneath. I came away from the book wanting to know more of what was in Garland's heart and mind when he was not addressing his readers, and wanting more of a handle on the meaning such a life can hold for people examining gender values today. If I have an argument with Female to Male, then, it is that Sullivan, the editor of FTM magazine and himself a prominent member of the Bay Area gender community, relies too heavily on Garland's and other turn-of-the-century writings, and contributes not enough of his own interpretation and expert commentary. I feel this lack more strongly because Sullivan's writing is at its best in his brief Epilogue, about the nature of the transsexual phenomenon. Here he truly moves beyond Garland's historical context and explains the nature of the gender context. Perhaps this exegesis contains Sullivan's real message. In any case it is the place in the book where he grows beyond his chosen topic, and shows himself most powerfully to be a writer with a fine gift for exposition and a lucid grasp of the issues that concern him.

 


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