Front page of the Australian newspaper “The Truth”, 18th June, 1942.
Front page of the Australian newspaper “The Truth”, 18th June, 1942.
Below is the complete transcript of a trial in 1732 in which John Cooper (also known as Princess Seraphina) prosecuted Tom Gordon for stealing his clothes. (NB: Cooper/Seraphina was not the person on trial: he was the accuser.) The transcript is rather long — but every bit of the testimony is full of human interest. Princess Seraphina was a gentleman’s servant, and a kind of messenger for mollies (gay men), and a bit of a hustler. More to the point, she was the first recognizable drag queen in English history, that is…the first gay man for whom dragging it up was an integral part of his identity, and who was well known by all his neighbours as a drag queen or transvestite “princess”: everyone called him Princess Seraphina even when he was not wearing women’s clothes. And he does not seem to have had any enemies except for his cousin, a distiller who thought that his behaviour was scandalous.
Gordon (the alleged robber) was acquitted of the charge of robbing Seraphina. Seraphina herself was not on trial — nor was she ever brought to trial for anything afterwards as a result of losing her prosecution.
To set the context: Masquerades flourished in London from the 1720s onward, and took place in assembly rooms, theatres, brothels, public gardens, and molly houses. The commercial masquerades were quasi- carnivals first organized by the impresario John James Heidegger at the Haymarket Theatre from 1717 onwards. His “Midnight Masquerades” were tremendously successful, and drew 800 people a week. They provided many people with the opportunity to explore fetishism and transvestism. Men disguised themselves as witches, bawds, nursing maids and shepherdesses, while women dressed as hussars, sailors, cardinals and boys from Mozart’s operas. In the early days of the fashion, Richard Steele went to one where a parson called him a pretty fellow and tried to pick him up, and Horace Walpole passed for an old woman at a masquerade in 1742. The opportunities for illicit assignations provoked a host of anti-masquerade satires, and many tracts were mainly devoted to attacking the mollies who attended them, allegedly imitating infamous homosexual cross-dressers such as Sporus, Caligula, and Heliogabalus. Seraphina went to the very first Ridotto al Fresco held at Vauxhall Gardens, in June 1732, where he was not the only man disguised as a woman.
Molly houses — pubs and clubs where gay men met, especially on Sunday nights — were very popular in the 1720s in London. On special “Festival Nights” many of the men would wear drag, and sing and dance together, and engage in camp behaviour. For example, on 28 December 1725 a group of 25 men were apprehended in a molly house in Hart Street near Covent Garden and were arrested for dancing and misbehaving themselves, “and obstructing and opposing the Peace-Officers in the Execution of their Duty.” They were dressed in “Masquerade Habits” and were suspected of being sodomites because several of them had previously stood in the pillory on that account; but they were dressed in a range of costumes, not all of which were female, and the date suggests a special holiday event rather than a familiar practice. It is interesting to note that they did not submit sheepishly to their arrest, but put up a show of resistance. None were prosecuted.
For another example, at one molly house in the Mint (in the City of London), according to a contemporary witness: “The Stewards are Miss Fanny Knight, and Aunt England; and pretty Mrs. Anne Page officiates as Clark. One of the Beauties of this Place is Mrs. Girl of Redriff, and with her, (or rather him) dip Candle-Mary a Tallow Chandler in the Burrough, and Aunt May an Upholsterer in the same place, are deeply in Love: Nurse Mitchell is a Barber of this Society.” James Dalton the highwaymay was a witness to molly Festival Nights, which he described in his dying confession published just before he was hanged in 1728, and he briefly mentions John Cooper (Princess Seraphina), who at that time Dalton implied was a butcher. So Seraphina was “on the drag scene” for at least four years before the trial at which she comes dramatically to public notice.
Complete Trial Transcript
The Proceedings at the Sessions of the Peace, and Oyer and Terminer, for the City of London, and County of Middlesex; on Wednesday the 5th, Thursday the 6th, Friday the 7th, and Saturday the 8th of July 1732, in the Sixth Year of His MAJESTY’s Reign. Being the Sixth Sessions in the Mayoralty of the Right Honourable Francis Child, Esq; Lord Mayor of the City of London, in the Year 1732.
Before the Right Honourable Francis Child, Esq; Lord Mayor of the City of London; the Right Honourable the Lord Chief Baron Reynolds; the Honourable Mr. Justice Probyn; the Honourable Mr. Justice Fortescue; Mr Serjeant Urlin, Deputy Recorder of the City of London; and others of His Majestys Justices of Oyer and Terminer for the City of London, and Justices of Gaol-Delivery of Newgate, holden for the said City and County of Middlesex.
Thomas Gordon was indicted for assaulting John Cooper in a Field in Chelsea Parish, putting him in fear, and taking from him a Coat, a Waistcoat, a pair of Breeches, a pair of Shoes, a pair of Silver Shoe-buckles, a Shirt, a Stock, a Silver Stock- buckle, and 4½d. in Money, May 30.
John Cooper. On Whit-Monday, May 29, I dress’d myself and went abroad, and returning between 1 and 2 next Morning to my Lodging at Numb. 11 in Eagle-Court, in the Strand, I knock’d once, but finding no Body answer’d, I went to a Night-Cellar hard by, I call’d for a Pint of Beer, and sitting down on a Bench, the Prisoner came and sat by me; he ask’d me if I did not know Mr. Price, and some other Persons, and so we fell into Discourse; we drank 3 hot Pints together, I paid the Reckoning 9½d. and went up; I was got about 15 or 20 Yards off when the Prisoner came up to me, said it was a fine Morning, and ask’d me to take a Walk; I agreed, and we went into Chelsea Fields, and turning up to a private Place among some Trees, he clap’d his left Hand to the right Side of my Coat, and trip’d up my Heels, and holding a Knife to me, “God damn ye,” says he, “if you offer to speak or stir I’ll kill ye; give me your Ring.” I gave it him, and he put it on his own Finger; then he made me pull off my Coat and Waitcoat, and Breeches; I begg’d that he would not kill me, nor leave me naked; “No,” says he, “I’ll only change wi’ye; come pull off your Shirt, and put on mine”; so he stript, and drest hiimself in my Cloaths, and I put on his; there was 4½d. in my Breeches, and I found 3 ha’pence in his. He ask’d me where I liv’d, and I told him. “I suppose,” says he, “you intend to charge me with a Robbery by and by, but if you do, I’ll swear you’re a Sodomite, and gave me the Cloaths to let you B[ugge]r me.”
While we were dressing, a Man pass’d by at a little Distance, if there had been 2 Men I should have ventur’d to have call’d to them for Help, but as there was but one I was afraid. Then the Prisoner bid me come along, and I follow’d him to Piccadilly, and so to Little Windmill- street, and there I call’d to 2 Men, who took him into an Alehouse; I told them he had robb’d me, and he said that I had given him the Cloaths to let me B[ugge]r him. The Men said they expected to be paid for their Day’s Work, if they lost their Time about my Business; I promis’d them they should be satisfied.
When we came to Justice Mercer’s, he was not up, so we went to the Coach and Horses by St. Giles’s Church, and waited an Hour and an half; while we were there the Prisoner wrote a Letter to his Mother (as he said) and directed it to Numb. 20. in Colston’s-Court in Drury-lane. I had charg’d a Constable with the Prisoner, I told him so; “Go and do it then,” says the Justice, “and swear to the Things, and I’ll commit him.” So we went toward Tyburn-Road, into Marybone- Fields, and there the Men let the Prisoner go; “What do ye do?” says I. “Why what would you have us do,” said they, “he charges you with Sodomy, and says you gave him the Cloaths on that Account.” Another Man coming by at the same time, I desir’d his Assistance; but they telling him that I was a Molly, he said I ought to be hang’d, and he’d have nothing to do with me; then the Prisoner began to run, and I after him; but one of the two Men, who expected to be paid for their Day’s Work, kick’d up my Heels, and as I was rising, he struck me down again; I was very much hurt, and spit Blood, so that I could not follow them, and so they all got over a Ditch and escaped; I went to my Lodgings in Eagle-Court.
They were surprised to see me come home in such a shabby Dress; I told ’em what had happen’d, and describ’d the Man, and said that he sent a Letter to his Mother in Colston’s Court; “O,” says one, “I know him, his Name is Tom. Gordon, and his Mother’s Name is Abbot.” So I got Justice Giffard’s Warrant the same Day, and finding the Prisoner at a Brandy shop Door in Drury-Lane, we seized him, and carried him to Brogdon Poplet’s [a public house], and I set for Mr. Levit, and Mr. Sydney, who lodg’d in the same House as I lodg’d in; so the Prisoner was sent to the Round-house, and carry’d before the Justice next Day. He told the Justice that I put my Yard into his Hand twice; and says the Justice, “You had a long Knife, it seems, why did you not cut it off? I would have done so.” The Prisoner said that he was not willing to expose me so much. He are certain Ladies that belong to Brogdon Poplet, who, I suppose, have abundance to say for the Prisoner.
Court. What Business do you follow?
Cooper. I am a Gentleman’s Servant, but am out of Place at present; the last Place I liv’d in was Capt. Brebolt’s at Greenwich.
Prisoner [i.e. Gordon]. Did we go out of the Night Cellar together?
Cooper. No, you follow’d me.
Christopher Sandford, Taylor [tailor]. On the 29th of May, in the Evening, I was drinking with Mr. Mead at the King’s-Arms by Leicester-Fields when the Prosecutor came in, dress’d in a black Coat, a white Waistcoat, and black Breeches; he sat down and drank, and then paid his Reckoning, and went away. Next Morning I saw Mr. Mead again, he said he had met the Prosecutor in a dirty ragged Suit of Cloaths, and a speckled Shirt, and never set his Eyes on a Man so metamorphos’d. “But how came he in that Condition?” says I, “Why it seems he has been robb’d this Morning,” says he, “by one Gordon, a Leather-breeches Maker.”
I passed with Mr. Mead as I was going by Turnstile in Holbourn, the Prisoner pull’d me by the Coat, and said, “How d’ye do? what don’t ye know me?” and indeed I hardly did know him in that Dress. “What is it to you, Mr. Gordon?” says I, “why I heard you was dead.” “Dead!” says he, “who told you so?” “Why Cooper,” says I, “he drank with me last Night.” “Cooper is a great Rogue,” says he; “What has he done?” says I; “He gave me these Cloaths this Morning,” says he; “And is he a Rogue for that?” says I; “No,” says he, “but he pretends to get ’em again by Force.” “Hark ye, Tom,” says I, “as you have a Soul to be sav’d, I fancy you’ll come to be hang’d; for he has sworn a Robbery against you.” “Has he really done it?” says he; “for God’s Sake help me to make it up, I’ll go and get 3 Guineas of my Uncle in the Temple, and meet you at the Bell and Horse-shoe in Holborn.” I told the Prosecutor [i.e. Cooper] of this, and he went with me, but we could find no such Sign as the Bell and Horse-shoe.
John Sanders. Between 9 and 10 on Tuesday Night I was sent for to the Two Suger-Loaves in Drury-Lane; the Prosecutor gave me a Warrant against the Prisoner; we went before Justice Newton; the Justice having heard the Prosecutor’s Charge, ask’d the Prisoner what he had to say for himself? “Why,” says the Prisoner, “he laid his privy Parts in my Hand, and offer’d to B[ugger] me.” Then says Mr. Newton, “You had better take him before Justice Giffard to-Morrow, he knows more of the Matter, for I see it is his Warrant.” So the Prisoner was sent to the Round- house [a prison in St Giles].
The Prisoner’s Defence.
Thomas Gordon: I was lock’d out, and went to Mrs. Holder’s Night-Cellar; the Prosecutor came and sat by me, and ask’d me to drink, I thought I had seen him before; we fell into Discourse, and had 3 hot Pints of Gin and Ale between us; about 4 in the Morning he ask’d me to take a Walk; we went into Chelsea Fields, and coming among some Trees and Hedges, he kiss’d me, and put his privy Parts into my Hand; I ask’d him what he meant by that, and told him I would expose him; he begg’d me not to do it, and said he would make me amends. I ask’d him what amends? He said he would give me all his Cloaths, if I would accept of them, and so we agreed, and chang’d Cloaths.
After this, I ask’d him to go into the White Horse by Hyde-Park, but he said he would not, for he had Relations there, and did not care to expose himself in that Dress. We went farther, and I would have gone into another House, but he made the same Excuse: then we came to Little Windmill-street, where we found a Man knocking at an Alehouse Door; we thought to have gone in there, but it being early the People would not get up, and so we went to the White-Hart in Knaves-Acre; there he charg’d me with a Robbery, and I charg’d him with a Attempt to commit Sodomy. We went before Justice Mercer, who order’d us to get a Constable, and in going along, the Prosecutor raised a Mob, and squall’d as I had been murdering him, so that I was glad to get away. He afterwards met me again as I was talking with my Master in Drury- Lane, and carry’d me to Mr. Poplet’s.
Margaret Holder. I keep the Night- Cellar, the Prisoner came in about 10 at Night, and staid till 2 in the morning, and then the Prosecutor came in, and sat down by him, and said, “Your Servant, Sir; have you any Company belonging to you, for I don’t love much Company?” Then they had 3 Pints of Huckle and Buff, as we call it, that’s Gin and Ale made hot; and so about 4 o’Clock the Prisoner said he would go home, for his Mother would be up, and he might get in without his Father’s Knowledge; and the Prosecutor said, “If you go, I’ll go too”; so the Prisoner went up first, and the Prosecutor staid to change a Shilling, and went out after him. I believe the Prisoner is an honest Man; but the Prosecutor and Kitt Sandford too, use to come to my Cellar with such sort of People.
Court. What sort of People?
Holder. Why, to tell you the Truth, he’s one of the Runners that carries Messages between Gentlemen in that way.
Court. In what way?
Holder. Why he’s one of them as you call Molly Culls, he gets his Bread that way; to my certain Knowledge he has got many a Crown under some Gentlemen, for going of sodomiting Errands.
Robert Shaw. The Prisoner and Prosecutor, and four more came to my House, the White-Hart in Knaves- Acre, about 6 o-Clock on Tuesday Morning; says the Prisoner, “this Fellow charges me with a Robbery.” “How so?” says I; “Why,” says he, “we have been in Chelsea Fields, and he gave me his Cloaths to let him commit Sodomy with me, and now he wants them again.” After the second Pot, they disputed who should pay; says the Prosecutor, “You know I have but 3 ha’pence, for when I gave you my Breeches there was 4½d. in ’em, and when I took yours, I found but 3 ha’pence in the Pocket.” Then the Prosecutor desir’d to go to his Cousin Smith, a Distiller hard by, to borrow a Shilling; a Man went with him, he brought back a Shilling, and paid his Reckoning.
Court. Did the Prosecutor contradict what the Prisoner said about changing Cloaths?
Shaw. No, not in my hearing.
Edward Pocock. About 5 o’Clock o’ Tuesday Morning, as I was coming along Chelsea-Fields, I saw 2 Men a stripping among some Trees; I thought they were going to fight, but I soon found there was no Quarrel; for when they had put their Cloaths on, they went away lovingly, and the Prisoner smil’d; they look’d as if they had not been a-bed all Night, no more than I had; for you must know, being Holiday time, I got drunk, and fell asleep with my Cloaths on.
Court. How far off was you when you saw them?
Pocock. Within 20 or 30 Yards.
Court. How came the Prisoner to find you out?
Pocock. I happen’d to go to Holder’s Cellar, and there I heard talk of this Robbery; and says I, “I’ll be hang’d if these were not the 2 Men that I thought were going to fight”; so I went to Newgate to see the Prisoner, and knew him to be one of ’em; and he afterwards sent me a Subpoena.
John Thorp. It being Holiday time, I and another Stocking-maker, and 2 Shoe-makers, had been out a merry making, and in the Morning we can to the Two Brewers in Little Windmill-street; the People were not up, and while I stood knocking at the Door, the Prisoner and the Prosecutor came along close together; says the Prosecutor, “this Man has got my Cloaths on his Back”; and says the Prisoner, “He gave them me to commit Sodomy.” We told them it was a scandalous business, and advised them to make it up between themselves, and change Cloaths again. The Prosecutor said he desir’d nothing more than to have his Cloaths again; but the Prisoner would not consent, “For nothing is freer than Gift”, says he, “and I’ll see you out.”
We could not get in at the Two Brewers, and so went to Mr. Shaw’s in Knaves-Acre, and not agreeing there, we went to the Coach and Horses by St Giles’s Church; and there the Prisoner wrote a Letter to his Mother, it was directed to his Father, a Taylor, at Numb 4. in Colston’s-Court, I found the House according to the Direction, and deliver’d the Letter, but his Father was not up, and when I return’d to the Coach and Horses they were all gone.
Prisoner. Did not you go to the Prosecutor’s Cousin, the Distiller, in Warder-street?
Thorp. Yes; he told his Cousin he was pawn’d for a Shilling; says his Cousin, “As you are in the Neighbourhood, I don’t care to be scandaliz’d by you, there’s a Shilling, but go about your Business, and let me hear no more of you, for you are a vile Fellow, and I’m afraid you’ll come to an ill end.”
The Character of the Princess Seraphina.
Jane Jones. I am a Washer-woman in Drury-Lane, I went into Mr Poplet’s, my next Door Neighbour, for a Pint of Beer, and said “There’s the Princess Seraphina!” So I look’d at her, and the Prisoner was in the same Box; and says he to the Princess, “What a vile Villain was you to ——”
Court. What Princess?
Jones. The Prosecutor; he goes by that Name. “What a Villain was you,” says the Prisoner, “to offer so vile a thing? Did not you do so and so?”
Court. So and so; explain yourself.
Jones. Why in the way of Sodomity, whatever that is; so says the Princess, “If you don’t give me my Cloaths again, I’ll swear a Robbery against you; but if you’ll let me have them, I’ll be easy.” “No, you Villain, you shant,” says the Prisoner. Next Day I went to Mr. Stringer the Pawn-broker’s, facing Vinegar-yard in Drury-Lane; I wash for him, and there I saw the Princess a pawning her Shirt; “O Princess!” says I, “are you there? They will be very fine by and by; you will have no Occasion to pawn your Linen, when you get the Reward for hanging Tom Gordon. But how can you be so cruel to swear his Life away, when you have own’d that you chang’d with him?” What if I did,” says he, “I don’t value that, I shall do nothing but what I have been advised to.”
Mary Poplet. I keep the Two Sugar- Loaves in Drury-Lane, the Prisoner and the Princess came into my House, and the Princess charg’d the Prisoner with taking her Cloaths, and the Prisoner call’d her a Villain, and said she gave ’em to him. I have known her Highness a pretty while, she us’d to come to my House from Mr. Tull, to enquire after some Gentlemen of no very good Character; I have seen her several times in Women’s Cloaths, she commonly us’d to wear a white Gown, and a scarlet Cloak, with her Hair frizzled and curl’d all round her Forehead; and then she would so flutter her Fan, and make such fine Curt’sies, that you would not have known her from a Woman: She takes great Delight in Balls and Masquerades, and always chuses to appear at them in a Female Dress, that she may have the Satisfation of dancing with fine Gentlemen. Her Highness lives with Mr. Tull in Eagle-Court in the Strand, and calls him her Master, because she was Nurse to him and his Wife when they were both in a Salivation; but the Princess is rather Mr. Tull’s Friend, than his domestick Servant. I never heard that she had any other Name than the Princess Seraphina.
Mary Ryler. I was standing at the End of our Court in Drury-Lane, and seeing the Prisoner coming along with a Crowd. “Tom!” says I, “what’s the Matter?” “Why,” says he, pointing to the Princess, “this Man gave me his Cloaths to let him B[ugge]r me, and now he charges me with a Robbery.” I know the Princess very well, she goes a Nursing sometimes: She nurs’d his Master Tull and his Wife in their Salivation, and several others; and I was told that he was dress’d in Woman’s Cloaths at the last Masquerade (Ridotto al Fresco at Vauxhall.) Sometimes we call her Princess, and sometimes Miss.
Mary Robinson. I was trying on a Suit of Red Damask at my Mantua-maker’s in the Strand, when the Princess Seraphina came up, and told me the Suit look’d mighty pretty. “I wish,” says he, “you would len ’em me for a Night, to go to Mrs. Green’s in Nottingham-Court, by the Seven Dials, for I am to meet some fine Gentlemen there.” “Why,” says I, “can’t Mrs. Green furnish you?” “Yes” says he, “she lends me a Velvet Scarf and a Gold Watch sometimes.” He used to be but meanly dress’d, as to Men’s Cloaths, but he came lately to my Mantua- maker’s, in a handsome Black Suit, to invite a Gentlewoman to drink Tea with Mrs. Tull. I ask’d him how he came to be so well Rigg’d? And he told me his Mother had lately sold the Reversion of a House; “And now,” says he, “I’ll go and take a Walk in the Park, and shew my self.” Soon after this, my Maid told me that her Highness was robb’d by a Man in a Sailor’s Habit, who had changed Cloaths with him. And so next Morning I sent for him. “Lord, Princess!” says I “you are vastly alter’d.” “Ay, Madam,” says he, “I have been robb’d, but I shall get the Reward for hanging the Rogue.”
Another Time, he comes to me, and says, “Lord, Madam, I must ask your Pardon, I was at your Mantua-maker’s Yesterday, and dress’d my Head in your Lac’d Pinners, and I would fain have borrow’d them to have gone to the Ridotto at Vauxhall last Night, but I cou’d not persuade her to lend ’em me; but however she lent me your Callimanco Gown and Madam Nuttal’s Mob [cap], and one of her Smocks, and so I went thither to pick up some Gentlemen to Dance.” “And did you make a good Hand of it, Princess?” says I. “No, Madam,” says he, “I pick’d up two Men, who had no Money, but however they proved to be my old Acquaintance, and very good Gentlewomen they were. One of them has been transported for counterfeiting Masquerade Tickets; and t’other went to the Masquerade in a Velvet Domine, and pick’d up an old Gentleman, and went to Bed with him, but as soon as the old Fellow found that he had got a Man by his Side, he cry’d out, `Murder’.”
Eliz. Jones. I saw the Princess Seraphina standing at Mr. Poplet’s Door. “What, have you been robb’d, Princess?” says I, “Has Tom Gordon stripp’d your Highness stark naked? An impudent Rogue! And yet, Ma’m, I think, your Highness had better make it up with him, than expose yourself, for some say it was only an Exchange.” “Why,” says he, “at first I would have made it up, and taken my Cloaths again, but now it’s too late, and I must prosecute, for those that were concerned in taking him up, expect their Share in the Reward, and won’t let me drop the Prosecution.”
Andrew Monford. I heard the Prosecutor say to the Prisoner (at Mr. Poplet’s) “Tom! give me my Cloaths.” And the other answer’d, “No, you Rogue, I won’t: Did you not put your Hand in my Breeches, to pull out what I had?”
Several of the Inhabitants of Drury-Lane gave the Prisoner the Character of an honest working Man, and the Jury acquitted him.
Due to the unique circumstances of d’Éon’s life, this article avoids the use of gendered pronouns by repeating the name instead (see talk page).
Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont (5 October 1728 – 21 May 1810), usually known as the Chevalier d’Éon, was a French diplomat, spy, freemason and soldier who fought in the Seven Years’ War. D’Éon had androgynous physical characteristics and natural abilities as a mimic, good features for a spy. D’Éon appeared publicly as a man and pursued masculine occupations for 49 years, although during that time d’Éon successfully infiltrated the court of Empress Elizabeth of Russia by presenting as a woman. For 33 years, from 1777, d’Éon dressed as a woman, claiming to have been female at birth. Doctors who examined d’Éon’s body after d’Éon’s death discovered that d’Éon would have actually been designated male at birth.
D’Éon was born at the Hôtel d’Uzès in Tonnerre, Burgundy, into a poor noble family. D’Éon’s father, Louis d’Éon de Beaumont, was an attorney and director of the king’s dominions, later mayor of Tonnerre and sub-delegate of the intendant of the généralité of Paris. D’Éon’s mother, Françoise de Charanton, was the daughter of a Commissioner General to the armies of the wars of Spain and Italy. Most of what is known about d’Éon’s early life comes from a partly ghost-written autobiography, The Interests of the Chevalier d’Éon de Beaumont.
D’Éon excelled in school, moving from Tonnerre to Paris in 1743, graduating in civil law and canon law from the Collège Mazarin in 1749 at age 21. D’Éon became secretary to Bertier de Sauvigny, intendant of Paris, served as a secretary to the administrator of the fiscal department, and was appointed a royal censor for history and literature by Malesherbes in 1758.
Life as a spy
In 1756, d’Éon joined the secret network of spies called the Secret du Roi, employed by King Louis XV without the knowledge of the government. It sometimes promoted policies that contradicted official policies and treaties. According to d’Éon’s memoirs (although there is no documentary evidence to support that account) the monarch sent d’Éon with the Chevalier Douglas, Alexandre-Pierre de Mackensie-Douglas, baron de Kildin, a Scottish Jacobite in French service, on a secret mission to Russia in order to meet Empress Elizabeth and conspire with the pro-French faction against the Habsburg monarchy. At that time the English and French were at odds, and the English were attempting to deny the French access to the Empress by allowing only women and children to cross the border into Russia. D’Éon had to pass convincingly as a woman or risk being executed by the English upon discovery. In the course of this mission, d’Éon was disguised as the lady Lea de Beaumont, and served as a maid of honour to the Empress. Eventually, Chevalier Douglas became French ambassador to Russia, and d’Éon was secretary to the embassy in Saint Petersburg from 1756 to 1760, serving Douglas and his successor, the marquis de l’Hôpital. D’Éon’s career in Russia is the subject of one of Valentin Pikul’s novels, Le chevalier d’Éon et la guerre de Sept ans.
D’Éon returned to France in October 1760, and was granted a pension of 2,000 livres as reward for service in Russia. In May 1761, d’Éon became a captain of dragoons under the maréchal de Broglie and fought in the later stages of the Seven Years’ War. D’Éon served at the Battle of Villinghausen in July 1761, and was wounded at Ulstrop. After Empress Elizabeth died in January 1762, d’Éon was considered for further service in Russia, but instead was appointed secretary to the duc de Nivernais, awarded 1,000 livres, and sent to London to draft the peace treaty that formally ended the Seven Years’ War. The treaty was signed in Paris on 10 February 1763, and d’Éon was awarded a further 6,000 livres, and received the Order of Saint-Louis on 30 March 1763, becoming the Chevalier d’Éon. The title chevalier, French for knight, is also sometimes used for French noblemen.
Back in London, d’Éon became chargé d’affaires in April 1763, and then plenipotentiary minister – essentially interim ambassador – when the duc de Nivernais returned to Paris in July. D’Éon used this position also to spy for the king. D’Éon collected information for a potential invasion – an unfortunate and clumsy initiative of Louis XV, of which Louis’s own ministers were unaware – assisting a French agent, Louis François Carlet de la Rozière, who was surveying the British coastal defences. D’Éon formed connections with English nobility by sending them the produce of d’Éon’s vineyard in France and abundantly enjoyed the splendour of this interim embassy.
Upon the arrival of the new ambassador, the comte de Guerchy in October 1763, d’Éon was demoted to the rank of secretary and humiliated by the count. D’Éon was trapped between two French factions: Guerchy was a supporter of the duc de Choiseul, duc de Praslin and Madame de Pompadour, in opposition to the comte de Broglie and his brother the maréchal de Broglie. D’Éon complained, and eventually decided to disobey orders to return to France. In a letter to the king, d’Éon claimed that the new ambassador had tried to drug d’Éon at a dinner at the ambassador’s residence in Monmouth House in Soho Square. The British government declined a French request to extradite d’Éon, and the 2,000 livres pension that had been granted in 1760 was stopped in February 1764. In an effort to save d’Éon’s station in London, d’Éon published much of the secret diplomatic correspondence about d’Éon’s recall under the title Lettres, mémoires et négociations particulières du chevalier d’Éon in March 1764, disavowing Guerchy and calling him unfit for his job. This breach of diplomatic discretion was scandalous to the point of being unheard of, but d’Éon had not yet published everything (the King’s secret invasion documents and those relative to the Secret du Roi were kept back as “insurance”), and the French government became very cautious in its dealings with d’Éon, even when d’Éon sued Guerchy for attempted murder. With the invasion documents in hand, d’Éon held the king in check. D’Éon did not offer any defense when Guerchy sued for libel, and d’Éon was declared an outlaw and went into hiding. However, d’Éon secured the sympathy of the British public: the mob jeered Guerchy in public, and threw stones at his residence. D’Éon then wrote a book on public administration, Les loisirs du Chevalier d’Éon, which was published in thirteen volumes in Amsterdam in 1774.
Guerchy was recalled to France, and in July 1766 Louis XV granted d’Éon a pension (possibly a pay-off for d’Éon’s silence) and a 12,000-livre annuity, but refused a demand for over 100,000 livres to clear d’Éon’s extensive debts. D’Éon continued to work as a spy, but lived in political exile in London. D’Éon’s possession of the king’s secret letters provided protection against further actions, but d’Éon could not return to France.
Life as a woman
Despite the fact that d’Éon habitually wore a dragoon’s uniform, rumours circulated in London that d’Éon was actually a woman. A betting pool was started on the London Stock Exchange about d’Éon’s true sex. D’Éon was invited to join, but declined, saying that an examination would be dishonouring, whatever the result. After a year without progress, the wager was abandoned. Following the death of Louis XV in 1774, the secret du roi was abolished, and d’Éon tried to negotiate a return from exile. The writer Pierre de Beaumarchais represented the French government in the negotiations. The resulting twenty-page treaty permitted d’Éon to return to France and retain the ministerial pension, but required that d’Éon turn over the correspondence regarding the secret du roi.
The Chevalier d’Éon claimed to have been assigned female at birth, and demanded recognition by the government as such. D’Éon claimed to have been raised as a boy because Louis d’Éon de Beaumont could only inherit from his in-laws if he had a son. King Louis XVI and his court complied with this demand, but required in turn that d’Éon dress appropriately in women’s clothing, although d’Éon was allowed to continue to wear the insignia of the Order of Saint-Louis. When the king’s offer included funds for a new wardrobe of women’s clothes, d’Éon agreed. In 1777, after fourteen months of negotiation, d’Éon returned to France and as punishment was banished to Tonnerre.
When France began to help the rebels during the American War of Independence, d’Éon asked to join the French troops in America, but d’Éon’s banishment prevented it. In 1779, d’Éon published a books of memoirs: La Vie Militaire, politique, et privée de Mademoiselle d’Éon. They were ghostwritten by a friend named La Fortelle and are probably embellished. D’Éon was allowed to return to England in 1785.
The pension that Louis XV had granted was ended by the French Revolution, and d’Éon had to sell personal possessions, including books, jewellery and plate. The family’s properties in Tonnerre were confiscated by the revolutionary government. In 1792, d’Éon sent a letter to the French National Assembly offering to lead a division of female soldiers against the Habsburgs, but the offer was rebuffed. D’Éon participated in fencing tournaments until seriously wounded in Southampton in 1796. D’Éon’s last years were spent with a widow, Mrs. Cole. In 1804, d’Éon was sent to a debtors’ prison for five months, and signed a contract for a biography to be written by Thomas William Plummer, which was never published. D’Éon became paralyzed following a fall, and spent a final four years bedridden, dying in poverty in London on 21 May 1810 at the age of 81.
Doctors who examined the body after d’Éon’s death discovered that the Chevalier had “male organs in every respect perfectly formed”, while at the same time displaying feminine characteristics such as rounded limbs and “breast remarkably full”. D’Éon’s body was buried in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church, and d’Éon’s remaining possessions were sold by Christie’s in 1813. D’Éon’s grave is listed on Baroness Burdett Coutts’s memorial there as one of the important graves lost.
Decker, Michel de. Madame Le Chevalier d’Éon, Paris: Perrin, 1987, ISBN 978-2-7242-3612-5.
d’Éon De Beaumont, Charles. The Maiden of Tonnerre: The Vicissitudes of the Chevalier and the Chevalière d’Éon, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, ISBN 978-0-8018-6687-6.
d’Éon, Leonard J. The Cavalier, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1987, ISBN 0-399-13227-9.
Frank, André, with Jean Chaumely. D’Éon chevalier et chevalière: sa confession inédite, Paris: Amiot-Dumont, 1953.
Fortelle M. de la. La Vie militaire, politique et privée de Demoiselle Charles-Geneviève-Auguste-Andrée-Thimothée Éon ou d’Èon de Beaumont, [… etc.], Paris: Lambert, 1779.
Gaillardet, F. (ed.), Mémoires du chevalier d’Éon, Paris, 1836, 2 vols.
Gontier, Fernande. Homme ou femme? La confusion des sexes, Paris: Perrin, 2006, Chapter 6. ISBN 978-2262024918.
Homberg, O., and F. Jousselin, Un Aventurier au XVIIIe siècle: Le Chevalier D’Éon (1728-1810), Paris: Plon-Nourrit, 1904.
Kates, Gary. Monsieur d’Éon Is a Woman: A Tale of Political Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, ISBN 978-0-8018-6731-6.
Lever, Évelyne and Maurice. Le Chevalier d’Éon: Une vie sans queue ni tête, Paris: Fayard, 2009, ISBN 978-2-213-61630-8.
Luyt, Philippe. D’Éon de Tonnerre. Iconographie et histoire, 2007, OCLC 163617123
Mourousy, Paul. Le Chevalier d’Éon: un travesti malgré lui, Paris: Le Rocher, 1998, ISBN 978-2-268-02917-7.
Musée municipal de Tonnerre, Catalogue bilingue de l’exposition, Le Chevalier d’Éon: secrets et lumières, 2007.
Royer, Jean-Michel. Le Double Je, ou les Mémoires du chevalier d’Éon, Paris: Grasset & Fasquelle, 1986, ISBN 978-2-246-38001-6.
Telfer, John Buchan, The strange career of the Chevalier d’Eon de Beaumont, minister plenipotentiary from France to Great Britain in 1763, 1885, OCLC 2745013
Homosexuality was illegal in England until 1967. The treatment of homosexuals in earlier times is difficult to gauge as the historical record rarely exists for anything other than criminal activity. Early punishments ranged from fines, hard labour, hanging, and the pillory (a wooden frame with holes for the head and hands, in which offenders were placed and exposed to public abuse). From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries the court of Quarter Sessions dealt with any complaints and allegations of homosexual behaviour, frequently referred to in the court records as ‘an unnatural crime’.
In Surrey, there are several examples which appear in the records, although survival of all evidence from the arrest to the sentencing of prisoners is not complete. Many of the accused were acquitted through lack of evidence. In the cases found, punishment ranged from the equivalent of a good behaviour bond to the pillory, or imprisonment for up to two years in one of the local houses of correction.
Calendar of prisoners for the House of Correction, Newington, 1812
Prisoner No.54. is Edward Long, committed on 24 Dec 1811.
Following the oath of John Smith, Long is charged with assaulting him at St Saviour’s, Southwark, with intent to commit an ‘unnatural crime’. He was detained for want of sureties (i.e. no one pledged money for his good behaviour) but this was eventually secured.
Calendar of prisoners, featuring Edward Long, 14 Jan 1812 (SHC ref QS2/6/1812/Eph)
Examination regarding an alleged assault, Southwark, 1716
This curious case involved David Dartnall, a carpenter of Brasted, who in his examination claimed that whilst sitting by the fire in the kitchen of the Greyhound Inn, Southwark, he was approached by Thomas Reeves and asked where he would lie that night. Dartnall replied that he was sleeping at the inn and Reeves declared that he would lie with him. The examination gives a graphic account of the activities that took place but Dartnall did not protest and implied that Reeves ‘never threatened or offered to turn him’. The examination finished with Dartnall declaring ‘the reason why he did not cry out was the reason of his greater surprise’!
Unfortunately, as the further evidence for this case has not yet been located we do not know whether Reeves was punished or not. Click on the image below to see a larger version.
The examination of David Dartnall of the ville of Brasted in the said County, carpenter taken upon oath this 16th day of March Anno D[omini] 1716 as followeth viz:
This examinant saith upon oath that on Thursday the seventeenth day of this instant March in the evening as this Def[endant] was sitting by the kitchen fire at the Greyhound Inn in the Burrough of Southwark in the County of Surrey, Mr Thomas Reeves of Cowden being there asked this Def[endant] where he lay that night, he answered him he lay there then the said Mr Reeves said you shall lye with me David, who was contented and accordingly went to bedd together and that as this Def[endant] was saying his prayers the said Mr Reeves putt his hand upon his breast and soo down to his private parts and took hold of them and said he would make him spend and did make him spend. And then said to this Def that he had had a whore who told him the said Reeves that he never had had one in his life, who said he had, and then gott over himin the bedd several times and at last he rubbed himself against one of his thighs and spent against the same and the gott over him and went to sleep – and soo continued the ret of the night; but the said Mr Reeves never threatened or offered to turn him And the reason ehy this Def[endant] did not Cry out was by reason of his greater Surprise.
[signed] David Dartnall
Jucat die et Anno superdictam
S lambard Jeff. Arnhurst
The 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act made any homosexual act illegal, even in private.
Section 11 of the Act stated that any man convicted ‘shall be liable at the discretion of the court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour’.
Controversially, this part of the Act was inserted at the last minute after being drafted by the MP Henry Labouchere. It did not fit in with the rest of the Act, which dealt with sex crimes relating to young women, but was still passed by the House of Commons.
The amendment was described as a ‘blackmailer’s charter’ as it effectively outlawed every form of male homosexuality. It prompted a number of prosecutions, most famously Oscar Wilde in 1895. Wilde served his sentence in Reading Gaol.
The Act was repealed in England and Wales in 1956, but homosexuality was not fully legalised until 1967. In Scotland this did not come into force until 1980, and in Northern Ireland, not until 1982.
The Gender Recognition Act of 2004 allowed transsexual people to change their legal gender.
Current legislation bans some anti-gay discrimination, as well as religion-based hate speech against homosexuals.
Information curtesy of Surrey History Centre and Exploring Surrey’s Past
In 2001, while doing my writing degree at UTS, I submitted a 13,000 word tome for evaluation, titled “Cleo’s Reflection” – my recollections of my past to my hairdresser as he did up my wig for my final drag appearance. My tutor, a tiny Asian fag-hag (love or hate the phrase), was ecstatic about it, and on questioning the class on what the story represented, and getting the usual crap replies that you would expect from 20-year-olds, enlightened them to it being ” A Sydney story!”, which actually gave me goosebumps.
I have done a couple of edits over the years, but recently decided it was time to get to the bare bones of what “Cleo’s Reflection was really all about. I do intend to publish the full-length tome, but it has bern sitting around for 13 years now, and I imagine a few more won’t matter much. So, here in a nutshell – sort of – is the chopped down version of “Cleo’s Reflection”…”The Evolution/Devolution of Cleo”.
My writing tutor at UTS called this a “Sydney story”, but as I got right to the root of what Cleo was (escapism, flipping the coin, daring) I realised more and more just what a “gay” story it was, and perhaps more importantly – for Cleo was born at the very beginning of the HIV era, and bowed out at its height – that it is a “HIV” story, and of its time..
Cleo’s persona was born, so I like to say, out of pure curiosity. In late 1983, ‘she’ made ‘her’ first public appearance at one of Sydney’s annual parties, called Sleaze Ball, put on annually by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian community. It was a daring move for me, and a move into unexplored territory.
I have had a fascination with ‘gutter drag’ since coming out in 1980. Drag has always been synonymous with the gay community here, though usually more in a serious vein than as send-up or parody. ‘The Oxford Hotel’ opened in 1983 on Sydney’s gay ghetto of Oxford Street, and become an instant hangout for the city’s clone brigade. Simultaneous to the growth of the clone phenomenon was the growth in popularity of gutter drag, and several troupes routinely plied their talents between bars along the gay strip. Most famous of these were ‘The Planet Sluts’, and many a Saturday night out was brightened up by their sudden appearance in ‘The Oxford’.
They had a look that I was always slightly envious of, in that they were cocks in frocks, an over-exaggerating of the femaleness of drag without losing the masculine aspects. It was a phenomena that could only have happened in the gay community and though there were mixed reactions, permission was granted for its continuance. It was a look that I wanted to try – badly!
One minute I would be having a quiet drink with friends in the bar, and a bit of a bop to the music, and the next thing I knew, all hell had broken loose. These four guys would barge in from the street. They would have wigs backcombed to within an inch of their lives and absolutely huge; totally over the top make-up; and frocks that would have been the envy of even serious drag queens (sort of!) – tulle for days, and totally outrageous. But what really made it for me was the fact that they shaved neither faces, chests nor arms and legs, and that was what gave gutter drag not only its name, but also its appeal.
So Sleaze Ball 1983 was the first time I decided to attempt to emulate this form of drag. I have to admit it wasn’t terribly successful! My flatmate (who was also my lover at that time) had done a bit of drag during the 70’s. I didn’t really want to spend a lot of money on this one particular occasion, and asked him if he would do the wig up for me. Mistake number one! The poor wig ended up looking like a poor relation to Dusty Springfield, but he had done his best, and I felt it was unwarranted to criticise his efforts. Mistake number two! Choice of frock. It was a Marilyn Monroe crepe Halston style rip-off, and by the time the whole outfit came together, I looked like a bloody society matron heading off for a Sunday luncheon. It also didn’t go down well at the party, especially considering the look was nowhere near the Planet Slut look that I wanted to achieve.
The Sydney parties in those days were small affairs (5,000 – 6,000 gay guys), not the huge extravaganza’s they are now, and needless to say, I would have slutted around and slept with at least half the party-goers. My reputation as an aggressive little bottom was ruined, and the message columns in the local gay rags ran hot with malicious gossip about me for the next couple of issues. Undaunted, I decided to forge on!
That night, Cleo was born. She may only have been a name, but the seeds of creation were planted.
My next attempt was in the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras parade in 1984 – it had not become The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras at that stage – and it wasn’t much better than my first attempt, except that I did myself up so that nobody would recognise me this time around. The floats in the parade were all pretty tragic. The Mardi Gras organisation had not set up workshops in these early days, so organisations and businesses just put floats together as best they could, with little taste, and no artistic direction. The one I was on was exceptionally tacky, with everyone on the float being workers for one of the local sex shops, (Numbers Bookshop), and the owner giving us a zero budget to work with. The back of the truck was covered in aluminium foil – very flashy indeed, with a sound system that only worked when the mood took it, which wasn’t very often. The manager of the store, who went under the drag persona of Miss Phoenix had a fairly over the top drag style, though a bit too serious to be gutter drag. Still, he managed to outshine the rest of us on the night, who looked like aliens out of the early days of Dr Who, and I was rather thankful for the anonymity that It afforded me. No photographs exist of that tragic episode in history…I am so glad to say!
In late 1984 I met my next lover, Damien. Frank, the one who had been the creator of the first Cleo wig had been very unceremoniously dumped. Damien was a pretty boy, and a bit of a devil, and liked to think that I didn’t know about him trashing around behind my back. His longevity as a partner was terminated after he faked a suicide attempt. However, before I pissed him off, he talked me into doing drag with him on two occasions, and still I could not get the look together. In fact, the first time I went out with him in drag, I was mistaken for his mother! Really! Not impressed! What was I doing wrong, I asked myself? I knew how I wanted to look. I had the mustache and hairy chest and legs, but somehow my image kept coming across a little bit too seriously. The realisation slowly dawned that I had to stop myself from holding back, that I just had to let my head go, and revel in the whole concept of being a cock-in-a-frock, instead of trying to look like a man dressed as a woman.
In 1985, I met Stella, a.k.a. Stuart. I also met my next lover Tony. It wasn’t an auspicious beginning for a new relationship, as I was trying, as I had been trying for many months, to get Stuart into the sack. On this particular afternoon, success was within reach, with Stuart in an apt state of inebriation for seduction, and me moving in for the kill. Well, almost moving in for the kill! Tony sort of got in the way. He had been eyeing me off for most of the afternoon, and I had already gathered that he was a new boy in town – the spider moving in on the fly. He proceeded to start talking with me in the middle of the Stuart seduction, and came over so cute and naïve that by the time night settled in, I had him at home instead of my original quarry.
In some respects, I don’t regret that it happened that way. Tony ended up as my lover for the next four years – and was the main reason for my getting tested for HIV in 1985, and coming up positive (which had nothing to do with Tony) – and though he thought it was the perfect relationship, he was the only one who ever saw it through rose tinted glasses. This time, it was me who plated up…and got caught out! As for Stuart and I, well we ended up good friends, and became drag buddies after Don died – but I am getting ahead of myself here. I will introduce you to Don shortly, and more on Stuart a bit later.
By Mardi Gras 1986, Cleo’s evolution had started. I hunted around the second-hand stores, and eventually managed to find the perfect wig. It was as white-as-white, and it could be hammered into just about any style that you wanted. The wig quickly became my signature, and many years later when I gave up gutter drag, many people would not believe I had stopped until I told them I had given ‘Cleo’ – as the wig also came to be called – away.
I made a huge fishtail frock for that Mardi Gras, in the most gorgeous Thai-silk green fabric, and for the first time – though not the last – got a hairdresser friend in to style the wig. He loved working with it, and had it pulled and stretched into this fantastic wild, white storm. The frock looked great, and there were huge plumes of emerald green ostrich feathers pouring out the back of it. I did the make-up myself, and though in the transitionary phase, it looked better than it ever had before. Add a profusion of diamante jewellery, stiletto shoes, and fishnet stockings, and it was all starting to happen.
Unfortunately, the one thing I hadn’t counted on that year was rain. Mardi Gras night has traditionally been a night when you are never quite sure what the weather is going to do, and this one was no exception. Half way through the parade, the rain poured down. I decided to go home and get out of the sopping wet frock and into something dry before going on to the party. Well, my lovely emerald green ostrich feathers decided to run, didn’t they! I had skin in the most subtle shade of green. It took hours to scrub it off. I gave up feathers after that. Much too risky!
Later that year, a DJ mate of mine who worked at ‘The Oxford’ invited me to his annual colour-themed party. That year, it was ‘Green with Envy’. The object of these parties were that if you decided to go, you had to wear the specified colour, and you had to wear drag. A little leather mate of mine called Andrew was also given an invite. We all got quite a laugh out of this, as Andrew was a leather munchkin – through and through. None of us could ever have envisioned him in drag. But he wanted to go to the party. Andrew. was one of the first in my circle of friends to contract AIDS, and he spent most of his time then going in and out of hospital – more in than out. He told me he had never done drag, and he didn’t want to exit this world feeling that there was one experience that he had missed. However, he didn’t want to do it seriously, and I had to couple with him. I agreed, and together we put together this rather macho little drag number, with green wig, and army boots, and this tacky little skirt. He looked a hoot, and had the time of his life. I’m glad I spent that night with him, and I’m glad I helped him get that whole ‘thing’ together, even if my own outfit was an abomination. I hated wearing green, and decided most definitely, that if Andrew was going to look bad, I was going to look worse. I succeeded beyond all expectation! He ended up back in hospital shortly after that party, and he didn’t come back out this time. He died on Boxing Day (December 26th) that year, and I’m sad to say that he was just the first of many.
Cleo was defined by the time Sleaze Ball 1986 rolled around. She had come into her own. A persona – and for many years an icon (Yeah! Right!) – was born. Surprisingly, I didn’t wear Cleo for this event, opting instead for a no.2 buzz cut, jelled straight up into the air, and sprayed bright red. The make-up matched, with lots of red, and very unsubtle use of other bright colours. But the outfit was the defining point, and was to be how Cleo was to be seen up to the day I finally decided to hang up the heels. I spent a fortune on a leather corse – not an easy item to obtain in Sydney back in those days – and teamed it with a leather garter belt, fishnet stockings and stilettos. The jewellery was all huge and red, and over all, the effect was beyond even my expectations. That year, I was photographed at every turn, and ended up in a Sleaze Ball montage in one of the gay rags. My boss was so smitten with this sleazy, slutty, trashy look that he used the pictures in the shop’s advertising the following year. Three ‘British Airways’ boys whom I had regular threesomes with when they were in town fell in love with the ‘new’ Cleo, and proceeded to not only give her picture pride of place in a return flight to Britain, but proceeded to stick her photo up on lightpoles from one end of England to the other. This was notoriety, and I relished it!
Needless to say, for the next couple of years, I took every opportunity to put the new Cleo on show, and she created her own demand!
I was not to be a solo act for very long. The story of how Don and I came to be partnered is odd, and was a lesson for me in how easy it is to misjudge people. He was a friend of another couple I knew, Steve and Geoff. Every year, they held a large party in their Glebe terrace called ‘The Annual Port and Cheese Party’. It was a much looked-forward to event, and to get an invitation was to be ‘in the right group’,though not in a snobby way. I had met Don at ‘The Oxford’ on several occasions, and he was one of those people who on a first meeting , comes across as loud mouthed, and rather crass. It was for these reasons that I had spent a considerable amount of time avoiding him. He was one of the privileged who got an invite to the ‘Port and Cheese’, and he wanted to go in drag, so Geoff rang me up and asked me if I would make a frock for him. Now, I should point out that Geoff was someone who it was very difficult, if not impossible, to say NO to. He was one of Gods true gentlemen, and a kinder, gentler, more generous man I have never met to this day. What could I do? I gritted my teeth, and said yes!
So a couple of nights later, Don showed up on my doorstep with an armload of gold lame. As I was to find out over the next couple of nights, he was not the loudmouth that I had originally imagined him to be. Sure, he was loud, but he had a heart of gold, and a great sense of humour. He was also a bastard to fit with a frock, as I soon found out. He wanted to look really elegant, but he had this damn gut, and trying to fit him into even my largest pattern just wasn’t going to happen. I ended up making the frock to the pattern, then inserting this huge gusset into the back of the frock to get it around his stomach. I told him he might have to wear either a corset, or a longline bra. He just laughed. I also told him that I had this great hairdresser,and offered to lend him some jewellery (this was his first time in drag, after all!), but he insisted that he knew what he was doing, and he had the rest of the outfit at home. I should have argued a bit harder! He turned up at the party looking great in the frock, but the wig looked like one of his mothers rejects after a wind storm, and he wore – wait for it – plastic jewellery! I never let him live that down. Plastic jewellery on a drag queen! I mean tawdry is tawdry, but plastic is stooping too low even for gutter drag. He accessorised a lot more carefully after that party. This was also the night that I was photographed in The Oxford…and made the cover of The Star Observer!
He and I did a few drag outings together after that. There was one occasion when I stupidly allowed him to make his own frock. I never let him do that again either. It was hideous! And it was all everyone at the party we attended could do to not tell him to his face. Oh sure, they had the time of their lives behind his back, but not even an under-the-breath-mutter to his face. I have to admire queens sometimes. They’re not always bitchy! I think the most memorable of our outings was ‘The Oxford’s’ 5th birthday party in 1987. They had a themed party every year for their birthday, and that year they chose Egyptian. If you were one of the ‘regulars’ at the hotel, which meant pretty much drinking there every day and night of the week – which we did then – you were invited to a private reception with free cocktails at 2.00pm. The pub was officially opened to the general public at 3.00pm, so you made sure you got there at dead on 2.00, and got as many drinks in as you could before you had to start paying. Don and I decided to do Egyptian drag, and spent the whole night before the party putting together these fabulous Egyptian outfits from gold lurex, with lots of gold fringing and braid, and got the hairdresser over in the after noon to do the wigs up, complete with intertwined gold serpents. We really looked great, and made quite a spectacle walking from Don’s place in Darlinghurst to the pub. Nothing like a bit of street theatre in broad daylight! The look was almost perfect. Almost! Nobody warned me about the non-photogenic aspects of gold grease paint, which I had covered my entire face in. It looks green in photographs, and you can imagine my horror when the first photos appeared after the event. I looked like I had green fungus growing all over my face. Tony never let me live that little mistake down. I’m so glad he had a raging hangover the next morning. Little prick!
Don and I did a disastrous cocktail party at a serious-type drag queens place shortly after that. Same party was seriously marred by some stupid queens passing around spiked joints without checking what they were spiking them with. The party came to a very abrupt end after everyone either tried to cram into the very small toilet to throw-up, or passed out on the hostesses bed. Ah, good old 80s parties. Nothing like them for disaster, and humiliation. We were so out if it that we were caught not looking glamorous at one stage. I know! Unbelievable!
By far the best night out that Don and I did was Anzac Day ’87! We both decided to go out as Army Strumpets. So this involved mini skirts, with belted army shirts, fishnet stockings, leopard print socks and gloves, stiletto’s, and our trademark wigs with forces caps. For my part, I decided to wear a set of blue plastic inflatable tits under my shirt to make sure the boys had something to look at. Thankfully, I crammed the pump into my handbag! The night started very quietly in The Oxford…not! We both got stuck into the shots. By the time we teamed up with the rest of our battalion – my flatmate, Steve & Geoff, and another friend James we were strumpeting along nicely. It was around about this stage that I realised my tits were not going to stay fully inflated for the entirety of our bivouac. Geoff jumped in, took control of the pump, and made himself official titty pumper for the night. So just before we were about to enter any venue, we would stop outside, I would unbutton my army shirt, flop the saggy blue plastics out, and Geoff would pump them up, shirt would be rebuttoned…and we would enter said venue. And it was a long march…The Flinders, The Albury, The Unicorn, and The Paddo Green – who definitely weren’t pleased to see us due to the “macho” image of the pub…though I was mates with the owner, so a wink was exchanged, and it was “fuck you boys…we’re out for fun!”. We returned to The Oxford at some stage, in some condition only to be told that The Flinders had been looking for us as we had won a costume prize there! We never did claim it, but it went down as one of the best nights out I have ever had in Sydney.
Don only did one solo drag outing after that. I suspected that he was ill, but he was a lot worse than he let on to any of us. For once, it wasn’t HIV, which in a very perverse way a lot of us were glad about – a reality-check that people were still dying from ordinary, everyday diseases, instead of the dreaded lergy. Don was dying from stomach cancer. We worked together in the sex shop at this stage, and I often filled in his shifts when he was too ill to get in to work. I finally managed, after getting a very frightening phone call from him one night, to get him to admit himself to hospital. Most of us thought it would be a long period of palliative care for him, but as I was about to go and visit him the following night, I ran into a friend coming back from the hospital. Don had just died. I was quite devastated, as we had become quite close over the short time we had spent together, and we had so much fun doing our gutter drag together. I suddenly felt very lonely. We gave him a fitting, gay send-off, and I and another friend scattered his ashes in the Mardi Gras parade that year. We sieved all the chunky bits out, and mixed him with glitter. Nobody was aware of what was going on, but Don would have loved the thought of being sprinkled over people in the parade. He had always been a real party boy. My only misgiving was coming home from the party the next morning. I was wandering down Oxford Street, and suddenly saw the street sweepers going up the parade route. I thought to myself, with a sudden feeling of horror “My God, poor Don’s ended up in a bloody street sweeping machine!” Fortunately, and to their merit, everyone saw the funny side of it. I regaled many a dinner party with THAT story.
Stuart – or Stella to most – and I buddied up shortly after that event. Seeing as we both worked in the sex industry, we decided to throw a sex toy party at my apartment in Darlinghurst, using stock from the store to put together what might be called a deviates version of a ‘Tupperware’ party. About 200 invites went out, but with it being held on a Saturday night, we thought everyone would be too busy doing other things to turn up. Wrong! About 108 people crammed themselves into my apartment. Drag shows that we had planned – we both wore drag, naturally – had to be cancelled due to a lack of space, and we didn’t even have a table available to be able to do the dildo and vibrator demonstrations that we had planned. People flocked in from near and far to purchase sex toys of every shape and size, blow-up dolls, leather goods of every description from the shortest cockrings to the longest stock whip, S/M & B/D gear and devices, and lubes and condoms in every size, shape and flavour imaginable. We made a small fortune out of the night, and it was a good way to show the boss how good merchandising can really work.
At the end of ’88 I did a ‘Port and Cheese’ party in a Cleo-goes-punk type outfit. I had made a corset for a friend out of some black vinyl, and as payment for the job, which wasn’t difficult, he told me to keep the leftover vinyl. I made a full circle skirt with a plunging neckline corset top out of it, with a matching collar attached to the frock with chains. I spent about a week at work studding the damn thing, and I have to say it looked great, and was a huge smash at the party.
Toward the end of that year, Stella and I attended a charity party for The Far West Children’s Home at a friend’s apartment in Bondi. On a dare from another friend, we performed live, doing both a Christmas carol, and the Pointer Sisters ‘Dare Me’. Well, we brought the house down, and I don’t think many of us had laughed so much for quite a while. HIV had really taken a heavy toll on most of our lives, and many, including myself, found it best to hide all the sadness under a veneer of happiness, and a haze of cigarette smoke and alcohol. That at least made it bearable. Stella borrowed my punk frock for that party, and I never did get it back off her. Bitch! She wore it everywhere for a while after that, and I’m glad she got so much enjoyment out of it. She deserved the good times.
Our last outing together was in mid ’89. I made Stella this fabby frock out of royal blue velvet and taffeta with these huge jewelled shoulder pads. I had a mile of red loose-thread Lurex at home, and made myself this huge bubble frock with a silver and black Lurex top. We got made-up in my apartment, and as we waddled our way over to The Oxford for a drink before going on to a party, two lesbians followed us down the street, flattering us with compliments about how great we looked, that real women could never get it together to look as good as drag queens, and how well we walked in heels (it’s a weight thing, I swear!). Well, if that didn’t put the night off to a great start! Who would ever have thought that lesbians liked to see men dressed as women? Gives you something to think about, doesn’t it? Anyway, after this old guy chased me around the bar for about an hour, harassing me to go home with him for a fuck (there always has to be one, doesn’t there! I mean, if I was half ways attractive in gutter drag, I could understand it, but…) we decided to leave for the party. Halfway down Oxford Street, the next thrill for the night is about to happen, apart from dancing briefly with two police men who were silly enough to smile at us as we giggled and staggered about. Yes, the ultimate drag queen delight – a tour bus full of Japanese tourists! I don’t know who was more thrilled – the driver, or the tourists. Everyone knows that Sydney’s Oxford Street is the home of gaydom, but you just can’t expect to drive up the street, and see two drag queens coming toward you. Well let me tell you, didn’t Stella and I put on a pose-and-vogue show for all those clicking cameras. Just to think, drag photos of me not just in Britain, but in Japan as well. My image has traveled further than I have, for Gods sake! Well, we did make it to the party, but it seemed a bit of a let down after all the other events of that evening.
I have photos of Stella from that evening. The ones taken at the party show a happy, fun-loving, carefree boy. The ones at home as he is getting changed show something else entirely. I think Stella knew that night that he would never be doing this sort of thing again, and for just one instant in time, the camera caught the look that said it.
About two weeks later, Stella was admitted to the Sacred Heart Hospice in Darlinghurst. I went to visit him just before the end. He was really doped up, but was really glad to see me, and I sat on the bed and held his hand, and we reminisced about all the good times we had together. As I left his room and headed towards the elevator, I had this sudden urge to turn around. Stella was sitting up in bed, watching me leave. Our eyes locked for a second, and I knew that I would never see him again. I cried all the way home. He died the following night.
His death absolutely tore the heart out of me. First Don, now Stuart. I felt as if everything was falling apart around me. I attended two functions in drag after that, but the fun was sort of missing without a mate to share it with. Don’t get me wrong…I had a great time…after all, I was with friends. A progressive dinner with three couples – 3 in drag, 3 in dinner suits was a welcome panacea after all that had gone on. The itinerary for the night was cocktails in Glebe, entree in North Bondi, main in Bourke St Darlinghurst, and dessert in Goulburn St, Darlinghurst. The first signs of the night going down hill rapidly occurred when one of the drag artistes – for some unknown reason – decided that in the absence of hairspray, they would spray there wig with hobby glue. Naturally, the fumes from said glue caused the artistes eyes to run copiously…which resulted in make-up running everywhere. So there were frequent stops in bathrooms to repair damage…only to hav.e it happen again et al. I had not stopped to think of how hard it would be to prepare a main with nails on. I admire anyone who can, so that took forever. Heedless to say, ,copious amounts of alcohol were consumed at every stop, so by the time we got to dessert in Darlington Towers we were totally sloshed. Evidently we made so much noise that someone in the building called the police! All us girls screamed, and disappeared into the bathroom giggling drunkenly, leaving the butch (not!) boys to handle the cops.
The final party I attended with “the group” was in Glebe, and was a 50s party. Two of my ex’s decided to stir me up by both attending together in drag. That was a laugh. A friend attended as “an orphan baby dumped on the doorstep”…literally. I’m glad I went. I had a great time but there was a sadness in the air, a feeling of something completing its course and coming to an end. Geoff died not long after this, so life as we had known it at Glebe ceased.
My 36th birthday was in early 1990. I decided to throw a party to sell off all the drag and costumes that I had accumulated over the years. My health wasn’t the best at the time, perhaps because I smoked 100 cigarettes a day and drank myself into oblivion every night, or perhaps because HIV had decided that it was my turn. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t maintain my weight, and my energy would give out very quickly. I hoped that I would see my 40th birthday (at that time, 50 definitely seemed out of the question), but even that hope was in doubt. I dressed myself in drag for the last time, using all borrowed items except for the famous wig. By the time the last person left my apartment that night, there would not be a scrap of drag, a single accessory, shoe, bag, piece of jewellery, fragment of fabric or a pair of laddered pantyhose left in the place. A friend called Philip (or Phyllis, as he preferred to be called) was the last to leave, and as he went out the door, I yelled at him to come back for a second. As he turned around, I pulled Cleo off my head, and threw her to him, saying simply “Give her a good time. She deserves it”.
So Cleo hung up her heels. It was time to exorcise some of the past, and move on. I had spent too much time feeling disempowered. It was time to empower myself, and get my life back into some order. There was a group of eighteen of us that used to hang out in one corner of ‘The Oxford’. It was our corner, and if we were around, nobody else would come near it. Well, there were only six of us left at that stage. Fucking virus! It was a sure means of depleting your social circle. There were still times when I wished I didn’t have to remember people and things, that memories were more like a curse. I wished I could just leave everything in the past where it belonged. Life just didn’t happen that way. Then I thought it was maybe my gift to remember them, to tell all their stories and keep their memories alive in some way. You see, none of them ended up with headstones, and none had books written about them. This was perhaps the only testament to their lives. I think those memories were my tribute to their fun, their love of life, and their bravery. Without them, I would never have been the person I was, and I would never have experienced life the way I did. I realised then that none of us is the sum of our whole existence; we were the sum of a whole lot of people who floated into our lives, and floated out, and profoundly changed things forever. If I had ever been afraid to die, I no longer was. Through dying, I would have been meeting up with them again, having a good old gossip, and discussing what frocks we were going to wear to the next party. I firmly believed that. I believed that after you died, you were reunited with everyone and everything you had ever loved. At least I had that hope to hang onto.
Fuck, I needed it!
And now I need a fucking drink!
FOOTNOTE: It is now mid 2001, and I am still alive. I have seen my 40th birthday (just!), and am only three years away from 50. It hasn’t been an easy time. I have been disabled by AIDS, and was whisked (literally) from the arms of death in 1996 when they started me on the then new combination therapy. I have never done drag since that final party, and I don’t think the peripheral neuropathy in my feet would take too kindly to me levering my poor toes into stilettos these days. But I have all the photos (and all the memories) from those days, and I often look through them for both a laugh and a cry. I am attending The University of Technology in Sydney at the moment, hoping to finish my Graduate Diploma in Writing around my 51st birthday. Part of my writing has been to put the memories of these people onto paper. They were wonderful friends, and a true inspiration, and I want their memories to live on. This is my tribute to them.
And as much as I hate to admit it, there is in the life of every gutter drag quean those rare occasions where errors of taste and sins of design occur. Not one to want you all to think it was a life of glamour – I offer you Cleo’s blooper reel * Cringes and hangs head in shame*.
Cleo loves ya, baby!
“What an irrational, ecstatic, erotic, silly, FUN thing dancing is.”1
In 1977, I wandered into a record store in Granville, and discovered, hidden to one side of the female vocalist long-plays, a small selection of the, until then, unheard of 12” singles. I walked out of the store with a copy of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” – at the exorbitant price of $2.99 – under my arm, and thus started what has been for me, a continuing love of dance music.
Around the same time, I started to frequent the city’s discos, usually starting my night out at “Downunder” in the Hyatt Kingsgate in King’s Cross. Then, if I was feeling adventurous, I would wander down to “The Zoo” in William Street or over to “Jools” in Crown Street. On odd occasions I wandered down Darlinghurst Road in the Cross and passed by a gay disco called “Zig Zag”. How I longed to enter that glitzy, glittery doorway, complete with camp spruiker, but fear always stopped me just short of a grand entrance. A lesbian friend of mine, who my father thought was my girlfriend – and he hoped that I would marry – had taken me to Oxford Street on a number of ‘dates’. Even though we never went into any of the discos situated there (a gay friend of hers owned a coffee bar in Bourke Street called “Nana’s”, and she went there primarily to socialise with Nana, and his friend, Cupcake). I can still remember all the exotic names. There was “Patchs”, “Flo’s Palace”, “Tropicana”, “The Barrel Inn”, “Tina’s Bar” and “Capriccio’s”, not to mention a street teeming with male sexuality – at least, as sexual as the 70’s were able to get.! I would wander back home on my own at 6.00 in the morning, depressed and with the dread that I was, eventually, going to die a virgin. Fortunately, my luck was about to change.
In late 1978, my father killed himself. This act on its own would not have been enough to prompt my ‘coming out’, despite him being the main cause of all my sexual repression, but it did imbue me with an immense feeling of freedom. A national retail company that I worked for at the time asked me, in late 1979, if I would like to spend some time in Melbourne to troubleshoot their two retail stores there. Two days after they asked, I found myself on a plane to Melbourne. I also found myself, blessedly, far from friends and family. No observers, no critics. I was answerable to nobody but myself. I ‘came out’ – definitely with a bang, not with a whimper! As a means to an end – in that it would give me contacts on the gay scene – I joined a collective of gay Catholics, becoming a member of a group called “Acceptance” and after that there was no holding me back. I was 25 and damned horny, and any male that was half decent looking and capable of walking was my prey. I was free at last!
The first gay disco I attended which taught me the meaning of ‘cruising’ – and that you had on occasions to say no to someone’ – was also the place I picked up my first man. Or more correctly, he picked me up – and I discovered that I liked older men of a certain type – he wasn’t the type. No worries, there were plenty more nights, and plenty more men, to come. I also discovered around the early 80’s a huge discrepancy in the way 70’s music was being historically treated. All of the music documentaries I saw that covered that period stated that disco music had died in 1978, with the temporary closure of ‘Studio 54’ – it rather unsuccessfully continued its existence until 1986 – and with the advent of ‘New Wave’ music. How misinformed they were! Disco music never died. It did, however, undergo a huge shift in sound to Hi-Energy, and style (the advancement of drum machines guaranteed a continuous, accurate beat, and provided a heavy drum/percussion background to modern dance music), then moved itself underground to the care of the sector of the community who could love and cherish it the way it deserved. It became a gay icon!
So started my life as a gay male. Like Sydney, Melbourne had its own underground gay press, and its underground gay scene. It wasn’t hard to get the local gay rags, you just had to know where to go. It was often a bit more difficult, however, finding the gay venues. The people may have been ‘out’, but the venues weren’t. Through the press, I started reading about a disco in St. Kilda called “Mandate”. Deciding that I liked the sound of any disco with the word ‘man’ in it, I decided on a night out there. Friends had already introduced me to places like “The University Club” in Collins Street in the city, where after 3am all the gay cabbies were on the prowl, and only too willing to give you a free ride home in return for a ‘favour’. There was also the young trendy “Smarties” in North Melbourne, the very butch “The Laird” hotel in Collingwood, “Ryders” in Fitzroy, and the drag queen haven of “Pokies” in St. Kilda. But they were nothing compared to “Mandate”! The gay scene was spread over a wide area in Melbourne, unlike the gay ghetto that eventuated in Sydney – and I now think it may be the one reason why the gay scene remained ‘gay’ in Melbourne, long after it started turning straight in Sydney. I was often less afraid to go to gay venues in the southern city, because if the straight boys wanted to go ‘poofter baiting’, it would have cost them a fortune in petrol, and it was too much of a hassle to drive from suburb to suburb, so one usually went unmolested, no matter which venue you went to.
The first time I went to Mandate, I walked past the entry door about six times. It’s not that a door wasn’t there, it’s just that it wasn’t wide open and there was no sign telling me to knock. I suddenly realised, after watching others enter, that I had to announce to the ‘door bitch’ that I wished to enter after being ‘checked out’ through a small covered window in the door. If I passed muster, which wasn’t a problem, being young and pretty, I got straight in. And I walked into another world! There was a small ticket office at the bottom of a flight of stairs. After paying the couple of dollars it cost to get in, I climbed the stairs, ignoring the sexual exploits going on under my feet. I then entered male paradise! The bar was set up directly to the left of the entrance door. If I turned to the right, I headed toward a huge cruising area, with a dance floor at the far end. There was a narrow, ‘L’ shaped area running around the dance floor filled in with metal bars, and it was in the cruise area behind these bars that I had my first experience with public sex. And enjoyed it! But that really wasn’t why I was there. It was the copper dance floor spread with a layer of talcum powder – to give it slip; the incredible light show; the constant, primitive driving beat of dance music that kept me riveted there; boys stripped down to the waist, covered in sweat; the ever-circling amyl bottle, and the blast of whistles to tracks like “Rock Your Body” by 202 Machine, “Hills of Katmandu” by Tantra, “Don’t Stop the Train” by Phyllis Nelson, “You Can” by Madleen Kane and “Hit ‘n Run Lover” by Carol Jiani. I would take a huge whack of amyl up my nose, spinning out on the floor for a few seconds. I would inevitably end the night in somebody’s bed, usually not my own. If I was lucky, they might speak to me again and if I was really lucky, I might fall in love for two weeks. That’s all it was about! The lights; the dancing; the naked flesh; the sweat and the sex. It was intoxicating! I became a clone and revelled in the tribal symbolism of ‘belonging’.
The Aussie gay clone could not have happened anywhere else except in the sub-cultures of the gay community. No.1 or no.2 haircuts, handlebar moustaches, ‘Bonds’ tee shirts or singlets, flannelette shirts, Levi ‘501’ Red Tab jeans and boots, “King Gee” shorts. It was a uniform, and it was gay. After years of stereotyping gay men as effete, arty, and poncey, we fought back with a macho extreme. By day, I was a mild, well-mannered retail manager, with a somewhat extreme haircut, and a pierced ear – its extremism reaching even the upper echelons of power in Sydney and almost costing me my job. But by night, I came into my own as a nightclub clone – the term nightclub was preferred to disco by this time. Many adopted the ‘Village People’ look of hardhats or ‘Akubra’s’, and as far as most of us were concerned in the nightclubs, all this type of regalia was totally acceptable and part of the clone persona. The gay elite – read: old and conservative – were aghast at this new, unabashed sexuality, writing tomes into the gay rags about how we were adopting straight stereotypes to exhibit our own lack of masculinity. I wrote a letter into “Campaign” newspaper – it had not achieved magazine status at this time – accusing them of being ‘cloneophobes’, sadly locked in their tired, conservative, in-the-closet- sexuality, listening to their Shirley Bassey and Barbra Streisand records, unable to express themselves as gay men, as the new, younger generation were doing. This new generation of gay was no longer content to have circuit dinner parties, or arrange nights at the theatre or the opera. They had a new freedom, which was being expressed, with revelry, through our nightclubs. Nobody wrote back to argue with me. The battle for the rights of clones was won!
In early 1982, news from overseas was filtering through via the gay press that rare forms of pneumonia – called PCP – and a cancer called Karposi’s Sarcoma, were killing gay men – seemingly very selective diseases, only picking on a minority group who were sexually ‘different’ – who frequented the baths and backrooms in San Francisco. Like everyone else at this time, I thought “Oh yeah, another STD to worry about. Can’t be any worse than the crabs, or a dose of the clap. They’ll find a pill for it”. It didn’t turn out quite that way. At the same time, I decided I had had enough of Melbourne. I couldn’t have coped with another winter down there. I was homesick for the beautiful harbour. News from the Sydney gay community was of boom times, a scene very much tied into what was happening in Melbourne. ‘Capriccio’s’ caught fire, ‘Patchs’ caught fire, and ‘Tropicana’ caught fire. Sydney was literally burning. It didn’t sound like a thriving scene if one relied on reports in the ‘Sydney Star’ newspaper, but visitors from Sydney raved about the new venues replacing those that had been incinerated, especially the ‘Midnight Shift’, which had risen like a phoenix out of the ashes of ‘Tropicana’.
I yearned for my birth city. I fell in love with a ‘bear’ from Waverton who was visiting Melbourne, and decided to move back north. The bear turned out to be a psychotic, but that’s another story. I fucked him off, moved into a unit – with harbour views – in Neutral Bay, flatting with a radio announcer from 2SM a a plutonic relationship, I can assure you – and proceeded to get on with life. I joined the soon to be defunct Gay Rights Lobby – defunct because we obtained gay rights. We gained the right to have sex with another man without being arrested, and anti-discrimination laws were set in place. I decided to be apolitical from then on – until HIV came along anyway. The gay ghetto of Oxford St – ‘The Golden Mile”, or “Vaseline Alley”, depending on who you were talking to – was a seething mass of depravity, deviancy and sexuality. I automatically felt at home, joining in with gusto. It was also wall-to-wall clones. I felt doubly at home. Like most people in Sydney, I had my regular haunts. Not for me were wasted hours of hot, steamy sex in the baths, or the cravings for anonymous sex in the gloryholed back-rooms and sex clubs like Club 80, that many frequented. I had only visited the baths once, and that was to get off with a friend of the ‘bear’s’, who I met while I was still living with him. Don’t get me wrong, I never wanted for sex! But more on that later.
Until The Oxford hotel opened in 1982, my Saturday night out always started at The Albury. In some respects, The Albury has never changed. Clientele would be spilling out onto the footpath by 10 PM, and drag shows are synonymous with the place. If you were into the leather scene, your haunt would be The Beresford, but a fire in that hotel around ’84 changed its character forever, and the leather brigade moved on. I met my third long-term lover at The Albury, really a substitute for the guy I was actually after – his flatmate John. I hoped that by having a ‘thing’ with Frank, perhaps, by some perverse stroke of luck, I might eventually be screwed by John. It never happened, though John and I ended up good friends. However, Frank’s reign as my partner was only to last until I realised that there was a world of men out there for the taking. I was missing out on too many opportunities and his bleached hair and tinted eyelashes became too artificial for my liking. I dumped him!
So, as I said, The Oxford opened in late 1982. It became a clone haven overnight, and was my regular watering hole for the next fifteen years. I survived two of its reincarnations, but the third was just too much, a little too trendy for its old clientele. But in 1982, it was heaven, a paradise of the latest dance music, and the hottest, sweatiest men. One thing I will always say about gay men – it doesn’t take much encouragement to get them to start removing their gear. It was also home to several Oxford Street institutions – well, institutions at the time, anyway. Dexter was an idea stolen by one of the pub managers after visiting the States. It was an electronically controlled penis that sat on a trapeze hung from the ceiling toward the back of the pub. Underneath the ‘head’ was a mouth, the entire apparatus being controlled from the dj’s box, tucked away against the west wall of the main bar. At designated times during the night, some popular dance track like “Maybe This Time” by Norma Lewis would start playing, the trapeze would start swinging, and Dexter would go into a full mime routine. Very camp. Dexter’s demise came about after some Yank visitors to our fair city went back to the States and dobbed us into the copyright owners. They threatened to sue if Dexter didn’t hang up his balls, so the next thing we knew, he was gone. As far as I know, he is still packed away with a heap of other props in the roof of The Oxford.
Regular Saturday night visitors to The Oxford were ‘The Planet Sluts’. These guys were really over the top as far as gutter drag goes, being the models that I eventually used to put Cleo, my own gutter persona, together. They would appear from nowhere, often accompanied by the blessed Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. There would be frocks for days, wigs backcombed to within an inch of their life, make-up and moustaches that were totally over the top. They would barge their way through the front door, climb up onto the bar, and mime to whatever dance number happened to be going at that time. I always wanted to be a member of that troupe, but as with all these groups, it was all very cliquey. I did have the privilege of fucking with Carl, out of ‘Carla and the Cosmetics’; a drag trio who used to perform at ‘The Honest Irishman’ at Camperdown. It is a claim to fame that probably only I and Carl remain alive to remember. So that would be how most nights started out.
However, this wasn’t just how things started out on a Saturday night, or Saturday and Sunday night for that matter! In those bad, bad old days, I went out every night of the week. I didn’t work to live, and I certainly didn’t live to work. I worked to earn enough money to dance, party, and play the game hard. I went out seven nights a week, often not getting home until 3-4am, getting up at 7am to get to work, then going back out again at 10pm to repeat the cycle. There were many mornings that I turned up at work straight from some piece of trades home. But every night, the pub was just a prelude to what was to follow at The Midnight Shift. If I had enough sense, I’d leave The Oxford at 11pm to go to The Midnight Shift. I would always walk down the left-hand side of Oxford Street, as walking down the right-hand side meant I had to pass “Frenchs”, which was a skinhead hangout. They had a reputation for harassing gays passing by on their own, so I avoided it as much as possible. Being an observer to a number of punch-ups right outside its doors, I had no desire to have my night ruined by any such carry-on. The Shift, as it was affectionately known, had been a pinball parlour in the early 70s, became Club 85 (its street address) in the mid 70s, then Tropicana from the mid 70s up till the fire in ’82, soon after becoming what it still is – The Midnight Shift. It was the nightclub of the clone/macho set.
If I arrived at 11pm, I’d be able to walk straight in. If I left it any longer, which I often did if the alcohol was kicking in early, or the DJ was playing a string of favourites, I queued. Not that queuing was a problem. It gave me a chance to start the night’s cruising, the street being a good place to get in the mood to party. Standing in line with the others, usually with friends, we’d stare blankly into the display window of the manchester store, situated at the left of The Shift’s staircase. The queue more often than not would go back as far as Crown Street. To the right of the staircase was a supermarket, and from 11pm onwards, you could hear its glass doors rattling from the bass of the music upstairs. Like everybody else, I would eventually find myself climbing the long, steep staircase, my senses being assaulted by the music pounding through the walls. Then I would be at the top, ready to pay the entry fee, and enter the inner sanctum. The Shift had a very strict dress code – you either looked macho, or like a clone, or you were banned from entry. We had fought so hard for acceptance of this image, even from our own peer group, that we basically encouraged this sort of stereotyping of The Shifts clientele to maintain the image. This was no world for the well-dressed businessman or the city trendy in Hawaiian shirt and pleated pants. People only got in wearing denim jeans – preferably 501’s – “Bonds” singlets or tee shirts, or flannelette shirts. This and leather! Nothing else was appropriate. We all had the obligatory no.1 (street hardened boys who worked and lived in the ghetto), or no. 2 (guys who had to work, and couldn’t risk being too out) haircuts, nearly everyone having a moustache of one description or another. Back pockets of jeans usually carried a bunch of keys; in the left pocket if you liked to fuck guys (active) or; in the right pocket if you liked to be fucked (passive). Preference was often for a coloured handkerchief or bandana in the respective pocket, the colour giving others a coded invitation as to what you were into – Navy blue-straight sex; red-fist fucking; yellow-water sports; black-S&M; grey-B&D; khaki-uniforms; and white-masturbation (though this later came to signify safe sex). As for me, well, I wore navy blue, and my keys were always in my right pocket. Some guys also liked to carry small teddy bears in either pocket, signifying that for that night at least, they were into either cuddling or being cuddled. There was a strength in that clone sameness, that stripping away of ‘straight’ stereotypes, a feeling that everyone in the nightclub was equal, and male. The Shift only allowed men to enter its hallowed walls…
Seeing as I have managed to get you to the door- you must have had the regulation uniform on, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered getting you this far – feel I should give you a quick guided tour before leaving you to your own devices. To the left of the doorway is the main bar, named ‘Charlie’s Bar’, at least up until Charlie died, early in the AIDS epidemic. It is ‘L’ shaped, and dominated by the dimly lit bar, which is packed. There are four barmen behind the bar, all going flat-strap serving drinks. In an alcove to the left of the bar a guy is smoking a joint, and another sniffing a line of speed from the bar’s corner. As we wonder through the bar (cruising) we come to another doorway on our left. Music is roaring out of it, and as we push our way through the crush of sweat-soaked men (cruising), we find ourselves on a large platform, which overlooks the dance floor. There are rails around it, with several sets of stairs leading down to the extravagantly lit dance space. I pull you to the left, then we wonder along a narrow corridor to one side of the dance floor. This is called the ‘Meat Rack’, being where guys stand if they are not dancing, and are definitely available to be picked up. Unfortunately, it has gained something of a reputation for only having desperadoes as its clientele, those who have little chance of being picked up in the better lit areas, feeling they might be luckier in the dimmer zones. I take you past the dj’s box (cruising), glancing in through the huge glass window. Steven Cribb is playing. No wonder the floor is packed and raging. He is the current supremo amongst our disc jockeys, having earned himself a reputation as a dance floor God. His beat (continuous) mixing is flawless. He can mix a 118BPM record into a 128BPM record, and you would never know a mix was happening until the track change. His music has made The Shift THE place to be on the weekends. However, I am going to keep you off the floor for a while until we finish our tour. We go down several steps, and we find ourselves in a barn-like area, set up with long tables, and benches. There is a bar at the back, but not a lot of people use it. The area is very dimly lit, and it doesn’t take much straining of the ears to deduce that the place is humming with sexual energy. If you glance into that corner, you can see a guy giving another a blowjob, with a similar activity going on only several feet away from them. Instead of taking you up the back for a more intimate look, I will drag you through this door to the left. There is a toilet to the right of us. This toilet is actually used as a loo, or you want to share some drugs around. A corridor is to our left, leading us past the DJs box, then back to the main bar area. As we exit the corridor, you will notice another corridor to the right. This corridor leads past the cloakroom, then the manager’s office – do you want a bottle of “Rush”? I know the owners, so it won’t be a problem – then around a corner to the ‘other’ set of toilets. These are the ones that are used for sex. Don’t confuse the two! Nothing will piss a queen of quicker than having to have a piss, and finding someone getting off in the wrong loo. Now that you know where everything is – you’re going to THOSE toilets, eh – well I guess we’re here for different things – I’m going to love you and leave you. The dance floor calls (cruising). Steven has just put on Yvonne Elliman’s “Love Pains”. Have beat, must dance!..
On most Saturday nights, you could stand in the bar and listen to Steven taking us into a different world with his often impossible mixes. He would mix from “Love Pains” to Eastbound Expressways “Primitive Desire” as people headed onto the dance floor. With its growly under-chant of ‘You Tarzan, me Jane’, it was a dance floor favourite; a definite floor filler. I was often entranced by the lighting technicians, as they started the strobes flashing, and filled the floor with fog. Overhead, eight various sized mirror balls would be clustered together, reflecting multi-coloured flashes of light from the sate-lites and vari-lites situated nearby. A techie would start the sate-lite whirling and flashing through the fog. Suddenly, I would find myself in another world. Stephen would mix “Primitive Desire” into Miquel Brown’s “So Many Men, So Little Time” (This morning, I open my eyes, and everything is still the same. I turn to the guy who stayed last night, and ask him “what’s your name?”). There would be whelps and yahoos from all corners of the room. Suddenly, I would find that I cannot move on the floor. Somebody might hand me a bottle of amyl, and I would take a huge snort of it, placing my thumb over the top to stop the liquid from spilling as we dance around. For a few seconds, my head may spin, the dance beat would become all pervasive, driving everyones feet into a frenzy of sleazy dance. I would find that some guy next to me had stripped off his sweaty tee shirt, and is sharing an ethyl soaked handkerchief with another dancer, also stripped to the waist. More fog would be pumped onto the floor as Miquel is mixed into Hazell Dean’s anthemic “Searchin’ (I Got to Find A Man)”. More hoots and hollers – this is something everyone related to – (Searchin’, looking for love, every place I can, searchin’, looking for love, I got to find me a man). On the speakers at two corners of the dance floor, guys in Speedo’s are dancing with 3’ gold fans, rotating, spinning, and intertwining the fans to the beat of the music. Hours of rehearsal in front of the mirror at home are paying off! Guys standing within range either duck to avoid the spinning fans, or move completely out the way. Steven has the floor ultra hot! God only knows how long it will be before he puts on something to give everyone a break. He has had me on the floor for two to three hours at a time without a break before tonight. This is the magic that a good DJ can spin. He will then mix in the huge anthem of Norma Lewis’s “Maybe This Time” (Maybe this time I’ll be lucky, maybe this time he’ll stay), and the whole dance floor will turn handbag, at last a short break from the endless, relentless beat of Hi-NRG. Often you would find a couple of guys have stripped down to jock straps, and are weaving their way around the floor, their butts glistening with sweat. The pervasive odours are of sweat, testosterone and amyl. This is a domain only male animals can love, and we do! Steven will go for the pull of an oldie with Shirley Lites “Heat You Up, Melt You Down” (I’ll heat you up, I’ll melt you down, let’s do it, do it, do it, come on baby, I’ll heat you up, I’ll melt you down), and I may yell at the memories the track invokes. Oh Romeos “These Memories” (These memories, these memories haunting me) follows, then Earlene Bentley’s “Boy’s Come to Town” (When the boy’s come to town around midnight, I’m gonna find one, take him home. When the boy’s come to town around midnight, I won’t spend the night alone), following this with Divine’s gay anthem “You Think You’re A man” (You think you’re a man, but you’re only a boy. You think you’re a man, you are only a toy. You think you’re a man, but you just couldn’t see. You’re not man enough to satisfy me) then brings the beat down to Princess’s “Say I’m Your Number 1”, which gives some of us an escape route to get to the bar to replenish our drinks before he builds the beats up again.
I would often cruise a guy on the dance floor. He would, hopefully, stand next to me at the bar, and glance at me out of the corner of his eye. My taste ran to navy blue ‘Bonds” singlet, thus anybody who had one on, a greater stimulation if they are so old and well worn that they are more indigo than navy, and worn with a pair of 501’s. If nobody else comes along, you both have already created a frisson. I watch him as he picks up his drink. He smiles at me as he turns from the bar. I check out his butt as he walks back towards the dance area. Nice! Denim-clad. Right up my alley. I have this thing about mid-thirties to early forties guys (I’ll never be that old!). Being young and pretty, I have no problems getting picked up by anyone I fancy.
If I want a break from dancing, I will pull up a stool to the doorway between the main bar and dance area. Just sit, looking like a real sleazy, cruising slut. It works every time. I find older men much sexier than guys my own age, they are more confident than my own peer group. They also don’t throw you out on the street five minutes after you cum, preferring someone to cuddle up to during the night, and usually cooking you breakfast the next morning. Gay life can be a very lonely life sometimes, especially as you get older. They have a network of guys in the same age group, and if you have been good sex – and who my age isn’t! -, the word is passed along, which makes picking up an easy job for a while.
I get my drink, then move to the corner to speak to some mates. They offer me a line of speed, but tell me I will have to go to the toilets to take it. The manager has warned them that the cops are doing one of their token raids on the place, but the right amounts of money have been placed in the right hands, so provided nothing obvious is going on, things will be fine. I disappear into the toilet with one of the guys, and we sniff speed off the top of the cisterns through a rolled fifty-dollar note. This should keep me going for a few hours. He says he will have some MDA next week, maybe with a bit of luck some crystal meth. I tell him to keep me some MDA. The fucking stuff makes me so horny I could fuck my way through a football team.
Just after I returned to Sydney, I went out with some friends one night. I was a bit of a drug ‘virgin’ at the time, always having a slight fear of them. One of the guys gave me a ‘moggie’ (Mogodon), and said if I had plenty of alcohol to drink, and forced myself past the sleepy stage, I would have the best time. Yeah, sure! I sat down just for a little minute and got woken up by the doorman several hours later, telling me the place was closing. I have never done that again I can assure you. If money gets a bit tight, I will wonder up to “Rely’s” pharmacy in Oxford Street, and they will sell me a bottle of pseudo-ephedrine tablets – under-the-counter, of course – for a few dollars. I can get a cheap thrill very much like speed from these. It is better than nothing for a night out, despite playing hell with the water-works.
I return to the dance area, and my eyes are like stoplights. I sort of hope for a quick pick-up, like I had last week. A guy just walks up to me and says, “Do you want to go home and fuck?” This is the entire intro I get until we get back to his place in William Street. I find out I have seen him in an ad on TV. I wish pick-ups could always that easy. Beats sitting around playing games for hours. Suddenly, there is a break in the music. There is the soft ‘hiss’ of smoke being pumped onto the dancefloor, the soft hum of sate-lights and vari-lights being manipulated into position. The strobes start a soft pulse. There is a quiet squeak from the mirror-balls as they start to revolve. The air is electric. Something major is about to happen! From the 20,000 watts of speakers spread over the four corners of the dance floor issues the voice of Gloria Gaynor, an almost whispered “I am what I am, I am my own special creation, so come take a look, give me the hook, or the ovation. It’s my world that I want to have a little pride in, my world that’s not a place I have to hide in. Life’s not worth a damn, ‘til you can say – I am what I am”. Chaos reigns. People run from everywhere in a mad frenzy. We are all on the floor for the biggest gay anthem of all time. Poppers are going from hand to hand, and everyone prepares for the explosion of sound, indicating that the track is about to rage. The lights all go up at once, rainbows of brilliant colour reflect through the smoke. Guys with tambourines circuit the borders of the floor beating them on the palms of their hands to the beat – the first time I took a tambourine onto the floor, I came home with a bruise from the top of my arse, down to my knee. God, it hurt! – the fan dancers take up their positions on the speakers, and everyone starts to blow whistles. It is a wonderful insanity. It is a song about our own lives, the pride and freedom we are still fighting for, the exhilaration of being what we are! We are all as one for the duration of this one track. Gloria Gaynor is Goddess! Steven mixes the heavy drum beat intro of Dee Martin’s “Lover Why?” into “I Am What I Am”. A frenetic pace is being set for the next hour. This will be a long tiring night.
But then the guy I have been cruising joins me on the dance floor, and I think that maybe I’m not so tired after all. At 3 AM, there is another sudden stop with the music, but only for a change of beat. Wind-down is about to start. Everyone is tired and sweaty, though those on speed and MDA sweat for reasons other than dancing. The beautiful low-beat guitar strums of Chaka Khan’s anthem “Ain’t Nobody” throbs through the silence (Ain’t nobody does it better, makes me happy, makes me feel this way. Ain’t nobody does it better than you), then mixes into the fabulous choir styled “Life In a Northern Town” by Dream Academy. The opening notes of Brenda Starr’s “Tonight I’m Gonna Make You a Star” gets the two-hour wind down off to a slow, sleazy start.. Those who were here for just the Hi-NRG leave to go home, or perhaps to traipse up to the Taxi Club for some gambling and drag acts. The die-hards like myself, and my potential evening’s trade start to sleaze dance to the slower beats of the music. It gets a bit more commercial with The Thompson Twins “Hold me Now” being followed by Spandau Ballet’s “Gold”; Patti Labelle’s “Oh, People” – all too soon to become almost a funeral anthem- and “On My Own”; Gazebo’s beautiful Italo sleaze track “Masterpiece” are concessions to gay romanticism. My friend grips me on the butt, and pulls me in close. Most people have left The Shift by 4am, though my trade and myself don’t leave till 5am.
I find it is a bit of culture shock finding yourself on an almost empty Oxford Street in the early hours of the morning. Before I get him home, the sun will be rising, but it is Sunday morning, and I only need a couple of hour’s sleep before I start to get ready for tonight. Sometimes, especially at this hour, I wonder if this is not an addiction, like my cigarettes. But like my smoking, I’m not yet willing to give it up. I am young, and I just want to party, and party! If I have my way, this will never stop, and neither will I.
FOOTNOTE: Just after I returned to Sydney in 1982, I contracted a mysterious illness, very flu-like, but much more severe than any flu’s that were around at that time. Doctors were mystified, and the symptoms disappeared as quickly as they had begun. I never gave it another thought, and it wasn’t until 1985 that it was recognised as sero-conversion illness for HIV.
Timothy Alderman C 2003 @ C2013