Viscount Cornbury: The Crossdressing Consul

Lord_CornburyJust being true to his Queen.

In colonial days in the British-occupied Americas, each colony had its own assembly to discuss and oversee the crown’s business (i.e. raping resources, subjugating indigenous people, taxing settlers, etc) in the colonies.  These unelected bodies of British landed gentry met frequently and opened with all the pomp and circumstance of the opening of a parliament.  Each was presided over by a governor.

The Honourable Edward Hyde, titled Viscount Cornbury and Third Earl of Clarendon, was appointed Governor of New Jersey and New York in 1701, and when he opened the New York Assembly of 1702, he certainly made sure it was a colourful occasion.  For in walked Viscount Cornbury – wearing a beautiful hooped gown, an elaborate headdress atop a female wig, and carrying a ladies fan, in the same style that Queen Anne carried.

Despite the infamous English “stiff upper lip” and the gentry’s usual politeness of saying nothing, there was open consternation at his choice of dress, and some lords told Cornbury straight to his face that they were far from happy with him.  Their words were met with derisory laughter from Cornbury, who replied “You are all very stupid people not to see the propriety of it all. In this place and occasion, I represent a woman, and in all respects I ought to represent her as faithfully as I can.”

Cornbury had already made many enemies brown-nosing and bribing his way up the ladder, and was widely regarded as a cad.  He certainly had delusions of grandeur, as he liked to be referred to as His High Mightiness.  Quite bold for a man who had been in debtors prison when he inherited the Earldom of Clarendon upon his father’s death.  In 1688 he had married Lady Katherine O’Brien, daughter of Lord Ibracken in a clandestine ceremony and apparently very much against her father’s wishes.  There is evidence he bribed his way into his governorship.  During his tenure he was accused by his detractors of misappropriating £1500 meant for the defence of New York Harbour.  It was also bizarrely claimed to have invited guests to feel his wife’s ears, to discern just how “shell-like” they were.

Now that he had appeared publicly in female attire, he merely supplied his enemies with more ammunition.  He was described as “a fop and a wastrel”, a “pervert” who “spent half his time in women’s clothes”, and with unsubstantiated sensationalism which modern red top newspaper reporters would be envious today, some claimed that he lurked behind trees, dressed as a woman and would “pounce, shrieking with laughter, on his victims”.

Lady Katherine died in 1707 and Viscount Cornbury apparently attended his wife’s funeral dressed as a woman.  That was the final straw for the colonists.  Many had already complained about Cornbury, and now petitions to Queen Anne came flooding in.  She promptly removed him from office, ordering him back to England.

In 2000, author Patricia U Bonomi claimed in The Politics of Reputation in British America that there was no proof Cornbury had ever dressed as a woman and all the claims were based upon rumour.  However, were that true, just how did such a rumour get started?  Are we to doubt the word of those who attended the opening of the New York Assembly of 1702 and saw the proof with their own eyes?  Or those who were so angered at Cornbury attending his wife’s funeral dressed as a woman that they were moved to petition Queen Anne?  Add to this the portrait (above) of Lord Cornbury in female attire, which hangs in the New York Historical Society to this day.  Phillip Davenport-Hines, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, insists that the portrait of Cornbury is a true likeness of the time, and has dismissed Bunomi’s claims as “inconclusive”.

I think we can all agree therefore that Viscount Cornbury was indeed fond of celebrating ‘his queen’; and I’m not talking about Anne here.  You know what I mean, doncha, girls.

One of the greatest ironies is that as manly as Cornbury looks in that portrait, if you’ve ever seen a painting of Queen Anne, you’ll realise that he was quite a looker compared to her.  Anne was one of the most unattractive queens to ever grace the British throne.

And were all the above not enough, get ready for the postscript.  The title of the man who was appointed to replace Cornbury was – Baron Lovelace.

Oooh, but then, don’t we all, dears?

Trans Charity: Our Lives are Not a Drag

A hate crime?

This is a hate crime?

Only Chrysalis are equating drag with trans.

Derian House is a charity which runs a hospice for children with life-shortening terminal diseases and conditions.  Situated near Chorley, Lancashire, in England, they are at the forefront of providing activities for terminally-ill children, palliative care, respite, bereavement services and other support for around 500 children and their families.  Needless to say, this high level of care and support does not come cheap, and with only a small amount of their annual £300 million plus budget coming from government, Derian House is highly reliant upon charity from public donations and through fundraising activities.

So it was with the goal of raising funds in mind that Derian House decided to hold a “Dames on the Run” fun race, where men would hold a 5km race while dressed as ‘pantomime dames’, i.e. as outlandishly and flamboyantly as possible.  All a bit of harmless fun which aims to raise much-needed money for an extremely worthwhile cause, you may think?  Well, not according to transgender charity Chrysalis, it seems.

On Thursday, 20th August, Chrysalis lodged and an official complaint with Lancashire Police, alleging that Derian House were committing a hate crime by ridiculing trans people through their charity run, which they call “dehumanising”, and are now seeking to have the October event cancelled.

Steph Holmes of Chrysalis told the British newspaper The Telegraph (of all the right-wing rags, they had to be the one to get hold of the story),  “We get enough confusion with the word transgender, which mixes us up with transvestites. Transvestites certainly don’t dress for comic purposes and I don’t get up in the morning and think ‘what can I put on today to give people a laugh?’ “ she continued,  “This race pokes fun at cross-dressing and, by association, us, reducing us to objects to be laughed at.  Dehumanising us this way gives carte blanche to those that would do us physical harm, much like the gay bashers of old.  It’s a small step from ridicule to persecution. The current stats suggest a 34 per cent chance of beaten up, raped or killed for being trans. We do not need to give the bigots any more ammunition.  I am sure that Derian House didn’t intend to give offence. The very fact that it’s a children’s hospice should make them sensitive to potential bad publicity and the effect that this has on young trans people.”

As I am wont to do, I researched the facts carefully before writing.  I can honestly say that I found nothing on the Derian House website or the publicity for the Dames on the Run event which is remotely transphobic.  I can honestly also say that in my opinion Steph Holmes is talking out of her backside, and Chrysalis may have just done the cause for transgender rights enormous damage.

Transgender people and genderqueer crossdressers, of which I fall into the latter bracket, go to pains to point out the enormous difference between ourselves and drag queens / kings.  I myself have pointed out many times before, and I repeat it here, drag queens and kings dress up for entertainment purposes, for transgender / genderqueer people, dressing in clothing identified with another gender is an intrinsic part of their being, and not for anyone’s entertainment and / or titillation.

I certainly hope that Ms Holmes had a slip of the tongue when she said “Transvestites certainly don’t dress for comic purposes” and she meant transgender people.  If not, then she makes even more of an fool of herself.  In her previous sentence she herself stated “We get enough confusion with the word transgender, which mixes us up with transvestites.”  Of course, technically she is correct.  Drag queens / kings dress up for entertainment, whereas transvestisism is today more commonly associated as a sexual fetish.

How far do Chrysalis want to take this?  If dressing as a ‘dame’ is a hate crime, do we then ban all pantomimes?  How about drag queens / kings?  Are they then to be banned from Pride events where a great many can be found?  One online commentator stated, tongue-in-cheek, “Arrest Biggins!”  Quite.  Arrest Christopher Biggins, and Paul O’Grady, and Eddie Izzard, etc, etc.

If female impersonation is such a hate crime, then do we ban entire acts based upon that, such as the Ladyboys of Bangkok?  Best of luck with that one, dears.  Apart from their act being classed as art, it is one of the most popular shows to make an appearance at the Edinburgh International Festival every year, where you have to book for tickets well in advance.

Who decides what is and what is not ‘feminine’ dress?  What of that which can be quite ‘androgynous’?  If a cis man wears a flamboyant or flowery shirt, is he committing a transphobic hate crime, or is he merely dressing as he pleases?  What if a cishet woman pinches and wears her partner’s shirt or Jacket – as they are wont to do?  Is that likewise a hate crime?  And taken to that limit, how long before trans / genderqueer people are restricted from dressing exactly as we please?   We cannot have one law for some, and another law for others.

Chysalis have alredy drawn enormous flak for their words and and actions over this, not least from trans and genderqueer people, and quite rightly so.  The few, the very few, I have seen voicing support for Chrysalis over this stance have tried to compare it to the black and white minstrels of old.  That is a disingenuous argument, as just like drag queens, minstrels blacked up their faces for entertainment purposes.  To the best of my knowledge no person ever tried to permanently blacken themselves as an intrinsic need in their life.  The closest I can come to that is John Howard Griffin, who took drugs which blackened his skin, and then toured some of the southern states in the USA, as research for his book Black Like Me.  But then, as he did that as research for a book (which exposed the racism he received from white people when black – and the same he received from black people when white), it could be strongly argued he still did that for entertainment purposes.

Nobody who is adequately well-educated nowadays conflates dressing in drag with being transgender or genderqueer.  Certainly not the management of Derian House, who are obviously very upset at the accusations levelled against them.

A spokesperson for Derian House stated “As a children’s hospice, we deal with highly sensitive and emotive issues all the time and would never have considered organising a fundraising event that might cause upset or offence.  Dames on the Run was conceived as a fun event, drawing on the much-loved Pantomime Dame character that is part of our theatrical heritage and supported by hundreds of thousands of people in every year.  It was intended appeal to the fathers of desperately sick children, who do so much to hold their family together in the face of their child’s devastating illness and who ask for very little support in return.  We wanted to provide an opportunity for them to participate in a fun-packed event and encourage other men to show their support and raise vitally needed funds for the hospice.  We were shocked to receive a complaint, and our chief executive wrote immediately to apologise for any offence caused and assure her that none was intended.”

As far as I can see the only people actually conflating dressing in drag with being trans / genderqueer are Chrysalis, and by doing so in this manner, they have potentially caused great damage to the trans / genderqueer cause, and likewise that of the entire LGBTQIA community.

I do not have children of my own, and never shall have any.  I can think of nothing more horrific and heartbreaking however of any child dying, and their parents outliving them.  That is just so very WRONG on so many levels.  For Chrysalis then to bring this absurd, frivilous, and downright cruel police complaint against those helping such children and their families – which Chrysalis and many of us are not doing – and to attempt to ban a fun event, which would thereby deny Derian House much-needed funding, puts them beyond contempt in my opinion.  I will not mince my words here; this has made me plain bloody angry.

I have no doubt many in UK society will share my views, and the frankly mean and thoughtless actions of Chrysalis can only ever reflect negatively on transgender / genderqueer people in general, and the LGBTQIA community as a whole.

Derian House’s website and publicity for Dames on the Run can be found below: