Tag Archive | LGBT+ history

Michael / Joanna / Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark; An American Hero

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Micheal Clark, US Navy / Joanna Clark, US Army

I have been reading of one of the most remarkable people transgender people ever born; Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark, formerly Joanna Michelle Clark, formerly Michael Clark.

Michael Clark was born on 16 June 1938 in Pontiac, Michigan, USA. From 3-years-old he found he felt he was different from other boys, he preferred the company of girls, and even tried to emulate them. “I tried to talk and act like a girl instead of a boy,” said Michael in an interview, “I believed I was one of them – even though I knew I had a male anatomy. When I started going to elementary school, the other boys called me a sissy because I walked without ‘macho’ stride and carried my schoolbooks like a girl.”

By the time he reached junior high school, Michael tried to discuss his transgender feelings, but could not make them understand. Obviously there was a great deal of prejudice at the time, and Michael tried to be what he perceived as normal, joining the US Naval Cadets while in High School. When he left school in 1957, he went into the USN full-time as an avionics technician, eventually rising to Chief Petty Officer and an Instructor/Evaluator in anti-submarine warfare, scuba diving and sea survival in Hawaii, and serving on active duty in Vietnam.

Michael married his first wife in 1961, still trying to prove he was ‘normal’. However, although fathering a son, he could never satisfy his wife, and of course suffered the frustrations of not being sexually fulfilled himself, which led to him throwing himself further into his Naval career. The couple divorced in 1972, and he never saw his son again.

Still blinded by the prejudice of others, Michael married again, and this time found a partner who was not only sympathetic to his plight, was to be instrumental in changing his life.

“My new wife was a girl that I really intensely loved as a person. I still love her today. We liked the same things – hiking, concerts. But she needed more from me than I could give. And she started having a guilt trip over our situation, thinking she was at fault. Finally I said to myself: ‘My God, I’m reining this beautiful woman’s life by keeping my secret from her.’ So I broke down and told her I was a transsexual – a woman trapped in a man’s body. Instead of making me feel ashamed, she talked about what we had to do.”

Clark’s wife encouraged him to tell his parents, who far from rejecting him as he feared, all too fully understood (good parents know, dears). Thereafter he underwent psychological evaluation, which must have been groundbreaking for the 1970s, as it confirmed that Michael was a woman inside.

The downside is that someone blew the whistle about Mark’s evaluation to the US Navy. He was discharged upon the spot, and although it was an Honourable Discharge, it left Mark “angry and bitter”. And quite rightly so; Mark had often been commended, had excelled in everything he did, his work undoubtedly saved lives, and he can thereby be considered an American Naval hero.

Michael Clark underwent hormone therapy and in June 1975 underwent gender reassignment surgery, emerging under her new name of Joanna Michelle Clerk. She then divorced her wife, and moved in with her parents in San Juan, California, and got a job as a clerk-typist. In 1976 she enlisted in the US Army as a Staff training assistant, acting supervisor Fort MacArthur. She rose to Sargent First Class in the WACS, but after the authorities became aware of her background, Joanna was dismissed from the Army Reserve 18 months later. This time Joanna decided she was not going to take it lying down a second time and took the US Army to court. It was eventually settled out of court with a stipulation that details of the settlement not be made public. However, it is known that Joanna received an Honourable Discharge, with credit for time served in the Reserve.

This put Michael / Joanna Clark in the unique position of having served in the US Navy and the US Army, as both a man and a woman. The only person in history to have done so. But there was more to come…

Having realised all too painfully how transgender rights are trodden upon, Joanna Clark successfully lobbied in 1977 for replacement birth certificates and driving licenses to be made available for transgender people in California. She wrote Legal Aspects of Transsexualism, an important document which continues to be referenced by the law fraternity in the USA to this day. She founded the ACLU Transsexual Rights Committee, which she chaired for many years, working endlessly for the legal rights and status of TS persons. In the early 1980s she worked with transgender campaigner Jude Patton as a TS advisor.

By the late 1980s, Joanna’s life became more spiritual and in 1988 she took her vows as a Nun and founded the Order of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, a non-profit Episcopalian order. She transferred to the Order of St Michael of the American Catholic Church in 1997.

In 1990 Sister Mary Elizabeth founded AEGIS; AIDS Education Global Information System, the largest HIV/AIDS online information and website and BBS, which supplies reference material, information and an online meeting place for people worldwide.  Sister Mary Elizabeth has won several awards for her work fighting for LGBT+ rights, and HIV/AIDS awareness, and in 2005 was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

As Michael Clark, Joanna Michelle Clark, and as Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark, this is a truly remarkable woman, who despite giving everything she has done her utmost, often pushing the limits of endurance, and often for others with little thought for herself, remains nonetheless humble. Someone I think we can all, whatever our gender, can look up to.

“Of all the things I’ve done in my life, military-wise, or working with children, I don’t think I’ve had anything in my life that I’ve had more passion for. I really can’t put it into words. When you see letters from people and you know that you’re helping them, that’s what it’s all about.”

sistermaryelizabeth

Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark

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The Man who Would be King – or Queen

"Eddy" - complete with high collar and mummy's hand on his shoulder

“Eddy” – complete with high collar, and mummy’s hand on his shoulder

The bisexual life of Prince Albert Victor

He was an amiable dullard, wont to come out with embarrassing social gaffes at state occasions.  Hopelessly cossetted and pampered, he bedded anyone he took a fancy to, and there were quite a few of them, creating scandals which were splashed across the media.  His name came up in a sex scandal and major criminal incidents, and in the end there were even rumours that he had been killed by the British establishment, to prevent him bringing down the monarchy.

Sounds like the royal scandals which hit the headlines in the 80s and 90s, doesn’t it, dears?  And it was.  Only this was the 1880s-1890s.

Albert Victor Christian Edward was the first child of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and his wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, born on 8 January 1864.  He was born 2 months prematurely when Princess Alexandra almost miscarried him after a fall while she was ice skating.  Victoria was Queen at the time, and as the Prince of Wales would be her successor, this made Albert Victor, affectionately known to the royal family as “Eddy”, the Heir Presumptive; second in line to the throne.

Poor Eddy never had a lot going for him from the start.  A product of generations of inbreeding among the royal families of Europe, he inherited all their worst traits.  He suffered haemophilia, he had bulging eyes, a long thin face, a deeply receding chin, was partially deaf (as was his mother), and while he grew tall, he was extremely thin and weedy, and with a neck so elongated that he had to have shirts and jackets specially made with high collars in an attempt to hide it, and which merely led the media to lampoon him with the nickname “Collars and Cuffs”.  As he grew, Eddy also developed a pronounced lisp when speaking.  He may also have suffered Klinefelter’s Syndrome, which would account for the fact that he never grew any pubic or body hair, and which may have meant he was infertile.

He was also as thick as too short planks, which was not at all surprising.  While Victoria had a certain amount of intelligence, and Eddy’s grandfather, Prince Albert, had been an intellectual, Eddy’s father, the Prince of Wales, was notably unintelligent; his mind had been crammed with facts which would enable him to perform his duty as king, but with no knowledge or insight accompanying them.  Eddy’s mother, Princess Alexandra, was equally an imbecile.  It is said she never once read a book in her life, and appears to have been a simpleton whose world was all fluffy kittens and rainbows.  She was however an extremely loving mother who doted on all her children, but mainly her beloved firstborn, Eddy.

Alexandra doted on Eddy so much that his father grew to resent him, no doubt jealous of the mother’s love the boy received, which his own mother, Victoria, had denied him in his childhood (“Bertie” was brought up to be a king and a facsimile of Prince Albert, not as a son).   He may have also resented Eddy’s effete and gentle nature, as well as his weedy appearance (Bertie was a big, fat, bear of a man) and the fact that the boy was obviously mentally deficient.

One would have thought that Bertie had learned from his own childhood, where he struggled with lessons and despite even being thrashed by his tutors and even his father (with full approval of his mother), simply could not take things in.  None of it; Eddy was found a tutor for homeschooling, John Neale Dalton, who taught him and his brother George, who was born 17 months after Eddy, together.  Dalton, recognising the boy’s inabilities told the Prince of Wales that his firstborn son was “incapable of being educated” and that his mind was “abnormally dormant”.  Albert thought that his son may be being distracted from his lessons by his younger brother and considered splitting them up.  Dalton strongly advised against this, telling the Prince of Wales that “Prince Albert Victor requires the stimulus of Prince George’s company to induce him to work at all.”  And that should have been that, except that Bertie allowed himself to be swayed by Lady Geraldine Somerset, who blamed Eddy’s poor academic achievement upon Dalton’s teaching methods.  So it was that, privilege and power being able to buy your way in anywhere in those days, a simple-minded man was allowed to pursue an education at university.

Eddy was sent to Cambridge University under the supervision of the brilliant academic James Stephen.  Needless to say, his efforts there were equally as unimpressive under at Cambridge as they had been under Dalton.  Stephen wrote of Eddy,”I do not think he can possibly derive much benefit from attending lectures at Cambridge … He hardly knows the meaning of the words to read” Stephen however warmed to Eddy, as did a number of the tutors friends – many of whom happened to be gay, while Stephen himself, a notorious misogynist, was almost certainly bisexual, if not wholly gay.

It was probably through these friends that Eddy had his first of many homosexual encounters.  They also Introduced him to the notorious Hundred Guineas Club, in Cleveland Street, London.  Membership of the club involved taking on a female persona, for which Eddy signed himself in as Victoria.  What was supposedly a social network of affluent young gentlemen, the club was little more than a glorified male brothel, which was to later be raided, causing a sensational scandal, in which Eddy’s name would come up.

But Eddy did not confine himself to male sexual liaisons.  Women apparently found him irresistible for some reason, and he also had a number of female sexual partners.  He certainly would never have done it for me – give me those smouldering sexy eyes of his brother George any day – but in fairness he was not altogether an unhandsome man, looking like a young Hugh Laurie.  However, the bulging eyes and the vacant look on his face, which included a mouth almost permanently pouting and which he obviously needed a week’s notice to close, belied his idiocy and made him look so manic that one would have thought it would have sent most people, female and male, scurrying for shelter.  Some have postulated that Eddy’s innate helplessness brought out the maternal, nurturing instinct in woman.  I suspect it is more likely that, as there has ever been and shall always be, there were plenty of little gold-diggers – on both sides of the gender binary – who were more than willing to prostitute themselves for financial gain, be it through gifts or through blackmail.

Eddy joined the Hussars Cadets at Cambridge and when he left the university in 1885, he joined up full time in the 10th Hussars.  He equally disliked his tuition at the Royal Military Academy at Aldershot, but enjoyed playing polo there.  Privilege spoke again and Eddy “passed” his exams in 1887, raising him to the rank of Captain.  The following year he received an honourary degree from Cambridge University.  Whist Eddy’s position was enough to buy him an officer’s commission, he was meaningless in real life.  When the Duke of Cambridge suggested that demonstrate some “elementary manoeuvres”, the Colonel of the regiment interceded, begging the Duke to drop it, as he said that the prince had not an inkling how to do so.  Later, at a banquet, Eddy told the Duke that he “knew nothing” of the Crimean War, and had “never heard” of the Battle of Alma – at which the Duke had distinguished himself at and had been decorated for.  Still being pampered by his over-protective mother, it was around this time she sent a letter to her son, a military captain, finishing with vomit-enducing fluffiness “a great big kiss for your lovely little face.”

It was in 1889 that Eddy’s name was mentioned in two scandals.  The first of these was the Cleveland Street scandal, when the police, investigating an unconnected robbery of a telegraph office, were told by a suspect that the money on his person came from a male brothel at 19 Cleveland Street; the premises of the Hundred Guineas Club.  Several members of the gentry were named in the subsequent investigations, including Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, and heir presumptive to the throne of Great Britain.  The investigating officer was Inspector Frederick Abberline, who would later become associated with the Whitechapel “Jack the Ripper” murders.  Whether Abberline sat on evidence or was ordered to do so, in the event the “men of substance” embroiled in the Cleveland Street Scandal suddenly remembered they had business abroad, and convictions were only brought amongst the owner of the house, and a 19-year-old accomplice.  Among those who fled abroad was Lord Arthur Somerset, head of the Prince of Wales’s stables, and the son of Lady Geraldine Somerset – the woman who had advised splitting Eddy from George.  Lord Arthur suddenly found he had business buying horses in Bad Homburg – where the Prince of Wales and his family, including Eddy, just happened to be on holiday at the time.

Despite the establishment trying their best to keep a lid on the story, somehow the press got hold of it, particularly journalist Edmund Parke of the politically radical North London Press.  Parke went as far as to name those member of gentry allegedly involved, which earned him a suit for libel, and 12 months in prison.  However, as far as Eddy was concerned, the genie was out of the bottle.  He had already been hardly circumspect concerning his affairs with both sexes, now with his name involved with the scandal, the rumour mill was rife, and while the media did not accuse him directly, there was a tacit trial by media, in which his involvement was strongly inferred.

Then just as the Cleveland Street Scandal was dying down, another, more terrible story was to make headline news; that of the Whitechapel murders of the elusive “Jack the Ripper”.  The rumour mill now rife about Eddy, some argued that Eddy himself was Jack, while others claimed that he, the royal family and the establishment were protecting his former tutor, James Stephen, who was Jack the Ripper.  While there have been authors since who have claimed that Eddy was Jack, it can be proven that he was not even in the country on the dates of some of the murders.  However, investigators and documentary makers researching the Whitechapel murders have been refused access to documents from the period concerning Eddy and James Stephen, and it is known that when Stephen was committed to an asylum, as his father had been before him, the murders suddenly stopped.

It is claimed that Queen Victoria was blissfully unaware that the reputation of her heir presumptive by this time was in tatters.  This is perfectly possible, as she had more or less devoted herself to mourning her beloved Albert.  So it was to get Eddy out of trouble and “make a man” of him, the Prince of Wales shipped him off to India, thinking he could not get up to any trouble there.  How wrong could he be?  Upon his return, Eddy’s tales to his friends were not of viewing the mighty river Ganges, nor holding court with opulent maharajahs, nor of visiting the Taj Mahal, but rather of the nights of passion he enjoyed with his Indian laundry attendant in Shuttadore.

One can only imagine Bertie’s reaction when word of his son not merely bedding another man, but a low-caste Indian at that reached his ears.  There was nothing for it but to marry the boy off.  The Prince of Wales put the word out to his sister, Vicky (one of the few intellects in the Saxe-Coburg dynasty), now Empress of Germany, to find an eligible princess among the European dynasties (despite all the obvious problems of inbreeding, the royals never seemed to learn).  Eddy, however, being a hopeless romantic, was “falling in love” with every female he encountered, and sending them love letters, despite the fact that due to his low intellect, were almost indecipherable.  He was apparently particularly attached to Hèléne, daughter to the pretender to the throne of France.  However, the woman was a Roman Catholic, which would have made Eddy’s marriage to her illegal under the Act of Settlement, which Queen Victoria was very quick to point out, and Eddy was forced to send her packing.  Hèléne was apparently genuinely heartbroken at this extremely cruel act.

Vicky instead lined up Princess Alix of Hesse for Eddy.  The Prince meanwhile however had taken up an affair with Lady Sybil St Clair Erskine.  Queen Victoria had already dismissed Lady Sybil as “too common”, but that did not stop Eddy from continuing his affair with her.  Not having the wits not to mention other women, Eddy wrote Lady Sybil often, and stated that while he loved her, he also loved another named Hèléne “wasn’t that extraordinary?”  He also begged Lady Sybil in these letters to destroy the part of them carrying his royal crest – which of course the Lady had absolutely no intention of doing.  Eddy did not even have the brains to write his clandestine love letters on plain paper.

Princess Alix having been rejected by Eddy, Vicky next lined up Princess May of Teck; a more mature woman, affectionately known as “Mary”, whom Eddy appears to have genuinely found a fondness for, perhaps because being mollycoddled all his life, he saw her as a mother figure, and the two were engaged to be married.  However, Eddy’s life of debauchery coupled with his genetic abnormalities was catching up with him.  He had never been well since returning from India, shortly after his 28th birthday, Eddy was diagnosed with pneumonia and took to a sick bed from which he was never to rise again.  Prince Albert Victor Christian Edward Saxe-Coburg, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, and Heir Presumptive to the British throne, passed away on 14 January 1892.

The reaction of the royal family to the death of the Prince was thought by many of the time to be crass, insensitive and uncaring, which it certainly appears to have been.  The Saxe-Coburgs, never ones to pass up an opportunity, had Princess Mary engaged to their second son, George with indecent haste.  It has to be admitted that even if Eddy could have been capable of fathering a child, which is doubtful in the exterme, one shudders at the thought what any resulting offspring would have been like.  So convenient was the death of the Prince, that still the rumour mill and the press would not leave him alone, alleging that Eddy had perhaps been assassinated to make way for his more able and suitable younger brother.

Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, became King Edward VII upon the death of Victoria in 1901, and reigned until 1910.  He in turn was succeeded by his son George, who reigned as King George V until 1936.  Albert Victor meanwhile, whom had he survived may have been king, has been all but completely airbrushed out of history.

As a postscript to the story, Eddy’s former tutor, James Stephen, upon hearing of the death of the prince, went into a deep depression and refused to eat any food served up to him in the sanitorium he was committed to.  He died a month later, aged only 32.