Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Beaumont Society

Somewhat following on from the previous post, I thought I would talk a little about the Beaumont Society.

As a student, I spent a few months studying in London. I was still in search of my identity. I could have thrown caution to the winds and explored what must have been an extremely vibrant and tantalising crossdressing scene, even at that time. But I preferred to take things quietly, so instead I spent a lot of time browsing the bookshops of the Charing Cross Road until I came upon A Man's Tale, by John Pepper, written in 1982. (I also spent a lot of time in museums, and at the opera. Though it was intellectually fascinating to see the Rosetta Stone and so on, I sometimes slightly chastise myself for not being a bit more adventurous. But that was me then, and this is me now).

Pepper is a British writer who, at the time of writing, was a broadcaster. His book is an autobiography describing his feelings growing up a boy with strong feminine inclinations. It begins:
I'm an ordinary man and woman. Initially, in 1942, I was born a boy, and that's that. You were chopped in half, botched, from the start. Had they lopped one of your limbs off, there'd have been an outcry. Instead they took away half your psyche, half your brain. Of such perplexing surgery is our civilisation made. Imagine building a car with an engine of four cylinders, then expecting it to run on two. Lunatic. Then, most of us are.
I don't especially enjoy his writing style, which is too pretentious for me. Likewise, Pepper's life is not especially interesting: his early sexual exploits, his failed marriage, and his attempt to unify himself by seeking Tibetan wisdom (pouring scorn on the other "misfits" who were doing the same). On the other hand, at one point, he joins the Beaumont Society.

The Beaumont Society, founded in 1966, is the oldest transgendered society in the UK, and perhaps the world (for those of you in the US, Tri-Ess, the Society of the Second Self, didn't get going until 1976). I suppose the Sixties in London was a heady time of great social upheaval: the contraceptive pill had emancipated women from their fertility, and I assume the founders of the Beaumont Society thought the time had come to emancipate transgendered people too. Burn those Y-fronts!

The society takes its name from the Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont, one of history's most famous transgendered individuals, and undoubtedly a topic for a future blog post from me. Their logo was formerly a yin-yang symbol, before being changed to a butterfly. The symbolism of either choice seems pretty clear to me. The Society is run as a charity, and caters for "the transgender, transvestite, transsexual and cross-dressing community".

Like its counterpart Tri-Ess, the Beaumont Society is long established, widely-known, and overtly chaste ("...the Beaumont Society... is not available for sexual liaisons"). As a confirmed Brit, I decided that the Beaumont Society would be ideal for me: it would be part of the establishment, no doubt full of judges and bishops and landed gentry (and academics!). It was the first point of contact between mainstream media and the transgendered community, so whenever a transgender item appeared on the TV or in the news, a Beaumont spokesperson would be interviewed.

Since it was chaste, there was no need to worry about invitations to indiscreet liaisons. Somewhat quaintly, the Society offered a service whereby a member could submit mail for another member discreetly to a central office, to be forwarded on to that member without either knowing the other's address or real name. Clearly, privacy was considered a very big deal to the Society.

I decided, if there were to be any crossdressers out there like me, the Beaumont Society would be the place they would gravitate. So I joyfully signed up. My contact with the Society was mainly through the magazine. The post of my Regional Organiser, a person who was supposed to be available for both social and practical crossdressing support, was vacant during the time I lived in the UK. This is no-one's fault: Regional Organisers do it in their own time, for no money, and I don't blame anyone for not stepping up to offer themselves to that role. But it meant that there weren't any local social events (where I might have summoned the courage to attend a meeting), and when I did try to reach out to things, I was disappointed. I have absolutely no desire to go to some nightclub and have my ossicles pounded into mush by techno music all night. But to dress up nicely, go to an art gallery, or a museum, or to the theatre, and have tea and scones afterwards: phew!

Can't compete: Vargas
Likewise I had hoped that the magazine might provide the sort of things I put in this blog: scholarly, interesting articles, discussing crossdressing in an open and detached way. But no! Much of the magazine (and I still have a large collection of them) was devoted to news reports from round the world, personal accounts from crossdressers (going on cruises, going skiing, going to the theatre, dressed), and fiction, fiction, fiction. And it seemed that every single issue had an article by Dr Vernon Coleman. The early magazines all had a print of a Vargas or Vargas-like woman (how can anyone compete with that??); later they were replaced with an authentic crossdressed covergirl (and the title changed to Beaumont Quarterly), though their choice of images was sometimes disappointing.

The news reports were basically quite interesting in themselves. The personalised accounts provoked great envy: I would love to go on a cruise and turn up to dinner every evening in a different gown. And crossdressing fiction is, in general, straightforward erotic wish-fulfilment stuff, full of loving and exquisite detail of fabrics and cosmetics and accessories. Coleman, one would have thought, would provide some intellectual perspective. But you would be wrong. Here is part of an article I just grabbed at random:
Coleman: I had a letter from a woman whose husband is a transvestite. He has high blood pressure (which could kill him) and the evidence clearly shows that when he occasionally wears a frock his blood pressure is better controlled and he needs fewer drugs. Nevertheless, the wife won't let the husband wear a frock (or any other feminine clothing). She says it is disgusting. No it's not. But her attitude is.
Happy: Coleman
This kind of thing was typical of Coleman's writing. A good doctor would not dismiss the wife's viewpoint as meaningless in this way. The pain she feels is real. Perhaps there is some compromise that can be reached, but Coleman's response won't bring it any closer. Coleman, a medical doctor, is himself a crossdresser, although his Wikipedia entry is mysteriously quiet about that aspect of him. His articles in Beaumont were entitled "Diary of a Happy Crossdresser". I became so irritated with him that I considered some articles of my own: "Diary of an Unhappy Crossdresser", but I never did.

Instead I submitted a few articles of my own, with a scholarly slant. Some of them were published (and if you happen to have old copies of the Beaumont Magazines, I'm in there under this name). When I asked the editor what she thought of my submissions, she replied "Yes, they're interesting, but what we really want is more fiction". So I entered their creative writing competition, and won.

Beaumont members receive a Members' Directory annually, in which members can put their area of the country, as well as their (gasp!) email addresses. I had hoped someone would read my articles, make the connection, and get in touch to have the type of conversations I am now having on this blog. But nobody ever did.

Thirty years ago, John Pepper wrote this about the Beaumont Society:
Even my grasping the Beaumont Society lay now in the pile of life's litter back down the motorway. When it came to it, I'd not found any real travellers there, only an empty clatter of pearls and gossip over the coffee cups; too many men who saw femininity as a matron sequestered in a polite respectability and dominated by a male hegemony they had no desire, not surprisingly, to usurp. I'd had a spot of bother myself whipping up enough flutters of the eyelashes over excitements like It's a darling lacy suspender belt, dainty but a toughie and dresses that made every wiggle a wow! I didn't just want to paint my face. I wanted to paint my mind.
What does any of that even mean? Admittedly the sort of uber-feminine language Pepper quoted is more or less absent from the magazine these days, but other than that, my impression is that little has changed in the Beaumont Society. I kept up my membership for several years out of sheer loyalty: it wasn't expensive, and I felt that, by supporting the Society I was helping to further the cause a bit.

But ultimately I've allowed my membership to elapse. I did my best for Beaumont: made myself available to them, wrote for them, supported them. Tried to be the sort of member they would want, of the sort of crossdressing society I wanted to belong to. As long as I lived in the UK, it was easy to write a cheque once a year. But once I left the UK, the impetus to belong seemed even more tenuous. And actually, my energies are much better spent here.

I wish the Society nothing but the absolute very best for the future. In research for this article, I took a quick look on their website. I am pleased to report that the website looks polished, attractive, and, dare I say it, a little bit gorgeous now (Tri-Ess, you have a long way to go!). The logo has been changed again and looks delicious. It may be that the Society is trying to reinvent itself to be a lot less stuffy and a lot more fabulous, and I think that's great. If I ever return to the UK, I will sign myself up immediately.

Addendum: July 2013

My thanks to Joanna Darrell, Vice President of the Beaumont Society, for answering my series of challenging questions. You can read her the interview here.

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for your comments - we're constantly changing to meet the requirements of the community, fingers crossed we'll get there !!

    Joanna Darrell
    Vice President

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    1. Hi Joanna,

      Many thanks indeed for dropping by and posting a comment.

      Vivienne.

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  2. I agree,I am struggling with the new web site too. It seems serious discussion is out!
    Sophie

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  3. most interesting, as a life long dresser up in feminine clothing who is anxious to discuss why I have always done this and finds that all chatter on the subject on the internet does not help me understand anything about it nor allow me to indulge in interesting discussion about it, I agree.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for posting your thoughts Helena. As someone who is seeking after enlightenment, your comments will always be welcome, and I would like to hear your perspective.

      Vivienne.

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  4. Hi Vivienne
    I've only just found this blog. There are some really well written thought provoking articles from the list 5 years, so I'm spending a few hours catching up. Re. The Beaumont society, I was a member back in the 80s at that point it seemed like the only organisation available, but it always appeared stuffy (or maybe I was just too young... either way) I've considered going back but when I check out their website, it still comes across as a bit dated. An a4 photocopied pamphlet in a digital world.

    I'm sure it does a lot of good and I'm glad it's still around, but it's never really met my needs either as a young 'un then or an old git now

    Thanks again for the article and also the blog
    Antonia


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    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment Antonia. My contribution to this blog has dwindled lately, but I foresee an explosion of new content soon (I hope)!

      I enjoyed your metaphor of an A4 photocopied pamphlet! As you know, most of the Beaumont mailings consisted of these and I still have a few tucked away somewhere!

      It's clear from your short comment that you don't qualify as an "old git" but the phrase made me laugh!

      Did you read my interview with Joanna Darrell, in which I put to her some of the points about stuffiness?

      Best wishes,

      Vivienne.

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