Gloria Brame, Ph.D.

Vintage drag: 1920s chamber maid

Filed By Gloria Brame, Ph.D. | February 15, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: trans history, vintage cabinet card, vintage photo, vintage trans

Sad that the background stories on images like this are lost to history but 1920sdrag.jpgdelighted, at least, to find this 1920's cabinet card.

Was this a stage actor in role? Or someone just doing what came naturally?

Thousands, perhaps even millions, of photographic records of LGBT life were lost or destroyed in the 20th century. What valuable social, educational, and political tools they'd be to us now had they only survived.

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Many musicals from about 1900 to 1930 had drag roles written into them, a carry over from a similar tradition with the British pantos. My guess on this one (and it's just a guess) is that this was an actor who specialized in such character roles, probably from an operetta like Ivan Carlyll's THE PINK LADY (which, BTW, is where we get the name of the drink).

This person seems pretty content there.

Your little treatise reminds me of something my Dad shared with me nearly 20+ years ago. He had decided that my gayness was descended genetically from HIS side of the family... It seems that my paternal grandfather was one of 10 siblings, and three of the males had never married. Pondering this; and mindful that these three lads were at their best, brightest, and most astute in the 1930's (and how stiltified that era was), I asked him: 'Well, umm, how did they spend their time?' And he said forthrightly; 'All I remember is, they got together and played a lot of cards together.'
I would so love to see a photo of them playing cards. I suspect it might be telling? All we have though; are those studio photos; where they look quite handsome but severe. Their eyes are glaring quite fiercely into the camera in that Victorian stance, and they reveal nary a clue.

I'd love to see a photo of them playing cards too, Jim. It sounds quite wonderful, but I'm wondering if you couldn't find a clue in the posed "Victorian stance" photos too.

Bil; so damn sweet of you to inquire and posit?
Though black-and-white, you can tell that they are handsome and blue-eyed. They are nattily dressed, even though they were 'common' pottery workers in East Liverpool, OH. But as you know; straight men easily do the handsome thing quite well. The stiff photos they took back then were meant for posterity - a posterity for them that did not include children or spouses. There was one great uncle who survived long enough to bounce me on his knee as an infant in, umm, 1956-7? That was Uncle Joe; a very old man, but never married, and living with my grandmother at the time. ( I recall that I burst into tears once placed into his lap, because he seemed a stranger.) (And isn't it a terrible thing, if - he was my one and only surviving gay uncle - that I chose to be a fussy brat that day?) I would love it; if our wiser and smarter gay historians? Could chronicle this era and describe for us the lives these 'common' men lived. Were these three guys just 'happened to be' bachelors? Or were they gay men; entrapped and constrained within the society-of-the-day? My father has been dead for 14 years now, so I can't pursue it with him. What remains for me is the knowledge that my father was an intuitive man and rarely wrong. And that's a very happy memory that I can comfort myself with. Again; thanks for asking after these 3 brothers :)