We can picture in our mind the typical drawing room scene. The upright father in his dark suit, the timid-looking mother at her writing desk, the elder son in his Army uniform, the young girl in her lace trimmed pinafore, and finally the maid in her starched apron and cap, all posed rigidly for the camera.
But imagine, if you would, that the timid looking mother is really in charge of the family, and that beneath that frilly blouse and cameo broach lies the heart of a true dominatrix.
Her husband sits so erect in his chair because of the tightly-laced female corset which he has been forced to wear for years and years.
The young girl is, in fact, a 14 years old boy, put into pinafores to curb his early signs of waywardness and rough manners. Underneath, he has to wear his corset day and night to train his waist to become as tiny as possible.
The elder son, also in a lace-trimmed corset under his khaki uniform, has only enlisted to stop his fiancee dressing him up and treating him a like a maid.
And the maid herself, she’s of course a boy as well. A young nephew who came to stay when his mother died, and found himself forced into female domestic service.
Far fetched? Perhaps, but only because such a number of males dominated into corsets, pinafores and maids’ uniforms were unlikely to be all in one household. However they did exist, individually, all around London and the rest of the country, and most likely every other country in Europe.
The evidence is presented in a recently published collection “Confidential Correspondence on Cross Dressing 1911- 1915”, edited by Peter Farrer. It makes fascinating reading.
For example, let’s start with the young recruit. You may have heard of British men who failed to enlist during the First World War being handed white feathers by women in the street as a sign of cowardice. But some women went very much further, as a letter printed in a newspaper of June 1915 pointed out.
This was from a wife of a 24 years old man who had thought twice about volunteering for the trenches. She and some friends had formed their own corps, with the women all dressed in khaki and the men as maids…
“Most of us have husbands who will not join the forces, and we have compelled them under persuasion and application of the birch to don female attire and do all the housework.”
“We hold meetings in each other’s houses. Our husbands have to wait on us and call us “Sir”, and we always say “Miss” to them. I expect they feel awfully foolish when they have to get matches and light our cigarettes and dust around the room with us looking on.”
“We sometimes take them on our knees, and one poor boy had the humiliation of being made to stand in a corner. This is exactly what wants doing with those who won’t enlist. We have made them feel ashamed of themselves.”
“The boys have been dressed like this for four months now, each one being made to swear in front us all that he would for the rest of his days wear the petticoats.”
To some of these men, such feminised punishment may have come as a shock. To others, it might almost have been second nature. For the collection, mainly taken from the newspaper New Fun, has many examples of teenage boys being persuaded to dress as girls.
One letter is from a man whose mother insisted he wore white pinafores from the age of 14 to keep himself neat and tidy. To begin with, he shared his sister’s, but over the coming two years began to collect a drawer-full of his own.
“Lady friends of my mother expressed great admiration of the plan, and several of them, to my disgust, sent me pinafores for Christmas presents. These were carefully chosen for me when the donors came to call, and I had to appear wearing their presents, and was made to thank them and say how pretty I thought the pinnies.”
Others who came across women feminising their sons were less supportive. One 1915 letter is from the wife of a “big strong man” whose son is fighting in France. She claims to detest effeminate men and cites one example she recently came across.
She had been invited out for tea with a friend, and to her horror had found her hostess’s son pencilled, painted, powdered and dressed as a girl.
“Several ladies present gushed over him, and his adoring mother proudly produced a tape in order that his admirers might measure his pinched in waist, which proved to be 16 inches.
“I was disgusted with remarks such as ‘Doesn’t he make a lovely girl?’ ‘His corsets squeeze him beautifully’, or ‘Isn’t his waist delightfully pinched in?’. Needless to add that I was glad to go home “.
Some boys learnt to love the feeling of constriction and the slim waist which tight corseting brought. There are a number of letters from men who are proud of their figures, amongst them a young draper’s assistant who had been in the trenches himself fighting for King and country.
“I’ve have read some of the remarks about that effeminate men is a kind of weakness, but from experience there are men who have that fascination fighting at the front now (I myself have done a bit, but am home again and expect to go back shortly) j so that shows that all are not weak,” he writes.
Others had hated the experience of being feminised, and never wanted to return to girlish clothes once they had escaped them. A letter printed in the summer of 1915 tells of the experiences four years before of a young man who went to stay with his aunt while his widowed father was abroad.
The aunt hadn’t really wanted him, but decided that if he was going to take up space he might as well work for it. The maid was dismissed and the nephew took her place.
At first this sounds like classic trannie fiction, but then comes the ring of truth:
“I must say that a small waist and pretty lingerie has quite a fascination for me when on a girl, but I have not the lightest desire to go back again to my female attire.”
Surely, for a real trannie, such thoughts would be sacrilege.
There is undoubtedly some fantasy about. A number of the letters do seem too much like wishful thinking to the more cynical reader of the 1990’s. One for example, concerns a young man who has to pretend to his dying father that he is the daughter that never was.
But even these only serve to underline that much about being a transvestite hasn’t changed over the last eighty years. There are reports from trannies who chance going out dressed, and pleas from others for advice on how to go about buying women’s clothes. In those days, it must have taken quite a nerve to have gone to a dressmaker.
There are over 200 letters reproduced in the collection, and Peter Farrer has indexed them under subject headings, dates and newspapers for ready reference. He’s done a magnificent job on bringing to life a transvestite world that history tried to ignore.
“Confidential Correspondence on Cross Dressing 1911-1915” is available priced £7.50 (plus £1 p&p) from bookshops or direct from Karn Publications Garston, 63 Salisbury Road, Garston, Liverpool L19 OPH.