Thursday, 31 January 2013

Interview with Ar’lene D. Lafferty

Monika: Today Let me introduce you Ar’lene D. Lafferty, an American cosmetologist, and electrologist from Chicago, Illinois. Hello Ar’lene! Welcome to “Interviews with Transgender Icons”! How does it feel to be an icon?
Ar’lene: Hello Monika and Darling Friends, Sisters and Brothers. I never thought I was a community “icon”. Thank you for the honor! It makes me feel proud and willing to do more for our “Trans-family”.
Monika: What are you doing these days?
Ar’lene: These days, I’m writing my autobiography, a task that seems highly difficult for me. Since I have a lot of impasses. All my reasons for the impasses will be revealed in my book.
Monika: Where did you grow up?
Ar’lene: I was first raised in Chicago. At age fifteen (15), my family and I moved to Los Angeles after a vacation (holiday) visit. We started, first for a few weeks in Hollywood, until my parents located an apartment in Sherman Oaks; a San Fernando Valley Community.
You might say; I became a “Valley Girl”. I attended the famous U.S. Grant High School in Van Nuys, a school that many celebrities attended, such as Tom Selleck for one year, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, and the group Toto, to name a few. Many movies (films) and television shows were filmed there: Clueless, Ferris Bueller, Mighty Morphine Power Rangers, and Dick Clark’s, Where Action Is; these are just some.
Monika: Could you describe your childhood? When did you feel for the first time that you should not be a boy or man?
Ar’lene: I was born with a multitude of physical health conditions. Medically; genital deformities, malformed abdomen, and broken bladder removed as a baby. Some doctors would say today (through updated education): that I was born Intersex, but could be identified as Transsexual (or both, as classified by a published author, Alice Dreger, Ph.D. of Northwestern University (through contact and personal means) and Dr. Derweesh, MD, a Urologist at UC San Diego (a doctor of mine).
So to me, it’s not a question of how I felt like a boy or later a man, but it’s more of when can I become a young girl or start on my womanhood. Parents and medical doctors, when I was born, held me from early life as a girl. Their knowledge was primitive on my health condition. My parent thought they had a boy. I began my womanhood in my early twenties (20’s).
As a preteen, I had been scared of what I learned of other Trans at the time were going through “shock treatments” and “lobotomy”. This is explained in the autobiography that I’m writing. Also, in my teens, doctors at UCLA were doing “reparative therapy”; (Dr. Ivor Lovaas and then not yet doctor George Rekers). Known by years later as the “Family Research Council”, its religious-oriented base and different quacked questionable doctors/non-docs today.

Ar’lene at LA Trade Tech College.

Monika: For most transgender girls, the most traumatic time is the time spent at school, college, or university when they had to face lots of discrimination. Was it the same in your case?
Ar’lene: No, I hid all my “Trans” feelings and attended a handicap school (Special Education) in Chicago. So in grammar school, the term “Trans” was not yet understood or clearly even visible by students or faculty, only I knew something was wrong.
As for high school, I suppressed it for my safety. I attended a school that was known for academics and a seventy percent (70%) Jewish population. All during high school and the first semester of college were my “American Bandstand” years! Dick Clark and Charley O’Donnell picked me and my dance partner many times for “Spotlight Dance and Rate-A-Record”, etc. I became a regular on the TV Show. Dick was generous by giving out concert tickets and prizes on the show.
I was there for much early beginning of upcoming celebrities; Singers, Bands, Groups like Sonny and Cher, Mamas and Papas, The Turtles, and others. One Show I was picked for Dick’s Hair Stylist to show updated style. While the Stylist was doing my hair, “Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and Raiders” stopped in the makeup room and chatted a while. “Did you know before his band, he worked in a “Gas Station” (Petrol Station)?” I was just about four (4) years on “Dick Clark’s American Bandstand”.
Monika: I guess you were into acting at that time?
Ar’lene: Yes, indeed. The fun part at Valley College was at the Theater Arts Department; (I had a double major in “Theater Arts and Motion Pictures”). Wrote a “One Act Play” for Advance Acting Class called “To Which Sex” that opened the eye of the instructor and students, which opened the door on the TG Night Club Entertainment Industry. Well, you could guess who I played. I received an “A” and it was for my Final Grade in the Class.
I returned years later post-operatively to LA Valley College to change my transcripts and take classes. They changed my records and were pleased to do so. Therefore, there was no problem with my “Transition”.
In Cosmetology School there wasn’t any problem with the “T” because I was still AKA (male). It was me post-op going through “believe it or not” LA Trade Tech in downtown LA, where I went to school for Electrology.

Ar’lene and new husband, 1st wedding.

Monika: What happened later?
Ar’lene: “Newsweek Magazine” (November 22, 1976) published an article with our pictures, my husband and I (Ar), as well as Jude Patton (Female to Male), approximately three (3) to four (4) weeks or so into the class.
At the time, I was a peer-counselor at The Center (LGBT) or then aka Gay Community Service Center (GCSC) and facilitator of LA’s “TS Rap”, a separate support group (not a part of the GCSC). There were some pictures of my wedding and taken by Newsweek’s photojournalist with additional pictures on the campus secretly.
The actual interview has been done before my class at trade school began. And WOW, the article and pictures came out and a student in the Cosmetology Department (electrology was in that department), came up to me before I ever saw it with Newsweek in hand. She asked for an autograph on the magazine. She then proceeded to show it throughout Cosmetology Department, as well as around campus. OMG! “The flatulent hit the fan and blew it!”
The Cosmetology Head of the Department and my instructor tried to block me, at first, from the use of the Ladies Lockers and campus restrooms, but I stopped that cold because I was post-op, born in Illinois, the first state to change “Birth Certificates”. Mine was already changed, all identifications changed and I’m legally married to a man. “So I Trumped Them!” Things did calm down, but not without my instructor and department head giving “days off” (discipline) for class and school disruption.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends? Did it have any impact on your job situation?
Ar’lene: Most of these have been answered in previous questions, but as for jobs. I’ve worked for May Company Department Store (North Hollywood) mostly in Cosmetics, but couldn’t work in my cosmetology field at that time. I moved to a new apartment away from home and began HRT. I couldn’t work in cosmetology because my license didn’t match. Needed to change it after GRS/GCS (SRS or Gender Confirmation Surgery). Next, I had to do odd jobs like hospital nurse’s aide, waitress, drug store (or Chemist Shop), Riker Labs (a 3M Company), and even became a “Hollywood Street Person” living with street income. Some may say, it’s was just short of “Prostitution” due to employers' lack of understanding and social security (government) outing me, a problem cleared up after post-op.
I worked twice with Shirley Cash. Yes, she could be a relative to “Johnny Cash”. She had a men’s hair salon called, “Shirley’s of Hollywood”. I did say, “I’ve worked twice for her. Once a few years before I began my change and the following time a few years later post-operative in which she said, “The clientele will never know who you have been and they didn’t.” They were never the wise. Shirley was a wonderful boss; she paid for my wedding and my dress in 1976. We worked next to the studios (Universal, Warner Brothers, Disney, and NBC, etc). Many celebrities and their wives were our patrons. 
Ar’lene’s Evening Out on the Down
 in San Diego.
Monika: Did you have any problems with passing as a woman? Did you undergo any cosmetic surgeries?
Ar’lene: At age twenty (20) my parents helped pay for my nose surgery. While post-op in 1978 and a second in 1979, had two different surgeries to enlarge my breasts. Skip to twenty-two (22) years ahead. The implants ruptured and were removed, but I still developed good cup size breasts (C/D). So I didn’t need any new implants. No FFS (Facial Feminization Surgery), I would always want to continue my quality look in femininity.
Passing in public was no problem unless I let my voice get real tired, overly relaxed, or I’m too comfortable with the people I’m with, but today it’s much better under control. I had voice lessons (2010) with a Speech Therapist (cover by my health insurance). So, I have a female voice, holding and gets lower at times, but still in a female tone!
Monika: We are living in times of modern cosmetic surgery that might allow to transition even in the late 50s or 60s. Do you think it is really possible? What kind of advice do you have for transgender ladies at such an age?
Ar’lene: Hmm, yes! “I did know it would happen!” GRS/GCS or SRS was being done for years since the Roaring Twenties Flapper: Lili Elbe had the first GCS at the end of 1930 but died in a few short years at the start of 1931 in Denmark. We can’t forget that years later, also in Denmark, Christine Jorgensen had her transition (early 1950’s).
In the USA, no surgery was ethically allowed until the 1970s, except for Dr. Burou's patients (also in the 1950’s-60’s): Coccinelle, Christine Konda, and April Ashley. They had SRS in Morocco. Just after Christine Jorgensen’s fame, GRS continued in Morocco until the 1980s. So it was a taboo in America overall. I did cross the path of Christine Jorgensen a few times. She was a close friend to Sister Mary Elizabeth (Joanna Clark). Joanna has been her friend until her death.
Monika: When did the situation change?
Ar’lene: In the 1970s through the early 1990s, there was a doctor in the USA who did GRS/GCS (SRS) mainly in California, Dr. John Ronald Brown, MD. Dr. Brown’s surgeries started great to good and ended in lunacy. Dr. Brown ended in Prison in California for doing surgery by cutting off a man’s left leg (amputating and mutilating); a man suffering from apotemnophilia. He was found dead in a San Diego Holiday Inn. His leg was found in the desert. Dr. Brown did GRS and other surgeries in garages, hotels/motels, and other unethical locations. Over the years, he had a multitude of deaths and did unethical practices.
In the mid-1970s, doctors in several American Universities started a program to open the door to a selected group of “Trans-patients”, to start GCS (SRS) i.e: UCLA-Harbor General, Stanford, and John Hopkins to name a few. Stopped I believe in 1992. Also, about the same time until his death was Doctor Stanley Biber, MD, Trinidad, Colorado. He made Trinidad The Capital of Trans-Surgery. Dr. Marci L. Bowers, MD took over his practice until 2011. She is doing GCS in Northern California, now (San Mateo).

1976 Wedding – Ar’lene & Bob.

Monika: Did you have a big wedding party? Where did you spend your honeymoon?
Ar’lene: Two weddings for the first time in Burbank, California (in 1976 with a small group of friends and family) and no real honeymoon (work instead). The other wedding was in Las Vegas (1989). We prolonged the second marriage honeymoon for a big trip, (three weeks) in England, Wales, and Scotland.


All the photos: courtesy of Ar’lene D. Lafferty.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska

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