Opening the Transgender Umbrella: Doris Fish and The Sluts A Go-Go

A longtime fan of Doris Fish and the Sluts A Go-Go, I was inspired by their legacy when I was first exploring my gender identity in San Francisco in the early 1990s. Many years later, after I went through gender transition, my fascination was renewed thanks to reconnecting with my friends in the San Francisco drag community including the original Slut, Miss X, as well as Ms Bobbie Davis, who was a lover to Tippi at the end of her life and who has spent decades collecting and studying transgender history (Her collection is now the Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive. 

The publication of Craig Seligman’s biography of Doris, “Who Does That Bitch Think She Is?: Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag” and my involvement as exhibit designer for the GLBT Historical Society Museum exhibit “Doris Fish: Ego As Artform” led me to start the website in partnership with Phillip R. Ford, a regular Sluts collaborator and the director of their film “Vegas In Space”. 

As a trans woman in 2023, this obsession with a group of old drag queens may seem a bit unusual, but I find a lot to draw from it. 

One of the things that attracts me to the Sluts A Go-Go is the way they directly reflect the wide diversity of trans feminine gender expression: Doris Fish was very much a gay man with no interest in being seen as a woman. Miss X was an openly bisexual man (an “omnisexual satyr” as Craig Seligman describes her) who dated cis women and went on to a life of marriage to a cis woman and of fatherhood. Tippi, who seems to have experienced severe gender dysphoria and would today certainly be described as a straight trans woman. (I think drag was a kind of armor for Tippi, she seems to have only felt safe when she was on stage.)

The Sluts A Go-Go, circa 1983. From the top: Tippi, Miss X, Doris Fish. Photographer uncertain, possibly Greg Foss or Doris herself using a timer.

Add to that the diverse cast of characters surrounding the Sluts: Freda Lay, Sandel Kincade, and other cis women were welcomed to the group as drag performers. Jaqueline Hyde, one of Doris’ best friends, lived as a woman. Ambisextrous was the original non-binary queer (all due respect to the Cockettes and Angels of Light) in his glittery beards, gender queer drag, and total disinterest in the art of female impersonation. Phillip R Ford was a flamboyant yet masculine gay man in a world of Castro Clones.

They all mixed together in a riot of subversive art and aggressive non-conformity. They pissed off a lot of people, gay AND straight, but they also had a devoted following in their time and they helped foster a more open view of art, gender and sexuality that outlasted them.

Today, the transgender “community” seems very fractured to me. There is a lot of tension and ambivalence between the various expressions. Many trans women are uncomfortable with Drag, for instance, because they feel that it is play acting (or parodying) femininity, treating it like a costume when the average transwoman just wants to be seen as a woman and does not have the luxury of taking off the costume.

General societal ignorance of the difference between the two is still a major problem. The fact that anti-trans laws and anti-drag laws have arisen simultaneously is evidence of this. They are entirely different things, but the average person just sees “men dressing like women” and all of it as a threat to the status quo. Acceptance of gender diversity in mainstream society under any circumstances is considered a threat to the Republic to many foolish and dangerous people.

Within the LGBT community this has also been a divisive issue. Historically, the boundary between drag queens and transsexuals was more permeable than it is now.

In the early days (1950s and 60s) trans women, particularly trans women sexually attracted to men, really only had one option if they wanted to go out in public, and that was to go to gay bars where they were somewhat tolerated. Additionally, someone choosing to live as a “straight” woman was seen as a denial of gay male identity at a time when gay males were fighting for their rights.

There were transvestite social organizations, like Virginia Prince’s group which published “Transvestia” magazine and was an important resource for the early trans community, or the famous Casa Susanna, that catered to the married heterosexual cross dresser but which actively discouraged both sex with men and medical transition.

This is to say nothing of the hostile reception lesbian and bisexual trans women received from the lesbian/feminist community….

In both cases, respectability politics were a problem.

Drag was seen by many as an impediment to mainstream acceptance of homosexuality. Drag Queens made the community “look bad” at a time it was trying to get society to accept homosexuals as regular, decent, tax-paying citizens. The rise of the hyper-masculine gay male as a reaction against being labeled as “sissies” further complicated things, pushing the trans feminine to the margins within the gay community.

The heterosexual cross dressers, on the other hand, were focused on normalizing transvestism as a healthy heterosexual behavior practiced by red-blooded men.

This is why many trans women who transitioned usually retreated into the stealth closet whoever possible. There was no place for them, nothing to do except hope that they could pass and live as a woman in straight society. (Often that was a luxury afforded only to privileged, white trans women.) They were neither drag queens nor cross dressers and they just wanted to be left alone. Who can blame them?

I think something is missing from the contemporary trans experience. I think there is value in subverting ALL of the norms: straight, gay/lesbian AND trans. We lose our collective power in all of this divisiveness. After all, we are all the same to our enemies, they don’t see the distinctions between us.

Doris was amused by the quest to become a “real woman”. She gleefully used the term “Fake Women” to describe herself and other trans feminine people, but she seems to have been a true ally and a generous friend to transsexuals. She was on a mission to celebrate and encourage outrageous gender nonconformity (as much as she was on a mission to celebrate herself and be a star) and she very much pushed it down our collective throats.  Glamour, she insisted, was for everyone.

Glamour First

Glamour Last

Glamour Always

Seven Years


My birthday marked the 7th anniversary of the start of my transition.

All in all it’s been remarkably successful. It’s a journey you start with no idea how it will turn out, you just know with incredible certainty it’s a trip you have to make. Despite numerous blessings in my life there was a sadness at my core that wouldn’t go away, a lot of people saw it. Once I named it-I am transgender-this light went on that never burned away. Once I let Robyn speak she wouldn’t shut up until she was free to walk the earth.

They call us delusional to think we are truly of the other gender, and in a way, there is a kind of madness that takes hold that carries you through the rough times, blinds you to the stares, helps you march inexorably through the awkward stages and to the other side.

I’m so grateful I listened to that voice, and I’m so appreciative of the warm welcome I received.

What’s Up?

It’s been forever since I updated this site and no one is following it anyway, but I’m glad it’s here and I should make use of it. I love keeping track of my life. I guess these days a lot of us publicly diary our lives on social media. I do the Facebook and Instagram thing and keep track of my history that way. I guess a blog is for more long form work? Maybe? 

It’s the middle of 2022. I haven’t posted here since 2019. Gosh. A few things have happened in the intervening years…………..


Yesterday I finally got the nerve to join a gym. I’ve had this vision of taking a spin class. All very ordinary but not at all. Presenting female while sweating and not being able to rely on hair and makeup…I did fine, it was really fun.

Everyone was very nice, so nice, in fact, the ladies invited me to take their extra ticket to the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir Holiday concert and join them. The spin instructor is a member of the choir and she insisted I come.

So I went! Me and 4 cis women plus two husbands had dinner beforehand and it was quite lovely….and my mind was continually blown away by how I am perceived and I am worrying a lot about the appropriate way to introduce myself to people with dignity and integrity.

I always assume people know I’m trans but that doesn’t seem to be the case mostly, but you can never tell. I certainly don’t start conversations with that disclosure and yes, of course it’s nobody’s business, but it doesn’t take long before it gets sticky.

So last night I had a conversation about our kids with a woman who had no reason to think I hadn’t borne mine. She was telling me how much she loved being pregnant and could
assume I could relate. I didn’t find a natural way to set her straight, I don’t know how to even construct that sentence? But I need to work on it because it comes up. I punt and later casually mention that my son now lives with his mother but I’m not sure that registers and even if it does I’ve now outed myself as a
lesbian when I am not. That’s a whole story I don’t want to get into with her. But I guess it doesn’t matter because she forgets and later asks me where my husband is. I don’t have a husband. That was an easy one to answer! But she looks a little sad for me that I lost my husband. Oy…

It all feels very validating of my femininity. Holy shit, I’m successfully passing as an adult woman and I didn’t think that would happen. That’s fun for a minute but then it starts to feel scary, like I’m going to get called out for being dishonest or pulling a fast one. One lady in the party seems like she’s maybe clocked me. Kind of a funny sideways look. Maybe she just thinks I’m odd, maybe she suspects I’m trans. What’s that conversation like after I leave? If she points out I’m trans do the people who didn’t realize that feel violated or something? I hope not. I’d really like to be friends with this one lady.

Given time and opportunity I’d happily tell her. But then that makes me sad too. I like blending in and being one of the girls. I’m a Piedmont Avenue lady (which is as much an illusion as anything else with my funky in-law apartment and deluxe hot plate stove). But getting to know me is tricky. I have all these years of life that don’t jibe with the person in front of them and the simplest conversations skate on the edge of a lie and a casual question can lead to a whole messy and confusing biography that isn’t required.

I just am trying to figure out the right way to play all of this. I’m not a stealth transperson, but I don’t have to inform everyone I meet either.

I’m really glad they invited me. It felt really good. I really like who I am but I guess I’m still grappling with feeling like it’s not okay to be who I am, one way or the other. In the extremes I’m either a fraudulent liar or an honest freak. The truth is I’m a good person navigating a complex situation and trying to do so with some dignity and integrity.

Meanwhile the concert was nice but there was an air of doom as America is rapidly spiraling to the ground. I’ll figure myself out just in time for the end of the world.

Trans March 2106

I participated in Trans March for the first time ever—and just a few weeks after coming out. I went with someone who has been
a loyal and supportive friend since we met in a support group months ago. Transition is not easy, and it shouldn’t be done alone.

In the past several years I’ve had that “Me too, me too” feeling in the back of my head when I encountered trans people, and I’ve been struck lately by how much they ARE my tribe, even when we don’t have anything in common other than our gender identity. I may not always LIKE them, but I always LOVE them, if that makes sense.

I’ve been in a few protest marches in my day, and I admit I always feel awkward as a protester, but this was different. I was the nice white lady in the big pink hat and was very aware of my privilege. I was marching with trans people of color who are fighting for justice, for freedom from police violence and discrimination, for jobs, for housing, for basic health care. I was marching with wonderfully militant gender queers who seemingly have to do daily battle with transphobia and the threat of violence.

The march ended on Turk street at the former site of the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria riot when the drag queens and trans sex workers of the day fought back against police brutality. It used to be illegal to even be a cross dresser, you know.

I shook hands with Miss Major Griffin-Gracy who was one of the trans women of color who led the Stonewall riots. She’s been getting long overdue recognition thanks to a new documentary and I was honored to meet her.

They are all freedom fighters and American heroes, the same as any solider, maybe braver. For decades they’ve been getting their skulls cracked and worse for demanding a better world. All people benefit from that, in my opinion.

This thing I am doing is not easy. It’s incredibly hard and scary sometimes, but I have so many advantages it’s humbling. The people who fought the fight before me have my respect and gratitude. I hope I can be useful going forward.

But that’s the end of Pride festivities for my weekend. Too hot and too many people for me. Happy Pride. Be fearless.

A Short Story About A Long Trip

robyn001In 1991 I was a pretty young transvestite and wanna-be drag queen in San Francisco, exploring my gender and sexuality. I called myself Robyn. I was very happily “out”, I had lots of fabulous friends and support in the queer community, but also had a punishing, self-destructive, and addictive side that eventually won out. Continue reading “A Short Story About A Long Trip”