Celebrating the impact that the LGBT community have had in the world: Fanny and Stella's legacy.

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Every year, during the month of June, the LGBT community celebrates in a number of different ways. Get inspired through time...

Fanny and Stella: A Victorian Drag Race

In a time when gender fluidity is finally being confronted, and increasingly accepted, their story is of particular relevance. Stella has gone down in history as a daring transvestite of the Victorian age but her legacy and bravery in the quest for self realisation is timeless. As Neil Bartlett the playwright reflects in his play about Stella, “Every baby comes out of hospital with a whole lot of invisible labels tied to its ankle saying, ‘You’re this gender, you’re this colour, you’re this class etc.’ And one of the great gifts that the Stella’s of the world give us is saying, ‘Take all these labels off, look at yourself in the mirror and say, who are you? And more importantly who do you want to be ?

Frederick Park (Fanny) and Earnest Boulton (Stella), were important early advocates of gay rights, but it is Earnest in his alter ego “Stella “ who for sheer strength and determination to be who she wanted to be, achieved this with remarkable aplomb.

Earnest and Frederick both grew up in respectable middle class families in mid C19th London and after several more mundane positions gravitated towards the stage. They appeared in small revues and shows, but it was as Stella “A glamorous yet respectable young lady “ that Earnest appeared alongside a more matronly [ it must be said !] looking Frederick taking female roles in touring melodramas across the country.

Stella looking like a young ”Alexandra of Wales” was extremely popular, reportedly receiving as many as fourteen bouquets after her shows, and she and Fanny were frequently invited to supper at country houses following their performances, often wearing their stage clothes as requested, and attending on local photographers who would take their pictures to sell as postcards. They were also seen out in London ,crossdressed at the Burlington Arcade and the Café Royal often causing a sensation.

For C19th authorities and arbiters of moral decency, this was a step too far ,and so it was decided they would were watched and followed with an eye to prosecute them. On the 28 April 1870, the two men, dressed in full drag, were arrested outside the Royal Strand Theatre in London, where they had attended a show and were seen to flirt with men in the balcony, and use the ladies conveniences . They taken into custody and crudely examined for evidence of “deviant “practices and put on trial .

They soon became the subjects of a lengthy court case that held the capital enthralled. Dubbed the “He-She Ladies” by the newspapers , whose front covers they graced and for the contents of their elaborate and stylish wardrobes.

It took a year for the verdict to come through, and remarkably, the duo were found ‘Not Guilty,’ thanks to shrewd lawyers, help from Stella’s mother testimony that he had “Always been like that since a child “ and perhaps the lack of proof of any physical evidence of deviancy

Conventional wisdom of the time would have meant anybody exposed as such must have been shamed into obscurity, however Earnest went immediately back on tour, dyed his hair blond, and promptly sailed away reappearing in New York working as a singing drag act just off Broadway.

This post was created from a feature in “Another Mag” June 2016

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Regent’s University London

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