The Definitive History of the Seahorse Society - Part 5

This page includes direct quotes from an Australian academic psychiatric article written about Seahorse.


A psychiatrist's view of Seahorse

In 1976, Dr. Neil Buhrich wrote an article about Seahorse in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry entitled: "A Heterosexual Transvestite Club".

The first contact between Seahorse and the Prince Henry Hospital's Psychiatric Department was made in August 1973, when the Secretary of Seahorse, Trina, contacted Associate Professor Neil McConaghy, providing information concerning the club after a patient had been advised to consider joining it. In view of its possible value to patients and because the medical literature on transvestism was limited and contradictory, the psychiatrists decided to accept the Secretary's assistance in obtaining more information about the club and its members.

Following an interview with the committee, Professor McConaghy's colleague, Dr. Buhrich, was invited to attend future meetings with his wife. Gradually both became accepted. The doctor was allowed "the privilege" of wearing male clothes, while everyone else wore female clothes and a standard joke was to introduce him to new members as a female transvestite. At other times, hints were made that he would be forcibly dressed as a woman and in this way would succumb to the pleasures of women's clothing.

In the article he gave a detailed description of his observations of the members and their behaviour at the meetings to which he had been invited. Dr. Buhrich and his wife attended a total of 15 club meetings and several outings to theatres and restaurants and developed a great insight in cross-dressing and Seahorse as can be seen in these extracts from his article below.

In his article, on attending his first meeting, Dr. Buhrich noted the appearance and behaviour of the members:

"On entering, the first impact is somewhat startling. Large women, overdressed in evening gowns, are standing about as if at a quiet semi-formal cocktail party. On closer examination, the more angular facial features, the large feet and hands with their prominent veins and the protruding laryngeal processes make it obvious that these are men dressed as women. This is confirmed when they speak using normal masculine voices."

"The members' ages vary from 20 to 70 years. Most cross-dress in clothes suitable to their age. Some members wear clothes which were fashionable in their youth and which now look out of date. Others favour a particular style, a mini skirt or somewhat tartish dress, worn with heavy make-up. In general, the clothes worn are sedate, semi-formal and expensive. All wear female shoes, a wig and make-up and have feminine accessories such as a necklace, bangle, broach or wristwatch."

"Although members speak in their normal masculine voice, some attempt, by speaking softly, to sound more feminine. They may also, by looking directly at the person to whom they are speaking, increase the effect of cues such as hair and make-up and thereby distract attention from their deep voice. The pitch of the voice is never raised. One newly arrived member, initially speaking with a high pitched voice, was most relieved when club members replied with their normal voices."

"An attempt is usually made to imitate women as accurately as possible. No members have a mincing gait or flamboyant gestures and no attempt is made to caricaturize film stars or ladies of high fashion. Sequins, coloured hair, tight low cut dresses or silver eye shadow are not worn. The atmosphere is quiet and relaxed. Members maintain that they feel comfortable even though they admit that their shoes may be too tight or that under garments are stretched tightly to diminish their waist size. Most sit with their legs together or stand primly holding a small glass of wine. A minority do not pose as women and sit or stand as they normally would as men."

Dr Buhrich commented on dancing protocol at gatherings:

"Later in the evening members may dance. The transvestites dance with women. Women may dance with each other but the author has never seen a transvestite dance with another transvestite."

Dr. Buhrich then commented on the restaurant nights:

"This underlying acceptance of maleness can also be observed at restaurant outings where the members, although dressed as women, alternate with their wives when sitting at the table. Meals are served and drinks poured in the sequence of women first, transvestites next, and normally dressed men last."

"One restaurant is regularly frequented. A private room is booked. Members cross-dress carefully for the occasion, usually arriving in company of their wife or girl friend. On other occasions, 3 or 4 members eat in a more exposed restaurant. Here they may have sarcastic or jibing remarks directed at them. These they accept with amused tolerance and the experience may form the basis for future transvestite anecdotes."

He then discussed the effect of cross-dressing on the marriage of members:

"Club members are aware that transvestism can be a great strain on a marriage. No attempt is made to dissuade members from cross-dressing. Instead their wives or girl friends are invited to club meetings in the hope, often fulfilled, that they will establish friendships with other couples. Women are fully accepted in club activities, taking part in entertainment and outings. To cushion the impact of the first meeting, "straight parties" are arranged for new members and their women partners. At these gatherings nobody cross-dresses. Club members' attire shows no evidence of the care and effort made when they dress as women. Apart from long fingernails members show no evidence of effeminacy. Compared to the monthly transvestite meetings, more beer is consumed. The topics of conversation tend to be the same at both meetings. Wives, who feel too uncomfortable to accompany their husbands while he is cross-dressed, often attend."

Then discussing patients who see a psychiatrist about their transvestism, Dr. Buhrich noted:

"If a decision is made by those involved to come to terms with the transvestism, referral to the club may be indicated. The outcome is variable. A few transvestites attend one meeting and find that they do not need to come again for many months. Many come regularly to monthly meetings and do not cross-dress at other times. However, it is not uncommon for them on meeting transvestites with a more convincing appearance than themselves to have their own transvestite urges reinforced. They may begin to dress more often at home or want to be seen publicly dressed as a woman. Whatever the outcome the transvestites almost always report that they are happier, more relaxed and more able to accept their condition."

In 1977, Dr. Buhrich, who had also attended the 1976 seminar, published the findings of his other research, in which Seahorse members had participated in 1975. His paper, co-authored with Trina, compared and contrasted Australian and American transvestites.



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