The Definitive History of the Seahorse Society - Part 6
This page includes details of major changes that occurred to Seahorse in the late 1970's and through the 1980's.
The Breakup of Seahorse
It was difficult to maintain such dizzy heights and the doldrums were beginning to set in. By 1979, a schism began to develop between the club's State Branches, probably caused by distance and personality clashes. The various states set up their own independent clubs. Some states, such as Western Australia and South Australia, dropped the name "Seahorse" altogether and adopted their own chosen names, such as "Chameleons" and "Carousel" respectively. The eastern states, NSW, Queensland and Victoria maintained the name "Seahorse". Seahorse Victoria had become a separate entity by mid-1975.
The rest of this article is almost entirely devoted to the Seahorse Society of NSW.
In September 1979, the first official meeting of Seahorse New South Wales was held in Marrickville. By the end of 1980, the original organisers had departed and the National Seahorse Society had disintegrated, leaving independent clubs in each state. The New South Wales club continued its outings to restaurants, theatres, shopping and discos but now more irregularly, and with Trina's departure in 1981, it was mostly quiet for several years.
No exact record exists of who were the Seahorse Presidents between 1979 and 1983.
Seahorse in the 1980's - The Difficult Years
In the early years of Seahorse, trans-sexuals were not accepted as members. By the early 1980's, the term "heterosexual transvestite" was still being widely used within the club, although it was noted that there were at least three members who had undergone, or were undergoing, hormone therapy and/or gender reassignment surgery.
Each new leader did a great job, but all the other members tended to stand around and watch until that person disappeared, burnt out from exhaustion. At the end of 1983, when Secretary Helen disappeared, New South Wales Seahorse had reportedly dropped to a mere four members. Caroline Joyce started an enthusiastic recovery in 1984-85 publishing Feminique 25, in which it was reported that the membership stood at 122. A similar event happened again when Caroline Joyce suddenly disappeared early in 1985 with all the members' details, and allegedly a large amount of cash, just after members had paid their membership subscriptions. The loss of members' details, as well as the funds, was a disaster for the club. See below for details.
Luckily, Dorothy Sellwood (President 1984-1987), Kim Seabourne (President 1987) and Joyce were on hand to keep the club together and through networking they were able to reassemble a list of many of the previous members. After that, the load was spread more evenly and records duplicated, so if it should happen again, the club would at least still have a list of its own members.
Detailed research into the existing membership applications, which date back to 1985, reveals that a new numbering system of members began around that time and whatever previous system that had been in place prior to that had to be abandoned.
By the late 1980's, it was becoming apparent that it was inappropriate for the club to maintain a strict limitation on membership by excluding trans-sexuals. As in all associations, the need to change the underlying philosophy had to be member-driven, and it took a couple of years of reasoning, plus a talk from a solicitor attached to the Redfern Legal Service, before Seahorse could adapt and make changes.
At some point in the 1980's, a splinter group broke off from Seahorse and called themselves the Flamingo Society, claiming that Seahorse was too conservative and did not meet the needs of younger cross-dressers who wanted to get out in public a lot more. It appears that the Flamingo Club ceased to function in 1992. A review of applications to Seahorse in the 1990's found that quite a few were from ex-Flamingo members joining or returning to Seahorse. A letter has been discovered that indicates the Flamingo and Seahorse clubs amalgamated in 1992 as the Seahorse Society Inc.
Of interest, I joined the Flamingo Club in 1989, but never attended any meetings as I was still very closeted back then.
The member who nearly destroyed Seahorse
It is unclear when she first joined Seahorse, but the remaining records show that Caroline Joyce became NSW Seahorse Secretary in 1984. She also was the editor of the final edition of the Feminique Magazine in 1984. Caroline promised 4 more editions in 1985. Her role of Secretary meant that she looked after Membership records and this may have included the Treasurer's role as well.
I was told and also had read that when Caroline suddenly disappeared in 1984, she had taken with her all the membership records, which contained names (femme and real), addresses, phone numbers, membership numbers, etc. Several older members have confirmed that Caroline took off with the Society's funds as well. Most members would have just paid their yearly membership fees at the last meeting that Caroline attended, so there would have been a large amount cash to be banked the following week. It is unclear if Caroline was unemployed at the time of the larceny and in need of money. The Police were obviously not informed.
So who was Caroline Joyce? We know that she wrote several autobiographical articles in the final Feminique magazine, which she edited in 1984. These may give us some insight about her life. She said she was born in 1934. I will start by reviewing these articles.
The first of these, entitled "I was only 14", recounted Caroline being taken to England in 1948 by her mother to see a specialist for help, because she wanted to become a girl. It seems that she was already living as one, but presumably wanted hormones and/or surgery to become a more complete girl. Incidentally, the famous Australian Vietnam era song "I was only 19" by Redgum , that was released in 1983 and may have influenced the title of the article.
However, the visit to the doctor turned into a disaster. After a brief and tactless examination, she was admitted "for tests" to a children's ward. However, the nurses then tried to cut off her hair, as some sort of coercive therapy to rid her of this gender problem. However, she fought them tooth and nail, but some of her hair was removed. She soon made a dramatic escape from the hospital and the Police returned her to her mother. Her distressed mother bought Caroline her first bra, a new dress and pair of shoes to make up for the painful experience.
The second article, is set in Sydney as a 17 year old, living and working as a woman. It is an account of her becoming ill while going to work one day and ending up in Sydney Hospital with appendicitis. She told the doctor that she was actually a male. Unlike her previous hospital experience in London in 1948, she was treated very well and in a respectful manner. The appendix must have ruptured before surgery and she was quite sick for several days and took months to recover.
During her recovery time, she saw doctors for help about changing her into a woman, but always received the same answer: "You should go home and live as a man".
The third article, said to be written by Caroline's wife, Rita, is also quite dramatic in many ways. It is quite a long article covering their complex relationship.
At the age of 17, Rita met Caroline, then aged 20, in 1954, when they both worked in the same department store in Sydney. Caroline was living and working full-time as a woman, and Rita did not know Caroline had been born a male. They became very close friends, and remained so even after the shock of Caroline eventually telling Rita of her birth gender. Six months later they married, with Caroline dressed in a male suit, but with female shoes and underwear. After the wedding, Caroline discarded the suit and they went on their honeymoon. On their honeymoon, they got kicked out of a motel in Taree because the owner said "We didn't want your kind here!" (I gained the impression that the owner thought they were lesbians.)
For the next three years, they had "a wonderful life", until children came along and "Caroline had to go back into the closet". Caroline could not get a job as a man because she had no work experience or references as a male. "After years of real hell", Caroline left their home and began to live as a woman again and eventually obtained a job as a manageress of a Ladies Department.
Rita and Caroline divorced in 1960, after Caroline started female hormones. Nine years later, Caroline was severely beaten up by a male friend, knocked unconscious and sustained 17 fractured bones. There followed a long recovery period with multiple surgeries. However, this event brought them back together again. In 1973, Rita and Caroline married each-other again. Caroline now worked as a male, but lived as a woman the rest of the time. This was the situation in 1984. Rita said that she "hated John", but "loved Caroline".
After first reading her articles, I had some doubts about the truthfulness of her stories. They sounded just a bit too dramatic and I suspect that her life story may be largely fabricated, or at the least, rather exaggerated.
So what happened to Caroline? She appeared to be strongly committed to Seahorse. Why did she disappear so suddenly? Was it just for Seahorse's funds, as some members have told me? Why did Rita not contact Seahorse if Caroline was seriously ill or had died suddenly? Sadly, my research cannot supply all the answers to these questions, but it looks like a case of old-fashioned larceny.
An unusual and sad story
In my research of old membership records, I came across a rather unexpected and poignant story.
Bernadette (#011), a member of mature years, joined Seahorse in May 1985 and very soon became an active member, serving as Honorary Secretary from October 1985 until May 1988. Her typed correspondence that we have on record was polite, well-written, pleasant and supportive towards joining members.
In May 1988, it appears that she resigned from the position of Honorary Secretary for reasons never stated, but apparently there was pressure from the majority of the committee for her to do so. However, at least one other member spoke out and voiced an opinion that the Committee had mishandled the whole situation, but also apologised for the use of the words "Mafia" and "Gestapo" in her initial letter of criticism of the situation (no copy of that letter exists).
Bernadette, initially distressed, stayed on as an ordinary member and there are records of cordial letters from Bernadette to the President.
12 months later, in May 1989, the committee took the extraordinary step of suspending her membership, citing her poor "standard of dress, manners, and personal hygiene", and that members were saying that they were reluctant to attend meetings or bring along guests "who would be confronted by her." (sic) I believe affronted is what was meant. This description of her has been confirmed by older Seahorse members. She was advised that she could not attend meetings until she could convince the Committee that she had improved. The letter was signed by five committee members. Records show that she resumed attending meetings in August the same year, presumably with the Committee's approval.
A letter from Bernadette, dated February 1990, includes her account of attending the Gay Mardi Gras, dressed as a woman and receiving a compliment from a gay man who thought she was a real woman. This man also thought that Seahorse no longer existed, a belief that Bernadette corrected.
Between February 1990 and May 1992, records show that she was a financial member and was attending meetings fairly regularly. In June 1992, she wrote to Seahorse, with shaky handwriting, saying that she was in Balmain Hospital and "was very sick". It sounds like she might have been terminally ill and in palliative care. There is no further reference to her in the records after that.
Some photos from the 1980's or 1990's:
Exact dates or years of these photos are unknown, except the ASHOG presentation photo which was probably taken in 1995.
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