The History of Seahorse

Introduction

Our magazine editor wrote the article below at the request of the editor of Polare, the magazine of the Gender Centre in Sydney. In addition to her own lenghty membership of Seahorse, Rhonda included information about the formation and early development of the Seahorse Club from its founder (and still active member), Rosemary.

What is Seahorse?

On the pages of Polare there is always an advert for The Seahorse Society of New South Wales. Some of you may not know what Seahorse does or why it exists, others of you may at some time have been a member and moved on along the long journey towards the gender that you feel is right for you. With this article I hope to explain why we exist and what we are doing nowadays.


How it began

Seahorse came into existence 37 years ago when a cross-dresser, Rosemary, frustrated at the non existence of any meeting place for people like herself decided to seek out other cross-dressers in Sydney and try to get away from the loneliness which she felt. Rosemary had lived much of her life overseas and had come in contact with groups during her travels and knew that in a city the size of Sydney there were bound to be like minded people.

She placed an advert in what in those days was a very risqué news paper "The Kings Cross Whisper' a journal that was circulated in Kings Cross and similar areas. Throughout Australia The advert in what was a very repressive society had to be discrete and yet communicate. It asked for anyone interested in "TV" to contact a box number. There was enormous response from all over Australia, even though a few believed that TV meant what they watched in the evening at home.

Fortunately the message was understood by sufficient people and an initial meeting was arranged at a restaurant and at that meeting it was agreed that they would form a club with a constitution and Rosemary was elected as first president .It was also decided that they would have meetings at first in private homes. As expected secrecy was paramount as such a group could easily be exposed which would have been a disaster. Meeting in private homes worked for a while and the group grew. After a couple of years Rosemary was posted overseas so she handed over the club to a full committee As with any group there is a movement of members, some losing interest, others relocating overseas or interstate and others finding that the club just wasn't for them. These were the times when to "walk on the wild side" was for a group of suburban "mums" at the school P&C to go into the Cross in a coach and see "Les Girls" and talk about it to the other mums at the tuck shop for weeks.


An early crisis

In the early 1980's, the then Secretary of the group and the only one who had access to the names and addresses of members and accrued funds disappeared. Only through what is now called networking did the club survive. During the 80's and early 90's a number of venues were tried as meeting places.

It was difficult to find a safe, convenient place to meet. The Gender centre was very helpful to the group making available a small room in which to store records and a basic photo copier and a useful place to conduct membership interviews.


From closet to media exposure

The social attitude was still not very accepting of cross-dressing and one of the main fears at the time was that a journalist would gain membership and expose the group to public ridicule. There was one female journalist who did approach the then president and was invited to a meeting and an after social gathering at a Glebe coffee shop. What appeared in the women's magazine later was not very complementary of the members or the organization. This discouraged any further dalliance with the general media until the late 90's. By then attitudes had changed a bit. The Gay Mardi Gras had become a major event on the Sydney calendar and the Oxford Street area became a tourist attraction.

Seahorse membership grew but never more than 100 members of whom only about 30% would attend meetings. It was at one of those meetings that the media was again invited to come and have a look at us. This time the request came from TV, {Television} in the form of Camera and sound man and a female interviewer from the Channel 9 breakfast show. What went to air was a very fair segment of about 12 minutes showing members enjoying the meeting and on camera interviews asking the usual questions. It started with one member being shown doing his day job and following him through the makeup stage to attending a meeting in his other guise.


Where is Seahorse at now?

Now after 37 years Seahorse is still there, and whilst now more public is still retaining the secrecy and discretion that the majority of members want. There have been seven very successful balls held at major Sydney hotels. These held annually in the July/ August ball season have attracted guests from all over NSW and interstate and have proved very popular with an average attendance of 140 guests. Recently the President Julia, after receiving a number of enquiries from country applicants initiated a series of seminars to be held in regional centres - These were considered necessary when country applicants found that on approaching health care worker in these districts they were unable to get help they sought as the health workers had no knowledge of cross-dressing or what they did know was outdated. These seminars have proved a success and others are planned. Seahorse is not funded by any government body and those conducting these gatherings do so at their own expense.

The incidence of depression in the community is advised almost daily in the press and media and often the underlying cause is that when seeking help the lack of knowledge by the health worker adds to the condition. Seahorse feels that by talking to these workers it will help them, should they get a client who is feeling frustrated in a small community by the need to dress in the other gender. Of course the partners of cross dressers also have problems. Finding out, in some cases after many years of marriage, that their partner has been hiding a secret can be devastating to a relationship. In some cases this can be the, last reason they need to lead to the divorce court and family break-up.

With this in mind Seahorse has a mobile phone number which is only to be contacted by partners of cross dressers where they are able to talk to another woman who has experienced the same problems they are. These wives are not professional counsellors but can talk from personal experience and may be of help.


Seahorse is more than just a social group

From this you can see that the Seahorse Society is not just a venue for Sydney cross-dressers to get dressed up one night a month and meet other dressers. In providing this meeting place it gives them the chance to make new friends with a similar pastime and not feel that loneliness that can lead to the earlier mentioned depressive state. For those unable or not wanting to attend a meeting we produce a magazine which covers what is happening in the group and members opinions on related subjects. The advent of the Internet has presented many with a link to others, it also makes it easier for finding out about Seahorse. We have a regularly updated website which shows some of the aspects of Seahorse and explains what we are about. Many of the new applicants to join now find Seahorse from the "Net" where previously they had to rely on seeing an infrequent article in a women's magazine.

Seahorse has changed quite a lot over the years; we still have the necessary interview and still retain the confidentiality that is important to members. We have been criticised by some for not changing enough to keep up with the times. The response to this is that we still provide a safe, friendly entry point into the confusing and challenging life for those who cross-dress. We don't try and influence anyone about which path they should take. Some of our members of course find they want to go further in their life experience of dressing whilst others, while wanting to move on in the gender confusion they experience find family, financial or work commitments prevent them doing so. The professional counsellor at the Gender Centre in Petersham, who often refers clients to Seahorse is always available to help those people.


Where to next for Seahorse?

To continue to grow and provide a service at that entry point and to get the message out there in the general community that we are not strange, different, yes, but that isn't a crime!

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Rosemary for her help in putting this brief history together, especially with her information about the early years. At our annual Ball at the Mercure Hotel earlier this year Rosemary was recognised as the Founder of Seahorse NSW and declared Life Member of the society.

Rhonda.

Member of Seahorse since 1992 and current editor of the Seahorse Magazine.


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