Gay Weddings Before 1950?

 A new exhibit at the San Francisco Public Library gathers the stories of pioneering LGBT people who disguised their gender and legally married the ones they loved. 

BY Regina Marler

December 04 2008 12:00 AM ET

Mrs. Adelle Best
of San Mateo, Calif., died at age 71 in 1940, 10 years
after the death of her third husband. A former neighbor
recalled her as “a wonderful person,”
and added, “we knew she was different, somehow,
from other women, but all were very fond of her.” She
was different, all right. She was a man.

Known as an
“excellent cook and housekeeper,” Mrs.
Best’s secret came to light only on her
deathbed, when a well-meaning doctor finally forced an
exam on the ailing widow. Her case is one of six included in
a small but remarkable exhibition, “Girl Who
'Wed' Another Girl: Pre-1950 Gay, Lesbian, and
Transgender Marriages in the United States,” at the
main branch of the San Francisco Public Library
through December 18.

The newspaper
clippings and period photographs in the exhibition -- which
convey all the scandal of sex deviance, as well as
surprisingly tough and defiant quotes from some of
these gender outlaws -- were gathered by Dr. Nicoletta
Karam, mostly from resources at the San Francisco History
Center. Her accompanying notes point out that these
marriages defy simple gender categories. Would we
consider Mrs. Best transgender if she lived today?
Perhaps the Bests were just a crypto-gay couple -- two men
finding a way to spend their lives together without
arousing the suspicion of their rural neighbors.

The couples
included in this exhibition married before there were laws
against same-sex marriage. “Nevertheless,”
Karam explains, “many of them were arrested for
transgressing gender boundaries and marrying a GLBT
spouse.” It’s hard to know whether Dr. Eugene
Perkins of La Jolla, Calif., considered himself a man
when he married his wife, Margaret Curren, in 1908.
But when he died soon after her, in 1936, he gave a
shock to mortuary workers and his death certificate was
amended to “female.”

Tags: Art

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