A Moment for Fanny and Stella

In 1870, long before the word transvestite was coined and almost 25 years before Oscar Wilde was convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to hard labour, two men who dressed as women — Frederick William Park (Fanny) and Ernest Boulton (Stella) — were at the center of a scandalous trial in London.

The duo’s arrest for “conspiring to incite others to commit unnatural offenses” and their appearance in court the next morning, still in their evening gowns, shocked and titillated the faint of heart. Prudish Victorian England became fixated on the “he-she ladies,” so coined by the tabloids of the day, which slavishly delivered details of Fanny and Stella’s appearance, from the color of their silk dresses to their morning stubble.

Ultimately the trial was seen as a light-hearted farce. The jury saw through the prosecution and took less than an hour to return not guilty verdicts. It would’ve been a much different story had there been evidence of sodomy, something the prosecution, despite sending six doctors to intimately examine the defendants’ bodies while in prison, failed to prove.

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