|by Liz Highleyman|
|Who Was Jack Bee Garland (aka Babe Bean)?
Jack Bee Garland, also known by various other names including Babe Bean, was a pioneer on multiple fronts, crossing boundaries of gender, ethnicity, class, and geography.
Garland was born Elvira Virginia Mugarrieta in December 1869 in the Russian Hill neighborhood of San Francisco, the child of an upper-class white woman and a Mexican military officer who became the city's first Mexican consul. A rebellious tomboy, Garland was sent to a convent school, but longed to escape, later recalling, "How often I wished I could enjoy the liberty that the world sees fit to allow a boy."
To get out of the convent, Garland married a family friend at age 15, but divorced a few months later. Eschewing his privileged background, Garland began dressing most of the time in men's clothing, spending the next several years working odd jobs, traveling, and living in various temporary residences including hobo camps.
In 1897, Garland was arrested in the central California town of Stockton for masquerading as a man. Perhaps to avoid being given away by voice, Garland claimed to be mute due to an accident and communicated in writing. Garland gave his name as Babe Bean and made no attempt to hide that he was biologically female, stating that he dressed as he did in order to "travel freely, feel protected, and find work."
For reasons that are unclearbut were perhaps related to his class backgroundthe authorities soon released Garland, much to the chagrin of a group of young women who wrote a letter to the editor demanding that if Babe Bean could dress in men's clothing, "the rest of us ought to have the same privilege." Garland, who lived alone on a houseboat in a lake, was accepted as an eccentric local celebrity. The press often speculated about his gender, referring to him as the "trousered puzzle" and "the mysterious girl-boy, man-woman." Garland was hired as a reporter by The Stockton Evening Mail and was made an honorary member of the town's bachelors' club.
When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Garland left for the Philippines, taking a job as a cabin boy on a troop transport ship. Using aliases including Beebe Beam and Jack Garlandand contending with various brushes with authority when discovered to be biologically femaleGarland worked as a Spanish language interpreter, a medic, and a war correspondent (usually writing as a man, but occasionally as a woman); accounts differ, however, as to whether Garland ever actually served as a soldier.
While many "passing women" throughout history were butch lesbians who cross-dressed in part to legitimize their same-sex relationships (including, in some cases, legal marriages), Garland had no apparent romantic interest in women. "Many have thought it strange that I do not care to mingle with women of my own age, and seem partial to men's company," he once wrote. "I am never happy nor contented unless with a few of 'the boys.'" Garland preferred the company of male chums and was somewhat misogynistic (for example, opposing women's suffrage), but there is no clear evidence that his relationships with men were homoerotic.
After leaving the Philippines, Garland returned to San Francisco. Though at first adopting women's clothing, Garland soon resumed cross-dressing as a man, despite a 1903 ordinance that made it illegal to wear the apparel of the opposite-sex. Following the 1906 earthquake and fires, he served as a nurse (uncommon for men at the time) and volunteered with the Red Cross. By now making a more concerted effort to pass as a man, he worked for the next three decades as a freelance social worker, serving homeless men who affectionately dubbed him "Uncle Jack." In contrast to his former notoriety, he lived a quiet life, residing in a series of rooming houses, and generally escaped being hassled by police.
In September 1936, Garland collapsed on a sidewalk and died in the hospital due to peritonitis resulting from an ulcer. After performing an autopsy, medical authorities announced that Garland was anatomically female, and his family background was revealed. Since no record of his service could be found, requests that he be buried with military honors were denied.
Since his death, Garland has been reclaimed both as a passing woman and as a transgender man. The San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Project's "She Even Chewed Tobacco" slide show, compiled in the late 1970s, situated Garland within a tradition of butch woman who identified as femaleand often as lesbianbut cross-dressed to take advantage of the freedom and opportunities available to men.
But in his 1990 book From Female to Male, FTM International founder Louis Sullivan claimed that Garland was a transman, and possibly gay as well. "Jack Garland demonstrated, though his lifelong adherence to his male identity, that his reasons for living as a man were more complex than just his dissatisfaction with the way society expected women to dress," Sullivan wrote.Garland's story illustrates the way understanding of identities can shift over time. From today's vantage point, it is impossible to know how Garlandwho sometimes seemed to purposefully straddle the genderswould have identified.
Liz Highleyman can be reached at PastOut@qsyndicate.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 07 June 13, 2008