Tag Archives: trans gender

Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer explain the “Judge Rinder” scam trial disaster…

Will Franken (left) and Lewis Schaffer angling for Pret a Manger sponsorship

Will Franken (left) and Lewis Schaffer hoping for sponsorship?

Yesterday’s blog ended with American comics Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer about to go to Manchester for the recording of the ITV reality court show Judge Rinder last Wednesday – on the basis that Lewis Schaffer was annoyed because Will owed him £42 and Will was annoyed Lewis Schaffer had never called him Sarah when Will dressed as a woman and performed/lived as Sarah Franken.

Two Fridays ago, a car from the Judge Rinder programme delivered a ‘Witness Statement’ to me at my home, based on a telephone call I had had with one of the production team. I signed it – to be read out at the TV court appearance in Manchester the following Wednesday. The statement (with their mis-typings) read:

My statement for the Judge Rinder programme

My statement to be read out on the Judge Rinder programme


Two years ago Lewis loaned will £50. To date Sarah has only returned £8. Although the situation is unfortunate, Will still owes Lewis £42, and he should pay Lewis back. It’s is a matter of principle, and I agree wholeheartedly that Will should pay him the funds. The money was given as a loan; and it’s only right that he pays Lewis back.

Lewis has built a reputation for being quite controversial on stage – he actually has one of the best Holocaust jokes I have ever heard in my life! Lewis will say the unexpected – the things that people take offense to, but he honestly means no harm.

In regards to Will, we’ve always known Sarah as Will so I don’t believe that Lewis’ intends in any way to insult, degrade or offend Will. If I am honest, I believe that Lewis has always referred to him as Will, and as a result he continues to address him by his name.

Although it is in Lewis’ nature to be annoying, I firmly believe there is no intention on Lewis’ behalf to cause any harm to Will.

I’m sad that they have fallen out over something so menial. It’s sad that a matter such as this has affected their relationship. I hope this matter can be resolved.


I met Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer again last Sunday, at the Pret a Manger eatery in St Pancras station. I believe both may be open to offers of sponsorship by any retail chain. Lewis Schaffer was wearing a black eyepatch on his left eye for no discernible reason. I did not ask why because I suspected there was no reason.


“As far as I was aware,” I told them, “the programme was going ahead. The programme people never told me it was not going ahead.”

“I might use it in my Edinburgh Fringe show next year,” said Will. “Our attempt to defraud them.”

“You speak for yourself!” Lewis Schaffer objected. “The story is totally true! You owed me money and I wanted it back.”

“You told people you had a £250 gig,” said Will, “and you didn’t.”

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer, “I did not tell them a £250 gig.”

“So why did it not go ahead?” I asked.

“I got scared,” said Will, “because I was recruiting witnesses to bolster my defence and my witnesses were getting scared because the TV people wanted pieces of paper signed.”

“And your witnesses wouldn’t sign?” I asked.

“I called a guy in Birmingham,” explained Will, “and said: Hey! If somebody calls you, would you say you were there the night Lewis gave me this money and that you were there for about ten different shows across England where Lewis was calling me ‘Will’ and making people very uncomfortable? And he said: Yeah, yeah. I’ll do it.

“Then they called him and asked Would you be willing to sign a document? and he said What do you mean document? This isn’t a real court, is it? And apparently they said: Yes, it IS a real court. And he called me back and said he didn’t want to sign anything and I got scared too. They were calling my ex-girlfriend to do the same thing.”

I asked Lewis Schaffer: “You told me that they cancelled because the TV people thought the two of you were getting too aggressive towards each other. Did they?”

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer, “that’s not what it was. It was because you had two plonker losers negotiating at the same time. It was escalating. I thought we could get some money out of them. I told Will: Ask for some money. I could have gotten £250.”

“I liked the idea of us being grifters,” said Will. “I think the term ‘grifter’ makes it sound cool.”

“It isn’t cool,” said Lewis Schaffer, “it’s just business. We were asking for money.”

“I’ve got this guy on the phone from the TV show,” said Will, “and he’s thinking Oh, we’ve got this great little trans-gender caper and emotional distress caper! and he’s so enthusiastic… Oh, so you and Lewis Schaffer were really good friends? and I’m cupping the phone and like laughing, cos it’s so funny. It’s a prank joke.”

Lewis Schaffer said: “You took it a bit too far.”

“No, you took it a bit too far,” Will told him.

“I asked for a little bit of money,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“He asked for £250,” Will told me. “So I get off the phone and he tells me: They’re gonna give me £250. So now I get the free hotel, I get the trans-gender pity and he gets £250, cos he had the wherewithal to say: Oh, by the way, I’m missing work.”

“This is how I screwed myself,” said Lewis Schaffer. “Because I told Will I was doing £250 and I told them: Will needs £250 because of the ‘Comedy Union’.

“The what?” I asked.

“The Comedy Union,” said Lewis Schaffer and Will together, like a Greek chorus.

“We got a Comedy Union now!” laughed Lewis Schaffer. “So then Will asked for £300.”

“No,” said Will to Lewis Schaffer. “First thing I did was I said: I need you to send me a Facebook message taunting me and saying ‘Ha ha, Will, I’m getting £250 AND my £42. Ha ha ha.’ – So I could then tell them Look – Lewis is taunting me. So they don’t think we’re friends. Then I got the producer on the phone to me going: OK, well, the thing is you’ve not mentioned missing any gigs the night of the recording.”

“All you needed to do,” said Lewis Schaffer, “was say: Listen, you gotta pay us some money for this! You gotta pay us a per diem or something!

“But you told them you were missing a gig,” said Will.

“I didn’t say specifically,” explained Lewis Schaffer. “I said I might miss a gig. We could have gotten offered a gig in the two days before the recording.”

“So,” I said, “you didn’t tell them you’d miss a gig; you told them you might miss a gig.”

“Yeah,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“So,” said Will, “Lewis had upped the ante with the £250, so I get the TV guy on the phone and say: Look, Lewis is taunting me with the £250 he’s getting. I’m gonna lose money too.”

“We were just pushing the money,” said Lewis Schaffer. “They didn’t trust us after a while.”

“Of course they didn’t.” said Will. “We embellished the story.”

“What happened,” said Lewis Schaffer, “was it was an escalation of demands and they just thought: These people are trouble. I think they just realised that Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer is double trouble. It’s vortex of trouble. We couldn’t make money if we owned the Mint.”

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How Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer decided to con ITV out of lots of money

Lewis Schaffer videos Will Franken by a Big Mac toilet

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog conversation with London-based American comedians Will Franken and Lewis Schaffer.

A few months before, Will Franken had decided that he would wear women’s clothes on stage and off stage and would be called Sarah Franken. For the conversation I had, Will had come dressed as a man and there was some discussion about whether or not he might drop the Sarah Franken persona.

The blog continued in a post the next day, in which Lewis Schaffer mentioned that Will owed him some money and Will mentioned Lewis Schaffer had never called him Sarah Franken.

One reason this conversation was split into two blogs was to draw a little attention to the ‘he owes me money/he didn’t call me Sarah’ narrative, because there was one part of the chat we had (in a McDonalds in Holborn) which I carefully omitted from the two blogs.

In the second blog I posted, Lewis Schaffer is quoted as saying: “When I moved to England, I got an offer to appear on the TV series Wife Swap. My wife at the time did not want to do it and I didn’t want to do it either,” after which Will said: “The first thing that goes though my head now is: Is there money? I don’t think about exposure any more.”

The section of the conversation which I omitted came immediately following that.

Below is what I omitted.


Lewis Schaffer (left) and Will Franken concocted a comedy idea in a McDonalds

Lewis Schaffer (left) and Will Franken concocted a comedy idea in a McDonalds

“I don’t give a fuck about exposure,” Will continued. “I got an email from the Judge Rinder people.”

[Judge Rinder is a British reality court show. It stars criminal barrister Robert Rinder as the judge, who oversees disputes between two real members of the public in a mock-up of a small claims courtroom. It is similar to the US TV show Judge Judy]

“It was Friday afternoon,” Will explained, “and I got an e-mail and it was somebody from ITV studios in Manchester saying: We may have an opportunity for you. I’ve been doing this for fifteen years now and I’ve never learned my lesson. The first thought that goes to my hayseed, Missouri hick brain is always: They’re going to give me my own show! Thankyou, God!

“You deserve it, too,” Lewis Schaffer told him.

“So I go back home,” Will said, “and, of course, the terrorist thing happened in Paris. So I called the guy the next day and he said: OK. Do you know this show called Judge RinderWe are looking for people who have a funny story, like maybe somebody took your laptop but didn’t bring it back? Something like that. Do you have any stories?

“I asked: Is there any money for this? And he said: No, but we will give you money for a nice hotel in Manchester. I said: Do you have any idea what the fuck happened last night, man? What kind of whorehouse is this?

“And then today, he e-mails me again and says: OK, have you had some time to think? Do you have any friends? And I said: No, we would all need a fee. every one of the people I know would need a fee.”

“No money?” said Lewis Schaffer. “I wouldn’t do that, because that’s not comedy. You would have to do some actual work before it. The thing is, you’ve got to get two insane people to be on that programme.”

“Why don’t WE do it?” Will asked Lewis Schaffer. “I would do it if you and I could do it.”

“THAT would be funny,” agreed Lewis Schaffer.

“But what,” I asked, “could you sue each other over?”

“I could e-mail the guy right now,” said Will, “and we could say, if he gets Lewis and me each a hotel room in Manchester and covers our travel…”

“…and food,” added Lewis Schaffer. “And we want a per diem of some kind.”

“Were you serious,” I asked Lewis Schaffer, “when you said you lent Will some money?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Well, that’s the basis,” I said.

“He needed money,” explained Lewis Schaffer, “and I said to him If you come down and come on my radio show – because I needed a guest and I’m very last-minute – I was desperate for a guest and I said to Will: Come down and I’ll loan you the £50.”

Will said: “I thought you said: I’ll GIVE you £50.”

“I’m not gonna GIVE you £50!” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Say it’s £150,” I suggested. “It’s sexier.”

“But,” replied Lewis Schaffer, “then the judge will ask: Did you fuck him?

“I think it will be funny,” said Will.

“It will be funny,” agreed Lewis Schaffer, then said to me: “He’s given me a total of £8 back.”

Will, laughing and adopting a hick mid-Western accent, said: “He took my catchphrase, which was Cheerio, Yankees! Let’s just make up something.”

“If,” I said, “you’re going to tell a lie on TV about anything, base it on reality. He lent you £150.”

“What’s the difference?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“It sounds better,” I said. “For £50, you wouldn’t go on TV; for £150, you might.”

“Maybe I’m just angry at the guy,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s payback time.”

“This is kind of funny,” said Will. “Shall we do this?”

“Yeah,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“It’s a good idea,” I agreed.

“Do it tomorrow,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“No,” I said. “Do it now.”

Will started composing an e-mail.

This guy Lewis Schaffer…” he started.

Comedian Lewis Schaffer…” Lewis Schaffer corrected him.

“Say he’s another American,” I suggested, “because then they get two Americans having a go at each other.”

“… another Yank…” said Will, “says I owe him…”

“We can just ‘Yank it up’,” laughed Lewis Schaffer.

“£50?” asked Will.

“£42,” said Lewis Schaffer. “And this Lewis Schaffer guy is angry. And he wants to embarrass me.”

“You both want to embarrass each other,” I suggested. “Do they know about the cross-dressing? Do they know about Sarah?”

“When he was on the phone,” explained Will, “he said Sarah. Well, that’s obviously not your REAL name and I thought: Well, this is some guy who’s not into the PC thing!

“Your angle,” I suggested, “is that Lewis Schaffer was the only guy at the Edinburgh Fringe in August who did not call you Sarah and that really annoyed you.”

“I could ask for damages,” said Will. “I owe Lewis £42 but I want £1,000 from him for emotional damages.”

“But,” said Lewis Schaffer, “there isn’t a pool where one of us will get the money.”

“I don’t know,” said Will, “I’ve never watched the show.”

“Maybe we should ask for £250,” said Lewis Schaffer, “and we split the money.”

“They don’t pay you the £250,” said Will. “They expect me to pay you.”

“No they wouldn’t,” Lewis Schaffer told him. “They can’t. It’s not a court. It’s a TV programme.”

“It’s not a court?” asked Will.

“It’s not a court,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“How about £242?” suggested Will. “That sounds more believable.”

I said: “Keep it simple. He hates you because you owe him money. You hate him because he didn’t call you Sarah.”

“Exactly,” said Will. “We could use this as a showreel. These two guys dicking around in McDonalds with John Fleming hatched a plot…”

I said: “Two comedians. Two Yanks. They’re both vocally fluent. They’re bitching at each other. And one is in a dress. The TV people will love it. If you say ‘trans-genderism’, they’re going to have an orgasm on the spot. They’ll go for it.”

And they did.

Will sent the e-mail.

The Judge Rinder producers arranged the recording date for the following week in Manchester.

…CONTINUED HERE

Lewis Schaffer (right) with his arms round Will Franken at St Pancras station

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Legal system, Television

Drag king LoUis CYfer: “I was afraid of men and didn’t identify with femininity”

LoUis CYfer, drag king of London

LoUis CYfer, erratically-capitalised drag king of London Town

“You are happier being called… what?” I asked

“I don’t care what people refer to me as. I disassociate from this whole… Are you male or female? – No. I’m fabulous! – If you can inspire people and that’s your job and you get paid for that and you can live on that, what an honour!

“I play Soho every week and I’m off around the country every two weeks. We’re booking in a spring tour ending in Edinburgh next August – 27 nights at the Fringe.”

“What’s the show?” I asked.

Joan Retold – about Joan of Arc, but as if she was a Northerner from Sheffield. She’s a gender warrior in the modern day. We make the story of Joan of Arc a bit more centralised round the idea of being who you are. She keeps flipping back into the story and making comments about things like pottage.”

“And frottage?” I asked.

“Oh yes.”

“Why the name CYfer?” I asked.

“The name comes from my gay shame days. It created a lot of anxiety. I saw myself as something really bad. So, when I was coming up with a stage name, I thought Lucifer, then I masculinised to LoUis CYfer so he could behave really badly. I get people coming up to me saying: Now I know what the capital letters are for in your name: it spells LUCY.”

LoUis CYfer - Joan Retold

Lucy Jane Parkinson/LoUis CYfer reborn as Joan of Arc

LoUis CYfer’s real name is Lucy Jane Parkinson.

“When did you start performing?” I asked.

“I did my first proper show in the last year of junior school: I was probably about ten. It was Alice Through The Looking Glass and I was Alice. I wasn’t really a girly-girl. I had to wear a dress for the show and have a pet rabbit, so it was a challenge.

“It was my first standing ovation and I could hear all the clapping and I said to myself: Oh, this is definitely what I want to do. Just to see the smiles and know they’d enjoyed the whole show and, when I came out to take my bow, there was this really loud clapping and I was like: Whooaaa! That sense of acceptance and adulation. It’s addictive. It becomes addictive but then, as you get older, it becomes secondary to what you’re actually doing. Now I don’t do it for people clapping. That’s a nice added thing, but there’s so much more politics underneath my work now.”

I was in London’s Soho Theatre Bar yesterday, with this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith. We were talking to drag king LoUis CYfer. She was first mentioned in this blog in April this year.

LoUis won the Drag Idol Championship in Texas in 2014.

LoUis CYfer (left) with Sandra smith yesterday

LoUis CYfer (left) poses for photo with Sandra Smith yesterday

“So where,” Sandra asked LoUis, “are you on the trans spectrum?”

“I don’t identify as female,” LoUis replied, “even though biologically I am. I don’t identify as the social female or the social male. I don’t wish to be either one of them. I just wish to be more androgynous than anything.”

“I always thought of trans,” said Sandra, “as either male or female – one wanting to be the other… a woman wanting to be a bloke…”

“I don’t see it as being ‘a bloke’,” LoUis told her. “That’s how a lot of people see it and I think that’s where they keep going wrong with it and I think that’s why the suicide rate of people post-op-trans is 85% right now.

“Some people pin all their problems and all their social anxieties on the fact of them changing gender. They think, if they change, all-of-a-sudden they will fit in. They go through all this big massive block of their life to get just there and do it… and then nothing’s different. All-of-a-sudden, they’ve got this body that’s been medically butchered – all their hormones have been changed – their mind is struggling and none of their problems have been solved.

“If you have struggled to get through life as a female because of what’s happened with other females pushing you down because you don’t want to be a beautified woman… or if you’ve had some kind of difficult encounter with men… I don’t think the problem is gender.

Louis Cyfer

“Don’t live in binary. There’s no either/or”

“I don’t believe that transgenderism – fully-post-transitional – is the right thing to do for some people. They think if they flip over and become male that will fix their gender issues and it won’t.”

“With them,” I suggested, “it is a psychological problem not a physical problem, so a physical change won’t change the psychology.”

“Exactly,” agreed LoUis. “We don’t live in binary, so there is no either/or.”

“I have heard,” I told her, “people say: I always felt like I was a man in a woman’s body or a woman in a man’s body. But it sounds to me like you are saying, in the words of the song, I am what I am. We have established you don’t want to be a man as such: you do not want the operation.”

“Though,” said LoUis, “I think I will do top surgery. That’s where the breasts are removed. I’ve never felt a relationship to them and, with my job, it’s very difficult to keep binding them and keep binding them. So having them removed is more like an investment in my manifesto. For somebody to look at me and not know what I was – I would prefer that.”

LoUis CYfer (chats to Sandra Smith at the Soho Theatre

LoUis CYfer chats to Sandra Smith at Soho Theatre yesterday

“What do you feel like,” Sandra asked her, “regarding the outside world?”

“I don’t really know,” replied LoUis.

“When you were a kid?” asked Sandra.

“I felt,” said LoUis, “like I was a boy growing up in a girl’s body. I felt like I should have been a boy. I never felt like a boy, but I felt I should have been one.”

“So there was,” I said, “an element of that I felt like a man growing up in a woman’s body?”

“Yeah. But now I’ve become more intelligent and I understand gender a lot more, I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s a social construct that I’ve been open to. I think it was the people around me when I was growing up. I watched how they believed what gender was. It was very suppressant of females, very liberating of the power of masculinity. I didn’t agree with that, so I went off on a journey to find my own way and now I think now I’m surrounded by people who are quite like-minded and don’t judge me because I’m a female.”

“Did you have a sense of belonging as a kid?” Sandra asked.

“No. I felt very odd, very different. It was weird. I felt very special but rejected. I felt: I have something in me that needs to come out, like a little gold fire. It feels very very lovely, but I feel I can’t communicate properly with people.

“It made me terribly unhappy. I felt no-one understood me, no-one got me. I felt a bit alienated and rejected except by my grandma. When she found out I was gay, she didn’t mind. She would ask: Have you got a girlfriend? Have you got a friend?”

“When did you come out as gay?” I asked.

Louis Cyfer

LoUis CYfer – “Now I am not afraid of men”

“When I was 13. But I don’t identify as a lesbian now. I think you just fall in love with who you fall in love with. I think I backed myself into a corner with the lesbian thing, because I think I was afraid of men and didn’t identify with femininity. I was attracted to women, but I should have just stayed on that line of I’m exploring my bi-sexuality. Because now I look at people very differently. Now I am not afraid of men.”

“What made you afraid of men?” Sandra asked.

“I had some really bad experiences. I was raped when I was younger.”

“How old were you?” I asked.

“It was two weeks after my 16th birthday. Growing up, I had some bad experiences and that was what really made me very afraid of men. I don’t think I went with women because something bad happened with men. I think I found softness and solitude in women and the femininity and the caring and the Mother Naturing – I loved that. It made me feel warm.”

“If,” I said, “you thought you were gay at 13 and got raped at 16, it has got no connection.”

LoUis CYfer strikes a pose as herself

LoUis CYfer strikes a dramatic pose as herself

“I was actually about 6 when I knew I wasn’t straight. I remember being in the car with my mum. I was sat in the back of the car and said to my mum I think I should have been a boy and she said Oh, don’t worry, everyone feels like that. So I said: Did you feel like that? And she said: No. And I never spoke about it again.”

“What,” I asked, “made you think at 6 you were gay? – You were not pubescent yet.”

“I knew something was different and I knew I didn’t like to be like they were on television. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew I didn’t want a family and a car and a this and a that.”

“Being trans,” I said, “is becoming terribly trendy now.”

“It is,” agreed LoUis. “And I think that’s bloody dangerous. People will start making the wrong decisions.”

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So there was this comedian who was a psychotherapist who wrote this book…

Shelley at the Soho Theatre yesterday

Shelley talked to me at the Soho Theatre in London yesterday

Shelley Bridgman has been married for 40 years, has two grown up daughters and a grandchild.

Remember that.

In February 2011, I wrote a blog which started:

“I was in the Apple Store in Regent Street last week and bumped into the multi-talented comic Shelley Cooper, who has almost finished writing her autobiography – now THAT should be a cracking read.”

Well, now she is Shelley Bridgman and she has published the book. It is called Stand-Up For Yourself with the subtitle… and become the hero or shero you were born to be.

“People tell me it’s an inspiring story,” Shelley told me yesterday at the Soho Theatre. “It’s about overcoming crap and then sorting your life out.”

“And it is crying out to be a movie,” I said.

“Of course,” laughed Shelley.

“Who would play you?” I asked.

“Vanessa Redgrave.”

“You and I talked about you writing your autobiography years ago,” I said.

“Well,” said Shelley, “I wanted to write it, but I didn’t quite know how to do it. I had this voice ringing in my ears saying: Who are you to write an autobiography?”

“So why write it?”

“I think it was having so much rubbish written about me. I got fed up with it. In the end, for the book, I broke my life down into eight sections and, at the end of each one, I have an imaginary conversation with a different hero. People like Groucho Marx, Spike Milligan, Joan Rivers, Oscar Wilde, even Oprah Winfrey because she does an amazing chat show. And my grandmother pops up as a hero.”

Shelley is now in the final year of a doctorate in psychotherapy.

Shelley Bridgman - Stand-up for Yoursef

Shelley became the shero of her own life

“When I got my masters degree in psychotherapy,” Shelley told me, “I was talking to this professor and he said Why don’t you do a doctorate? and my response was: Because I’m not academic

“I mean, I left school at 15 without a single O level. I was born in a prefab. I had humble beginnings and then went downhill.

“This professor looked me in the eye and said: Fucking get over it. You just got a masters degree. Do a doctorate. That inspired me.

Shelley became a stand-up comic around the turn of the century.

“That,” she says, “was as a result of winning a speech competition and the judge saying: That was funny. You should do stand-up.”

“So how,” I asked, “did you get from being a stand-up comic to being a psychotherapist?”

“I was doing that before. I ran a travel business, then I became a counsellor to make sense of my own madness, really, and got more serious about it.”

“Are you using the name Shelley Bridgman for everything now?” I asked. “No longer Shelley Cooper for comedy?”

“As you know,” Shelley said, “my real name is Bridgman, but I was angry with my dad for a long time, so I rejected the family name. About three years ago, I wasn’t doing very much stand-up as Shelley Cooper, so I thought This is a good time to change it. Cooper was my mum’s maiden name. In fact, it was Fenimore Cooper but they dropped the Fenimore because they thought it was a bit pretentious.”

“You are related,” I said, “to the bloke who wrote The Last of The Mohicans.”

“Yes,” said Shelley, “But I think it’s a bit distant.”

“And you’ve done at least one autobiographical comedy show.”

Shelley Cooper had Growing Pains at the Edinburgh Fringe

Shelley Cooper had Fringe Growing Pains

“The first one I ever did was called Growing Pains. You made an interesting comment when I did my second show Shelley Cooper Rewrites History. I always remember because it resonated a lot with me. You wroteShelley has still to find her own post-transsexual voice.”

“Oh God, did I?” I said.

“I thought it was valid,” said Shelley. “What happened was I had allowed people to tell me what I should be talking about on stage and it wasn’t really my voice. Everyone else thought it was interesting, but I was bored to hell with it.”

“And you were talking about…?”

“The fact I’m a trans-gender woman. And I didn’t really want to talk about that. I do accept that – especially when I do 20-minute comedy sets in a rough club – I have to nail it and move on… so I still deal with it… but I don’t talk about it any more because I’m not interested.”

I prefer to think of Shelley not as trans-gender person but as trans-genre person. The blurb on her book cover reads:

Shelley Bridgman is an award-winning stand-up comic, actor, scriptwriter, professional speaker and a leading psychotherapist – but it wasn’t always this way. 

First she survived the hedonistic sixties with the inevitable round of clubbing, fashion and drugs; then she made the most of the seventies, travelling to over sixty countries whilst running a travel business – but it was the eighties that tested her to her limits. Battling depression, bankruptcy, addiction and suicide attempts, Shelley found the strength to confront her need to change gender and achieve harmony with herself. 

A unique story told with delightfully dry humour about identity, self-discovery, acceptance and courage. It is also testament to a profoundly touching love story that has lasted over forty years.

“I spent a year writing the book,” Shelley told me yesterday, “and 18 months letting go of it. It was being edited but there comes a point where you have to say: Enough! Get it proof-read and get the damn thing out!

“A lot of the painful stuff I talk about, I’ve already dealt with. One of the challenges with writing my story is the first half is pretty miserable and the second half is very positive and, if it’s too linear, the reader is gonna think: When are we going to get to something a bit uplifting?

“You’re still doing stand-up comedy,” I said.

“I won that Silver Stand-Up award at the Leicester Comedy Festival in 2012,” said Shelley. “It was for old fogeys.”

The award was for best stand-up comedian over the age of 55.

Shelley Cooper / Shelley Bridgman

Shelley Cooper/Shelley Bridgman – trans genre success story

“What I’ve done in the last two years,” she told me, “is to take a step back. I was enjoying doing proper comedy clubs like The King’s Head, but getting sick to death of doing rooms above a pub with a load of drunks on a Friday night. So I decided I wanted to do more political humour, which is what I’m doing now. I’m writing a show at the moment and I’m compering a show out in Bucks, because it gives me the chance to say what I want on stage.

“I watch one or two people who talk about being political comics but there’s no such thing anymore because people, by and large, don’t want to hear it. I thought: Make a statement. Say what you really think – without being a left wing ranter because that’s just easy. Calling George Osborne a C U Next Tuesday might be true, but it’s hardly cutting-edge rapier wit. I thought: For God’s sake do what YOU want to do now and start to enjoy it again.

“The show I enjoyed performing most was Britishness in 2007/2008. I filled up the room every night at the Edinburgh Fringe and went to New York and Rome with it. That was really fun and that was the thing which sparked me into thinking: Oh screw it! Just do what you want to do.”

“Which now is?” I asked.

“I’ve just started doing a podcast interviewing comics – The Comedy Studio. It’s part of my dastardly plan to show people I’m capable of interviewing. I’d like to do a chat show on the radio, but it’s got to have an angle. I think the art of interviewing has died, because most – though not all – chat shows now are about the hosts. The reason Michael Parkinson was good in his early days was because he knew when to shut up – having asked a question that made the guest really think – rather than ask: Do you like coffee of tea?”

“Well,” I said, “Parkinson was an experienced journalist, whereas almost all the chat show people now are stars who have been given a chat show because they are popular.”

“I’m not a journalist,” said Shelley, “but I’m a psychotherapist, so I’m used to teasing out things from people with questions. I wanna be given a chance because I think I can do it and that’s really what I’m aiming at. I’m still enjoying stand-up comedy, but not seven nights a week.”

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Fanny & Stella: “I had wanted to write a book which was completely gay”

Last night, I had a gay old time with Chaps in Dresses.

Perhaps I am old-fashioned at heart. Like many others, I lament the change in meaning of the word ‘gay’.

But, last night, the highly esteemed Sohemian Society hosted an evening billed as Chaps in Dresses.

The evening started with the recitation of a limerick from famed Victorian porno publication The Pearl, circa 1879-1880.

There was an old person of Sark,
Who buggered a pig in the dark;
The swine, in surprise,
Murmured “God blast your eyes,
Do you take me for Boulton or Park?”

Fanny and Stella bookLast night’s Chaps in Dresses was a talk by writer Neil McKenna nimbly plugging his new book Fanny & Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England about Boulton and Park.

The Sohemian Society meeting took place in an upstairs room at the King & Queen pub in Foley Street in what I think estate agents now call North Soho. It was a stone’s throw – or as Neil McKenna put it – “a strong ejaculation away” from 19 Cleveland Street, the site of a famous Victorian male brothel.

Fanny & Stella is a merry tale of Victorian men who liked to dress as women – Fanny and Stella were actually Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton who, according to the book’s publicity, had their “extraordinary lives as wives and daughters, actresses and whores revealed to an incredulous public” at a show trial in Westminster Hall “with a cast of peers, politicians and prostitutes, drag queens, doctors and detectives” in a “Victorian peepshow, exposing the startling underbelly of nineteenth century London.”

But I was equally interested in Neil McKenna’s tale of the problems he had getting the book published. He gave a health warning before his talk:

“When I did a talk in Kirkcudbright in Scotland,” he explained, “in a hall where the average age was about 82, they provided not one but two defibrillators. We got through without mishap but then, a couple of weeks ago at Gay’s The Word, we were doing very well when suddenly a lesbian fainted and had to be carried out. Then I did a talk at Waterstone’s Gower Street and I was just getting into my stride when a woman rather ostentatiously walked out.

“We must also spare a thought for poor Virginia Blackburn, a reviewer for the Sunday Express who read my book and said she was no prude but felt she had to skip over some passages – which begs the question What sort of ‘passages’?”

Neil McKenna believes that, until very recently, gay history has been largely written by heterosexuals who “have an agenda” but, to an extent, things have slightly improved. For example, this month is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans-Gender History Month – a title which, Neil McKenna admits, is “a little bit of a mouthful”.

“Gay history, as generally told,” Neil said last night, “is a history of criminality, repression and punishment but, actually, gay history is also the history of people who fall in love, people who go out and have sex with each other, people who create a sub-culture and who form an identity. And that’s really what I wanted to write about, although the story in the book is framed within the context of a criminal trial.”

Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park were arrested in drag outside the Strand Theatre in 1870 and put on trial in 1871.

“My publishers, Faber, were a little ‘challenged’ by the content of the book when I first delivered the manuscript,” Neil admitted last night. “They went a bit green and then a bit white and then they went a bit blue and, more or less, said This is not at all what we were expecting. I said Well, you’ve met me. What were you expecting? Hardly Patience Strong.

“So they were all a bit tense and we had quite a few tense weeks of discussions and chit-chats. My agent sort-of abandoned me and said: You’re on your own. But it was all resolved because Stephen Page, the CEO of Faber, read the book and announced that he liked it. So suddenly everyone liked it, which was rather useful.

“Instead of having a book they were rather sceptical about – I think largely because it’s an in-your-face book – they got behind it and I think it’s quite new and quite exciting for Faber to publish a rip-roaringly gay, unmediated, utterly-butterly book about gay men, drag, bottoms, fucking and cock-sucking.

“I had wanted to write a book which was going to be completely gay. I was fed up with writing stuff that had to be seen through a prism of heterosexuality. I just thought I’m going to go for it. I’m going to write a book that is totally and completely gay. I’m going to call Fanny and Stella ‘she’ because that was what they called themselves… and that was a little bit of a sticking point again at various stages of the publication process. I much preferred to call them ‘she’ and that was a battle I won.

“I wrote the book because I’d finished my book on Oscar Wilde and I was looking for another subject. I had mentioned Fanny and Stella in the Oscar Wilde book and I wondered if there was any mileage in them.

“I discovered there was a full trial transcript in the National Archive, put together with maybe 30 or 40 depositions and maybe 30 or 40 letters. It’s remarkable, because most Victorian trials don’t survive. Sometimes there’s a shorthand account of a trial or part of a trial but, usually, we’ve only got fragments. I think that’s because the Public Record Office was bombed in the War and lots of stuff was destroyed. But also lots of stuff was never kept. It was never considered important to keep. So I’m very grateful to the the succession of people at the National Archive who thought this was – maybe – important to keep.

“That was my first step… and then I found curious things like a ledger of Treasury payments to some of the witnesses in the trial and to some of the policemen in the trial. It was strange, because normally the Treasury shouldn’t be paying witnesses, even in 1870. So why were there payments to some of the witnesses? That started little alarm bells going off in my head. And, as I probed and probed, I discovered that there was… well, Fanny and Stella were accused of conspiracy to induce and incite men to have sodomitic sex with them.

“But there was also a parallel conspiracy… the police, probably the Home Secretary, certainly the Attorney General and perhaps Sir Richard Mayne, the Chief of the Metropolitan Police had all conspired to create a show trial, to make an example of two young cross-dressers.

“I discovered Fanny and Stella had been followed for a year. They had been under surveillance for a year. In the MePo files – the Metropolitan Police files – in the National Archive, there are also surveillance reports not of Fanny and Stella but of various other people who were considered a threat to the State. So we know in the late 1860s, 1870s, Britain was becoming a little bit of a police state, because lots of people were being surveilled.

“But why were Fanny and Stella such a threat? What was the problem with two very silly young men? They’re not intellectuals, they love to dress up, they love to perform, they love the theatre and when they weren’t in the theatre, they were on the streets selling their bottoms to raise a bit of cash to buy frocks so they could perform. They were very silly boys. They were not a threat. They were not terrorists. They were not Fenians. So why bother?

“The death penalty for buggery was only abolished in 1862, eight years before the arrest of Fanny and Stella. I think it has something to do with sexual identity.”

But, even so, why the big hoo-hah, the conspiracy and the trial in Westminster Hall? And why did the jury find them innocent after deliberating for only 53 minutes?

“You’ll have to read my book,” Neil McKenna said last night.

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