Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Dawn
May 10, 2012 7:44 AM   Subscribe

When the Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia in 1967 declared laws against interracial marriage unconstitutional, the last affected state in which a legal interracial marriage occurred was South Carolina in January, 1969, in the city where the Civil War started. What most people don't know is the bride was a transsexual.

In Sussex, England, 1937, Gordon Langley Hall was born out of wedlock to two servants of Vita Sacksville-West, lover of Virginia Woolf and inspiration for Woolf's Orlando. Gordon moved to Canada at age sixteen and taught on a reservation; his experiences there formed the basis of his first published book. Later he moved to New York, where he met an artist from whom he would inherit two million dollars and a historic home in Charleston, South Carolina.

In 1968 Gordon underwent sexual reassignment surgery, changed her name to Dawn Pepita Langley Hall, and got engaged to a young black car mechanic named John-Paul Simmons. Despite the abundance of churches in Charleston, the marriage was held in her house due to threats of firebombs (which were carried out later).

The marriage produced one child but did not end happily, and Dawn divorced in 1982, and passed away in 2000 in Charleston.

Dawn has been the subject of at least one book, as well as a few autobiographies, an episode of This American Life, and a New York Times obituary.
posted by 23 (29 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Also a film, although I'm not sure that the film covers this aspect of the story (which is news to me!).
posted by likeatoaster at 8:00 AM on May 10, 2012


Looks like there's a bit of contention on this subject - that same Wikipedia article notes:

In her autobiographical books, Simmons said she was born intersex with ambiguous genitalia, as well as an internal uterus and ovaries, and was inappropriately assigned male at birth.

... although Edward Ball's biography claims [...] instead that Simmons had male genitalia and was unable to bear children. But then there's the mention of her daughter being born.

Seems like there's a fair amount of confusion here.
posted by spielzebub at 8:02 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well that's a pretty leftfield life to have lived.
posted by Jehan at 8:11 AM on May 10, 2012


I think it takes incredible courage to come out as trans in 2012. I can't imagine doing it in 1968.

Regarding childbirth, the NYT obit says:

Soon, Mrs. Simmons appeared to be pregnant. Then in 1972, she began strolling with a baby carriage bearing a little girl whom she called Natasha.

posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:11 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


She was designated "male" at birth. She began living as a woman when she was adult. Calling her trans-something seems appropriate. (And in my book, the fact that she transitioned at all is more interesting than the layout of her plumbing.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:15 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


the last state to have a legal interracial marriage was South Carolina in January, 1969

Dear god, that was confusing until I followed the wikipedia link and realized you meant to say "first" state to have a legal interracial marriage.
posted by Naberius at 8:20 AM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Okay, reading past that, I'm still confused for the reasons spielzebub notes above.
posted by Naberius at 8:23 AM on May 10, 2012


Dear god, that was confusing until I followed the wikipedia link and realized you meant to say "first" state to have a legal interracial marriage.

Fixed!
posted by cortex at 8:27 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, what about Richard and Mildred Loving, the people in the Loving vs Virgina suit? They don't count as the first?
posted by garlic at 8:35 AM on May 10, 2012


@cortex: Actually, I did mean last state, not first state.

After the Supreme Court decision, out of all the states where such marriage were suddenly legal, South Carolina was the last to have a legal interracial marriage.

Sorry for the confusing construction.

On the pregnancy and sex issues:

To be clear, my understanding is that Dawn always maintained that she was born biologically female and that the surgery was corrective. However, Edward Ball interviewed a doctor involved in the procedure who said that Gordon had apparently normal male genitalia.

From what I've heard of the pregnancy, Dawn was seen walking conspicuously around town "pregnant" with a pillow in her shirt. Edward Ball determined Natasha, the child, to be an illegitimate child of her husband.

Ball's book contradicted a lot of what Dawn said, but he appears to have done good research. However, the title of his book is Peninsula of Lies, so he was pushing the deception angle quite strongly for some reason.
posted by 23 at 8:38 AM on May 10, 2012


Inter-racial marriage is legal so all states still have it, you can't say that a state is last to have it. I guess you mean "last to GET it"
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:41 AM on May 10, 2012


Oh, and for the love of cake read the This American Life blurb and NYT Obit. I left the funny bits out because the main story was already long enough and more relevant right now, but Dawn did a lot of hilarious and interesting things that had nothing to do with her sex or her husband's race.
posted by 23 at 8:41 AM on May 10, 2012


Calling her trans-something seems appropriate.

That Dawn Simmons was (some variety of) trans (MtF? FtMtF?) seems to be the one fact of her life we can be most certain of. Much of the rest of her life is still mysterious. She was a fascinating, fabulous person with connections to the 20th century literary world (she was friends with Carson McCullers; McCullers, in turn, was connected to the Auden/Kallman/Mann ménage), but I'm skeptical of a lot of her stories.

I heard that This American Life piece when it aired. Very worth listening to.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:47 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ack! I see what you mean. I can tweak it back, or tweak it further if you think there's another word that would be clearer. Final state? That's confusing too, though.
posted by cortex at 8:49 AM on May 10, 2012


Dawn is confusing!

The NYT Obit has Dawn aged 77 at death ... With discrepancies around age and sex, I'm starting to wonder about race.
posted by de at 8:53 AM on May 10, 2012


I guess technically it's the "last first interracial marriage," which is a little like the lowest highest point.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:53 AM on May 10, 2012


@cortex: nebulawindphone is correct but I think that's also confusing. "the last affected state in which a legal interracial marriage occurred" might be clear enough? Just "first" is just wrong, though.

Thanks for being on top of the question!
posted by 23 at 8:54 AM on May 10, 2012


Done!
posted by cortex at 8:57 AM on May 10, 2012


@de If you look at the cover of her later autobiography, you can see Gordon arm-in-arm with Dawn. Judge for yourself.

Probably one of the best uses of Photoshop ever, too.
posted by 23 at 8:59 AM on May 10, 2012


I thought it was saying the one of the Lovings was transexual. I need to pay more attention.
posted by bongo_x at 9:02 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


And here I always thought Virginia was for Loving.
posted by nowhere man at 9:04 AM on May 10, 2012


Yes, definitely "last first" is too unparseable and weird to actually use. I was just being a wiseass.

On all the biographical confusion, I'm reminded of an article I read recently — was it linked here? I don't remember — talking about the plaintiff in Lawrence v. Texas. Basically the gist of it was that his lawyers kept a lid on the personal details of the case as much as possible, because in a lot of ways he actually wasn't an ideal plaintiff: he wasn't white, he wasn't middle-class, he wasn't successful or "respectable," he wasn't in a monogamous relationship with the man he was accused of sleeping with,* and so on. It was just so rare to see someone prosecuted under the Texas anti-sodomy law at all that they had to jump at the opportunity to take his case to court, "warts and all." But then their trial strategy involved keeping those "warts" under wraps.

I mean, this isn't really the same thing — Hall and Simmons weren't plaintiffs in court, for starters. But it's just fascinating to me how civil rights pioneers are quite often people living socially marginal lives in more ways than one, and their inconvenient biographical details end up getting hidden or erased as a result.

*In fact, apparently they weren't even actually caught having sex at all — a cop with a grudge just fabricated the accusation. But they had to keep that out of court too, so that they could get a decision on the principle and not just on the facts of the case.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:07 AM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Inter-racial marriage is legal so all states still have it, you can't say that a state is last to have it. I guess you mean "last to GET it"

RustyBrooks, that's semantic one-upmanship. The meaning is now clear.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:22 AM on May 10, 2012


The marriage produced one child

How....?
posted by jefficator at 9:30 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dear god, that was confusing until I followed the wikipedia link and realized you meant to say "first" state to have a legal interracial marriage.

Naberius, legal interracial marriages predate the formation of the United States in this land - even AA + European caucasian marriages. It's only later that states began illegalizing them, AFAIK, although some may have done so pre-1776.

Wikipedia:
Such laws [prohibiting interracial marriages] were first introduced in North America from the late seventeenth century onwards by several of the Thirteen Colonies, and subsequently by many US states and US territories and remained in force in many US states until 1967.

Curiously, ...
In 1685, the French government issued a special Code Noir restricted to Louisiana, which banned the marriage of Catholics and non-Catholics in that colony.[10] However, interracial cohabitation and interracial sex were never prohibited in French Louisiana (see plaçage).
posted by IAmBroom at 9:36 AM on May 10, 2012


For me, tbh, the most remarkable part of the NYT obit is how they use differently gendered pronouns for the different parts of Dawn's life in a way that doesn't seem as offensive and thoughtless as that sort of thing usually does. (to me, at least? obvsly ymmv.)


also lol dinky
posted by elizardbits at 9:39 AM on May 10, 2012




amo-o-o-ngst our weaponry -- are such diverse elements as: fear; surprise --

I'll come in again . . .

 
posted by Herodios at 9:40 AM on May 10, 2012


...SC was the "last state to permit interracial marriage"(?) Sorry we're having so much trouble with your sentence, cortex. It was an interesting post about a confusing person.
posted by jackbrown at 10:22 AM on May 10, 2012


If you look at the cover of her later autobiography, you can see Gordon arm-in-arm with Dawn. Judge for yourself.

She looks like a long lost Bush.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:44 AM on May 10, 2012


« Older Mitt Romney’s prep school classmates recall pranks...  |  How To Survive A Robot Uprisin... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments