Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Today in 1923: Transgender Man, Victor Barker Marries

Lillias Barker (1895–1960) was a transgender man who, as Victor Barker "married" a woman.

Barker was born on August 27, 1895, in St Clement on the Channel Island of Jersey. Her family moved to Surrey in 1899.

Barker expressed desire about being born a boy and had a love for horses and cars. She joined the fledgling Women's Royal Air Force.

In April 1918, in Milford, Surrey, she married Australian Lieutenant Harold Arkell Smith, but the marriage lasted only a short period and the husband returned to Australia early in the following year. She soon moved in with Ernest Pearce-Crouch, also an officer with the Australian Imperial Force; the couple had a boy and a girl. After they had moved to a farm near Littlehampton, West Sussex, Arkell-Smith started to dress in a more masculine way.

In Sussex, Arkell-Smith (now living as Victor Barker) met Elfrida Emma Haward. By then, Barker had begun to dress as a man. He left his husband in 1923 and began a relationship with Haward. Haward believed Barker was a man. The couple began living at the Grand Hotel, in Brighton. 

On this day, November 14, in 1923, Barker and Haward "wed" at St Peter's Church, Brighton, in what was eventually exposed as an illegal marriage.

In 1926, while living in London, Barker accidentally received a letter inviting him to join the National Fascisti, which had been addressed to a different Colonel Barker. He replied to the misdirected letter with the missive "why not," reasoning that membership of what was a macho group would help him pose as a man. 

He lived at the group's Earl's Court headquarters building where he worked as secretary for the group's leader Henry Rippon Seymour, while also involving himself in training young members in boxing and fencing, two activities regularly practised by National Fascisti members. Barker involved himself in the kind of rough-housing that became the hallmark of the group and later recalled that "I used to go out with the boys to Hyde Park and we had many rows with the Reds." That he was assigned female at birth was never picked up on by his fellow members.

He was ultimately charged with, and convicted of, making a false statement on a marriage certificate. The judge, Sir Ernest Wild, the Recorder of London, sentenced him to 9 months imprisonment for perjury. Upon learning of his relationship with Haward, Sir Ernest said from the bench that Arkell-Smith had "profaned the house of God". After being released from prison, Arkell-Smith moved to Henfield, where he lived as John Hill. While there, he was arrested again 1934, this time for theft. In 1937 he pleaded guilty to theft when employed as a manservant in London.

Later, he wrote about his life three times in popular newspapers and magazines. As Colonel Barker, he appeared in a sideshow on Blackpool seafront in the 1930s.

Arkell-Smith died in poverty and obscurity, under the name Geoffrey Norton, in 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Kessingland churchyard, near Lowestoft, Suffolk.

The story of the many lives of Arkell-Smith/Barker is told in Colonel Barker's Monstrous Regiment by Rose Collis, Virago 2001.

D. H. Lawrence, in the essay "A Propos of Lady Chatterley's Lover," cited Colonel Barker (namely that his wife thought she was "married normally and happily to a real husband") as an example of the culture's profound and pervasive ignorance about sex.