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Old 07-21-2013, 03:48 AM   #16
desertblues
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I don't have much to add to what's been said about the book. I rather liked it and feel myself educated ( ahem.., I thought I knew a much of the world at my age,but apparently not.....).

As an aside: it pained to me read of the insufficient medical care for these men.

It appears to me that Mc Kenna wanted the story of Fanny and Stella to be the story of all Fanny's and Stella's of the Victorian period; be more than life like and therefore used the "Female" in his book, as stated on page 67 of his book:
(quote)
‘the Female Dialect’ (or so Fanny, the fount of all wisdom on matters sodomitical, had informed Stella), and it was as old as time, or nearly so. It was a strange and secret language; an upside-down, inside-out sort of dialect where ‘she’ meant ‘he’, and ‘he’ meant ‘she’; where men were called by women’s names, where Frederick was Fanny, Ernest was Stella, Amos was Carlotta, and Cecil was Cecilia, or Sissy for short. Most of the men styled themselves just plain Miss and Mistress, but there was no shortage of those who liked to call themselves Lady This, the Countess of That or the Dowager Duchess of So and So. There was a positive glut of Princesses, and more Queens in the few square miles of London than there were kingdoms in the wide world for them to rule over.
They were sisters. Side by side and shoulder to shoulder. Sisters for better or for worse. Sisters in sickness and in health. Sisters in drag and sisters out of drag. They made a formidable and fearless pair. London stood before them, waiting to be conquered, ready to fall at their feet in a swoon.'. (end quote)

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Old 07-22-2013, 09:01 AM   #17
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I had mixed feelings about this. It wasn't the rigorous social history I expected or even would have preferred. But reading it in juxtaposition with The Swerve had me thinking not very deep thoughts about historiography and gave me a better appreciation and even liking for what McKenna attempted.

Fanny and Stella aren't important as historical characters themselves; they served as the device McKenna used to illustrate particular social mores of a time and place. McKenna's liberties are not akin to describing Lincoln's nighttime romps with Mrs. L, for example. He adopted a style that Hamlet53 is calling gossip and I thought of as pulp, to further the sense of the world in which Fanny and Stella acted. It was over-the-top, trashy, at times funny, at times sordid and frequently tragic and it succeeded for me, because behind the talk of stays and padding and chirrups and emotions and lust, was the reality of lives lived in fear and frustration and furtive couplings, always with the risk of all-too-imaginable and dire consequences. Against that, Fanny and Stella were both brave and careless, and I was caught up in their story and rooting for them, glad they got off and ultimately achieved at least a bit of their ambitions before life caught up with them. RIP, ladies.

That said, it's obvious that McKenna meant his book to be polemic and relevant to current issues, and I prefer a stance of disinterest. I thought the writing style effective for the story and enjoyed his wit and wordplay, but I also thought he got lazy at times with obvious comments and a habit of using two or three synonyms when one word would have sufficed. The girls' eyebrows, for example, were always described as "plucked and tweezered." Me, I find it sufficient either to pluck or tweeze my brows, but maybe I'm just a slob.

I mentioned The Swerve above. Ultimately, I thought Greenblatt's book, while interesting, didn't do justice to his subject and I thought the narrative style inappropriate for a work of intellectual history. On the other hand, I thought McKenna, even while adopting a much more exaggerated style than Greenblatt yet given the squishier nature of his subject matter, largely succeeded in his aims.
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I don't have much to add to what's been said about the book. I rather liked it and feel myself educated ( ahem.., I thought I knew a much of the world at my age,but apparently not.....).*
As an aside: it pained to me read of the insufficient medical care for these men.*
It appears to me that Mc Kenna wanted the story of Fanny and Stella to be the story of all Fanny's and Stella's of the Victorian period; be more than life like and therefore used the "Female" in his book, as stated on page 67 of his book:
‘the Female Dialect’ (or so Fanny, the fount of all wisdom on matters sodomitical, had informed Stella), and it was as old as time, or nearly so. It was a strange and secret language; an upside-down, inside-out sort of dialect where ‘she’ meant ‘he’, and ‘he’ meant ‘she’; where men were called by women’s names, where Frederick was Fanny, Ernest was Stella, Amos was Carlotta, and Cecil was Cecilia, or Sissy for short. Most of the men styled themselves just plain Miss and Mistress, but there was no shortage of those who liked to call themselves Lady This, the Countess of That or the Dowager Duchess of So and So. There was a positive glut of Princesses, and more Queens in the few square miles of London than there were kingdoms in the wide world for them to rule over.
They were sisters. Side by side and shoulder to shoulder. Sisters for better or for worse. Sisters in sickness and in health. Sisters in drag and sisters out of drag. They made a formidable and fearless pair. London stood before them, waiting to be conquered, ready to fall at their feet in a swoon.'
Excellent analysis from both of you. I also came away with the impression that McKenna wanted to make a statement relevant to today's world.

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My, how things have changed - thankfully! The advances in medical practices and the availability of effective drugs are really quite amazing when you think that the era being discussed was only 140 years ago.
Just as an aside there are two theories about the origins of syphilis and when it first appeared in the "Old World." Including the most recent information there appears to be more support for the theory that syphilis was one of the few revenges indigenous peoples of the America's had for what Europeans did to them after Columbus 'discovered' the "New World."

History of Syphilis.

An aside to an aside. The first drug that was really at all effective in treatment was not developed until 1908. The famous American gangster Al Capone died in 1947 mentally deranged from the disease.

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Old 07-24-2013, 10:33 PM   #18
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[...]

The third major problem, for me at least, was McKenna's referring to many of the characters sometimes as female and sometimes as male ( eg Ernest Boulton or Stella Boulton.) and what's more seemingly at random, that is not governed by the context. I would speculate that the author did this to give the reader an idea of the confusion the characters felt about their own sexual identity, or the similar confusion by those around them, or maybe even to provoke such confusion in the readers of the book? Unfortunately, for me at least, it often just led to total confusion about whether or not what was supposedly going on even made sense. As an example quoting from the book:



This is in reference to the occasion when Ernest Boulton takes a position at a bank that his father has arranged for him. Or at least that has to be the case from the surrounding context, not that his father arranged a position for Ernest in drag as Stella. So why the use of Stella here? In the end it just all too often left me totally confused about what was going on and whether Ernest (or the other characters this could be applied to) was done up as a man (Ernest) or as a woman (Stella)? It does matter, or did to me, in trying to understand whether or not the surrounding story and behavior of the cast of characters made sense.[...]
I can't say I liked the way he used the different gender pronouns, but my perception was that he was trying to honour what he thought Fanny and Stella would've wanted - to be referred to as female - and that he only used the male pronouns in the beginning and afterwards only when he thought absolutely necessary.

I think it was confusing because it did create difficulties at times in discerning whether Fanny and Stella were appearing as men or women at a particular time, but after the first bit I got used to it and I respect that he might've been trying to honour what the two would've wanted to be referred as even if I didn't quite agree with his approach.

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[...]One final minor perhaps observation on the use of the word hermaphrodite to refer to Fanny and Stella. I had to verify the definition of that word which is: an individual in which reproductive organs of both sexes are present. Now Boulton in particular was by observation a very effeminate man, but there was nothing presented to suggest that he was a hermaphrodite.[...]
I don't think he was quite suggesting he was a hermaphrodite, or at least that's not how I took it. I could be forgetting some other part of the book, but I remember the term coming up when he was was discussing how the people at the time thought of the possibility, and that Stella and Fanny even used it as a tantalising tease or excuse to some of their paramours.

I never thought they might actually be hermaphrodites. I think the physical exams put that out of question (unless it was an "inside" physical sort of hermaphroditism, which I really don't know if that's possible or not). I just think it was a speculation from some people during the time and something the "he-shes" used to sometimes better explain themselves even though it wasn't really true for most of them. This is just my take-away on it from the reading.

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[..]Yes, despite McKenna's efforts to often make their lives seem happier than probable reality, including some of his speculations (eg. Stella's renewed affair with the supposedly still living Lord Arthur Clinton in New York after the trial), their lives struck me as ultimately sad given the constraints of society at the time. Even Stella must have know that her fantasy of marriage to a nobleman could never be more than a fantasy. I have to offer an in the news comment, congratulations to England for just recently extending marriage rights to same sex couple.
Wales too, by the way!

As to the happiness of their lives, I find your thoughts interesting and would say I both agree and disagree with them. I was even thinking to myself before reading this thread that their lives did seem sad in a way even apart from the trial and legal matters, but I also think the story was so embellished by the author that the weight of our thoughts on the titular heroes really fall on him, and I think it may have a been a fault of his imagination or creativity (or talent) that he so wanted to put as much joy into their story as possible but instead couldn't help but imbuing it with a sort of melancholy. Of course he was up against a big task now knowing the broad stroke of their entire lives, but still I think he took on the challenge and didn't quite succeed.

I think the fantasy of Stella "marrying" a nobleman could've "sort of" worked, if the legal system hadn't come after them. She had shacked up with a nobleman after all, and he had accepted that she was his "wife". If they hadn't encountered the legal troubles, I don't see it so far fetched that they could've lived that way for a good long while.

While I see their lives as sad like you, I still think there's much we don't know about them and they didn't seem like the type especially prone to depression, and they certainly were courageous and had their share of fun and romance along the way, so

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[..]

I mentioned The Swerve above. Ultimately, I thought Greenblatt's book, while interesting, didn't do justice to his subject and I thought the narrative style inappropriate for a work of intellectual history. On the other hand, I thought McKenna, even while adopting a much more exaggerated style than Greenblatt yet given the squishier nature of his subject matter, largely succeeded in his aims.
Though I didn't read The Swerve, I agree with you that though the skill level may be lower in the writing of Fanny and Stella, I am much more willing to accept writing faults with it than with The Swerve. What turned me off about The Swerve is that it's such a very large, important and talked-about subject historically and the author is a very learned and talented scholar, and the book won some very prestigious awards, so I think a (much) higher standard applies to that work. Whereas with Fanny and Stella, while there were many problems with the writing, I can't deny that it fit the spirit of the story it was telling and that this was a story that could've easily, ahem, faded away, into oblivion, so for this rather specific story to be told at all and with at least a modicum of skill is notable, even if I wished that it could've been handled better.
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Old 08-06-2013, 08:46 AM   #19
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I'm a bit late to the discussion, having only recently finished the book, and doubt I have anything much to add to the discussion (I've not read any of the reviews yet, so as not to be influenced by other opinions), but here goes anyway...

I found the subject matter interesting, as it's not a world I knew much about, apart from the infamous Oscar Wilde case, so was looking forward to reading Fanny and Stella. I wasn't disappointed either, in terms of learning a lot more about the London gay scene in Victorian times. I was surprised at times by how brazen the men were, given that until recently sodomy had been a hanging offence, and was still effectively a life sentence if successfully convicted, given that ten years of hard labour was likely to kill most people.

What I was disappointed about was the style in which it was written. I found McKenna's approach was less than scholarly, and often suspected he was embellishing (read "making it up") rather than relying on research and writings from the time. This was particularly true of the personal interactions between the key players. Fine if you want to write an acknowledged fictionalised version of true events, but not so for a book purporting to be historical fact. I also found the swapping between the he/she pronouns a bit distracting, and would rather McKenna had settled on one approach and stuck with it.

I did find the parallels between their case and some more modern examples enlightening, in as much as even in the face of overwhelming evidence, they were acquitted (anyone remember OJ?) due to the mess the prosecution made of things, and the creativeness of the defence in spreading doubt and uncertainty.

All in all, I'm glad I read it, and was glad to see justice done, even if ultimately it was sad that their ambitions were not fully realised.
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Old 08-06-2013, 11:01 AM   #20
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Nice analysis Orlok.

This Youtube video is making the rounds. It's on HuffPo for example. I thought it just fit in with this thread. Depending on the Youtube rules in your location you may have to sign in to “prove” that you are old enough to view it [in Youtube's judgment]. Not to worry, there is really nothing one couldn't see out in the general media.

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Old 08-06-2013, 12:15 PM   #21
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^ if it hadn't been for the context, I would have been fooled .
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Old 08-06-2013, 12:31 PM   #22
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Still, Stella's mother actually seemed to expect her child to marry a man.
Now I am catching up with everyone's reviews, you have reminded me of a point I had meant to raise but forgot about. I was constantly puzzled by Stella's mother's assumption and encouragements regarding Stella marrying a man. Surely she could not have expected this to happen in reality - if Stella was a man then he would never have been able to marry another man. Which does raise the question about why his mother would think otherwise? Maybe there is some mileage in the hermaphrodite theory?
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Old 08-06-2013, 08:53 PM   #23
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Yes, that was curious.

On a very frivolous note, having just seen "Some Like It Hot" once again, at one stage when Jerry tells Joe that "Daphne" and Osgood the millionaire are engaged, Joe says "Why would a guy want to marry another guy?", to which Jerry replies "Security!"

Interesting ad, Hamlet!
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Old 08-07-2013, 10:14 AM   #24
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Now I am catching up with everyone's reviews, you have reminded me of a point I had meant to raise but forgot about. I was constantly puzzled by Stella's mother's assumption and encouragements regarding Stella marrying a man. Surely she could not have expected this to happen in reality - if Stella was a man then he would never have been able to marry another man. Which does raise the question about why his mother would think otherwise? Maybe there is some mileage in the hermaphrodite theory?
I can't cite any particular instance, but I know I've read of cases where a same-sex couple married--and those I've read about are the ones where they were found out! But it seems to me that if one person was dedicated to passing as a member of the opposite sex, there's no compelling reason why they would be discovered. This is far earlier than the state would have required documentation in terms of a birth or baptismal certificate before a marriage was performed. I'd imagine there were couples who quietly lived out their lives as married with no one the wiser. "Quietly," of course, would have been the issue for the exhibitionist Stella.
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Old 08-07-2013, 10:16 AM   #25
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Yes, that was curious.

On a very frivolous note, having just seen "Some Like It Hot" once again, at one stage when Jerry tells Joe that "Daphne" and Osgood the millionaire are engaged, Joe says "Why would a guy want to marry another guy?", to which Jerry replies "Security!"
And the great last line, "Well, nobody's perfect!"
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Old 08-07-2013, 11:02 AM   #26
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Yes, that was curious.

On a very frivolous note, having just seen "Some Like It Hot" once again, at one stage when Jerry tells Joe that "Daphne" and Osgood the millionaire are engaged, Joe says "Why would a guy want to marry another guy?", to which Jerry replies "Security!"

Interesting ad, Hamlet!
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And the great last line, "Well, nobody's perfect!"
Yes, that final scene in Some Like It Hot is one of the reasons that the American Film Institute ranks it as the number one comedy film ever. The complete scene

Spoiler:
Jerry: Oh no you don't! Osgood, I'm gonna level with you. We can't get married at all.
Osgood: Why not?
Jerry: Well, in the first place, I'm not a natural blonde.
Osgood: Doesn't matter.
Jerry: I smoke! I smoke all the time!
Osgood: I don't care.
Jerry: Well, I have a terrible past. For three years now, I've been living with a saxophone player.
Osgood: I forgive you.
Jerry: [tragically] I can never have children!
Osgood: We can adopt some.
Jerry: But you don't understand, Osgood! Ohh...
[Jerry finally gives up and pulls off his wig]
Jerry: [normal voice] I'm a man!
Osgood: [shrugs] Well, nobody's perfect!
[Jerry looks on with disbelief as Osgood continues smiling with indifference. Fade out]




If anyone has never seen this, do rent or buy it for viewing.



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Now I am catching up with everyone's reviews, you have reminded me of a point I had meant to raise but forgot about. I was constantly puzzled by Stella's mother's assumption and encouragements regarding Stella marrying a man. Surely she could not have expected this to happen in reality - if Stella was a man then he would never have been able to marry another man. Which does raise the question about why his mother would think otherwise? Maybe there is some mileage in the hermaphrodite theory?
Returning to the discussion of the possibilities of Stella marrying and/or being a hermaphrodite there is this scene described in the book :

Spoiler:

Jack Saul knelt down and put his eye to the keyhole. He could see and hear everything. ‘Lord Arthur and Boulton were standing before a large mirror,’ he recalled. Stella was busy unbuttoning Lord Arthur’s trousers. ‘Soon she let out a beautiful specimen of the arbor vitae, at least nine inches long and very thick. It was in glorious condition, with a great, glowing red head.’

Stella ‘at once knelt down and kissed this jewel of love and would, I believe, have sucked him to a spend, but Lord Arthur was too impatient.’ Picking Stella up, Lord Arthur flung her down backwards on the bed to reveal ‘a beautiful pair of legs enveloped within lovely knicker-bocker drawers. They were prettily trimmed with the finest lace, and I could also see pink silk stockings and the most fascinating little shoes with silver buckles.’

Matters proceeded apace. Lord Arthur quickly put his hands into Stella’s drawers and ‘soon brought to light as manly a weapon as any lady could desire to see, and very different from the crinkum-crankum one usually expects when one throws up a lady’s petticoats and proceeds to take liberties with her’.

‘What’s this beautiful plaything, darling?’ Lord Arthur asked in an erotic frenzy ‘as he fondled and caressed Boulton’s prick, passing his hand up and down the ivory-white shaft and kissing the dark, ruby-coloured head every time it was uncovered’.

‘Are you a hermaphrodite, my love?’ he demanded. ‘Oh I must kiss it: it’s such a treasure!’

Jack Saul was riveted. ‘How excited I became at the sight you may be sure,’ he recorded. ‘I was determined not to frig myself, as I was sure of finding a nice partner when I returned to the ball-room. Still, I would rather have had Boulton than anyone else. His make-up was so sweetly pretty that I longed to have him, and him have me.’

Jack Saul could see how Stella’s body seemed to shake and spasm as Lord Arthur’s finger ‘postillioned her bottomhole’.

Seeing how agitated he had made her, he took that splendid prick fairly into his mouth and sucked away with all the ardour of a male gamahucher; his eyes almost emitted sparks as the crisis seemed to come, and he must have swallowed every drop of that creamy emission he had worked so hard to obtain.

After a minute or two Lord Arthur wiped his mouth, and turned Stella around so that her bottom was in the air.


I interpret this to mean that Stella was definitely a man, and that Lord Arthur was also just a gay man. However, perhaps not?
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Old 08-07-2013, 11:20 AM   #27
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I can't cite any particular instance, but I know I've read of cases where a same-sex couple married--and those I've read about are the ones where they were found out! But it seems to me that if one person was dedicated to passing as a member of the opposite sex, there's no compelling reason why they would be discovered. This is far earlier than the state would have required documentation in terms of a birth or baptismal certificate before a marriage was performed. I'd imagine there were couples who quietly lived out their lives as married with no one the wiser. "Quietly," of course, would have been the issue for the exhibitionist Stella.
I agree, but would his mother be pushing for this? Just seemed odd to me.
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Old 08-07-2013, 11:22 AM   #28
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Returning to the discussion of the possibilities of Stella marrying and/or being a hermaphrodite there is this scene described in the book :

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Jack Saul knelt down and put his eye to the keyhole. He could see and hear everything. ‘Lord Arthur and Boulton were standing before a large mirror,’ he recalled. Stella was busy unbuttoning Lord Arthur’s trousers. ‘Soon she let out a beautiful specimen of the arbor vitae, at least nine inches long and very thick. It was in glorious condition, with a great, glowing red head.’

Stella ‘at once knelt down and kissed this jewel of love and would, I believe, have sucked him to a spend, but Lord Arthur was too impatient.’ Picking Stella up, Lord Arthur flung her down backwards on the bed to reveal ‘a beautiful pair of legs enveloped within lovely knicker-bocker drawers. They were prettily trimmed with the finest lace, and I could also see pink silk stockings and the most fascinating little shoes with silver buckles.’

Matters proceeded apace. Lord Arthur quickly put his hands into Stella’s drawers and ‘soon brought to light as manly a weapon as any lady could desire to see, and very different from the crinkum-crankum one usually expects when one throws up a lady’s petticoats and proceeds to take liberties with her’.

‘What’s this beautiful plaything, darling?’ Lord Arthur asked in an erotic frenzy ‘as he fondled and caressed Boulton’s prick, passing his hand up and down the ivory-white shaft and kissing the dark, ruby-coloured head every time it was uncovered’.

‘Are you a hermaphrodite, my love?’ he demanded. ‘Oh I must kiss it: it’s such a treasure!’

Jack Saul was riveted. ‘How excited I became at the sight you may be sure,’ he recorded. ‘I was determined not to frig myself, as I was sure of finding a nice partner when I returned to the ball-room. Still, I would rather have had Boulton than anyone else. His make-up was so sweetly pretty that I longed to have him, and him have me.’

Jack Saul could see how Stella’s body seemed to shake and spasm as Lord Arthur’s finger ‘postillioned her bottomhole’.

Seeing how agitated he had made her, he took that splendid prick fairly into his mouth and sucked away with all the ardour of a male gamahucher; his eyes almost emitted sparks as the crisis seemed to come, and he must have swallowed every drop of that creamy emission he had worked so hard to obtain.

After a minute or two Lord Arthur wiped his mouth, and turned Stella around so that her bottom was in the air.


I interpret this to mean that Stella was definitely a man, and that Lord Arthur was also just a gay man. However, perhaps not?
That was my assumption, though of course Stella could have had both sets of organs?

That said, I still believe he was fully a man, or surely something would have been discovered during the medical examinations by six eminent physicians whilst in police custody.
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Old 08-07-2013, 11:27 AM   #29
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I agree, but would his mother be pushing for this? Just seemed odd to me.
A duke's son? "My daughter, Lady Arthur"? When Ernest would always be a worry and a strain on limited resources? Why not?
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Old 08-07-2013, 12:17 PM   #30
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That was my assumption, though of course Stella could have had both sets of organs?

That said, I still believe he was fully a man, or surely something would have been discovered during the medical examinations by six eminent physicians whilst in police custody.
I'm no medical expert but there have been cases--in one instance concerning an Olympic medal--where the individual seemed on external examination to be one gender, but in fact had both. In the case of the sportsperson, the external genitalia were apparently female. But there were no ovaries. the individual had internal testes and produced testosterone at least five times the amount of a woman. The problem was discovered by the presence of the testosterone levels and by medical scanning.

The individual concerned regarded herself as a woman and had no idea of the existence of the internal testes. In the end, she was allowed to keep her medals but I'm not sure what decision was made concerning future events.

That is why I suggested the presence of internal female organs in Stella. They could not possibly be found by an external examination and the idea of checking hormone levels was probably beyond the medical expertise at the time. If Jack Saul's testimony is correct then Stella was not fully functional as a man--though McKenna seems to have his own doubts about its reliability.

Stella's mother was evidently aware that her offspring had female characteristics and thought of herself as a woman. She obviously thought that there would be those who would accept Stella as such and would give her the freedom to exist in her preferred role.

All this is pure speculation, of course.

Last edited by fantasyfan; 08-07-2013 at 03:09 PM.
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