Southwalk and Lambeth’s hidden Gender Pioneers – Philippa Punchard

Various people have inspired me before and during my transition. Of those in my book, Gender Pioneers: A Celebration of Transgender, Non-Binary and Intersex Icons, portraits and biographies of Marsha Johnson and Sylvia Rivers were two of the earliest I included.

Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera with the Sweet Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R) , New York circa 1970.

The legacy of both women persists for a lot of people. The 2023 Flare film festival showing of The Stroll received standing ovations, not least for the lengthy documentary sequences of Sylvia, including her famous “Y’all better quiet down” speech at the 1973 New York Gay Pride rally (which is a riveting watch on YouTube). Marsha’s death remains an unsolved crime; one of many that continue to occur to trans women in particular. Their stories inspired my first show of some pioneers at the 2019 LGBT+ History Month art show and cabaret which you can watch here.

Whilst producing examples of gender pioneers from across the world and throughout millennia, I was impressed by my own local borough, Southwark, and how it figured in the extraordinary lives of three of the pioneers detailed in my book.  

The earliest was Samuel Bundy (born 1739). He was informed on by their landlord, but his wife refused to give evidence and charges of fraud were dismissed. However, the judge dissolved the marriage and ordered Samuel’s male clothing to be burnt.  

Only a little later, James Allen (1788-1830), and also married, was working in St Saviour’s Dock in Bermondsey when he was killed by a falling piece of timber. He was only revealed as female at birth at St Thomas’ Hospital, where his body was taken.        

The intersex person Mademoiselle Lefort (circa 1800-1868) was exhibited as one of the attractions at Spring Gardens Pleasure Palace as a bearded lady at the age of 19. These places were major attraction in London, containing the first zoos, providing impressive tableaux like the eruption of Vesuvius and more.

Modern trans women from Southwark include the author Juno Roche and the boxing promoter Kellie Maloney. Reassuringly, alongside Lambeth, Southwark now has the largest LGBTQIA+ population in the UK, estimated at 1 in 20 and houses London’s LGBT+ community centre near Tate Modern. 

Juno Roche author of Queer Sex, Trans Power, Gender Explorers and A Working Class Family Ages Badly.

I exhibited my own life drawings and photo-montages in the 2018 LGBT+ History Month weekend open exhibition, trans fashion show and cabaret I organised at the Shortwave Gallery in Bermondsey. By the next year my work was a series of portraits of gender pioneers in the longer 2019 LGBT+ History Month art show and cabaret. A short video of which can be found here.  

Both shows were for the benefit of Opening Doors. I did produce a booklet of some completed portraits (many completed whilst at the Homerton Art Group – which is a good place to be creative, as many have found) and sent it out. Jessica Kingsley Publishers responded and my book, ‘Gender Pioneers’, was produced through the lockdown and published in late 2022. You can order your own copy and find out about more gender pioneers and how they have shaped our lives here.

Philippa Punchard is a trans artist, former teacher and bookseller based in South London. Her work has appeared in a Queer Direct show and its book, at Loudest Whispers and also in Tate Modern and Dulwich Picture Gallery Late Shows. She also curated consecutive Pride Month ‘Queer Arts’ Shows in association with LGBTQIA+ charity, Opening Doors, for which she also continues to run their Hackney art group. Her first book, ‘Gender Pioneers’, was published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in 2022. Find Phillipa on Instagram (philippa.punchard).   

Gender Pioneers: A Celebration of Transgender, Non-Binary and Intersex Icons by Philippa Punchard. Forword by Christine Burns.

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