Candy Darling

Candy Darling on her death bed. Source: Original photo from cover of album "I Am a Bird Now" by Anthony and the Johnsons.

New York is full of surprises.  Surely Candy Darling was a pioneer transgender woman – before the “label” was even coined – in the 20th century.  According to Lee Kiat-Jin (Ph.D) who’s a Visiting Scholar at Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University, Candy Darling “was a Warhol superstar and transwoman whom Lou Reed immortalized in his song, ‘Walk on the Wild Side’.”  Somehow it seems to me that transgender women from Candy Darling’s era – from the ill-fated starlet herself to esteemed British travel writer Jan Morris –  were more accepted by society than transgender women today.  Of course, April Ashley was the exception, but perhaps because she was dramatically outed by a newspaper.  I consider myself a third generation transgender woman who’s had the opportunity of a good education in England and also various platforms to interact with transgender women from all over the world, so much so that I’m even seeking to reclaim the voices of Southeast Asian transgender women with the Ah Kua Show in New York.  Yet I have the sneaking suspicion that if I were to walk down Christopher Street, I would get the sense that we haven’t progressed much in terms of transgender rights.  Perhaps the world was a kinder, gentler place in the post-war years, when the civil rights movement was in full bloom, before the category “transgender” was coined, before Wall Street greed displaced our raison d’etre and before the Christian right spread its ugly wings.  Perhaps like Sisyphus I’m fighting a lost cause, and perhaps there’s nothing noble left in defeat.  But like the Holocaust survivor who quoted from Beckett’s novel The Unnamable, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”


11 Responses to “Candy Darling”

  1. K.J. Lee Says:

    It was by no means easier for the likes of Candy Darling.

    Even though she was from Queens, New York City, Candy grew up in the United States of the 1950s, where the cultural icon was that of the apple pie. She was fortunate enough to have found a home within the artistic circles of New York City, not to mention enjoyed moral support from the sexual minorities, in the traditional sense of the term, within the Greenwich Village. Here, we must remember that the likes of New York City have never exemplified the heartlands of the United States.

    Certainly, Candy gained acceptance within the counter culture movement and indirect support from the Civil Rights movement. Still, it is worth bearing in mind that the nascent Christian Right was starting to mobilize in response as early 1964, which set the context for the ensuing culture wars.

    Even today, it may be maintained that acceptance of the transgender population, especially transwomen, is most notable within the liberal arts of academia and the creative industries, whose locales are in the major cities and the university towns.

    • ahkuashow Says:

      Thanks for introducing us to Candy Darling. I was looking at her life through rose-tinted glasses because surely, the history of transgender woman must be a long and terrible one? We will probably have to look at the pre-Christian era to find any socially significant meaning to our lives.

  2. K.J. Lee Says:

    Indeed, it was my pleasure.

    At the Midwest Sociological Society and North-Central Sociological Society Joint Meeting last April, Professor Bruce Nordstrom-Loeb of Saint Olaf College maintained that there was a great correspondence between the types of societies in the Middle East and the variants of Christianity and Islam that ultimately emerged, especially with fundamentalism that stresses going back to the original doctrines. While Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed might be very liberal for their times, with their passing, their followers reappropriated their teachings in accordance with the cultural norms of their societies. At that time, according to Professor Nordstrom-Loeb, most of the population was nomadic pastoralists, which resulted in societies that were highly patriarchal, to the detriment of sexual minorities, including the transgender population, if I may add.

    While it has a very different history, the case in point of China is remarkably similar. Here, it may be of utility to examine the ascendance of neo-Confucianism, which had its origins in the Southern Song Dynasty but peaked under the Ming Dynasty, which had its beginnings in the Southern Chinese peasantry. The one-sided interpretations of the five relations that Confucius had originally outlined corresponded with the highly patriarchal mores of the peasantry, from which most Singaporean Chinese originated.

    In contemporary Singapore, neo-Confucianism and Evangelical Christianity constitute a most potent combination against the life chances of the so-called sexual minorities, especially transwomen. As you are well aware, transgender women suffer the dual stigmas of being a sexual minority as well as female, which origins could be tracked back to how Christianity and neo-Confucianism had first transpired.

    • ahkuashow Says:

      Thanks again K.J. – this helps in our understanding of the role of organised religion in subjugating transgender women and sexual minorities.

  3. K.J. Lee Says:

    The ensuing is the URL of a poignant tribute to Candy Darling. The song is ‘Candy Says’ by the Velvet Underground. She’s gone but never forgotten.

    • ahkuashow Says:

      Thank KJ for continuing to update this section so we can learn more about Candy Darling. Trans history is really rich and fascinating if we bother to dig into it!

  4. ahkuashow Says:

    Agree. But as you have pointed out most heterosexual transgender women would rather disappear into the woodworks for fear of being stigmatized as less than perfect. But in so doing they perpetuate the very system of beliefs that demonizes us. Few want to be heroines and question these beliefs, just as few singaporeans will openly contest the pap during the general elections. There was a lengthy debate about this at, with a strident but perspicacious trans lady cristan Williams contributing excellent ideas.

  5. K.J. Lee Says:

    It seems that the website has wiped out my comments that you replied to.

    I cannot find the relevant post by Cristan Williams but will read through the entire blog.

    This is presupposing that what may be working for the gay and lesbian communities would work for the transgender populations, for example the building of parallel institutions. Indeed, many, if not most, in the so-called mainstream regard the gays and lesbians as separate groups from themselves, but reckon the transgender population as dangerous interlopers, since it threatens the very boundaries of the alleged mainstream. Since assimilation does not work, this so-called separatist approach may be worth a try.

    Still, I cannot help but think of an analogy regarding race relations in the United States. Historically, the Anglo-Saxons with their German and Scandinavian cousins did not deem the Irish as White. So, the Irish built parallel institutions to rival those of the Anglo-Saxons. Intriguingly, the African Americans followed a similar strategy. Today, the Irish have become virtually White, even as the African Americans remain outside the mainstream. At this juncture, it may be worth iterating that unlike the Irish, many African Americans are of Anglo-Saxon patrilineal descent.

    Plainly, the transgender population is caught between a rock and a hard place.

  6. ahkuashow Says:

    Hmm…you mean the website or this one? The comments seem intact. You asked me about the difference between comp and general admission tickets. No one seems to know, strangely, but they all say choose general admission. Hope this helps!

  7. K.J. Lee Says:

    Yes, I was talking about May I enquire under which article and date the comments were posted?

    Thanks for the update. I have this feeling that ‘COM’ denotes complimentary, which if true, begs the question why they are selling complimentary tickets.

    Pardon me for commenting so much. Frankly, half the time, I am just testing my propositions. I am on a steep learning curve about the issues facing the transgender population.

    You were right about many middle class transgender women refusing to speak up in Singapore. But you may take heart that it was once the same regarding the gay and lesbian populations in the United States.

    Before the riots of Stonewall Inn in 1969 and the birth of the LGBT movements, which inspired similar movements throughout the Western world, it was all right for the police to harass, not to mention entrap, in New York City. For a transgendered woman, not having three pieces of masculine clothing is sufficient for an arrest!

    Even during the disturbances, the middle class sexual minorities were generally aghast at how the so-called radicals, often of lower socioeconomic background, were undermining their positions and forcing them to eventually come out of the proverbial closet.

    So, things will change in Singapore, but it may take a generation or two.

  8. K.J. Lee Says:

    I have found Cristan Williams’ posts through the Google function.

    She is certainly right. But as I have pointed out, the same could be said of the gay and lesbian populations in the United States before 1969. Still, my main point is that the so-called mainstream is so afraid of the transgender population because it threatens the boundaries regarding the correspondence between sex and gender. Hence, attempts to assimilate would only lead to ‘stealth’, as Cristan puts it, or utter rejection when outed.

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