Lucy Hicks Anderson Was an Early Black Trans Pioneer

This is the thirty-first entry in the series Honoring Black History.

While the term transgender is a recent development, trans people have always been with us. In the white supremacist system that dominates the United States and has declared cit-het people “normal” (and everyone else “abnormal”), being trans has never been easy, but it’s been especially dangerous for black trans women. Knowing this, I am awestruck by the bravery of Lucy Hicks Anderson, a black trans woman born in Kentucky in 1886, who became a renown socialite and hostess in 1940s California.

As I mentioned, Lucy Hicks Anderson was born in 1886. Born “Tobias Lawson,” she was assigned male at birth. She was adamant that she was a girl from a very early age and insisted on wearing dresses and being called Lucy when she started school. Her mother took her to a physician and he supported Lucy’s parents in raising her as a young woman.

Lucy left school at 15 and worked as a domestic servant. In doing so, she raised enough money to move West. First to Texas, then New Mexico. She met her first husband, Clarence Hicks, in New Mexico and the two later relocated to Oxnard, California where Lucy gained some notoriety as a chef. By the time her marriage ended, Lucy had saved up enough money to purchase a boarding house/brothel that also sold liquor during the height of prohibition. In 1944, Lucy married a soldier named Rueben Anderson.

A year later, another soldier claimed to have caught an STD from Lucy’s brothel, a claim which prompted all of the women in the brothel—including Lucy—to be tested for disease. When the district attorney for Ventura County learned—during the course of the exam—that Lucy had been assigned male at birth, he tried her for perjury, saying she’d lied about being a woman on her marriage license. The jury convicted Lucy of perjury, despite her challenge: “I defy any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman … I have lived, dressed, acted just what I am, a woman.”

The judge placed her on probation for ten years rather than send her to prison, but her marriage was declared invalid. This triggered the federal government to charge her (and Rueben) with fraud for receiving financial allotments granted to the wives of soldiers under the GI Bill and with failing to register for the draft. She and her husband were both sentenced to prison and Lucy was not allowed to wear women’s clothes.

When the couple was released from prison, the Oxnard sheriff barred them from returning and they decided to move to Los Angeles to live out their remaining years. Lucy died in 1954.

I cannot help but admire Lucy’s resilience through all of this. She knew who she was and stood up for herself, speaking truth to power despite the danger inherent in doing so.


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