Letter to the Editor

— Lucas Ege Mautner

Lois Schwich
Whitechapel Women’s and Children’s Boarding House, London

17 July, 1887

Mr. John Walter III, Editor-in-Chief
The Times Building, London

Sir—

I am sorry for writing to you so boldly, but you were kind enough to print my letter last year during the trial, and I am once again counting on your kindness to help me free my name from the vicious slander which resulted in my being sentenced in November, as you will remember, to eight months’ hard labour for the alleged crime of stealing clothing valued at £50 from my previous employer. I have as of late been freed from my undeserved punishment, and so I have found myself a room, a pen, some paper, and the desire to seek justice for myself using the only means available to me: the truth.

I have been accused of two crimes, one a crime against society and the other a crime against nature; the first is false, as I shall soon prove, as is the second, for I have never acted against my own nature, only in agreement with it—and if being true to my own nature is a crime, then what is the purpose of living in this supposed society at all?

Let us begin with the facts: I was born in 1865 in the Marylebone neighbourhood of London; I am the eldest of four siblings belonging to a most impoverished family, which consists of myself, my brothers and sisters, and our mother; and that, at the age of seventeen, I began wearing boys’ clothes in order to gain honourable employment and so to help my mother provide for our family.

In January of last year, I was hired by Frederick Noble Jones, the glover whose shop is located in the Burlington Arcade, as a courier. I admit I was hired under false pretenses—namely, that I represented myself as a boy of fifteen years, when in fact I was a woman of one-and-twenty; this false fact being confirmed by my poor dear mother, who gave Mr. Jones a good character on my behalf, knowing as she did that Mr. Jones’s hiring of me was the only means of providing for our most unfortunate family. Truly believing me to be my mother’s “son,” and a good boy at that, I was hired right away. However, only a few months after my hiring I was accused of stealing clothing; this was brought about because of a confrontation with a young man by the name of John Moore. We had gone out drinking one night, and as the evening advanced John became more and more familiar with me until, as we were walking along a deserted alley after quitting the public house, he made what I can only describe as immoral advances toward me. He continued to attack me until, having knocked me onto the filthy street, he removed my trousers. At this point I was able to escape him by means of a brick I found by my side; while John was stunned from the blow, I dressed myself and left. The next day, when I arrived at work at the usual hour, Mr. Jones told me I was fired for suspicion of theft, and that charges would be brought against me. I was puzzled, but I left without protest, and it was while I was walking home that I saw John on the street sporting a nasty gash. He told me he had given away my secret to my fellow courier, a boy who also worked for Mr. Jones, and that together the two had conspired to have me fired for the supposed theft of a few pairs of kid gloves. I did not speak with him, for I knew if I stayed I would want to knock him about the mouth, and so I left.

Then Mr. Jones brought about the charges against me, of which I was convicted and sentenced last year. I believe my case was doomed from the start. Once I was arrested and the constables discovered my secret, I knew I should never be seen in a good light, for society produces much hot wind on the subject of cross-dressing, enough hot wind, in my opinion, to blow a balloon across the Channel.

I am no thief, yet I was charged with thievery; I am no horror of nature, yet I was accused of committing crimes against her. I do not wish to be a menace to society, only a productive member of it. I have no ill will toward any man or institution, not toward the Prosecution who argued that I was a common criminal, nor toward the newspapers of London, who so  viciously wagged their ink-barbed tongues, including your own, Sir, if you will so forgive me for uttering this ugly truth.

I wish nothing more than to continue living my life as the boy named Dick, in order to satisfy my own nature as well as to satisfy the needs of my family, with whom I have happily been re-acquainted, owing to the kindness of the Catholic charities; yet I recognize the impossibility of such an outcome; instead, I want only to clear my name, for if I must go on living as Lois, if I must wear skirts and corsets and pretty little bows, if I must marry a man and serve as his mattress, if I must bear children, and spend the rest of my life fawning over them, as so many women are wont to do; why, if I must endure all of these endless feminine tortures, I should at least be given the dignity of having my story told to the world, so that the world should cease to judge me.

Once again I thank you for reading my letter, and I hope that you will find it within your great kindness to print this message so that all will know the truth. For, as a journalist, is not your only obligation—in fact, some may call it your most sacred duty—to the Truth, and to the Truth only?

With best regards,
Lois “Dick” Schwich

 


 

Lucas Ege Mautner is an MFA student at The New School. His work has appeared in Black Heart Magazine and is forthcoming in Abstract Magazine and The Gateway Review. He is a graduate of Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn.