Sydney Thomas Smith was hawking the fork on the inner city streets of wartime Brisbane for six months before the local wallopers caught up with them in 1943.
Sydney Thomas Smith never said or did anything to indicate they were transgender. But few would in 1943 Australia. However, for almost a decade from the age of sixteen, Sydney worked the streets in drag despite being a looker out of drag. There are two possibilities. Sydney was either transgender or a gay man who worked in drag. I’ve therefore chosen to cover both options through the use of they/them pronouns.
Hawked the fork from age of 16
A sex worker in Sydney, NSW from the age of 16, Sydney already possessed several convictions for soliciting men on the streets by the age of 25. The last came with a three-month prison sentence. So Sydney moved somewhere the cops didn’t know them — Brisbane. To use a colourful non-gendered Aussie colloquialism, Sydney hawked the fork in Brissie for a good six months before coming to police attention.
The Brisbane Truth described the events on the evening of Friday, July 10, 1943, as one of the most amazing stories ever unfolded in a Brisbane Police Court.
“A good-looking young man, Sydney Thomas Smith, admitted parading the city streets masquerading in female attire and soliciting servicemen for immoral purposes.”
Oh, cum off it! Name a single Friday night someone didn’t do that. None so blind as those who cannot see.
Sydney wore a “lady’s two-piece frock with a scarlet cape, veil, high-heeled shoes, and a wig of long auburn hair.”
But smart as the outfit was, Sydney did not ‘pass’ as a cis-woman. Tall, flat-chested, and lantern-jawed, Sydney’s appearance was sufficiently masculine to prompt complaints to the constabulary of ‘a man parading the city streets in female attire’.
Two plain-clothes policemen ‘were assigned the job of tracking this man-woman’.
Around 11 p.m. Friday, Sydney met two American sailors in a near-city Spring Hill street. The three retired to a park bench in Wickham Park. Along with the adjacent Albert Park, Wickham Park was a notorious Brisbane gay beat for decades. (The American servicemen who flooded into Brisbane for the Pacific War — notoriously over-sexed, over-paid, and over here — beat a path to Brisbane brothels and beats at torpedo-like speeds. Renowned as short-on-the-trigger (premature-ejaculator is such a cold expression), they sometimes then exploded on impact.)
All three stripped naked
The two Yanks agreed to accompany Sydney to a boarding house for a fee of US$10. In the room, Sydney turned out the light and all three stripped naked.
Sometime later, the two cops assigned to track Sydney encountered the threesome allegedly arguing in the street.
The police told the court the following day that the sailors wanted their money back after discovering that “[Sydney’s] sex was entirely different from what they had been led to believe.”
Might be true. Might not.
The unnamed sailors did not appear in court. The magistrate relied on the detectives to faithfully relay the Yankee’s versions of their down under threesome.🙄
Sydney was not passable as a woman. Not even to the unworldly citizens of Brisbane. Yet two men of the world, Yankee sailors no less, didn’t spring the tall, flat-chested, lantern-jawed sex worker?
Yeah. Right! 🤡
Secondly, Sydney was a highly experienced street walker. And someone who could charge US$10 for a sex act in 1943 was not desperate. Most Australians earned less than that a week. For Sydney, it was a supplementary income. They already enjoyed full-time employment as a hotel porter. Yet, if we can believe the cops, despite almost a decade’s experience of the dangers of street work and no shortage of money, Sydney set themselves up for a near-inevitable physical assault.
There remains a high incidence of men perfectly happy — eager, in fact — to enjoy sex with trans women or gay men until such point that they are discovered tasting illicit and forbidden fruit — and then claim they were ‘tricked’.
This incident smells strongly of that.
The magistrate sentenced Sydney to six months in a Queensland prison after which our heroine disappears from the documentary record.
We don’t know how life turned out for Sydney Thomas Smith but we can at least wish the best for them. ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜
More stories of wartime drag:
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