Living a Double Life

To what exent would you go through to fullfill your dreams? If society intentionally excluded certain people would you conform to their exclusions? Would you take the matter into your own hands? Or would you transform into what they wantyou to be? While searching the internet I came across an interesting story. One in which interested me not because the extent this person went to keep this secret, but that the secret wasn’t revealed untill after the person’s passing.

    Billy Tipton was born Dorothy Lucille Topton in Oklohoma City , Oklohoma; but later she moved with her aunt in Kansas following her parents’ divorce. In high school she began playing the piano and leaning the saxaphone as well. After numerous attempts to join the jazz band at the time, which consisted of all males, Tipton was constantly denied. That is untill she moved back with her mother in Oklohoma and finally joined an all boys band. She then began dressing and grooming herself as a man around 1934 to be consistent with “the look” of the all0male jazz band. Eventually she began fully taking on the role of a man and adopted the name Billy Lee Tipton. As if that wasn’t convincing enough, she then began courting women and eventually found herself a girlfriend.

Billy Tipton on the piano... After the transformation

There are many socio and economic theories attempting to explain why a young person might take on a drastic step like creating an alternate persona but then commit to that lifestlye the remaing years of ther lives(Peter Blecha, 2006)  (over 50 years for Mr/Ms Tipton). Sally Lehrman, hypothesized was that the act was likely “a concession to the economic pressures of the Great Depression and the reality that women jazz musicians didn’t get jobs.” Diane Wood Middlebrook, another writer who wrote of Tipton’s double life, added that “In order to keep playing jazz, without suffering from discrimination or judgment, Dorothy continued to live as a man for the rest of her life.” 

  • Tipton honed his chops and stage presence and by mid-1936 he was leading his own band and appearing regularly on KFXR radio
  • By 1940 Tipton had joined on with Scott Cameron’s big-band, which played dances all around the Midwestern states and into Wyoming and Colorado.
  • 1941 he moved to Joplin, Missouri, and gigged for two and a half years at the Cotton Club with George Mayer’s band
  • In 1949, Tipton got an offer to join up again with George Mayer where they could get in on the Pacific Northwest club circuit action

Despite his succes, he lived a life of lies, and false identity. He had to adopt children with his wife because he would tell his women he could have children as a result of a “sterility” problem due to a car wreck. Adapting togender norms in order to advance in society is an unfortunate scenerio that occurs in society. I am not sure how often this happens and to what extreem, but I know it is unfortunate for a person to not be comfortable with themselves, or for someone who is discriminated aganst due to a bodily organ they are born with.

“But while some people chose to engage in speculative psycho-sexual analyses (and ponder just exactly how none of his wives had ever had even the faintest clue about their husband’s genuine sex, and apparent lesbianism), others detected a certain tinge of sadness to the whole disheartening situation whereby a talented musician purportedly got herself trapped into a stressful sham by apparently believing the false notion that to gain steady and respectable employment one had to be, or appear, male.”


Billy Tipton 

About dt3d

Darrisaw's professional experience includes Summer Internships and Upper level education. She is Hard working, determined, can multi-task, and simply love staying busy. She is extremely reliable and confident in her fields of study. Her writing skills are excellent; futhermore, she has won numerous awards as a result of writing and have also received the Northern Virginia Scholastic Acheivement Award for her academic studies. Her Goals are to excel in any field she is in, considering she is double majoring in two broad subjects, which are Criminal Justice/ Communications. Although she is also majoring in Criminal Justice, her primary focus is advancing in the field of Communications, to further her career in the Mass Communications field, whether being print, television, film, etc.
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3 Responses to Living a Double Life

  1. taniabiaa says:

    This is a very interesting article. I just cannot fathom the fact that he took it that far. Telling his family that he wasn’t able to have children because of an accident, when it all actually he was a she. I have never and probably won’t be in this situation, but it is quiet interesting how long he did this. They said it was becuase she wanted to be in a band, maybe she was actual homosexual at the time and did not know. Or maybe she really wanted to be in a “jazz band.” What ever the case may be, she did what she had to do for herself, and that was to create a different persona and run with it for the rest of her life.

  2. dt3d says:

    Yes, it is a very interesting story. I wonder if she initially did groom herself like a male simply to fulfill her passion, which was joining a band, and then simply became so comfortable. Or maybe she began appreciating the “non-bias” reactions she would’ve received if she was a female. Regardless, it was a bold move she did. On one hand I admire her for doing what she had to do to accomplish her dreams, on the other hand I find her selfish and weak for lying to her family and taking the easy route by conforming to societies norms. Or was it the only way? See we will never relate because times have progressed. Either way I admire her story.

  3. Pingback: Billy Lee Tipton – Dorothy Lucille Tipton | Retrorambling

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