On another occasion Equi’s reputation as an outsider led to an association with a cross-dresser arrested in a “white slavery” incident. In September 1912, Portland police arrested twenty-eight-year-old Harry Allen of Seattle for transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes. Equi was reported to have visited Allen in jail. During the police interrogation, Allen claimed he was innocent, and that he was, in fact, a woman whose birth name was Nan Pickerell. He also declared that he was “married” to his female companion, who had willingly traveled to Oregon with him.[i]
Although western newspapers occasionally carried reports of cross-dressing men and women, the police and the public were uncertain what to make of Allen. Was he a man as he presented himself, a woman who wanted to dress as a man, a woman who refused to wear feminine attire, or a woman forced by circumstances to seek the better paying jobs reserved for men? Few people were conversant with the psychological nuances of cross-dressing and the subtleties of an individual’s gender and sexuality identification. At the time of his arrest, Allen explained that he had “always wanted to be one of the boys” and had dressed in men’s clothing for the last dozen years. He described having a “boyish manner” as a child that remained and that his current “long stride and basso voice” were now natural. Although Portland Police suspected Allen of using a “disguise” for criminal purposes, the “white slavery” charge was dropped once his sex was discovered.[ii]
The Harry Allen affair prompted Portlanders to consider the phenomenon of cross-dressing, but they could treat it as a curiosity far removed from their lives. Another year would pass before the world of sexual outsiders became too close to dismiss. For many observers, Equi’s association with a cross-dresser may have placed her at greater distance from the rest of society, but she remained a doctor willing to treat an individual others avoided.
[i] “Police Are Castigated,” Oregonian, September 3, 1912, 9; “Not Portland Police,”Oregonian, September 4, 1912, 10; Peter Boag, Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 23–31.
[ii] “Woman Known to Friends as Man,” Oregonian, December 12, 1906, 1; Peter Boag, “Go West Young Man, Go East Young Woman: Searching for the Trans in Western Gender History,” Western Historical Quarterly, 36:4, (winter, 2005), 479–80, 485–87; “Nan Pickerell Wants a Job as a Longshoreman,” Portland News, June 12, 1912.