The Museum of Hoaxes
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Gender Fakers
JT LeRoy, 2005
In 1994 a teenage boy called JT (or Jeremy "Terminator") LeRoy began to attract attention in the literary community. He published a few short stories, but he also aggressively reached out to other, older writers, communicating with them by phone, email, and fax. He was a sympathetic character — a transgendered, homosexual, drug-addicted, pathologically shy teenager who had been living on the streets, forced into a life of truck-stop prostitution by his mother. Writing seemed to offer a means for him to escape that life, and other writers strongly supported his efforts. In 1999 he published his first novel, Sarah, which was a critical... More…
Samukeliso Sithole
Samukeliso Sithole Samukeliso Sithole was a rising female star in the world of Zimbabwe athletics. The 17-year-old track-and-field athlete had won awards at various regional athletic events, including five gold medals at the Southern Region Youth Championship in 2004. But in 2005 her career came to an abrupt halt when it was revealed that she was actually a he. More…
The Cross-Dressing Ken Doll, 1990
Carina Guillot and her daughter made national headlines when they found a Ken doll for sale at a Florida Toys 'R' Us that was dressed in a purple tank top, lace apron, and polka-dotted skirt. The doll was still inside its factory packaging, so it appeared to be a valid, untampered product. Mattel was at a loss to explain how Ken had come to be wearing a dress. The Guillots turned down thousand-dollar offers for the doll. The mystery was solved when a Toys 'R' Us night clerk admitted he had dressed up Ken as a prank and carefully resealed the package with glue. More…
Billy Tipton, 1989
When Billy Tipton got his start in jazz during the 1930s, he made a name for himself as a saxophone and piano player. During the 1950s, he formed his own group, the Billy Tipton Trio (shown in the thumbnail, with Tipton in the center). He had a number of wives and adopted three sons. So when he died in 1989 at the age of 74, it shocked almost everyone to learn that Billy Tipton was a woman. Even his wives claimed not to have known his true gender. He guarded the secret so closely, that he even refused medical treatment for the bleeding ulcer that killed him because doing so would have required disclosing his gender to the hospital staff. More…
USC Glamour Queen Hoax, 1944
In April 1944, the University of Southern California held its annual Campus Queens beauty contest. 20 contestants vied for the title. Six winners were to be selected. The prize was that their full-length portrait would appear in the yearbook. But that year an imposter appeared among the candidates. The odd-woman-out (or rather, odd-man-out) was Sylvia Jones. She was actually a he — a male USC student who had dressed up as a woman in order to enter the contest. More…
Robert Archer, aka Tanis Chandler, 1944
(left) Robert Archer in The Desert Song(right) Tanis ChandlerTanis Chandler was a 20-year-old woman working as a teletypist in a Hollywood brokerage office, but dreaming of becoming a movie star. However, she was having trouble getting any roles, so she decided to try another strategy. There was a shortage of male actors in 1943 because of the war, so Tanis figured she might have better luck if she were a man. She put on a pair of pants and presented herself at a casting office as "Robert Archer." The casting office, believing she was a man, gave her a part as a sheik in a Warner Brothers movie, The Desert Song. Luckily for her, the part... More…

Silence Dogood
Between April and October 1722 a series of letters appeared in the New England Courant written by a middle-aged widow who called herself Silence Dogood. In her correspondence she poked fun at various aspects of life in colonial America, such as the drunkenness of locals, religious hypocrisy, the persecution of women, the fashion for hoop petticoats, and particularly the pretensions of Harvard College. Silence Dogood's letters became quite popular. Some of the male readers of the Courant were so taken with her that they offered to marry her. But unfortunately for these would-be suitors, Silence Dogood did not exist. She was the invention of... More…
Pope Joan, 853 AD
According to legend, Pope Joan was a woman who concealed her gender and ruled as pope for two years. Her identity was exposed when, riding one day from St. Peter's to the Lateran, she stopped by the side of the road and, to the astonishment of everyone, gave birth to a child. The legend is unconfirmed. Skeptics note that the first references to Pope Joan only appear hundreds of years after her supposed reign. More…
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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.