Celebrating LGBTQ Pride: The S.J. Moffat Collection

While Pride celebrations have changed to accommodate pandemic restrictions in June 2020, we are highlighting the AHC’s “Out West in the Rockies” LGBT collections. “Out West in the Rockies” seeks to preserve and highlight narratives of LGBTQ people and communities from the Rocky Mountain West.

In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this month that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Title VII’s new protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender employees are an important legal victory for civil rights.

Shannon Moffat, known professionally as S. J. Moffat, was not able to witness this milestone. Born as Samuel in 1927, she moved with her mother to New York in 1930 after her parents’ separation. Moffat graduated from high school in 1945 and decided to enlist in the Navy, becoming an electronics technician and later attending the U.S. Naval Academy. After her military service, she attended Amherst College and became engaged to Mary Kirkpatrick. The couple married in August 1950.

Shannon Moffat as a U.S. Navy ensign, 1953. Box 14, S.J. Moffat papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Shannon as a young Navy ensign in 1953. Box 14, S.J. Moffat papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Shannon worked as an assistant science editor for the publisher Henry Holt and Company after graduating from Amherst in 1950, until 1952. During this time, she also served in the U.S. Coast Guard. Mary gave birth to their first son Bruce in 1953, and the family moved to Palo Alto, California, in 1954 where Shannon worked as a reporter. Their second son Bennet (Ben) was born in 1956, and their third child arrived stillborn the following year.

Shannon Moffat during her time as a reporter for the Palo Alto [California] Times, ca. 1955. American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Shannon during her time as a reporter for the Palo Alto Times, ca. 1955. Box 14, S.J. Moffat papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Shannon expressed great love for her sons, proudly writing in her diary of Bruce’s first steps in 1954. Her need for mental and physical affection became tiresome for Mary, and the couple grew distant from each other, eventually separating and divorcing in 1962. In a diary entry from February 4 that year Shannon wrote, “I had not been given much love as a boy [and] I want it most urgently now.”

Shannon had first worn a dress three years earlier. It likely belonged to her mother or her aunt Mildred. Shannon wrote of the experience, describing her emotions flickering from “compulsive desire to erotic high to anxiety about putting it back in the box to avoid discovery.” She cross-dressed at home and at first feared being discovered. She would marry Kay Cranston in 1966, and over the next two decades, work to become comfortable with purchasing and presenting herself in feminine clothing. Shannon realized her identity as female and began gender affirmation procedures in 1981.

Transitioning in her 50s, she continued her career as a freelance technical and medical writer working for private businesses and universities, including the University of Wyoming. She had donated much of her research and publication material to the AHC. The S.J. Moffat collection, totaling 86 boxes, also contains personal diaries before and after her transition which offer her perspective of how gender transition was perceived and presented in the 1970s and 80s. Shannon passed away peacefully in January 2009 at her home in Palo Alto.

Shannon Moffat in a formal portrait with a fur stole, ca. 1980. Photo courtesy of her son Ben Moffat.
Shannon in a formal portrait, ca. 1980. Photo courtesy Ben Moffat.

For additional insight into her transition, researchers can look in her collection for a file about Jan Morris, a transgender author and British soldier in the Second World War. Her collection also mentions the Venus Castina, a book from 1928 about famous female impersonators throughout history, celestial and human. A copy of Venus Castina is also available in the AHC’s Toppan Rare Books Library.

Shannon Moffat with her son Ben Moffat, 2006. Photo courtesy of  Ben Moffat.
Shannon with her son Ben, 2006. Photo courtesy Ben Moffat.
Shannon's signature soon after her transition reading, "Shannon (formerly Sam)." Box 25, S.J. Moffat papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

– Contributed by Morgan Walsh, AHC Archives Aide


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