Trans History Part 1: From the Stone Age to Stonewall
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
When the topic of trans history comes up, most folks start with Marsha P. Johnson and her role in the Stonewall riots in 1969. The truth is, trans folks have been around since at least the Iron Age. When discussing history, the majority of topics and stories told in the United States are Eurocentric. Given that limitation, trans history appears not only to be less diverse but also shorter — like we’re a trend that started in the 1970s and hasn’t gone out of style. In honor of LGBTQ History Month, here is a condensed timeline of moments in trans history worldwide, before Stonewall.
900 BC: In 1995, archaeologist Timothy Taylor discovered evidence of men who cross-dressed during the Iron Age, in graves in southern Russia.
700 BC: King Ashurbanipal of Assyria spent a great deal of time in women’s clothing. This was later used as justification to overthrow him, proving that transphobia is nothing new.
1503 BC: Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut ascended to the throne for 21 years until she resigned in 1482 BC. Possibly learning from the disfavor shown to her predecessor, Queen Sobekneferu, she donned male clothing and a false beard signifying kingship. She had one daughter, Neferure, whom she groomed as a successor to also present as male, but Neferure did not live into adulthood. After Queen Hatshepsut’s death, her second husband attempted to erase all record of her.
1576 AD: The explorer Pedro de Magalhaes recorded that some women in the Tupinamba tribe in Brazil lived as men, hunted and went to war. Referencing the Greek legend of the Amazons, he named the Amazon River after these individuals.
1577: King Henry III of France frequently crossdressed. When he was dressed in women’s clothes, he was referred to as “her majesty” by his courtiers. Even his everyday kingly clothes were considered outrageous despite the flamboyant standards of 16th-century France.
1624: Assigned female at birth, Nzinga ruled as King of Angola for 29 years. They cross-dressed and led several successful military battles against the Portuguese.
1654: The wonderful, bisexual Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated the throne. They dressed in men’s clothing and renamed themselves Count Dohna.
1676: Abbe Francois Timoleon de Choisy attended the Papal inaugural ball in women’s clothes. Their memoirs, published postmortem, offer the first written testimony of MTF gender expression.
1700s: “Molly houses” started popping up around England. They provided a space for the gay community to meet, carouse and relate to one another. “Mollies” were men who often crossdressed and developed their own queer culture.
1728: Chevalier D’Eon, assigned male at birth, was a famous French spy/ambassador. They lived a significant part of their life as a woman. Chevalier’s birth sex was a hotly debated question, even though their birth name was Charles d’Eon.
1907: Chui Chin, a cross-dressing Chinese revolutionary and feminist was beheaded for organizing an uprising against the Manchu dynasty.
As you can see, trans folks have ALWAYS been here. While it may seem like there has been an increase of members of the trans community within the past 5 years, the only thing that has changed is more diversity and inclusivity in vocabulary. When I first heard someone say that their pronouns are they/them, and explain to me what genderqueer means to them, I felt comfort and excitement and validation all rolled into one. There’s a word for what I feel! Other people also identify this way! I’m not making anything up, this is a valid identity! When folks say that they’ve never met a trans person, they don’t know it, but that’s more than likely not true. According to a study run by the Williams Institute published in June 2016, 1.4 million adults in the United States identify as transgender. This number does not include the trans folks that did not participate in the surveys used to procure this study, nor the folks that were comfortable enough to identify as trans. Given this information, 1.4 million is a bit on the low side. Chances are, you HAVE met a trans person, they just didn’t out themselves. Be sure to check in next week for Trans History Part 2: Stonewall and Beyond!
Most resources were found at http://out.ucr.edu/docs/trans_timeline.pdf and http://bilerico.lgbtqnation.com/2008/02/transgender_history_trans_expression_in.php.
Sara Whittington grew up in Pineville, LA and now resides in Brooklyn, NY. They enjoy mix media art, sketch comedy, and honey buns. Pronouns: they/them.