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Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast Episode 33d - Policing Sexuality and Gender in Early Modern Europe

Saturday, April 27, 2019 - 07:00

Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast - Episode 103 (previously 33d) - Policing Sexuality and Gender in Early Modern Europe - transcript

(Originally aired 2019/04/27 - listen here)

Within the past couple of months, there’s been some buzz in the book world about an upcoming fictionalized account of the life of 19th century physician Dr. James Barry that frames Barry as a heroic gender-transgressive woman who passed as a man in order to pursue a medical career. This framing was countered by many voices pointing out that Barry provided clear indications that he identified as male and tried to prevent that understanding from being challenged after his death.

Beyond the desire of modern people with a variety of identities to identify with the past, there is always a challenge to trying to decipher categories of gender and sexuality in the past, not only in terms of how individuals understood their own identity, but how that understanding was shaped by the models and categories offered to them.

The lazy way out is to sidestep the whole question by saying, “We can never really know how people in history identified” -- ignoring the fact that nobody ever says this about people who live normative lives. Or to say, “Well, understandings of sexuality and gender were different in the past” while silently assuming that straight cis people in history understood themselves identically to straight cis people today. But then we’re left with the question of just how we can sort out innate identity from strategic performance from culturally-imposed categorization.

Today’s essay continues the discussion I began two months ago in the episode on Unpacking Gender and Sexuality Categories. If you haven’t listened to that show yet, you might want to check it out before continuing with this one. In that show, I started from a very abstract consideration of how we interact with complicated categories of meaning and reference. How can we “translate” categories from one context to another when the categories are composed of bundles of independent features? In the realm of sexuality and gender, what are the different features that have been considered relevant in different cultures for determining both category structure and category membership?

This time, we’ll jump from the general to the very specific and look at a few particular cases of real people in history who came into conflict with their culture’s models for gender and sexuality. How did those conflicts shed light on those cultural models? How did people’s reactions demonstrate the specific ways in which the models failed to fit?

I chose individuals whose category membership was challenged in a legal context--or at least a legalistic one. That is, cases where people’s gender or sexuality were literally being policed by their culture. Due to the focus of this project, and therefore the nature of the data I have to work from, these examples will primarily focus on people who were assigned as female at birth, but where that categorization was challenged either by their behavior, their presentation, or their expressed self-identity. My focus here will not be on trying to determine their “true” gender and sexuality, as if that were a question with a simple and obvious answer. But rather to look at the types of evidence that were used at the time to try to answer those questions. I will, however, highlight parts of the data that suggest aspects of their internal identity.

I do want to give a content advisory here for some possibly disturbing discussion of persecution, legal punishments, forced medical examinations, and for the use of historic terminology such as “hermaphrodite” that would be offensive today. In general, when discussing people appearing in the historic record, I follow the pronouns used in the original documents, but this time I will use surnames or they/them pronouns to refer to the central figures being discussed here in order to provide a more neutral context for considering the evidence.

Anne Grandjean

A good example to begin with--if only because it contradicts some of our expectations for historic western societies--is that of Anne Grandjean, in 18th century France. Grandjean was born in 1732 and assigned as female at birth, was raised as a girl, and presented as female both in terms of dress and behavior. Around age 14, Grandjean began experiencing sexual desire for women. They confessed this desire to a priest, who told them that sexual desire for women meant that one was really a man. Grandjean was then instructed to wear male clothing and live as a man.

This attitude--that gender identity could be diagnosed via the object of sexual desire within an obligatory heterosexual paradigm--dates back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Aristotle recommended this method of determining the “true gender” of a hermaphrodite (in this context, most probably meaning an intersex person).

Grandjean followed their confessor’s instructions regarding dress, began using their father’s name, Jean-Baptiste, moved away from home, and--living as a man--married a woman named Françoise Lambert in 1761 after which the couple moved to Lyon. A year or so later, Grandjean’s gender identity was challenged by someone who apparently had known them as a child, and they were brought before the court.

A doctor performed an anatomical examination and testified that Grandjean’s genitals were female. Contradictory testimony was presented in court regarding whether Granjean experienced menstruation, with Grandjean’s lawyer presenting the case that they were a hermaphrodite. In this case, we appear to be seeing the term “hermaphrodite” used, not for ambiguous physiology, but for an overall combination of traits that were assigned to different sexes: including anatomy, desire, and presentation. (There is a very detailed discussion of hermaphrodite theory in a contemporary summary of the case published in 1765. I’m still working my way through the French text but will put it on my to-do list for the blog in my primary sources series.)

This time, the conclusion of the court was that anatomy, not desire, was the deciding factor and Grandjean was judged guilty of “profaning the marriage sacrament” by entering into a same-sex marriage. After being whipped at the pillory, further sentencing of banishment was appealed successfully and was converted to a requirement that Grandjean return to wearing women’s clothes. They were prohibited by law from cohabiting with Françoise Lambert or any other woman. Evidently the deciding factor in the appeal was that Grandjean argued they had entered into the marriage “in good faith,” having been re-assigned as male based on factors including their desire for women and lack of desire for men, and that the change in gender presentation had been done openly with the knowledge and approval of their parents and community.

I chose Anne Grandjean to lead off because of the wealth of factors the case illustrates.

One key element for understanding historic attitudes toward gender and sexuality is to know that certain societies--to different degrees and with differing levels of credulity--accepted the possibility of spontaneous change of physiological sex. (Or, in some variants, the possibility that individual behavior could cause a change of physiological sex.)

In western culture, this generally was restricted to the possibility that persons originally interpreted as physiologically female could spontaneously develop male characteristics. But the other direction was sometimes acknowledged as possible. Before rejecting this concept as ignorance and myth, it’s important to recognize that there are a number of intersex conditions that present as an initially female-appearing body that develops male-appearing genitals later in life. Without knowing the chromosomal or hormonal basis of such conditions, it wasn’t unreasonable for people in the past to think that such a change could happen randomly to anyone.

So, if a person was observed to have behavioral or emotional characteristics that were considered at odds with their original assigned sex, it was not uncommon to attribute it to a spontaneous physiological change and to investigate that possibility by medical examination. Combine this with a fair amount of ignorance regarding the significant variation in the appearance of “normal” genitals of all sexes, and there was a lot of room for conflicting or erroneous diagnosis.

In Grandjean’s case--as in a number of other cases where the possibility of ambiguous genitalia was investigated--the conclusion was that Grandjean’s anatomy was consistent with the understanding of “normal” female anatomy. But there were other cases where having a clitoris that was larger or more prominent than the examiner expected, resulted in a diagnosis that the subject was partially male in nature.

So what does Grandjean’s case tell us about 18th century French models of gender and sexuality? The biggest thing it tells us is that there wasn’t a single, universal understanding of how to categorize people. The same person, in two different contexts, was assigned to two different gender categories based on prioritizing different characteristics. In one model, anatomy, behavior, and social presentation were all considered less relevant than the object of desire. In the other model, anatomy was the only acceptable evidence for gender categorization, and even the slightest hint of male anatomy might be sufficient for assignment as male.

Grandjean’s case also tells us that gender was considered more negotiable than sexuality in this context. The court was willing to hear and consider evidence and arguments regarding the correct assignment of Grandjean’s gender. But there was no framework for authorizing non-normative sexuality. In the first category conflict, the concept of same-sex desire was so unthinkable to Grandjean’s confessor, that he was more willing to authorize a behavioral gender change than to recognize the possibility that a woman could desire a woman.

In the second category conflict, when Grandjean was re-assigned back to being a woman, the possibility of same-sex desire was acknowledged by having its expression prohibited. Not only was Grandjean required to separate from their wife, but they were forbidden from cohabiting with any woman after that.

This erasure of same-sex possibilities is a theme that co-exists with the often prurient interest in women’s same-sex desire. The law can authorize gender re-assignment but it declines to license same-sex relations, and sometimes declines to acknowledge their possibility.

This theme must be kept in mind any time we encounter someone in western history who was assigned female at birth but who presents as male in the context of a romantic or sexual relationship with someone presenting as female. Sometimes we have evidence for transgender personal identity apart from the available cultural scripts for sexual relationships. But often we need to consider that the superficial appearance of a heterosexual relationship may have been the only script offered to two women who desired each other. Not only in terms of what would be acceptable to society, but in terms of how they understood their own identity and desires. If your society has a category “people who desire women” and aligns that category exactly with the category “men”, what are the pathways open for challenging that equation?

Of course, we also have plenty of examples of two people with feminine presentation enjoying romantic or sexual relations. A clear example is the early 15th century French case of Jehanne and Laurence. In the trial records for that case, there is no indication that either woman was suspected of having male physiology or a male personality. Though it’s true that when describing their sexual activity, the act was framed as them acting “like a man with a woman”. The heteronormative script was still there, but neither woman felt the need to re-categorize herself in order to fit that script in the course of their relationship. Neither did the courts raise the possibility of a gender category change as a way to avoid acknowledgement of same-sex acts. It’s possible that this difference is a matter of shifts in the cultural understanding of sexuality, but the fact that both women were in heterosexual marriages at the time may have gone some way toward viewing the sexual acts as an isolated issue of behavior, not a matter of categorization.

Do we have evidence for Grandjean’s internal gender identity? Quite possibly. 18th century France was not exactly lacking in examples of gender-crossing performance. Any yet Grandjean is not recorded as having any aspects of male gender performance until after being instructed to change gender presentation in order to resolve the problem of their unacceptable same-sex desire. We don’t have any evidence of what sort of life Grandjean lived after the trial and appeal were completed. There are some parallel cases where the subject returned to masculine presentation later, and others where the subject is known to have remained female-presenting after the dust settled. In this particular case, the preponderance of the available evidence does suggest an internal female identity.

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Elena/Eleno de Céspedes

Our second case comes from 16th century Spain and again involves the intersection of performative gender, questions of anatomy, and the motivations of desire.

Elena or Eleno de Céspedes was born to an enslaved black woman  in mid-16th century Spain and gained their freedom at age 12. They married a man at age 16, left him permanently shortly after, and bore a child that they left in a neighbor’s care and had no further contact with. De Céspedes later testified that the exertion of the birth resulted in the emergence of a penis-like organ that would thereafter emerge when they were sexually aroused, but was hidden otherwise. De Céspedes asserted that they later had successful sexual relations with women using this organ. Around this time, they began dressing in men’s clothing and pursuing male-coded professions, culminating in training as a surgeon, which included education in classical medical literature which they would later use to argue regarding gender re-categorization.

Due to a lack of facial hair, de Céspedes was sometimes thought to be a eunuch, which they denied. But evidently there was enough question on the point, that de Céspedes sought and received a judgment from the archbishop’s court of Toledo that they were a man and authorized to marry a woman. The evidence offered to receive this judgement is not recorded. But there was a specific marriage partner in question: shortly thereafter de Céspedes married María del Caño.

For some reason, de Céspedes’ gender category came up for question again and this time two medical examinations were required, one performed by a group of midwives who focused only on the genitals and proclaimed that de Céspedes had clearly female anatomy. The other was performed by a group of male physicians who examined both anatomy (with the same conclusion) and behavior, including facial features and speech mannerisms, proclaiming them clearly feminine as well. At this point, the court segregated de Céspedes from both the male and female areas of the prison and changed to using a grammatically female form of their name and using female pronouns in the records.

The charges against de Céspedes highlight the various category boundaries they were considered to have violated. They were charged with being an “unruly woman”, that is, with behaving in ways considered inappropriate for someone in the category “woman” (though perfectly appropriate for someone categorized as a man). They were charged with contempt for the sacrament of marriage by engaging in a same-sex marriage. And they were charged with committing sodomy by use of a dildo, contrary to their testimony that they had engaged in sex using a natural organ.

But was that possible? De Céspedes argued that it was. That they had indeed been female up until after the birth of their child, but thereafter had changed into a man--including the development of male genitals--but an injury had caused that organ to wither and fall off shortly before the legal charges were raised. The plausibility of this story was supported with citations from a wide range of respected medical texts, all of which considered a spontaneous physical sex change to be possible and natural.

The legal charges, de Céspedes argued, all depended on the category assignment of “woman”. But, they insisted, they had been a man at the time of the actions in question and so were innocent, even if they currently appeared to be a woman again.

Did the court take this defense seriously into account? In the end, the gender-based charges were dropped. The final conviction was for bigamy, because de Céspedes had failed to establish that their original husband was dead before marrying María. The shift from a charge of “contempt for the sacrament of marriage” to a charge of “bigamy” is suggestive. Either the court considered a marriage between two women to be sufficiently valid as to constitute bigamy, or the court considered that--at the time of the second marriage--de Céspedes was, in fact, classifiable as a man.

The central conflicts in the trial demonstrate that anatomy was considered the most important factor in gender categorization, though with some element of social performance. Even the shift to a bigamy charge supports this category structure. Presenting and performing as a man was never in doubt and was the basis of the gender-transgression charges. The shift in charges suggests the possibility that gender categories could be crossed and re-crossed by means of a change of anatomy.

De Céspedes was punished for bigamy by whipping and a public confession, followed by a period of public service as a physician at the Royal Hospital of Toledo. What happened after is unknown.

What remains is the question of why de Céspedes re-categorized themself originally.

Was there, in fact, an anatomical feature, later lost, that caused them to re-categorize themself? And then to enter into the difficult and elaborate process of performing a male life due to the appearance of that feature? Or was that an invention--perhaps one that de Céspedes convinced themself was true--in order to align their self-identity with their lived experience? The category shift was immediately followed by taking up male-coded professions and engaging in sexual relations with a woman. While the economic attractions of male professions have been a lure for many, sexual desire is a different matter. Apart from any other factors, it’s clear that de Céspedes experienced sexual desire for women. Was that desire the primary motivation for changing gender performance? Not only is it impossible at this remove to tease apart the possible contributing motivations, there’s no reason to assume that they can be separated.

Two other cases that share certain similarities make an interesting contrast to the outcome for de Céspedes. Half a century later, also in Spain, Catalina de Erauso ran away from a convent at age 15, put on men’s clothing, and began to engage in male-coded professions especially including travel to the New World as a soldier. Later in life, when in serious legal trouble, de Erauso confessed their life history to a bishop and returned to Spain to sort out the legalities of their life. This included traveling to Rome and getting explicit permission from the Pope to continue wearing men’s clothing and living as a man. This is a rare case where official sanction was given for a gender category change. Possibly one factor in this resolution is that sexuality never came into the question. Although de Erauso had engaged in some flirtations with women, they had never entered into a serious romantic or sexual partnership and never attempted to marry.

The other interesting contrast is the 17th century English case of the marriage of Arabella Hunt and Amy Poulter. Poulter was wearing men’s clothing and performing socially as a man at the time of the marriage, but testified, in essence, that their gender presentation had been a ruse for the sake of the marriage and denied being “a hermaphrodite”. That is, Poulter did not claim a change of gender category as the basis or justification for desiring and marrying a woman, although the courts offered this as a possible out. Similarly to de Céspedes, the court case involved a charge of bigamy as Poulter was still married to Arthur Poulter at the time they married Arabella Hunt. Although there are other motivations that muddle the evidence, it appears that the English court was willing to endorse gender re-categorization on the basis of any possible hint of ambiguous anatomy--although that re-categorization would have upheld the bigamy charge--but Poulter rejected that approach and clearly distinguished social gender performance from internal gender identity, incidentally upholding the existence of same-sex desire as a sexuality category.

Greta von Mösskirch

Greta von Mösskirch provides another example where the social models of gender leaned heavily on imposing compulsory heterosexuality at the expense of other data. Around 1514, in the region of Germany ruled by the counts of Zimmern, von Mösskirch came to the attention of a chronicler due to their disdain for the romantic attentions of men and their interest in romantically pursuing young women. The specific behaviors mentioned are loving them, following them, and giving them gifts. The chronicle then interprets this as “employing all behavior and manners, as if she had a masculine affect.”

What did that mean? Were there additional masculine behaviors other than the object of von Mösskirch’s romantic interest? Did they swagger around? Speak in a low voice? Adopt other cross-gender habits? There is no mention of cross-gender clothing. In the bare text we have, the implication seems to be that it was the romantic pursuit of women, by itself, that was interpreted as masculine behavior.

Von Mösskirch was spared formal legal investigation, but was the subject of an anatomical exam by the women of the town who suspected that their romantic desires must indicate an underlying male identity, or at least physical hermaphroditism. This suspicion was not upheld by the exam.

Only at this point does the chronicler, unable to deny the conjunction of female anatomy and desire for women, turn to alternate explanations. Perhaps it was fated in their stars. Perhaps it was simply bad morals. In any event, the possibility of a category of “women who desire women” was acknowledged in this case.

No formal action was taken to legislate von Mösskirch’s presentation or behavior. Anatomy was treated as the final word in determining their correct gender category, but there were no confounding behavioral or social factors other than romantic desire. In contrast to Grandjean’s case, the possibility of same-sex desire is not considered so threatening as to require correction, though we know nothing of von Mösskirch’s later behavior or life.

Thomas(ine) Hall

As with the case of Anne Grandjean, the experiences of Thomas or Thomasine Hall in early 17th century Jamestown, Virginia highlight contrasting and conflicting requirements for gender category membership.

To summarize a long and complicated life history, Hall was most likely intersex and had been categorized as female at birth but by later adulthood had developed a small penis and evidently had a very small, or no, vaginal opening. Hall lived a normative female life through childhood and adolescence. But when Hall was 24 and their brother was pressed into military service, Hall cut their hair short, dressed in men’s clothing, and went to join the English army in France. On returning home to England, Hall return to women’s clothing and took up the female-coded profession of needlework.

In connection with deciding to emigrate to the colony of Virginia, Hall again wore men’s clothing and engaged in male-coded professions there, but sometimes switched to wearing women’s clothing. The precipitating incident that brought Hall to history’s attention was an accusation of a sexual relationship with a neighbor’s female servant. At the time, Hall was presenting as male, which rendered this the ordinary moral crime of fornication. However--possibly as an attempt at defense--a former employer of Hall (at a time they were presenting as female) testified that Hall was actually a woman, despite the male clothing.

The various legal inquiries that followed evaluated Hall against two different gender category standards. Was Hall sufficiently male on a sliding scale to be categorized as such? Or did the presence of any male characteristics at all define membership? One curious feature of the debate is that neither behavioral presentation nor erotic desire seem to have come into the evidence. Hall’s desire for a woman--however problematic for moral standards--does not appear to have been considered evidence of masculinity. It is, perhaps, more understandable that Hall’s choice of clothing was not considered decisive, as they seem to have had no clear preference. But when interpreting the anatomical evidence, no clear standard was applied. The first judicial decision was that masculinity was defined by the ability to successfully perform penetrative sex. Hall had a feature interpreted as a small penis but evidently it was not functional for this purpose. They were a little bit masculine, but not sufficiently so to be awarded category membership. Hall was ordered to wear female clothing and perform female-coded labor.

But other community members considered that minimal anatomical feature to be sufficient to define masculinity and weren’t satisfied with this decision. One approach considered that the important outcome was for an ambiguous person to choose one binary gender and stick to it. Another approach demanded that it be the correct binary gender. The case was re-opened and this time, rather than evaluating Hall’s masculine credentials, the judge evaluated their feminine ones. This time the absence of anatomy for receiving vaginal penetration was considered the deciding factor. Hall was categorized as male.

But then the judge did something unusual: he required Hall to wear a hybrid outfit with elements of both male and female clothing. Hall had lived a life of serial alternating gender performance; but now they were required to settle on a fixed but ambiguous presentation. This left open the question of what gender-coded economic roles Hall was allowed to participate in, and which socialization rules they were to follow, and what potential sexual relationships were licensed. These are not recorded.

And what was Hall’s position on all this? When Hall was asked directly, “whether he were a man or a woman” they replied, “both.” Hall switched between gender presentations on multiple occasions when there seemed to be no social need or economic advantage--though there were some occasions when presenting as male was a clear advantage for both opportunity and safety. When Hall testified with their own life story, no reasons or excuses were given for these shifts, with one mystifying exception. When asked about the women’s clothing, Hall replied, “I go in women’s apparel to get a bit for my cat.” But what that might mean is unclear.

The combination of Hall’s ambiguous anatomy and their blithe disregard for fixed gender performance seems to have broken the ability of their contemporaries to achieve categorization. The existing category standards could not be clearly applied, and so Hall was not so much allowed to be non-binary, as required to advertise this state.

Catharine Vizzani

My final example, like the case of Greta von Mösskirch, did not technically come before a court of law, but came under the scrutiny of an authority figure who considered the issues of categorization and had some power of enforcement.

In 18th century Italy, Catharine Vizzani, having grown up assigned female and pursuing female-coded activities like embroidery, found themself in love with a young woman. After courting her in a female presentation, Vizzani began wearing men’s clothing and pursuing the courtship using a heterosexual script, including nighttime visits to her window. Vehement parental objections to this courtship--though it’s unclear whether gender issues came into it--led Vizzani to leave town hastily and take up a full-time masculine presentation, which included romantic and sexual relations with a number of women.

Vizzani’s parents supported and abetted them in this course of action, only mentioning Vizzani’s original gender assignment when they were berated for their “son’s” wild and dissolute habits by Vizzani’s employer. The parents had long been aware of Vizzani’s romantic desire for women, and had helped Vizzani establish themself in a male-presenting life, but had not recategorized Vizzani in their own minds as a man. Vizzani’s employer, having this information, chose not to interfere with either their social presentation or their romantic pursuits.

Vizzani’s adventures were eventually brought to a tragic end when one of their amours resulted in being fatally wounded by an agent of their lover’s guardian. Vizzani revealed their birth gender to the nuns giving them medical care and requested to buried in women’s clothes. After death, an attending physician investigated the possibility that Vizzani’s behavior and desires were caused by partially masculine anatomy, but the conclusion was negative.

Here we see a whole series of figures who had social authority over Vizzani--parents and employers--choosing to accept some degree of masculine categorization purely on the basis of social presentation and on erotic desire for women, even with the understanding that Vizzani’s anatomy was categorized as female. Vizzani, on the other hand, gives a certain amount of evidence for not categorizing themself as male, despite a long-term social performance as such.

Only after death was the question of anatomy raised as a potential causal factor. But on the other hand, among all of Vizzani’s romantic encounters, the question of marriage never came to a head, which might have reframed the concerns. That final fatal elopement was meant to have ended in marriage, but the possibility was cut short. So is this a case of category change being accepted on a basis other than anatomy? Or is it a case where gender-transgressive behavior and illicit sex were tolerated without full re-categorization? Did Vizzani change gender performance primarily to pursue their erotic inclinations? Or did they also have some degree of non-binary identity?

Other Framings

I hope these examples provide a way of looking at and thinking about the ways that cultures in history understood categories of gender and sexuality. I’ve looked at a very narrow range of data here: real-life cases where the correct assignment of a person to specific gender or sexuality categories came under the concern of the authorities, and where the conclusions of those authorities might be enforced on the person in question.

There are many other types of examples that can shed light on how people understood gender and sexuality. Medieval romances give us examples of characters who perform across genders and then are bodily changed to match that performative gender. One could see these as an acceptance that category membership could be established by performance and internal identity, with the miraculous anatomical change being merely a recognition of that. But one could also view such scenarios as treating anatomy as essential--that an anatomical change was necessary to make the category shift “true.”

Because of my focus on official challenges to category membership, I’ve excluded the formalized gender-crossing role described in the Balkans in the 19th century, where individuals assigned as female could, in certain circumstances either choose or be chosen to be re-categorized as men and were accepted and treated as such by their cultures.

Also excluded by my focus on specific individuals is the extensive medical and philosophical literature dealing with the categorization of persons with ambiguous anatomy. Nederman and True’s study on this topic in the 12th century, which I covered recently in the blog, notes a variety of approaches, that take into account how one’s anatomy best accommodates heteronormative sex, which gender the person is sexually aroused by (with assumed heterosexuality), or even which gender the person chooses to align with. What was required in all cases was that the person choose one gender to identify with and stick to it, and express their sexuality only within a heterosexual framework.

In summary, what we see in early modern Europe are a number of strong trends in categorization, all of which are contradicted in certain cases or certain circumstances. As a general trend, anatomy was considered the strongest aspect of gender categorization, but that could be contradicted by performative presentation, as in the case of Catherine Vizzani, or be trumped by the heterosexual imperative, as in the case of Anne Grandjean, or be granted special dispensation, as in the case of Catalina de Erauso. As a general trend, the heterosexual imperative was held to be so inviolable that apparent same-sex desire was seen as a reason to investigate gender re-categorization. We see this in the case of Greta von Mösskirch and Anne Grandjean, and it may possibly have been an internal motivation for reclassification in cases where desire preceded a change in gender presentation, as with Catharine Vizzani, Elena de Céspedes, and possibly Amy Poulter. But against this we have the case of Jehanne and Laurence where erotic attraction doesn’t seem to have raised questions about their gender identity. And we have cases where ambiguous anatomy created a category crisis when the individual diverged from a normative gender presentation, as in the case of Thomasine Hall.

There is no conclusion to this essay, no decision of which categories or classifications were “correct”. The message I want to leave you with is that gender and sexuality categories in history don’t always align clearly with modern understandings. And that the ways that people fit themselves into those categories--or broke out of them--could be individual and complicated. Yet they left these traces of that struggle, not for us to judge, but to appreciate in their variety.

Show Notes

A continuing look at the structure of categories for gender and sexuality in history, focusing on how specific individuals challenged category definitions.

Previous podcast in this series: Unpacking Gender and Sexuality Categories.

In this episode we talk about:

Anne Grandjean

Jehanne and Laurence

Elen@ de Céspedes

Catalina de Erauso

Amy Poulter and Arabella Hunt

Greta von Mösskirch

Thomas(ine) Hall

Catharine Vizzani

Other References

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online

Links to Heather Online

Major category: