THE LIE BECAME THE TRUTH

LOCATING TRANS NARRATIVES IN QUEER HISTORY

How do we write histories of individuals and communities whose existence is ignored or unacknowledged? When it comes to trans people, not only is the historical record itself full of silences, many historians and laypeople alike would prefer that they stay erased. Even queer histories shy away from acknowledging non-gender-conforming historical figures, for both methodological and political reasons. In a contemporary climate where the backlash against trans people’s right to exist only seems to grow in strength, this panel confronts the erasure of non-gender-conforming lives both within and beyond the academy.

MODERATOR

DR. CHRISTOPHER ROSE (/u/khowaga)

PANEL MODERATOR

CHRISTOPHER S. ROSE (HE/HIM) is a social historian of medicine focusing on Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean in the 19th and 20th centuries. He is currently contingent faculty in History at St Edward's University in Austin, Texas, and at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas. He researches the impacts and social perceptions of diseases and epidemic events. His monograph project, Home Front Egypt: Famine, Disease, and Death During the Great War examines the link between imperial governance, food shortages, disease, and social unrest among peasants and the urban  poor. He is also interested in the link between imperialism and epidemics, and in tropical and colonial/imperial medicine. He has taught courses on the history of medicine and disease, the history of the Middle East and North Africa from the Rise of Islam to the present day, and other topics in imperial and world history. An active public historian, he is currently a co-host of the New Books in Middle East Studies podcast channel on the New Books Network, and was a founding co-host of the 15-Minute History podcast for eight years.

SPEAKERS AND PAPERS

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MATTHEW SCHILLING (/u/LordEiru)

THE QUESTION OF QUEERNESS AND SOFT ERASURE

In June of 2020, Gay Pride co-founder Fred Sargeant made a controversial claim from a now-suspended Twitter account that “Trans people have no early history so they have to take LGB figures and trans them to create a history” (sic). Sargeant claimed further both in the quoted tweet and other since-deleted tweets that figures like Marsha Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Maria Ritter both “did nothing” at Stonewall and claimed that Johnson was merely a drag queen “dragged under the ‘trans umbrella’” and not trans herself. Sargeant’s claims met resistance among the broader queer community but did gain traction among other anti-trans groups that make similar claims about trans identities being a modern fabrication with no history. Such claims are not unique to trans groups and are familiar to the broader queer community, which has often fought over its status in the historical record.

This paper investigates the complexities of queer identity and queer history and the various methods that can lead to a missing history. Of particular interest is Judith Bennett’s “‘Lesbian-Like’ and the Social History of Lesbianisms” work and her criticisms of scholarship that focused on the elites and their writings in questions of historical queerness over “people who were more real than imagined and more ordinary. The work also considers Michael Warner’s Introduction: Fear of a Queer Planet and the framework of heteronormativity and consider if historians critiquing “anachronistic” labels reproduce heteronormative bias rather than provide historical context.

 

MATTHEW SCHILLING (HE/HIM) is currently working as a middle school educator and previously completed degrees at the University of Oregon and Augustana University in economics and history. He has published “Political Failure, Ideological Victory: Ida Wells and Her Early Work” with the New Errands Journal of American Studies and presented other works at the Augustana Symposium. His current research interest focuses on early queer communities and the development of shared queer identities and queer advocacy groups, as well as the intersection between race-based civil rights movements and queer rights movements.

 

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CAITLIN HARTWEAVE (/u/chartweave)

WARRIOR WOMEN: THE CHEVELAIER D'EON AND TRANS NARRATIVES IN THE 18TH-CENTURY ATLANTIC WORLD

The Chevalier d'Eon was assigned male at birth, lived the first fifty years of her life as a man and then very publicly transitioned in 1777, living the rest of her life as a woman Though she did not fit the feminine norms of her time, she was still recognized and accepted as a woman, largely due to the way she presented her life story in memoirs, newspapers, etc. She rewrote her story as that of an assigned female at birth individual, raised as a boy by parents desperate for an heir.

 

Cases of gender-non-conformity in history are often thought of as exceptions; the Chevalier d'Eon was exceptional in many ways, being an elite, white person at the center of French and British politics, but she was not the only gender-non-conforming person in the early Atlantic world. By comparing d'Eon's narratives to other less well-documented ones from the long eighteenth century, I argue that the language and narrative tropes d'Eon and others used to explain their genders come together to form a cultural vocabulary of gender-non-conformity. Rather than being foreign to society, this vocabulary was widely understood, making gender-non-conformity legible within the British and French empires. Gender and gender-non-conformity were particularly salient and fraught during this time, as the Atlantic revolutions raised questions about almost every aspect of society. The narratives gender-non-conforming people and their commentators chose were a significant deciding factor in what separated 'acceptable' gender-non-conformity from the unacceptable.

 

Previous scholarship on d'Eon has stubbornly continued to refer to her as a man and use he/him pronouns without much question. I argue that this decision obscures more than it reveals about both d'Eon and how gender worked during her time.

 

CAITLIN HARTWEAVE (SHE/HER) is a doctoral candidate at George Mason University. She specializes in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world and digital history, with a focus on gender and gender-non-conformity. Her research examines the recurring language and narrative themes gender-non-conforming individuals in the eighteenth-century British and French empires used to define themselves and their genders. Through her research, she hopes to recover the stories of oft-ignored gender-non-conforming individuals as well as contribute to the LGBT+ community’s history beyond Stonewall.