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trans across the ages

Increasing transgender and transsexual visibility and acceptance in society has begun to embolden different people on the spectrum to come out from hiding confirming what we already suspected: that gender identities are not built exactly on a rigid binary and, when left to their own devices, people will choose to express these variances.

It was about time too and that stifling set of rules kept people in their little closeted world for fear of rejection and violence.

If you read Zagria’s blog you will have noted that historically many transgender people would live as the opposite gender with no access to surgical or hormonal assistance. Some even married and it is hard to believe that their spouses would not have known about their situation. Perhaps their marriage was chaste or the spouse was told a story about some sort of genital birth defect.

One of Zagria’s recent entries is about James Allen (1787 – 1829) who was discovered posthumously to be female bodied after dying in a work-related accident. The jazz pianist Billy Tipton also comes to mind as someone who after her death was discovered to be a female.

The point is that transgender people have always existed and the absence of options did little to detract from their desire to live as authentic a life as they possibly could. It is a topic I have pondered over when reflecting on the idea of transition. How would we all deal with our reality today if gender reassignment were only a pipe dream? would we not want society to recognize us as a community even more since an increased number of us would not have the option of going stealth?

There was a time in our history when some transsexual women decided to distance themselves from the rest of the trans community in an effort to lead normal lives and I don’t blame them. However with the lightning speed access to information today, I am not entirely sure that this is even possible.

What may instead be a best option at this moment in our history is that we aim for tolerance and acceptance for all people.


  1. I have neither a clear sense of the past or a vision of the future. I'm not even very clear on the here and now. It seems like transgenderism is on the rise, but that could simply be that transgender individuals are coming out of the shadows. It could also be that the transgender communities spawned by the internet give a incomplete or perhaps even a distorted picture of the number and vibrancy of the trans community. It will take someone with far greater brain power than me to decipher the meaning of all of this and how things are likely to proceed. My best guess is that it will likely be a bumpy ride. (Another many words, little substance response ...)

    1. Kati I do not think that being transgender is on the rise but rather that these people are less afraid to be who they are in a society that had very strict rules about behavior. This was especially true in the Judeo-Christian West. If you look at other cultures being different wasn't such a dramatic thing and many native cultures took these types of variations in stride whereas we demonized them.

      We are seeing the same pattern as gays and lesbians coming out from hiding.

  2. Interesting and informative piece as always Joanna. Use of the word "tolerance" in the last sentence raises my emotions. To me, tolerance means that it's okay to be aware of something but not embracing, not accepting. Like ants, bees, or spiders, we know they are valuable outside in the ecosystem but I don't want them to get close or inside my space.

    Do we tolerate people of color, gays? No, we authentically accept and embrace them and they are our friends and neighbors. Tolerance might be the norm for those people in the areas decrying the removal of Confederate memorabilia.

    1. I am not certain we are going to get a full embracing Emma but I would first settle for people not attacking us or looking at us with disdain as a first step

  3. True. We've always existed, just in varying degree of openness/hiding. Twenty years ago I befriended a motorcycle racer a generation older than me. He was famous in the 1950's as a macho racer but, of course, felt he could never reveal his true nature. He retired to rural Canada and lived out his old age in a modest form of female-presentation. (Using male pronouns because he did.)

  4. I could be wrong, I often am, but my best guess is that a you're-weird-but- it's-no-skin-off-my-teeth tolerance is about the best we can hope for among the general population. There will exceptions on both sides of the spectrum, but a polite indifference may prove an achievable goal.


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