Policing Sexuality and Gender in Early Modern Europe

Policing Sexuality and Gender in Early Modern Europe is the focus of this episode of The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast with Heather Rose Jones

Episode 33d

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

Listen here

In this episode we talk about:

Links to the Lesbian Historic Motif Project Online


please note this transcript has not been edited and is automatically generated meaning certain words will be incorrect

[Music] this is Heather Rose Jones with a lesbian historic motif podcast this weekly podcast looks at lesbian themes in history and literature and historic research into gender and sexuality we talk about current historical fiction with queer female characters including fantastic versions of the past and have interviews with authors who write those stories and in months when we have a fifth show we’re proud to present new original lesbian historical fiction for your enjoyment 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 berry the frame’s berry as a heroic agender transgressive woman who passed as a man in order to pursue a medical career this framing was countered by many voices pointing out the berry providing 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’s 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 says people in history understood themselves identically to straights these 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’d beyond 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 cultures models for gender and sexuality how did those conflicts shed light on those cultural models how do people’s reactions demonstrate the specific ways in which the models failed to fit a chose individuals whose category membership was challenged in 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 there from 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 they’re expressed self-identity my focus here will not be on trying to determine their true quote-unquote 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 a good example to begin with if only because it contradicts some of our expectations for historic Western societies is that of an grudging in 18th century France Ron Jean was born in 1732 and assigned his female at birth was raised as a girl and presented his female both in terms of dress and behavior around 814 grand Jean 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 Rajan 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 with an obligatory heterosexual paradigm dates back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle Aristotle recommended this method of determining the quote unquote true gender of a hermaphrodite in this context most probably meaning an intersex person grandjean followed their confessors instructions regarding dress began using their father’s name is Jean batiste moved away from home and living as a man married a woman named Francois Lombard in 1761 after which the couple moved to lyon a year or so later grungees gender identity it 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 branches and genitals were female contradictory testimony was presented in court regarding whether granting experience demonstration with grindings lawyer presenting the case that they were 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’s 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 we’ll put it on my to-do list for the blog in my primary source of the series this time the conclusion of the court was that Anatomy not desire it was the deciding factor and garage he must judged guilty of quote profaning the marriage sacrament unquote 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 Ranjan returned to wearing women’s clothes they were prohibited by law from cohabiting with francois lombard or any other woman evidently the deciding factor in the appeal was that grandjean argued that they had entered into the marriage in good faith having been reassigned 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 an brushing to lead off because of the wealth of factors that 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 the person’s 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 and the appearance of normal quote-unquote genitals of all sexes and there was a lot of room for conflicting or erroneous diagnosis in Ron Jane’s case yes in a number of other cases where the possibility of ambiguous genitalia was investigated the conclusion was that grindings Anatomy was consistent with the understanding of normal quote unquote 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 garages 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 bra jeans 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 Grande jeans 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 garage jeans confessor that he was more willing to authorize a behavioural gender change than to recognize the possibility that a woman could desire a woman in the second category conflict when grunge scene was reassigned back to being a woman the possibility of same-sex desire was acknowledged by having its expression prohibited not only was grungy 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 coexists with the often current interest in women’s same-sex desire the law can authorize gender reassignment 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 Jahan and Lawrence 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 quote like a man with a woman unquote the heteronormative script was still there but neither woman felt the need to reek at giris 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 acknowledgments 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 of the events may have gone some way toward viewing the sexual acts as an isolated issue of behavior and not a matter of categorization do we have evidence for grand shades internal gender identity quite possibly 18th century France was not exactly lacking in examples of gender crossing performance and yet garage’ does 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 an appeal were completed there are some parallel cases where that 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 in internal female identity the lesbian talk-show relies on support the support of you our listeners the support of those who like and review our show on their favorite podcast app the support of our patrons on patreon and the support of our sponsors we hope you’ll continue to enjoy and support the lesbian talk show 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 lado disa spada’s 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 Cespedes 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 this is fade has 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 coated professions culminating in training as a surgeon which included education and classical medical literature which they would later used to argue regarding gender recategorize ation due to a lack of facial hair dayss Paytas was sometimes thought to be a eunuch which they denied but evidently there was enough question on the point that they suspenders 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 judgment is not recorded but there was a specific marriage partner in question shortly thereafter this is beta’s married maria del caño for some reason this has made this gender category came up for question again and this time to medical examinations were required one performed by a group of midwives who focused only on the genitals and proclaimed the dices beta’s head clearly female anatomy the other was performed by a group of male physicians who examined both anatomy with the same conclusion and behavior in facial features and speech mannerisms proclaiming them clearly feminine as well at this point the court segregated dices betas from both the male and female areas of the prison and changed to using a grammatically female form of the name and using female pronouns in the records the charges against ASIS betas 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 what’s that possible dayss Vegas 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 dayss Paytas argued all dependent on the category assignment of women 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 Cespedes had failed to establish that their original husband was dead before marrying Maria 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 dayss Paytas was in fact classifiable as a man this 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 dices Paytas 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 dissipate has recategorize themselves originally was there in fact an anatomical feature later lost that caused them to recategorize themselves 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 thesis paid has convinced themselves 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 well 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 dayss Paytas experienced sexual desire for women what’s that desire the primary motivation for changing gender performance not only is it impossible this removed to tease apart the possible contributing motivations there’s no reason to assume that they can be separated to other cases that share certain similarities make an interesting contrast to the outcome for de Cespedes half a century later also in Spain Catalina Durazo 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 they are also confessed their life history to a bishop and returned to Spain to sort out the legalities of their life this included travelling 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 derusso 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 Aimee 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 quote a hermaphrodite don’t code that is Poulter did not claim a change of gender category as a basis or justification for desiring and marrying a woman although the courts offered this as a possible out similarly to TASIS vedas 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 muddled the evidence it appears that the English Court was willing to endorse gender recategorize ation on the basis of any possible hint of ambiguous Anatomy although that recategorize ation would have upheld the bigamy charge but Paul too 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 grant upon most Kirk provides another example where the social bottles 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 Simran but most Kirk 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 quote employing all behavior and manners as if she had a masculine effect unquote what did that mean were there additional masculine behaviors other than the object of a most cursor 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 but most Kirk 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 denied the conjunction of female anatomy and desire for women turned to alternate explanations perhaps it was faded 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 the most Kirk’s presentation or behavior anatomy was treated as the final word in determining their corrected gender category but there were no confounding behavioral or social factors other than romantic desire in contrast to Graham genes case the possibility of same-sex desire is not considered so threatening as to require a correction though we know nothing of a most Kirk Slater behavior or life as with the case of Ann crunching the experiences of Thomas or Thomasina 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 who 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 Dressen men’s clothing and went to join the English army in France on returning home to England halt returned to women’s clothing and took up the female coded profession of needlework in connection with decided to emigrate to the colony of Virginia Hall again were men’s clothing and engaged in male coded professions there but sometimes switch to wearing women’s clothing the precipitating incident that brought halt 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 attempted defense a former employer of Hall at a time when they were presenting his 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 to find membership one curious feature of the debate is that neither behavioral presentation nor erotic desire seemed to have come into the evidence halls 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 halls choice and 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 find masculinity and weren’t satisfied with this decision one approach considered that the important outcome was for an ambiguous person to choose one binder agender and stick to it another approach demanded that it be the correct binary gender the case was reopened and this time rather than evaluating halls 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 Paul had lived a life of cereal alternating gender performance but now they were required to settle on a fixed but ambiguous presentation this left opened the question of what gender coded economic rules 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 halls 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 the state my final example like the case of Greta fun most Kirk 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 Catherine Fitz 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 Vuitton II 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 vitani to leave town hastily and take up a full-time masculine presentation which included romantic and sexual relations with a number of women but Sonya’s parents supported and defended them in this course of action only mentioning Fitz on his original gender assignment when they were berated for their son’s quote/unquote wild and dissolute habits by Vuitton s employer the parents had long been aware of it Saudis romantic desire for women and had helped vitani established himself in a male presenting life but had not recategorize fit Sonia in their own minds as a man vit Sonya’s employer having this information chose not to interfere with either their social presentation or their romantic pursuits but Sonny’s inventions were eventually brought to a tragic end when one of their amours resulted in being fatally wounded by an agent of their lovers Guardian that only revealed their birth gender to the nuns giving the medical care and requested to be buried in women’s clothes after death an attending physician investigated the possibility that fits on his 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 vit Sami 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 fit Sonny’s Anatomy was categorized as female fit Sonny on the other hand gives a certain amount of evidence for not categorizing himself 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 the fits Anya’s romantic encounters the question of marriage never came to a head which might have reframed to 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 gendered transgressive behavior and illicit sex were tolerated without full recategorize ation digits on each ange gender performance primarily to pursue the erotic inclinations or did they also have some degree of non-binary identity I hope these examples provide a way of looking at and thinking about the ways the cultures in history understood categories of gender and sexuality I’ve looked at a very narrow range of data here real-life cases with a 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 our bodily changed to match that performative gender one could see these as an acceptance the category membership could be established by performance and internal identity with a miraculous anatomical change being merely a recognition of that but one could also view such scenarios as creating 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 recategorize Daz 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 and Anatomy Neiderman and truth study of 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 Katherine Fitz on e or be trumped by the heterosexual imperative as in the case of an Gras Jean or be granted special dispensation as in the case of Catalina Durazo 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 recategorize ation we see this in the case of Greta phone marce Kirk and and Ron Jean and it may possibly have been an internal motivation for reclassification in cases where desire preceded a change in gender presentation as with Katherine vitani Elena DISA spada’s and possibly Amy Poulter but against this we have the case of Jehan and Lawrence 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 in the as in the case of Thomasina Hall there is no conclusion to this essay no decision of which categories or classifications were correct quote-unquote the message I want to leave you with is the 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 I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of the lesbian historic motif podcast if you want to follow up on anything we’ve covered see the show notes for links and to contact me with questions book announcements or topic suggestions if you enjoyed this podcast please read it and subscribe on itunes stitcher or podbean and consider supporting our patreon and if you’re on facebook check out the lesbian talk show chat group