PAF transing gender to join the military or go to sea were common both in life and popular culture, with a wide variety of motivations. In isolated cases those who performed well before being unmasked might be celebrated and even rewarded, such as James Gray, William Chandler, and Robert Shurtliff whose (somewhat fictionalized) autobiographies helped ensure their fame. Common knowledge of stories such as theirs kept trans possibilities in mind, although there were significant barriers to success.
James Howe née Mary East had a biography unusual in tracing financial and social success, a happily married life with a wife who not only knew about her female husband’s background but had partaken in establishing their identity, and in passing through the revelation of their assigned gender relatively unscathed, despite a fair amount of drama.
In 1746, in England, Charles Hamilton married Mary Price. While Hamilton was not the first person assigned female (PAF)[see note] to be called a “female husband” or to marry a woman, Hamilton’s case solidified the use of the label female husband, and in particular Henry Fielding’s fictionalization of Hamilton’s life established a number of the tropes that would be associated with the concept from then on.
Manion begins by introducing several of the historic figures who will feature in this book: Charles Hamilton in 18th century England, George Wilson in 19th century New York. These are just two of the many individuals collected under the category “female husbands,” who claimed a male role in society including the right to marry a woman.
Legs, as a feature of cross-dressing, are legible primarily in the context of actresses playing male roles. The clothing of the day meant that women’s legs were normally concealed. That meant that, on stage, women’s exposed legs both represented masculinity and were potentially a powerful erotic stimulus. The dramatic fiction that cross-dressing actresses were “men” in their roles gave license for women to find them desirable, as well as for others to deny the same-sex aspect of that desire.
The idea of “modern lesbian identity” and when it can first be identified is a question that has preoccupied many historians in the field. In this article, Vicinus tackles the question. Keep in mind that this article was written in 1992, so it was still rather early in terms of current lesbian history scholarship.
Chapter 4: Lesbian Masculinity: Even Stone Butches Get the Blues
This chapter tackles John Radclyffe Hall and the sexologists’ “invert” as the next archetype. Hall was part of a subculture of “inverts” and their “wives” at a time when sexological theories were becoming familiar to the public. Despite the sexologists’ attempts to identify a unified theory of inversion, there were different models of female masculinity prevalent in same-sex circles. Female inversion (usually accompanied by homosexuality) was the model applied to women similar to Anne Lister: ones with a masculine identification and performance, who desired non-masculine women.
The existence of masculine women throughout the ages challenges assumptions about the nature of masculinity and why the connection between men and masculinity has remained so secure. While some hold that the phenomenon of the “virile woman” is recent, and tied to feminism, or as a sign of the loosening of gender conformity, these positions overlook the history of masculine women. [Note: H says, “a character who has challenged gender systems for at least two centuries”, but of course it’s been happening much longer than that.]
Halberstam takes as a subject the concept of a “masculinity” that is distinct and separate from people born male, comparing it to the long tradition of studying “male femininity” from the Greek kinaidos through early modern molly houses and up to the present. When first written in 1998, similar histories had not been written for women. [Note: I think this is overstating the lack a little bit.] Yet there have been many modes of lesbianism that involved the evocation or claiming of “masculinity.”