My friend Jen Grove has a post up on Notches, the history of sexuality blog, today. In it she talks about looking for trans people in the ancient world. As her main example she tells us that Magnus Hirschfeld was one of the people who has suggested that the Egyptian Queen, Hatshepsut, might be trans. I’ve said my piece about Hatshepsut before, and I’m pretty sure I have ranted to Jen as well. I’m not surprised that she’s cautious about the identification. When you are looking for trans people from the past it is really important to understand the culture in which they lived, and how that culture understood gender.
For me, of course, it is also important to maintain academic respectability. If I were to make a case for Hatshepsut being trans I would get torn to shreds by my Egyptologist friends. Jen can get away with slightly more because she can’t be accused of projection the way I can, but she still has to play the academic game.
There’s also the fact that claiming feminist icons such as Hatshepsut as trans is a sure fire way to turn feminists against the trans community. Politically it’s not wise.
Mainly, however, I want to echo Jen’s point in the Notches post about not relying on famous people from the past. It’s great that we have a few celebrities to talk about, Elagabalus being the most high profile, but there were very many ordinary people in ancient cultures who lived outside of the gender binary. We don’t need celebrities to make the case. And indeed the case is far more powerful if we can identify lots of ordinary trans people, rather than just a few high profile ones.