Pre-1940’s Trans People


By Kirstie Rutter

There’s a common mis-conception that Transgender people are ‘modern’ or ‘trendy’ and didn’t exist until recently. But the truth is trans people have existed throughout history, from a 18th century French spy, to a Roman Emperor, here’s 10 trans and non-binary people from before WWII.

Chevalier d'Eon

Born in 1728, the Chevalier d'Eon had an illustrious career as a French spy and diplomat. They began appearing at Queen Elizabeth's court demanding to be recognized as such by the French government.The Chevalier was such a well-known figure that the term "eonism" enjoyed a brief vogue as a descriptor for those displaying transgender or genderfluid characteristics.







Albert Cashier

Albert Cashier was a transgender man who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Albert became famous as one of a number of women soldiers who served as men during the Civil War, although the consistent 53-year commitment to the male identity has prompted some to suggest that Cashier was a trans man. During the war, Cashier fought in approximately 40 battles, and once singlehandedly overpowered a prison guard in order to escape back to his division after being captured.

A musical entitled The Civility of Albert Cashier has been produced based on Cashier's life.





Very little is known about the Roman Emperor Elagabalus, at only 14 years old, became emperor, initiating a reign remembered mainly for sex scandals and controversy.

Elagabalus was married five times and was reported to have dressed in feminine attire. The Augustan History claims that they also married a man named Zoticus, an athlete from Smyrna, in a public ceremony at Rome. It is generally agreed that Elagabalus had sex with a lot of people from many different genders and did not try to keep this a secret. They demanded everyone call one of their male slaves “the empress’s husband”. They were reported to have offered vast sums of money to any physician who could equip them with female genitalia, leading some scholars to believe they were in fact a trans woman.






We'wha was a member of the New Mexico Zuni tribe who interacted heavily with anthropologists, and in 1886 met President Grover Cleveland. They were a Ihamana, or "Two-spirit," a Zuni gender designation separate from the male/female binary.We'wha was an accomplished artist and followed the strict religious protocols that went with making Zuni pottery, their work would later be displayed in the National Museum in Washington DC.







Harry Allen

Harry Allen was a public figure of great renown in the early American West, popping up in pioneer newspapers with frequency throughout the Northwestern U.S. Openly declaring his identity as a man who was assigned female at birth, Allen was a bit of a roustabout, and was often arrested for petty crimes such as fist fighting, public drunkenness, "throwing a spittoon at a saloon man," and occasional prostitution.

The news media was rather unfairly vicious to Allen, reporting with salacious glee on his "shameful" lifestyle, which no doubt contributed to his eventual, tragic suicide at age 40.



Lili Elbe

Born in Denmark in 1882, Elbe was not only trans, but also a lesbian. She met her wife, Gerda, at college, and they moved to Paris to be artists together.In 1930 Eble travelled to Germany and became one of the first recipients of gender reassignment surgery, and the second transgender woman to undergo Gohrbandt's vaginoplasty technique in 1931.In 2000, David Ebershoff wrote The Danish Girl, a fictionalised account of Elbe's life. It was an international bestseller and was translated into a dozen languages. In 2015, it was made into a film of the same name.







So, there you go! That’s six trans and non-binary people from history! There’s plenty more than that on offer, if you pop down to the HUBS there’s posters with bios on tons more people. 


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