Skip to content Skip to navigation

The Legal Appeal of Anne / Jean-Baptiste Grandjean

Monday, October 3, 2022 - 08:00

This blog series (in 14 installments) is probably the most ambitious thing I've done for the Project so far.

When trying to understand the details and nuances of primary source material dealing with gender and sexuality, there are many layers of information to sort through: the literal meaning of the words, the contextual meaning of the words, the social background of how people understood those concepts, the purpose and biases of the author of the text and of their culture. When historians discuss how such texts contribute to our understanding of gender and sexuality, we assume and trust that they have taken all these things into account. But sometimes you find yourself asking different questions than the historians, or coming at the questions from a different angle. And then you want to have a go at the original texts. If you're lucky, the material is relatively short and has been included in a scholarly publication. Alternately, the material is in publication somewhere and the scholar has given you a clear enough citation to find it. The worst case is when the source material exists only in manuscript in some archive (or--worse than that--has been lost since the time the scholar accessed it). But the appeal record of Grandjean falls somewhat before that worst case: it was written at a time when it was published in print, and copies of those print editions have been digitized and made available on the internet. (It is, of course, long out of copyright!)

And then there's the issue of translation. The text is in French--and French of the 18th century, though the differences from modern literary French are quite minor. My French is very very minimal--I can make my way through technical language in a field I'm familiar with, rather laboriously. But fortunately, we live in an age when machine translation has improved amazingly, and with the help of a truly marvelous translation site, Deep-L, I was able to render the original into English. More details on that below. This approach means I've been able to examine the ways that the author uses gendered language to discuss Grandjean's case, whether to put forth a particular view of Grandjean's gender categorization, or to follow the shifts and changes in how Grandjean's gender was understood by others.

I'm going to be completely up front about my own, personal interpretation of Grandjean's identity. Like Grandjean's advocate, I have emphasized and de-emphasized certain aspects of the stated evidence (which is contradictory). I believe that Grandjean was a woman who sexually desired women, but who believed authority figures when told that this was not a possible thing. Grandjean was told "if you desire women, then you must be a man." So Grandjean became a man as far as their community was concerned, changed their name, and married a woman. When other authority figures contradicted the original instructions (considering that anatomy was more important in determining gender than desire), I believe that Grandjean's case was taken up by an advocate who emphasized his own interpretation of the relationship of anatomy and desire to gender--an interpretation that still had no place for the existence of women who desired women. Grandjean's advocate, knowing of the existence of intersex conditions, spun a story that Grandjean was intersex and that this was the underlying cause of their desire for women. (At a later point, I'll go into more detail about the contradictory evidence of the medical examination.)

My take on Grandjean's story is certainly not the only valid one. But I think there's a deeper truth involved. Assuming Grandjean had fully normative female anatomy, the initial stages of their story would have been the same. Based on the stated evidence, Grandjean's initial social gender reassignment was not based on anatomy, but on sexual desire. And I necessarily reject the advocate's premise that sexual desire is impossible between two women. So the deeper truth is the light this story sheds on the variety of attitudes and understandings regarding desire between women in 18th century France. We certainly know that the "impossibility" opinion wasn't the only one that prevailed. We are less than a half-century away from the scandalous stories of the Anandrine Sect and the political accusations of lesbianism against Queen Marie Antoinette. But one possible position was that the idea of lesbianism was so unacceptable that the entire structure of society could be upended to align one person's gender with their desires.

Major category: 
Full citation: 

Vermeil. 1765. Mémoire pour Anne Grandjean. Louis Cellot, Paris.

Publication summary: 

The original text, translation, and commentary on the appeal record of Anne Grandjean against a charge of "profaning the sacrament of marriage" by marrying a woman.

Introductory Material

Introduction

People in the past could have complex, contradictory, nuanced understandings of gender and sexuality, but we rarely have access to these complexities in as detailed a manner as for the case on Anne/Jean-Baptiste Grandjean, thanks to the existence of a popular-oriented publication of the legal appeal against Grandjean’s initial sentence. As a very brief summary, a person assigned female at birth, with female-conforming anatomy, raised as a girl, and with no prior indications of gender dysphoria, is instructed by their confessor to live as a man after confessing to experiencing sexual desire for women. This person continues living in their community as a man, courts several women and marries one, moves to a different community, has their assigned gender “outed” by a former girlfriend, and is tried in court for “profaning the sacrament of marriage” and given a fairly harsh sentence (though typical for the times). A sympathetic and broad-minded lawyer is responsible for Grandjean’s appeal, primarily on the argument that Grandjean is intersex and should be classified as male, althugh this argument was not accepted during the original trial. The lawyer also argues that Grandjean was naïve and sincerely believed the priest had the authority to reassign their social and legal gender, and that therefore the necessary intent for the charge of "profaning marriage" was lacking. This argument prevailed and Grandjean was released, with an injunction to return to living as a woman and never to see their wife again. To the legal arguments, in some editions, in appended a piece of doggerel verse in the persona of Grandjean bidding farewell to their wife and railing against the hand fate dealt them.

Even with the level of detail available through this publication, we must be aware of the layers of filtering and “spin” that have been put on the underlying narrative. We do not have direct access to Grandjean’s experience and thoughts except through what is recorded in testimony. We have even less access to the experience and thoughts of Grandjean’s wife, Françoise Lambert. Lambert does not appear to have been considered “at fault” in any way, but that only tells us that the court accepted a particular presentation of her experience (as well as demonstrating the legal presumption of women’s lack of agency). We may understand the lawyer’s stated opinions as reflecting his sincere beliefs about gender and sexuality, although we must also allow for the possibility that he is simply presenting what he believes to be the best case for the goal he seeks. (And that may include goals other than Grandjean’s acquittal.) The verse, we should understand as belonging to a particular popular genre of sensational entertainment, meant to appeal to the audiences sensibilities, but without any necessary truth-connection to the lives and experiences of the verse’s subject.

Text and Translation Credits

The original French text is taken from two different versions of the 1765 publication. Both are credited to the same publisher and have the same year of publication, but the layout and fonts are somewhat different and one has sections of additional material not present in the other. This additional material consists of an additional item on the title page referencing the addition at the end, an introductory summary and address to the reader (titled “Advisory”) located immediately after the title page, and the verse, with introductory matter, appended at the end. As best I can determine, the texts are otherwise identical except possibly for details of punctuation and occasional abbreviation.

The facsimile texts in pdf form were made available by Google Books (shorter version, extended version) and the initial rough transcription was copied from the Google Books epub editions of the text, presumably created by optical character recognition (OCR). I proofread the rough transcription against the facsimiles and performed extensive corrections, including sorting out the marginal commentary.

The initial translation pass was done using DeepL (https://www.deepl.com), a truly amazing translation app, whose use for private or business translation is permitted by the use agreement. Acknowledgement statement: Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

I have performed light revisions of the DeepL text for contextual clarity, and especially to align and amend gender references, given the key importance of this aspect. In some passages, I have traded felicity of language for a translation that retains the gender references in the French, when a more idiomatic English translation might not use gendered language.

A Note on Gender in the Translation

Linguistic gender in French may either reflect the assigned gender of the person being referenced, or the arbitrary grammatical gender of the noun being used (including pronoun references to a previously mentioned noun). But some grammatical constructions do not distinguish masculine and feminine gender (i.e., use epicene gender). In order to track how the author is presenting Grandjean’s gender in various contexts, I’ve used an approach that may be somewhat awkward. Specifically, when the French text uses an epicene reference (and it isn’t closely associated with other, gendered, language) I will use the neo-pronouns “zie/zem/zir” to indicate this lack of gender specificity. Please note that this usage is strongly marked as “non-gendered” in English, but is translating French expressions that are not in any way marked. They simply don’t indicate gender. I felt that using singular gender-neutral “they” might introduce number ambiguity that isn’t present in the original text. The approach I’m using is not intended to indicate that the author viewed Grandjean as non-binary or to indicate that I do, but rather to highlight that the author sometimes clearly referenced Grandjean with feminine language, more often with masculine language, but in many cases with language that is unmarked for gender.

In my own commentary and comments, I will normally refer to Grandjean with gender-neutral “they,” not only to honor the alternatives that Grandjean had female or male identity, but to honor the possibility that Grandjean was intersex and of uncertain gender identity. (Also, to recognize that Grandjean didn't necessarily have the same conceptual options avaialble for identification that we would have today.) I, personally, believe that Grandjean was not intersex and that they had no gender dysphroria when living as a woman, but naively took direction from male authority figures with regard to what gender they should present. But this is only my personal reading and several other views are equally valid.

Use of the Word “Hermaphrodite”

In past centuries, the word “hermaphrodite” was used in several different senses. See the discussions in the following articles for a deep dive into some of the relevant context. 

The word “hermaphrodite” was sometimes used to identify persons whose social behavior did not align with the expected behavior for their assigned sex, at it is possible that this sense was included when LeGrand accused Grandjean of being "a hermaphrodite." However the more relevant use in this text is for intersex persons, i.e., those with ambiguous physiology. The use of “hermaphrodite” for intersex persons is currently considered offensive and should generally be avoided. However I have retained this word to translate the French hermaphrodite in the source text, not only as the best literal translation, but to signal that the concept embodied in the text differed from the modern concept of intersexuality. I acknowledge that this convention has the potential to cause harm and apologize for that.

Formatting Conventions

The general format of the text is as follows.

  • The original French text in plain type. Capitalization and punctuation are as in the original, though some extra spaces have been removed. There are a few places where a marginal note or variant text is indicated with curly braces.
  • The translation in bold type. This may include some notes for clarity. If the original text includes non-French material, it is kept intact at this point.
  • {HRJ: My editorial commentary in italics and in curly braces. If there was non-French material in the original text, this is where I will translate it. Not all passages will have this commentary, but most will.}

[The text and translation will begin in the next blog entry.]

Time period: 
Place: 
Event / person: