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female husband

 

This tag is used for occasions when two female (or assigned-female) persons entered into marriage with one passing as male to the rest of society.

LHMP entry

This chapter looks at the role that marriage (to a woman) played within the lives of trans men. We start with the biography of James William Hathaway (Ethel Kimball), born in 1882, whose life history primarily seems to be one of lawbreaking, with gender a minor note in the tune. While living as a woman in her twenties, she was arrested for forgery and then again for using the excuse of test driving an automobile to go on a joy-ride with a group of female friends. At one point during this general period she married a man.

American imperialism in the early 20th century meant the rise of models of masculinity that were not only racially coded but that expected certain types of performance with regard to militarism. This chapter looks at several trans men who either tried to manipulate those models to support the acceptance, not only of their masculinity, but of their Americanism, or who were doubly targeted due to the conflation of “foreignness” and sexual deviance.

One of the factors that allowed the people discussed in the previous chapter to find acceptance in small rural communities was the fact that they were white. Minor fictions or eccentricities that were dismissed for individuals perceived as normative white men would have had more severe consequences for those who stood outside the norm racially as well as by gender. This chapter looks at the implications that whiteness head for the acceptance of trans men at the turn of the 20th century.

In this chapter Skidmore talks about trans men who live in rural communities and small towns within the period of her study. Of the 65 cases she studies, a third lived in non-metropolitan areas and perhaps another third lived in small towns or small cities rather than major metropolitan areas. While the mythology of queer history often emphasizes urban areas as the safest and most promising location for queer lives, the trans men who lived in small towns often deliberately chose those locations, suggesting another parallel view.

This chapter focuses on an individual who story is relevant to a transitional period in US history with regard to trans identities. In 1883 a man named Samuel Hudson showed up in the small town of Waupun with two children, and claimed that Frank Dubois, who had recently married Gertrude Fuller, was actually his wife and the mother of the children. It’s a tribute to the speed of communications and the extensive network of local newspapers that the story broke simultaneously, not only in the local paper, but throughout the US.

In many ways, Emily Skidmore’s True Sex picks up where Jen Manion’s Female Husbands left off with a few minor differences. Skidmore is only looking at US history, while Manion covered both the UK and the US. Manion, in theory, focused on transing gender in the context of marriages or marriage-like relationships, while Skidmore doesn’t have that as a specific focus (although many of the people she covers did marry). In terms of methodological approach they look at much of the same types of data, especially the spread of trans stories in news publications.

Manion identifies the end of the 19th century as a period when the meanings of gender and the various ways in which women pushed back against the restrictions of gender expanded enough that the category of female husband became less coherent. Transing gender had been an individual solution to the various social restrictions of gender roles, but feminism and other societal shifts were now offering systemic solutions to some of the same problems. Same-sex relationships between people presenting as female became more visible and included a range of gender expressions.

This chapter begins with a discussion of the social and legal systems that operated to police gender expression and identity. The post Civil War era involved an expansion of official police intervention with regard to moral and social crimes, not only crimes of violence and property. These systems operated overtly against the transing of gender in small everyday ways, not only those cases where complete gender crossing was involved.

The feminist movement of the later 19th century tackled questions of the differences and similarities between the genders, however feminism had an uneasy relationship with transing gende, due to the use of gendered criticism of both feminist ideals and feminists themselves. It was a common tactic to accuse feminists of being masculine. Both for philosophical and practical reasons there was a sense that gender crossing undermined their arguments for the equality of women.

While the first half of Manion's book focuses primarily on female husbands in England, the second half moves across the ocean to the United States. People who transed gender in 19th century America for economic reasons operated not only within the binary of male and female, but within a racial context that largely categorized work along racial lines.

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