Meet Chevalier d’Eon, Transvestite Extraordinaire

Hey, all! Your faithful Brazen here, still around but busy with so many things. Lots in the works in this weirdest of years.

But yesterday, a morsel slipped across my plate too juicy not to bite.

The Black Lives Matter protests have given me a strange glimmer of hope. On the front lines of Feminism, JK Rowling published an eloquent essay last week quintupling down on her flagrant support of women’s rights. These two events have dragged me back to some familiar spaces, fresh air in my lungs and a bitchy twinkle in my eye.

Making a special effort to check in with the opposition, I stumbled upon a reference to a “trans” person from history, in the form of a portrait in the National Gallery in London.

Chevalier D Eon By Jean Paul Mosnier

Quite the fashion plate!

“This painting of the celebrated soldier, diplomat and fencer, Chevalier d’Eon …. (1728 – 1810) was an important acquisition for the National Portrait Gallery as it is the earliest representation of a transgender person in the Collection,” claims the Gallery’s website. Along with a paragraph barreling from d’Eon’s negotiations during the Seven Years War to reminding us that the past was not kind to those who transgressed gender roles, the site insists, “The decision to acquire the portrait was largely based on the sitter’s importance to the history of transgender people in Britain.”

Frankly, this struck me as revisionist bullshit. There wasn’t a concept of transgender as we know it today, even 20 years ago. This minor French noble was probably a transvestite, who thought himself terribly liberal and interesting.

But it’s so much better than that!

For one thing, this appears to be a recent edit to the Gallery site, by someone who forgot to change the label at the top of the main page. This reads, “Chevalier d’Eeon (1728 – 1810) Diplomatist and transvestite.” The message is further muddled by the description, “d’Eon used secret letters to blackmail the French king, Louis XVI, and was paid an income from 1777 on the condition that d’Eon wore women’s clothes.”

Oh, dear! That sounds like…. a bribe!

I was off to Wikipedia before I could stop myself, giggles welling up in my belly. What was the temperature like in the middle of the pool? “Madam Campan writes in her memoirs: ‘This eccentric being had long solicited permission to return to France; but it was necessary to find a way of sparing the family he had offended the insult they would see upon his return; he was therefor made to resume the costume of that sex to which in France everything is pardoned.

“The desire to see his native land once more determined him to submit to the condition, but he revenged himself by combining the long train of his gown and the three deep ruffles on his sleeves with the attitude of a grenadier, which made him very disagreeable company.'”

Oh, dear me! Such scandal! I’m still leaning heavily towards troublemaking transvestite. There is a story about d’Eon as a spy in Russia weedling his way into the Empress’ court, disguised as a woman. An uncited line claims this isn’t true, just d’Eon trying to illustrate the utility of his quirk to espionage.

Whatever the spark, another page at the National Portrait Gallery describes how his flame burned hot as a woman in England, “D’Eon’s new identity as a woman brought even greater fame. The Chevalier returned to Britain in 1785 and forged a new career performing fencing demonstrations.” In a dress. So woke. So stunning and brave to make a living as a novelty act.

There had been rumors for years that d’Eon was really a woman, which he encouraged. I guess that’s why, when he died in England in his 80s, the doctor noted his feminine characteristics such as “breast remarkably full” (we used to call them man-boobs….) as well as “male organs in every respect perfectly formed.”

So, a transvestite. And quite a troublemaker, it seems.

All this next to the fawning at the National Portrait Gallery, “This portrait is an unprecedented historic document of the sitter’s acceptance into British society at a time when people who wore clothing not associated with their assigned gender were viciously persecuted.” Sure, if you’re looking at it in 2020 and don’t know anything about the guy.

It strikes me as more of a testament to the decadence of the late 18th century. This is the Enlightenment we’re talking about! The Scientific and Industrial Revolutions were taking root, alongside those of the political kind. Ironically, this is what put an end to d’Eon’s allowance –  Louis XVI stopped paying him after losing his head.

Another example that pops to mind is Christian Davies (1667 – 1739) who joined the army in disguise to look for her husband and ended up serving a long, fairly distinguished career before being wounded in the groin and discovered. Far from “viciously persecuted,” Christian became an instant celebrity and went on to publish a best-selling novel about her experiences. She even drew a military pension.

So, yeah, England had Puritans and Witch trials, but there have always been countervailing forces. The US inherited our culture wars from Mother England.

Maybe this bit of nonsense is a poetic continuation of that tradition. Maybe I needed a good laugh.

This eccentric being, Charles Genevieve Louis Auguste Andre Timothee d’Eon de Beaumont, fancied himself a lady man.

Kissingmarilyn Monroe

Y’all are crazy, but I luv ya anyway!

He was evidently unashamed of his unusual habits and used them to his advantage whenever possible. He sure doesn’t seem like a poor, sad, beleaguered transwoman.

But it’s okay, trans activists all seem a little confused. Wandering through RowlingGate, I dug up this gem: “‘Cis’ is short for ‘cisgender,’ a variation of a Latin word meaning ‘not transgender.'”

Mwa! Goodnight, everybody!


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