Cross-dressing and transgender identity in general remained for long in the shadow. It has been only recently that trans rights began to be widely discussed and researched across the academic world. The prevailing majority of existing research dealt mainly with issues and case studies emergent post-1900 – that is, rather recently in academic terms, and therefore, trans rights and related issues as a sphere of academic inquiry have sometimes been depicted as a “modern” concept. We hope we initiate a productive conversation on the notion of transgender identity as connected with the political world, pre-1900s so we find the roots and identify the history of this rich and long topic.
Yet, looking back at history, we encounter fascinating figures such as John Randolph of Roanoke (1773-1833), Chevalier D’Eon (1728-1810), Nadezhda Durova (1783-1866), and countless others. The figure of the cross-dressing shaman or spiritual healer, occupying a place of crucial importance in the community, is a common presence across many cultures.
Transgender identity was marginalized – or seen as a phenomenon allowing one to cross established boundaries (making it particularly useful for espionage). Sometimes, adopting the dress and cultural characteristics of another gender was a one-time forced move as part of a military or espionage operation; sometimes, it was a passionate political statement. Either way, this conference seeks to explore and discuss the concept of transgender identities and issues pre-20th century, as seen through the political prism, encompassing broad fields such as military, literature, science or diplomacy.