Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Forgotten Trans History of the Wild West

Mrs. Nash, a transwoman who took three husbands in Montana

"Despite a seeming absence from the historical record, people who did not conform to traditional gender norms were a part of daily life in the Old West, according to Peter Boag, a historian at Washington State University and the author of Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past. While researching a book about the gay history of Portland, Boag stumbled upon hundreds and hundreds of stories concerning people who dressed against their assigned gender, he says. He was shocked at the size of this population, which he’d never before encountered in his time as a queer historian of the American West. Trans people have always existed all over the world. So how had they escaped notice in the annals of the Old West?"

Boag limited his research "to towns west of the Mississippi, and the period of time from the California Gold Rush through statehood for all the Western continental territories. It wasn’t that this time and place was more open or accepting of trans people, but that it was more diffuse and unruly, which may have enabled more people to live according to their true identities..."

Read the rest of the story here.

Source: Venus
Wearing Venus.

Patrick Walshe McBride femulates in a 2018 episode of UK television's Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators. After posting another image of this femulation here yesterday, a number of readers wondered if the program was viewable online. Good news is that I found the femulating episode ("The Fairest Show Means Most Deceit") on YouTube and Amazon Prime, while Comments to yesterday's post mention other sources. By the way, Patrick's femulation is excellent. Not only does he look spot on, but his voice and mannerisms are convincing, too.  


  1. In the Old West, the amount of identity paperwork was vastly less than today, so one could show up in the next town in a preferred gender role with nothing substantial to hold one back ~ whereas today, there are driver's licenses, professional certifications, banking and insurance records, etc, etc, etc, that all tend to make a new town just as restricting as the previous town.

  2. AnonymousJune 26, 2019

    Boag's writing gives a whole NEW take on the term 'The Wild, Wild, West!'.

    I have to wonder how much of our societies display of 'swaggering, macho, toxic masculinity is nothing more than an 'acting out' of Hollywood's own fictional misrepresentation of real western history. Velma

  3. AnonymousJune 26, 2019

    MORE on 'Western Trans History'
    My Fathers Account;
    as related by Velma, his son, age 65. My father would be age 106, were he

    My father was born in Colorado in 1913, about 60 miles, or so, outside Denver. In his sixth year, his mother died in the worldwide SWINE FLU pandemic.
    His father, an unsuccessful dirt farmer, (but by my fathers description, a successful drunk!) abandoned his offspring at an orphanage after concocting an elaborate ruse of 'going on a train ride'. As my father put it: 'His father simply 'forgot to get on the train with us', as the train was taking them to an orphanage. He never spoke further of his father.

    My father had started relating this story, over dinner one night, (why, I will never really know) when I was maybe six years old. This was NOT a 'funny-wierd-haha' story. His eyes were wide open, but not focused in the room, with a vacant stare, when he told us of the time when strangers were 'visiting' at the orphanage ....

    He told us of how he had most innocently related what he saw to the rest of his fellow orphans at the evening meal. As he explained, the adult persons passing through, seemed to be men but they all wore woman's clothes, and they 'had woman's -chests-'. He had concluded, wrongly that these persons were "herbodites". (He apparently was referring to the term 'hermaphrodite'; something I had never connected until 7th grade biology class, 7 years later-).
    When the orphanage head master heard about the story he told, especially since he used 'that word', he was horrified at the young boy for merely telling 'such a story'.
    The head master threatened him 'with expulsion' from the orphanage. My father was totally shaken. Such threats, whether he could do it or not, was taken by him as a literal 'sentence of (abandonment and) death', given that this place was his only source of food, clothing and shelter.
    He never mentioned the incident to us ever again.

    However, such a threat to ones personal existence merely for relaying an honest observation of life leaves deep psychological wounds, mostly revolving around the classic 'abandonment anxiety'. He was always a deeply repressed man, and even though he knew nothing of my 'proclivities', we never really got along.

    1. Maybe "Herbodites" were vegetarian hermaphrodites. Ha!

  4. Paperwork?? Get real! Probably 50% of the people in "The Wild West" could barely read. If someone wanted "papers" they could find someone with great handwriting and have that person draw up "papers". What the hell, there was a place in Hyattsville, MD in the 1950's that produced "birth certificates" for what ever year you wanted on it -- for a price, of course. I got my fake birth certificate in 1956, and it was at least 10 years until the state started issuing driver's licenses with photos. So, go back about 80 years and there was considerably more ease in "verifying" one's identity.

    There are many stories of women who disguised themselves as men to fight in America's wars, especially The Civil War. And who hasn't heard of Calamity Jane? Had she not been such a drunk she might have kept her identity more of a secret. She was far from "The Lone Ranger" in assuming a man's persona in"The Wild West".

    Jumping up a couple generations, my grandfather knew of a "woman" who assumed that guise to avoid being drafted into WWI. Maybe "disguised" wasn't the right word. Apparently she remained a woman -- and out in the open, she worked in a family-run store -- for as long as my grandfather lived in Bluefield, WVa. So, clearly, her "disguise" was not a ruse to avoid the Army, but her expression of her true self. It just happened to help her avoid being drafted, too. When I asked my grandfather if anyone did something about her he surprised me with his answer. "No. She wasn't bothering anyone". I remember his using that pronoun. Pretty amazing for a hate-spewing, racist, wife/child beating alcoholic!

  5. On a totally unrelated subject, check out my favorite Ballet troupe performing in Central Park this past week. If any of you haven't see The Trocs, you're missing a wonderfully fun evening! Where else can you see an all-male ballet??

  6. One of the more famous was Charley Parkhurst, aka One Eyed Charley, aka Six Horse Charley, a stagecoach driver in California. Charley was born Charlotte in Vermont and possibly could be the first AFAB person to vote. It's known for a fact that Charley voted in the November 3, 1868 election. A 1958 episode of the television series Death Valley Days was called "Cockeyed Charlie Parkhurst" and was loosely based on Charley including that he was AFAB.