Saturday, August 2, 2014

Transgender: It's Not a New Thing

I hope it doesn't seem exploitive for me to post this picture of a transvestite (or transgender?) at Vaux-le-Vicomte.
It wasn't until after taking the shot that I came into contact with these fellow tourists, saw them from a different angle, and was close enough to hear her voice that I realized that the woman was anatomically a man.  They'd caught my eye, because she, with her short, tight, spandex-looking skirt and high-heels, looked way more feminine than I did in my tourist outfit of choice that included clodhopper Clark shoes and comfortable capris and t-shirt.  I watched her struggle with the cobblestones and, with a flash of self-doubt, thought, "Look how nice she looks even though she knew she'd be doing a lot of walking today.  I really need to dress more girly and care less about comfort." Seeing them enjoy their sunny day at Vaux-le-Vicomte made me smile that they could do so being themselves.  Or, perhaps, being who they wanted to be.

Later in the week, I saw the small, roundish room at Versailles known as Le Cabínet des Dépêches, The Cabinet of Dispatches, where Louis XV carried out his clandestine operations, his Secret du Roi,  - where he read secret spy reports that he sent to and received from spies throughout the lands.  The dispatches were unknown to most of his advisors and often ran contrary to stated policy and included plans for actions like invasions against his allies' territories. Plans that would be embarrassing were they made public.

Louis XV

This room made me think of the Chevalier d'Eon, Louis XV's transvestite spy...

My personal opinion is that genetics, or chromosomes, or whatever is the proper scientific term, is /are responsible for the fact that some people's physical bodies do not match up with the gender with which they identify.  Someone who disagrees with that could argue the point that the birth name of Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Eon de Beaumont might've caused this case of gender identity confusion.

Here's what I know about learned about Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Eon de Beaumont who lived a full Eighteenth Century life - the first 49 years as a man and the last 33 as a woman.:

The boy in question - I don't know by which of his six given names he was known as a child - was born in 1728 to noble, but poor, parents in Tonnerre.  He was a bright student who attended college in Paris, then became, first, a royal censor.   When he was almost thirty years old, he joined Secret du Roi, the network of spies employed by Louis XV. One of his first assignments was to join the Russian Court of Empress Elizabeth and work against the Hapsburgs.  In order to do so, d'Eon dressed and lived as a woman and even became a maid-of-honor to the Empress. Given what happened later, it's safe to assume that this was his cover of choice for more personal reasons than simply to infiltrate the Empress' inner circle.  Upon his return to France, the King (Louis XV) granted him a pension as a reward.  Afterwards, d'Eon distinguished himself in the Seven Year's War (what we in America know as the French and Indian War), was instrumental in drafting the treaty to end it, received the Order of St. Louis from Louis XV, thus becoming a Chevalier.

D'Eon's next assignment was to serve as interim French Ambassador to England.  He loved his position in London and his life there.  When he was replaced, then demoted, by a Comte de Guerchy, he wrote the King and accused the Comte of attempting to poison him at a dinner party. He made a fuss. Louis XV hated fusses and avoided them at all cost.  He disliked conflict so much that he wrote notes to family members and advisors, rather than discuss problems with them.  At this point, by stirring up trouble, d'Eon became a liability to Louis XV, but because he had spied for the King, and kept documents that would incriminate the King and reveal his duplicity, he had to be handled delicately.  (These things have to be handled dellll-i-cate-ly, as the Wicked Witch said!)

So, d'Eon lived in London, still spying, still under the pay of the King, but not allowed to return to France.  Rumors swirled that he was a woman.  Not only rumors - there were bets placed on the London Stock Exchange.  He himself claimed that he was born a female, but that his father had made him live as a male, so that he could claim an inheritance that could only be claimed by a male heir.

Mademoiselle d'Eon de Beaumont

Mademoiselle / Chevalier d'Eon

Upon the Louis XV's death, Louis XVI's ascension, and the dissolution of the Secret du Roi, the Chevalier d'Eon requested permission to return to France.  Ultimately, Louis XVI granted permission with the caveat that the Chevalier would dress as the woman he insisted he was and that he return to his home in Tonnerre, not Paris.  D'Eon was allowed to continue to wear the Order of St. Louis, a great honor, and the newly crowned King even provided funds for a new (female) wardrobe.  See how enlightened he was?  I love Louis XVI.  I don't know, really, if enlightenment or open-mindedness played a part or if the King gave the Chevalier his way as payback for not exposing his recently deceased grandfather, Louis XV.  Probably the latter.

Madame Campan (Marie Antoinette's First Lady of the Bedchamber) wrote, in her memoirs, about the Chevalier d'Eon/Mademoiselle d'Eon's, who Campan refers to as "that strange personage," return to his/her homeland.   Madame Campan's father, M. Genet, was chief clerk of foreign affairs and had known d'Eon for many years.  He requested that d'Eon visit him so that he could "guide and restrain, if possible, her ardent disposition."   Meaning, convince d'Eon of the importance of being quiet. Knowing that Madamoiselle d'Eon was there, Marie Antoinette asked to meet her, but was discouraged by her advisor, Vergennes, who took her aside and spoke to her in confidence, after which she was "smilingly" satisfied.

Did Vergennes reveal d'Eon's true (gender) identity in this private apartment 
      that we saw on our tour of Versailles?

In the Princesse de Lamballe's memoirs, she recounts an occasion when the subject of fencing came up at dinner and Madamoiselle d'Eon de Beaumont impulsively jumped up from the dining table, hitched up her skirts and animatedly assumed the fencing position.  And, also, an incident in which Mademoiselle d'Eon de Beaumont was in such a state of excitement at the thought of seeing the Queen pass by that she rushed forward ahead of the other ladies and dislodged her wig, exposing her bald head.

Louis XVI didn't completely shut down the operations of the Secret du Roi, but, rather, used it when developing plans to assist America is her fight for independence.  D'Eon's request to join French forces in America was denied, due to the fact that he'd been banished to his hometown. Shortly thereafter, during the French Revolution, the French National Assembly also refused his generous offer to lead an all woman army against the Austrians.   Instead, he lived in Tonnerre for awhile, then was allowed to return to London.  During the Revolution, his property and belongings were confiscated by the government.  In London, he spent time in a debtor's prison, was seriously wounded in a fencing tournament, and later paralyzed in a fall.

After his death, penniless at age 81, a physical examination determined he had been born a male.


Elissa said...

He's one of my favorite characters!

Madeleine Doak said...

Yep, E, it just keeps getting better! How could we ever leave this era when there are so many stones unturned?