“I’m telling you how people would’ve identified in history, pre-20th century,” said the well-intentioned, self-proclaimed feminist who looked at me over laptops and backpacks in the Bentley Hall classroom. We are peer-reviewing our capstone essays.
“I’m coming from a background in history. People at the time didn’t have the words for gender non-conforming identities. That’s why I call them all women.” The morning light outlined my peer in a red halo. Her eyes cast pity. “Don’t worry hun,” the eyes told me. “I’m on your side.”
I don’t mention the memoirs and diaries and biographies about gender-nonconforming people that crowd the bookshelves of my home. I don’t point out the documents filling the LGBT Center not 200 steps away. I don’t tell her about the trans pirates or the trans cowboys or the trans bankers or trans business owners. I don’t even mention how she is living in her body and how I am living in mine.
She’s not listening to me, but I’ll tell her anyway. I told her about T. Hall.
T. Hall was born in England around 1603. They were given the name “Thomasine” at birth. In 1625, the individual donned masculine clothing and joined the British army. Hall moved to the Jamestown settlement in 1629. Men and women felt entitled to Hall’s body. Primary documents indicate that Hall was physically searched, many times, without consent. The community interrogated Hall’s gender. Like so many gender non-conforming people, Hall did not receive notoriety for their authenticity or bravery. Instead, Hall stood before a jury for their actions.
Given the modern-day understanding of gender identity, I refer to Hall using they/them pronouns. There is no completely assured way to know how Hall would've felt about they/them pronouns. Hall is deceased. There is no evidence indicating this person ever used they/them pronouns in life. There is evidence to indicate that Hall used she/her pronouns and he/him pronouns at different points. It is important not to project modern-day words and concepts onto historical figures because there's no way to know if these figures themselves would've identified with them. However, modern researchers should not underestimate the power of gender-neutral pronouns. It is in this way that we can have respect for the historical figure in question, without invalidating their experiences or identity.
Hall stated in the court record they were, “both man and woman.” The redhead doesn’t listen. The Jamestown priest didn’t either. Hall was forced to wear men’s clothing with an apron and a bonnet. Imagine, unnamed redhead, being sentenced to court-ordered attire. Imagine being forced to dawn attire that you didn’t choose to wear. Attire that marks you as noticeably different from the entire community in which you live. The state regulated Hall’s body.
And years went by. And wars were fought. And T’s name didn’t belong to them. And still, we forget.
I can’t help but see myself in T’s story. I was once a woman by a different name. I once did not yet have the vernacular to describe myself. I once donned feminine clothing out of convenience. Many think that the most remarkable part of my personhood is my genitalia. Sometimes, I even believe them.
Forcefully remove my clothing, if you must determine my ability to procreate. I will do it because my ancestors no longer can. But I will always remind you that T. Hall is real. I am not a recent anthropological phenomenon.
Jamie is a senior at Ohio University studying journalism and women, gender and sexuality studies. Please note that the views expressed in this column do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Jamie about his article? Email him at email@example.com.