Bilerico Report

Trans History 101: Transgender Expression in Ancient Times

ancient-pyramid

Mercedes Allen

History is written by the victors. Unfortunately, this tends to mean that a lot of truth gets lost over the eons, peaceful tribes can become demonized, portrayals of nature reverence can be twisted into “witchcraft” and a lot of the accurate documentation becomes lost over the years in intellectual pogroms, such as the burning of the library at Alexandria in Egypt by the Romans.

History was never meant to be that sort of boring “is there gonna be a test on this” sort of dry reading, but it often becomes so, because it becomes an onslaught of dates and peoples and events that we don’t recognize. It doesn’t help that with histories written by victors, many of the lives we might recognize ourselves in become obliterated from memory. Such is the case with most things transgender or homosexual, which at one time were seen to be rooted in similar human need. It was once said that there were three facets to our existence: survival, reproduction, and everything else — and to the person who made the case, “everything else” — which tended to encompass those things creative, imaginative and ingenious — could be classified as “art.” If ancient cultures bore understanding of this, then one wonders if transgender and same-sex love were seen as an art of their own… a creative exploration of love and affection.

It may sound far-fetched, but history (even if written by victors) offers little glimpses of reality at times, and many of these glimpses tend to indicate that the gender transgression and gay / lesbian / bisexual love that is often vilified today was once quite respected and at times even encouraged. As a transgender and bisexual woman, I’m not personally inclined to think of myself as better than anyone or to try to portray myself as such, but a careful look at history does provide a rewarding sense that I have something to offer, and am a being worthy of respect.

It is impossible to know the motives of the early civilizations’ approach. We can only see history in modern light and with our own experiences. Without the economic and socio-political backgrounds to some of these notations, we don’t know if transgender behaviour was any result of coersion, conspiracy or other motivations. I would like to think that much of the experience was genuine, although I’m not so naive to believe that accounts of castrated boys raised as wives of Roman or Turkish military leaders were consensual. History unfortunately sometimes can only touch the surface, not revealing the beauty and ugliness underneath.

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