Cover art for podcast Lady Science Podcast

Lady Science Podcast

57 EpisodesProduced by Lady ScienceWebsite

Each month, the editors of Lady Science Magazine and guests take a deep dive into women and gender in the history and popular culture of science.


Episode 9: Trans and Queer Histories of Science


Hosts: Anna Reser, Leila McNeill, and Rebecca Ortenberg 

Producer: Leila McNeill 

Music: Careful! by Zombie Dandies

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In this episode, the hosts tell the story of 19th century Irish surgeon James Barry and discuss the importance and complexity of trans and queer histories. 

Show Notes

The Radical Copyeditor Style Guide 

Dr. James Barry and the specter of trans and queer history by EE Ottoman 

Dr. James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time by Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield

Scanty Particulars: The Scandalous Life and Astonishing Secret of James Barry, Queen Victoria's Most Eminent Military Surgeon by Rachel Holmes

Dr. James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time review - an exquisite story of scandalous subterfuge by Wendy Moore

The First Woman To Go 'Round The World Did It As A Man by Robert Krulwich

Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 by George Chauncey

Unsexy History: Writing with Respect by Rachel Moss

The Forgotten Gender Nonconformists of the Old West by Peter Boag

Queer London by Matt Houlbrook

Transgender History by Susan Stryker

Men, take heed from the Victorians: don't hound women in public by Tiff Stevenson


What it’s like being queer in heritage:
You: That’s a chair.
Them: Actually it’s a 4 pronged implement. The word ‘chair’ didn’t exist.
You: But it looks like a chair.
Them: To the untrained Eye.
You: But I saw someone sitting in it.

— Sacha Coward (@sacha_coward) June 5, 2018 Why we should use caution when portraying historical trans people Further Reading

Obscurity and Gender Resistance in Patricia Duncker's James Miranda Barry by Jana Funke

Monstrous regiment: how should we talk about those who dressed as men and went to war? by Catherine Baker


Transcription by

Rebecca: Welcome to episode nine of the Lady Science Podcast. This podcast is a monthly deep dive on topics centered on women and gender in the history and popular culture of science. With you every month are the editors of Lady Science Magazine.

Anna: I'm Anna Reser, co-founder, co-editor-in-chief of Lady Science. I'm a writer, editor, and Ph.D. student studying 20th century American culture and the history of the American Space Program in the 1960s.

Leila: I'm Leila McNeill, the other founder and editor-in-chief of Lady Science. I'm a historian of science and freelance writer with words in various places on the internet, and currently a regular writer on Women And The History of Science at

Rebecca: And I'm Rebecca Ortenberg, Lady Science's managing editor. When I'm not working with the Lady Science team, I can be found writing about museums and public history around the internet, and managing social media for the Science History Institute in Philadelphia.

Leila: So, some housekeeping before we dive into the episode. We have a couple of things that we've got going on on the website. So first thing, thanks to everyone who participated in our Twitter share-athon that we ran back in April. So many of you shared our magazine issues, podcast episodes, blog posts, and connected our work with your friends and networks, and that's really helpful for us, and it really means a lot to us that you all want to see us grow, too.

And so, we've got another thing that we're running for the month of June and July, a summer pledge-athon. And now we're asking for your help to increase our operating budget through sustaining patronage. We have big plans for the magazine and podcast, and so we really need your help in sustaining the project. We're entirely reader supported, and not for profit. Your donations help us pay a fair fee for writer's work, to compensate editors through stipends, and pay for overhead costs, like website hosting and recording and audio equipment for the podcast.

Any increase in funding will help us meet goals like raising those fees and hiring more staff to create more content, but we do have specific goals in mind. So the first goal we have starts at $400. And I think we're at 330 now, so we're closing in on the 400 goal. Once we reach 400, we'll start an Instagram account, which means extra content like short videos, even though I've said on this very podcast that we're not going to do that. We will, I guess.

Sneak peak podcast teasers, and Instagram stories. And then the next goal is at 525. We'll add bonus podcast content, like cut for time segments and extended interviews, and then finally, at 650, we'll publish a special pop culture series on a topic voted for by patrons. We'll produce a special month of content on a pop culture topic that you all help us pick.

We're grateful for any amount that you're able to pledge, even if that be a dollar, two dollars, whatever. And if you aren't able to help us financially, but you know someone who is, spreading the word is always helpful. So, for our pledging goals and more details about reward tiers, and to make a monthly pledge, visit

Anna: And lastly, we are running another special series on our website, in celebration of LGBTQ pride month, and inspired in part by Janelle Monáe's Dirty Computer. We are running a queer science fiction series in June. So we'll have both new and returning contributors writing about the intersection of queer theory, imagined futures, and popular culture.

You can find our queer series, queer science fiction series on the Lady Science website at, and as always, if you really like one of our pieces, please, please, please share it in your social media circles. That really helps a lot.

Rebecca: Now that we have all that fun stuff out of the way, onto the episode.

Leila: Which was also fun.

Rebecca: Which is also fun, yes. But it's very important to emphasize how fun pledge drives and special series are.

Leila: Because we love begging for money. It's so fun.

Rebecca: We do. And we love it when people give us money, which, that actually is a lot of fun.

Leila: Sorry. Go on.

Rebecca: As Anna mentioned, it is pride month, and along with our queer science fiction series on the blog, we're dedicating this episode to the intersection of trans history and the history of science and technology. Before we really dive in, I want to pause here for a second, and talk a little bit about the language we'll be using on this episode.

The language that people use to describe their gender identities is, obviously, very personal, and it's always evolving. In this episode, whenever possible, we're going to be using language suggested by an online resource called The Radical Copyeditor. If you have any questions about the language we're using, I recommend you check out The Radical Copyeditor's website, and we'll be sure to include that in the show notes.

We are also going to be using the words trans and transgender, even to talk about historical figures, in some cases, even though that word didn't exist until 1974. And we'll even be talking a little bit in the episode about how using that word historically can get complicated, so we'll get into that. But now, let's get started for real, and let's begin with a story. So, Leila, take it away.

Leila: Okay, so, in 1809, a man named James Barry was accepted to the University of Edinburgh. Is that how you ... It's Edinburgh, right?

Rebecca: Yes.

Leila: Yeah, okay. I rarely read these things out loud, and so when I say them in my head, they're probably wrong, so just want to be sure. James Barry was accepted to the University of Edinburgh to study medicine in 1809, and also, around that same time, there is a financial record of a mother named Mary Bulkley, and her daughter, Margaret Ann Bulkley, sailing from Cork, Ireland, to Edinburgh. Later that year, on December 14, the Bulkley family solicitor received a letter from James Barry, the same one who had just been accepted to medical school.

In that letter, Barry requests that any letters from Margaret be sent to Mary, who James says is his aunt. And though James's signature is on the letter, for some reason, the solicitor wrote, quote, "Miss Bulkley, December 14" on the back of it. At this point, Margaret Ann Bulkley disappears from the historical record. Meanwhile, Barry went on to become a successful surgeon. But when he died 60 years later, the woman who laid out his body for burial claimed that James Barry's body was actually female.

Anna: A 2016 book by Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield titled Dr. James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time used letters to show that James and Margaret were the same person. Those records show that after transitioning, Barry lived both his public and private life as a man, but for a long time, the dominant narrative was that Barry was a cis woman who presented as male in order to pursue a medical career.

He is often identified first as Margaret Ann, not James, and is given female pronouns. Given that women were routinely discriminated against in the sciences, it makes sense that a woman would pretend to be a man in order to practice her craft. But the eagerness to claim Barry was a pioneering woman physician completely elides the possibility that Barry was a trans man.

Rebecca: So Barry had a long and prestigious medical career. After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, he held a number of positions in the British army, and practiced medicine throughout the British empire. He performed the first cesarean section in Africa, for example, or at least the first successful one that we know about. He brought sanitation reforms where he practiced, and truly seemed to prioritize the needs of underprivileged people in his care. Barry retired in 1859 and died from dysentery on July 25, 1865.

Leila: I can't hear died from dysentery without thinking of the Oregon Trail. Anyway. Sorry. So there's a few different theories out there about Barry's gender and sexuality that have been tossed about and debated, and there is, of course, the one that du Preez and Dronfield subscribe to in their book. They say that Barry's decision to live as a man was quote, "Motivated more by ambition than identity."

Another theory is that Barry was intersex. In a 2002 biography titled Scanty Particulars, Rachel Holmes argues that Barry was born with both male and female genitalia, and chose to live as a man, despite being brought up as a girl. And one of the bits of evidence that Holmes uses is Barry's thesis at the University of Edinburgh studied femoral hernias, and those are hernias that occur in the thigh, which have also been documented to be descended or maldescended testicles.

So that is proof that maybe he was studying into himself. There is also another bit of evidence, as well, that is drawn upon. At the time of his death, there was someone that he worked with, a major. Someone McKinnon. I can't remember the exact first name. But had written a letter after he found out that the woman who laid out his body said that he was female said that he maybe was a hermaphrodite, which, we don't use that term anymore, but that would've been indication that, perhaps, he was intersex, as well.

There is also a bit in his thesis, his medical school thesis, quote, "Do not consider whether what I say is a young man speaking, but whether my discussion with you is that of a man of understanding." So those are some bits of evidence that are used to support an intersex theory. And then, of course, the other theory is that Barry was a trans man.

Existing evidence shows that he lived both publicly and privately as a man. He signed his letters as a gentleman and only used male pronouns to describe himself. Barry also left directions upon his death as to how his body should be handled, wishing that he be buried in bedsheets without examination of his body. This has been taken as further evidence that Barry not only wished to live as a man, but also to be remembered as one.

Rebecca: Yeah, so one of the things that I think got us all sort of on this topic in the first place was thinking about all the different times, especially, that in popular culture and history and all these sorts of things, that stories of women dressed as man, and went and joined the military. It's a cliché, almost, that we have, kind of in, at least, folklore and popular culture.

And the question coming about of, wait, is this just because life for women was terrible for so long, or is this a indication of different kinds of understanding of gender? And I know, for me, whenever I think back on how many historical fiction novels I read as a kid, that involved a girl dressing up as a boy and running off on adventures, it's absurd, the number that I read like that. And it's so interesting how embedded that idea is in our culture.

Leila: Yeah, there is a fair amount of history that we have that shows that women did do that, that women did dress like men to enter the military, to enter various professions. But we typically have evidence that they did resume a life as a woman after that episode of their life.

There was one that I had brought up when we were preparing for this episode, about Jeanne Baret, or Baret. She's French, so however you would say that in French. I'm not even going to try and embarrass the rest of us. Where she's now recognized as the first woman who circumnavigated the globe, and she did that dressed as a man to be on a ship with men.

And she had a relationship with the captain, I believe. He was the captain. And did a lot of that stuff dressed as a man, but did eventually, when she returned to Europe after all of those travels, returned as a woman, got married to a man as a straight woman and had kids. So that's an instance in which you had one of those dressing as a man to accomplish certain goals, but always still identifying as female.

But I think instances like that where that does happen, is that that narrative implies that there is a choice, that there is a free choice being made. And that free choice also implies a notion of subversion, that these women are making the choice to subvert gender norms, or gender binaries.

But again, that subversion can only exist with a gender binary. So those things, instead of seeing that these are stories of women going a great lengths to accomplish something that their historical, cultural context wouldn't allow them, that there's all these other narratives about free choice, and subversion, that are in there, that don't apply to someone who's living outside of those binaries to begin with.

Rebecca: Yeah, yeah. And yeah, like I said, folklore and popular culture and the record is full of stories where someone, for different kinds of reasons, for these practical reasons, or for other kinds, decided to live or dress as a person of a different gender than they were assigned at birth.

And when I was writing the script, I, of course, I had to think really, really hard about how to construct that sentence. Because I wanted to be able to include situations like the one Leila was just describing, but also situations where someone identified as a different gender than they were assigned at birth. But, of course, that is also a concept that, in that particular wording, is fairly contemporary.

And all of that gets to the heart of kind of what this episode is about, and what we're going to get into here, is, how do we, as historians, talk about and think about people who had a wide variety of gender identities that we now call trans or nonbinary, but who didn't maybe use those words?

Making this all more complicated is the fact that, I hope everyone who's listening knows this, and if not, here's a primer. When you're out in the world today, if someone tells you what their gender identity is, you should respect that. It doesn't matter if you don't understand it. It doesn't matter if it's not what you thought. People are who they say they are, is just a general, good rule.

Kind of along the same lines, gender identity and gender presentation are two different things, and there are people who identify as cis women or trans women, but dress in a very masculine way, and there are people who identify as men and dress in a very feminine way. And those things are not contradictory. So, again, good to believe people when they say what they are.

Leila: Also, it costs you literally nothing, personally, to call someone what they want you to call them. It costs you nothing. I don't understand people that dig their heels in, Jordan Peterson, and just won't ...

Anna: I was wondering when he was going to show up.

Leila: I hadn't planned on it, but then as I was saying that, I was like, "Man, that guy. Jesus."

Rebecca: And even people who have slightly more good faith than someone like Jordan Peterson, will sometimes be like, "But I don't understand." And it's like, "Guess what? You don't have to understand. You don't have to." The world contains multitudes. You don't have to understand every single human in the world. It's okay. But, of course, history makes everything complicated, which is why we love it.

But with that in mind, should we apply the same standards to people in the past? We shouldn't make assumptions about people in the past, right?

Anna: Yes and no, because, sure, sometimes, when we are very, very lucky, we can learn about a person from the past from their letters and diaries and other kinds of records where people are describing themselves, and we don't have to rely on someone else's impression of them. So, in those instances, I think that we can take them at their word. But more often, I would say, or, equally as often, we have to learn a lot about people from biased, sort of secondhand sources.

And because, in particular, various types of laws meant to regulate the behavior of marginalized people, we often learn about LGBTQ people through police records, or medical reports, sensational news articles. So we learn about people's identities from someone in power, someone who probably didn't care that much about how that person in question self-identified.

And in lots of cases, someone who, a police officer or something, who is invested in the criminalization of certain marginalized identities, so you have to be really careful about your sources, and what you're looking at, and who's sort of impression of a historical person you're working with. So, for example, you can find police records from the early 20th century that pertain to male crossdressers who were arrested for gross indecency.

You can't just read that record on its face because that could be someone who identified as what we'd now call a gay man who was doing drag for fun, or it could be someone who lived full time as a woman and identified as a woman. Today, we understand that as two distinct categories of identity, but you can't differentiate those from a police record alone to tell you how that person identified themselves. Or if they identified as anything like either of these categories at all.

Leila: And sometimes, historians will avoid the question completely by choosing not to talk about a person's identity, or at least implying that it's irrelevant, and that's not a great solution, either. We obviously, then and now, live in a heteronormative and gender essentialist society, and that means that if we don't talk about someone's gender identity or sexuality, that most people are going to assume that the person is cis and straight.

And we end up in a situation like we have with James Barry, where historians say, "This is a woman who dressed up as a man to get ahead," even though we do know that he used male pronouns and lived as a man for most of his life. And when we are too careful in subscribing a trans identity to someone, trans people get erased from most of history.

Anna: And I think, in the case of someone like Barry, who we do have lots of personal records and correspondence that he wrote himself, where he identifies himself as a man, I think that if you still, as a historian, refuse to identify him the way that he identified himself, I think that's really crossing a line.

I think that it makes perfect sense to represent a historical person the way they represented themselves, if you have access to that information. Even if, for some reason, you're not prepared to declare they were trans, because you are hung up in disciplinary debate about terminology and chronology.

But I think it's super important that we pay attention to this kind of representation, even if you're not going to go as far as labeling him a trans man, which, that's a separate debate. You can at least refer to him by the pronouns that he used for himself. That's a really small thing that you can do, and I think, as a professional historian, that is something, that's in the confines of your professional integrity. There's no reason not to do that. I don't know.

Rebecca: Yeah, and it's like there's so many situations where obviously, there is so much ambiguity, and it's not that there's never a situation where things weren't ambiguous, and you should acknowledge what we don't ... Historians should definitely acknowledge what they don't know, which is another thing historians are terrible at, I feel like, as a field.

But James Barry is such an emblematic example because it shows that even when there is all of the evidence in the world to be like, "This person identified as male," the bar is set so fricking high to subscribe queer identities to people that it becomes absurd. And so yeah, even when, yes, there's lots of ambiguous situations. Probably most situations are ambiguous. But the fact that much less ambiguous situations still get tagged in this, "Well, we don't know," category, is wildly frustrating.

Anna: And I think, once you really start to pull apart the threads of why someone would, why a historian would refuse to call James Barry trans, or even identify him as man the way he does for himself, I think that's where you start to see biases, but you see this weird thing where historians, who should be least guilty of this, are conflating the actual past with the recorded history of the past.

So yeah, there are not a lot of queer folk in our recorded, written histories of the past. That's something that we have had to recover relatively recently. But it is wrong, first of all, and sort of professionally, as a historian, not great, to go into your work assuming that there are no queer people in the past.

And that seems to be what is happening, that not only can we not know for sure, we don't have any sort of roadmap for it, so there's no way that I can ever ascribe this. And it's like, this fear of presentism is really getting in the way of historians being able to, first of all, recover these stories, and do it in a respectful and in a way that seeks to patch some of the holes in our representation. I don't know, I'm just sort of rambling, but ...

Leila: Well, and this idea, because, Rebecca, you said at the very beginning that transgender wasn't a word that was used until 1974, and so there's this historical argument through language that's like, "Well, that term is constructed from a specific historical, cultural context that we can't apply to the past."

And it's like, "Well, did you ever think about we had to have that word to describe something that was there?" That word had to be made. It didn't just drop out of the sky, and then trans people existed. That's not how language works.

Anna: Right. Trans people did not ... Right. They didn't come into being as soon as there was a name for them, and that's something that I feel like we get hung up on in history all the time, trying to describe something before there was a name for it. And the solution to that problem is not to just say, "Well, it didn't happen. It didn't exist." That's not how you do history.

Rebecca: And in the vast majority of cases, we're comfortable with that, except when it involves being an asshole to another historian, or marginalized people, it feels like. There was ... Oh, now, we're going to totally link to this tweet in this show notes.

There was a tweet that I came across a couple of days ago that was something like, "What happens when you work in LGBT heritage?" And it's like, "Person." Or like, "Me: This is a chair. Person: But the word chair didn't exist. It's a four-pronged seating implement. Me: But that's a chair." And it feels like that sometimes, where it's like, no, it's a chair.

Anna: Yesterday, I saw this great post of historical photographs of gay men posing together, and just generally being extremely cute, and sitting on each other's laps and looking at each other longingly, and they were very clearly late 19th century, into mid-20th century. A lot of black and white. Really nice post, I liked all the photographs. And then at the bottom, the notes on the bottom were like, "'They were really good friends,' said a historian, probably."

Rebecca: I think I saw that. But so, one thing that you listeners out there might've noticed is that all of us started using the word queer, and that is one way that a lot of historians of gender and sexuality have dealt with the issue of not knowing without kind of going too far in subscribing identities to people in less ambiguous situations than someone like James Barry.

The idea here is that queer is a word that implies otherness. Even before it has anything to do with sexuality, it's a synonym for unusual or strange. What I always think of is, both as a queer person and as a historian and a nerd, is Alice in Wonderland, and her, "Dear, dear, oh, everything is very queer today." And that word continued to have all of its otherness and oddness attached to it as it's used in Alice in Wonderland, even as it became a descriptor for sexuality.

And now, we can think of that otherness in a neutral or positive way, and so it can be a great way to say, "This is a person who fell outside a sort of generally accepted, normal, quote unquote, 'Social familial, or sexual expectation' of the society that they lived in." So, if you kind of say, "This is a person who didn't live by kind of the gender or sexual norms of their society, but I can't quite put my finger on in what fashion," queer can be a really, really useful word.

It is important to note at this point, also, that queer has historically been used as a slur. Initially, the strangeness that I was just laying out associated with the word queer was very negative, and many people still say it as a slur. So using queer in this way is something that not everyone is comfortable with, and I think it's important to acknowledge. But it is increasingly common in both scholarship and everyday conversation, and it's one tactic that a lot of historians use to avoid making a specific call about someone's identity when they don't know for sure, but want to feel like it's appropriate to include someone in this history of a queer community.

Leila: And I think using queer to describe historical people is that it creates a really great sense of obscurity in a really positive way that allows for an exploration and fluidity of the way people live their lives, that other ways of looking at these figures from the past doesn't really allow us to do.

Anna: I do want to steer us back to talk specifically about trans people because that's what the topic of the episode is. In her book, Transgender History, Susan Stryker talks about people who move away from the gender they were assigned at birth, regardless of why. So, stripped of its modern identity implications, transgender just means to cross gender, and it's the act of crossing genders that Stryker is interested in. So to her, everyone who has historically crossed genders can legitimately be called trans.

Leila: And another historian, Peter Boag, has made a interesting observation about writing his book, Redressing America's Frontier Past, which is about people who cross genders in the American West. He purposefully avoided using the word transgender, and he points out that he had to make some assumptions about identity so that he could use the right pronouns for the people he talked about. He has this to say about it.

"I tried to choose terms that conformed to what I reasoned the person I was writing about would have wanted." End quote. After admitting that that's obviously a pretty subjective choice to make, he adds, quote, "I cosigned myself to what all historians do at some point or another, taking a leap of faith and hoping the evidence is there to support one's landing." End quote.

As with this idea when admitting that that's a pretty subjective choice to make, that we all make subjective choices, whether we're writing about people who's gender we know or not. We make those subjective choices from top to bottom any time we're writing history.

Anna: Yeah, I think there are some historians who could do with being taken down a peg or two about what it is their profession can actually accomplish, in terms of objectivity. Not even in terms of what you're responsible for. What is actually possible? I think there is some ... I don't know. Some arrogance that is getting in the way of us being able to use history to create representation where there was none.

And the excuse for this is that, like, "Oh, well, but I am a historian, so I have to be completely objective, and there's no way I could just reason out what this person would want to call themselves, because I don't have the specific evidence to support that." And it's like, "Well, you don't have the specific evidence to support a lot of stuff that people write and publish about." It is a matter of interpretation. That's the practice of history, not rote facts.

And I like this idea of the leap of faith because I think it gives you room as a historian to say, "I'm going to make this leap of faith, but it's a leap in good faith, and I'm doing it for a good reason." That's another thing that historians don't like to do, is to have a reason for doing history. That, "It could be healing for people now to read about trans people in the past, and that's why I'm doing that." That, to me, is a good faith leap.

Leila: It's important that people have a history. It feels like such a simple thing to say, and such a simple argument, and yet, people don't think that that's an important reason to do something, that that's not an important reason to interrogate the past, it's not an important reason to look for queer people. It is important. It is important that people have a history.

Anna: Yeah. And if you're a historian who is a white, Western, cis person, it's not something that you ever had to think about because you always had [crosstalk 00:35:43]. You've always had access to that, and you've always had that link to the past, and you probably don't even realize how it shapes your life today, but it does. And for people who don't have that, it's a huge hole in their lives and in their identities. And it's something that, if you never had to think about it, that you just never considered.

Rebecca: Yeah. I love the humility in that quote. This is sort of what you were talking about, Anna, but just this sort of ... Yeah, this idea of a good leap of faith. And one thing that we were talking about when we were talking about this episode is that there are kind of gray areas in the other direction.

There can be times when delving into and talking about someone's sexuality, who seemed to be working really hard to hide it, can, especially as you get closer and closer to the contemporary era, that can feel more and more invasive. There can be times when it kind of turns into a joke. I think, Leila, you came across something recently that, I can't remember exactly what you'd been saying, where someone was making-

Leila: Oh, that Twitter thing?

Rebecca: Yeah, yeah.

Leila: Yeah, I pulled the article up, actually, in case we came around to talking about this. So, the thing that got this whole thing going in my head, so there was a tweet that went out a while ago about Agnès Sorel, who lived in the 1440s, and the tweet read, "Here's Agnès Sorel, who had her gowns tailored to expose her favorite boob in the 1440s."

And so, the picture, the painting actually is, she's got one boob out, and she's holding a child. And so this tweet went super viral, 54,000 retweets of this woman with her boob out. And the tweet didn't really at all capture the significance of what that meant at the time.

It wasn't just that there was this badass woman who had her boobs out in public, that it was actually, the real subversion here was that this was the mistress of Charles VII of France, and this painting was depicting her like the Virgin Mary, and that's actually what was subversive about this particular woman, and the representation of her at that time.

Then, a historian named ... Who is this person? I'm just talking about our thing, and I don't even know who it is. So, she wrote a long thing about how, yeah, the historical context was bad, but there's also another issue at play here, which is not respecting the innate human dignity of a historical subject. And that a lot of times, on Twitter, historical context does get stripped down a lot, and that's not always a bad thing, but when we're dealing with somebody's, their dignity, that Twitter doesn't leave a lot of room for us to honor that, and that we need to have responsibility as historians to respect that in our historical subjects.

And so that got me thinking about when we're looking at queer historical figures, whether they be gay, lesbian, trans, or something else, that kind of the politics of outing those historical people, so in the case of Barry, who requested that his body not be examined upon death, I don't know. I just got to thinking about what responsibility we do have as historians to maybe not out historical characters, and does that in any way kind of violate their human dignity? I don't know. What do you guys think?

Anna: I think that it's a touchy thing, right? Because we've been talking this whole time, so far, about how it can be really important that we identify these historical figures so that they can sort of populate a marginal history that hasn't been told before. And then, of course, the other side of that is, who's place is it to out people who can't advocate for themselves anymore, because they're dead?

That's, I think, maybe the crux of this discussion, and I think maybe that's also where things become more granular and individual, and that we can't have some kind of blanket policy for dealing with queer people in the past. Like you said, things like the fact that Barry asked that his body not be examined, that matters. It reminds me, also, and this is sort of related, but I had read some ... I'll see if I can find the article. I didn't prepare this, but I had read something about the way that we deal with photographs and illustrations and stuff from medical institutions that are documenting people's impairments and injuries and the presentation of disease and stuff, and they're used as reference atlases for physicians, and they're important in that regard, but they're also, those depict real individuals, and the way that we handle those materials is really important.

Because that's something that ... That's an image of an individual person, oftentimes, who is suffering, and we need to think carefully about what we do with our sources and what we use them for. You can use them to make some kind of general argument, say, about the way that physicians use images to diagnose people in a certain period, but it's also our responsibility to recognize that those are individual people, and think carefully about who we show the images to. Do we publish those online for people to see? Things like that.

I think there's some debate about the sort of handling of these issues that's not specific to how we deal with queer people, but maybe there are lessons there about this idea of dignity for historical figures that I think is really important. I believe the piece that I read suggested that, for those images in particular, they be treated as the way that we would treat human remains, with that kind of process. So it's not really relevant to what we're talking about, but ...

Leila: Real quick, so the person's article, her name is Rachel Moss. I just looked that up, sorry, but I was just like, "I don't know who this is," and just kept going. So, anyway.

Anna: I will find the one that I mentioned and put in the show notes.

Leila: Yeah, all in show notes.

Rebecca: We're just going to have a ton of show notes, it'll be great. It'll be further reading. It's all great reading, guys.

Leila: The show notes will be extensive, and there'll be lots of Twitter threads in the show notes, too. It's just that these conversations with actual depth and care are taking place on Twitter, I think is ... Because Twitter is a hellhole. It is a septic tank on fire, most of the time. But there are also some really great, thoughtful people on there that are trying to have really fruitful conversations about these types of histories, so it's a valuable resource for that, not just harassment and constant shit.

Rebecca: At its best, Twitter lets people kind of think out loud together, and that can be so fruitful for these kinds of conversations.

Leila: Yeah. The other kind of people that are also speaking and thinking out loud together ...

Rebecca: At its best, and its worst, it's people thinking out loud together, honestly. Yeah. Seriously, though. I think, Anna, that your point about history of medicine and the use of photographs and images of people in medical contexts is a really good one, in that it similarly, sort of, we have, both in the contemporary queer community, and in contemporary medicine, really, really important and hard fought ethical standards about how we talk about people's bodies. And those are super important, and knowing, again, that so many of these records we have of marginalized people are from people who didn't care about them and how they talked about their bodies is important.

Leila: And that brings in an issue of power, as well. That when we look at, we talked about police records, is that you have an issue of power structure going on there, and that those power structures are deeply embedded in historical records. That, when we look at historical records, these aren't just objective pieces of data, that those power structures are embedded into the historical records that we have. So not even those things are objective.

Anna: Yeah, I was just thinking about ... I must have lent it to someone, because I can't find it, but a classic work that uses, one of the main bodies of sources is police records, but that tries to sort of interpret through the lens of the state, I guess, to see what we can see about queer communities, is George Chauncey's Gay New York, which is just a really excellent book anyway, but that's a good example of ... Those are some of the only records we have of people, is getting arrested for being queer.

And so, the way that you handle those kinds of sources becomes really important methodological conversation for historians. When I was just thinking, in addition to people who, maybe, were being photographed or illustrated for [inaudible 00:46:34] for things like small pox, or whatever. People were being photographed because they were intersex. They were being photographed or having case histories written about them for being gay. So there are those kinds of sources, too. It's a little bit different, I think, than police records, but they're still a very powerful ... I guess, a very ... I don't know what I'm trying to say.

Leila: Well, because you get all sort of different lenses and gazes of which we look at different kinds of bodies, which is embedded in those types of things that you're talking about.

Anna: Yeah. And so we just ... You just have to be careful. And you have to be kind, I think.

Leila: Yeah.

Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah, it really goes back to kind of the taking a leap of good faith, of earlier. And maybe, to a certain degree, saying, "Okay, these are records that were taken to strip the power away from someone, but can I use them to give the power back to someone?"

Leila: Shall we wrap up this, and go into our ...?

Rebecca: Yeah. I think so, yeah.

Anna: I think so.

Leila: Well, we're going to not do our guest interview in this episode. We'll release that later as a bonus episode. But that's going to be with Susan Stryker, Dr. Susan Stryker, who we talked about earlier in this episode, who is a trans historian, and we'll release that soon. So, onto our one annoying thing.

Anna: I guess I can introduce it.

Rebecca: Let's introduce it, yeah.

Anna: So, the annoying thing this week is an op-ed from the ... Well, it appears to be the men section of the Guardian opinion page. I didn't know. It just says men on the side. I didn't know they had a men section. Guys, you have a problem. An image issue. But it's called, "Men, take heed from the Victorians: don't hound women in public," by Tiff Stevenson. And I mean, really, you don't even have to read it.

Rebecca: The annoying thing is the headline and all it implies.

Anna: The annoying thing is the headline. But it's basically ... Tiff Stevenson's a comedian talking about, basically, street harassment, and men not leaving women alone at bars, and things that are real problems, and talking about specific, really awful situations that they've encountered traveling, and being out, and having the temerity to be out in public where there are men, or whatever.

Anna: But the point of the article is that men should take a lesson in propriety from the Victorians, which is so just face-meltingly wrong that I felt like I was going to explode reading this. I don't want to disparage this person's historical knowledge, but I believe it all came from television shows.

Leila: Well, okay. And, so, the Twitter, or the social image that generates if you share this on a social media with the article, is from the BBC 1990s Pride and Prejudice, of Mr. Darcy [crosstalk 00:50:13] at the ball. And isn't that when Darcy was shitting on all of the women at that party?

Rebecca: Yes.

Leila: What?

Rebecca: Yes. Yeah.

Anna: That's why I thought that it was, I thought it was satire. But I don't think it is. I think it's earnest.

Leila: Yeah, I don't think it is.

Anna: So yeah, sure. Let's have men today take lessons from Victorian men, who were so boarish and persistent and generally horrible that women who had to be out in public took to wearing extremely long, sharp hair pins so that they could threaten the men to leave them alone on the trolley or whatever. Let's take lessons from them.

Rebecca: And don't forget that even when all of these roles exist, they only apply to certain women. And all other women are basically not quite women, so poor women are not quite women, women of color are not quite women, and any women who cannot keep the men around them in line are not quite women.

So much of the whole idea that we have not escaped, that men are so terrible, that we require all of these social rules for them, because they can't deal with women as people, and then also that it's women's job to make sure that men follow all of those rules, is straight out of the Victorian playbook that this article is talking about.

This is literally what created our particular modern brand of misogyny. That's not to say misogyny didn't exist before that, but this particular brand of men are terrible, we need social rules to stop men from being terrible and women have to enforce them, is pure Victorian wackadoodleness.

Anna: Well, yeah. The other thing is that the stuff that she talks about, the bowing and hand kissing and being introduced formally, and whatever, chaperones and all that stuff. Those all come from deeply oppressive gender roles that were sort of nailed down and codified in this period, in part to make sure that if women were going to go out in public, they did it properly, and weren't speeding through the streets on bicycles, smoking cigarettes, and generally wreaking havoc upon London or whatever. But that-

Leila: Trying to vote, stuff like that.

Anna: Goddamn. They're always trying to vote.

Leila: Well, and you just don't think a solution to men harassing women in public is to look to some sort of nostalgic past through rose-colored glasses, that we have to imagine a radically different future. Not look to this nostalgic past.

Anna: No. The past is garbage. Let me tell you, I know. I'm a historian. You don't want any of that. You should read more science fiction and less Jane Austen if you're looking to change the world. Seriously.

Rebecca: Jane Austen would probably be ashamed of you. Let's also be real, because she all thought it was ridiculous and hilarious, and that's why her books are about people being ridiculous.

Anna: Yeah. If you're going to read Jane Austen, then do a good job of reading Jane Austen. I don't know, don't completely miss the point, maybe, I guess. I don't know.

Leila: Yeah. Not everybody was Mr. Bingley, just so you know.

Anna: Yeah. And I just have to harp on it once more. Either that's just a willful misreading of what we know about this era to assume that all men were just chivalrous in public. They were not. They were harassing women all the time, all over the place. They were supposed to do these things, this is what is in etiquette books, and periodicals that are teaching you how to live in the modern world. They did not do these things, and you know how we know? Because women told us that they did these things to them.

Rebecca: It's like most of the things described in the op-ed are things that our social standards say are not good. But it goes to show that you can have social standards for things, and women still get sexually harassed.

Anna: So is it not, maybe we have gotten down the rabbit hole, but it is not socially acceptable to harass women, then or now. That doesn't mean that it didn't happen. So you're talking about reality, and then this layer on top of constructed social norms that may or may not be paid attention to at any given moment, and you can't conflate the two. Because they're not the same thing.

Anna: You have to talk about how they interact, and I think this op-ed is just talking about that sort of surface layer, like, "Remember when we had rules?" No, we do have rules now. They're still not being followed. So, we can't talk about that anymore. We have to have a different approach.

Rebecca: Rules aren't working. Maybe treating women as humans would work better.

Anna: I don't know about that.

Rebecca: That's going too far.

Anna: That seems a little ... Yeah.

Leila: I think that's a good place to wrap up today. So, if you liked our episode today, leave us a rating and a review on Apple Podcast so that new listeners can find us. Questions about any of the segments today, tweet us at @LadyxScience, or #LadySciPod. For show notes, episode transcripts, to sign up for our monthly newsletter, read monthly issues, pitch us an idea, and more, visit

We are an independent magazine, and we depend on the support from our readers and listeners. You can support us through a monthly donation with Patreon, and don't forget, through June and July, we're having our summer pledge drive. Or you can support us through one time donations. Just visit And until next time, you can find us on Facebook at @LadyScienceMag, or on Twitter, at @LadyxScience.

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