The Narrator and Suitcase go on a quest to find the first ever trans person in history.
A young genderfluid person called The Narrator and a talking, time travelling suitcase go off on an adventure to explore the history of science and gender in the West, specifically the ideas formulated by the sexologists of the late 19th century that still affect trans people living today. They begin their quest by looking for the first ever trans person in order to prove that trans people have always existed but a warrior woman from prehistoric times suggests they ask instead why they need to prove that trans people have always existed.
Next they meet some stars of Ancient Greek mythology, Iphis and his Mum, in Ikea and find that stories often become more complicated as they are told and retold over time. Then they travel to 1785 and meet the Chevalier D’Eon. They find that although people from the past have lived lives that we might call trans, they don’t use the same terminology as we do today. Likewise when Bryher tells them about their life, they are happy to be called a boy but not trans. The Suitcase and the Narrator decide to look at the origins of the labels and words we use.
EPISODE ONE: IN SEARCH OF THE FIRST EVER TRANS PERSON
Written by Jason Barker. Directed by Krishna Istha - October 2020
♪ Here is the beginning of our adventure ♪
♪ You and I, we're a story ♪
♪ We turn time around, it's our time ♪
Episode One: In Search of the First Ever Trans Person
NARRATOR: Hello! Welcome to the first episode of our podcast - Adventures in Time and Gender. Originally this was going to be a stage play but we’ve had to adapt and change to our current circumstances.
My name however remains The Narrator as it would have been in the stage version. I won’t be narrating so much as travelling through time and interviewing people but I like the name, so I’m keeping it.
I’d like to introduce you to my sidekick -
[Sound of muffled voice protesting]
NARRATOR: Oh, you don’t like being called a sidekick? Um…my charming assistant…
[More muffled protests]
NARRATOR: Just kidding! My co-host of Adventures in Time and Gender, Suitcase!
[Banging. Suitcase opens with a click]
SUITCASE: Ah! Thank you my young friend and greetings listeners. Welcome to our podcast. Our cast of pod.
NARRATOR: Maybe you could say something about yourself?
SUITCASE: I am 55 by 35 by 25 centimetres.
I was made of leather nearly a hundred years ago and although I am in good condition, I show the signs of wear and tear you’d expect to see from long years of service.
Slightly worn perhaps around my handle, a few knocks here and there but I was and am still a quality item of luggage.
NARRATOR: Ah-ha okay, that’s great. Now how about something so listeners know that you’re able to transport people through time and space?
SUITCASE: Okay, I am able to transport people through time and space.
NARRATOR: Excellent, well that’s clear then. I mean, your own story Suitcase, is one people might like to hear.
SUITCASE: Of course. Well, I was one of four. Considered the baby of the bunch due to my size. The biggest ones used to joke about what I’d be able to carry. Socks and pants they said. But I ended up carrying the most precious thing of all… his death mask!
NARRATOR: Ah, what’s a death mask?
SUITCASE: A plaster cast taken of a person’s face when they die.
SUITCASE: So you can remember them in three dimensions I suppose. Anyway, his death mask was kept safe by his lover and I for many years.
NARRATOR: Sorry, sorry. Whose death mask was it?
SUITCASE: The great sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld! No doubt you remember learning about him at school?
NARRATOR: Ah, no. I haven’t heard of him.
SUITCASE: What?! What are they teaching about about queer history in school these days?
NARRATOR: Not a lot, Suitcase, which is why I jumped at the chance to find out more.
In Adventures in Time and Gender, Suitcase and I would like to take you on a journey through time. Meeting trans people from history and some of the doctors and experts who have shaped the way that western society thinks about us.
SUITCASE: Right then. Where to first?
NARRATOR: Um…I don’t know! All of time to choose from. We could go anywhere! We could witness the dawn of time!
SUITCASE: Yeah! Like the big bang!
SUITCASE: Yeah...I’m afraid I can’t do that one. Give me another though. Anything else, wherever you like.
NARRATOR: Okay okay, right. I know it’s a bit off-project… but I was wondering, could I see my Nan again?
SUITCASE: Ahhh, sorry no, that’s not within my... you understand, I can’t really just, you know...
NARRATOR: It's cool, it's cool. Um, okay. W-What about if we were to go somewhere like, um..what about India? We could look at how gender and sexuality were in pre-colonial times. What do you think?
SUITCASE: Now that…yes. India mm!
SUITCASE: Alright..ha ha ha. Ahhh, anywhere else?
NARRATOR: Suitcase, maybe it would be easier if you could tell me where we can go?
SUITCASE: Okay...well I don’t want to get too technical but I can only travel along a particular wormhole and I was sort of hoping that where you wanted to go would happen to coincide with where I can take you.
NARRATOR: So what is this particular wormhole of yours?
SUITCASE: Well, it centres on Magnus Hirschfeld of course!
NARRATOR: Okay...[disappointed laughter]
SUITCASE: But obviously connects to other sexologists in the West during the late 19th century and early 20th century. You don’t look exactly thrilled Narrator.
NARRATOR: It just sounds really… dusty. Lots of dead white men, you know?
SUITCASE: Okay well there’s more. You see, these sexologists, they were trying to understand gender and sexuality scientifically but also looked to the past to make sense of their own society. Hence we have a wormhole that leads us back to ancient Greek mythology!
Ah see, piquing your interest now, eh Narrator?
NARRATOR: Uh huh. Carry on selling it to me Suitcase.
SUITCASE: Okay, so this is the important bit, the reason I think this wormhole could be of interest to a young gendery person living in the UK today, such as yourself. The wormhole goes backwards to explore history but also forwards from Hirschfeld.
There’s a direct line through time connecting the ideas formulated by the sexologists to the way trans people seeking medical interventions are treated today.
So, say you were going through a Gender Identity Clinic in 2020, you are part of a system of medicalisation and diagnosis with its origins in the late 19th century.
And here’s the thing, I wonder if you understand why the system works in the way it does, where the thinking came from, then maybe you can critique it. I can take you on a trip to explore medicine, identity and authority.
Now you’re right to point out that my wormhole is quite narrow and, as you say, a bit dusty.
NARRATOR: [Laughing] You don’t want a dusty wormhole Suitcase!
SUITCASE: Alright, look can I clear something up right now? I am going to be talking about wormholes. Specifically the one I refer to as MY wormhole, the one I travel along through time and space. Are you going to giggle every time?
NARRATOR: Probably. Hey, you know you said the sexologists looked back into the past?
NARRATOR: Well that could be a really good place to start. I mean did they find trans people in the past? It’d be great if we could find really ancient trans people, you know? So we prove that trans people have always existed.
SUITCASE: Right. Well we don’t have a lot to go on. Some scraps of parchment and bits of broken pottery that offer some clues that trans people existed in ancient times but... okay!
SUITCASE: Let's go!
[Mechanical sounds. Time travel whoosh]
[The sounds of war: shouting, horses galloping, swords clashing]
NARRATOR: Suitcase! Quick! Get us out of here!
SUITCASE: Don't panic! I don’t think we’re visible.
NARRATOR: Don’t think?! Don’t think Suitcase?! I’m going to need more reassurance than that!
SUITCASE: Look, they’re all busy battling each other. Nobody has even glanced at us.
NARRATOR: That big one w-w-with the big axe seems to be glancing at us.
SUITCASE: Hmm. That’s interesting.
NARRATOR: [distressed] And now sort of running towards us, swinging the big axe and growling!
SUITCASE: Fascinating! I didn’t expect that to happen.
NARRATOR: Okay, so maybe get us out of here?!
SUITCASE: But then we will never know if they can actually see us or not.
NARRATOR: Suitcase! Now!
[Horse whinnies, swords clash and a warrior is fatally wounded]
UNKOWN WARRIOR: Eurgh!
RIDER: [laughs menacingly]
NARRATOR: Woah! She’s magnificent! She saved our lives.
SUITCASE: Or maybe she will kill us next. She can definitely see us though so that clears that up.
RIDER: I can see you.
NARRATOR: Ah, thank you so much for saving our lives.
RIDER: I wanted to kill him anyway.
SUITCASE: Excellent. A win-win situation.
RIDER: What are those things on your face?
NARRATOR: Ah, glasses. To help me see.
RIDER: And those things on your feet?
NARRATOR: Oh, they're trainers. It’s a type of shoe.
SUITCASE: And I’m just an ordinary old talking time-travelling suitcase in case you were wondering.
RIDER: I wasn’t. This is a wormhole junction. Crawling with time tourists some days.
Trainers you say? Mm, looks comfortable.
NARRATOR: Yeah, they are. So when are we? I mean, what year is it?
RIDER: It’s now but you’d probably call it the “olden days” or “ancient times” or “pre-historic”. Time travellers usually come here looking for the first this or oldest that.
NARRATOR: Pfft. Imagine!
RIDER: Yeah, I mean it cracks me up. Like there wasn’t a thing and then suddenly - poom! There was. And we’re all interested because it’s “the first".
NARRATOR: Yeah [nervous laughter], I know, right?
RIDER: So ah, what are you and your talking suitcase looking for?
NARRATOR: Oh, um… W-we're ah...
SUITCASE: We’re hoping to find the very first ever trans person!
NARRATOR: S-sounds a bit silly now though.
RIDER: Trans? What's that?
NARRATOR: Well, someone a bit like me. Someone who is living as a different gender to the one they were assigned at birth.
RIDER: I’ve never called myself a trans person.
NARRATOR: Are you a bit like me though?
RIDER: Yes, but trans is not a word I call myself. Some people call me High Priestess. My enemies call me - well who cares what they say.
My girlfriend calls me honey, because I’m very sweet. I just call myself a warrior.
NARRATOR: But as well as those things, you are also what we would call a trans person.
RIDER: In your time maybe. Not now though. I mean, is it right to use words about someone that they wouldn’t use for themselves?
Can you take an identity and map it onto someone from another time? Another culture?
NARRATOR: The trouble is though, if we don’t use words like trans then everyone assumes that trans people didn’t exist in ancient times.
RIDER: Let me ask you something. What do you think of when you think of a pre-historic person huh?
RIDER: See what I mean? We’ve had people come here from the future saying “we’re looking for the cavemen”. I mean, we had to kill 'em, for being sexist if nothing else.
But it’s a lack of imagination I think, that someone would assume that your trans people didn’t exist.
SUITCASE: You’re right about the lack of imagination. People from our time tend to imagine everybody from long ago as being straight too.
RIDER: [Laughs] Straight? Str- ha ha ha Straight! Why would they think that?
Oh, that tickled me. You know, I’m just remembering some of the parties I’ve been to. Ah, the training camps!
NARRATOR: I suppose it’s the people who write the history books.
RIDER: Ah yes, I’ve heard about history books from other time travellers. Seems to me that they tell you more about your own time than the times they are supposed to be about.
RIDER: Okay, let me guess. You wanted to meet an olden days trans person to prove to the people in your time that people like you have always existed?
RIDER: Well that pisses me off. Not you.
RIDER: Oh no, don’t look so scared! I mean, it pisses ME off that you feel you have to prove something so obvious. Of course what you call trans people have always existed. I know that and you know that.
We’re nothing new. People are people. Who is demanding this proof and why huh? You know, in my opinion, that’s what you need to be asking. Why have people chosen to erase us?
My advice would be to go on your journey with less thought about the end. You already know the end because you already know the answer. We’ve always existed.
RIDER: Okay, I’ve got some warrior business to get back to.
[Rider leaves on horseback, gallops fade]
NARRATOR: Thanks for your help! I really appreciate it!
I don’t want to know what “warrior business” is.
Wow, she’s given me some thinking to do but maybe we should take our opportunity to get out of here Suitcase?
NARRATOR: Where to next?
SUITCASE: Um, let’s meet the stars of a story of magical transformation from female to male straight out of Greek mythology.
NARRATOR: Oh okay! Ancient Greece…statues.
NARRATOR: Chariots, temples!
SUITCASE: The birthplace of modern western democracy!
NARRATOR: And the Olympics…
SUITCASE: Pythagorus' theorem!
NARRATOR: Um...Greek gods. Oh and all the myths! Medusa, The Cyclops, The Minotaur. The Trojan Horse. Let’s go!
SUITCASE: Yeah... oh, actually they insisted on coming to us instead. Apparently they like it here.
[Mechanical sounds. Time travel whoosh]
[Busy chattering of people]
SUITCASE: They insisted.
NARRATOR: Have you met other people from the past in Ikea?
SUITCASE: All the time! Hey, half the people in here are time travellers. They're easy to spot actually.
They can’t take anything back with them so the spend the whole time filling a yellow bag with tea lights and then putting them back all wistfully.
Ooh, look! There they are in the apartment in a small space display.
This is Iphis and Iphis's Mum.
IPHIS’S MUM: Well, wow! Why isn’t this wonderful? I mean it's so lovely, it’s got everything you need in such a small little space.
A table that rolls up against the wall. So neat and tidy! I love it, I can imagine my Iphis and his wife living somewhere just like this actually.
Everything a young couple, just starting out, needs, isn’t it?
IPHIS: Mum you are so embarrassing.
Aye up, I’m Iphis. Lovely to meet you. This is my Mum.
IPHIS’S MUM: Hello love.
NAARATOR: You aren't how I imagined people from Ancient Greece to be.
IPHIS'S MUM: Well, I do try to keep up with the times now, don't I?
NARRATOR: But, I mean your accent, it sounds sort of um... southern?
IPHIS'S MUM: Honey, you are in an Ikea show room with a talking suitcase. This isn't some documentary if you know what I mean?
NARRATOR: [Laughs] Your Mum's really...
IPHIS: My Mum's really supportive of me. She always has been.
NARRATOR: Oh, that's amazing. How about your Dad?
IPHIS’S MUM: Oh well, do you want to know what he said?
He said, can you imagine this? He said, while I was pregnant I might add, he said he’d kill our child if it turned out to be... a girl.
NARRATOR: Oh my god, why would he say that?
IPHIS’S MUM: I got one word for you. Money. We couldn’t afford to have a girl. It was an expensive business back then. The thing is, it wasn’t that unusual for a man to say what he done either. Terrible though really to think about it, isn’t it?
So I said to him, I said “you lay a finger on our child and I’ll kill you!” I would’ve done it too and he knew it.
NARRATOR: So then what happened?
IPHIS: Well, as soon as I could talk, I was like "I'm a boy." So Mum just thought, okay, I've got a son. It was all really simple until I grew up, fell in love with a girl and was to be married.
Ovid, you know the famous poet form the Roman times?
IPHIS: Yeah, he wrote an account of my story. He writes this bit with me saying “What will become of me? Possessed by a love unheard of, love so monstrous, so unique?”
Whereas I remember it more like - oh shit! Fuck, fuck, fuck! The wedding night! She’s gunna find out!
IPHIS’S MUM: And I said, I said, I said - Iphis, calm down love you got to let me think. I need some silence.”
And we went to the Isis goddess temple. I got down on both my knees and I said “Isis, can you hear me sis?"
"Show us your pity, please! Save us with your power!”
NARRATOR: And then?!
IPHIS: The ground shook. I mean like really really shook, like an earthquake.
IPHIS’S MUM: Oh yeah, and the noise! Oh the noise! Remember the noise was too much, you remember the noise Iphis?
IPHIS'S MUM: It was like the loudest drum you can imagine, only inside of your head.
And then afterwards I said... ah, what did I say Iphis? What was it?
IPHIS: You always forget that! You said it was like we were the drum.
IPHIS’S MUM: Oh that’s right. I said we were the drum. And then all of a sudden, my Iphis stands up, right in the middle of it and just -
IPHIS: Ovid describes it beautifully here actually. How with each step “she who had been a girl a moment past, was now a boy.”
NARRATOR: What was that like?
IPHIS: It was amazing. I mean, it was a bit awks on those first few steps. You know what I mean? Voice breaking, greasy skin...
NARRATOR: Yeah, like a second puberty.
IPHIS: Yeah, exactly. But then I remember on step four or five feeling really at home in my body for the first time.
You know, my shoulders were looking good. My body had sort of redistributed. I had the start of a beard.
IPHIS’S MUM: Oh! He was so handsome!
IPHIS: Ugh, Mum! God...
NARRATOR: Do you ever think... I mean, see that thing you said about “love so monstrous.” I mean, most of us don’t think like that now.
Say you were in a time when it was okay to be gay. Do you know what I’m getting at?
I mean, your Dad was going to kill you if you’d been a girl so it was hardly a level playing field, it was trans or death.
And there was no other option of being with the woman you loved than by being a man.
IPHIS: Right, yeah. I see what you are getting at... but first of all, I didn’t say “love so monstrous.”
That was Ovid writing his poem centuries later in Rome, he put that spin on it. Second of all, it’s pointless to speculate. I lived in the times I lived in, not in your times. Thousands of years from a flat pack furniture shop in the 21st century.
SUITCASE: It is quite labyrinthine in here. Well, actually I once spent a fun day in here with Inanna, the Mesopotamian goddess of love, beauty, sex, violence, and justice.
She may have the power to turn a man into a woman and a woman into a man but that’s not much use when you can’t find your way out of soft furnishings.
NARRATOR: Sorry Iphis, I hope it didn’t sound like I was trying to catch you out or anything. I know your story is super complicated.
IPHIS: No no, it’s cool. It’s good to talk about this stuff. You know, I think when your story gets told and told and retold so many times, it becomes quite hard to say “no, this is what actually happened.”
Do you know what I mean? Everyone has a take on it. Mum keeps a scrapbook of it all, don’t you Mum?
IPHIS’S MUM: Oh yes yes, looky here. I’ll show you some my favourite cuttings.
So ah, here you'll see they're all from way past our lifetimes actually, weren’t they Iphis? But ah, oh goodness I'm just so proud of my famous son!
So here we have Ovid that we just mentioned. And then you'll see writers from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance they picked up that story and they just ran with it.
Oh, will you look at these manuscripts! Aren't they beautiful?
NARRATOR: Oh, yeah.
IPHIS'S MUM: And look at this, look look! You may know this one actually, it's from your time, Ali Smith and her beautiful novel Boy Meets Girl.
IPHIS'S MUM: And you know my Iphis still gets spoken about all the time in lessons and lectures. Oh, I'm just beamin'.
Is ah, is your Mum supportive of you?
IPHIS'S MUM: Yeah.
NARRATOR: Yeah, she is now.
IPHIS'S MUM: Oh good.
NARRATOR: She worried a bit about how other members of the family would react I think, that they’d think it was her fault somehow, you know?
IPHIS’S MUM: Mhmm, well, I know all about that now don't I?
NARRATOR: And there’s this whole thing nowadays about how if you support a young person who’s even thinking about their gender, then you’re accused of actually somehow making them trans.
IPHIS’S MUM: Oh rubbish! Nothing changes, does it? Everyone’s got something to say.
Who was that one who went off to war? Iphis who was it?
IPHIS: Umm, it was ah.
IPHIS'S MUM: Come on.
IPHIS: It was ah, oh Diophantus! Diaphantus.
IPHIS'S MUM: Yeah, that's it, that's it. Diaphantus.
IPHIS: Yeah, it was after my time Mum, but remember we read that Pliny saw someone turn into a man on his wedding day?
IPHIS’S MUM: Oh yeah yeah. Just transformed, just like that. Reminded me of you that did. And of course the Galli. You've heard of them, right?
NARRATOR: Uh, no. I haven't.
IPHIS’S MUM: Oh, you should! They're wonderful. Underwent surgery and then lived the rest of their lives as women, serving the Great Mother Goddess.
IPHIS’S MUM: You know, it’s like I say to my Iphis. I always say "you’re not the first and you certainly won’t be the last."
There’s nothing new under the sun.
IPHIS: Mum, can we just please get a hot dog now?
IPHIS’S MUM: Like I said, nothing changes does it? Right then, we best be off. Take care of yerselves. So lovely to meet you.
IPHIS'S MUM: Nice to see you Suitcase, kiss kiss! [smooch]
SUITCASE: Thank you both! Safe travels!
NARRATOR: Thank you!
I really liked them. What a lovely mum!
SUITCASE: Yes, I thought you’d get on. Did you catch the other stories they referred to just then? Tales of magical transformations?
NARRATOR: Yeah, I did. But I do wonder, could these be stories about intersex people? I mean, I don’t want to steal another group’s stories, you know what I mean?
SUITCASE: I do. What we can say is that although these stories sound like myths to us, for Greek and Roman historians and scientists, these stories were facts. And that, I think, offers a glimpse at a very fluid understanding of both sex and gender.
To the Romans it was entirely natural that people should "change sex" because people had seen it happen. The gods move in mysterious ways, as they say.
NARRATOR: And the stories were told and retold because people were fascinated. Like people still are today. And some storytellers put their own spin on it but each time a story gets like that gets told, it becomes a possibility, a thing that can actually happen.
SUITCASE: Yes. But also as our horse riding friend explained, there are and have been many ways to understand gender and identity in different times, places and cultures around the world.
NARRATOR: Right, I mean those stories can’t have only been from Greece or Rome, could they?
SUITCASE: No, there are stories with trans and queer characters from every part of the world.
NARRATOR: Exactly! I’ve been thinking about what the Warrior said about history books. You know, we take history books as fact and yet if I think about what I learnt at school, you know, I wasn’t taught about how evil the British Empire was.
NARRATOR: What I mean is, we take some stories as how it was and some stories we call myths and treat them as if they’re a bit silly.
SUITCASE: Yes! And of course we can learn so much about a culture by looking at the stories it tells itself. That’s why Magnus Hirchfeld’s collection of artifacts was so wonderful. Everyone came to look!
Christopher Isherwood, the writer. They all came to the Institute of Sexology. Anyone who was in town!
Hey, let’s go and visit someone a bit closer to your time. Someone of whom many a story has been told. My old friend, 18th century gender blender Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste- André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont, aka The Chevalier d’Eon.
NARRATOR: Let me guess, they want to meet us in Croydon Weatherspoons?
SUITCASE: No. We’ll go to them. And besides her sword tends to get her in trouble in the 21st century.
[Mechanical sound. Time travel whoosh]
[Violin music. The bustling of people in a marketplace]
NARRATOR: Suitcase, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Ikea anymore.
CHEVALIER: Hello Darlings! Welcome to 1785, London.
SUITCASE: Chevalier here was a French diplomat, soldier, freemason and a spy
NARRATOR: Wow, Suitcase said there were loads of stories about you!
CHEVALIER: Yes, there have been one or two.
SUITCASE: They say you infiltrated the court of the Empress Elizabeth of Russia.
CHEVALIER: If they say it, it must be true. I was told “We need someone for a really dangerous job.” And I thought oh no, and then they said “It will mean someone going undercover as a woman for years."
CHEVALIER: And I said “alright, go on then!”
NARRATOR: [Laughs] what was that like?
CHEVALIER: Well, the Empress didn’t want anyone prettier than her in the court, so I thought I was quite safe there... Ahem!
SUITCASE: Oh sorry... d-don’t be silly Chevalier, you’re gorgeous!
CHEVALIER: Thank you Suitcase, right on cue.
One of my favourite stories, Empress Elizabeth got something stuck in her fringe. Her ladies in waiting were fussing around her with combs and brushes and then Elizabeth shoo-ed them away, grabbed a huge pair of scissors and cut the front of her hair off. Just a half inch tuft left.
Then she passed around the scissors. And each one had to snip her own hair off so just a tuft was left at the front. And then word got around to the court, this is the latest fashion and everybody was doing it.
I thought it was hilarious! [Laughs]
NARRATOR: Wow, it sounds like she made a big impression on you.
CHEVALIER: She totally did. The main thing for me was the realisation that we were all learning. I mean all of us in the court were learning how to be in the court, in this bonkers situation.
It struck me one day, all of us are undercover, does that make any sense? I’m pretending to be a woman courtier as much as the woman next to me is pretending to be a woman courtier.
NARRATOR: You mean gender is performative?
CHEVALIER: Mmm, gender is performative? Yes. Yes! That makes sense to me. That’s what I’ve always seen around me. I remember being taught how to be a man. If this is something that is natural, why should I be taught it?
So yes, I suppose we are all playing a part aren’t we?
SUITCASE: And then you came back to London and there was a lot of confusion, didn’t you tell everyone you were a woman dressed as a man?
CHEVALIER: I didn’t tell anyone that, they decided that for themselves! I came back, thought I’d better put my old army uniform back on again and get back to life as it used to be.
But there was something about me apparently. Maybe I’d become so good at playing the part of a woman that it had become part of me. People said I was feminine. No matter what I did! They said I moved or spoke in a certain way. So when I was wearing my uniform and fencing, they decided I must be a woman pretending to be a man. And I suppose, thinking about it, they were right in a way.
But the thing is, I am just being myself - someone who loves swords and pretty dresses - and people will think what they think.
I’m interested in what changes. If I say I am a woman, what changes? How am I treated differently? What opportunities do I now not have?
SUITCASE: Wasn’t there some sort of bet on your... Ew, “true sex” started up?
CHEVALIER: Yes! What a cheek! Can you believe it? They even asked me to join in. Wanted me to have a medical examination! As if I would!
Anyway, it all got abandoned in the end because there was no way they could prove it either way.
NARRATOR: Did you enjoy the attention or would you rather have just been left alone?
CHEVALIER: Of course I dream about a little house in the country and the quiet life but I feel like I’m on a mission with this. It’s like... It’s like when you first see a magic lantern show. Some people get swept up with the images and others, like me, are straight away wondering how it works.
It seems to me like most people have let themselves get swept away with what men and women are and just accept it without question. I feel like I’ve looked behind the curtain, seen how the mechanics work and I want to tell people.
NARRATOR: Yes Chevalier! That’s how I feel. We still have all these stereotypes, ways of behaving, expectations and assumptions.
And do you know in the 21st century there are things called gender reveal parties? So, before a baby is even born they cut a cake and if it’s got blue sweets inside, it’s an explosion, or a wildfire!
CHEVALIER: Wait what? You’ve lost me I’m afraid.
NARRATOR: Well, what I'm trying to say is that 250 years from now most people are still staring at the magic lantern show. I mean, there are some people - genderqueers, gender fluid folks, non-binary, gender questioning...
CHEVALIER: Hold on, you’ve lost me again. Who are these people?
NARRATOR: Those are words people might use to describe themselves and their identities
CHEVALIER: Ahhh, see that’s why it’s so much easier to just be yourself. My identity is The Chevalier.
NARRATOR: Yes but it’s also a way of finding each other as well, using those words. I mean, I didn’t know about you before now and I really wish I had done.
CHEVALIER: Suitcase! You said I would be known for centuries!
SUITCASE: You will be, don’t worry.
CHEVALIER: I’ll take your word for it. And I won’t bother asking if you can tell me anything about what happens next because I know you can’t.
SUITCASE: Mm-mm, I can’t. Wait and see what happens. Live your life Chevalier!
NARRATOR: Lovely to meet you Chevalier!
CHEVALIER: You too Narrator! Look after that Suitcase, she is very special!
[Mechanical sound. Time travel whoosh]
NARRATOR: "She”? I didn’t know you were a she, Suitcase?
SUITCASE: Ah, well I met Chevalier in France first and there I was known as La Valise, which is feminine.
NARRATOR: And is that how you identify?
SUITCASE: No. I identify as an item of luggage. Albeit quite a special one.
NARRATOR: So do you not have a gender at all then?
SUITCASE: Uh, do you have a handle? Reinforced corners? Do try to remember I’m not human.
NARRATOR: Yeah, but it’s hard because you speak like a human.
SUITCASE: No, you speak like a suitcase.
NARRATOR: Fine, whatever. Where to next then?
SUITCASE: Twentieth Century now. I’d like you to meet Bryher.
[Time travel whoosh]
[Scuffles and bumps, someone navigates in the darkness]
NARRATOR: Ow! Where are we? Gosh, it’s pitch black. Feels like velvet…Oh, it’s a fold down seat.
[Film reel being threaded into an old fashioned projector]
NARRATOR: A cinema!
BRYHER: Welcome! I love the movies. I thought this would be a good way of telling you about my life.
[The projector whirrs into action]
BRYHER: Okay, we open in 1894 with a man with a big moustache. My father. He was a shipping tycoon. That’s the richest man in England you can see waving at the camera.
Ah now look! It’s my Mother and she’s holding me, a baby girl. She hates being filmed, look! She’s showing me to the camera though, all proud. The man says he won’t marry her until she has a son, which breaks her heart.
Here we are 15 years later. Now a family of four. My baby brother was born and he’d inherit pretty much everything. Look how happy my Father is now. The rest of the reel is all about my brother so I’ll just...
[Projector clicks, stops]
BRYHER: There’s a photograph of me though which sums up my childhood. Here! Here we are, look! It's me, writing and dreaming.
NARRATOR: What were you writing about?
BRYHER: I used to write endless stories of a boy hero. Obviously thinking of myself. Having adventures, getting into scrapes. Hold on a second though, I’ve got another bit of film to show you.
[The projector clicks, starts again]
BRYHER: Ahh, the love of my life. Hilda Doolittle, AKA HD.
NARRATOR: And you’re filming this?
NARRATOR: You can tell. Look how she’s looking through the lens at you.
BRYHER: Yuh, she’s really something. She got me, you know? Straight away.
NARRATOR: Aw, it’s lovely when that happens with someone.
BRYHER: HD was a famous modernist poet from America. Bisexual. A real free thinker. And there was I... and you know, well I wouldn’t have swapped my life for my brothers for anything after HD came into it.
BRYHER: She was also a famous patient of one Professor Sigmund Freud.
BRYHER: Mmm, they spoke about me. She showed Papa... that was our name for Freud… She showed Papa a photograph of me and said something about how I was a woman but also a boy. And he said “but I think she is only boy!” And HD replied “and I think that is rather wonderful."
Oh, I love that story because, well it had always been in my head and in my stories. And now one of the greatest thinkers of our time was saying yes! Yes, this is a boy!
NARRATOR: Did it feel like, like you weren’t making it up?
BRYHER: Yes absolutely. I felt... legitimised? It gave me such confidence too. Any time I felt any doubt in myself I’d think well, Papa said I’m a boy.
NARRATOR: The boy hero!
BRYHER: I wasn’t very heroic.
SUITCASE: Ahem, you saved people from the Nazis Bryher, that’s pretty heroic!
BRYHER: Mmm, that’s called simply being in the right time at the right place and having an awful lot of money. I didn’t inherit most of my father’s wealth but I was still incredibly rich.
To have not used it to help people in desperate need would have been criminal.
NARRATOR: Would it be fair to say, do you think? That if you are very rich - or from aristocracy like The Chevalier, who we just met - that you get more freedom to be who you want to be?
In terms of gender I mean? I’m thinking of Vita Sackville West basically coming out as non binary in their memoir
Which, is great but you just don’t hear stories about ordinary people.
BRYHER: I think certain people’s stories get told, don’t they? Of course class comes into it, but there are other factors too. If you’re white, for instance. I was definitely privileged, I knew that. Not in terms of gender or sexuality but I tried to use the advantages that I had to change society for the better where I could, through art, through writing and avant garde film.
NARRATOR: That's really cool Bryher. Something else I’m wondering about is words.
NARRATOR: So far nobody we’ve visited has embraced our modern terminology, what about you?
In our time, we use words like “trans." Would that be a word that was of interest to you?
BRYHER: Mmm, no. No, I wouldn’t like that. Even if I was around in your time, I’d just be a boy I think. I wouldn’t want to be a trans.
NARRATOR: Well, it would be a trans boy.
BRYHER: No, no. ONLY boy, as Papa said.
SUITCASE: Uh, we say Daddy nowadays Bryher.
BRYHER: Well, maybe so.
NARRATOR: [Whispers sternly] Suitcase!
I honestly thought people would jump at the chance of having a word for it, for who they are. I certainly did when I discovered the word non-binary. It was like a lifeline to me. Suddenly I could search for that word and find like minded people.
The first person we interviewed, when we were nearly axed to death - thanks to Suitcase...
She said you can’t map ideas from one time or place onto people from another time and place.
BRYHER: I think that’s true but I can also see, when you said about the lifeline, how actually it can be really well, life saving. To be able to find people like yourself, I mean. Whether in your own time or through history.
NARRATOR: It’s a dilemma, isn't it? I wanted to let people know that trans people have always existed. Why can’t it just be simple!
SUITCASE: I’ve observed humans long enough that I can tell you unequivocally that you are not simple creatures. People and labels are like cats and boxes. Put a box on the floor and your cat may well get in of their own accord but try to put a cat in a box and you might get scratched.
BRYHER: That’s an excellent analogy!
SUITCASE: Thank you, but I can’t take the credit. I know a bit about boxes but nothing about cats. Certainly I’ve never tried to put either into the other one, not having any hands to do so.
A young person in a trans youth group said it, so thanks to them.
Anyway, I think we’re on to something here. We’ve met people who live their lives in ways that, in our time, might lead them to call themselves trans.
The thing that has changed is not how people live their lives but the way people talk about themselves.
NARRATOR: Yes! So we need to find out when the words we use came about! If all the historical figures we’ve spoken to would say they were just being themselves, when did we start giving people labels?
SUITCASE: And also the other thing our friend on the horse said. That we should look at why gender non-conforming people are erased from history. Maybe that is also to do with labels and words.
BRYHER: So, where will your adventures go next?
SUITCASE: I think we’ll start with Ulrichs and then maybe Magnus Hirschfeld!
NARRATOR: Bryher, thank you so much for speaking with us, it's been wonderful to meet you.
BRYHER: My absolute pleasure.
NARRATOR: I'd also like to say thank you to The Chevalier, Iphis and his Mum and to our rescuer on horseback for speaking with us.
Tune in to the next episode of Adventures in Time and Gender to meet some of the sexologists, the people who have shaped the way western society views us and the way we view ourselves.
[Mocking tone] “maybe Magnus Hirschfeld” says Suitcase, casually.
SUITCASE: Oh, shush!
♪ We turn time around ♪
♪ It's our time ♪
Adventures in Time and Gender was developed with trans and non-binary young people.
Written by Jason Barker, with additional dialogue by the cast and crew.
Directed by Krishna Istha.
Sound by Jo Jackson.
Music and lyrics by The Mollusc Dimension.
In episode one of Adventures in Time and Gender, Sam Crerar was the Narrator, Emma Frankland was the Suitcase.
Travis Alabanza was The Rider
Jo Jackson was Iphis, ShayShay Konno was Iphis's Mum.
Kim Tatum was The Chevalier
Tom of Tottenham was Bryher.
The Foley Mixer was Sophia Hardman.
The Foley Artist was Oli Ferris.
The re-recorded mixer was Candela Palencia.
Backing vocals and harmony by Wild.
This podcast is funded by the Wellcome Trust and was made in collaboration with the Rethinking Sexology Team at the University of Exeter and Gendered Intelligence.
For further adventures and more wormholes to explore, please visit AdventuresInTimeandGender.org
Or join the conversation on #TRANSTHRUTIME
[Time travel whoosh]