Before Trans
Three Gender Stories from Nineteenth-Century France
Rachel Mesch


Contents and Abstracts
1 A Soldier Is Born
chapter abstract

Jane Dieulafoy fought in the Franco-Prussian War alongside her husband Marcel and began wearing pants during this time. This chapter explores the influence of that experience on her life as the first step in crafting her gender story and beginning to try to understand her gender nonconformity.

2 Unearthing Jane
chapter abstract

Jane Dieulafoy traveled to Persia and the Middle East and kept a travelogue, which she published in serial form in Le Tour du monde travel journal. This chapter examines the way that she comes to terms with her own masculinity through her writings and photographs on that journey, while also documenting her reception upon returning to Paris, where she is celebrated as a national hero.

3 Excavating the Self
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the second set of travelogues from Jane Dieulafoy's travels to Persia, arguing that in this second volume her sense of her own difference comes more fully into view. This is especially vivid precisely in the moments of discovery and is reflected in the photography from this part of her trip as well. The chapter follows her return to Paris and her efforts to make sure that she would be seen in a masculine framework by the French public.

4 Fictional Truths
chapter abstract

This chapter explores how Jane Dieulafoy worked through her gender identity in her writings. In her 1893 novel Brother Pelagius, she tells the story of a young woman who becomes a monk during the Crusades and is depicted as an ancestor of Joan of Arc. The novel sheds light on how Dieulafoy likely saw her own masculine identity as a way of serving God and country.

5 Loving Marcel
chapter abstract

This chapter explores the relationship between Jane and her husband, Marcel Dieulafoy. The close-knit couple collaborated on a few projects: a book on home theater and a series of histories of men who dressed as women. Their work together on questions of gender suggests that Marcel understood Jane's questioning and may have shared some of the questions himself.

6 "May He or She Rest in Peace!"
chapter abstract

This chapter explores how the nineteenth-century public assimilated Jane Dieulafoy, accepting her on her own terms as someone who defied existing categories. In addition to examining reports from contemporary newspapers, the chapter considers portraits by the photographer Paul Dornac, which demonstrate how comfortable Dieulafoy was in front of the camera wearing men's clothing.

7 Becoming Rachilde
chapter abstract

This chapter explores Rachilde's early life, beginning with the story of how she adopted her pseudonym as a way of achieving creative freedom. It examines pivotal episodes in her youth and the ways that she retold them in attempting to begin to give shape to her gender difference.

8 Born of Scandal
chapter abstract

In 1884, Rachilde published Monsieur Vénus, the novel that made her famous. This chapter explores how the publication of that book put her complex gender on display, making her a succès de scandale and the unwitting subject of numerous press accounts. It follows the transformation of Rachilde's public persona during this time, through her use of masculine calling cards and her sartorial shifts.

9 A Symbol of Her Mind
chapter abstract

This chapter looks more closely at the novel Monsieur Vénus as a window into understanding Rachilde's complex gender identity and sexual inclinations. It argues that Rachilde was confused about her sexuality and feared that she might be mentally ill. The novel can be read as a reflection of her vulnerability and self-loathing.

10 Freedom through Imagination
chapter abstract

This chapter follows the ways in which Rachilde's friends struggled to describe her in writing, leading Rachilde to take the matter into her own hands with the autobiographical preface to her novel A mort. Rachilde ultimately embraced her perceived strangeness, which allowed her to continue to experiment with her gender expression.

11 Death by Marriage
chapter abstract

This chapter explores Rachilde's marriage to Alfred Vallette, which she described as a kind of suicide. The marriage allowed her to continue to write without worry, but she was not in love with him. They had a daughter, Gabrielle, but Rachilde writes little about motherhood or pregnancy.

12 Why She Was Not a Feminist
chapter abstract

This chapter ties Rachilde's resistance to the label of feminism to her refusal of the category of woman. It explores Rachilde's later efforts to render herself in writing as a creature outside of gender, as well as her insistence on calling herself a werewolf, linking these notions to contemporary theories of transgender identity.

13 Becoming Marc
chapter abstract

This chapter examines Marc de Montifaud's early life: her marriage to Léon de Quivogne and her work at Arsène Houssaye's L'Artiste, as well as her first works of historical writing, The History of Mary Magdelene, and Abelard et Heloise. In these texts, she manipulated readers into assuming that she was a male writer by speaking from an eroticized male vantage point and focusing on the female nude.

14 Montifaud on Trial
chapter abstract

This chapter addresses Montifaud's legal troubles and the ways that she responded to them. Repeated prison sentences for allegedly writing pornography did not thwart her, and she continued to publish similar volumes. The chapter argues that she became addicted to the outrage associated with her work, as it was a way to affirm a difference that could not otherwise be articulated. After numerous exiles, she returned to Paris for good and would only appear in men's clothing for the rest of her life.

15 Clothing Stories
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the rare instances in which Marc de Montifaud wrote or spoke about her decision to dress in men's clothing and demonstrates how photographs of her reveal an increasing comfort with masculine self-presentation.

16 Love Stories
chapter abstract

This chapter explores Marc de Montifaud's attraction to both women and men, including Villiers de l'Isle Adam, Olympe Audouard, and Marguerite Durand. While she explored both same-sex and heterosexual attraction in her novels, her depictions of sapphic desire are often aligned with a male authorial vantage point, thereby allowing for a cross-gendered identity to play out on the page.

17 The Right to Difference
chapter abstract

This chapter explores Marc de Montifaud's numerous writings about figures who were persecuted for their differences, including Cyrano de Bergerac and the Abbé de Choisy. It argues that Montifaud's affinities with these writers and thinkers was a way of defending her own gender difference.

18 Conclusion
chapter abstract

The book concludes with a visit to the Dieulafoy home as it stands today and a reflection on the research practices that drove this project. The conclusion advocates for an integration of trans and feminist historical approaches and explores the relevance of modern terminologies for discussing figures from earlier time periods.