Long before our country was struggling with the idea of gender-free bathrooms, actually – long before we were struggling with the idea of Independence from Great Britain, it seems that a Virginia magistrate was already getting things right.
382 years ago this week, In 1629, a man named Hall appeared before the court. He had not committed any crime. He was appearing before the court merely because he confused people. You see, at various times, Hall would appear as Thomas, dressed in men’s clothing. And at other times, he would appear as Thomasine, dressed in women’s garb. Virginian’s apparently couldn’t come to grips with a sexually ambiguous person.
Christened and raised as a girl, Hall was inspected by many because of the court case, and all insisted she was a man. The confusion arose because although Hall was raised female, in later years, he developed more masculine features, but still behaved effeminately, perhaps due to his upbringing. The problem presented itself in the first place because early Virginians lived in a society where clothes made the man…and the woman. People’s rank, social status, gender and job were all things that were communicated through their attire. If you wore an apron, you worked in the home, if you wore a certain kind of hat, you worked in the fields. It was a time when someone’s fluid gender expression could really confuse people.
The court was composed of the governor and council. When the judges heard from Hall, he refused to choose a gender. The court, the highest judicial authority in the colony, accepted Hall’s self- definition “a man and a woeman, that all the Inhabitants there may take notice thereof and that hee shall goe Clothed in mans apparell, only his head to bee attired in a Coyfe and Crosecloth with an Apron before him.”