Mauro Cabral

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Transgender and intersex advocate Mauro Cabral has become one of Argentina’s experts. One of the founding directors of GATE (Global Action for Trans* Equality), Cabral began researching the ethics behind intersex surgeries after his own traumatic experiences, which he describes as “a violation that lasted eight years.” He has spoken in front of the United Nations, the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights, and the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, among others, and edited Interdicciones – Escrituras de la Intersexualidad en Castellano (Bans: Scriptures of Intersexuality in Castilian). Perhaps most impressively he was among the 29 signatories of the Yogyakarta Principles, a list of internationally-compiled principles related to the human rights of sexual and gender minorities.

Cabral’s Facebook page is available here.

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Historiography Saturday: Roberta Cowell

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Roberta Cowell, the first British woman to be outed in the press as transgender (and the first to undergo gender-reassignment surgery) was a race car-driving, fighter-plane flying, veteran of World War II. After years of struggling business ventures (including the production of a racing engine) she sold her story to the newspapers for enough money to erase her debts, then went right back to quenching her need for speed; she still owned flashy cars up to the point of her death.

Gaining approval for vaginoplasty – and credibility in the public eye – required Cowell to declare herself intersex. According to her narrative she was only late in developing feminine physical characteristics. However, as one medical review of her autobiography pointed out, her scientific claims were highly dubious, doubly so because she had every incentive to mimic the respected intersex narrative of Lili Elbe. To complicate things further, Cowell held an attitude toward transition that excluded most other trans women, indicating that she may have believed at least some of her hype.

Hastiin Tłʼa

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Hastiin Tłʼa (sometimes written as Hosteen Klah) was a master Navajo weaver and medicine man who was instrumental in preserving records of traditional rituals through his contact with anthropologists and pioneering work in translating the sacred art of sandpainting into other media. Although sources seem to disagree on whether he was gay or intersex, Tłʼa fit into the broader category of nádleeh (“one who changes”) and was permitted to learn both weaving (normally for women) and singing (normally for men). He became a master of both, and was invited to host an exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Because of the difficulty he experienced in locating suitable apprentices, Tłʼa took to preserving his chants and sandpainting by integrating the symbols into his weaving and permitting outside observers to draw and paint them, a practice that was – and still is in places – considered heretical. Much of his work is stored with the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, which he helped co-found.

Herculine Barbin

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Until the time that Herculine Barbin began to develop abdominal pains she had led an uneventful life of schoolgirl lesbian love affairs. After growing up in a French convent (admitted on a scholarship) she was in training to become a teacher herself. When she complained to a doctor and was given an examination, he recommended that she leave the women-only academy because she had an internal penis and pair of testicles, making her intersex. Soon after she confessed to the rest of the convent and her case entered the legal system, where she was deemed male. He was forced out of his job and away from his lover to live in poverty in Paris, where he wrote the memoirs that would later be translated into English and given an introduction by gender theories Michel Foucault, and committed suicide soon after. His book would later inspire Jeffrey Eugenides to write the novel Middlesex.

How Barbin identified herself/himself is unclear, though when writing his memoirs he used female pronouns for the time before his legal redesignation and male pronouns for after; due to the uncertainty, she/he is listed as intersex, transgender, and lesbian.