Hit

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Hit is a character who makes a brief appearance in the Sunan Abu Dawoodan, an early Islamic religious text. As the hadith goes, the Prophet Muhammad encountered him when he was calling upon his wives. Hit, a mukhannath who was acting as an attendant, made a saucy remark describing the attractive rolls of belly fat one of the wives had on her. Muhammad was outraged that someone whose job required him to have no interest in women could tell what caused men to lust over them, and Hit was subsequently banished from the household.

Considerable debate exists as to whether Hit and other mukhannathun should be viewed as homosexuals, transsexuals, transvestites, or eunuchs. The word itself translates to ‘men who resemble women’, but the definition is too expansive for easy classification. Male pronouns are used for Hit in accordance with the consensus of the linked sources, though the mukhannathun bear a close resemblance to the contemporary category of trans women, and so should arguably be referred to with female pronouns.

No images of Hit were easily available online; the above tapestry depicting an Arab music scene is the closest depiction that could be found, though it has no characters in common (unsurprising, given the prohibition on depictions of Muhammad).

 

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Virginia Prince

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Although sources crediting her with inventing the term ‘transgender’ may be mistaken, Virginia Prince was a pivotal figure in 20th century American trans and crossdressing circles. Following her arrest for transvestisism, Prince – a pharmacologist with access to rare for the time medical documents on gender variance – founded the first club for male transvestites, followed by a journal that lasted twenty years and a number of other branching societies. Her advice on gender variance was taken by Dr. Harry Benjamin, among others, and became a source of conflict between her and the transgender community because her works did not include heterosexual trans women and denounced gender reassignment surgery, which she herself declined to get.

Although Prince refused the label of transsexual, she lived as a woman and used female pronouns from her mid-50s to her death; for that reason, she is categorized here as both a transvestite (her preference) and transgender.

Vicki Marlane

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Near the end of her life at the age of 74, San Franciscan Vicki Marlane was known as “possibly the oldest living, continuously performing, transgender entertainer in the country.” She began her career dancing in Minnesota before cycling through assorted gigs and ending her journey in the Bay Area. Her act at the bar Aunt Charlie’s earned her the nickname “the girl with the liquid spine.” Although she considered herself a transgender woman since at least the 1980s, she continued performing drag until the year of her death.

Marlane’s interview with the New York Times and a documentary about her life brought her national attention. In 2014, a block in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood was renamed after her following a petition by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club; she is the first transgender person in the city to be given such an honor.

Marlane’s old Facebook group contains photographs and footage of her act.

 

Marsha P. Johnson

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“Sister, you drag
us behind you.”

–  Excerpt from “For Marsha P. (Pay It No Mind!) Johnson,” Qwo-Li Driskill

New York City’s history as an epicenter of queer activism has been linked in the popular consciousness to the Stonewall Riots of 1969, several days of open rebellion sparked by a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar that, like some of its peers, was owned by the Mafia. It’s impossible to tell Martha P. Johnson’s story without mentioning those wild nights of flying bottles, can-can-style kick lines, and other “Sunday fag follies,” because Johnson and her peers played an integral role in both the uprising and its aftermath.

Christopher Street, part of the gay neighborhood of Greenwich Village, played host to some of the most marginalized sections of the 1960s queer community, including homeless street youth and the transvestite community. Johnson, a poor black trans woman, joined in the riots, memorably climbing a lamppost and dropping a weighted bag through a police car’s windshield. When the streets finally cleared and stayed clear, she channeled her rebel spirit into joining the Gay Liberation Front (one of the early queer groups to welcome transvestites and drag queens) and co-founding STAR – Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries – with Sylvia Rivera, another trans woman of color. STAR got its start after Johnson and Rivera joined in occupying Weinstein Hall at NYU after the administration cancelled dances under suspicion that they were being sponsored by gay groups, and grew into a trailer that housed homeless queer youth. When a trucker hitched up the trailer and drove away with it, STAR moved to a permanent home, where the kids were fed and schooled. Johnson and Rivera forbid their charges from hustling, taking on all the bills themselves.

Johnson went on to two more illustrious decades of gay, trans, HIV, and anti-racist activism – including a spot in a photo shoot by Andy Warhol – until her body was found floating in the Hudson River shortly after New York’s 1992 Pride March. Though the police initially ruled her death a suicide, supporters suspicious of the timing rallied around her, and in 2012 the case was reopened as a possible homicide.

A documentary entitled “Pay It No Mind – The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson” is available for free viewing on YouTube. Its title is taken from an encounter Johnson had in court after an arrest; when the judge asked what the ‘P’ in her name stood for, she gave her usual witty response: “Pay it No Mind.”