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Today, the word “transgender” is a regular part of people’s general vocabulary. While we may not be where we need to be in terms of acceptance and understanding, we have come a long way when it comes to the knowledge of what the transgender community looks like. Some people still aren’t fully aware of what it means to be transgender, so let’s start there:

A transgender person doesn’t identify with the gender they were born with. In some cases, they will choose to transition into the gender they do identify with. This can be done simply by changing the way they dress, speak, and in general how they present themselves. Some trans individuals undergo surgery in order to further identify with who they really are. Others don’t make any physical changes during their transition.


Because more people are coming out as transgender, growing the LGBTQ community, it’s important to look back on the history of adults who have identified as trans over the years.


Understanding this history can help us all to see how far the transgender community has come, and what still needs to be done in order for trans individuals to find full acceptance in our culture. With that in mind, let’s go back to the 1700s and take a closer look at what it was like to be trans at the time.

Trans History of the 18th Century

There is a long history of people who frequently stepped into the role of a different gender throughout their lives. In earlier centuries, this was most often displayed through wearing the clothes of the opposite gender. As early as 1395, it was documented that John Rykener was arrested for wearing women’s clothes, identifying as a woman named Eleanor, and having relations with another man.


In most cases throughout the 1700s, it was illegal to be LGBTQ+. If someone was ever caught in a sexual or intimate act with a member of the same sex, there could be serious punishments by the law.


But, that obviously doesn’t mean that the community didn’t exist, including those who identified as transgender. Unfortunately, for the most part, many of them likely had to keep their identities a secret if they didn’t want to get in trouble with the law. People who identified as gay or “queer” at the time would often go to each others’ homes, called “molly houses,” because they were safe places to interact. While less is known about trans history at the time, it’s safe to assume that some who identified as a different gender took part in these interactions too.


Not everyone hid their identities away, though. As a result, those who did come forward to express who they really were can be considered pioneers and heroes for the community at the time.


One example of this is Chevalier d’Eon. d’Eon was a transgender woman and a French spy in the 18th century. She was well-educated, a great soldier, and a diplomat. Born a male, she was officially declared female in England and returned to France as a noblewoman. While d’Eon’s life wasn’t without struggle due to her gender identification, she was public about it in a time when not many others were, which may have opened the door for others to come out as trans, too.

How is the Trans Community Different Today?

While the transgender community may not be completely accepted by everyone today, there have been some major milestones and changes throughout the centuries that have made it easier for someone to identify as their true gender. Laws and protections have been put in place over the years to fight against discrimination, including Title IX. Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination in a federally-funded institution. It’s mostly put into place across college campuses when it comes to students who play sports, those who earn academic scholarships, etc.


Unfortunately, there are currently no federal laws in place to protect transgender people from workplace discrimination. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 26% of transgender people lost their job because of bias against them.


On the other hand, there are more opportunities for trans individuals (and others within the LGBTQ+ community) than ever before, because it’s becoming more widely accepted. More businesses are becoming LGBTQ+-friendly, opening up opportunities for trans people to start their own businesses and turn them into safe spaces for other members of the community.


Transgender individuals are also getting more positive and accurate representation today than ever before. From Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black to Jeffrey Tambor’s portrayal of a trans woman on Transparent, the culture is changing to become more knowledgable and understanding of what being transgender really means.


While we still have a long way to go toward total acceptance of the transgender community, we’ve certainly come a long way since the 1700s. No longer do trans individuals have to hide who they are for fear of facing legal ramifications or getting completely shunned by society.

About the Author:
Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. 
Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.