International Women’s Day: Inspiring Women #4 – Le Chevalier d’Eon

Le Chevalier d'EonThere’s gonna be some people who’ll disagree with this one, but I see how my trans friends get treated by some feminists these days, and I feel it’s important to include trans women. Moreover, reading up on le Chevalier d’Eon, I was deeply uncomfortable with the way that historians refer to her as ‘he’. The reasoning is that because a post-mortem examination revealed that Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont (aka, le Chevalier d’Eon) that she had male genitalia, the famous transgender spy was ‘actually’ a man.

Why am I judging differently? Well, despite the fact that d’Eon presented as both male and female at different times, she lived as a woman for much of her life and petitioned the government to be treated as such. Whilst there are reasons a person could insist that they were one gender without really holding it to be so, trans people go through enough that if someone claims that status, to me, I think we have a duty to believe them, and the fact that people were curious enough to know what was ‘really’ inside someone’s pants to perform a post-mortem examination of the matter is just… all kinds of wrong. I think the least we can do is call her by her preferred pronouns now.

As for the woman herself? d’Eon was a part of the Secret de Roi, a network of spies operating in the service of Louis XV. She befriended Empress Elizabeth of Russia and became her maid of honour. When she found her finances stopped on a mission to England, d’Eon bargained for return to France by publishing some, but not all of the secrets in her possession. The English public came to support her and the French king ultimately renewed her pension, although she remained in exile.

She published her memoirs, La Vie Militaire, politique, et privée de Mademoiselle d’Éon, although these are believed to be ghost-written by a friend. She led a division of women soldiers and taught fencing lessons until wounded in a tournament in 1796. She retired to live with a widow, Mrs Cole, and escaped debtors’ prison by signing away rights to her biography.

She was basically a badass who should have all the Hollywood movies made about her.

 

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