One Small Step Forward?

The April edition of the American Historical Review (that’s the most significant professional historical journal in the country) carries as it’s featured article “The Disruptive Comforts of Drag: (Trans)Gender Performances among Prisoners of War in Russia, 1914-1920.” On the cover is a photo one of the most acclaimed of these female impersonators, in full costume. The article is typically academic and tends to discuss the role of theater in the prisoner’s lives and psyches as much as anything. The author, an Israeli historian, concludes that the performers helped to create a sense of normalcy and comfort for POWs and that was particularly true for those men, mostly young, who played the female roles.

But in dealing with the female impersonators, the author takes what was for me a rather disappointing approach. He seems amazed that many of them actually continued to dress as females when not on stage in their everyday lives and that they worked to develop and exhibit feminine mannerisms. Indeed, they actually assumed the roles of women full time. The article even comments on how these faux females would devote an inordinate amount of attention to their feminine clothing even down to their lingerie. Imagine that!

Obviously the author isn’t one of us. As I read the article the conclusion that leapt out at me was that these young men were in all likelihood transgendered and had simply found the circumstances that allowed them to express themselves. Not only could they live as women and not fear reprisal, but would actually be praised and rewarded for it. The performer featured on the journal’s cover was quoted as saying that her regarded his time in a POW camp “as the happiest time of my life.” Given the circumstances at the time, that seems pretty understandable, doesn't it?

Nonetheless, I thought it positive that the leading historical journal in the country would devote attention to the issue and run it as it’s cover story. Even if the editor did choose to print, a bit condescendingly IMHO, the title banner in a neon fuschia rather than the standard earthtones, maybe it shows we’re getting some positive attention from serious and objective scholars.

See the article at:

Stephanie Yates


Stephanie Yates said…
OK, I'm an admitted technodope. I clicked the link button on the tool bar and the URL was in my draft, but it didn't make the post.
Here it is:

Sorry (my most commonly used word these days)!
Karen Reeves said…
Stephanie, American Historical Review is the new litereary frontier of transgendersim ? ? ? I never found anything this interesting there before :-) Good sleuthing !

I found this story to be inspiring. Prisoners of War in, of all places, Russia during World War I faced extreme deprivation. They suffered more than the local populace who were starving peasants in full revolt against the brutal regime of the Czar. This was the start of the Russian Revolution.

To think that trans girls could "prosper" spiritually inside a prisoner of war camp, let alone survive, is very inspiring in my mind. It also shows that when the populace (non transgendered prisoners of war)face extreme deprivation or death then "transgenderism" becomes less and less important as an issue.

What is most amazing to me is that these ladies felt that these were the most glorious years of their lives. Love, friendship, and acceptance, can make up for malnutrition, beatings, cold, illness, and possible death.

Acceptance is a powerful attribute everyone wants to have confered upon themselves, as well as others.

Thanks for a history lesson that was overlooked in my high school !

*With Love*


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